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.
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”.
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:
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.
Sing, heavens! Shout for joy, earth! Let the mountains burst into song! God will comfort God’s people; God will have pity on God’s suffering people. But the people of Jerusalem said, “God has abandoned us! God has forgotten us.” So God answers, “Can a woman forget her own baby and not love the child she bore? Even if a mother should forget her child, I will never forget you. Jerusalem, I can never forget you! I have written your name on the palms of my hands.
God – the Mother who never forgets, We gather in the embrace of your love, We gather in the strong grasp of your hands, We gather in the comfort of your care and nurture, We gather, as your children, to worship. Amen.
Praise to God, the world’s creator, source of life and growth and breath, cradling in her arms her children, holding them from birth to death. In our bodies, in our living, strength and truth of all we do, God is present, working with us, making us creators too.
Praise to God our saving Wisdom, meeting us with love and grace, helping us to grow in wholeness, giving freedom, room, and space. In our hurting, in our risking, in the thoughts we dare not name, God is present, growing with us, healing us from sin and shame.
Praise to God, the Spirit in us, prompting hidden depths of prayer, firing us to long for justice, reaching out with tender care. In our searching, in our loving, in our struggles to be free, God is present, living in us, pointing us to what shall be.
One of the questions that I’ve most enjoyed asking young people – both within church and school settings – over the years is to identify their heroes. The answers always follow the same pattern:
a few joking proclamations of “I’m Batman” or Wonderwoman or even Spongebob Squarepants (often accompanied by the theme song which gets stuck in my head for days);
followed by the names of a few famous people like Kim Kardashian or Shawn Mendes;
followed by a few “right-sounding” answers – Mother Teresa, Ghandi, Pope Francis –
and then there’s an awkward silence and a shifting in the seats until some brave soul blurts out, “my mom,” (or “mum” now that we are fully immersed in Australian culture) followed by a long and breathless explanation as to why someone so ordinary counts as their hero ….
These are stories of love or sacrifice or integrity or perseverance in the face of unbelievable adversity that has made a permanent impression on that young person’s life, shaped who they are and who they want to be.
It is certainly the case for me – and so I wear my mother’s pearls this morning as I share this space with you – as tribute to the legacy that she leaves in me and gratitude for the particular gifts of words, wisdom and courage with which she has graced my life.
Mother: she changes everything she touches; everything she touches, changes.
We remember, with thanks, those who have been mothering role-models in our lives.
Silence is kept.
Let us pray:
Life Giving and Sustaining God We give you thanks for the gifts women bring.
On this Mother’s Day we especially thank you for our mothers. We thank you for their caring love, their cradling of children, their willingness to give and not count the cost, their tenderness and warm embrace.
We thank you for our mothers in the faith who have helped us know and experience Your love. We thank you for their words of wisdom and the ways they have nurtured and cared for us. Our lives are the richer because of their influence and example.
We honour them this day and ask that you would help us follow the example of love they have shown.
Strong, Compassionate God, Like a mother you tenderly care for your children. You pick us up when we fall over; Your face smiles on us; You sing songs to us of your love.
Like our mother you feed us from your hand, You search for us when we are lost, You bind up our wounds, You comfort us when are hurting.
We ask this day that you would strengthen our families. We know that no family is perfect. Heal our families where they are broken. May You be present in our families guiding and sustaining us this day and into the future.
We pray in Jesus’ name who spoke of himself as a mother hen who seeks to gather her chicks under her wings (Mat 23:37).
In her book, the Painted Prayerbook, Jan Richardson offers these words on motherhood:
“Who are our first sanctuary.
Who fashion a space of blessing with their own being: with the belly the bone and the blood
or, if not with these, then with the durable heart that offers itself to break and grow wide, to gather itself around another as refuge, as home.
Who lean into the wonder and terror of loving what they can hold but cannot contain.
Who remain in some part of themselves always awake, a corner of consciousness keeping perpetual vigil.
Who know that the story is what endures is what binds us is what runs deeper even than blood and so they spin them in celebration of what abides and benediction on what remains:
a simple gladness that latches onto us and graces us on our way.“
As we celebrate the precious gift of mothers today we acknowledge the immense pain of childbirth that pales in comparison to the pain of loving and letting go a million times in each lifetime of the heart that suddenly walks outside of your body: love and hope and longing enfleshed in little arms and little legs and little minds that age and change and grow.
We hold in our hearts today the vulnerability and the suffering ~ of those who have longed to be mothers but been unable to conceive or miscarried, ~ of those for whom it has been more than enough to be aunt or role model and been made to feel by our society that they are somehow less or incomplete, ~ of those for whom pregnancy has been an unmanageable reality or a painful reminder of violation or terrible mistakes and who have had to make difficult choices that would forever change their future and the future of their unborn child, ~ of those who have loved and lost a child and never fully felt the same about life since, ~ of those of have done their best only to find that nothing has gone to plan and who sit in the rubble of broken relationships and unrealised dreams, ~ of those who feel deep down inside that they were terrible mothers and they have ruined their children and there is no way to go back and make things right ….
For this is what motherhood is – a mess of blood and bone and bonds that changes everything.
Listen to these few words from Paul’s second letter to a young man named Timothy:
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, in keeping with the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,
To Timothy, my dear son:
Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.
I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.
2 Timothy 1:1-5, New International Version
Mother: she changes everything she touches; everything she touches, changes.
Timothy’s sincere faith – his honest and authentic belief in God – begins in his mother’s mother; just as Paul’s faith is rooted in his own ancestors.
Just as his eye colour or the shape of his nose was knit together and formed within his mother’s womb – a beautiful blending of man and woman, of mother and father – so too was his spiritual being knit together and shaped by the nurture and the faithfulness of Eunice and Lois.
Their posture to God, their love for one another, their work in the neighbourhood, their attitude to giving, the songs that they sang, their pattern of prayer, their sincerity and honesty and faithfulness were the loom on which Timothy’s connections to Earth, to community, to the divine were slowly woven …
… so that this young man, grown, mature, independent, now claims for himself a bond of brotherhood with one of the most fervent preachers of the good news and, indeed, with Christ himself.
Mother: she changes everything she touches; everything she touches, changes.
As we celebrate the gift of mothers in blood and bone and bond, and as we recognise the painful vulnerability of motherhood today, we glimpse not only the mothering heart of God, but also – perhaps – are invited to really wrestle with the idea or image of Mother Church – our spiritual sanctuary, a space of blessing created for us, in which to find life and love and home and refuge.
What are the stories that we tell, the ones that endure? Do they break down or build up? Do they foster faith in our youth and children – or inspire resentment or apathy or boredom? Are they sincere, honest, authentic? Are we? Do they bind us even deeper than blood without becoming restrictive or oppressive? Do they bless us when we abide in them – and when we move on to another place is that blessing written upon our hearts?
Mother: she changes everything she touches; everything she touches, changes.
May we be touched and changed by the mothers and grandmothers of our faith today. And, as Church, may we seek to embody the courage and the vulnerability of God who reaches out to all in love.
God of the women who answered your call, Trusting your promises, giving their all, Women like Sarah and Hannah and Ruth — Give us their courage to live in your truth.
God of the women who walked Jesus’ Way, Giving their resources, learning to pray, Mary, Joanna, Susanna, and more — May we give freely as they did before.
God of the women long put to the test, Left out of stories, forgotten, oppressed, Quietly asking: “Who smiled at my birth?” — In Jesus’ dying you show us our worth.
God of the women who ran from the tomb, Prayed with the others in that upper room, Then felt your Spirit on Pentecost Day — May we so gladly proclaim you today.
O God of Phoebe and ministers all, May we be joyful in answering your call. Give us the strength of your Spirit so near That we may share in your ministry here.
Carolyn Winfrey Gillette
May the Mother who knit us together within the womb and the Midwife of our soul, shape our sojourn on this earth with intimacy and connection, with courage and vulnerability, with the capacity to touch and change and be touched and changed. Amen.
One of the most challenging questions with which I had to wrestle in discerning and testing the call to ordained ministry in South Africa was how I knew that I was called to be a minister of both Word and Sacrament. At eighteen, that seemed an impossible question to answer but it certainly started me on a deep and meaningful journey into what significance the rituals of baptism and holy communion have in our relationship with God, with one another, and with the world around us.
These simple lines in the Basis of Union are some of my favourites:
The Church lives between the time of Christ’s death and resurrection and the final consummation of all things which Christ will bring; the Church is a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal; here the Church does not have a continuing city but seeks one to come.
On the way, Christ feeds the Church with Word and Sacraments, and it has the gift of the Spirit in order that it may not lose the way.
Uniting Church in Australia, Basis of Union, Paragraph 3
One of the aspects of community life that I have most missed during this time of self-isolation and social distancing is the open table around which we gather – from such different circumstances – as brothers and sisters in Christ to acknowledge our need, to receive the free and lavish grace of God, to honour the invisible bond that connects us beyond time and place with the Church Universal, and to envision our role in making Christ present to the world which he loves.
All of this in a broken loaf and a shared cup!
As I share this photo today, I wonder:
what are you missing most of your Christian community?
what is sustaining you on the way?
how have you encountered signs of God’s grace in different ways?
This is a very unusual pick for a song to share today, but bear with me ….
I first saw Disney’s The Lion King as a very young woman of eighteen who was just starting out on the adventure – and sometimes misadventure – that is love and dating. This movie marked that special moment when I became someone’s girlfriend for the very first time and suddenly had to grapple with what it meant to share myself with another. (I didn’t do it very well, I must admit!)
Many years later, I sat quite contentedly with a child – my child! – nestled in my arms as we saw the story being brought to life on stage. It was pure magic!
Looking at my two young men this morning, there is part of me that wants to turn back time, to make them small again so that I can steal kisses and cuddles whenever I like, to do certain things better and other things exactly the way that we did them before, to slow down and take time to imprint every moment clearly on my memory … in preparation for the growing up and letting go and moving on that is a natural part of many family life cycles.
So, today, I’m feeling nostalgic and, as restrictions start to relax, there are some who are SO ready for life to “get back to normal” and others who wish that they could just have a few more months free of social obligations and never-finished to-do lists ….
This song speaks truth in a way that still puts a smile on my face: nothing stays the same, the world moves on. Yet, how magical are those moments when all seems to be in harmony and at peace and we are able to lean into them and be our authentic selves.
In the many moments that are neither harmonious nor peaceful, may we still feel the great love of the Divine enfolding us and holding us right where we are.
For 3 years a famer in Nebraska in the USA had a sheep ranch. Each year he sheared some sheep, sold some, and butchered a few lambs for his family of cattle-raising relatives.
The farmer then left the ranch and began studying for the ministry. One Sunday his 3 year old son Ian was learning about the Good Shepherd in his Sunday School class.
“Your dad was a shepherd”, the teacher said: “What did he do with the little lambs?” She expected to hear about the care and protection Ian’s father provided for them. “He kills them and cuts off their heads”, was Ian’s answer. The teacher was dumbstruck, and didn’t know how to reply! What could she say?
For Christian believers the biblical image of the shepherd is a precious and meaningful one. Psalm 23 is an excellent picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The Psalm gives an excellent background for Jesus’ teaching about Himself as the Good Shepherd. In John chapter 10, Jesus links the characteristics of His ministry to the image of the shepherd as depicted in the Psalm.
“I tell you the truth; anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. (John 10: 1-4 NLT)
However, how meaningful is the biblical image to unbelievers. compared to the sight of today’s Australian sheep farmer. Who, for example, does not lead his sheep from the front, but who drives them forward with his sheep dog, and from horseback or the Quad Bike? Is there a better image in today’s world that conveys a similar picture to that of Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd?
What other biblical images of our personal and church life can you think of, which are culturally meaningful in the biblical world, but which do not speak to the world of the non-believer of today? For example: the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7)? Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life (John 6:54) – early Christians were sometimes accused of cannibalism; Jesus saves; the Lamb of God; Holy Ghost; etc.
I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay own my life for the sheep. (John 10: 11, 14—15; NRSV).
We can be comforted as we face the challenges and dangers of our Christian walk, knowing that we are protected and led by Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
How might we respond to His leading and protection?
For me, poetry goes beyond my daily bread; it is a sumptuous feast for my soul that invites me to sit a while and savour the deep mystery that is the Divine, to revel in the rich textures and scents and flavours of a world that cannot be contained in only language or logic, to feel full yet reach still – with longing – for one last delicious mouthful knowing too well that it is probably not my last ….
So, today, I want to share three poems that I keep returning to at present – knowing full well that few people share this love and many, quite frankly, find poetry intimidating.
Still, I invite you to skim through them and find the one that speaks to you in some way: that captures your attention with a word or image, that provokes questions, that plonks you in the deep end with an exasperated “I can’t make any sense of this” ….
Read through it, slowly.
Read through it again – out loud if possible – capturing the rhythm of each line; noting where there is a pause (comma), a break (full stop), or a breathless running on of one thought into another.
Highlight two or three words that seem important to you. What do they mean in the poem? What do they mean in your own life?
Read it one last time – not seeking to make sense of it or find the lesson but allowing yourself to be full of what it is that you are feeling: gratitude, joy, confusion, wonder, frustration etc. Let that be the starting point of your prayer today ….
God, I feel ….
You place a resurrection Flower on my desk, an explosion Of yellow blossom from a green Stem. All winter it was buried In the dirt, covered with snow, Soaked by rains, companion to Earthworms. Easter in a Daffodil: Christ leaps up In your green laughter and light embrace.
Eugene Peterson, Holy Luck
It doesn’t have to be the blue iris, it could be weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones; just pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.
Mary Oliver, Thirst
There is this thing that sits just out of reach so that whenever I stretch out for it I am left with my fingers dancing in the wind and the feelings of being exposed. So, instead, I curl myself up again and shimmer inside, enough to be satisfied. I stop grasping and let something grasp me.
It’s been wonderful to have a week away from the “work” of ministry – to spend time in my studies with the likes of Mallory and Chaucer, to enjoy the sunshine after the rain, to indulge in long baths and pyjama days, to feel energy and creativity and vision unfolding again from the resting place ….
a special word of thanks to the elders from Pilgrim who have shared their own stories, thoughts, and reflections with us in this space to make that time possible. We truly are a community that is being led and fed and built as we deepen our connection with Christ and seek to offer the gifts that we receive to one another and the world.
An acrostic prayer/poem based on Psalm 23
Sing songs of blessing and devotion to the shepherd of our souls! He is our constant companion, our protector, our friend. Each of us is known by name; led by his footsteps into the open way. Peace and plenty are the gifts we will find in his resting place; His goodness and love, the assurance that our future is safe in his hands. Even when the day is dark and difficulties distress us, Remember that you are not alone – he is near. Delight in the table set before you and and drink deeply of his Spirit!