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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!

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”

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

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!

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.

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

Monday: prayer of praise & promise

written by R. Kerr;
based on Psalm 116 : 1-4, 12-19

You heard my anxious plea
And so I love you Lord
You turned your ear to me
It’s you I call toward

Death threatened everywhere
I felt it pull me down
My soul cried out in prayer
‘O save me, lest I drown’…

What ways can I repay
the good you always give?
I’ll name you when I pray
and praise you as I live

What I’ve promised, I will do
Before your people and for you.

Your saints are dear to you
Whether here or gone above
We are your servants true
You freed us with your love

Thankfulness I bring you
with all my grateful heart
Praises I will sing you
From you I’ll not depart

What I’ve promised, I will do
Before your people and for you.

In your house my voice raise
All your greatness to tell
As we offer our praise
Lord, we know all is well.

Amen.