Bad news Good news

We had a special time meeting together today, not least in seeing old friends – Tessa and Richard – and seeing Jeremy and Sue since the death of his mum last week. Sharing together was very poignant and touching.

Steve led today with the message ‘The church buildings may be empty – but so is Jesus’ tomb!’ which he had seen on Facebook this week. Consequently, the theme of bad news, good news emerged. We started with a reading of John 20:10-16 and then Steve listed some of his bad and good news:

1. After 6 months of rain and gloom – we have a prolonged dry sunlit spell
2. After years of Brexit obsession – we have some relief
3. After years of increasing air pollution – a clearing of the atmosphere
4. After years of manic, stressful, life-limiting, frenzied activity for many – we have a chance for reflection, meditation, prayer, perspective re-arranging quietness
5. After years of not having enough time to do – we have plenty of time to be creative, crafty, artistic, musical. Gardens have never looked so good. Humour never appreciated so much. 50,000 words…
6. After years of the triumph of individualism – we now realise the importance of connectedness and community.
7. After years of lording, the kings and queens of capitalism, the lords and ladies of celeb-world, realise that it’s the nurses who matter the most…

We have been invited to create a couple of our own for Wednesday’s gathering.

We shared our prayer concerns at length and Steve reminded us: For Christians, we are a people who meet at the transaction point between our horizontal reality, this world, and the vertical reality, of God. We call this the crossing place or the Cross – through Jesus, all human imposed barriers to God’s presence are dismantled. It is the place where true perspective can be found; the place where we meet Truth: about ourselves and about reality herself. 

He followed this with words from the St Hilda community:

be silent

be still

alone

empty

before your god

say nothing

ask nothing

be silent

be still

let your god look upon you

that is all

he knows

she understands

he loves you with an enormous love

she only wants to look upon you with her love

Then candles were lit as we named all those mentioned – adding to a tableau set up on one of the zoom screens.

We used again the Emerging Creed that we have used before and are no longer sure of its origins!

We are people who…

Have found Jesus to be beyond compare

Invite all to join us without insisting they become like us

Find more reality in the searching and questioning than in certainty and absolutes

Realise that how we treat others is the greatest test and expression of what we believe

Firmly believe in the equality of men and women, that no-one is greater than another and that all people bear God’s image

Recognise that following Jesus is costly and we need to support each other in the work we feel called to do, being peacemakers, striving for justice, befriending the lonely, healing the sick, serving the hungry and destitute, visiting the sick and the elderly, inspiring children and young people, caring for God’s creation…

 

We used our Companions liturgy to share bread and wine together and finished with a blessing written by Steve, influenced by Grayden’s reflection last week:

At the end of time, when preparation for judgement is imminent, an angel will approach each person in the line and ask, “Where are your scars?” And if you reply, “I have no scars,” she might say, “Why not? Was there nothing worth fighting for down there? What did Jesus make whole within you through his sacrifice? Jesus bears his scars still – in his risen body. And so must you.”
May we allow Jesus to transform all our wounds and our wrongdoings, our hurts and our flaws into something perfectly and idiosyncratically us.
May we live Jesus’ resurrection today – no more past regret nor present fear – we live replete in faith and hope and love.
And may the Shalom blessing of the Triune God be on YOU!

 

And then we chatted and heard more from one another and discovered the unique joy of being the body of Christ again. Thank you to everyone for being who you are and with us today.

 

Happy Easter

We met this morning using Zoom. We had music and pictures to inspire us as well as a step outside for a burst of bird song.

Contributions included:

Resurrected with wounds.

After his resurrection, Jesus appears to be resurrected and yet wounded at the same time. This is the unexpected appearance of the Risen Jesus.

His resurrected body remains scarred. Thinking about this over the last few days I’ve found it very strange, surely we’d expect his resurrected body to be perfect, to be unscarred.

Then we find from reading the gospels that Jesus’ wounds are part of his identity. Because it’s by his wounds that his followers recognised him as Jesus. It is only by seeing his wounds and scars that Thomas is able to identify Jesus as his Lord and his God. The brokenness of Jesus body seems to be a very important part of his identity; his wounds are part of who Jesus is.

Will we also be resurrected with our wounds? We all have wounds that are caused by sickness, by accidents, by the actions of others and by the problems and disappointments of life.

All of us are wounded.  Even Jesus is wounded after his resurrection.  Resurrection hope doesn’t seem to do away with our woundedness. By retaining the wounds of his torture and execution, is Jesus showing us that we can find hope and strength in him?

It seems to me that many Christians think faith requires denying the ways our bodies retain the scars of continued pain and injury; in our memories, in our struggles with illness and injury, in our despair over others’ apathy when faced with injustice.

The risen yet wounded Jesus wants to open our eyes to see the pain of others, the destruction of the earth due to our greed and foolishness, and our part in wounding others near and far. Jesus offers us a peace that recognises the hard reality of injury and hurt.

So our resurrection hope does not deny the reality of wounds. Jesus although resurrected with wounds is not disabled by them. That’s what I think he wants for us.

We can freely enter into his resurrection hope just as we are – wounds and all.

Our faith is in a God who is always with us in our woundedness.

 

Thought for our day / our times

After the meditation on Maundy Thursday I lay in bed and thought about Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane  and his feelings of vexation with his disciples sleeping off the meal. I was having a sleepless night and Grayden was sleeping like a baby next to me.

I have never really suffered with anxiety, but wonder if my sleepless nights and agitated feelings during the day are due to some anxiety about the Coronavirus situation at the moment and about my mother needing care.

It led me to think of Jesus praying in torment and what sort of things would have been troubling him apart from being terrified about what his own future held.

It struck me that Jesus would have been feeling anxious about his mother a widow with no income – we see his care for her when he was on the cross when he said in

John 19 vs 26 – 27 “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

So Jesus was anxious about his family. He was worried about his friends too – living under occupation, presenting a threat to the religious and occupying powers. What would happen to them?

  • My mind went to the current situation with the Covid-19 and people’s concerns about family and friends becoming infected.
  • My mind went to a family with legal decisions hanging over them.
  • My mind went to our close friend a GP – not fully recovered from suspected Covid-19
  • My mind went to some close friends and their family and the thousands of others who have lost loved ones prematurely
  • My mind went to places where medical facilities will not be able to cope with the virus
  • My mind went to front line workers who continue to work to help us all.
  • And on and on and on – So many people with so many concerns, worries, fears and anxieties.

When I have had troubles in the past I have been greatly comforted by Hebrews 4 and the knowledge that whatever we go through Jesus has been there too and he understands when we call out to him. So can I share with you that verse that has helped me.

Hebrews 4 Jesus the Great High Priest

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,[f] Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Maundy Thursday via Zoom

So we are still meeting and being community and sharing bread and wine together via Zoom! I haven’t posted all we’ve done – but everything has blessed and uplifted us. The following is a meditation I wrote for Maundy Thursday:

Maundy Thursday in lockdown 2020 – A meditation.

That last week it had been like everything intensified. I think I’d trace it back to the raising of Lazarus from death. There are actually no words to describe how we all felt when Jesus, with tears streaming down his face, called into the tomb ‘Lazarus, Come out!’ But that was nothing compared to how we felt when Lazarus appeared, on his own two feet… I know of so many who were convinced then of Jesus being the ‘real deal’ – though no-one really knew what that really meant yet and all had their own terms for it. All I know is that people started to flock to him and to be far more vocal than ever before. I think that was what led to the extraordinary welcome when he entered Jerusalem a few days later…
But just before that, Jesus stayed with Lazarus and his sisters Mary and Martha as he often did when he was down south. They were amongst Jesus’s closest friends so he could always relax with them; it was a real home for him. It was his last sabbath, not that we knew that then, and when we were about to pass around the spice box, wishing upon each other the sweet fragrance of the sabbath to stay with us through the coming week, Mary did her own extraordinary thing. She brought out a jar of the most beautifully scented aromatic oil and she broke the seal right over Jesus’s head and poured it out. It dripped down his face and beard and there was a commotion – laughter but also a disquiet – because we knew something special was being done – but we didn’t know what. And she massaged the oil into his feet, between his toes. And the aroma of that oil filled not only the house but lasted on Jesus all through the next week. It followed him wherever he went… The sweetness of Jesus amongst us…
(Take a scented handcream, perfume or aftershave and put some onto your hands / face)
And I can’t help but wonder if that night didn’t influence Jesus for that following Thursday night – our Passover night. Our last supper with him. He’d loved it, you see. He couldn’t get over what she’d done for him – he ‘got it’- he knew everything it symbolised, what she had meant by it and what she couldn’t yet understand herself. More than anything though, I think it was the intimacy, the love that really touched him.
So, on that Thursday evening, Jesus did something he’d never done before. He washed our feet. I think he wanted to do something similar for us. Of course, Peter voiced what we were all thinking – it wasn’t seemly! Masters and Rabbis don’t wash feet! And knowing what we know now, the thought of him kneeling at our feet – well, it’s still is hard to take. But Jesus said we had to let him serve us if we were to serve him and I know that none of us who were there can get out of our heads the clear message that following him is about love. It’s all about love.
Well we all sat down for the meal. There were so many of us – yes the Twelve, as we’d become known, but all the other core team members – all the Marys (!) Joanna, Salome, John Mark’s mother – whose house it was – and young John Mark, wide-eyed, taking it all in, a little over-excited, as well as Cleopas and his wife… Too many to mention – it was heaving, just as a Passover celebration should be.
I think we had all got excited by the strengthening support of the crowds and at the same time we were unsettled by the events at the Temple and the equally growing tensions with the authorities. Jesus seemed preoccupied that night and whilst we went through the usual rituals at the meal and had a feast to rival any other Passover meal in Jerusalem, I think we all took furtive glances at Jesus during the evening, wondering what was going through his mind. He seemed to be making an effort to be present to us, whilst actually being quite subdued, troubled…
Apart from being a feast, a Passover meal is full of familiar words, songs, actions and symbolic rituals. For those of you who may not know, we only eat unleavened bread. Yeast and leavening agents of any kind are seen as symbolising pride and sin. We try to rid ourselves of these things as we clean out our houses of every crumb and forego normal breads for the week. Of course, its also because we are remembering our ancestors fleeing Egypt at the time of the Exodus, when they didn’t have time for their bread to rise. They were ‘with bread’ – with God as their companion on the journey. Bread is hugely symbolic for us…
So the time came for Jesus to take the bread that we call ‘the Isaac’ and broke it. That’s all part of what we do every Passover – we remember the one who was taken by his father to be sacrificed. The bread is broken in two and we hide the other half – the afikomen. The kids love the game of trying to find it and being the one to get the prize. John Mark was determined that this would be his year, if I remember rightly! Afikomen means ‘afters’ or ‘that which is to come’. That’s taken on a whole new meaning for us since that night. As Jesus broke the bread he looked intently at us, blessed it with the usual words and then said, ‘This is my body, broken for you. I want you to remember me when you do this in the future’. So we ate it in a confused silence. None of us dared ask what he meant.

Break the bread. Remember –the without-sin bread, the bread of sacrifice, reminding us of God’s companionship in these difficult times, Jesus’s body broken for you…

Now in the Passover meal there are four cups of wine. Each helps us remember the four-fold promise of God to Moses: The first is ‘I will bring you out’ which we call the cup of deliverance. The second is ‘I will deliver you from slavery’ – the cup of freedom. But it was as Jesus was pouring out the third cup that he said something new. This promise is, ‘I will redeem you with a demonstration of my power’ and we call it the cup of redemption or the cup of thanksgiving. Instead of the usual words, Jesus said, ‘This is the cup of the new covenant written in my blood. It’s my blood poured out for you. Drink it and remember me when you do’. Not the blood of the sacrificial lamb at the time of Moses – his blood… To be honest we didn’t have a clue then what he meant. We didn’t much like those words, there was a sadness, no more than a sadness, there was a sense of dread… something was happening, something was coming and we were out of our depth. He wouldn’t drink the cup of consummation – he said something about having to wait for that…

Take the wine. It speaks of our redemption. It marks a new covenant – a new relationship with God, bought, in some mysterious way, with the sacrificial blood of Christ. The blood of Christ…

And Jesus spoke with urgency then, of betrayal and denials and dying and the words just couldn’t find purchase in our heads – it was as if they passed through us leaving only shreds of sentences that made no sense to us. So, when Jesus said he wanted some fresh air and got ready to go to his favourite place, Gethsemane on the lower part of the Mount of Olives, I think we were all glad to escape the feeling of claustrophobia we’d started to feel in that upper room…

So we went to the olive grove. We were all weary and our eyes were heavy. Jesus told us to pray that we didn’t fall into temptation, but to be honest we weren’t really up to that – we just needed to shut our eyes for a bit. Jesus went a bit further on and we gave in to our need for sleep.
It was John Mark who told us later what had happened. He’d crept out of the house following us – just in his night clothes – his mother would never have given permission – to be honest, Jerusalem can be dangerous on Passover night with so much drinking and merriment. No place for a young lad to be out and about. He’d hidden near to Jesus, seen us all dropping off and saw and heard everything.
Jesus was really agitated. He prayed aloud, frantically, begging God to ‘take away this cup of suffering’. He seemed frightened. He was sweating and there was blood mixed with his sweat which scared the boy. Jesus appeared to be having some kind of invisible battle, he looked to be in utter anguish and, suddenly, so vulnerable. The olive trees surrounded and towered over him and seemed suddenly so strong and steady, those thick gnarled trunks speaking of age and wisdom and security.
Jesus did return to us and was uncharacteristically het up -why weren’t we praying? Why couldn’t we be there for him? Please! Please pray. But we didn’t. We couldn’t. I wish we could go back to that night and be there for him but we weren’t. He’d managed to get through the meal, washed our feet and earnestly shared the things he knew that mattered. He’d held it together, despite his growing dread and doubts But, despite all he’d done for us, he was alone.
Or so he thought. Unknown to him John Mark was there and then there were those special trees…, a community of them, interlinked, ancient, gnarled, strong, steady witnesses, faithful companions when humans failed…. And I, for one, am grateful to them.
Perhaps they helped him reach that place of peace and acceptance that John Mark saw happen: ‘No, it’s not about what I want, it’s about what you want. It’s your will that needs to be done and I can do it. I’ll do it. Your will be done Father – your will…’
For me that’s as important as what happened the next day. The battle was won there that night. Jesus stayed. He didn’t run. He stayed knowing that Judas would be on his way with the temple guards, that everything would escalate, that he would have no control… Like his mother Mary some 30 years before, he said yes.

So, tonight we choose to pray with Jesus. In the next few minutes we take time to respond to Jesus, remembering what he did there that night. And we pray for our world undergoing its own Gethsemane – praying for those fearful of death, for the grief-stricken and for those working to save lives, risking their own… We pray for God’s will and for resurrection to come after this time of trial.
Play Taize: ‘Stay with me’ (5 minutes)

 

Socially distanced and in exile…

This morning 7 of us met and stood at a distance around the perimeter of the bandstand in glorious sunshine and a bitter wind! So much had happened since meeting last week: the ground had shifted, workplaces left behind, holidays cancelled, routines lost, social events shut down and certainties now a thing of the past. We had joined the human experience of the majority of those who have ever lived – we had learned vulnerability, lack of control of what was happening and reminded of the fragility of life.

We began by reading the lament of thee exiles in Babylon in Psalm 137, alternating verses from the NIV and The Message:

1 By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.

                                      1-3 Alongside Babylon’s rivers
banks; we cried and cried,
                                         remembering the good old days in Zion.
2 There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3 for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’

                                            Alongside the quaking aspens
                                                we stacked our unplayed harps;        
                                            That’s where our captors demanded songs,
                                                sarcastic and mocking:
                                          “Sing us a happy Zion song!”
4 How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?

                                          4-6 Oh, how could we ever sing GOD’s song
                                                 in this wasteland?
5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
may my right hand forget its skill.
6 May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth
if I do not remember you,
if I do not consider Jerusalem
my highest joy.

                                           If I ever forget you, Jerusalem,
                                              let my fingers wither and fall off like leaves.
                                          Let my tongue swell and turn black
                                              if I fail to remember you,
                                          If I fail, O dear Jerusalem,
                                              to honour you as my greatest.

We remembered just how devastating it was for the Jews to have lost their homeland, Temple, homes, routines, imagining that the God of Israel was well and truly defeated by the Babylonian gods. But out of that disaster, they learnt (as they were reminded by Isaiah) that the Babyonian gods were crafted by men adn carried by men through the streets at times of festivals. Their God created them and carried them! He wasn’t defeated – he was, in fact, the only God. They learnt so much more as a result of that exile.

An earlier exile was that of Moses. Having killed the Egyptian slave driver he lost his family, friends, routines, hopes and dreams and found himself in a wilderness doing what he could to get by. We all know the story of the burning bush and the call to become a person he had never imagined being…

This time of testing for us

Some of us receive emails of art, poetry, music and reflections for Lent from Biola University CCCA. One day last week included the following poem that we walked around the park with to see how we might respond:

Blessing at the Burning Bush
by Jan Richardson
© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com

You will have to decide
if you want this—
want the blessing
that comes to you
on an ordinary day
when you are minding
your own path,
bent on the task before you
that you have done
a hundred times,
a thousand.

You will have to choose
for yourself
whether you will attend
to the signs,
whether you will open your eyes
to the searing light, the heat,
whether you will open
your ears, your heart
to the voice
that knows your name,
that tells you this place
where you stand—
this ground so familiar
and therefore unregarded—
is, in fact,
holy.

You will have to discern
whether you have
defences enough
to rebuff the call,
excuses sufficient
to withstand the pull
of what blazes before you;
whether you will
hide your face,
will turn away
back toward—
what, exactly?

No path from here
could ever be
ordinary again,
could ever become
unstrange to you
whose seeing
has been scorched
beyond all salving.

You will know your path
not by how it shines
before you
but by how it burns
within you,
leaving you whole
as you go from here
blazing with
your inarticulate,
your inescapable
yes.

 

We considered the question: In these unchartered, unsettling times, in our own exile, what might I be invited to say YES to?

We spread petals and blossom on a map of Matlock and area, praying for those here and much further away and shared bread and wine to these words from Steve:

If only for today…

If only for today, this singular day, I want to live gratefully, without resentments and what ifs; to play without regret.
If this were the only day, this single moment, I want to commit generously, love lavishly; to invest as if for eternity.
If this day were the last day, I want to live without fear and without anxiety because I’d send Jesus out to bat because he can sort the googlies from the flippers and the bouncers from the yorkers.
If this were the final innings and all was to play for, one final session after tea, I would gather my companions around me and I’d break the bread as we’ve been taught. And we’d look from person to person and we’d know, we’d just know.
And Jesus would be there, quiet in the heart of us.
EAT BREAD
And there’d be wine – not too much – ready poured – to fortify, to en-courage for the final battle. And we’d remember those who had gone before and we’d toast them.
And Jesus would be there, quiet in the heart of us.
DRINK WINE
If only for today, this singular time, we choose to bless not curse, to hope not fear, to dance and not be paralysed because the team Captain leads us out and his Spirit indwells. And we were born for this day and we give thanks.
AMEN

 

We finished blessing each other – those present and those not with us – with the words ‘Strength and support’ and ‘Blessings on you and you and you…’ So if you are reading this – Blessings on you too!

 

Touch.

On a lovely, sunny but fresh March Sunday morning we met in the bandstand in Hall Leys Park.

 

..be silent
be still
alone empty
before your god
say nothing
ask nothing
be silent
be still
let your god
look upon you
that is all
she knows
she understands
she loves you with
an enormous love
she only wants to
look upon you
with her love
quiet 
still be……..

St Hilda Community

Touch

Touch is very important. I love to be touched, I’ve had some very precious experiences of care, compassion and being touched by nursing staff when in hospital. Jesus loved to touch people, particularly those at the bottom of society – the lame, the blind, the deaf, the maimed, the leper. These people were untouchables in their society. Just think about how wonderful it was for them to be touched by Jesus. These people were told that they were impure and were rejected by society and told that God rejected them. So imagine their joy when this famous prophet and healer touched them! Jesus touched people to show them compassion, to heal them and to restore them to society. But Jesus act of touching outcasts also had a political element. Every time he touched a leper or the blind or the lame he was challenging society’s purity system. The Sadducees and Pharisees understood that. In Luke 11 when Jesus is berating them over the purity system a Teacher of the Law says to him; “Teacher you insult us!” No wonder they plotted to get rid of him.

Mark 7 – New International Version – UK

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered round Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the market-place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’

He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

‘“These people honour me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.”

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’

—————————————————————————————————-

Luke 11 (NIV-UK)

37 When Jesus had finished speaking, a Pharisee invited him to eat with him; so he went in and reclined at the table. 38 But the Pharisee was surprised when he noticed that Jesus did not first wash before the meal.

39 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you – be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.

42 ‘Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practised the latter without leaving the former undone.

Then we took 10 minutes to go around the park reading the following:

Jesus – purity or compassion!

Jesus was born into a social and religious culture that for centuries had been designed around a “purity system.” It seemed to begin with the purity code found in Leviticus. In Leviticus 19:2, we read: “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel, and say to them: ‘You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.’ ”

Holiness was understood to mean “separation from everything unclean.” Therefore holiness started to mean the same thing as purity. A whole social, economic, political and religious structure was built around the social vision of purity. People, places, things, times and groups had their “proper place” in society, classified by their “purity” or lack of it.

A person’s purity depended to some extent on birth. Being rich – unless you were a tax collector – usually meant you were pure, being very poor almost certainly meant you were impure. Physical wholeness was associated with purity, and a lack of wholeness with impurity. People who were not “whole” – the maimed, the chronically ill, lepers, the blind, the lame – were impure, they were at the bottom of society, they were literally the  “untouchables”. Another group of people were classified as “impure” because of their occupation – tax collectors, prostitutes, tanners, butchers, those who prepared the dead for burial, and possibly shepherds.

So Jesus grew up learning those cultural and religious expectations. He was told God was holy/pure and “that’s just the way it is.” His world had sharp social boundaries between pure and impure, clean and unclean, righteous and sinner, whole and not whole, male and female, rich and poor, Jew and Gentile. Yet it seems, Jesus experienced God in a dramatically different way. He experienced God as concerned with compassion for people and with mercy and justice.

In his book “Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time,” Marcus Borg says that “Jesus deliberately replaced the core value of purity with compassion. Compassion, not holiness, is the dominant quality of God, and is therefore to be the fundamental character of the community that mirrors God.”

Jesus criticised a system that emphasised tithing and neglected justice (Luke 11:42). He spoke of purity as what happens on the inside, not on the outside (Mark 7:15). In Mark 7:19 he declared all foods clean. He called the Pharisees “unmarked graves which people walk over without knowing it.”(Luke 11:44), a criticism that might seem obscure to us. The key is that corpses (and therefore burial places) were a source of impurity. To call the Pharisees “unmarked graves” is ironic: they were a movement seeking the extension of purity laws, and Jesus declared them to be instead a source of impurity.

Borg says: “Jesus’ subversiveness may not seem very radical today, but he was seen as very dangerous by the Sadducees and Pharisees.  Jesus challenged the purity system not only in his teaching but also through his many healings, every time he touched  a leper or a woman with a haemorrhage, or touched the dead to raise them to life he was challenging  the purity system. Instead of expressing the holiness of God, ritual purity became a means of excluding people considered unclean and impure. In word and in deed Jesus ignored and actively challenged these distinctions of ritual purity as a measure of spiritual status.”

The Jesus movement allowed everyone to take part in this new community – women, untouchables, the poor, the maimed, and the marginalised.

In Borg’s view, Jesus turned the purity system with its sharp social boundaries on its head. In its place he substituted a radically alternative social vision. The new community that Jesus announced would be characterised by compassion for everyone, not compliance to a purity code, by inclusivity rather than by exclusivity, and by inward transformation rather than outward ritual. In place of “be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 19:2), says Borg, Jesus deliberately substituted the call to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36).

Garry Wills in What Jesus Meant writes that, “No outcasts were cast out far enough in Jesus’ world to make him shun them — not those who collaborated with the Romans, not lepers, not prostitutes, not the mentally ill, not the blind, not the deaf and not the lame.”

When Jesus shared meals with people it was frequently a political act. He often ate with outcasts, as well as with others. His practice of inclusivity when sharing food incited criticism from the advocates of the purity system; this criticism has been preserved in the gospels in a number of places. Jesus is accused of “eating with tax collectors and sinners” and called “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.”

Marcus Borg writes: “Whereas purity divides and excludes, compassion unites and includes. For Jesus, compassion had a radical sociopolitical meaning. In his teaching and table fellowship, and in the shape of his movement, the purity system was subverted and an alternative social vision affirmed. The politics of purity was replaced by a politics of compassion.”

For consideration and prayer:

Are there those you are tempted to exclude as impure?

Is it possible to embrace both holiness and compassion?

Pray to experience what Borg calls a “community shaped not by the ethos and politics of purity, but by the ethos and politics of compassion”.

The Beatitudes – reimagined.

The poor and those in solidarity with them – God is on your side.

Those who mourn and feel grief about the state of the world – God is on your side.

The non-violent, gentle and humble – God is on your side.

Those who hunger and thirst for the common good – God is on your side.

The merciful and compassionate – God is on your side.

Those characterised by sincerity, kindness and generosity – God is on your side.

Those who work for peace and reconciliation – God is on your side.

Those who keep seeking justice – God is on your side.

Those who stand for justice and truth as the prophets did, who refuse to be quiet even when slandered, misrepresented, threatened, imprisoned or harmed – God is on your side!

With thanks to Brian McLaren & Rob Bell.

After a time of intercessory prayer we shared bread and wine using the following words:

Sharing Bread & Wine

God calls us

Community of saints,

Beloved of God,

we are invited to come and gather for the meal of love and liberation,

to feast on the dreams of God,

to be nourished by a taste of what God desires to do among us.

 

God whispers “come”

and live abundantly,

turning from all that claims our allegiance other than Christ;

from money, power, and control.

 

Come, and

love relentlessly;

following Christ on paths of uncertainty,

taking risks for one another,

calling down unjust power from its throne

and lifting up the lowly,

and the impoverished.

 

Blessed are those, Jesus said, who hunger and thirst for justice,

for they will be filled.

 

And so let us come to share the gifts of God,

expectant,

eager,

open

to tasting the rich blessings of Christ

born from unexpected places, and people, and experiences.

 

In this sharing of bread and wine,

we remember the life, death, and resurrection of

the One who fills the cosmos,

and yet still takes on flesh among us today.

 

On the night he would be arrested,

Jesus gathered his friends and companions.

In the midst of a tense and dangerous time,

they found each other at table.

 

And as they did so, Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, broke the bread and shared it with his disciples saying;

“Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

     (share the bread)

 

When the supper was over, he also took the cup, gave thanks to God, and shared it with his disciples, saying;

“Drink from this, all of you; this is the cup of the new covenant. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

     (share the wine)

 

And so we pray together:

For the sake of our shared lives,

the life of this land in which we live,

and the lives of those yet to come,

nourish us and renew our hope

that Christ may be known again among us.

with thanks to “enfleshed”

We continued our fellowship over Fairtrade coffee at Cool River.

 

 

 

 

   

 

What comes our way…

Fi led this Sunday and this is her stuff – which we all found so helpful…

Mama always said:
“Life is like a box of chocolates.
You never know what you’re gonna get” (Forest Gump)

 

One of the things I’ve really appreciated about my community at Third Space is its flexibility to bend and respond to what’s going on –personal and/or world wide. Recently, when P and I were going through a potential health scare, I had a real sense of my community reacting to that, rallying around, praying, adapting to where we were ‘at’. It meant a great deal. No expectation to put on a happy face.
Even within this small church, our week to week experience of life can be so different. I’ve been celebrating the joy of a new member to our family, whilst for others of us……things have been more challenging. Gump’s Mama was right, you just never know what you’re gonna get. The toffee? (no thanks) The Malteser? (yuk) The coffee cream? (yes please)

The Sufi mystic Rumi echoes with the same sentiments.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

The writer of Ecclesiates would agree with Forest I think;

For everything that happens in life—
there is a season, a right time for everything under heaven:
2 A time to be born, a time to die;
a time to plant, a time to collect the harvest;
3 A time to kill, a time to heal;
a time to tear down, a time to build up;
4 A time to cry, a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, a time to dance;
5 A time to scatter stones, a time to pile them up;
a time for a warm embrace, a time for keeping your distance;
6 A time to search, a time to give up as lost;
a time to keep, a time to throw out;
7 A time to tear apart, a time to bind together;
a time to be quiet, a time to speak up;
8 A time to love, a time to hate;
a time to go to war, a time to make peace.

We live in this tension of what life throws at us and yet the knowledge and faith (even if it is a bit shaky at times) that God is with us, for us and in all things. What do we do with that?

From the bandstand this morning, we used the practice of The Examen to help us reflect on the past week – whatever it had brought us – good, bad or indifferent.
The Examen has been referred to as : ‘rummaging for God – going through a drawer full of stuff, feeling around, looking for something that you are sure must be there.’. We look back on the previous day, week, rummaging through the “stuff,” and finding God in it. We know He is there.
St Ignatius, in his teaching of the Examen expected that God would speak through our deepest feelings and yearning; what he called consolation and desolation. Consolation is whatever helps us to connect in love to ourselves, others, God and the universe. In his language – whatever leads to an increase in faith, hope and love. Desolation is whatever blocks that connection…
What in our life connects us to Life, love, faith, hope, peace… the qualities of the Spirit
What is it that drains us of that Life….? What should we ‘embrace’ What whoudl we ‘keep at a distance’?
Here’s one sequence of Examen meditation and prayer to use that you might find helpful.
Give thanks
Replay the day you’ve had. Freeze frame the people or moments you’re grateful for.

Look for Hope and Joy
Where have you seen moments of forgiveness, compassion, courage, joy, unexpected love…….

Notice any sadness or regret.
Some news you heard about or event you were part of? Some word you regret or action you neglected? Recognise the down as well as the up.

Consider, in light of all this, how might tomorrow be different regardless of whether it’s a toffee, coffee cream or Malteser you get?

Epiphany 2020

Epiphany means to be revealed, it is associated with the visit of the Magi (wise men) to the infant Jesus when God revealed himself to the world through the incarnation. It is therefore Christ revealed to the Gentiles. According to Matthew 2:11 the Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. In the Western Church Epiphany Day is on 6th January and the Season of Epiphany finishes on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.

God,

this epiphany

seed us with hope

and empower us to be

fuel,

light,

fire,

action,

love

for the coming

of your Kingdom.

Amen.

Matthew 2 The Message (MSG)

1-2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signalled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”

3-4 When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”

5-6 They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:

It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”

7-8 Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”

9-10 Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!

11 They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshiped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.

12 In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.

Epiphany 2020 – some thoughts:

Early sunsets and dismal weather forecasts seem to stretch on indefinitely at this time of year. Darkness looms, literally and figuratively in 2020. With the rise of right-wing populism around the world and most governments refusing to tackle climate change seriously despite Australia literally being on fire, I find myself desperate for some encouraging news.

Despite the depressing state of the world Epiphany fills me with hope. Stars in the sky!  Light in the darkness! Astrologer priests following a star, travelling from distant lands to bring gifts to a poor baby in a feeding trough. God revealed in human form. Christ, the Light in the darkness. What’s not to love about Epiphany!

I believe Jesus taught us to find God incarnate in this world, in our neighbour, in sharing bread and wine, in the natural world, in the ordinary things of this Earth. Sadly, our culture places the most value on power and money and celebrity. Even many of us who call ourselves Christians are more fascinated by celebrity and success than by the radical way of Jesus. Once you can see God in the ordinary everyday things of life and know that you don’t have to climb the ladder of success or be more pure or more perfect to find God, you can honour God in what Jesus calls “…the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” and in the very earth beneath our feet.

Brian McLaren offers a prophetic critique of Christianity’s misplaced fascination with power, wealth and success:

“Growing numbers of us are acknowledging with grief that many forms of supremacy – Christian, white, male, heterosexual  – are deeply embedded not just in Christian history, but also in Christian theology. We are coming to see that in hallowed words like almighty, sovereignty, dominion, supreme, elect, chosen, clean, remnant, sacrifice, Lord,  dangerous vices often lie hidden.  We are coming to see in the life and teaching of Jesus, and especially in the cross and resurrection, a radical rejection of dominating supremacy in all its forms.

The theological term for this is kenosis, which means self-emptying. Rather than seizing, hoarding, and exercising power in the domineering ways of typical kings, conquistadors, Presidents and religious leaders, Jesus was consistently empowering others. He descended the ladders and pyramids of power instead of climbing them, released power instead of grasping at it, and served instead of dominating. He ultimately overturned all conventional understandings of power by purging it of its violence – to the point where he himself chose to be killed rather than kill.”

St. Paul urges us in Philippians 2: 5-8;

 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

 who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 

rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death –
even death on a cross!

We then had a time of prayer focusing on Climate Change.

Sharing Bread and Wine.

For this place and this time, we thank you.

For the beauty and wonder of creation, we thank you.

For your guiding light and presence, we thank you.

For daily food, for home and family, we thank you.

For minds to think, hearts to love and hands to create, we thank you.

For life and health and work, for leisure, rest and play, we thank you.

For all who pursue peace and justice, we thank you.

For Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, we thank you.

For bread broken and wine poured out, we thank you.

For your extravagant generosity, we thank you.

A Blessing for 2020.

may you take the risk of bringing your vulnerable, broken self and not your sorted self so that the gospel can flow

may you take small actions that become graced in the least predictable ways

may you resist the temptation towards a theology of answers

may you remember to pause and reflect

may you always be willing to listen

may the deep joy of the spirit make you a bringer of fun, play and laughter

may you accept the invitation to express venturesome love

may you take the risk of conversation that is two way

may your faith guide you to choose wisely and ethically for the good of others

may you develop the practices of soft eyes, compassionate responses and hospitality

may the holy spirit enliven your imagination such that you find the world magical, enchanted, awe-inspiring and breathtakingly wonderful

amen

Jonny Baker Worship Trick

We continued our fellowship at Cool River with Fairtrade tea and coffee!

At the turn of the decades at the bandstand

We began with these words after a moment of listening to birdsong and taking time to appreciate the stillness of the morning:

We are here at the invitation of God
The God who lured us into his kingdom
Speaking forgiveness and acceptance and love
And brought us here together to be welcomed at this place.

Whatever our day, our week ahead,
Whatever our state of mind or heart…

Today

With one another,
With all the saints around the globe,
With the saints of old
And with the saints resurrected,
We come with gratitude and praise.

Therefore… let us be at peace.
May we know the love of Christ that surrounds us.

Breathe it in and let it wash over you
God is here, we are here
God is love, we are loved.

Welcome to the bandstand.

 

Everyone then got an envelope and piece of paper and had time to write on one side of the sheet a list of things we wanted to give thanks for from 2019, before coming together for our Litany of Thanksgiving.

I shared quotes from Adrian Plass’s excellent book I’d just read ‘Jesus, safe, tender, extreme and spoke a little about each. Here they are:

(p114) Here he speaks of ‘the need to set one’s mind to the place where there is always an expectation that God will be involved and creative and active… Take the experience of being stranded in a railway station, for instance. Instead of finding it annoying and boring, I might become intensely curious about what God will do with this unexpected and, in human terms, unwelcome extra half hour, or however long it is… The problem with this, and it is a perennial one for me, is that I slip out of the habit of making the right mental adjustment and forget that God is not just in the picture but in charge of the picture. It is worth working on, though, because daily life in the context of an omnipotent God with really good ideas can be quite exciting.’

Help me to practise the expectation that God will be involved and creative and active in every event of my life…

(p184) ‘Unless and until we begin to genuinely seek out the centrality of Jesus in our lives and pray for the courage to set aside personal agendas that never were initiated by the Holy Spirit, we cannot step out and perform the big and little and mild and dramatic and banal and bizarre acts of service that will be required of us. I pray that as you join me on my journey, you will feel personally inspired to reach the place from which all things are possible and to feel affirmed in your own attempts to be ‘extreme’ for Jesus.’

Help me to find what it means for Jesus to be in the centre of everything so that my life takes on new meaning…

(p189) In his 30s, Adrian Plass had a mental breakdown and in a moment of anguish hit his hand against a telephone kiosk pane of glass, smashed it and cut his wrist badly. He suffered the humiliation of being arrested. For a long time afterwards he looked at the wound on his hand and thought about the wounds on Jesus’ hands, thinking about the love and heroic obedience of Jesus.
“Much more than this” the voice of imagination, or delusion, or Jesus, would whisper in my ear at these times, “I would do and have done much more than this for you and for the rest of the sheep who have no shepherd. I am still bleeding for you – for the world. They will not let the bleeding stop. Will you make the shedding of my blood worthwhile? Will you make the shedding of your own blood worthwhile? Give me your wound. Give me all your wounds. Do you dare to do that and let me transfigure them and use them as currency in any way I choose?”’

Take my wounds and transfigure them so that they can be used for good…

Following this everyone was invited to write a prayer on the other side of their paper detailing hopes and fears for 2020 and incorporating anything from the Adrian Plass extracts that resonated. I suggested that then – or later in the day we might each say that prayer and listen for a response – whether of our imagination, delusion or maybe just Jesus.

We performed our annual burning of prayers atttached to the shepherd’s crook last year and attached new ones for the year ahead.

We finished with the sharing of bread and wine using the simple words

Jesus for me, with me, in me

 

Christmas at the bandstand

So in the lead up to Christmas we made some angel decorations to place around the park for people to take away with them. Fiona had found instructions on

DIY Christmas Ornaments: Twine Angels

and we spent a hilarious evening making the angels – some finding the creative task more challenging than others! We attached labels wishing the recipient joy or peace or love over Christmas and inviting them to take the angel home. We distributed around 40 or so and even before we left the park, some had been taken. The next day only two were left. We hope that everyone enjoyed that unexpected small gift.

Christmas day was simple and lovely. I shared something of my recent discovery of the amazing Jonathan Bryan, featured on Songs of Praise 8 / 12 / 19 and CBBC’s My Life documentary:

Jonathan Bryan has severe Cerebral Palsy and  is ‘locked in’ – he has no voice, cannot eat, has no voluntary movement of his limbs but after being taught to read by his mother, through looking at a letter board, he can now communicate his thoughts and his faith. He has written poetry, short stories and a book ‘Eye can write’ and has been an advocate for severely disabled children, particularly for those who have no voice, meeting with the minister for education of the disabled to promote their chances of receiving an education and learning to read.

On Christmas he says: ‘Sometimes heaven and earth come so close that they almost touch each other and I believe that in the baby that was born that first Christmas they became one. To me this is the magic of Christmas.’
Jonathan describes himself as a voice for the voiceless and of being locked in a life behind a curtain but also speaks of beyond the curtain. His mission is to break others out…
When he met Michael Morpurgo, the latter wrote in his preface to Jonathan’s book: ‘Jonathan has opened a door for us into his world. He is not locked in any more, and neither are we – we join him.’

The parallels with Jesus are numerous – and for another day, but, briefly, watching these documentaries has given me fresh insights into the significance of the Creator reducing Godhood to the locked in disability of being human – open to being labelled and rejected and seen as nothing – in order to tear down the curtain that we might enter that other world of total liberation…

For some time I wanted for myself to rewrite Mary’s song – the Magnificat in my own words to make it more accessible to me. This is it:

Mary’s song
I can’t tell you how I am bursting with awe and wonder! I want to sing at the top of my voice! I can barely believe it! Me! Can YOU believe it? I’m just an ordinary girl and he picked me! Picked me for something that will mean that this simple, poor, unexceptional girl will be spoken of forever – for centuries – in lands I have never heard of and times I will never be able to imagine.
GOD has come – the Creator of all that is – the one whose very name is holy…GOD – with me, in me. This is a God whose forgiveness knows no end, who keeps on working in our world, for our world, challenging oppression and oppressors, championing the powerless, the voiceless, the hungry, those who know they need MORE. The ones who think they have it all miss the God who’s there for us. You need to know: God is faithful. This God who worked for our ancestors in the past is at work for all of us now, working to bring all things to fulfilment. And somehow, in some way I know it all begins here – with me.

A prayer:
For Jesus – limited to a frail body – who had to learn to speak and in that limited form break open the way for us to enter a new reality and for Jonathan who reminds us of God’s values of the weakest being the strongest, of hope and of joy and of there being MORE Thank you!

We finished with bread and wine as always – lovely to see everyone – not least our new doggie visitor held by Paul (of al people!) – the image of him running with dog clutched close will stay with some of us for a very long time!!!!

3 stones at the bandstand

This morning we met in a very wet bandstand, back for the first time since the floods. We had a stone of choice to hold throughout our time together and used the words of John Bell’s ‘Three Stone Meditations’ from his book ‘He was in the world’ (Wildgoose publications).
For copyright reasons I won’t reproduce it but the first meditation began our worship focussing upon God’s creation of the stone we held.
After that I shared a reading from the brilliant Bryan Stevenson’s ‘Just Mercy’ where he speaks of stone-catching rather than stone-throwing (a notion arising from the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery). Rather than joining in with throwing stones, we are called to catch them – defending the attacked and letting them find a place to lean – to find solace and comfort and acceptance…
This was followed by a confession I had written for last week (Remembrance Sunday):

As we remember the horror of war and capacity of humanity to hate and to kill, we turn to our Creator to acknowledge our own failings…

God our Creator,
We confess how far we have fallen from your call to be characterised by love.
Forgive us for the times when we have participated in that which fuels factionalism;
When we have labelled and dismissed others as if they were less than us;
When we have leapt to conclusions about others and been too quick to judge.
Forgive us for when we have intentionally and unintentionally used words as weapons
And when we have harboured unforgiveness for wounds inflicted on us.
We have failed to see others as more than the things we dislike about them
We have been blind to seeing everyone as bearing your image and loved by you.
We see the seeds of violence and war in ourselves
Lord have mercy.
Raise us up to be more self-aware,
To be peacemakers and peace-brokers
To learn generosity of heart and to follow the example of Jesus
And this we ask that your kingdom might come – in us and through us
Amen. Amen.

The second part of John Bell’s meditation focuses on the stone the builders rejected and rather than intersperse sections with sung responses we had silent prayer for related issues suggested by each. The final meditation focuses on us receiving the invitation by God to come as living stones. This fitted easily with the sharing of bread and wine.
We finished by laying down our stones at the foot of the cross and perhaps laying down stones we might otherwise have thrown in the coming week, allowing our empty hands to be open to catch a few instead! Two books used to day that I cannot recommend more highly – do read them!