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On the path before us ….

Reflecting on Matthew 26:26-35

Even though it was a wet and windy day, I spent a lovely morning walking in the Kindra State Forest in Coolamon – which is why my hair is currently in this wild woolly state. I had come suitably prepared by my standards – with a water bottle, walking shoes that are sufficiently worn in for a decent hike, and a warm weatherproof jacket. 

After about 5 minutes of consulting the trail board and being absolutely unable to work out where I was or where I was going, I picked a pleasant-enough looking path through the trees and set off. In hindsight, the twisty icon on each one of the signposts should have given it away – the trail curved and looped and wound through the thick trees until I was completely disoriented.

Time slowed; the tension in my shoulders relaxed; and I began to pay attention to more than putting one foot in front of the other on the muddy track. I noticed that while most of the trees seemed quite young, there were a few that loomed old and tall against the grey sky and others that, long fallen, were covered in moss and leaf litter. I spotted kangaroos and wild hares bounding away from me at great speed only to be startled from their safe grazing a few minutes later as I meandered along the track deeper into the quiet. I looked up at the sun as the winds parted the clouds for a moment, and then pulled the hood of my jacket over my head as soft rain fell in the next. I was aware, at first, of my hands and face being cool and, later, of my whole body suffused with warmth though the chilly wind still blew. I smiled – at nothing and no-one.

In places the path was wide enough to walk comfortably with a companion and there were footprints in the mud that revealed that others had passed that way sometime before me. In places it was narrow and the trees pressed in close enough for me to rest a hand on the weathered bark or to draw a leaf through my fingers. In places it was so wet and slippery that it was safer to walk on the rocks or grass alongside the track instead of on it. My whole being became about the steady sound of my breath and my footfalls within a world of grey and green and gold.

And, in the midst of it all, came these words from an author that I love:

Oh, in the beginning,
when you were alone,
did you dream of someone like me?
In the beginning,
from soil and stone,
when you breathed out a world to be …

did you dream a great dream,
did it glisten and gleam,
for all of the angels to see,

in the beginning,
in the depth of your heart,
were you thinking already of me?

Steven James, Story

Our song today, taken from the book of Revelation, is a new song – a song of Christ whose utmost commitment to God and the cosmos is bringing history to its climax and a new creation to birth. This is how we persevere through times of darkness and great stress: we stop and we stare at a universe unfathomably larger than ourselves until we fall down in worship of the One who humbly holds it all together.  

“Praise and honour and glory and power
and wealth and wisdom and strength
to God who has made all things good
and who, through the Lamb,
has lovingly made life with God in a glorious new world possible!”

Entering into that possibility is much like my windy and windy walk through the forest this morning: it’s about being open and present in each moment to the presence of God with and within us, to the unfolding journey, to the mystery of what might lie just round the bend as God thinks of you and thinks of me and breathes out a world to be ….

Instead, at some point, I made the mistake of turning my phone on to check the time and see how long I had before I needed to fetch Bradley from his music gig. Immediately, I panicked as I realised how much time I’d taken. I picked up the pace until my legs were aching and my legs started to burn. With each twist, I wondered whether it would be faster to turn around and go back the way I’d come or if I was already near to the end of the trail. I fretted about whether I would have sufficient phone signal to send him a message if I was going to be late. I chided myself for drinking so much of my water early on that there was not enough left now when I was hot and bothered. I worried about what would happen if I slipped and twisted my ankle (a fairly common occurrence in the past, I’ll admit) and tried to come up with some contingency plans. And when I got to the end and saw my little car waiting with forty minutes to spare, I was full of regret for having rushed – for having lost the rhythm of the cosmos in my own sense of urgency.

So … friends … my prayer for us this week is that we open ourselves up to God in the cosmos – whether in the mundane or spectacular, as part of our ordinary lives that we look at with a new perspective or a long-forgotten dream that we seek to realise in some way …

… that we pause for a time from the pressing and the urgent and the stressful and the planned … to tune in to a new song of Christ’s worth and our own … in the rising sun or the starry night or birdsong in the garden or a companion’s smile … 

… that we are present through each movement of the wind, of our bodies, of our comings and goings, to the Spirit who is present with and within us … 

Amen. 

Leaven

It’s a short story – only a verse in the Gospel of Matthew and two in the Gospel of Luke. 

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed [hid] in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Matthew 13:33 (NRSV)

And again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

Luke 13:20-21 (RSV)

In Matthew, it is prefaced by the parables of the sower and the weed; in Luke, by the call to repent or perish, the story of the barren fig tree, and a nasty confrontation with the Pharisees over the healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath. In both instances, immediately before this parable is another: the parable of the mustard seed – the smallest of all seeds which, when planted, grows into a large tree that offers shelter to the birds of the field.

In context then, perhaps this story is also about what increases the kingdom – a sense of the nearness of God’s justice and perfect peace – and what might get in the way of that understanding and experience.

As I read Scripture through a woman’s eyes, the first thing that I notice about this story of the kingdom is that it is a woman’s story – probably taking place in her kitchen in her home in among all of the other routine tasks of a woman’s day.

As she bakes bread for the household, she takes a little piece of dough left over from the last batch that has, by now, fermented and mixes it in with the three measures of flour until it is all leavened and begins to produce the gas that makes the loaf rise.

I also notice that the whole process depends completely on leftovers, on just a little bit that she’s been clever enough to keep aside. And I notice that it really is just a little bit in comparison to the rest of the ingredients – but without it the loaf would remain flat, unleavened. I notice that that little bit permeates the whole mixture – changing its nature from unleavened to leavened. I notice that the word used for mixing in is actually the same word for hiding something inside. I notice that in this whole process, there is a a necessary, hands-on action on the part of the woman but, also, a letting go time in which the leaven, once mixed in, does its own work. 

Finally, I note that there is another passage in Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus warned others to be wary of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees – and that, in this particular culture, at this particular time, there were many religious moments that involved unleavened bread, so leaven could be used metaphorically to describe a negative influence – and just a little would ruin the whole lot. 

Yet, in today’s story, a woman’s story, Jesus tells us that we discover what the kingdom of God is like …. I wonder what you notice and how it speaks to you of God’s perfect peace and justice growing in our churches, our households, our society. 

Perhaps the kingdom of God is about nothing going to waste.
About the smallest gift making a significant change. 
Perhaps it’s about how we divide and share our resources.
Perhaps it’s about planning ahead, and holding on to a little now, for something today or tomorrow or the next day.
Perhaps the kingdom of God is about those who normally don’t feature in our stories taking centre stage.
Perhaps it’s about finding God in the ordinary places of our homes and the ordinary routines of our work and our rest.
Perhaps it’s about what we hide away in ourselves that transforms us from the inside out. 
Perhaps it’s about knowing when to act – and when to just be part of an unfolding process that we cannot control.

Perhaps the kingdom of God is working unseen in us in this very moment.
Perhaps it’s about the peace and the justice that we long for contaminating our thoughts, our prayers, our language; 
fermenting in our gatherings, our studies of Scripture, our rituals, our planning; 
changing our mindsets, our prejudices, our grudges, our brokenness, our excuses; 
and rising, through the Spirit of God and not through any power of our own, to become bread for all at an open table …. 

It’s a simple story. A parable of the kingdom. May you break off a piece and hide it in your heart this day and see what increases in your life. 

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

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
Yvonne