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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 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.      

Rhythms of grace: seasons of suffering

The invitation to prayer this week is taken from Tess Ward’s book “The Celtic Wheel of the Year,” combined with images for silent contemplation and a song. Enter the quiet and may the Spirit of God speak to you in this season. 

Praise to you O Divine Love,
for though you never ordain suffering,
you help us to make sense of love’s purpose when hardship befalls.
Reveal the meaning of this time that you have gifted to us.
Help us so to trust you in every season, we may say:
Praise to you.

Beirut blast …
Air India crash …
COVID-19 deaths … burial of unclaimed bodies …
USA protests …
Solid Black Wallpapers - Top Free Solid Black Backgrounds ...
Whatever loss or struggle you have gone/are going through …

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

<A candle is lit if you have one at hand>

Loving God,
you have loved us through every season,
from the time of our birth, until our time to die.
Walk with us in our season this day, for you know there is
a time for wounding and a time to heal,
a time to mourn and a time to celebrate,
a time to be creative and a time to survive,
a time to surrender and a time to rebel,
a time to embrace and a time to be self-contained,
a time to speak and a time to keep silence,
a time to be there and a time to stay away,
a time to take charge and a time to let be,
a time to reach beyond and a time to consolidate,
a time to be moderate and a time to be outrageous,
a time to be anxious and a time to be at peace,
a time to stay and a time to move on,
a time to care and a time to be cared for,
a time to generate and a time to lose,
a time to love and time to let go. 
Bear us through this time, you who bear our pain and longing.
Let us hear your voice whispering,
“All is sacred. It is your time.”

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!

Tuesday: forgiveness

I have been thinking much lately about the people who have played a significant role in shaping the person that I am today through honest conversation, an openness to my sometimes vastly different background and perspective, their authentic and vulnerable self-offering, and – of course – lots and lots of laughter. 

One of the most incredible gifts of this time of self-isolation and social distancing has been discovering how enduring those connections are and how great the variety is in the age, ethnicity, location, occupation, culture, and faith of those that I call role-models, soul companions, and friends.

I must confess that a fair number of these bonds surprise me because I can recall moments in our history of mistrust, misunderstanding, or even sheer misery! And I am deeply grateful for the shared Spirit of God that has slowly brought healing and reconciliation and understanding and personal growth in situations where I have been wounded and/or wounded another.

Today, I invite you to reflect on the practice of forgiveness – and the place that it may have in your life right now. 

I share below, a reflection by Scott Noon and Herbert Brokering that has made a lasting impression on my own thinking about the challenging work and the enduring gift that this word offers us as Christian community and inhabitants of God’s good earth:

Forgive.

Let’s find it in Webster’s [dictionary].
It comes just after the word forge.
Just after forget-me-not.

Webster’s. Forge: a furnace or hearth
where metals are heated.
Forge: a workshop
where pig iron is transformed into wrought iron.
Forge: to form by heating and hammering into shape.
Forge. 
It’s a good word in Webster’s, just before the word forgive.

Forgive: to excuse for a fault or offence; to pardon.
Forgive: to renounce anger or resentment against.
Forgive: to absolve payment of.
Forgive: to free the offender from consequences.
Forgive: to pass over a mistake or fault
without demanding a punishment.

Herbert Brokering and Scott Noon

May the God who forgets-us-not
forge us into a family 
that forgives. 

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
Yvonne