Affirmation

*testimony shared at my Witness service as a candidate for Ordination*

The Methodist Church of Southern Africa has always been home to me – family.

From my youngest years when I was content to eat the chocolate cake crumbs that escaped my mother’s plate as she fellowshipped with other young mothers, to my formative years when the stories of Jesus sat proudly beside “The Adventures of Hercules” and Enid Blyton’s “Enchanted Wood” on my bookshelf, church was a place to play, to be, to belong.

At the age of 13, as I watched the Easter story being dramatised at our youth church one Sunday, it suddenly struck home: the reality of God’s great love for me and the suffering that Jesus was prepared to endure for my salvation. And so I became a participant rather than an observer – in God’s story and in God’s community – attending Bible studies and youth events and then leading them.

At 18, I was passionate about God and God’s people, but I also had very distinct plans for my future.

Then, one evening during worship, I heard the voice of God within and around me telling me that God had other plans. I returned home feeling a little confused, a lot anxious; wondering whether I had imagined the whole thing; praying for confirmation of God’s will in God’s Word.

The Spirit led me to Paul’s first letter to Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12-16) and the message was clear:

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith, and in purity….

Devote yourself to preaching and to teaching….

Watch your life and doctrine closely and you will save both yourself and your hearers.

I was surprised to discover that very few rejoiced with me that I had discovered my life’s true calling. Some ridiculed my experience. Many friends abandoned me as I abandoned the life plans that had bound us together. Even those in the church who I trusted for guidance and support seemed to throw obstacles in my way: doubts and questions I was ill-equipped to answer.

It took many years for me to candidate for the Ministry of Word and Sacrament: years in which I tried my best to live up to my calling at church, at work, at home; years in which I felt that I was giving my all but it was not good enough; years in which I grew more and more frustrated with a God who would stir up such things in my heart yet not make a way for me to use the gifts that I had been given for this particular purpose.

Yet when the way finally opened up through the non-itinerant, non-stipendiary category, there was no pat on the back; no “well done my good and faithful servant;” simply hard truths about my own limitations, about the imperfection and discomfort of what it is to be community; and, ultimately, about the true cost of discipleship.

Over the past seven years, I have had to wrestle with God and with myself.

I have listened to how my family would be butchered in front of me if I did not learn my place as a white, female minister in training. I have been afraid to close my eyes and pray after a colleague was knifed during a service I was leading by one that we had been called to serve and to love. I have grieved at the non-itinerant category being closed and felt with some of the soul friends with whom I have journeyed for so long that the church suddenly does not want the unique gifts that we have offered. I have worried about how my family are connecting with God in the diverse and different communities in which we have worshipped and served.

But today I thank God.

I thank God that as we have wrestled, God has never let go of me. I thank God for the people who have accompanied and supported and tested and taught me. I thank God for the countless moments of love and laughter and and intimacy and self-offering that have presented themselves as I have served and been served within this Methodist family. I thank God for the hundreds of babies I have held in my arms at their baptism and see now walking into Sunday School class for the first time. I thank God for the table at which we are all equal in our need of God’s grace.

But above all, I thank God for those things that have touched me in a way that has caused pain for a while but opened up new ways of being and seeing and loving.

It has been in those moments that God has shown me that obedience to God’s call is actually an invitation into intimacy with the One who made me by hand, and not the expectation of a distant and demanding God.

It has been in those moments that I have learned to be a servant and not to try and be a Saviour. God’s got that covered already!

It has been in those moments that I have experienced the liberating power of forgiveness and the full extent of people’s desperation that inspires me to love, love, LOVE; even when that love leaves me vulnerable.

It has been in those moments that I have discovered that our greatest differences from one other can indeed be our greatest gifts to each other.

It has been in those moments that I have learned to dance …
… and to let God lead.

And so, today as I whole-heartedly proclaim that I am grateful for the community of the church (as imperfect as she can be) and confident of God’s continued calling and constant presence in my life, I can only echo the words of Charles Wesley with all my heart:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in Him is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ, my own!

 

A liturgy of gratitude for God’s good gifts

It is the start of our Rhona season – also known as Thanksgiving – a time in which we deliberately count the blessings in our lives and respond to God’s generosity with our own gifts of time, money, and talents. The liturgy below focuses specifically on the blessings of life and health, and gratitude as a spiritual posture through which we can become more aware of these gifts and expressive of our thankfulness. Congregational responses are indicated in italics and the hymn/song suggestions are in red.

***

Welcoming the Light:
Blessed be You, Giver of all good things,
Bringer of Light and Love,
and Life eternal,
for giving us this new day,
to be like no other,
this unique moment
like none before.

MHB 34 “Immortal, invisible”

Praising the Gift-giver:
Our Alpha and Omega,
Beginning and End,
and holder of every moment in between –
whether joyous or tinged with sadness;
Your generosity ripples throughout the Universe,
Your gifts like stars across the blackening sky –
too numerous to count though we can name a few.

Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in word and work as You shape the world around us.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the humility and hope of Immanuel, God-with us.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the delightful surprises that await us this day.
Praise be to You, for giving of Yourself
in the breath of Spirit with and within us.

Shine, Jesus, shine

Recalling our blessedness:
1 Corinthians 9:6 “Remember this: The farmer who plants a few seeds will have a very small harvest. But the farmer who plants because he has received God’s blessings will receive a harvest of God’s blessings in return.”

A time of testimony to God’s blessings separated by a simple chorus such as “Thank you Jesus/Siyabonga”

Praying for gratitude*:
Gift-giving God, fill us with gratitude this day:
Gratitude of heart that I might see the gifts of another.
Gratitude of mouth that I might sing their praises.
Gratitude of spirit that I might recognise the blessings You have brought me.
Gratitude of humour as I perceive the playfulness of Your giving.
Gratitude of eyes that I might deeply draw on the wonders of Your created world and know my part in its family.
Gratitude of open hands for all that You will place in them this day.
Gratitude of memory for my story which you have covered with tenderness and mercy.
Gratitude of feet for every step I take this day is a gift.

One or two more repetitions of “Thank you Jesus/Siyabonga”

Receiving God’s Word:
Luke 17:11-19 (The Message):

It happened that as he made his way toward Jerusalem, he crossed over the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten men, all lepers, met him. They kept their distance but raised their voices, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Taking a good look at them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.”

They went, and while still on their way, became clean. One of them, when he realized that he was healed, turned around and came back, shouting his gratitude, glorifying God. He kneeled at Jesus’ feet, so grateful. He couldn’t thank him enough—and he was a Samaritan.

Jesus said, “Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” Then he said to him, “Get up. On your way. Your faith has healed and saved you.”

Sermon title “Attitudes of Gratitude”:

  1. The greatest enemy of gratitude is entitlement.
  2. True gratitude always finds expression.
  3. Gratitude is a gift for transformation.

Receiving God’s grace:
Come to the table of mercy

What abundance lies before us!
What generosity!
Gifts of the earth that remind us of how deeply we are cherished,
and how costly was the price of God’s love for us.

As we break this bread we remember how Christ took a loaf and tore it,
just as his body was broken that we might be whole.
God of grace, we are grateful for this gift.

As we share this cup we remember how Christ blessed and poured it,
just as his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of our sins.
God of grace, we are grateful for this gift.

And so as we take, and eat, and drink, and remember,
may our lives be open to the healing and the saving works of Your grace,
And by the power of Your Spirit with and within
may we become instruments of Your generosity.
Amen.

Communion is shared.

Responding in faith:
MHB 400 “Take my life”

O God for whom and to whom we are eternally grateful,
accept these gifts
as symbols of our love
and tokens of our thankfulness
for our life and health and many other blessings.

As our lives have been touched by Your good gifts,
May others be touched by ours.
In Jesus name, we pray.
Amen.

Sharing the blessings:
Hymns&Psalms 776: Make me a channel of Your peace

May the generosity of God
continue to delight and surprise you;
to find you in the unlooked for places,
and to transform your way of looking:

May you see the gift of a hand held out hopefully;
God’s invitation in the eyes of a stranger;
and your own abundance in the place of scarcity and want.
Amen.

* Prayer of gratitude taken from Tess Ward’s “Celtic Wheel of the Year