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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. 

Rhythms of significance

We all have a part to play in the Good News story. Today, we reflect on Mary’s song from Luke 1:46-55.

As you listen to the words, reflect in the silence:

  • How does this song compare to the songs you like to sing?
  • Why is this song significant enough to appear in Scripture?
  • Are there any parts that are challenging or confronting?
  • Is Mary’s song also your song in any way?

***

With hearts and hands and voices, glorify the Lord.
Within the very depths of who you are, rejoice in God, our Saviour,
who looks beyond what others see,
beyond the sin and shame of our fragile humanity,
with eyes of love and favour.

Surely the Shepherd of Israel,
the Lord Almighty,
has done great things – for you, for me.

A God of mercy and of strength,
he lifts up the meek and lowly
and fills the hungry with all good things.

Just as we think that the world belongs to the proud and the powerful,
bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore.

Just as we despair at the growing distance between rich and poor, old and young, sick and healthy,
bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore

Just as we arrogantly grasp for control over the circumstances and struggles of our lives,
bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore.

Just as we wonder whether there is still a future for your Church and what part we might play in it,
bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore.

*silence*

May the God of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
the God who is faithful from generation to generation,
remember us in mercy forever.
For indeed, from generation to generation,
God’s lovingkindness endures for those alive to the Divine Rhythm 
with and within them.
Bestow on us the blessing of life together, of life forevermore
In Jesus’ name. Amen. 

Rhythms of loss

The song that I invite you to focus on today is actually a third of the very short book attributed to Habakkuk, a much lesser prophet to the people of Jerusalem then Jeremiah, who was also active at about the same time.

His rather unattractive name (my boys always get the giggles), in Hebrew, may actually come from the word for “hug” or “hang on tightly” and, in this final song of the Old Testament, that’s exactly what he does – he hangs on to his faith in God.

This particular song is a prayer – written for the director of music to be played on stringed instruments on “shigionoth” – by wandering, by improvising. As you read the words for the very first time, as those musicians did, try to imagine the mood and volume of the music that would accompany it.  

Lord, I have heard of your fame;
I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Repeat them in our day,
in our time make them known;
in wrath remember mercy.

God came from Teman,
the Holy One from Mount Paran.
His glory covered the heavens
and his praise filled the earth.
His splendour was like the sunrise;
rays flashed from his hand,
where his power was hidden.

Plague went before him;
pestilence followed his steps.
He stood, and shook the earth;
he looked, and made the nations tremble.
The ancient mountains crumbled
and the age-old hills collapsed—
but he marches on forever.

I saw the tents of Cushan in distress,
the dwellings of Midian in anguish.
Were you angry with the rivers, Lord?
Was your wrath against the streams?
Did you rage against the sea
when you rode your horses
and your chariots to victory?

You uncovered your bow,
you called for many arrows.
You split the earth with rivers;
the mountains saw you and writhed.
Torrents of water swept by;
the deep roared
and lifted its waves on high.

Sun and moon stood still in the heavens
at the glint of your flying arrows,
at the lightning of your flashing spear.
In wrath you strode through the earth
and in anger you threshed the nations.
You came out to deliver your people,
to save your anointed one.

You crushed the leader of the land of wickedness,
you stripped him from head to foot.
With his own spear you pierced his head
when his warriors stormed out to scatter us,
gloating as though about to devour
the wretched who were in hiding.
You trampled the sea with your horses,
churning the great waters.

I heard and my heart pounded,
my lips quivered at the sound;
decay crept into my bones,
and my legs trembled.
Yet I will wait patiently for the day of calamity
to come on the nation invading us.Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.

The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to tread on the heights.

Habakkuk 3, NIV

Reflect for a moment:

  • 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 the mood? And does it shift as the song progresses?

Before writing this powerful and, again, rather confronting song that declares Habakkuk’s unshakeable faith in a majestic and forceful God no matter what may befall him, this very minor prophet had been questioning God relentlessly regarding the corruption and lawlessness of Israel’s society, the increasing prosperity of the rich, and the anguished suffering of the poor.

How long must I call to you for help without you listening?

With so much evil going on in the world, with no able to do something to stop it, why don’t you get involved? 

When will you intervene to punish oppression and expose idolatry? 

Why are you delaying your promised kingdom? 

I don’t know if he liked the answer – those who have built their livelihood through oppression and violence will have their houses plundered; those who have brought about the shame of others will find that it’s their own turn to be disgraced. This was the judgement of God – first, against the Israelites; then, against the Babylonians who would invade, violate, and enslave them for a period of time. 

When we look at the state of the world around us in this season, we too may want to hang onto God with all those questions – questions about justice, the decisions that people make for power and profit, whose lives matter most, about the intrusion of the brokenness of our world into our own personal circumstances through disease and violence and stress and conflict, about the presence or absence of God in the midst of all …

… the loss of dignity…
… the loss of capacity… 
… the loss of company … 
… the loss of significance … 
… the loss of love …
… the loss of life …

I don’t know how easily my own heart would sing that song … “I will wait patiently for the day to come …” though there’s no food, no wine, no oil, no meat “I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” 

I don’t want to struggle. 
I don’t want to feel pain.
I don’t want to have my heart broken.
I don’t want to lose someone I love. 
I don’t want to be bullied.
I don’t want to do without. 
I don’t want to worry about where my next meal is coming from. 

But what do we learn about God if we look beyond our own little lives and wants to the violent and escalating rhythm of loss in our world in this season? 

When we hear the anger and the mourning and the desperation and the wondering and the grasping, grasping, grasping for God, for help, for someone to make it stop, for some way to make sense of it all, what do we learn about the universal human need for salvation and a kingdom of perfect peace and justice for all? 

And how does that move us, shape us, challenge us, change us? 

May we grasp on to that this week. 

And may God’s passion and purpose for this world take hold of us so that loss can meet love – again and again and again and again and again – through us.

Rhythms of grace: beginning

If 2020 has offered me one great insight, it’s that we like life to be fairly patterned and predictable. There is an expected order to things – a routine of daily and seasonal rituals that offer comfort and security.

Yet, I wonder, in our fast-paced, consumer-driven, and fairly comfortable lifestyles, how many of those routines help us to connect day by day with the deeper way of living called Christianity or discipleship or kingdom-living?

As we start a new series of conversations around the rhythms of grace which anchor us to God in the midst of daily-changing circumstances, let’s begin here:

In the beginning,
God …

in the beginning,
God created,

God created
the heavens and the earth. 

God said,
“let there be”
and there was.

The ruach of God –
ruach,
ruach
ruach
ruach
ruach
ruach
hovering over the face of the deep
working in concert with the Word 
to bring light and life and shape to the world;

<light a candle if you have one nearby>

to cradle us
in space and time – 

between 

sun and moon 
and day and night 
and light and dark 
and sea and sky 
and land and water 
and ebb and flow 
and life and death 

and love 
love 
Love.

Love of the Father,
Love of the Son,
Love of the Holy Spirit.  

Love said,
“let there be”
and there was.

And, in love, what was good –
together – became very good.

And six days of work
were punctuated by a day a rest
and a rhythm of life was set,
set by God

it was set by God …
in the beginning.

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