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Taking time on Tuesdays

I love journals. The 16 barely-scribbled-in books on my bookshelf declare this to be true. I even enjoy journalling – from time to time. 

But my main reason for these purchases (apart from the fact that they’re just so pretty) is the possibility that the blank pages hold. 

What might I fill them with? 

Prayers? Secret thoughts? Ideas for doing church differently? An account of each day? Three things to be grateful for? Fragments for a poem?

Whatever I like really …. Whatever I can imagine can be held, in limited form, within that space. 

As I take time to start today with an awareness of God’s presence in my waking (and sleeping) moments, I have just stumbled across the Mooreeffoc Effect in a guided journal on creativity. 

Mooreeffoc, you may have noticed, is simply “Coffee Room” spelled backwards. The story goes that Charles Dickens noticed the reversal of the sign on a coffee shop window when he was standing inside it and used it to describe how a familiar space can be transformed into something new and strange through the slightest shift.

As some of us begin to tire already of the restricted space and movements in this time, I wonder how we can put the Mooreeffoc Effect to good use in transforming the familiar routine. What might you do differently today? And what might you do differently that might make the day different for another?

Taking time on Tuesdays

This morning had a completely different rhythm to it to most of my Tuesdays. With the boys both home from uni and school respectively, there was no alarm clock to go off because we all had to be somewhere at a specific time to follow a day full of clock-watching and fixed schedules.

Birdsong and sunlight were what woke me. I made a cup of coffee, perused the many unread books in my study, picked one and headed back to be for a real “quiet” time. I smiled at the opening paragraph of the introduction to David Adam’s “The Open Gate” for the grace of God was tangible in the midst of our changed circumstances:

As long as we are alive, we are on the move. To come static is to stagnate and die. It is necessary for all living things to move and grow and change. Life is meant to be an adventure; change is a gift that we have to learn to use aright.

In Celtic folk-tales a curse that could happen to a person was to enter a field and not be able to get back out of it. To be stuck in that place for ever. It was seen as a definite curse to be unable to venture or to change.

Yet we all know this experience in some small way; we get ourselves stuck in routines and habits that can act as shackles. We all refuse to open our eyes to the vision that is before us; too often we select only what we want to see.

The open gate is the opposite to this. It is the invitation to adventure and to grow, the call to be among the living and the vital elements of the world. The open gate is the call to explore new areas of yourself and the world around you. It is the challenge to come and discover that the world and ourselves are filled with mystery and with the glory of God. It is the ever present call to become pilgrims for the love of God, to take part in a romance that will enrich our hearts and our lives.

The open gate is the choice that God is always placing before us. It is a sign of the opportunity that is ours. It is to do with our basic freedom; we can choose to go that way or to ignore it and go along other paths.

We should look upon the open gate as a way to extend ourselves and our vision. Here we can see further and reach beyond where we have been before. It may take a great deal of discipline to get off the old familiar track and to break with old habits, but in return it offers the excitement of new ground and new vistas.

What we have to learn is to recognise when an open gate has been presented to us.

David Adam

May we see the open gates that present themselves in this moment.

May we recognise the opportunities to be quiet, to discover, to grow.

May we use the gift of change aright.

Yours in Christ

Monday’s mourning

a prayer based on Isaiah 65:17-21

God, we weep – 
we weep for we have no words 
to adequately express the worry 
that sits so heavily within our hearts:
worry for infants that live but a few days,
worry for the elderly who will not see out their lifetime,
worry for those whose current health issues 
or socio-economic circumstances place them at great risk ….

Hear our cry of distress
and help us to hear again Your promise:
“For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.”

Offer us this day,
a moment of joy,
a minute of delight,
that we may look ahead with hope and longing
to the forever-song 
that we will sing with gladness
as we feast at Your table. 

In Jesus’ name.

Love letter 7

To my fellow pilgrims on the way to the promised end

As I write the letter for this fourth week of Lent, I have just secured a precious treasure from the Aldi next door: a single packet containing 4 rolls of two-ply toilet paper. The conversations as I stood in the long queues were mainly centred around how mad the world has gone, concerns for elderly parents, and recommendations on where people might find other rarities like hand sanitiser and antibacterial baby wipes. 

In this anxious time, we face not only significant concerns about our health and the capacity of our health care system to handle this rapidly changing situation, but also considerable interruptions to our daily life as we are called to care for another by maintaining our distance and self-isolating in the case of overseas travel or any sign of illness. 

At church, we cannot pass the Peace as we are accustomed or share in a common cup or offer a hand on the shoulder or a warm embrace – even though these signs of Christian fellowship are sometimes the only experience of community and connection that we might encounter in a week. 

Yet, as Jesus heals the man born blind by counterintuitively covering his eyes with a mixture of mud and spit in John 9, perhaps we can find new eyes with which to see how we can expand our circle of care beyond one sacred hour in the week or the physical limitations of our church buildings. 

Yosef Kanefsky, a Rabbi in Los Angeles, offers some provocative thoughts on how we might protect each other by mutual distancing yet still offer meaningful and much-needed connection: “Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern. Every inch and every foot that we physically place between ourselves and another, must become a thought as to how we might be of help to that other, should the need arise.”

Yours in Christ

Love letter 6

To my fellow pilgrims on the way to the promised end

“What you have just said is quite true ….”

John 4:18b

This third Sunday in Lent, we meet in the Gospel of John a woman who is almost offensive in her forthrightness.

Jesus asks her for a drink of water and she points out that Jews don’t talk to Samaritans.

Jesus offers her living water and she wants to know how he will get it since he has nothing to draw water from the well beside him.

Jesus instructs her to fetch her husband and she speaks the ugly truth of her life in plain terms.

Jesus reveals his knowledge of her personal circumstances and she bombards him with questions that are both political and religious. 

And when Jesus reveals that he is the Messiah, even as she hurries home with the good news, she is wondering, “Can he really be?”

At each stage of their conversation she is true to who she is – plain-spoken and prickly and rough around the edges. Yet, in return for sharing her truth, Jesus reveals who he truly is. (For those who are curious, have a look through the Gospels and see how rarely Jesus claims the identity of Messiah for himself). And when she shares his truth, many in her community become believers and are open to his teaching.

This week, may you know that God already knows what is happening in the hidden and sometimes desolate spaces of your life – but when you speak your truth, you will find a more intimate friendship with the Saviour of the world. He longs to sit a while with you.

Yours in Christ

Love letter 5

To my fellow pilgrims on the way to the promised end

Happiness. It’s what we long for, what we’re after. 

For some of us, there is a specific picture of what “happily ever after” looks like. A number we want to see in our bank at the end of the month or at the start of our retirement. The just-right sized house. The ideal weight. The best assortment of letters before or after our name. The recovery or remission or reconciliation of family members who, at so many different levels of life, have been taking serious strain.

For others it is a little more elusive; a distant and undefined dream that we stumblingly try to discern as our parents and partners and colleagues and friends sagely advise “I just want you to be happy.”

Happiness. Isn’t that what life is all about?

Can you imagine, for a moment, if our priorities, our pursuit of happiness, had defined Jesus’ view of life? Can you see him rejecting each of the devil’s temptations so firmly if happiness was his measure of a life well lived? Or setting himself on a path that would lead to pain and suffering if self-preservation and satisfaction was all he valued?

Kingdom priorities are different priorities. It’s not that God doesn’t want us to be happy – it’s that God wants us to know far more than the temporary happiness that flees each time life gets hard or people get mean.

As we begin our journey into the wilderness and the wideness of Lent this week, I pray that Sunday’s sacred gathering and the weekly spaces for prayer and contemplation on offer at both Wesley and Pilgrim (see UiW and bulletin) may offer us a starting point for repentance, renewal, and reframing those longings and temptations that have power in our lives.

This Lent – forget happiness! May we pursue Christ and know the joy of walking in the power and the grace of the Spirit.

Yours in Christ

The Commissioning of Elders – Pilgrim

On Sunday, the 16th of February, our five elders – Betty, George, Marilyn, Rob, and Ruth – were commissioned for the task of spiritual and pastoral oversight in the Pilgrim worshipping community.

Worship started with an energetic prayer as the children led us in a “Mexican wave” each time the word “Hallelujah” was mentioned in our praises. Sometimes they were crouched down in expectation; sometimes they were huffing and puffing to catch their breath after a string of joyful “Hallelujahs!”; but my favourite part was the transition into the time of quiet confession where a simple “shhhhhhhhhh” brought a deep and sacred silence upon us all.

While they worked on making prayer leis for each of the elders, Reverend Peter Walker, principal of the Uniting Theological College offered the assurance to the elders and to each of us that Christ IS with us as we seek to engage in God’s mission in the world.

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20, NRSV

Marilyn, Rob, Betty, Ruth, and George committed to serving both God and us in prayer and discernment, welcoming and caring, teaching and silence, visitation and leading, pruning and planting, building and support, and encouraging our hope and love as we participate in God’s saving grace in the world in a beautiful exchange of vows between them and the gathered community:

I do not stand before you as a master but a servant.
I do not stand before you to gain but to give.
I do not stand before you out of pride but obedience.
I do not stand before you in my strength but by the power of the Spirit.

We give thanks to God who has named you and saved you.
We give thanks to God who has called you and equipped you.
We give thanks to God who will strengthen and sustain you.
We give thanks to God for the gift that you are.

I stand before you for my gifts are not my own.
I stand before you because of God’s great love.
I stand before you because faith needs to find expression.
I stand before you because I am willing to serve – you and God.

We affirm that your obedience is not without cost.
We affirm that in serving you bring glory and pleasure to God.
We affirm that you are a precious blessing to this Body.
We affirm that in serving you bring joy to us.

I promise to celebrate and share God’s embracing love with the world.
I promise to follow the pattern of Christ who was not afraid of getting his hands dirty.
I promise to seek to grow my gifts through prayer, and study, and training.
I promise to walk closely with God that I might serve you better and love God more.

We promise to partner with you in God’s love and work:
to seek to find our own calling and gifting,
to affirm the things that bring us joy,
to pray for you and love you.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

It was wonderful to have the diversity and breadth of the church represented in the laying on of hands and blessing of the elders by members of the worshipping communities, Rev. Walker, Rev. Nigel Hawken (our new presbytery minister), and one of the youth. The children also hung their vibrant leis around the neck of each elder and received, in turn, a blessing.

Going forward, each elder has accepted oversight of a particular aspect of our community life in line with their gifts and passions and all questions, concerns, or ideas can be directed to them as follows for discussion in our regular meetings:
Rob – prayer and worship e.g. quiet days, retreats, Sunday worship
Betty – pastoral presence e.g. people in need of visitation and care
George – visioning and stewardship e.g. property, finances, future plans
Marilyn – formation and story e.g. preaching, Bible studies, courses
Ruth – justice and hospitality e.g. welcoming newcomers, mission and outreach initiatives

As we build together this beautiful community, may we continue to pray for one another and offer our gifts in humble and heartfelt service to the glory of God.

Love letter 4

To the people of God on the way to the promised end

Last weekend was a time of great rejoicing with and within the wider Body as we attended the induction service of our new Presbytery minister, Nigel Hawken on Saturday, and on Sunday commissioned Pilgrim’s elders with the good news that Chist IS with us.

One of the most significant moments for me was the presentation of gifts as the children brought forward the prayer leis that they had made during the service, placed them around the elders’ necks, and then received a blessing in turn as the elders (some even kneeling) laid hands upon them.

In order to be a living Church, our conversations have to hold in tension these four threads:

  • God’s continuing mission in the world,
  • expressing our unity in diversity,
  • personally committing to playing a part in building up Christ’s body,
  • and regularly considering the legacy that we will leave our children and their children and their children’s children.

In the story of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountain we witness how the past and future are brought together in the persons of Moses and Elijah (pioneers of our faith) and Peter, James and John (pivotal figures in the early Church) to bear witness to that glorious affirmation – “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear him!” (Matthew 17:5)

Today, we find ourselves with Christ on that high mountain from which he leads us towards the table of remembrance, the cross of great suffering, and, ultimately, the liberating hope of the empty tomb.

How do these places give shape and substance to our mission, our unity, our stewardship, and our legacy as we claim, in Christ, our own belovedness and seek to pass that affirmation on?

Yours in Christ

Love letter 3

To the people of God on the way to the promised end, 

Today is a very special day in the life of the Pilgrim worshipping community as we welcome Reverend Peter Walker from the Uniting Theological College to talk about the nature and purpose of the church and our commitment together as Christian community as we celebrate those in our midst who have heard the call to serve God as elders within this part of the Wagga Wagga congregation: 
in prayer and discernment,
welcoming and caring,
teaching and silence,
visitation and leading,
pruning and planting,
building and support,
and, always, in encouraging our hope and love as we participate in God’s saving grace in the world.

I have to admit that sometimes I worry about what we worry about as Church – our mesmerisation by narratives of decline to borrow a phrase from a well-known commentator on the Basis of Union.

Our preoccupation with the work of constitution, organisation, funding and administration to enable the work of reconciliation and renewal can, easily, become an end itself, rather than the means to making tangible in people’s everyday here-and-now lives the vision of God’s promised end. 

As the Gospel brings us a challenge today I pray, for these elders and for us all, a preoccupation in 2020 with seeking God, building deeper connections, imagining new forms of worship and mission, and encouraging all people to participate in a way which brings eternal glory to Christ Jesus.

“Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? … But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”

Matthew 6:25b and 33

Yours in Christ

Love letter 2

One of the most common complaints around our dinner table since arriving to Australia in 2018 has been the lack of salt in every meal. It’s not that we don’t put enough salt in – my mom’s pinch is very generous and she has taught me well. It’s simply that the salt is insufficient to produce the meaty flavours we’ve grown up with when we’re suddenly cooking with salt-reduced soy or low-salt chicken stock or salt lite. 

In the well-known words from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus questions what use salt is when its lost its saltiness or who would light a lamp and then hide it from sight (Matthew 5:13-14).

As people who seek to live according to the very best way when God’s law and God’s love hold us together in abundant grace and humble obedience, we should enrich the world all around us: the land and the sky and the waters and all that live within them. 

I have found that the Uniting Church in Australia has a particularly savoury saltiness, an inviting rainbow-coloured light spectrum that intrigues the palate and expands the palette by intentionally holding together people of such different traditions and cultures and journeys and spiritual practices and theological beliefs as a sign of the promised reconciliation and perfect shalom we will find in God’s right-here-right-now-for-all-eternity kingdom.

What great things God has prepared for us! Not just for us – but for the world to which God came. What great gifts God bestows on us! Not just for us – but that the world may be full of rich and complex sights and flavours. 

Through the love that we bear and the stories that we share as members of the Body and, particularly, of this UCA family, may others come to taste and see that God is good!

Yours in Christ