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Hospitality

I smiled this morning when I opened up my postbox and pulled out the latest edition of the Ruminations magazine. Winter’s theme: hospitality. 

I had just been thinking about the highlights of the last week being the warm meal and laughter shared at a hearth in Henty and, on Sunday, at the dining room table in my own home which now doubles regularly as an altar for worship. 

Hospitality.

It’s a hard thing to hold on to in the midst of rules around gathering, our wariness of strangers, posters urging social distancing and safe food handling, and practices like Holy Communion and sharing the peace having to be expressed in new ways. 

Yet, all around us, people are struggling with a deep sense of disconnection, an engulfing loneliness, and, even, a growing self-centredness without the gift of community to stretch and challenge and inspire and frustrate us. We can’t wait to “get back to church” because that’s going to magically fix all that? 

I keep coming back to the story of the woman in her kitchen hiding a small piece of leaven within her three measures of flour that it might be transformed to a fluffy, risen loaf that will feed her family and any others who might find themselves that day at her table. The kingdom of God, Jesus said, is like that (see Luke 13:20-21; Leaven). It’s right there – in her home, in her daily routine, in her hope-filled action, in her preparation to meet the need of another, to satisfy a hunger.

Hospitality. 

I wonder if that’s something that we, as the Church, are really good at. Well organised morning cuppa’s after a service – yes. Fellowship groups, social outings, and activities for our members – yes. Many valuable, heartfelt ways of reaching out to those less fortunate – yes. 

But learning people’s names in the supermarket, having conversations with someone from an obviously different background to our own, working towards changed language and rituals and music so that newcomers may feel a little less like they’ve just arrived on a different planet, inviting a church acquaintance into our home so that they can share our technological resources to join in an online service, safely hosting as individuals at our kitchen and dining room tables those that we know to be struggling with loneliness and isolation in this time, meeting up at the lake or the park or the Botanic gardens for a walk with someone who might really just need to get out of their house … these acts of hospitality are radical in that they demand that I need to get intimately involved, hands on, in opening up my own time and space for another.

The closing prayer that I used during our communion service on Sunday reads:

We thank You, O God,
for the nourishment and strength 
we have received at Your table.
We thank You, O Christ,
for the new life that we enjoy
and which we now take into the world.
We thank You, Holy Spirit,
for feeding our souls with this simple meal,
and for equipping us to be Your hands to feed others. 

John van de Laar, A Liturgy for the Spiritual Feast

The sacrificial hospitality that we receive at the open table is the same hospitality that we are called to embody as the people of God. It stretches beyond the sacred hour in a sanctuary on a Sunday to a way of living with others that proclaims: the kingdom of God is here!

Leaven

It’s a short story – only a verse in the Gospel of Matthew and two in the Gospel of Luke. 

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed [hid] in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13:33 (NRSV)

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Luke 13:20-21 (RSV)

In Matthew, it is prefaced by the parables of the sower and the weed; in Luke, by the call to repent or perish, the story of the barren fig tree, and a nasty confrontation with the Pharisees over the healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath. In both instances, immediately before this parable is another: the parable of the mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds which, when planted, grows into a large tree that offers shelter to the birds of the field.

In context then, perhaps this story is also about what increases the kingdom – a sense of the nearness of God’s justice and perfect peace – and what might get in the way of that understanding and experience.

As I read Scripture through a woman’s eyes, the first thing that I notice about this story of the kingdom is that it is a woman’s story – probably taking place in her kitchen in her home in among all of the other routine tasks of a woman’s day.

As she bakes bread for the household, she takes a little piece of dough left over from the last batch that has, by now, fermented and mixes it in with the three measures of flour until it is all leavened and begins to produce the gas that makes the loaf rise.

I also notice that the whole process depends completely on leftovers, on just a little bit that she’s been clever enough to keep aside. And I notice that it really is just a little bit in comparison to the rest of the ingredients – but without it the loaf would remain flat, unleavened. I notice that that little bit permeates the whole mixture – changing its nature from unleavened to leavened. I notice that the word used for mixing in is actually the same word for hiding something inside. I notice that in this whole process, there is a a necessary, hands-on action on the part of the woman but, also, a letting go time in which the leaven, once mixed in, does its own work. 

Finally, I note that there is another passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus warned others to be wary of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees – and that, in this particular culture, at this particular time, there were many religious moments that involved unleavened bread, so leaven could be used metaphorically to describe a negative influence – and just a little would ruin the whole lot. 

Yet, in today’s story, a woman’s story, Jesus tells us that we discover what the kingdom of God is like …. I wonder what you notice and how it speaks to you of God’s perfect peace and justice growing in our churches, our households, our society. 

Perhaps the kingdom of God is about nothing going to waste.
About the smallest gift making a significant change. 
Perhaps it’s about how we divide and share our resources.
Perhaps it’s about planning ahead, and holding on to a little now, for something today or tomorrow or the next day.
Perhaps the kingdom of God is about those who normally don’t feature in our stories taking centre stage.
Perhaps it’s about finding God in the ordinary places of our homes and the ordinary routines of our work and our rest.
Perhaps it’s about what we hide away in ourselves that transforms us from the inside out. 
Perhaps it’s about knowing when to act – and when to just be part of an unfolding process that we cannot control.

Perhaps the kingdom of God is working unseen in us in this very moment.
Perhaps it’s about the peace and the justice that we long for contaminating our thoughts, our prayers, our language; 
fermenting in our gatherings, our studies of Scripture, our rituals, our planning; 
changing our mindsets, our prejudices, our grudges, our brokenness, our excuses; 
and rising, through the Spirit of God and not through any power of our own, to become bread for all at an open table …. 

It’s a simple story. A parable of the kingdom. May you break off a piece and hide it in your heart this day and see what increases in your life. 

Stars

Today marks my 44th birthday and our 3rd year in Australia. There will be no cake or candles; no family birthday dinner; not much time at home even. Which is very unlike how we normally celebrate. 

Instead there will be much meaningful “work” – at my dining room table and, later, at a kitchen table in one of the regional congregations with whom I serve through God’s grace and to God’s glory – as we wrestle through the concerns and challenges and practicalities and opportunities of re-gathering within our various communities in the coming months.

It is a deep joy to be able to spend today in conversation with people who display passion and wisdom and humility and care – for one another and for those to whom they embody the encircling love of God. 

It is a far greater joy to know that we are not in this alone but are, ourselves, encircled in a Love so high and wide and deep and long that it cannot be contained by our often-limited language or thinking or overcome by even the darkest circumstances of our lives. 

Today, I’m getting back to a practice long forgotten: that of picking a “theme song” for the year – something to hold on to, a compass for my course, a bright star in the sky that holds steady through the ups and downs that each new day may bring ….

May you know, this day and always, that the One who holds the stars knows your name. https://www.youtube.com/embed/NtzrLpxM298?version=3&rel=1&fs=1&autohide=2&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&wmode=transparent

You spoke a word and life began
Told oceans where to start and where to end
You set in motion time and space
But still You come and You call to me by name
But still You come and You call to me by name

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

The deepest depths, the darkest nights
Can’t separate, can’t keep me from Your sight
I get so lost, forget my way
But still You love and You don’t forget my name

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart

If You can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

Your love has called my name
What do I have to fear?
What do I have to fear?
Your love has called my name
What do I have to fear?
What do I have to fear?

If You can hold the stars in place
You can hold my heart the same
Whenever I fall away
Whenever I start to break
So here I am, lifting up my heart (lifting up my heart)

If You can calm the raging sea
You can calm the storm in me
You’re never too far away
You never show up too late
So here I am, lifting up my heart
To the one who holds the stars

You’re the one who holds the stars 

“Stars” by Skillet … from the movie “The Shack”

The Good Samaritan

From Luke 10:25-37

This past Sunday, over Zoom, we took a fresh look at the parable of the Good Samaritan through the “wondering” questions typical of a Godly Play story. Some of the ideas that have been developing in my further reflections this week have been around … 

… how quickly we identify with the people who passed by the man who had been beaten, had everything taken from him, and was left on the side of the road half-dead or with the notion that Christ calls us to be a community who stops and takes care of the wounded and needy; yet how seldom we acknowledge that we can, in fact, be that half-dead person or one of the attackers who took, by force and for reasons that we do not know, that which did not belong to them …

… how gender, race, and age would impact the story in different ways: most of us would be willing to rush to the aid of a child who lay hurt on the side of the road; yet, as a woman, I would feel distinctly vulnerable stopping on my own to approach a man on the street – even if he was clearly in need … 

… how the one who had mercy is identified in Scripture as being the neighbour of the one in need in accordance with what God requires of us – but, in fact, all in the story are in need of mercy, of a neighbour, of the touch of God upon their lives as they journey.

As I wrestle today with what this parable teaches me about the kin-dom of God, I find myself wondering as I enter into prayer: 

  • What have I done to hurt another? To rob them of their joy, their peace, their voice, their confidence, their dream, their energy, their passion? What do I need to apologise for? And what pain am I carrying from others doing the same to me? What do I need to forgive? 
  • Who am I comfortable caring for and reaching out to? Who have I simply walked past – and why? What would it take for me to make myself vulnerable? 
  • What might it mean to be a neighbour to those too busy to stop, to those too fearful to get involved, to those who survive/prosper through violence, to those from a different culture or religion or with a completely foreign perspective on life, to those trying to keep a small business alive at this particular time, to those on a journey, to those stuck in a place of shadow and pain, to those who have been beaten and had everything taken for them and been left lying on the side of the road half-dead? 

Blessings to you in where this day takes you and on all you may meet on the way.

***

This Sunday, we hear the parable of the leaven and share in the sacrament of Holy Communion (with the elements of bread and wine or with empty hands). Feel free to get in touch if you would like more details on how to join our conversation. x Yvonne.

All

As I continue to reflect on how we all journey together in this “time warp” time towards Christ’s kin-dom, I’d simply like to share today a prayer by Karl Barth from Sunday’s worship.

O Lord our God!
You who know who we are;
men (and women) with good consciences and with bad,
persons who are content and those who are discontent, 
the certain and the uncertain,
Christians by conviction and Christians by convention,
those who believe, those who half-believe, those who disbelieve.

And you know where we have come from:
from the circle of relatives, acquaintances and friends
or from the greatest loneliness,
from a life of quiet prosperity
or from manifold confusion and distress,
from family relationships that are well ordered
or from those disordered or under stress,
from the inner circle of the Christian community 
or from its outer edge.

But now we all stand before you,
in all our differences, 
yet alike in that we are all in the wrong with you and with one another,
that we must all one day die,
that we would all be lost without your grace,
but also in that your grace is promised
and made available to us all in your dear Son Jesus Christ.

We are here together in order to praise you 
through letting you speak to us.
We beseech you to grant that this may take place in this [day],
in the name of your Son, our Lord. 

Karl Barth

Time Warp

One of ways that I love to spend my free time is in a massive multiplayer online role-playing game in which I can create the cutest little characters, explore and build new worlds, complete quests, and get to know people from all sorts of extraordinary (and ordinary) places. 

While on leave over the last week, I’ve been levelling (think growing-up) a brand new character in a tricky class that I have never played before. One of her most powerful skills is called “time warp” which creates a pretty pink circle in which all of my friends move more quickly and all of our enemies slow right down. 

The COVID-19 crisis has been like a massive time warp to me – in which, for some of us, life has slowed right down and, for others, sped up to a pretty unbearable pace; yet, SOMEHOW, we are all supposed to be travelling together towards the kin-dom of God with care, compassion, hope, and understanding. 

I am mindful as I write this morning of those suddenly connected with a Christian community or learning opportunities within the broader Church because technology is being used in a way that eliminates travel, reduces cost, safeguards health, and eases the anxiety of walking into a room full of strangers for the first time.

I am mindful of those who feel lost without their grounding songs and familiar rituals, who – because of age or socioeconomic status or just plain personal preference – have been doing it tough on their own without the regular Sabbath space for spiritual nurture and “family” connection.

I am mindful of friends and colleagues, lay preachers, and church councils who have worn themselves thin trying to keep up with messages of hope and comfort, significant pastoral care concerns, the pain of weddings and funerals that look nothing like what was imagined, and on-the-job training in recording and editing and live-streaming in the midst of an anguished concern for human life and wellbeing and deep wonderings about the unfolding future of Christ’s Church.

I am mindful of those for whom the solitude has been a gift – and of those for whom it has been a burden. Of those pushing to return as fast as possible to what was normal – and of those calling for caution and care. Of those for whom this time is threat – and those who see it as an opportunity. 

Above all, I am mindful that the kin-dom talk which characterises the season of Ordinary Time takes place far outside of our fragmented hours and days or the time warp experience of COVID-19 that may bring us together or pull us further apart: in the eternal and unfolding mystery of the ONE who WAS and IS and IS TO COME. 

Perhaps, at the start of this week, the invitation comes to be less mindful of a life too fast or too slow, and more mindful of the encircling love of God and the company of the saints and to find our rhythm and our rest there.

Blessings to you and yours!

Yvonne

Pentecost

Over the past few weeks, I – like many others – have become increasingly aware of the significance of constraints or boundaries or limitations in our lives. In the movement from death to life to life in its fullness, I am deeply challenged (again) by the identity of the Church as the pilgrim people of God and inspired by the imagery of God’s Spirit as breath or wind – invisible but tangible, uncontainable.

The gathering for Pentecost Sunday defies some of those constraints as technology enables some to meet beyond traditional sacred space and geographical boundaries for a time of conversation and contemplation through poetry, prayer, music, silence, and nature. 

This week, the service will not be recorded but I share some of the curated elements here for you to be drawn into this time in your own time and way through different voices, traditions, and experiences. If you would like to be part of the gathering, it takes place on Sunday from 9:30a.m. (with 30 minutes of opening music) to 11a.m. (G.M.T +10) and you are welcome to comment here so that I can send you an invitation to Zoom (requires computer with microphone and camera or smartphone). 

May the Spirit of God with and within you, move you.

***

Songs for worship

Poem: Pentecost is Every Day

I share and share and share again
sometimes with a new language
which, if you are so open
will take you behind the sky
and award you cartwheels across the sun
I give and give and give again
not restricted by the church calendar nor concocted ritual
I have no need of anniversaries
for I have always been
I speak and speak and speak again
with the sting of purity
that can only be Me
causing joyous earthquakes in the mourning soul of [hu]man
I am and am and am again.

Stewart Henderson, The Lion Book of Christian Poetry

Visual Prayer

Featuring names for the Holy Spirit from Richard Rohr’s book The Divine Dance. During this time, it is recommended that you move your body in some way in response to what you feel happening within you e.g. stretch, hold out your hands, follow the moving images on the screen with your finger, sway etc. Pay attention to which words or images really move you.

Prayer of presence (progressive)

We gather today
mindful of a creative,
energising magnificence
at work in all places:
– in the vastness of the universe,
– in the evolutionary development of life on earth,
– and in every breath we take.

In this Great Mystery
we are one with everything and everyone.

We open our hearts and minds
to this creative Presence,
this energising Power
in the depths of our own being, 
knowing that 
we need not ask it to “Come,”
but rather
knowing it has always 
been here with us in life,
in being,
in spirit,
in love.

We gather in memory of Jesus
who knew this Presence in his own life,
who recognised its presence in the lives of others
and who urged his listeners 
to call upon this Presence within them
to transform a world of sorrow,
a world of pain,
into a world of joy,
a world of promise and hope.

Today we give thanks for 
the Jewish men and women 
who took up the challenge
of transforming their world,
who kept the dream of Jesus alive. 

Michael Morwood, Prayers for Progressive Christians

Sacred Story

Adapted from http://www.barnabasinchurches.org.uk/pentecost-seven-signs-of-the-spirit-a-reflective-story/

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. 

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

John 20:19-23, New International Version

Questions to reflect on:

  • I wonder which of these signs of the Spirit you like best.
  • I wonder which of these signs you think is the most important sign.
  • I wonder if there are any other signs we could have to have all the signs of the Spirit that we need.
  • I wonder where we see these signs in the world around us.
  • I wonder how we can be a sign of the Spirit in the world.

Signs of the Spirit

As we pray for others, I invite you to pick up your pen/pencil and paper if you have one close at hand. As the words of the prayer are offered, without lifting your pen from the paper scribble an unfurling, unfolding, moving line in whatever way you are moved to. Alternatively, after the time of worship, tie pieces of string or ribbon outside in a spot where the wind will move them this week and you will be reminded of what you have prayed for. 

Praise to you Gentle breeze of the Spirit
For you blow where you will.
I hear the sound of you but
know not where you come from 
or where you go.
Let me be aware of your presence
as your breathe across my life this day,
though I can never grasp you.

Be still in the silence and aware of the Love with and within ……

By your breath of life which infuses all living things,
as I inhale the spirit of the people I meet,
may I exhale your love.
As I inhale the news of today, 
may I exhale prayer like incense rising.
As I inhale rumours of war,
may I exhale supplications for peace.
As I inhale the air which the leaves of the trees give to me,
may I exhale care for all that bears leaves.
As I inhale the same air of the creatures around me
may I exhale freedom from all that causes suffering.

Inspirer of the Universe,
by your grace, may we breathe your loving purpose this day.

Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel of the Year.

Blessing

May the God of creation warm your heart like the campfires of old
Bring wisdom and peace as shown to the first peoples of this land
Shake off the dust from the desert plains by the refreshing rains
Followed by the glow and warmth of the sun
Let the light of God show us the right path and stand tall like the big
River gums drawing life from the ever flowing waters.

Uncle Vince Ross, commongrace.org.au

Sunday: seeking together

A huge word of affirmation and thanks to the Pilgrim elders – Betty, Marilyn, Ruth, Rob, and George – for putting together our service of worship for Sunday in such a meaningful and extraordinary way.

The full wording of the service can be found by downloading the PDF order here:

A video compilation of all the songs, prayers, readings, and sermon can be downloaded by clicking on the following link: Sunday service.

Our Ascension Day service can also be found here.

Blessings to each and every one of you
as we continue to gather in a way that moves us beyond the physical boundaries of time and place
and seek to use our gifts – together – to build up our faith and community.

With much love,
Yvonne

Wednesday: return

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Roger Webb

Jesus’ earthly ministry had ended, and He then returned to the Father. A new chapter of God’s mission to the world was about to begin, one which placed the responsibility on His followers. The Gospel would flow out from Jerusalem in waves, like ripples on a pond when a stone is dropped into it.

Many people had seen the Risen Christ, but it was possible that some of them still had problems accepting the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, so He took time to once again explain from the Scriptures how He had to die and rise again after 3 days. (What scriptures might He have quoted eg.  Isaiah 53?).

      Why did Jesus have to return to the Father?

  • He had to make it clear that His earthly ministry had ended, and would not be returning again.
  • If He remained on earth, He could only be in one place at a time.
  • He left so that the Holy Spirit could come.

     Having resourced the disciples theologically, Jesus then equipped them with His authority to proclaim the Gospel message throughout the world: the ripples began to flow outwards.

     Before blessing the disciples, Jesus promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit’s power to equip them for their mission. (The Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, some days after Jesus’ Ascension). Jesus’ Ascension and His blessing of the disciples inspired a time of joyful worship in the Temple.

     How did the disciples experience the gift of the Spirit?  

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8: NRSV).

     (The Greek word for ‘power’ here is dunamis , which is the root of our words such as ‘dynamo’, ‘dynamic’, ‘dynamite’, etc.)

     These events are a pattern for us, who have met the Risen and Ascended Christ and seek to contribute our ripples into the community. 

  • How might we carry out our mission in our community?
  • How might the dunamis of the Spirit be manifested in our daily living and witness? 
  • Does our experience of the Risen an Ascended Christ fill us with joy and inspire us to praise God continually?

 An ancient legend: When Jesus returned to heaven, an angel asked Him: “Lord, now you have completed your earthly ministry, what plans have you made to continue your work?” Jesus replied: “I have Peter, James, and John, and all the other believers to continue my mission”. “But what plans have you made if they fail you?”  Jesus answered, “I have no other plans”.

Tuesday: forgiveness

I have been thinking much lately about the people who have played a significant role in shaping the person that I am today through honest conversation, an openness to my sometimes vastly different background and perspective, their authentic and vulnerable self-offering, and – of course – lots and lots of laughter. 

One of the most incredible gifts of this time of self-isolation and social distancing has been discovering how enduring those connections are and how great the variety is in the age, ethnicity, location, occupation, culture, and faith of those that I call role-models, soul companions, and friends.

I must confess that a fair number of these bonds surprise me because I can recall moments in our history of mistrust, misunderstanding, or even sheer misery! And I am deeply grateful for the shared Spirit of God that has slowly brought healing and reconciliation and understanding and personal growth in situations where I have been wounded and/or wounded another.

Today, I invite you to reflect on the practice of forgiveness – and the place that it may have in your life right now. 

I share below, a reflection by Scott Noon and Herbert Brokering that has made a lasting impression on my own thinking about the challenging work and the enduring gift that this word offers us as Christian community and inhabitants of God’s good earth:

Forgive.

Let’s find it in Webster’s [dictionary].
It comes just after the word forge.
Just after forget-me-not.

Webster’s. Forge: a furnace or hearth
where metals are heated.
Forge: a workshop
where pig iron is transformed into wrought iron.
Forge: to form by heating and hammering into shape.
Forge. 
It’s a good word in Webster’s, just before the word forgive.

Forgive: to excuse for a fault or offence; to pardon.
Forgive: to renounce anger or resentment against.
Forgive: to absolve payment of.
Forgive: to free the offender from consequences.
Forgive: to pass over a mistake or fault
without demanding a punishment.

Herbert Brokering and Scott Noon

May the God who forgets-us-not
forge us into a family 
that forgives.