Wonderful to share today with people who walk so closely to God and listen so attentively to the Spirit that they can offer God’s word to us right where we’re at – in the midst of our heart ache and struggles. Thank you to all from Lockhart, Culcairn-Henty, Pilgrim, and Tumbarumba (and further afield!) who came together to hold this solemn moment ….
A Season of Creation sermon – thank you Kate and Glenn! <3
We often underestimate the work that women do to keep our communities together, to build relationship, to establish harmony and maintain peace.
There is nothing weak or submissive about the Proverbs 31 woman. She is not limited to a set of expectations or one role in her life.
She is virtuous, excellent, noble – who can find a woman of strength or might?
Who can find one woman who meets this portrait of perfection? This is actually a picture of what it means to live in the kingdom of God.
God brings peace and harmony into our world through his love, grace, and spirit.
Jesus does not use a spear, or sword or shield to bring about the kingdom of God.
James writes about a church that is full of conflict. James gives practical advice on how to live – and deal with a heart of harsh or bitter zeal.
We see the same bitter and harsh zeal in some churches that advocate violence in the name of God: the invasion of countries, military actions based on Scripture has caused misery to hundreds of thousands.
We see bitter zeal when the church tears itself apart over different views, arguments over property, and the lack of forgiveness and tolerance of different members
James says that if we act in the wisdom of God, we plant seeds of peace that will lead to a harvest of justice.
A poem by Ruth written after a paddle on Lake Albert
My creative juices are all dried up – dehydrated, desiccated
shrivelled and shrunken
Like my wizened features –
devoid of spare moisture.
A parched landscape. Cracked and furrowed
Dry autumn leaves, ready to drop
Colourful maybe, but already half dead…
The lake nearly dried up one year – many years of drought took their toll.
The shoreline receded, retreated
The waters shrank…and stank.
The shallows turned an unhealthy green.
The lake could no longer sustain the life within
Death floated to the surface and lingered in the air.
People feared it would never return to its former glory
What can be done? Is it too late?
But the first drenching rains refilled the lake, replenished our spirits, restored our hope.
Revive, O Lord, my vital flow.
I need your living water to renew my inner spring
and the oil of gladness to soothe my parchment skin.
Children’s author Dick King-Smith wrote these sweet little words which I heard often as a child, particularly when I sat down to meal times with the day’s dirt still all over my hands:
“Patience is a virtue, virtue is a graceDick King-Smith
Grace is a little girl, who would not wash her face”
This month, as the weather warms and the days lighten, we explore the notion of grace and the significance of God reaching out to us with the desire for close relationship despite our dirty hands and stubborn hearts.
<a candle is lit>
Here we gather,
as brothers and sisters in Christ,
as sons and daughters handmade by God
and sustained by the breath of Spirit
– with and within us.
Here we gather,
as those who are sometimes hard of heart
and harder of hearing,
but full of hope
that in this moment we may know God’s grace
and see God smile on us
and welcome us home.
Hear this word of grace:
most precious daughter,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
how I have yearned to be the arms you run to;
to wrap them tightly around you
and whisper tear-choked into your ear:
‘There is nothing that can keep you from my love –
no unspoken thing too big, too small
to dampen my longing
to laugh and dance and feast and sing
and work and love and rest and eat
and be …
… just be with you.
I’m sorry you’ve felt the need to stay away so long;
that you’ve thought yourself unworthy, unwelcome, unforgiven.
In my eyes
I hope you see only compassion
for the things that have hurt you,
for the times you have chosen wrong,
for the desperate, aching need to know you are loved.
In my embrace
I hope you feel how much you have been longed for,
how much you are my delight, my joy,
as my heart beats against your own.
In my welcome
I hope you believe you are at home;
that though you felt dead and distant,
you are alive and well;
that though you felt lost and alone,
you are wanted and found.
most precious son,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
I will never let you go.’”
On this Father’s Day we open ourselves up to a familiar story from the gospel of Luke (15:11-32) that goes like this:
Jesus said, “A certain man had two sons. The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’ Then the father divided his estate between them.
Soon afterward, the younger son gathered everything together and took a trip to a land far away. There, he wasted his wealth through extravagant living. When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything.
When he came to his senses, he said: ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have more than enough food, but I’m starving to death! I will get up and go to my father, and say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.” ’ So he got up and went to his father.
While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him. Then his son said: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quickly, bring out the best robe and put it on him! Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet! Fetch the fattened calf and slaughter it. We must celebrate with feasting because this son of mine was dead and has come back to life! He was lost and is found!’ They began to celebrate.
Now his older son was in the field. Coming in from the field, he approached the house and heard music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what was going on. The servant replied: Your brother has arrived, and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he received his son back safe and sound.’ Then the older son was furious and didn’t want to enter in, but his father came out and begged him. He answered his father: ‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’
Then his father said: ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”https://www.samford.edu/worship-arts/files/celebrating-the-work-of-god.pdf
Take a moment to think about/talk about how this story might be about grace. Who needs it? Who receives it? Who gives it?
Author of the Message, Eugene Peterson wrote:
Grace is an insubstantial, invisible reality that permeates all we are, think, speak, and do. But we are not used to this. We are not used to living by invisibles. We have work to do, things to learn, people to help, traffic to negotiate, meals to prepare.
When we need a break, there are birds to watch, books to read, walks to take, a cup of tea to drink, maybe even a chapel to sit in and meditate for ten minutes or so. But these so-called “breaks” are not what we call the real world, the world in which we make a living, the world in which we make something of ourselves. They are brief escapes from it so that we can go back to the “real world” refreshed.Eugene Peterson, Practise Resurrection
The story of the prodigal son is a story about grace.
It’s about the generous self-giving of a father who gives his youngest son his fair share of the inheritance (before he is dead, I might add) and sets him free from the life and land that he has grown up in to make his own way in the world – because that is what he wants to do.
It’s about the undeserved sacrifice of the ring, the best robe, the fattened calf through which the father not only expresses his uncontainable joy at his son’s return, but establishes firmly for all that his son is still his son – no matter where his choices may have led him.
It’s about a father’s love that brings us to our senses when we’ve wasted all our resources and we’re knee-deep in the mud and muck with the pigs and nothing has satisfied the deep emptiness in our souls.
It’s about that moment when we know who to turn to, when we begin to make our way home – certain of the mercy and forgiveness and fairness that we will find; only to be surprised by the warmth and the intimacy and the extravagance of the father’s embrace.
It’s also about those moments when we place ourselves on the outside of the celebration – so envious of what the father seems to be doing for others that we can’t see the gift: that he has always been with us and everything he has is ours.
It’s about refusing to be moved by the invisible, standing our ground in the real world of work, making our case for control, and feeling so justified in our anger that we miss out on the music of the Divine inviting us to participate in the dance that transforms death into life and the lost into the found.
Grace: an act of God without precedent that makes it possible for us to participate in a new reality through the generous, sacrificial self-giving of Jesus and not through any goodness or effort or great intentions of our own.
Grace: it’s everywhere to be experienced, but hard to take hold of for a people so accustomed to doing rather than being. So I invite you, to stretch out your hands in this moment and to sit in the silence with them still and empty as you ask God to give you what you need for this day.
<silence is kept>
Thank you God,
for the many gifts that you have bestowed on us
so freely and so generously;
for the eternal inheritance that you have made possible for us
in dwelling among us,
hanging on the tree,
and rolling away the stone
so that your Spirit may flow with healing graces
and present with us now –
in our lives and at our tables.
We celebrate with feasting
that once we were dead,
but now we have new life
who gathered with his disciples
around a table in an upper room,
took a loaf of bread,
offered a blessing,
broke it, and gave it to them saying:
“Take. Eat. This is my body given for you.
Do this in remembrance of me.”
We put on robes of rejoicing
for once we were lost,
but now we are found
who took a cup of wine
when the meal was finished, saying:
“This cup is the cup of life,
sealed with my blood for you and for many
for the forgiveness of sins.
Drink from it all of you,
in remembrance of me.
We reach out with empty hands
in earnest desire to receive the grace we need
for this and every day
whose body and blood binds us together
in the warm and compassionate embrace of God,
and Holy Spirit.
As we rise from these tables,
knowing the grace of God which holds us fast,
fed with Christ as we make our way home,
and full of the Holy Spirit,
may all we meet in the week that lies ahead
find our Father
in the way that we welcome,
the way that we share,
and the way we forgive.
And the blessing of God remain with you,
this day and always.
Reflecting on Matthew 26:26-35
Even though it was a wet and windy day, I spent a lovely morning walking in the Kindra State Forest in Coolamon – which is why my hair is currently in this wild woolly state. I had come suitably prepared by my standards – with a water bottle, walking shoes that are sufficiently worn in for a decent hike, and a warm weatherproof jacket.
After about 5 minutes of consulting the trail board and being absolutely unable to work out where I was or where I was going, I picked a pleasant-enough looking path through the trees and set off. In hindsight, the twisty icon on each one of the signposts should have given it away – the trail curved and looped and wound through the thick trees until I was completely disoriented.
Time slowed; the tension in my shoulders relaxed; and I began to pay attention to more than putting one foot in front of the other on the muddy track. I noticed that while most of the trees seemed quite young, there were a few that loomed old and tall against the grey sky and others that, long fallen, were covered in moss and leaf litter. I spotted kangaroos and wild hares bounding away from me at great speed only to be startled from their safe grazing a few minutes later as I meandered along the track deeper into the quiet. I looked up at the sun as the winds parted the clouds for a moment, and then pulled the hood of my jacket over my head as soft rain fell in the next. I was aware, at first, of my hands and face being cool and, later, of my whole body suffused with warmth though the chilly wind still blew. I smiled – at nothing and no-one.
In places the path was wide enough to walk comfortably with a companion and there were footprints in the mud that revealed that others had passed that way sometime before me. In places it was narrow and the trees pressed in close enough for me to rest a hand on the weathered bark or to draw a leaf through my fingers. In places it was so wet and slippery that it was safer to walk on the rocks or grass alongside the track instead of on it. My whole being became about the steady sound of my breath and my footfalls within a world of grey and green and gold.
And, in the midst of it all, came these words from an author that I love:
Oh, in the beginning,
when you were alone,
did you dream of someone like me?
In the beginning,
from soil and stone,
when you breathed out a world to be …
did you dream a great dream,
did it glisten and gleam,
for all of the angels to see,
in the beginning,Steven James, Story
in the depth of your heart,
were you thinking already of me?
Our song today, taken from the book of Revelation, is a new song – a song of Christ whose utmost commitment to God and the cosmos is bringing history to its climax and a new creation to birth. This is how we persevere through times of darkness and great stress: we stop and we stare at a universe unfathomably larger than ourselves until we fall down in worship of the One who humbly holds it all together.
“Praise and honour and glory and power
and wealth and wisdom and strength
to God who has made all things good
and who, through the Lamb,
has lovingly made life with God in a glorious new world possible!”
Entering into that possibility is much like my windy and windy walk through the forest this morning: it’s about being open and present in each moment to the presence of God with and within us, to the unfolding journey, to the mystery of what might lie just round the bend as God thinks of you and thinks of me and breathes out a world to be ….
Instead, at some point, I made the mistake of turning my phone on to check the time and see how long I had before I needed to fetch Bradley from his music gig. Immediately, I panicked as I realised how much time I’d taken. I picked up the pace until my legs were aching and my legs started to burn. With each twist, I wondered whether it would be faster to turn around and go back the way I’d come or if I was already near to the end of the trail. I fretted about whether I would have sufficient phone signal to send him a message if I was going to be late. I chided myself for drinking so much of my water early on that there was not enough left now when I was hot and bothered. I worried about what would happen if I slipped and twisted my ankle (a fairly common occurrence in the past, I’ll admit) and tried to come up with some contingency plans. And when I got to the end and saw my little car waiting with forty minutes to spare, I was full of regret for having rushed – for having lost the rhythm of the cosmos in my own sense of urgency.
So … friends … my prayer for us this week is that we open ourselves up to God in the cosmos – whether in the mundane or spectacular, as part of our ordinary lives that we look at with a new perspective or a long-forgotten dream that we seek to realise in some way …
… that we pause for a time from the pressing and the urgent and the stressful and the planned … to tune in to a new song of Christ’s worth and our own … in the rising sun or the starry night or birdsong in the garden or a companion’s smile …
… that we are present through each movement of the wind, of our bodies, of our comings and goings, to the Spirit who is present with and within us …
A reflection on Luke 1:46-55
A fundamental part of being human is our ongoing search in every phase for identity, for intimacy, for involvement in the world around us by creating and nurturing things that will outlast our very limited life spans.
Throughout Scripture, we hear again and again this phrase “from generation to generation” which speaks of our need to have something of who we are and what we have contributed to our family, to our community, to our society endure beyond ourselves as we enter an unimagined, and maybe unimaginable, eternity.
Our search for significance is epitomised in our customs around grief as loved ones all gather together to tell stories of how the deceased’s life somehow fundamentally changed us, made the world a better place; and to receive the comfort that they live on in the eternal arms of God and in the legacies that they leave.
No funeral is sadder than the one where there are no nice words to offer, no pleasant memories to hold on to – or, as we reflected on in one of last week’s images – where the dead are unclaimed, buried in mass graves, simply gone and forgotten.
From the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, and shaped and formed us for relationship with one another and with all that was part of the very good, we have searched for our particular place in the universe, for the unique gift that I, Yvonne, or you (insert your name) have to offer this interconnected symphony of time and place.
We hear the rhythm of significance resound today in the heartbeat of the Christ child within his mother’s womb – causing another to leap for joy! And in the song of praise that pours out of Mary – an unlikely person to be thought of as significant in her time and place at all.
A young Jewish woman in a patriarchal society ruled by the Romans, from a lineage of priests, bound to a carpenter from Israel’s smallest tribe, bearing the disgrace of having fallen pregnant outside of marriage, would have had little to offer the world in terms of wealth or or influence or power.
Yet, she gives voice to a God who brings down the powerful to lift up the lowly, who fills the lives of those who have nothing with good things while sending those who have everything away empty-handed, who shows strength in mercy, and scatters the proud while holding firm to the promises to those who would give up all and follow.
How does she know all this?
Because God has chosen her in her lowliness to become known as blessed and to carry within her the blessing of salvation for a world for which she really should have very little to offer.
Every person, regardless of age or gender, religious affiliation or sexual preference, tribe or language, bank balance or level of education, ability or occupation is significant to God in ways that we will never ever even begin to understand.
And being part of the people of God, people made in love in the Divine image, people on the way to a much-needed kingdom of perfect peace and justice, means being open to how God might be working out God’s purposes in and through another … often in opposition to what we think is right or normal or logical or important.
It also means that God probably has a particular purpose for me (and you), a part that we must play in this particular time and place for the good news song to be coherent and whole in this generation and the next.
As Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord and her spirit rejoice in God, her Saviour, I find myself wondering today just what surprises God has in store for us and what significance your love, your faith, your life story might have in this ongoing and uncertain time.
In his book, “Man’s search for meaning,” Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl wrote “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’” What is your “why” for living right now? And what is our “why” for being church?
In the rhythms of love and the rhythms of loss within the world right now, may we find too the rhythms of significance that keep us moving, dancing, laughing, together, in Jesus’ name.
We all have a part to play in the Good News story. Today, we reflect on Mary’s song from Luke 1:46-55.
As you listen to the words, reflect in the silence:
- How does this song compare to the songs you like to sing?
- Why is this song significant enough to appear in Scripture?
- Are there any parts that are challenging or confronting?
- Is Mary’s song also your song in any way?
With hearts and hands and voices, glorify the Lord.
Within the very depths of who you are, rejoice in God, our Saviour,
who looks beyond what others see,
beyond the sin and shame of our fragile humanity,
with eyes of love and favour.
Surely the Shepherd of Israel,
the Lord Almighty,
has done great things – for you, for me.
A God of mercy and of strength,
he lifts up the meek and lowly
and fills the hungry with all good things.
Just as we think that the world belongs to the proud and the powerful,
bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore.
Just as we despair at the growing distance between rich and poor, old and young, sick and healthy,
bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore
Just as we arrogantly grasp for control over the circumstances and struggles of our lives,
bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore.
Just as we wonder whether there is still a future for your Church and what part we might play in it,
bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore.
May the God of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
the God who is faithful from generation to generation,
remember us in mercy forever.
For indeed, from generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures for those alive to the Divine Rhythm
with and within them.
Bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The song that I invite you to focus on today is actually a third of the very short book attributed to Habakkuk, a much lesser prophet to the people of Jerusalem then Jeremiah, who was also active at about the same time.
His rather unattractive name (my boys always get the giggles), in Hebrew, may actually come from the word for “hug” or “hang on tightly” and, in this final song of the Old Testament, that’s exactly what he does – he hangs on to his faith in God.
This particular song is a prayer – written for the director of music to be played on stringed instruments on “shigionoth” – by wandering, by improvising. As you read the words for the very first time, as those musicians did, try to imagine the mood and volume of the music that would accompany it.
Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.
God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendour was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.
Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.
I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.
Were you angry with the rivers, Lord?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode your horses
and your chariots to victory?
You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.
Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.
You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.
I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
The Sovereign Lord is my strength;Habakkuk 3, NIV
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.
Reflect for a moment:
- How does this song compare to the songs you like to sing?
- Why do you think it is significant enough to appear in Scripture?
- Do you find anything about the song challenging or confronting?
- What is the mood? And does it shift as the song progresses?
Before writing this powerful and, again, rather confronting song that declares Habakkuk’s unshakeable faith in a majestic and forceful God no matter what may befall him, this very minor prophet had been questioning God relentlessly regarding the corruption and lawlessness of Israel’s society, the increasing prosperity of the rich, and the anguished suffering of the poor.
How long must I call to you for help without you listening?
With so much evil going on in the world, with no able to do something to stop it, why don’t you get involved?
When will you intervene to punish oppression and expose idolatry?
Why are you delaying your promised kingdom?
I don’t know if he liked the answer – those who have built their livelihood through oppression and violence will have their houses plundered; those who have brought about the shame of others will find that it’s their own turn to be disgraced. This was the judgement of God – first, against the Israelites; then, against the Babylonians who would invade, violate, and enslave them for a period of time.
When we look at the state of the world around us in this season, we too may want to hang onto God with all those questions – questions about justice, the decisions that people make for power and profit, whose lives matter most, about the intrusion of the brokenness of our world into our own personal circumstances through disease and violence and stress and conflict, about the presence or absence of God in the midst of all …
… the loss of dignity…
… the loss of capacity…
… the loss of company …
… the loss of significance …
… the loss of love …
… the loss of life …
I don’t know how easily my own heart would sing that song … “I will wait patiently for the day to come …” though there’s no food, no wine, no oil, no meat “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.”
I don’t want to struggle.
I don’t want to feel pain.
I don’t want to have my heart broken.
I don’t want to lose someone I love.
I don’t want to be bullied.
I don’t want to do without.
I don’t want to worry about where my next meal is coming from.
But what do we learn about God if we look beyond our own little lives and wants to the violent and escalating rhythm of loss in our world in this season?
When we hear the anger and the mourning and the desperation and the wondering and the grasping, grasping, grasping for God, for help, for someone to make it stop, for some way to make sense of it all, what do we learn about the universal human need for salvation and a kingdom of perfect peace and justice for all?
And how does that move us, shape us, challenge us, change us?
May we grasp on to that this week.
And may God’s passion and purpose for this world take hold of us so that loss can meet love – again and again and again and again and again – through us.