Sunday 3 May 2020

Kia ora! Good morning!

We join together in our apart-ness again

We join as the Church global to celebrate the risen Christ.

Before we begin, take a moment to relax, to ‘arrive’ to our worship.

Be still and silent for a moment. We are pausing to acknowledge and grow in the presence of God in our lives. We are meeting as part of a church community, albeit a scattered one. We are stilling ourselves, our fears, our anxieties, and all the distracting things around us, to seek and delight in God’s life with us. Let us worship God!

Our words to focus this time of worship are based on Psalm 23

Day by day, God leads us: to the deep, deep pools of peace, to the green, lush lawns of grace.

Day by day, Jesus calls us: to pour out ourselves in service, to anoint the stranger with hope.

Day by day, the Holy Spirit shows us: the community we could be,

the family we are called to become.

Our prayer on the Way

God of all good, you are life and salvation to all— faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, devoted and indifferent, passionate and dispassionate, holy and worldly, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old.

May your bigness inspire us,

When at times we feel low, flat, or slow;

May your bigness inspire us, when at times we choose to move in opposite ways to you.

Choosing not Goodness, but instead, choosing some imposter promising more than it ever can deliver.

In your mercy, meet us with grace.

Make us faithful and wise in your worship and service,

day by day and step by step adding fire to fire, fervour to fervour,

zeal to zeal, and love to love; in the name of Christ our Lord. Amen.

—Inspired by John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (c. 600)

Bible Reading: Exodus 33:1-23

Reflection: Betwixt & Between by Martin Stewart

Do you feel like I do that everything is kind of poised? That we are on the edge of something. The old is passing and the new is almost upon us. I figure that the next 100 years of telling the story of the world will probably reference these recent months as being cataclysmic. A new reference point, in the way that the Great Depression and World Wars I & II were markers of significant change. Like, pre-war vs post-war, it will be pre-pandemic vs post-pandemic. It is all quite dramatic! What will we make of this moment and opportunity? Have you been thinking about what the next season of your life will be like? In this time of pausing, have you resolved to do anything in particular?

The Franciscan writer Richard Rohr makes an interesting observation about the particular time we are in. He uses the concept of liminal space. Here’s how he talks about it: ‘Liminal space, is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.’ [ Richard Rohr, Between Two Worlds Sunday, April 26, 2020]

Can you think of some particular moments in your life that could be described as liminal spaces? What opportunities came to you because you took notice of what was happening and acted? Today’s reading from Exodus is an account of one of these liminal spaces in the Bible (an obvious other one is the resurrection of Jesus). Moses is on Mount Horeb; he is now an old and worn-out man. The Promised Land is visible in the distance. But the people still remain restless after forty years of wandering and being shaped in a life of faithfulness to the God who has led them out of Egypt. There are as many signs as ever, that they are still an uncooperative bunch – the word for it is ‘stiff-necked.’ Everything is poised. Something is about to happen. But Moses, despairingly wonders if anything will come of it – what would be the point of their deliverance if God doesn’t come with them? He asks the Lord for one last clear sign of God’s presence: ‘Show me your glory, I pray.’ Just let me see you. Give me just one look, and I will be satisfied.

To see God is the great human desire isn’t it? The sceptic is always demanding such a sign, ‘I will only believe if I can see God face to face.’ Have you ever made such a demand? But it turns out that that seeing God would be too much. Moses is warned that the only view of God that is safe is the view of where God has gone by – from behind – after… … otherwise he would be totally overwhelmed. I’m interested in that because if we are indeed in a liminal space – poised on the brink of something new breaking through – the thing we might need the most at the moment is foresight – the ability to see ahead to what is happening so that we can seize it. Wouldn’t it be good to see what God is up to right now! But alas, the ability to see ahead might still rely mostly on hindsight. We can only safely see God’s coming by attending to where God has been. That, of course, is what faith is. Faith is based on what has been revealed, even though we are to take it forward into whatever we are doing. ‘Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.’ – Søren Kierkegaard [1813-1855]

I find myself in a conundrum. In this Covid-19 season I am doing a lot of wondering about change and possibility – part of that, obviously, is because I am moving on into a new position. But I also wonder about how we will do and be church will be changed by what is happening. Should we perpetuate the same-old? Have you also been wondering? Have you found your ears pricking up when people talk about the good things that can come out of this pausing and taking stock? Do we want the same-old again, or is this time for a new thing? I believe that God continually makes new things out of the old, ‘ever old and ever new,’ goes the Sydney Carter song, ‘keep me travelling along with you.’ And I want to stretch forward and make the most of the opportunities that this great pause in the human enterprise is offering.

But… But I feel somewhat thwarted, because it is incredibly tricky for us to spot what God is up to ahead of us, it is tricky to foretell it, or prepare for it, and thereby it is hard to welcome it and embrace it. How long are we to wait? And, if we wait, will we have missed the moment? Will we forever be playing ‘catch-up? I’m a bit like Moses. I want to see ahead! Now! Is this a feature of humanity, always wanting to know what’s next? I remember, as a child, asking my mother what was for tea. The answer was usually, ‘wait and see.’ I also recall that the best Christmas presents were always the surprises. Knowing what I was getting took a lot of the fun out of it! If God did reveal something too far ahead, would it deflate us, or loosen us, and possibly make us unstable?

If I am to be a bit cautious about looking too far in front, I’m beginning to wonder if this liminal space we find ourselves in, is an invitation to something we are meant to recover from behind? A period that is offering some kind of clarity. A clearing of our vision. Like, having a procedure to have the cataracts/scales removed from our eyes! Apparently, people living in the foothills of the Himalayas in India and Pakistan can see the distant mountains for the first time in years. The pollution has reduced so dramatically. They must feel like they are on the edge of something possible that they had become resigned to never seeing again. In what ways has this global shutdown of the human operation cleared the way for our eyes to see, our ears to hear, and our hands to reach out and touch? Can we dare to hope for a better way? Can we change our ways? In my view there is no going back. We aren’t to seek out the good old days and relive them, rather, we are to make these next days the good old days.

Recovering is not going back, it might involve taking stock, and settling back, and pausing, and recalibrating, and readying ourselves for what is next. This could be the most wonderful thing for us. Rohr again: ‘The very vulnerability and openness of liminal space allows room for something genuinely new to happen. We are empty and receptive—erased tablets waiting for new words. Liminal space is where we are most teachable…’ What kinds of things should we be looking for and putting energy into recovering? Are we thinking nostalgically or prophetically? Can we see the big difference between these? What are you hoping for? What has come to you in hindsight that is now offering you a measure of insight and even foresight?

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” I wonder what that mercy and compassion looks like. How might we give expression to it in this parish?

Offering & Prayer for the Road

In this part of the service, we dedicate these gifts and indeed our entire lives once again to the service of God in the week ahead. We do this all, in response to the ongoing generosity of God of which we are all receivers and to remind ourselves that ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ (Psalm 24:1).

Collectively now at this moment as we turn our hearts and minds outwards.

Let us be grateful for God’s ongoing gifts, grateful that many of us can still give to the ongoing life and work of  St Martins and dedicate ourselves to the presence of God in our ‘bubbles’, in our phone conversations and in our waving across the street.

We pray:

Holy God; you call us to be made holy, to be made in your image.

We trust in your generosity, and so are free to be generous ourselves, opening our hearts and using our gifts freely, for your purposes in our world.

Bless these gifts and us to your service,

God who sees all spaces, you see the space between what we need and what we get, the space between the hunger and the nourishment provided, the space between our hopes and what actually happens.

You see the cracks in our lives out of which tears flow.

Help us live into and through these spaces with courage in the face of emptiness,

laying our hearts open to your mercy.

God who in is all spaces pouring your love and goodness in filling us to overflowing help us this week to take this love into all we do all we say, and all we are

In Jesus name we pray, Amen

We close reading, praying or singing the hymn: The Summons

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?

Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?

Will you let my love be shown, will you let my name be known,

will you let my life be grown, in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?

Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?

Will you risk the hostile stare, should your life attract or scare?

Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?

Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?

Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen,

And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name?

Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?

Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,

Through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord, your summons echoes true when you but call my name.

Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.

In your company I’ll go where your love and footsteps show.

Thus, I’ll move and live and grow in you and you in me. Graham Maule & John L Bell

A Blessing: May you go into your week with your ears pitched to the sound of God’s voice calling your name; with your eyes peeled for the face of Jesus in unexpected places; with your soul poised to receive the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Peace.