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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!

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.

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?

Love letter 1

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

Warm greetings to you in this first “love letter” of the new year!

In South Africa, the first Sunday in February was often set aside in Methodist Churches for our annual Covenant services in which each person was encouraged to make a radical declaration of love and loyalty to God. Though its language has been modernised, the words of the covenant prayer penned by John Wesley can still be jarring to 21st century ears (and hearts): “I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what you will, place me with whom you will .…”

In this week’s Gospel reading (Luke 2:22-40), we encounter two (very old) characters at the Temple who embody this prayer beautifully – Simeon and Anna: male and female, priest and prophetess; both devout; both longing and waiting and praying for the salvation of God’s people; both filled with wonder and uncontainable joy at seeing God’s promises fulfilled in this Christ child who would grow in wisdom and become strong in God’s grace.

As we seek to be faithful disciples like Anna and Simeon, to proclaim the message of hope and salvation, I wonder:

  • how may we better hold the living God in our arms in this new year? 
  • how may he be born(e) in the midst of both the light and the dark of life, the highs and the lows, the celebrations and the sorrows? 
  • how may he continue, through us, to be touched by the brokenness and sorrow and worry and pain of everyday people and to offer, through us, support and healing and comfort – particularly to the most vulnerable in our society?

As God’s Church, I pray that 2020 will be a time of growth, self-offering, and deeper unity as we walk in the way of the Spirit and use our diverse gifts for the building up of the Body and in expressing God’s all-embracing love in life-giving ways in the world around us.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne

Christ the King Sunday

To those who kneel before the throne in worship ….

Today marks the end of the liturgical year and we celebrate it by remembering just who Jesus is. 

He is the image of the invisible God – the epitome of love, defender of the weak, worker of miracles.

He is the firstborn over all creation – the one from whom light and life flows; the one who speaks and brings beauty and order and purpose into being. By him and for him all things were created – even the authorities of this world for whom he groans when they use their power and position to use and abuse and tear down and oppress.

He holds all things together – from the stars and moons and planets of our ever-expanding universe, to people of different tribes and languages, to families broken by the death of a loved one, to the unnatural gaps in the world like the divide between the rich and the poor.  He reminds us that we are all interconnected.

He is the head of the body, the Church.  He is the one from whom we take our example and our lead; the one who teaches us how to live; the one who gives us our mission and our meaning; the one who holds together our different gifts, our different passions, our different dreams.

He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead – a God of unimaginable power and possibility; the one who can break every bond that imprisons us, who can resurrect every area of our lives in which we have given up hope, who can open up opportunities for new ways of being and thinking and doing.

The fullness of God dwells in him that he may open our eyes to the fullness of life – to the rest and restoration of gentle rivers and green pastures, to the pressing and cleansing presence of his Spirit in our woundedness, to his comfort in the valleys so dark and full of shadows that we fear we will be lost in them forever.

He is the one who shed his blood on the cross that all things might be reconciled to him who with dying, tortured breath declared, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

This is who Jesus is. Worship him today as your King.

Yours in Christ
Yvonne