Sunday, August 17, 2014

bowing to a buddhist monk: a meditation on the Syro-phonecian woman

Here is the sermon I preached this morning at Blackwood Churches of Christ. The lectionary text was Matthew 15:22-28, the story of Jesus encounter with the Syro-phonecian woman. The reading helped me explore a set of circumstances a few weeks ago, in which I found myself bowing to a Buddhist monk. In other words, how do we encounter people of different beliefs and opinions?

……. (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:11 PM

Monday, June 16, 2014

Trinity art at Tarlee

On Sunday, I led worship and preached at Tarlee Uniting. It was Trinity Sunday and I offered a number of multi-sensory ways to engage the Trinity – a tasting experience, a body prayer, a visual engagement with two art images, the making of friendship bracelets as a benediction. I was a bit unsure how, being new to a church, such input would go. I was also unsure how it would play in a rural community.

Despite my anxiety, people engaged really, really well. There was lots of interaction. What was even more intriguing was that within a few minutes of the service finishing, the visual images were being displayed on the outdoor noticeboard.

trinity sunday at tarlee

The full service was as follows –

Trinity Sunday 2014

Enter – Taste the trio – hand out cracker, cheese and gherkins at door instead of hymnbooks

Welcome – 2 Cor 13: 14 The amazing grace of the Master, Jesus Christ, the extravagant love of God, the intimate friendship of the Holy Spirit, be with all of you.

Introduction to theme – Why food? Trinity Sunday. Three in one.

Praise – use songs. Use our bodies
God is beyond anything we can imagine (traditionally the symbol of God the Father)
God is with us (and many believe became one of us- the “Son”)
God is within us (The Spirit)
and amongst us (The Spirit)

Children’s talk – introduce Rublev’s Icon, as a way of understanding God for culture that cannnot read, as a picture to be explained.

Readings: 2 Corinthians 13:11-end; Matthew 28:16-20

Reflection – Malcolm Gordon, Sweetest mystery

Confession:
O God, even as we celebrate your unity, we know that sometimes
we break that unity, in our own lives, in our families, in our communities, with your earth

Sermon – introduce a second art piece, then return to name the children’s talk picture as Rublevs Icon, and set the context as a act of public and practical theology.

Offering and Intercession: Pick up on the two lectionary texts. 2 Corinthians 13:11-end and so to pray for church and people we know; Matthew 28:16-20 and so to pray for God’s mission in the world.

Final song: I bind unto myself – St Patrick, Eucharist CD – while making friendship bracelet. Including option of weaving in a bead (My partner had find beads with letters of the alphabet, and people were invited to choose a bead with a name of person that want woven into the Trinity of love.

Benediction: Return to opening greeting, 2 Corinthians 13:11-end

Posted by steve at 12:12 PM

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

ascension day worship: creationary

Call to worship – Meet me in the middle of the air, Paul Kelly

A divine invitation, through the words of Paul Kelly, to make this a time to come, meet with God.

Welcome to country and praise.
And so we appreciate this place as a meeting place. In silence, we respect to those who’ve met here before us – other students and staff. In silence we respect other denominations who’ve met in this place. In silence, we respect to traditional owners of this land; their elders.

Link: The Paul Kelly song has echoes of Psalm 23. It also has echoes of Ascension Day. 40 days after Easter; 10 days before Pentecost. Church celebrates Ascension Day. It’s major feast in the church. When Jesus goes to meet God. Let’s hear the Story.

Scripture – Acts 1:1-11

Affirmation of faith: verbal – In response to the reading, a verbal affirmation of faith

Say Apostles Creed

Affirmation of faith: visual – In response, to the reading, a visual affirmation of faith

lansdowne mss

Lansdowne ‘The Shaftesbury Psalter’; 2nd quarter of the 12th century

Reflection

Two spheres, blue and red. Two angels, lifting up feet of Jesus toward the Divine. The disciples gathered.

It’s a very literal interpretation. I love the angel robed in green, the literalness of gravity at work, the robe hanging down. Part of me struggles with literalism. I’m a White Westerner. I don’t live with a view of the world of 1st century world.

Yet part of me also finds the literalism strangely compelling. It affirms importance of bodies. The Ascension of Jesus means that the human body joins God. No human body of Jesus folding up like a sack of skin on the ground.

Instead we have the nail scarred hands been taken to heaven. Spear wound. Calloused feet from walking all over Judea. Hands that touched a leper. The nose that smelt dead Lazarus emerging. The mouth that enjoyed the best of wine at the wedding of Cana.

This human body joins God. Not cast aside as B-grade. The body is as important as spirit. Our armpits and noses, sweat glands, feelings, tiredness – all caught up, in Jesus, with God. Embraced in the Trinity. The celebration of human bodies is complete.

Personally, I find that literalism, that valuing of real bodies more and more compelling.

It also helps me appreciate much more the body left behind. Eugene Rogers, theologian, (in his book After the Spirit: A Constructive Pneumatology from Resources Outside the West) notes how you have to read Ascension Day with Pentecost.

At Ascension God goes up, the body of Christ leaves. Pentecost, God comes down in the Spirit, the body begins, the church as the body of Christ. A second valuing of the body. Our body. Us as the church. Our armpits and noses, sweat glands, feelings, tiredness – embraced in the Trinity. The celebration of human body the church is complete.

This is a feature for Uniting Church as we come to communion. As a Uniting Church, we believe that the Spirit does not inhabit the elements. Nor does it inhabit the holy hands. Rather the Spirit inhabits the gathered community.

We are the body of Christ. We need to let go, Don’t touch, in order to truly be.

Leader: We confess, our lack of care for our bodies, our lack of care for the body of Christ, the church, We confess

All: we have wandered, bring us home

Absolution: Grace, peace and purpose be upon you

Peace: Greet your neighbours with the sign of peace

Leader: Let us pray Lift up your hearts, give thanks and sing

ALL: Hosanna, Hosanna

Leader: Father thanks for making us thanks for taking us, thanks for showing us the way And thankyou especially for you Son Jesus Christ who said, take, eat this is my body, which is given for you

And take, drink, this is my blood shed for you for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Spirit, bless it, bless us, your body; Bless all creation

All: As it was, as it is, as it will be

By human God, through abundant God, to the glory of Almighty God

All: Amen

We believe this to be the body and blood of Christ, Not to be taken lightly Let anyone who feels called is welcome to this table These are the gifts of God, for the people of God.

Serve bread.

Say together The Lord’s prayer

Thankyou Lord, for being with us

Benediction: As you go, may the Ascended Christ meet you

Posted by steve at 02:36 PM

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

laying the table: creationary Psalm 23 and John 10

I had a few minutes today, in which to put together some worship for College chapel (20 minute chapels that take place weekly on Tuesdays and Wednesdays). I wish I could have given it more time, but a run of unexpected commitments ate into my planned preparation time.

The lectionary texts for this week include Psalm 23 and John 10. The theme that seemed to emerge was “laying the table.” It links “You prepare a table before me” with “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” and communion. It also connected with my experience during the week. Last night I brought home a bunch of sun flowers for the family. They sat on the kitchen table overnight and just seemed to light up the room. So “laying the table” began to be a theme by which to frame the service.

So I began by telling my story and then inviting folk to lay a flower on the table and name something in which they were finding beauty and life. We ended up with a table spread with flowers. It was lovely, a physical call to worship and expression of praise, our praise, unique to today.

I then noted that the Christian tradition gives us more to “lay on the table.” I laid the Bible on the table, then asked folk to pass it around, reading a verse each from Psalm 23.

I then noted that the Christian tradition gives us more to “lay on the table.” This time, baptism for cleansing. A short prayer and then I sprinkled water from the font over those gathered, over the table, over the entrance way, and used some sentences from John 10 as the Words of absolution.

I then noted that the Christian tradition gives us yet more to “lay on the table.” I placed on the table bread and wine. By now the table was very richly symbolic – praise, Scripture, confession and absolution in baptism, communion – all laid by us as a community in ways both personal yet connective with the Christian tradition. Indeed, a table prepared before us, one in which we find life, and have it abundantly.

Which led naturally into intercession, praying for places that lack abundance.

Below is the worship order with some more exact wording: (more…)

Posted by steve at 06:08 PM

Monday, April 14, 2014

colouring Holy Week

This week I’m colouring Holy Week. I’ve found a bit of board in the garage, which I’ve cut and prepared with a gesso wash.

And then I painted blocks of colour, adding layers to deepen intensity.

Then I applied gold leaf, in celebration of resurrection life.

These colours are not necessarily traditional church colours. But they help me, and perhaps others with visual learning preferences, step through the events of this week. I’m doing this for myself. I’m also doing this to help me prepare for Easter Camp in Robe, at which I’m speaking to young people from the rural South East of South Australia.

The colours of Holy Week make sense for me as follows:

Green on Palm Sunday, to remember those who waved palms and celebrated Jesus entering a city. Red on Monday, because on Monday (in Mark’s gospel), Jesus got angry, red-faced, and trashed the money changers in the temple. Brown on Tuesday, to recall Jesus words that unless a seed falls into the ground and dies, it can not produce many seeds. Lavender on Wednesday, to remember perfume, and the extravagant, expensive love of an unnamed woman, who poured what was possibly her family hierloom onto Jesus head. Blue on Thursday, to express the feelings of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, a soul deeply distressed, troubled, overwhelmed. Black on Friday, for on this day God died. Grey on Saturday, for on this day all of creation mourned. Gold leaf, etched with rainbow colours on the Sunday, for on this day life to the full in the here and now was re-defined.

As a result, on Monday, I have cut two pathways of response into my board, for on Monday, the events of this week leave us with some choices. How then will we live, in light of the events of this week.

Posted by steve at 01:10 PM

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

a spirituality for a pilgrim people

I’m teaching Church, Ministry, Sacraments over these 2 weeks. This morning the lectionary Psalm was Psalm 84. It got me thinking ….

You are a pilgrim people, always on the way towards a promised goal (Basis of Union, rifting off Hebrews 11). “Who go through the barren valley find there a spring” (Psalm 84:5)

It comes to you. A pool of water on a heated day.

You can’t make it, nor create it.

You can try to hurry to it. But that leaves you exhausted, the proverbial hare, gasping, while the tortoise plods on by.

Best simply to wait for it. And when you see it, spread invitingly around the next corner, simply receive it.

If deep, jump in. Splash. Laugh. Dunk a fellow swimmer. Get out shaking your head like a playful dog. Then lay your clothes on a sunny rock. Lie back. Enjoy the birdsong. Reflect on steps taken, share a story with a travelling companion, compare blisters, prepare for the next part.

If shallow, drink deep. Splash iced cold water over your face. Wet your hair and let it trickle down your neck. Laugh. Splash a fellow drinker. Then lie back. Enjoy the birdsong. Reflect on steps taken, share a story with a travelling companion, compare blisters, prepare for the next part

Some find these pools of water on a heated day on a night with friends over red wine. Others find it on a weekend bush walk. Yet another find it as one wanders through an art gallery or turns the page on an ancient theology book. Wherever you find it, you leave the richer, nod the wiser, knowing more deeply that on the way Christ feeds.

With Word and Sacraments

The trouble is, whether deep or shallow, poorly done or richly resonant, you know you can’t stay. A pool on a heated day is only a pausing place for a pilgrim people.

It’s dangerous. No stupid – to remain in the barren valley. It’s not the point, nor the purpose.

For you are a pilgrim people

Posted by steve at 08:56 AM

Monday, February 03, 2014

body benedictions

At the National Fresh expressions and mission-shaped ministry 2014 conference, I was asked to contribute not just some explanation of history, but also be part of leading in a final act. I’ve been aware more and more recently of the importance of our bodies (and the way they are so rarely used in worship). So here’s what I did.

In your right hand, gather your dreams, what is arising in hope from within you. Take some time to hold these dreams before God.

Now, since we are the body of Christ, I invite you to connect your right hand, the dreams you are holding, with the hand of another. Now take some time to pray, silently, for the dream you are touching.

In your left hand, gather your to-do list, all the things that might lie neglected as a result of these last few days. Take some time to hold your to do list before God.

Now, since we are the body of Christ, I invite you to connect your left hand, the to do list you are holding, with the hand of another. Now take some time to pray, silently, for the to do list you are touching.

Now put your hands in your pockets. You are taking your dreams and your to do list with you. I invite you to turn and face the door.

Now hear the benediction, some words from the lectionary text for this Sunday … (and so I offered them some words from Luke 2:29-32; servants be dismissed in peace, go to see salvation, go to be a light for Gentiles, for the glory of God)

A good deal of positive feedback after, as people collected their stuff and began to take their bodies into God’s world.

Posted by steve at 08:05 AM

Friday, December 06, 2013

intuitive worship: baptism, ministry, deeper water and Psalm 42

Today we farewelled a colleague. They had expressed a desire for a ritual moment, so over a number of days, by email, among a number of folk, a service of leaving was sketched.

It’s been a hectic week at College and with one of the key folk sick, I wasn’t convinced that all the i’s were crossed or t’s were dotted. Just in case, I grabbed a Bible as I left my office – a useful tool in case of emergencies.

Sure enough, it emerged on the walk over that no-one was down to do the Bible reading. I’d suggested it, so was happy to read. Especially since I had a Bible.

It was the Psalm for today in the Lectionary, Psalm 42. It fitted really well with the opening song. The colleague loves Paul Kelly, so we’d chosen Deeper Water, a song about growth, journey, life.

Deeper water, deeper water,
Deeper water, calling them on

As the song played live, I began to wonder were to stand to read. My eyes settled on the baptismal font. Water. An intuitive link gets made in my mind.

So as the song ended, I stood and walked to the baptismal font. I introduced the Psalm as about deeper water, as about where is God in deeper water. (As a hart longs for flowing streams (v. 1); Deep calls to deep at the thunder of thy cataracts; all thy waves and thy billows have gone over me (v. 7).)

As the Psalm ended, I returned (Djed) the lyrics of the song. “Deeper water, calling you on, and you’re never alone.” I dipped my hands in the water of the baptismal font and walked across to our departing colleague and bent to make the sign of the cross on his forehead.

An intuitive moment – a mix of Paul Kelly, Psalm 42 and the Christian ritual of baptism. For it is in our baptism that we are called into ministry. So a re-affirmation of baptism as that which holds us on the ongoing journey into ministry.

A few extra seconds, wordless, in which the waters of baptism were applied. And I returned, in silence to my seat. It had felt, intuitively the right thing to do.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, baptism, ministry and Psalm 42). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 06:21 AM

Sunday, November 10, 2013

mission, identity, relationships and gender: preaching Luke 20:22-38

Here is Sunday’s sermon. To be honest, I approached the Lectionary text – Luke 20:22-38 apprehensive, thinking, this is going to be tough. This is an obscure argument about an obscure part of the Bible. Over the week, I’ve gained fresh insight into the radical nature of God’s Kingdom. Thanks especially to the commentary by Joel Green, The Gospel of Luke (The New International Commentary on the New Testament).

Luke 20:22-38 offers some radical insights on identity, relationships and gender. We’re invited to be children of God. Our relationships with each other, our relationships with God are not defined not by historic cultural patterns. Nor by how sexy we are. Nor by how much bling we have. We’re children of God. Called by a God who listens to the cry of people’s suffering. Invited to live lives of mercy and justice.

Here’s the sermon …. (more…)

Posted by steve at 12:41 PM

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

from spark to worship: praying the Psalms with roses on world map

Yesterday I blogged, grateful for the sparks of inspiration from a Sunday browse through Ikea. I understand creativity as a we

Today I found myself on chapel, which involves around 20 minutes of prayer. It is in the semester break here at College, so it tends to be staff, a smaller group. So here is how the spark became worship.

To give some Scriptural spine, I checked the lectionary readings and selected the Psalm (Psalm 85) for the week, which I printed so folk could read.

I was thinking about how people might want to name their prayers. I’d noticed a few days ago a stray rose still in the garden, so grabbed that on the way to work. To keep it fresh, I took it in a plastic container. Opening the lid during the morning, I was struck by the scent and realised that might be a helpful sense to engage.

With my 20 minutes I welcomed people and invited us to stand around the world map/table. We read the Psalm, verse by verse around the group, which gave voice to our prayer. I handed the rose around the group and as I hoped, people caught the scent and with a word of surprise, discovered it’s joy together.

I noted that at the heart of Christian faith is the Easter story, in which brokenness and vulnerability are so essential. I invited us to pray by handing the rose, again, around the group. We would each break of a petal and place it on the world map, naming what were praying for. We would keep doing this until the rose ran out of petals.

This happened, naturally, beautifully, for around 15 minutes. We concluded by reading again the Psalm, again around the group. And a final picture, to “capture” our prayer.

A spark – a world map. Which became worship – prayers for the world and each other. Which involved the hearing of Scripture, the smell of the rose, the touch of a petal, the visual engagement with the world and each other. And this deep sense of being in the presence of God, tender with each other and God’s world.

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, praying the Psalms). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 06:53 PM

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Colour my faith

Olive Fleming Drane posted a delightful picture, of the new floor in Glasgow’s new Paperchase.

It’s a delightful reminder of the power and place of colour. And the implications for our engagement with Christian faith.

Like “colour divina.” Imagine hearing the same Bible text, read slowly, read repeatedly. And each time, standing in a different colour. Where is purple in the text? Where is the colour red? Where do we see green?

Imagine different stations, placed on different coloured mats. Confession on red, benediction on green, hearing the Scriptures in purple.

At Opawa, for a period of time, part of the call to worship included the invitation:

Words of introduction: We all come from different weeks; good and bad, busy and slow, major and minor. What colour would describe your emotions and experiences this week?

Action: In baskets at various places around the auditorium are a wide range of colours. Each colour square has a “hot dot” fixed to the back. As we gather as a community in worship this morning I invite you
a) choose a colour square that says something about your week.
b) peel the backing paper of the “hot dot” on the back and place your colour on the cross.
You can do this at any time before the service.

Prayer: We will start our service with the following prayer

Leader: Arriving, we bring our current reality.
All: The good and the bad. The busy and the slow. The major and the minor.

Leader: We dare to believe that God is among us.
All: Among us as one who listens, holds, loves, heals, guides.

Leader: We dare to believe that we are safe here.
All: Safe among friends journeying together. Journeying to a deeper knowledge of, love for and service with God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

(full post here)

For more on the place of colour in Christian faith, see

  • Colouring the stations of the cross here
  • Colouring formation here
  • for a fantastic resource, in the form of a children’s book, see here.
Posted by steve at 10:20 PM

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

breath prayers as communion

At communion yesterday (as well as offering a missional introduction), I wanted to try and embody the great prayer of thanksgiving. It is a prayer that is often patterned on salvation history, moving from creation, through the people of Israel, to Jesus, with the saints. One way to offer embodiment, and experience embodiment, is through the simple act of breathing.

I’d also been thinking about brains. As you do!

projectors magnetic field

projectors magnetic field

And the fact that apparently connections between neurons in the brain produces an electrical charge. With every electrical charge comes a corresponding magnetic field. And that although magnetic fields rapidly lose their force, they never completely dissipate. So every thought and memory ever produced still lives, as an infinitesimal magnetic trace. So how to engage with that reality at communion?

Deep breath.

God we breathe in air. As we do, we thank you for creation, for the air we breathe, the birds that sing in the morning, the colour of the gum trees.

Deep breath.

God we breathe in air. Air breathed by others. As we do, we thank you for those who’ve gone before, for the prophets and saints who’ve showed us how to live life and seek justice.

Deep breath.

God we breathe in air. Air breathed by others, including the God-man Jesus. As we do, we thankyou for the humanity of Jesus’ breath, the places he walked, the people he healed, the grace he offered, the words he said.

And so we pray together the prayer, Jesus invited us to pray …. and we recall the words of Jesus, who took bread ….

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 08:23 AM

Monday, May 06, 2013

missional communion

An introduction to communion that I shared today, working with our candidates, faculty and visiting ministers, gathered around the topic of self-care.

There is a story of some ministers gathering. Much like us today, to wrestle with ministry. In the question time, a question is raised. A person aware of their world, concerned about the church. How can we bring people to the altar?

The response is made. Is the question how do we bring people to the altar? Or is the question, how do we bring the altar to people?

An important reminder as we gather. It is not that we come to communion, but that in communion God comes to us. In this we are invited to participate in God’s mission.

Yes, it is about our care. In communion God feeds us, centres us, re-values us around grace and redemption.

But it is more than that. It is also about care for the church. In communion God feeds the church, centres the church, re-values the church around grace and redemption.

But it is more than that. It is also about care for the world. In communion God wants to feed the world, wants to centre the world, wants to re-value the world around grace and redemption.

And so we pray; Spirit, fall on us, that these elements of bread and wine may be for us a participation in your life, love and mission, your bringing the altar to people.

Posted by steve at 03:25 PM

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Easter with U2: overview

It began with a question.

As many things do.

As I walked into church for Maundy Thursday, I wondered what U2 song, if any, might connect with the themes of this day? Which quickly prompted another question, could this extend over Easter? Which made for a personally rich Easter, as I found new ways to understand and appreciate the Christian story.

Here is the result:

Overall, looking back, I was surprised at the personal connections I made through the process. For example, Easter Monday and the image that emerged around busking as a kingdom sign – the improvisation, the public witness, the fleeting nature. Another example was Easter Sunday and seeing the Resurrection with the saints, the importance of belief as it is embodied in another.

Another surprise was the serendipity of the internet. I discovered on Sunday that Steve Stockman, author of Walk on: The Spiritual Journey of U2, was also, this Easter doing it with U2.

But could I do it again? If Easter with U2 (Easter@U2) was a pop culture lectionary, could it sustain a 3 year cycle? I doubt it, not without heading into abstract themes – betrayal, sacrifice, loss, surprise – that would have no specific lyrical references to Easter. Which has left me pondering. For all the hype in some Christian circles about the “spirituality” of U2, this snapshot would suggest they are hardly drawing from the Christian narrative.

U2 have produced 12 studio albums, at an average of 10 songs an album, that means a total of 120 songs. I drew on 4. That is not many, especially when the Easter narrative is so central to the Christian story.

I am not saying they need to. Christian art doesn’t need a cross to make it Christian. And I might be missing some other songs. But 4 out of 120 is not many. Which means I end where I began. With a question! :) (But a great soundtrack to keep me company.)

Creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary (in this case, visual images on themes of pilgrimage). For more resources go here.

Posted by steve at 02:20 PM