being community

Call to worship

Here we gather together, people searching for healing and hope;

Here we are met by the One who would bless us with abundant life.

Here we are called into belonging, the family of God’s household;

Here we see no strangers, only sisters and brothers of ours.

Here we are welcomed and embraced, renewed and assured of our worth;

Here we recognise the light of the Christ shining in every life.

Amen

Candle lighting

We light this candle to remind us that we come

from the corners of the world,

from the confusion of life,

from the loneliness of our hearts: so gather us, O God,

to feed our minds;

to fire our imagination;

to free our hearts;

So gather us, O God!

Reading and Reflection 1

Genesis 1:1-2:2a

These opening words of the Hebrew Scriptures, have the rhythm and repetition of a poem or song, and they date from around 6BCE, a time when the people of Israel were in exile.

They are part of a group of writings that have been identified as being from the Priestly school, a community of scholars whose interest and emphasis focussed on the Temple, on the pattern of worship practices, on ritual and ceremony: all the things that outwardly identify a religious community.

These texts were written at a time when the people were without the norms of gathering for worship, without being able to join in the ritual, communal acts of faith.

Sound familiar?

So from that time and those conditions, what becomes the central identifier for the community is keeping sabbath.

Wherever you are, whoever you are, you can take a day for gratitude and celebration (in exile) for God’s goodness and abundance.

Sabbath is a regular invitation to recognise God’s presence in the midst of suffering and loss, a re-set of the intention to open to goodness and blessing in the midst.

In part, it’s also a willingness to recognise what you had taken for granted and to see everything with fresh eyes.

I wonder what you noticed you had taken for granted, and what are your lockdown stories of recognising grace, appreciation of blessing or seeing from a new perspective?

This is what gratitude sounds like.

Many of the psalms also date from the time of the exile, so let’s offer our prayers of gratitude together using psalm 145 as our guide.

There are also psalms from the exile which focus instead on lamenting loss, on remembering the trauma of defeat and naming the pain of separation and death.

We don’t have many good tools or models for how to be with our pain. Our tendency is to avoid pain, and we have lots of tools for that, but the truth is that either we find a way to recognise, process and integrate our experiences of pain or we will find ourselves passing on our pain to those around us.

Numbing and denial are the first and most common ways we hide from pain, but we also have some other tools that we use.

We hide from pain by comparing it with others to see whose is worst. This can allow us to then judge our own pain unworthy or wrong and not worth attending to.

We can hide from processing our pain by blaming someone else for making it happen.

We can hide from pain by explaining it away as God’s will, or as a lesson to learn or punishment for some sin.

None of these strategies reduce our suffering – some of them add to it. None of them release us from the fear and the energy of the pain.

So here’s how we move toward wholeness in the midst of our suffering: We take our courage in both hands and we give space for what we are feeling. We name it.

We let it be what it is, we let ourselves feel it – loneliness, fear, shame, guilt, rejection, isolation…whatever it is, give it a name and own it.

This is how I feel.

This is what’s happening in the world.

This is what hurts me. This is what’s hurting us.

This is where I am in need, where we are in need.

Photo by K. Mitch Hodge on Unsplash

This is what lament sounds like.

Let’s offer our prayers of lament together using psalm 13 as our guide

Questions for conversation and reflection

What have you learned from your lockdown experience?

When we could not gather together in this building, what practices of faith became important for you?

The people of Israel focussed on Sabbath keeping as their faith practice. What would you say is your Christian practice identifier and how does it involve you in God’s invitation to participate in the mission of healing, serving and delight?

Reading and Reflection 2

Matthew 28: 16-20

The reading from Genesis tells us that human beings are made in the image of God. At the time this poem of God’s generative, creative activity was written, the creation stories in the surrounding cultures were full of violence and destruction. The gods were competitive and at war with each other. Humans were formed as servants or slaves to please the gods or suffer the consequences.

The Genesis story is radically different.

The God of the Hebrews creates for pleasure, making each new thing to be in relationship with each other and with God. The God in whose image we are made is one who makes space for others – who says, ‘let there be…’, one who nurtures and supports growth and fruitfulness.

This is the template for human being. And our being is the wellspring out of which human doing flows. We are created for relationship; for finding pleasure in the goodness around us; for taking care of others – animal, vegetable and mineral – and we are created to yield to the other; to let there be an ‘other’ who is good and not like me.

In the gospel reading, Jesus commissions the disciples to go to every nation and on the way, to make disciples.

The mission of God was begun in creation and it has not changed.

The commission of Christ to us as disciples is an invitation to be partners in God’s mission with Jesus as the model for us to imitate. We are beings in relationship, so as we are, with others, we are called make disciples. Not as a special, separate mission activity, but just as we are, whoever we are with, we are called to be humble, honest, courageous and compassionate wounded healers.

Only if we are honest with ourselves can we be humble. Only if we are humble can we be open to learn from those who are unlike ourselves.

Only if we are courageous can we risk the hard conversations and the forgiveness necessary for healing relationships.

Only if we are compassionate in our relationships can we recognise that our own healing is connected to the healing of the world. We cannot be made whole without our neighbour.

Only if we are willing to pour ourselves out for another – to put aside our likes and dislikes, our rights, our ‘norms’ – and open to the gift and grace of what is beyond us – only then can we really serve and grow.

Questions for conversation and reflection

It would be easy to ‘return to normal’ now that we are allowed to gather again.

In our presbytery and across the country, ministers and congregations are recognising and accepting the reality that what has become ‘normal’ in how we ‘do church’ is not bearing the fruit of sustaining, vital and life-giving communities.

How might we integrate the learning from the lockdown into the way we gather so that we might create an environment for growth, joy and service?

Prayer of petition

We pray for the fragile ecology
of the heart and the mind.
The sense of meaning
So finely assembled and balanced and so
easily overturned. 

The careful, ongoing
construction of LOVE.

As painful and exhausting as the struggle for truth
and as easily abandoned.

Hard fought and won
are the shifting sands of this sacred ground,
this ecology.

Easy to desecrate and difficult to defend,
this vulnerable joy, this exposed faith,
this precious order. 

This sanity.

We shall be careful.

O God of goodness, delight and generosity,

Help us to be careful.

Teach us to be careful,
With others and with ourselves.
Amen.

Adapted from a prayer by Michael Leunig

Blessing

May the peace of God the Christ be with you and rest upon you, so that your life radiates peace.

May the joy of the Holy Spirit fill you and refresh you, so that your life overflows with joy.

And may the Love of God surround you and embrace you, so that your life is lovely with love,

And so go out into the world to serve, that through our living in love, joy and peace all the children of the earth may know we are one family.

Amen.

Trinity Sunday – made in god’s image

You can find the lectionary readings for this week here.

Being in Relationship: the Divine Model.

making space, letting be, delighting in, nurturing growth.

This week we celebrate Trinity Sunday, and the readings offer us a few snapshots of some of the scriptures which explore the nature of God, the nature of human being, and the relational expressions of God, humans and the whole of creation.

There’s rich ground for us to contemplate – you might find psalm 8 does most of the work for you! – but these texts also carry (for many of us) some ingrained interpretations that we are so familiar with that we don’t notice them keeping us from seeing and hearing what is there.

As you dwell with the text, then, see if you can spot your interpretation, and see if you can set it aside to listen for the creative freshness of the Spirit showing you something new and renewing.

Soul Food

We do not need magic to transform our world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already.
We have the power to imagine better.
J.K. ROWLING

To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe -- to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it -- is a wonder beyond words.
JOANNA MACY
We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.

MAYA ANGELOU

See you on Sunday at 9:30am, unless you feel unwell, or need to be cautious, in which case look after yourself!

A Flowing River ; a consuming fire; A breath of life

Candle Lighting

The spirit of imagination is a gift to all people.
The spirit of faithfulness is the gift of the earth.

The spirit of hope breathes in the hearts of all people.
The spirit of freedom was announced by those
who went before us and we proclaim it again today.

The spirit of love is a gift to the church in every age.
We light the flame in the name of the Spirit of God.
The Pentecost candle is lit.

The spirit is dancing, moving, struggling, rising
and calling to the ends of the earth.

We have seen the flame of the spirit in our midst.
Thanks be to God. 

(D McRae- adapted)

Opening Prayer

Spirit of God, breathe into our being; breathe into our doing.

Spirit of God, hover over our chaos; hover over our calling.

Spirit of God, burn brightly in the darkness of our fear; burn brightly through our lives.

Spirit of God, comfort our hearts and our world with peace that passes our understanding and sustains us in uncertainty.

Spirit of God, guide us on our journey together; guide us into wisdom and grace.

Amen.

A Song for the Spirit

There are many songs that speak of the power of the Spirit and that invite God to work this power in us and through us. Here are a couple of options for you to enjoy (or skip over if they’re not your cup of tea).

Holy Spirit, Come to Us – Taize

Breathe on me, breath of God – hymn sung by an enthusiastic congregation and with brass band accompaniment!

The Gospel Reading

John 20:19-23 NRSV
Acts 2:1-21 A Translation

Reflection

The audio clip is above, and the full text below.

Scroll down to the next image for questions to reflect on.

The two readings from the lectionary selections today offer us an interesting frame for the story of the extraordinary experience on the day of Pentecost.

I’m going to start with the gospel reading, which we also heard the Sunday after Easter, because this is the beginning of the story of Thomas who missed out on the first appearance of Jesus inside the locked room. So this story is from Easter Sunday morning, and it returns us to the reality the disciples were facing before they began to understand, well, anything, really. They had journeyed with Jesus, learned from him, listened to him and practiced doing what he did – more or less – and yet when his journey started to go in a direction that made no sense to them, a disastrous direction, they abandoned him – more or less. After his execution they gathered together in a safe room, waiting for the other shoe to drop; waiting for the sound of soldiers marching towards their hiding place and the urgent knock on the door. This is where they are – shut up in a room with a story that terrifies them – and Jesus appears, tells them Peace! And breathes the Holy Spirit into them, nice and gentle.

I guess you could hear a bit of a rebuke in Jesus’ greeting, if you thought that the disciples ought to have been braver, ought to have been out there carrying on Jesus’ ministry and willing to suffer like him. They did say, after all, that they’d follow him anywhere and that they’d die for him and with him. But I don’t hear rebuke in these words, and this breath of peace. The disciples will die for their faith in Jesus. Just not yet. First, they have a mission, and this story is the point where Jesus commissions them and sends them out. He tells them: Peace; receive the Spirit and now you are being sent out just as I was sent. This story is the first of Jesus’ resurrection appearances to the male disciples.

The story from Acts happens seven weeks later, after the ascension, when Jesus the Christ has let go of the limitations of his embodied, physical form and returned to the fullness of Being – which is mystery to us who can see only a dim reflection and must still wait for the full revelation of face to face. The story from the book of Acts tells a very different experience of the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit. It is full of sensory excitement with fiery lights and sounds and the overflow of joy as the disciples tell of God’s glory in every language of home. It is this outpouring of joyful witness that draws a crowd of interested and curious people. What is happening in that house? How can we be hearing what we are hearing and what does it mean? The joyful witness also provokes a small group of scoffers, but Peter, with the 11, puts them right with no signs of fear or hint of a desire to be safe behind closed doors.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve heard a number of sermons about this day and this story, what it means and the lessons we ought to learn from it. In the church we attended in the states, we used to celebrate this day as the birthday of The Church, and in other churches we made this day about an opportunity for charismatic renewal, a fresh outpouring of the Spirit with an expectation that we might experience again in our gathering some of the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit. In many ways, whenever I hear the story, I already hear the explanation and teaching I know from before. Perhaps you do, too.

So let me highlight just a few aspects of this story that I’ve noticed we, the church, have emphasised and interpreted and used to support a particular way of understanding both mission and discipleship.

Firstly, the wildly dramatic aspect of this story has had a lot of attention in the last 30 years or so. Here we find an undeniable demonstration of God’s presence and power as the tongues of fire set the disciples alight with praise. Not only this, but the spiritual gift of tongues makes their witness to God’s glory understandable to ‘the world’ which has, quite conveniently, come to the disciples’ doorstep in Jerusalem. This loud witness is followed by the previously cautious Peter standing up and preaching with courage and conviction. Peter, who has denied even knowing Jesus, who hid in the locked room with the others, now stands up boldly and proclaims the fulfilment of prophecy and goes on to explain the scripture and convert thousands in one day. His transformation appears to be instant – at least, this is what I was given to understand. In the tradition I began in, there was the expectation that receiving the Holy Spirit should be like lighting a firework –  you pray the prayer and stand back! Who knows what might happen… of course, experiencing peace was also an option but it was definitely not the experience that was sought after.

Of the two stories, the breath of peace and the tongues of fire, I know which one would market best. We humans are drawn to drama. We turn to look when a toddler kicks off in the supermarket, and we love action heroes. We slow down to check out a crash on the side of the road, or when someone starts raising their voice in public.

This day of Pentecost story taps into our desire to experience something moving and exciting.

It also taps into our desire for proof, for something clear and certain which looks like and often feels like security to us – something we can be sure of and rely on without risk.

It taps into our fear that when we talk about faith we will encounter sneering that we cannot brush off or objections we cannot disprove.

Here, the Spirit comes, the disciples praise God and the people respond with curiosity and wonder.

This story also taps into our hope that the witness to God’s love  might be dramatically successful, and also quick, because people are, quite simply, convinced by hearing and seeing our proof of God’s presence and power. And we humans are drawn to power. It’s one of the ways we attempt to control our world, and to make ourselves feel safe.

So this story taps into our longing to have power to overcome our fears, to fix the things we think are broken or faulty in us, and the world, and to reward us for our efforts by surrounding us with people who come to us and agree with the way we see and interpret life.

But that hasn’t been my experience of following Christ, and I don’t believe that is what the good news of the gospel promises or invites us to.

If we look again at Peter’s story, you’ll notice that it doesn’t back up the perception that the Holy Spirit performed an instant transformational act upon him. He and the other disciples had just spent seven weeks in rehab with the risen Christ. There were nights of fishing and breakfasts on the beach. There were hard conversations and relationship issues to work through. Peter has been undergoing a slow transforming of his heart and mind, and this isn’t finished by the dramatic visitation. In the coming weeks we see Peter still learning just how wide and inclusive God’s love is as he dreams dreams and encounters God’s Spirit among those who he thought were pagan, non-believers and unclean gentiles. Peter learns the fullness of the good news from those outside the church, and he continued to be changed and challenged in his leading of the church and ongoing discipleship.

It may not be obvious to you, but this recognition of the slow process of transformation, of the ongoing learning and the growing into wholeheartedness has massive implications for how we understand discipleship.This is a process of slow growth which is often hidden from our own sight. This is about nurturing the fruit of the Spirit and the practice of partnering with the Spirit.

It also has massive implications for how we understand mission. If this is our model – preach a convincing sermon and get conversions – I believe we have utterly missed the point of the good news.

Our God isn’t counting heads or bums on seats.

Our God – Father, Son, Spirit –  is Love; is wholly relational; exists as relationship and is focussed simply on being in a relationship of love with us and all creation.

I believe the mission of God is the healing and restoration of all relationships through love poured out for us in Christ. I believe that we are called to participate in that healing, restoring mission in every part of our lives – in our own hearts through the ongoing transformational presence of Christ in us through the Holy Spirit, and in our world through our unique gifting.

You may or may not agree, but even if you were in accord with that statement, you may have a very different idea of how that works and what that looks like. As we are on the cusp of returning to our place of worship, I have been thinking about and looking at what we do and why….

So, I wonder what discipleship means to you, and how you feel about that?

I wonder what mission means to you and how you feel about engaging in mission?

I wonder what do you think it might mean to be a missional community and what are the motivations and expectations around what we call ‘doing outreach’?

These are things to think carefully about and to talk over, and it is worth examining the stories that have shaped the church’s thinking and action here, because the world has changed – again!

The question is: will we also change?

Questions for conversation and reflection

What does mission mean for you? What has shaped your understanding?

What does it mean to you to be sent? What does that look like in your everyday life?

Which image of the Spirit is more appealing to you – the breath of peace from the gospel according to John or the flaming tongues of fire from the Acts story? What makes it more attractive? How do you see these two images complementing each other?

What has been your understanding of the Holy Spirit? How has that changed over time and with experience? Where do you see signs of the Spirit’s presence and action in your life now?

Prayers of the people

O God of many names, Lover of all peoples, we pray for peace in our hearts and homes, in our nations and our world.

As we pray, we listen to the need within, and we listen to the needs of our world.

There are those among us, in our family and our communities whose struggles and suffering is known to us and moves us. There are many more we do not know.

There are many who are in desperate need in our wider world – many more than we are accustomed to accept as normal. There are many who are weary and despairing, hungry and hopeless, without voice or power or protector.

It is too easy to ask you to act while we resist change and cling to our comforts.

So we ask you to draw us out and on into the flow of your grace; awaken us to the nudges of your Spirit when we pause too long; teach us how to grow and open the store houses of patience and compassion deep within our souls; show us the next step on the path as you form us and send us to become a blessing for all creation.

Keep us in the spirit of joy and simplicity and mercy.

In and through Jesus Christ our saviour,

Amen.

Blessing

Go in peace.

Love and care for one another in Christ’s name;

and may God so bless you,

that all who see you or hear you feel welcome in your presence;

may the Spirit so touch you

that others are comforted by your words and your actions,

and may Jesus the Christ dwell in you so richly

that others are drawn to God by you

Go well, go humbly, go in peace.  Amen 

Afire with peace, joy, love and courage

Image by Holger Schué from Pixabay

The readings for this week are here, and as you continue the rhythm of our lockdown journey, I invite you to dwell with the texts, returning to the word or phrase that stays with you or draws you, and allowing the quiet whispers of the Spirit to speak to your life through the words of the scriptures.

Questions for reflection

Whichever text is calling for your attention, dwell with that one for the week and return to these questions: how have I experienced this is my life? Where am I experiencing this now? How would I express in my own words what I think this passage is saying? What is the text asking of me? And how do I respond? Where am I at with this?

Listen for winds of change

With the new freedoms of progressive level 2, I know that our days are starting to become fuller as more and more things are available to us and call for our attention. Your time and energy may be more stretched than before.

As we return to our pre-lockdown lives, there may be a window of opportunity to make some wise choices about re-engaging with those things that brings life and limiting or leaving out those things that drain life. Perhaps the Spirit is showing you something new, something unexpected that breaks the patterns of the familiar but offers a path of life…

As you journey…

Some additional resources for you to reflect with

How God comes to the soul:
I descend on my love
As dew on a flower.

-Mechtild of Magdeburg
(trans. by Oliver Davies)

Spirit prayer

Holy Spirit, fire of God, enflame me.
        Breath of life, take wing in me.
                Divine love, reach through me.


I am the vessel of your wine,
        the flesh of your soul,
                the candle of your flame.


Breathing out, I release myself;
        breathing in, I receive you.
                Filling me, you enliven my cells.


From within, you are my life.
        In every other, there you are as well.
                In you, I meet myself in them.


Fill me with your living,
        send me in your loving,
                your loving that does not die.

~Steve Garnaas-Holmes

I will not leave you…

Candle Lighting

We light these candles, still in our own homes and unable to gather and to be fully and wholly present to one another.

Today, may the flickering flames remind us of the deeper truth of our fullness:

The Christ light shines in each of us.

May the light of love shine in our eyes;

May we awaken again today to the wonder of loving and being loved.

photo from Pixabay

Opening Prayer

Come to us, Holy Spirit,
in the quiet times of peace.

Come to us, Holy Spirit,
in the anguished eternities of grief.

Come to us, Holy Spirit,
in welling fountains of joy.


Come to us, Holy Spirit,
in cold vistas of disconnection.


Come to us, Holy Spirit,
in bright sparks of community and trust.
Come to us, Holy Spirit, come!

Music to reflect with

This song offers a witness to the constant faithfulness of God in the midst of upheaval, uncertainty and change, speaks of the fullness of Love and has tones of Psalm 139.

Readings for the week

The reading from Acts and the gospel reading are below

Acts 1:1-11
Luke 24:44-53

Reflection

A question of orientation

Click on the audio clip above to listen to the reflection or read the text below that.

Scroll down to the image from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel to find the questions for conversation.

The story of the ascension can be challenging for our Western, post-modern ears since we inhabit a culture that values the approach of scientific enquiry and proofs as the way to understand the universe.

Unlike our ancestors in ages before us, we know for sure that heaven is not a physical place above the blue of the sky. But if you are like me, you may have been schooled, as good Christian believers, to accept a world view which vaguely blends the medieval with the modern.

We’re not generally taught to believe in heaven as a physical place but rather a spiritual one. Even so heaven is still about the sky just as our ideas of hell include a sense of below us, and its torments are, interestingly, extremely physical.

Of course there is a broad spectrum of just how far you might believe such things.

Somewhere along this spectrum you might form a world view that accommodates the miraculous aspects of the biblical revelation. For a while there, finding possible logical explanations was a popular way to approach the laws of science bending aspects of the stories. At the far end the scale there is a total rejection of scientific facts and means of enquiry.

If we approach the scriptures as documents intended to explain the way the world works in the same way that scientific processes aim to explain the world, then there are plenty of stories in the bible that are beyond the proofs of observable, measurable or experiential reality.

There are donkeys that talk. Axe heads that rise to the surface when thrown into water. Long hair that is the secret to super strength, the earth pausing in its turn around the sun, water supporting the weight of a human being standing upright and a multitude fed with a miniscule amount of food etc.

The story of the ascension fits nicely into this category of beyond scientific proof stories.

We are given a small window of grace here, though, because the crucified Christ in his resurrection body does not seem to be bound by the limitations of our bodies. What his body truly consists in, though, is uncertain. The risen Christ includes our reality and also transcends our reality. There is mystery and contradiction in his appearing and disappearing inside locked rooms – seeming to be less substance and more spirit –  whilst at the same time also still eating and cooking, talking and breathing in a very physically real way. So, how are we to approach this story and find its eternal truth, its nurturing substance for our journey today without having to go fully medieval?

Well, just because this belief in a physical heaven above was a given for the ancients does not make it part and parcel of the Christian faith today. We are not required to take on a pre-enlightenment mind set in order for the good news of God’s love to transform our hearts and minds. Instead this story invites us to see into the very nature of reality itself from a broader – dare I say higher – perspective.

In dwelling with this story, I became more and more aware that if we understand God in heaven as somehow above us, that orients us in a universe of separation. Our imagination does not have to leap to picture God in heaven above – this is a water flowing downhill kind of idea and most of the religious art depicts God as over and above all, accompanied by angels and floating among the clouds. From heaven, God can watch over us, and take notes. If God wants to be more present with us, and visit us then this is done through sending first the Son, and then the Spirit to us.

I know that if we had a conversation about this, you may well say that’s not what you believe…but the imagination doesn’t have to check in with what you believe before it forms an image and then shapes the way you see, feel and respond to God. If the image of God in my deepest imagination is that of a bearded old man floating in the clouds, then I will respond to this image even if in my mind I believe that God is not old or bearded or a man. Once God is seated in heaven above, then it’s another easy slide into seeing us living on earth and unable to have any deeply trusting or intimate relationship with the God who is above.

We must live on earth, distinct and separate from the holiness of God, except for when we have places we can visit – churches – and people who can mediate – priests – who are set apart and allow us a temporary connection. There are strong and clear lines of division in this world view. It’s not just art that forms our image of God – in music too, many hymns and praise songs feature the language of God above (it rhymes so conveniently with love) and as we sing these over and over the words reinforce this idea of a three layered universe. In this world view, life is like a layer cake where we are born into the middle layer and during our lifetime what we believe, and to a certain extent how we live, determines which layer we will spend eternity – upper or lower/ good place or bad place.

It’s really important to name this and see it for what it is, because this orientation of separate layers of reality does not reflect the fullness of the good news of the incarnation.

In Jesus the Christ, God is love poured out into human form. God is with us as us. God fully accepts and completely embraces the material reality of embodiment. Every thing that is made is good – we’ve known this from the creation stories, but we’ve also overlaid that goodness with another story of inherited brokenness and the spoiling of perfection – even though God never looked at creation and said ‘it is perfect’. Very good is as good as it gets, and it is good enough for God to participate in, join with us in, become one with us in.

Just pause for a moment and let that sink in.

This material and physical world in which we live and move and have our being is also the very place where God’s love, life, energy and breath is pouring forth, bursting out, flowing over, inspiring and expiring in a continuous, joyful unfolding. The good news of  the gospel simply doesn’t fit with the imagination of separate layers of reality. Through the power of self giving love, God chooses to be with us even in the darkest depths of our utter rejection, our inhuman cruelty and our desperate violence. God chooses to be with us in the breathless emptiness of death so that there is now nothing left to separate us from the love of God. We, and every thing in creation, are lovingly and seamlessly woven into the slow, patient and gracious handiwork of salvation. God is with us working all things together, good and evil, into this one mission – to bring life, healing and wholeness for all creation so that everything is transformed by love, because every thing in the whole universe is already full of God’s life and glory.

And if salvation through transforming love is the shape of the universe, then there can be no up to heaven because heaven is hidden in the ordinary, because the every day is holy, because grace spills over with each breath.

So the disciples see Jesus ascend. Is there any significance to that? Does that offer proof of a heavenly realm above? Well, for what it’s worth, here’s what I think….I think we see what we expect to see.

If I am taught to believe that heaven is up, I will look up for a sign from God. I will lift my eyes when I find myself getting caught up in the emotion of a moving worship song. I will carry a sense of the upness of God’s being and I will use language and resonate with images that reinforce what I already believe to be true. If I believe heaven is up, and that this is where Jesus is finally disappearing to, then I will see what I expect to see, which is  ascension.

If I believe heaven is here, that every common bush is afire with the presence of God, that every life reveals and hides the face of God, that every thing is blessed and broken and wholly loved by God then that’s what I will see.

The story of ascension may be an invitation for us today to begin to think about what we expect to see and how that limits what we can see. Of course, no one likes having the limitations of their world view pointed out to them, especially as it may seem threatening to the pattern and order of the world as you know it.

But we are a week away from celebrating the day of Pentecost when we remember the story of the cautious disciples become courageous, transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit. In a series of world shattering encounters, this is just one more time when their limited world view gets shaken until its teeth rattle. Once more they are broken out of the narrow way of what they have been taught and the overflow of breath, light and energy of Divine Life carries them in its flow.

So I wonder what you might see if you were looking for signs of God’s presence and action right here?

I wonder what you might find shifting in the way you think about  mission, and where you might notice the transforming work of salvation happening in you, around you and through you.

Perhaps you might notice the sublime act of ascension happening in the hidden chambers of your own heart….

Questions for conversation and reflection

Do you have a story of experiencing a shift in your world view – a moment of seeing things differently or having your perspective changed?

How have you learned to blend faith and science, and how do you feel about that?

What does heaven mean to you?

How would you describe the image of God that you hold?

It might be hard to pick out the true answer from the ‘right’ answer, so it may help to consider this: what is the image of God that I find myself thinking of as I am talking to God in prayer? Who is it I am expecting to meet with? How does God respond to my prayers?

Can you identify some of the songs, pictures and stories that have influenced or shaped this image?

The Lord’s Prayer

O Breathing Life, your Name shines everywhere!

Release a space to plant your Presence here.

Imagine your possibilities now.

Embody your desire in every light and form.

Grow through us this moment’s bread and wisdom.

Untie the knots of failure binding us,

as we release the strands we hold of others’ faults.

Help us not forget our Source,

Yet free us from not being in the Present.

From you arises every Vision,

Power and Song from gathering to gathering.

Amen – May our future actions grow from here!

A re-translation from the Aramaic

Blessing

The love of the faithful Creator,

The peace of the wounded Healer,

The joy of the challenging spirit

The hope of the Three in One          

Surround you and encourage you

Today, tonight and forever. AMEN.

Up, Up and away…

This Sunday we remember the Ascension – the story of how Jesus takes his last walk, lives his last moments in his physical, embodied being – albeit a post resurrection embodiment.

After forty days of appearing to (and also disappearing from) the disciples and the wider group of his followers, of meeting and eating and talking and walking and breathing out peace, he is lifted away from them until they can no longer see him.

The lectionary readings offer us two versions of this story, both from the pen of Luke, so you might like to dwell with the subtle differences you notice between the two accounts and ponder what you notice – what nuance might Luke have been trying to convey in each one? What difference do the differences make for you?

Or you may find you are more drawn to one of the other readings this week, or some other aspect of the Luke/Acts texts – wherever you find your resonance or your question rising is a good place to pause and wait.

The readings are here.

or you can listen to them here

Acts 1:1-11
Psalms 47 and 93
Ephesians 1:15-23
Luke 23:44-53

As you journey through this week, which may begin to feel much more like a normal life week, you might find it helpful to write out the phrase or word that catches your attention and put it on a sticky note…by the kettle….on the inside of your wardrobe door….on your computer screen….on your dashboard…on the inside of your front door. This way, your word can take you by surprise every now and then during the day, or help you to remember to journey with the text and to open to the Spirit’s voice anew in everyday living.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Ascending order

The story of the ascension appears to confirm a view of the world that is like a layer cake. This is known as the three tiered world view where heaven is above, earth is in the middle and hell is below. We know these are not physical realities, although our ancestors didn’t know this.

It is easy to assume that this three layered understanding of the world is part and parcel of the what we accept when we come to faith, and although we know that this is not a physical reality, it is not hard to find proof texts in the scripture (like the ones in the lectionary readings) that seem to indicate it is a spiritual reality.

But if we accept this three layered universe, it becomes all too easy to assign God to heaven above, watching what goes on below, occasionally intervening but more often not. This model of reality is about separation and isolation. We find ourselves continually asking God to be with us – as if God is elsewhere. We make spaces that are special and set aside where we meet and visit with God – as if the whole of creation weren’t brimming with God’s life and humming the tune of love’s desire for us. And we make spaces where God never goes and can never be found – hell on earth and hell below.

The thread of our intimate connection with God, and of God’s presence with us and with every thing also weaves through the scriptures (psalm 139 is an obvious example), and it has also been woven into the fabric of the Christian tradition through the witness of the Celtic church and the Eastern orthodox church. These traditions recognise that the whole world and all of creation lives, moves and has being in and through the presence of God. We live in a Christ soaked world.

The three tiered universe is not a world view that is shared across all of Christian witness, and it is not the only world view that is offered by the witness of scripture.

So.

If this is the way you have understood the shape of God’s world, then you may find the idea of a Christ soaked world threatening. The order of the three tiered universe can offer a sense of safety, but it limits God and it limits you.

If you have been noticing the limitations of this view, then you may be relieved to find that there is an alternative that is liberating….

Over the week ahead, I invite you to be an observer and simply notice whatever response you have, and then I invite you to be a curious host, welcoming the fear, anger, resistance, relief, laughter, excitement – or whatever. These reactions can show you how you really see God and yourself and the world, so listen, watch and learn. You are in safe hands – God is with you.

love seen and known

Candle lighting

We light this candle in the name of the Maker, who lit the world and breathed the breath of life for us.

We light this candle in the name of the Son, who saved the world and stretched out his hand to us.

We light this candle in the name of the Spirit, who encompasses the world and blesses our souls with yearning.

Opening words

God who is love,

whenever we encounter wisdom that rings deep and true in our soul, we know there is your love;

whenever we encounter the gentle grace of compassion we see that you are present;

whenever – and however – we gather to offer our lives in worship, to return our awareness to your presence and be renewed we recognise that you are in us and we are in you.

God who is love, in you we live and move and have our being, so again today, give us the grace to see and to know, to recognise and delight in your presence among us – for in meeting with each other we meet with you.

Amen

Scripture Reading

God with us, Emmanuel, as we listen for your word to us today, help us to be awake to your presence, and open to your grace.

As we listen and as we follow in your way, may your Spirit breathe in us and may your living Word be revealed in our lives. Amen.

You can listen to the gospel reading in the audio clip below that.

John 14:15-21 NRSV

Reflection

The audio is here.

love made manifest

Scroll down to find questions for reflection in green and prayers

The words we hear from Jesus in this week’s short passage from the gospel according to John follow on directly from the reading last week. Their context has not changed – Jesus and the disciples sit around the table with the remnants of the Passover meal and soon they will move from there to the garden.

In John’s telling of this part of the story, Jesus has a lot to teach the disciples still and this final sermon is packed with sayings and images that we could spend several weeks exploring and sinking into. In fact, there is a richness here that needs a lifetime to journey with. The lectionary readings for these 40 days after Easter all illustrate and demonstrate in some way what it means to follow Jesus the Christ. Each week we have had a glimpse of what it looks like and sounds like to receive the Holy Spirit and to cooperate with the transforming fire as the indwelling Spirit is doing the work of the gospel in the depths of our being.

In the gospel readings, we’ve heard the stories of Jesus’ appearances to the disciples. We’ve heard some of the teaching and healing conversations he had with them and in this Last Supper discourse we’ve been given the image of Jesus the Christ as the good shepherd and heard a repeated emphasis on the communion of Father, Son and the disciples through the Holy Spirit.

There is a lot to take in, and although it seems that the church calendar will move us on without much time to really chew over what is being offered to us here, we can tuck away all of these teachings into our kete so we can keep them in our awareness and let them form us and feed us as we move on to Pentecost and the vast stretch of ordinary time beyond. This ordinary time, which starts at the beginning of June is looking like it might be extra ordinary for us, because it may be that we will be allowed to gather together again in person and face to face. So, uppermost in our minds – well, at least in my mind – is wondering what that return might look like. What will be the new normal we are hearing so much about?

The reading today offers us some guidelines for our thinking and reflecting on that. Here Jesus tells the disciples that he is going away but that he will not leave them as orphans. I’m sure it would have made no sense to them when they heard this, and these words of comfort obviously didn’t land well in the days following the crucifixion when the disciples locked themselves in a room and jumped like rabbits at every loud noise. Perhaps they were recalled with a greater sense of comfort later, maybe even as they waited in uncertainty after the ascension when the post resurrection Jesus, who had been appearing among the disciples and disappearing, was lifted up and carried into heaven leaving his disciples once more.I wonder if they felt abandoned and like orphans or just ever so slightly hopeful, even if they weren’t sure what they were waiting and hoping for? I imagine that no amount of comforting words beforehand would have eased the sense of loss the disciples felt either when they watched Jesus being arrested and taken away to be crucified, or when they watched him disappear from sight for the last time. It must have felt devastating and disorientating and each time I expect that there would have been a sense that no one really had any idea how the rest of their lives were going to go.

There is no return to ‘normal’ after something like that- we are changed by loss and we can only go forward towards a new way of being together. And with the coming of the Holy Spirit they began to go out in public one more to preach and teach and heal just as Jesus had done.

This was now their new normal.  

So doubtless, the loss at the ascension would have felt very different from the last time that Jesus left – when he died on the cross, there really wasn’t any hope that life might go on at all. It is hard to argue with the finality of death unless, that is, you have a totally different perspective on life. Which I think is, at least in part, what Jesus is trying to explain to the disciples and also to us in his last supper discourse.There is a different perspective, a different way to understand and perceive and participate in life and at its core, this difference is about connection and communion. It is about recognising that you are not an individual, separate and isolated, but you are part of a great whole; you are surrounded by and integral to a great web of interconnections; you are a thread woven into the very fabric of the universe; you are the branches in the vine – you (all, inclusively) are in Christ and Christ is in us all, inclusively. This is the saving, reconciling, healing, restoring, renewing and redeeming life which Jesus embodies throughout his life.

This is the Life that cannot die because it incorporates death into the very process of restoring, renewing, healing and redeeming all that is.

Most of us take a lifetime to unpack this, to let it sink into the depths of our being because it is so counter to the way we understand so many things. It is counter to the way we understand our selves – we think we are separate individuals who can make connections we want and ignore the connections we don’t like. We think we can make decisions based on what works for us without reference to or consequence for the whole. It is also counter to the way we understand the world – we think we humans are separate from the rest of creation and can thoughtlessly use it or abuse it without any negative consequences for ourselves. It is counter to the way we understand community – we think we can join, or not. We think we can exclude and have in groups and out groups – us and them/saved and lost. And we think we can make community serve us, rather than recognising that we need each other to be wholly ourselves and that we flourish best when we serve the whole. And it is counter to the very way we understand life itself – we think life is bound by time, has a start point and an end point and proceeds in a straight line from one to the other rather than a flow of Divine joy, pouring forth in continuous motion of emptying and refilling, receiving and giving, dying and rising.

Quite honestly, all of this inclusive communion and connection is utterly mind blowing stuff. As I say this, or as you read it, it ought to leave you feeling like you cannot get your head around it…because you can’t! Of course you can’t! This is the unfathomable love of God, the immensity of grace, the unexplainable mystery of Love which loves us into being and sustains us in being and which asks only this of us: to return like for like – love for love.

If you love me…Jesus said. If you love, you will keep the command to love. Love received generates love to offer. Our short gospel passage is full of verbs telling us how love is made manifest in us and through us – this is actually a better translation of that last verse where the NRSV opts for ‘those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them’.

The closer translation is ‘I will manifest myself to them. ‘In Jesus the Christ, Love is made manifest – which means love is made clear or obvious, and also means love is shown or demonstrated by action or appearance.

So in as much as we love, Christ is revealed in us and through us. That’s it. That in a nutshell is the whole journey of faith and the whole mission of the church. The witness of the church is to be the community of people who are embodying Christ by loving. This is the new normal we are always being called into. We – you and I together – continue the mystery of the incarnation by embodying the life and love of God. We are called to live in this love and to nurture all and any signs of this love wherever we find it.

So as we contemplate the return to our ‘normal’ life we have an opportunity to look carefully at how we were living and what we were doing. We have an opportunity to choose the counter cultural perspective of communion and connection as the ground of our being and to allow whatever we do to flow out of love, service, forgiveness and generosity.

Can this be our new normal? Can it be yours?

What will change if you look for the positive flow and put your energy there?

Where might resistance, coolness, judgement or fear fall away if you choose to see and nurture communion and connection?

I wonder what might become unimportant to you?

Or what might you see differently?

We have time to treasure these questions and to be ready to extend ourselves differently when we gather again so that whatever we do is flowing from the love we have received and becomes the love we have to give.

Questions for conversation or to journey with

What we do flows from who we are… and we become what we love….so what does that mean for you?

The gospel passage is full of verbs – love, reveal, ask, be in, know, see, keep…which ones speak to you?

What has been an experience of communion and connection that has supported and sustained you through lockdown?

When have you been most conscious of losing a sense of connection and communion and what contributed to that?

Love, service, forgiveness, generosity – which one of these is a starting place for you to extend yourself differently? What might that look like in your life? What might that look like at St. Peter’s?

Prayers of the people

God of surprises you call us
from the narrowness of our traditions to new ways of being church,
from the captivities of our culture to creative witness for justice,
from the smallness of our horizons to the vastness of your vision.
Clear the way in us, your people, that we might call others to freedom
and renewed faith.

Silence for the prayers of your heart.

Jesus, wounded healer you call us
from preoccupation with our own histories and hurts to daily tasks of peacemaking,
from privilege to pilgrimage,
from insularity to inclusive community.

Clear the way in us, your people, that we might call others to wholeness and integrity.

Silence for the prayers of your heart.

Holy, transforming, Spirit you call us
from fear to faithfulness, from clutter to clarity, from a desire to control to deeper trust, from the refusal to love to a readiness to risk.
Clear the way in us, your people, that we might all know the beauty and power and danger of the gospel. 

Silence for the prayers of your heart.

God of all peoples, all times and places, you call us to be your dwelling place, to be your home in the world, and your partners in forgiveness and reconciliation. Clear the way in us, your people, that we might grow into the spacious, gracious and abundant life you offer us in each moment of our living and moving and being.

AMEN

(adapted from a prayer by Joan Puls and Gwen Cashmore)

Blessing

May God bless you.

May you be holy and strong and creative

May you know the joy of Jesus

May you dance in the wildness of the Spirit’s breath.

May God’s glory continue to grow in you

gently, powerfully, tenderly.

May you be cradled in warmth and healing

May you be held in God’s wisdom and love.

Live, move and be – in love

You can find the readings for this week here.

The readings this week are all extracts from longer texts – stories, songs, letters and teachings, so more than ever it’s important to remember context as you read them…there is a big picture each of these fits into and the big picture is made up of many interlocking pieces.

With that in mind, which reading do you find yourself zeroing in on this week? Paul’s sermon to the Athenians and their openness to the God who is mystery?

The psalmist who bears witness to God’s goodness?

Peter’s words of comfort and encouragement to live well and kindly, to be open and sincere?

Jesus’ words of preparation to the disciples and promise of comfort in the Holy Spirit?

Questions for reflection

Whichever text is calling for your attention, dwell with that one for the week and return to these questions: how have I experienced this is my life? Where am I experiencing this now? How would I express in my own words what I think this passage is saying? What is the text asking of me? And how do I respond? Where am I at with this?

On the witness of kindness…

I have sought how to make souls love God better. How to bring them to him, persuade them that he is above any good, how to illuminate for them this sweetness, this wondrous peace, this mystery, this all which reveals itself to the soul without the soul being able to say how; how to obey the Holy Spirit, this fire that I feel in my soul and which wishes to give of itself, to extend itself. How to communicate this to all those souls that touch my soul; and I have found no other means more powerful than kindness.

-Mathilde Boutle (“Lucie Christine”) 1844-1908

On the advocate

I will ask God, who will give you another Advocate,
             to be with you forever.

                           —John 14.16

Not a judge or prosecutor,
but a defense attorney.
I believe in you.
I see your beauty, your glory even,
better than you.
I will advocate for you
against those who accuse,
against every obstacle,
against the voice in your head
that says you’re not good enough.
I will counsel you
in every challenge and disappointment.
You don’t have to call for me;
I am here. Forever.
I will advocate for you
against your uncertainty,
your fear and shame,
for the sake of that person
that even to this day
is still hidden.
I am the Yes of God
within you.

~ Steve Garnaas-Holmes

On the mystery of God

Blessings as you journey through this week and into the relative freedoms of level 2.

Although we are not able to meet for Sunday worship yet, we’ll continue with our zoom gatherings.

Stay safe and well, looking after each other and taking care to be kind as we wait to gather again in the next level.

When you can’t go far, you go deep.

~Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Candle Lighting

We light this flame to affirm that new life and light
is ever waiting to break through to enlighten our ways:
that new truth is ever waiting
to break through to illumine our minds,
and that new love is ever waiting
to break through to warm our hearts.

May we be open to this light,
and to the rich possibilities that it brings us. 

Opening Words

In these days of a slower pace and a smaller space for our living we recognise that we can’t go far – so help us to go deep.

Draw us more deeply into your way, O Christ, so we may sink into the truth you reveal – that we are in you and you in us and that God is all in all.

God of hope and healing, you journey with us along the way and yet you also keep disappearing from our sight.

You go ahead to prepare a place where we will be one with you, and yet you are also the way we are to travel;

we have a long way to go and yet we have already arrived in you.

Help us to see and to follow in the way and truth of Love;

may we be bearers of comfort

so that broken hearts are restored

and lonely lives find connection.

May we be strong in our soul to cry out at injustice,

to weep with those who weep,

and so to bear the beams of love to your world.

Amen.

Music for the soul

The church’s one foundation is a well known hymn that reflects some of the themes in our scripture passages this week. You can listen and sing along on youtube here.

Cornerstone is an old hymn with a refresh – you can sing/listen here.

Scripture reading

Two readings from the lectionary this week – the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first martyrdom in the early church…you can listen here

Acts 7:55-60 A Translation by David Bentley Hart

and a short passage from the long discourse around the table of the last supper, below.

John 14:1-14 NRSV

Reflection

As usual, you can read/listen ahead of time of save this for after our gathering on Sunday.

Scroll down to the image of the Camino signpost to find the prayers of the people and a blessing.

The audio is here

The text starts here…

In the opening line of the passage from the gospel according to John, Jesus tells the disciples ‘do not let your hearts be troubled’. You may be most familiar with this passage from hearing it at funeral services, as it is a teaching the church has turned to in times when we are seeking to offer comfort and assurances for grieving hearts. It seems fitting that we are reading this particular passage in the midst of these troubling times.

Having said that, though, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” can sound a bit like a platitude – a kind of ‘don’t worry, everything will be alright’ without any real evidence to suggest that this may actually be true. I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve been offered that kind of comfort, I have found it very unhelpful.

So, I think it’s worth noting that Jesus spoke these words as he gathered with his friends to celebrate the Passover; to break bread and drink wine together on the very night that he is betrayed, denied and then tried and executed.  Even though the disciples didn’t grasp what was coming, Jesus knew what he was facing, and the other three gospel writers leave us in no doubt that he was deeply distressed by the suffering that lay ahead of him. So Jesus spoke these words into troubled times, at the cusp of events that for him would bring a tortuous death and for his disciples, would bring traumatic change. In the next hours and days, they would be deeply impacted by the shock and grief of the crucifixion and would then face a very uncertain future full of fearful possibilities and without any real way to make sense of what had happened to them.

And so these words are fitting for our times, in the midst of a pandemic, as we find ourselves six weeks into lockdown with our normal everyday lives in tatters around our feet. We are dealing with the ongoing impact of isolation on our natural social needs and instincts and the frustration of restricted movement. Alongside this we see and hear about the immense suffering around the world as it streams into our newsfeed. The shock of the numbers of deaths still catches me unawares at times, and I can hardly get my head around what that truly means for people living through and with that reality.

It would seem that everything is changed by the pandemic and the future is full of uncertainty.

So how do we hear these words of assurance in our times? Can you hear them so that they don’t just slide off your tense shoulders and slip away from you, but land in the well tilled soil of your soul? Can you hear them so that they sound full and rich and resonant as you receive them into your heart and let them settle there to shape you and form you for whatever lies ahead?

For surely this is Jesus’ intention and hope as he offers these words.

Do not let your hearts be troubled…trust in God. When there is trust, there is no need to grasp or to resist and it is this inner habit of grabbing on or pushing away that really causes us trouble. So for you to hear and receive these words this morning, the open handed, open hearted attitude of trust is key.

Trust in Jesus who is himself the way, the one to follow and the way to follow and also the threshold through whom all who search for truth and life will pass….Trust in the one who is One with the Father.  Trust in the one who goes before us, so that we can know the way even when we cannot see how to make sense of what is happening, and trust in the one who walks beside us so that we do not ever journey alone.

I believe that how you hold the untroubled space in your hearts, and how we learn together to trust God and trust each other will shape how St. Peter’s as a community moves on and into the unknown future ahead.

Everything has changed.

What we will become is not yet clear, but it is in your hands and your heart to shape the community that emerges from lockdown in the weeks ahead.

Last week I was sent a survey by northern presbytery asking questions about how we at St Peter’s have responded to the lockdown and the various challenges of covid 19 to our community and our normal way of operating. The questions were efficiently divided into various categories like finances, technology, pastoral care, worship, mission and so on. There were some questions which asked about what we had learned from the enforced change to our normal way of doing church, and what we had gained as a result. There were also questions about what had been lost, compromised or abandoned. As I reflected on the questions and the way they invited a response I found myself wondering ….what difference would it make if we responded to changes from an untroubled heart? I also had to wonder if an untroubled heart might ask different questions? At the end of the survey were two questions focussing on what lies ahead. What do we see as the major challenges, and the major opportunities as we move back towards ‘normal’? Again, I want to pause and ask about the way an untroubled heart might look at that question.

Might the way ahead look different if we weren’t trying to go back to normal, but were hoping and trusting to go forward, crossing the threshold into whatever new and green pasture lay beyond – through whatever dark valley – over whatever terrain Christ leads us to? I know that Level 2 is very much on our minds right now, as we wait to hear if/when we may move to it, and as we try to figure out what level two might allow us to do in terms of returning to the church building and gathering for worship.

One thing I know for sure: we have a lot to process. We have a lot to process and that may sound troubling to you. But through the lockdown there have been uncelebrated joys, achievements, anniversaries and birthdays; and while we are often keen to be happy together, we also need to recognise that there has been trauma, and there have been unmourned losses and deaths. We are not always so keen to lament together, and to trust one another with our tears as much as with our laughter. When we gather again, we will need time to acknowledge and to honour the grief of all that is passed because as I heard on the radio the other day in a very smart sound bite – you have to feel to heal.

The untroubled heart is not one that does not feel, but rather one that is not afraid to feel, and knows how to honour each feeling and then to let it pass. Because remember, when there is trust, there is no need to grasp or to resist.

As we process our trauma, as we share our joy, as we offer our learning and tell our stories,

as we listen for the still, small voice of the Spirit and search together for the grace, wisdom and compassion of God, we allow light and love to flow where we have got stuck, where we have held on or are stoically keeping a lid on the inner reservoir of pain and loss.

And we begin to heal. We begin to live from a heart that is not troubled.

And this is Jesus gift and blessing to us, not just for these times, but for all times.

It is not too hard, or too far from you. It is as simple as breathing – you receive; you let go.

Do not let your hearts be troubled…trust in God and remember, where there is trust, there is no need to grasp or resist.

Conversation and reflection questions

Trust can be hard to repair once its been broken…have you a story of restoration and what helped to heal the gap?

Trusting God can sometimes be hard. We need people to love us in a trustworthy way – who has been that person for you and what are some of the ways they have helped you to trust love?

What has been your experience of learning to trust God through times of change?

What do you see as the major challenges and opportunities that lie ahead after lockdown?

What do you think may need to change about our ‘normal’ way of doing church or what change would you like to take with us from lockdown into a new normal?

Prayers of the People

God of love, we thank you for all the ways that you journey towards us on our journey. We thank you for all the ways that you meet us in our meetings with one another. We thank you for all the ways that you nurture us as we need.

Today we give you thanks for those who have been mothers to us – all those who have given from their depths to nurture us, have sheltered us, have given guidance, offered wisdom and withheld judgement when we have ignored them.

We give thanks for the earth who nurtures us, shelters us, offers us the wisdom of seasons and of patience, of connection, balance and of diversity. We pray we may learn to listen more carefully and so to choose our way mindful of our interdependence and of our common ground as creations of your love and your life.  

Today we also pray for all whose journey through life is marked by shadows and fear… and especially we pray for those who are sick and for those who care for the sick… for those who are most vulnerable to the challenges of the pandemic … for those whose food security and personal wellbeing are already fragile ….and we name in our hearts those known to us who struggle in darkness……those who struggle in pain….God of grace, bring healing and wholeness.

We pray for all who risk their own well being to minister to others… for doctors, nurses, aid workers and carers…for parents caring for sick children and for children caring for sick parents….God of grace, bring healing and wholeness.

We pray for all who have no family connections to support them or to draw on…for those who are dependent on the generosity and compassion of strangers…for those who live isolated within the fear that they are unloveable…God of grace, bring healing and wholeness.

Jesus told us ‘I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full.’ So often our lives are small and cramped, and we are so used to it that we don’t even notice…Speak to us, O God, of the spaciousness of your love….draw us deeper into the brightness of your joy….and smooth our furrowed brows with the gentleness of your peace. God of grace, bring healing and wholeness.

Broaden our horizons beyond our own reality as we move from darkness to light, and as we begin to bear the beams of love to those around us. Remind us often of our connectedness to one another and to the world, the threads of light that are woven into our being and call us to community, to compassion and to come home to you…God of grace, bring healing and wholeness.

God of light, by your son Jesus the Christ you have made us your children, and so together we pray to you as our parent:

Eternal Spirit, Earth-Maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,

source of all that is and that shall be,

Father and Mother of us all,

Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echoes through the universe!

The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the earth!

Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!

Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.

In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.

In times of temptation and test, spare us.

From the grip of all that is evil, free us.

For you reign in the glory of the power that is love,

now and forever.

Amen.

Blessing

As we go forth into the sacred mystery of everyday life, may we move with the flow of grace and be carried along your way by the energy of mercy and compassion.

May we recognise, hidden in our routines and our relationships, your many invitations to follow you on the way, and to learn from you how to walk this pilgrim’s path.

May we daily glimpse the underlying reality of Love that is stronger than death and live in the way, the truth and the light of this hope.

Amen

Stones, foundations and mansions…

Cornerstones

You can find the readings for this week here.

As you read the different texts see what words or phrases catch your attention and return to these each day (or as you can) and listen more deeply to the text and to what is within you, responding to the prompting of the Spirit as the scripture becomes Living Word to you.

Approaching the readings this way, slowly and repeatedly, invites us to give ourselves to the practice of meditating on scripture, to open deeply to the wisdom of God, and to greet all that arises in that encounter with friendly curiosity and warm compassion.

Two thoughts to help you as you dwell with scripture in this reflective way:

  • It is a practice, which is to say that it takes time to become comfortable with it and to learn how to read and be present. If you were learning how to draw, paint, play an instrument or a sport, you would expect to be quite bad at it for some time. You would expect it to require some effort and you would have to stick at it for some time before you were aware of it becoming more natural and less frustrating.
  • What is essential never forces itself upon us – Love never imposes, always offers, invites and respects your choice. What is inessential is always imposing itself on us, clamouring for attention, insisting on its importance, nagging, pushing, playing on your fears, cravings and pride. Dwelling with scripture like this is choosing to spend time with Love, in Love and is one way of recognising and responding to God’s essential invitation.

Questions for the journey this week

As you open to the words or phrases that catch your attention this week, these questions are almost always helpful to reflect with:

How have I, or how am I now, experiencing this? Where is this word or phrase connecting with my story?

What is it asking of me? How am I drawn to respond to it?

What now?

A prayer for the way….

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me.
I cannot know for certain where it will end.
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though
I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. 

Thomas Merton

And some more offerings for all ages…

Here are a couple of resources that may be especially helpful for those of you at home with youngsters:

A ten minute video with some very helpful tips on managing stress, frustrations and general ‘argy-bargy’ in your household. These are actually really smart observations and strategies for any relationship/situation/community dealing with diverse needs and limited resources…which is to say all of us.

A website with some ‘Sunday school at home’ kind of ideas for you to play with.