PO Box 609, Wagga Wagga NSW, 2650 (02) 6921 4275 For prayer or care, please get in touch through the Pilgrim page or contact form.

Grace

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 grace
Grace is a little girl, who would not wash her face”

Dick King-Smith

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:

“Beloved son,
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 sin,
no worry,
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.

Beloved daughter,
most precious son,
flesh of my flesh and heart of my heart,
I will never let you go.’”

Scripture …

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
As a “Song for Dad” plays, you are invited to take a moment to reflect on the love that the father showed his sons, to give thanks for the father figures in your life, and to pray for homes under strain in this time.

Sharing …

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 
in Christ
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
in Christ
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 
in Christ 
whose body and blood binds us together 
in the warm and compassionate embrace of God, 
Father,
Son, 
and Holy Spirit. 
Amen.

Sending …

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.
Amen.  

On the path before us ….

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,
in the depth of your heart,
were you thinking already of me?

Steven James, Story

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 … 

Amen. 

On our search for meaning …

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.

Significance. 

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.      

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!

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.

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. 

Pentecost

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

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

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

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

***

Songs for worship

Poem: Pentecost is Every Day

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

Stewart Henderson, The Lion Book of Christian Poetry

Visual Prayer

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

Prayer of presence (progressive)

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Morwood, Prayers for Progressive Christians

Sacred Story

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

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

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

John 20:19-23, New International Version

Questions to reflect on:

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

Signs of the Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

Tess Ward, The Celtic Wheel of the Year.

Blessing

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

Uncle Vince Ross, commongrace.org.au

Sunday: seeking together

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

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

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

Our Ascension Day service can also be found here.

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

With much love,
Yvonne

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.

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!