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Wednesday: return

A reflection by Rev. Dr. Roger Webb

Jesus’ earthly ministry had ended, and He then returned to the Father. A new chapter of God’s mission to the world was about to begin, one which placed the responsibility on His followers. The Gospel would flow out from Jerusalem in waves, like ripples on a pond when a stone is dropped into it.

Many people had seen the Risen Christ, but it was possible that some of them still had problems accepting the reality of Jesus’ resurrection, so He took time to once again explain from the Scriptures how He had to die and rise again after 3 days. (What scriptures might He have quoted eg.  Isaiah 53?).

      Why did Jesus have to return to the Father?

  • He had to make it clear that His earthly ministry had ended, and would not be returning again.
  • If He remained on earth, He could only be in one place at a time.
  • He left so that the Holy Spirit could come.

     Having resourced the disciples theologically, Jesus then equipped them with His authority to proclaim the Gospel message throughout the world: the ripples began to flow outwards.

     Before blessing the disciples, Jesus promised them the gift of the Holy Spirit’s power to equip them for their mission. (The Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, some days after Jesus’ Ascension). Jesus’ Ascension and His blessing of the disciples inspired a time of joyful worship in the Temple.

     How did the disciples experience the gift of the Spirit?  

“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you. And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8: NRSV).

     (The Greek word for ‘power’ here is dunamis , which is the root of our words such as ‘dynamo’, ‘dynamic’, ‘dynamite’, etc.)

     These events are a pattern for us, who have met the Risen and Ascended Christ and seek to contribute our ripples into the community. 

  • How might we carry out our mission in our community?
  • How might the dunamis of the Spirit be manifested in our daily living and witness? 
  • Does our experience of the Risen an Ascended Christ fill us with joy and inspire us to praise God continually?

 An ancient legend: When Jesus returned to heaven, an angel asked Him: “Lord, now you have completed your earthly ministry, what plans have you made to continue your work?” Jesus replied: “I have Peter, James, and John, and all the other believers to continue my mission”. “But what plans have you made if they fail you?”  Jesus answered, “I have no other plans”.

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!

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

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

Saturday’s spirit: Palms up

If you are reading this post, welcome to the first ever offering of “Saturday’s spirit” which focuses on tapping into the Spirit of God in our creativity, experience, and play. The language of these posts is deliberately family-friendly and draws on stories, prayers, and activities that I have accumulated over many, many, many years of wonderful engagement with youth and children but, speaking as someone well into her forties, no one is ever too old to get their hands dirty. 

As we get ready to enter into Holy Week, today is all about palms. Normally, these refer to the branches that people laid before Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey and which we often use to decorate our sanctuaries on Palm Sunday. Given, current circumstances, we will use the palms we have at hand – don’t excuse the pun!

A playful prayer:

Before this prayer is offered, you may want to talk about tomorrow being Palm Sunday and what that means. Acknowledge the ways in which we normally celebrate it as church and how we can celebrate it this year using the palms of our hands. As you pray (you can repeat the prayer two or three times to get into the mood of it), wave your hands about, clap, and cheer.

We sing and clap and wave and cheer
for Jesus, who come riding near.

We cheer and wave and clap and sing
to welcome Jesus as our King.

The Lion Book of a 1000 prayers for children.

Palm story

The story of Jesus entering in Jerusalem can be found in Matthew 21:1-11. You can read the story together or watch a short youtube clip:

Jesus and his followers were coming closer to Jerusalem. But first they stopped at Bethphage at the hill called the Mount of Olives. From there Jesus sent two of his followers into the town. He said to them, “Go to the town you can see there. When you enter it, you will find a donkey tied there with its colt. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone asks you why you are taking the donkeys, tell him, ‘The Master needs them. He will send them back soon.’” This was to make clear the full meaning of what the prophet said:

“Tell the people of Jerusalem,
    ‘Your king is coming to you.
He is gentle and riding on a donkey.
    He is on the colt of a donkey.’”

The followers went and did what Jesus told them to do. They brought the donkey and the colt to Jesus. They laid their coats on the donkeys, and Jesus sat on them. Many people spread their coats on the road before Jesus. Others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.Some of the people were walking ahead of Jesus. Others were walking behind him. All the people were shouting,

“Praise to the Son of David!
God bless the One who comes in the name of the Lord!
Praise to God in heaven!”

Then Jesus went into Jerusalem. The city was filled with excitement. The people asked, “Who is this man?”

The crowd answered, “This man is Jesus. He is the prophet from the town of Nazareth in Galilee.”

International Children’s Bible

An Easter bouquet

Today’s activity is as messy as you want to make it. It can be done using poster paints and a large piece of cardboard – all together – or individually with pencils and pens. 

From https://www.pinterest.com.au/pin/384635624405993253/
Image from Kitchenfunwithmy3sons.com

If you are working collaboratively with paint, start by painting the vase/pot and as many stalks as there are members in your family. Once they have dried, have each person dip their hands into a shallow bowl of poster paint and then carefully press it on to form a “palm” flower. If you would like to use this as a more prayerful activity, have each person name someone that they are thinking of at the moment and miss having physical contact with. 

Alternatively, the pot and stalk can be drawn in pencil with hands traced to create the flowers. The picture can then be coloured in. Make sure that your Easter bouquet goes on display!

x

Friday’s photo: ready

Today’s photo is taken in the entrance hall of our home where we have been getting ready for Easter. 

The round table on which everything rests belonged originally to my Mom but when I got married it became mine because it was the just-right size to fit in our little dining room with four chairs around it. Over the years, it has been gnawed upon by puppy dogs and punctured by pencils as the boys did their homework at it. Every time I look at it I smile because it makes me think of Enid Blyton’s “Enchanted Table.” Now retired, it has found new purpose marking the seasons and offering welcome as people come through our door.

In the background are bright symbols that remind me that this is a time of joy. I remember how much fun we had has children hunting Easter eggs in the garden – and the even greater fun I had hiding them for my own. I think of family traditions like Sunday’s roast lamb and hot cross buns at Oudi’s house on Good Friday, and church traditions like gathering together to make hundreds of Palm crosses or huddling beneath Calvary’s cross (yes, that really was the name of a dear community in which I worshipped, and yes, it really did have a beautiful outdoor cross) an hour before sunrise in the gloomy cold as we waited together for the light to dawn. Light. New life. A world made new. I am SO ready for that.

On the left are images from a Godly Play story which hold before me how truly human and how deeply loved Jesus was. The One who suffered alone on the cross was a blessing to the world: a son, a brother, a student, a carpenter, a friend, a teacher before he showed himself to be our Saviour. As I make ready to enter Holy Week, I reflect on the fact this is not some ancient story about some distant God but a word about love and pain and death and hope that so many need to hear … that I need to hear again.

Finally, on the right this year I have added a basin of water and a towel because the story of Pilate washing his hands of Jesus sits heavy within my heart in this time when hand washing has taken on such practical significance. I wonder who I have washed my hands of, kept at a distance, avoided because the personal cost in time and energy might be too much. Yet, as I dip my hands into the cool water, I feel myself washed clean. 

As we get ready to enter into this special season in our homes this year, I would like to encourage you to create a space for the symbols that help you connect with the story, with some of your memories of Easters past, and with the people who have sat with you in the darkness and waited for the light.

Yours in Christ,
Yvonne

Wednesday’s Word

If you would like this as a video reflection, please click here.

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

As we get ready to enter into the unfolding drama of Holy Week and witness how the worship of the crowds as Jesus enters the holy city of Jerusalem on the back of a donkey will be transformed into the jeering mob’s cries of “crucify him!”

The feet so tenderly anointed with perfume will be pierced by nails.

His troubled spirit will find voice in the Garden of Gethsemane where a friend and follower will seal his fate with a kiss.

Bread broken, wine shared will become an enduring sign of his suffering and our salvation.

As the prophet Isaiah (50:4-9a) reminds us: He will not be rebellious. He will not turn away. He will offer his back to those who beat him. He will not hide his face from mocking and spitting. And though charges will be brought against him, though he will stand accused, he will not be condemned or put to shame. This is the word that sustains the weary: our Sovereign Lord is near.

As we enter the time of palms and passion, it will be an Easter unlike any we have ever known. Our traditional ways of gathering and remembering and the people with whom we usually do so are unavailable to wait with us through the suffering to the resurrection joy of Easter’s sunrise.

Perhaps the invitation of this time is to allow ourselves to feel deeply the loneliness of Christ as Pilate washed his hands of him; as he was forsaken by friends and followers and even his Father, and crucified in the company of criminals; as the stone shut him into the lifeless, lightless place of a borrowed tomb. Perhaps, if we open ourselves fully to that loneliness, we will also begin to awaken morning by morning to a greater love for a hurting world and those within it.

May the passion of Christ be with you.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

Monday’s mourning: Psalm 143

Before offering a prayer of lament and longing today, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge what many others have shared over the course of the last week: that underneath the excitement and opportunities of finding different ways to connect and worship with one another is a very real sense of loss that is exacerbated by simply not knowing when we will next gather in person. 

For me, the call to act decisively, in the interests of those most vulnerable and in solidarity with a world that is suffering, is what being Church is all about. My mind was quickly occupied with what might be possible given the ranging age and contexts of the congregations with whom I share life. And there is a very simple pleasure in, each day, offering something small – and, I hope, full of hope – to a Church far bigger than the boundaries we have held on to as we seek to offer a word of comfort and promise in a time of loneliness and anxiety. 

But, as I pinned up the notices on the closed doors of a sanctuary to let people know some of the ways in which we can enter fully into this season of prayer and care for another, I must admit that I was overwhelmed with grief as I pictured the faces of the people that I would normally see gathering in that place each Sunday, the children I would hold, the hands I would touch. 

Hence Monday’s mourning – a space to turn to God with our sorrow.

God of promise,
please pay attention to my prayers this day. 
Don’t judge me for how I’m feeling –
but acknowledge my cries.
I live in the darkness of death’s shadow.
My life is crushed into dust.
My heart is heavy with despair
and a deep depression settles into my soul.

I am nearly at the end of my rope.

Help me to pause in Your presence,
to stretch out my hands to You
as a thirsty desert waits for rain
to bring new life.

Let the dawning day bring me a revelation
of your tender, unfailing love. 
Remind me of the good old days
 –
of all the ways I have seen You at work –
that I might have light for this path
and trust in You
to lead me by Your blessed Spirit
into clear and level pastureland. 

Amen.

*based on the Passion Translation and the Message paraphrases*

Friday’s photo

A simple photo today, taken in the garden, in anticipation of our “grand plans” for what is normally our Sabbath rest. 

Neither mom nor myself are actually fans of “yellow” but the colour of sunshine, hope, and happiness is certainly what we want to plant into the world at the moment.

A bee box, some daffodil bulbs, and new plants for the pots by the front door … these are all signs of our hospitality and hope extended in different ways in this different time: 

  • to God’s good creation which, in various parts of the world, is showing signs of renewal and healing as pollution patterns shift, 
  • to the changing seasons and the lengthening nights which invite us to retreat and withdraw in the certain knowledge that the earth will thaw and the bulbs will grow and the blossoms will bloom come Spring,
  • and to the neighbours who now pass by our home more regularly in small groups or on solitary walks as they seek to keep moving in safe ways. 

May the bright light and the hope-filled love of God burst into your day in myriad ways!

Yours in Christ
Yvonne