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Monday: testing

based on Psalm 66:8-20

God, even in this testing time
we celebrate Your goodness
and offer prayers of praise.

Locked down,
shut in, 
cut off, 
we’ve found that You hold our lives safely in Your hands. 

Here, in this testing time,
You’re proving us, 
perfecting us,
making us holy,
to bring us out better than we were before:
saturated with Your goodness 
and Your grace.

May we bring the best we have before You
as a fragrant sacrifice
for You never say “no!” when we ask for help;
You pay attention to our prayers
and pour out Your tender love.

Let praise arise.
Let praise arise!

Sunday: mothering

Call to worship

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.

John Van de Laar, sacredise.com

Hymn: Praise to God, the world’s creator

Sung to the well known tune: ode to joy.

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.

Jan Berry

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).

Amen.

Helen Richmond

Meditation

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. 

Hymn: God of the women

To the tune of: be Thou my vision

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

Benediction

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.

Friday: sustenance

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?

Thursday: can you feel the love?

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.

Enjoy!

Wednesday: the good shepherd

Reflection by Rev. Dr. Roger Webb

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? 

Tuesday: poetry

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 ….

Resurrection flower

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

Prayer 

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

Elusive

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.

Joel McKerrow, Hollowed out lungs

Monday: shepherd

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!

Friday: empty

Amongst all the necessary COVID-9 restrictions, what I am really missing in my spiritual life is gathering around the table to partake in Holy Communion with my fellow worshippers.  I am not alone in feeling this special sense of loss, which is not quenched by my taking part in online worship with the 5pm Pilgrim community.  

In response to many requests, the Assembly of the Uniting Church Standing Committee has conversed, prayed, and decided that Uniting Church congregations may choose to include Holy Communion in their online services during the period of restrictions.  The Wagga Wagga Church Council and our ministers Janice and Yvonne are currently discerning whether to offer this sacrament as part of our online services.

To provide hope and comfort for these uncertain times of separation, Rev Amelia Koh-Butler has written the beautiful Liturgy of Empty Hands.  The empty plate reminds us that Christ is the bread of life and satisfies our hungry hearts, and the empty cup reminds us that Christ is the cup of hope who revives our thirst.  In our empty hands we faithfully celebrate the empty tomb and in hope we look to new life and new meanings.

When I took this photo of the birdbath and the leaves I thought of this image of empty hands.  The bath is half empty because the magpies have drunk, plunged in with joy and flown off to shake their feathers dry.  The autumn leaves are falling into it as the days pass. 

From their past experience, the birds trust that I will refill the bath with clean water so it is ready for the next time they want a drink or a wash, whether in times of drought, or of plenty. 

So it is for us – in faith we trust that our Creator, Redeemer and Spirit will continue to nourish us and inspire us to care for our hurting world.

Christ has died.
Christ is risen.
Christ will come again.

***

Marilyn W.

Wednesday: speaking with Jesus

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Luke 24:13-35, New International Version

Reading this passage again and thinking about it brings back some memories and raises some questions we don’t often think about.

Looking back over my own life since I became a Christian I remember times when I know that Jesus has spoken to me in various ways and been with me in various situations:-

My teenage years serving time as and apprentice Joiner and Carpenter and meeting Jesus for the first time.
My time searching for Jesus call on my life.
My time as a mission Carpenter in Papua.
Meeting and marrying my wife.
My time in teachers college training as an industrial arts teacher.
Back to New Guinea teaching in a coed High School.
Settling in Australia and serving in various churches and working as a Builder and latterly as a Joinery Manufacturer.
Now retired.

Two things stand out to me in the above passage.

  • How often does Jesus walk with us and we do not recognise Him?
  • How often do we feel the fire and warmth of His presence and even then are not sensitive to His presence?

I could list many ways in which I have experienced Jesus presence and the times when I have been ignorant. This would be no great advantage to you. I ask you to dwell on your own experiences. I believe He treats us all as individuals and speaks to us and meets with us in ways that suit us.

May the fire, warmth and peace of Jesus be yours each day.

R. Fraser

Tuesday: what shall we do?

This past Saturday many Australians responded to the call to participate in ANZAC Day at the kerb of their home instead of attending the traditional Dawn Services or mid morning commemorations.

In many conversations I have had since, people have remarked on their motivation – the desire to reflect on the sacrifices made by the women and men who have served them in the Australian Defence Force at times of conflict or in peace keeping missions or in providing assistance in natural disaster events.

In the busyness of our everyday lives we, that is all of us including you and I, seldom consider the extent of physical and or emotional injury endured by many of our ADF people; few are intimately acquainted with those who die while on duty seeking to serve their nation.

In this time of social distancing many of us have begun to recognise changes in the way we feel as we experience disconnection from routine patterns and find energy levels faltering. Most of us acknowledge the importance of acting in safe ways to protect others around us while incidentally keeping ourselves safer from the risks arising from the pandemic. But is there opportunity for more?

Perhaps we can find in this disconcerting time an opportunity for reflecting on our lives and our values for living. Personal Reflection as an element in our Christian life is fundamental. In Acts (2:31) we hear Peter call on those listening to heed the challenge that is inherent in Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection. Their reaction was to ask, “What shall we do?”

The invitation available to us all, is to take time to quietly undertake reflection on how we answer that question in our daily lives, not on one day each year, not one day each week, but each and every day.

You will notice this week your Elders are sharing the preparation of the daily presentations through the electronic media so that Rev Yvonne has time to complete some of her ongoing academic studies. In her last semester she was the recipient of a Dean’s Award for the exceptional standard she demonstrated in that period – we congratulate her and are confident her application and commitment will again achieve excellent results in this semester.

Blessings to all
George T