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On grace and grumbling

It is hard in this time to know what to do. 

Each day brings news that further divides us, scares us, confounds us, frustrates us.

Cleaning, compliance, checklists are words now associated with gatherings and worship while familiar rituals like the shared cup and plates and peace and songs are firmly on the “no no” list and pose a proven threat to the health of our communities.

Here in our little patch out in the country in a country with the space and resources to manage this pandemic quite well, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the global death toll is approaching 700 000 people – mere numbers to us but each one was knit together and named by and known to God who grieves along with the friends and family members that they are now lost to – often without a final goodbye or a familiar hand in theirs as they have taken their last breath. 

It cannot be business as usual; life as normal. We know this. And, over the past few months, we have moved in some ways – to online worship which transcends our geographical boundaries, and less cluttered calendars and diaries, and, maybe, a greater degree of mindfulness of and friendliness towards our neighbour. 

But, sometimes, it feels like we’re just holding our breath and waiting for it all to be under control or for a vaccine to be available and then, THEN, we can go back to how things were … because we like life with its familiar routines and rituals and rhythms, even when that life has locked us in to a narrow way of thinking and doing and being.

In the conversations that I’ve had in recent weeks about moving towards using church spaces again in worship, one of the consistent responses to this crisis and its implications for our community life has been grief and frustration at the fact that there can be no singing. “If we can’t sing, what’s the point in coming to church?” or “If you cut out the songs, you lose half the service!” have been common reactions. 

I acknowledge that pain. There is something about our music that connects us to the cacophony of all creation and the creativity of God. Beloved hymns and songs ignite memories, offer comfort, root us in our traditions, and make us feel as though God is right here beside us. And, often, our songs are the only way in which we – as individual worshippers – have a voice during the course of a traditional Sunday service.

So, for the next five weeks, we’re going to focus on the songs that we find in Scripture and in our stories of the people of God on the way and, perhaps, they will invite us into other practices that embed our life into the rhythm of Divine Love that permeates our every day work and our Sabbath rest.

Read below a few verses from that great and bloody liberation story in the book of Exodus in which Pharaoh set the enslaved Israelite nation free, then changed his mind, and had his army pursue them across the Red Sea. This is the song of Miriam, Moses’s sister, in response to God bringing her people to safety. 

When Pharaoh’s horses, chariots and horsemen went into the sea, the Lord brought the waters of the sea back over them, but the Israelites walked through the sea on dry ground. Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a timbrel in her hand, and all the women followed her, with timbrels and dancing. 

Miriam sang to them:
“Sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.”

Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur. For three days they traveled in the desert without finding water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah. So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”

Exodus 15:19-24 (NIV)

Reflect: 

  • 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 interesting to you about what happens next in the story?

***  

In and through and beyond our songs, God invites us into a rhythm of grace as old as time itself, yet new every morning. 

It’s a rhythm that takes us beyond words – into movement and relationship and freedom and spontaneity and simplicity and creativity. 

It’s a rhythm in which every member of the community can find their voice, their gift to offer, their time to lead, their connection with every other member. 

It’s a rhythm that is raw and honest and personal and allows space for difference. 

It is a rhythm that should endure beyond the song – in our living, our loving, and our journeying, yet we know that we can lose track of it when our focus shifts to other things and become bitter and full of grumbling.

May you seek the rhythm of love in your life this week – and let it move you!

Rhythms of reflection

God of each new day
and all the days that have gone before us –
all the way back to the beginning – 
and all the days that have yet to unfold –
all the way into the eternal embrace of Your Love –

we thank you for the rhythm that You bring to life,
for guiding light, 
for expansive love, 
for Your sustaining grace.

We confess, this day, 
just how often we lose sight of You 
in all the spaces and the changes …

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We confess, this day, 
those parts of our lives that have become dull and shaded 
by an absence of love or light …

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We confess, this day, 
our tendency to walk out of step with Your Spirit and truth,  
favouring too much either rest or work …

Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Give us, this day,
the grace to recognise and experience the Love
that embraces and shapes and fills 
not only our world – 
but our innermost being – 
as we open our hearts and minds 
to Your living Word
who calls us 
to be hopeful,
to take risks,
to be committed,
to be determined, 
to be generous, 
to dream of what can be 
as we take his lead
and tell a story –
about You and about us – 
that sets us free
to live and breathe and move and have our being
in Jesus’ name. 

Amen.

In silence, reflect: 

  • Where have you felt the presence of God this week?
  • Where have you felt an absence of God this week?
  • What difference does the absence or presence of God make to life?

Defining rhythm

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, rhythm can refer to:

  • an ordered recurrent alternation of strong and weak elements in the flow of sound and silence in speech;
  • the aspect of music comprising all the elements (such as accent, meter, and tempo) that relate to forward movement;
  • a regularly recurrent quantitative change in a variable biological process;
  • movement, fluctuation, or variation marked by the regular recurrence or natural flow of related elements ….

When we look at these definitions, we get an idea of how rhythm permeates our daily life: in language, in music, in nature, in growth and maturation. 

Think today of the rhythms that occur most in your life – of those cycles and seasons of which you are most aware – and how, perhaps, each offers an invitation to discover, encounter, and immerse ourselves more fully in the Rhythm that brought all life into being and, even now, sustains it. 

I would like to encourage you comment with a word, song, or image that comes to mind in your reflections.

Be open to the Divine Rhythm, in word, in music, and in the wide world around you.

Rhythms of grace: beginning

If 2020 has offered me one great insight, it’s that we like life to be fairly patterned and predictable. There is an expected order to things – a routine of daily and seasonal rituals that offer comfort and security.

Yet, I wonder, in our fast-paced, consumer-driven, and fairly comfortable lifestyles, how many of those routines help us to connect day by day with the deeper way of living called Christianity or discipleship or kingdom-living?

As we start a new series of conversations around the rhythms of grace which anchor us to God in the midst of daily-changing circumstances, let’s begin here:

In the beginning,
God …

in the beginning,
God created,

God created
the heavens and the earth. 

God said,
“let there be”
and there was.

The ruach of God –
ruach,
ruach
ruach
ruach
ruach
ruach
hovering over the face of the deep
working in concert with the Word 
to bring light and life and shape to the world;

<light a candle if you have one nearby>

to cradle us
in space and time – 

between 

sun and moon 
and day and night 
and light and dark 
and sea and sky 
and land and water 
and ebb and flow 
and life and death 

and love 
love 
Love.

Love of the Father,
Love of the Son,
Love of the Holy Spirit.  

Love said,
“let there be”
and there was.

And, in love, what was good –
together – became very good.

And six days of work
were punctuated by a day a rest
and a rhythm of life was set,
set by God

it was set by God …
in the beginning.

Why not be part of Sunday’s rhythm of online community and conversation at 10a.m. or 5p.m.? For more details, complete the contact form below:

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