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

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

The journey of the wise men

To all who seek the bright Morning Star ….

An ancient prophecy, 
a sign in the night sky,
a dangerous journey across the desolation,
the camaraderie of travelling companions spurring one another on with hopes and expectations, 
a treasure carried as tribute to a King …

… this is the stuff of fairytale and legend –
captivating, romantic, remarkable.

How far removed from every Christmas play I’ve ever seen where, as Eugene Peterson so perfectly put it:
“Three bathrobes wise men with six or seven
Inches of jeans and sneakers showing, kneel
Offering gifts that symbolise the gifts
That none of us are ready yet to give.”

As we light the fourth candle for the wise men and make our way in a few short days to the manger to welcome Immanuel, God-with-us, I wonder just what it is that we’re hoping to receive … 

… and what we’re willing to offer in our wonder and our worship.

Blessings to you and yours in this holy time of giving and receiving. 

And may the God of hope be with us
in our Advent journey to the stable and beyond,
in our meeting and in our travelling together,
in our feasting and our resting.

Yours in Christ

Shepherds in the fields nearby

To all looking for Joy in the midst of the world’s troubles …

One of my all-time favourite movies is an animated film titled “Inside Out” which is set almost entirely inside the head of an 11-year old girl named Riley. Inside there, five main characters – Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear, and Disgust – work (somewhat together) to help her navigate her way through her world. 

It’s well worth watching – on your own or with the grandkids – as the manic pixie-like character named Joy struggles to keep Riley happy after a stressful cross-country move and a difficult period at work for Riley’s father by dismissing the voices of all the other characters. 

In the end, Joy discovers that her significance is much more than making Riley feel upbeat and positive all the time and that the experience of life as meaningful and worthwhile requires that Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust live and work alongside her too. 

As we light the third candle in our advent wreath, we open ourselves up to Joy of the shepherds who were the first to receive the glorious news of the birth of Christ, the promised Messiah. The purpose behind the angel’s tidings was to bring good news that would cause great joy for all the people: people living under the oppressive force of Roman power, religious legalism, and poverty.

As the pronouncement sent the shepherds on a journey from their fields to seek the truth for themselves, may we bear glad witness to God-with-us on the highest mountains and in the shadows of the deepest valleys.

Yours in Christ

First Sunday in Advent

Grace and peace to you from him who is, who was, and who is to come as we find ourselves, again, in the blessed season of Advent, making ready to celebrate the Christ-child who comes to us in human form and anticipating the Christ-King who will come again to rule and reconcile the world in and to himself ….

Today, we start a brand new lectionary cycle: at Year A which focuses on the stories of Abraham through to Moses in the Old Testament and the gospel of Matthew. 

These are our origin stories: stories of how we came to be a pilgrim people bound to God by the best ways of living, and of God’s faithfulness along all of the ups and downs, the wanderings and the arrivings, and the joys and the struggles of the ongoing journey of which we are part in this particular time and place.

Matthew consistently points us to a God who keeps every promise as Jesus fulfils the prophecies of the Old Testament and shows his followers how to live out the heart of God’s law. You may find it interesting to keep a note of how many times the words “fulfilment” or “prophet” appear as we journey together.

At Pilgrim on this first Sunday in Advent, we focus on the prophets. I love how the Godly Play stories describe them as “people who come so close to God, and God comes so close to them, that they know what is most important” rather than as mere characters of the past.

As we journey with the people who came close to God and the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled throughout Scripture in this next year, I pray that you will know God coming close to you too that we might walk together in the light of the Lord (Isaiah 2:5).

Yours in Christ