Synod Prayer

This is the prayer for our upcoming Synod meeting, in July.

Creating God,
with breath and dust and a word you brought us to life,
to care, to serve, to nurture,
to build community and to flourish.

Even in our frailty and failure you love us,
call us back to yourself,
and offer us forgiveness and life again.

Incarnate One,
your presence offered life to those from whom it was withheld:
those bent with illness and injustice,
those broken by exclusion or empire,
those silenced by their suffering, their sin, or their circumstance.

In your crucifixion and rising,
you put the lie to death’s strongest word
and to sin’s manacle on our humanness;
in your new life, you offer us life anew.

Breath of Life,
stir us with hope,
lift our hearts in wonder,
sing to us of the life offered us in Jesus Christ.

You are the flame to refine your church,
to lead us into the life which proclaims your Gospel.

Constitute, rule and renew us
in this Synod meeting
that we might hear your voice,
answer your call,
and witness to your presence in your world.

In, with and through Christ we pray. Amen.

Starting From Here

There’s an old Irish story, about a tourist in Kilkenny asking directions from a local about how to get to Tralee, and the sage replies, “Well, I wouldn’t be starting from here.”

One of the most common questions asked of me since I first heard a call to ordained ministry is “How did you get here?” Each time I am asked I have moved further from where I began, with a journey resembling a dance – steps forward and back, to each side, often partnered – far more than anything else.

It’s far too simplistic to draw a straight line from a faithful family of origin, Sunday School (to which I remember having a distinct aversion), and later youth group and thence into ministry. It both misunderstands and misrepresents how God’s presence has been active throughout, and the particular roles of certain people and communities during that time. There were saints for a season, and those who have remained with me for longer; there were episodes of considerable significance, like College, and each of my five placements; there were the events – some glorious, some mundane and some destructive.

In many of those moments, there have been people who have taught and challenged and rebuked and nurtured me. At every step, in every story, God’s Spirit was breathing life and hope.

For the last several months, a team I have been leading has been looking at how we shape people for ministry, both lay and ordained. It is clear that a (quite appropriate) emphasis is placed upon the education process, usually through our United Theological College. But what about the shaping of the person, becoming ready for the wonders and challenges and risks of ministry? For far too long, much of the Church has expected those years of formal education to be the time when someone becomes “ready for ministry.”

What on earth does that say about the role of the congregation and the minister? What does it say about the role of those who lead bible studies and worship teams, or school chaplains, or ISCF leaders, or colleagues at work, or uni?

When I completed my first placement, one of the older members of the congregation, a retired railway worker with faith in the marrow of his bones, commented at the farewell dinner, “He wasn’t too flash when he came here, but he isn’t too bad now.” This was an honest reflection of a congregation which knew that its role was to work alongside me, to shape me, and to send me on.

What are we hoping for in our congregations? What are we expecting? Do we look to call people in our congregation to lead in worship, witness and service, or do we wait for someone else to come and look after us?

There are communities of faith in our Synod which are shaping people for all kinds of ministry: within their gathered life, in the wider community and in the wider church. There are people who are looking to encourage people into ministry, lay and ordained, and we need to expand this wonderful culture across our Synod.

Education is vital for ministry, but just as vital are the communities which shape us for our task, and the individuals who invite us to step up and then guide us as we grow.

One of the most vital mentors I have is a lady in her eighties, who has covenanted to pray for me every day; she reminds me when she sees me, to hold herself accountable and to hold me equally so. When someone approaches you about their sense of call, don’t let cynicism speak; encourage, bless, and support that one and see where God takes both of you.

When you are asked to be a mentor for a person seeking confirmation, don’t just support them for the weeks of preparation, offer time afterwards, for prayer and coffee.

Expect the Holy Spirit to move in your congregation; hope for people to find new gifts and to exercise them; believe that you will be surprised about how Jesus might use (even you!) in the service of God’s reign in the world.

How did I get here? God moved in many ways, so people asked and encouraged me, people challenged me, people taught me, people disciplined me, people rebuked me, people prayed for me and loved me – and people still do.

Shall we get started from here?

Les Murray | The Quality of Sprawl

Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck, and sprawl
is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts
to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.

Sprawl is doing your farming by aeroplane, roughly,
or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.
It is the rococo of being your own still centre.
It is never lighting cigars with ten-dollar notes:
that’s idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.
Nor can it be bought with the ash of million-dollar deeds.

Sprawl lengthens the legs; it trains greyhounds on liver and beer.
Sprawl almost never says Why not? With palms comically raised
nor can it be dressed for, not even in running shoes worn
with mink and a nose ring. That is Society. That’s Style.
Sprawl is more like the thirteenth banana in a dozen
or anyway the fourteenth.

Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch
bisecting an obstructive official’s desk with a chainsaw.
Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal
though it’s often intransigent. Sprawl is never Simon de Montfort
at a town-storming: Kill them all! God will know his own.
Knowing the man’s name this was said to might be sprawl.

Sprawl occurs in art. The fifteenth to twenty-first
lines in a sonnet, for example. And in certain paintings;
I have sprawl enough to have forgotton which paintings.
Turner’s glorious Burning of the Houses of Parliament
comes to mind, a doubling bannered triumph of sprawl –
except, he didn’t fire them.

Sprawl gets up the nose of many kinds of people
(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don’t include it.
some decry it as criminal presumption, silken-robed Pope Alexander
dividing the new world between Spain and Portugal.
If he smiled in petto afterwards, perhaps the thing did have sprawl.

Sprawl is really classless, though. It’s John Christopher Frederick Murray
asleep in his neighbours‘ best bed in spurs and oilskins
but not having thrown up:
sprawl is never Calum who, drunk, along the hallways of our House,
reinvented the Festoon. Rather
it’s Beatrice Miles going twelve hundred ditto in a taxi,
No Lewd Advances, No Hitting Animals, No Speeding,
on the proceeds of her two-bob-a-sonnet Shakespeare readings.
An image of my country. And would that it were more so.

No, sprawl is full-gloss murals on a council-house wall.
Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.
Reprimanded and dismissed
it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail
of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth.
Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek
and thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.

from The People’s Otherworld

The Sri Lanka Bombings

We are appalled, and confronted, by the awful acts of violence in Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday. Most of us are not directly engaged, though many of us have friends and family who are. We grieve with them, are with them in their numbness and confusion, and share some portion of their anger.

It may well appear that, for many in our world, we measure out our lives in tragedy. People were worshipping in Sri Lanka, as they were in Christchurch, as people have been so many times before across the world. In worship, on holidays, at school, or pursuing the daily rounds of their lives.

Violence punctuates our community and those across our world, and some of these acts are too large to find any measure.

One immediate miscarriage of these atrocities is to speak of those who committed them as if they were faithful disciples of Christianity, or Islam, or any other faith. There is no sanctuary either, in the claim of some bastardised sense of human injustice.

Our first act, in this week when disciples of Jesus Christ speak of resurrection, of new life, is to weep with those who weep. We will love our neighbours, as is our calling.

When our tears have slowed, we need to articulate our faith, that we will not allow death and violence to be the dominant words in our vocabulary, in our lives. We refuse to let terror speak for us; we are people of the cross and resurrection, and to proclaim the crucified, risen Christ is to declare that we will live our lives with hope, and love, and justice.

And at some point, when we are able, we will speak of forgiveness. We may then speak of loving our enemies, as we are called to.

We declare that God’s love is stronger than death. We will worship, and take holidays, and go to school, and pursue our daily lives asserting that our hope and life is found in Jesus, living out the reign of God with every measure of our lives.

Notre Dame, Holy Week 2019

I have never been there.

I have heard stories, by family and friends, for more than four decades, of extraordinary majesty and beauty, sitting in the heart of Paris.

Seated now in ash, Notre Dame awaits the future, having survived wars great and awful, the depredations of monarchs and despots, and the seething anger of revolutionaries. It has endured too, the attention of so many devotees and others.

Already this morning, several friends who know the lady have spoken reverentially, and with sadness. Tales of soloists in the cathedral, echoing the voice of heaven; of sitting and waiting for God to speak; of marvelling at an inspired imagination, and those several artisans who could make hope real.

Perhaps they may build again, or restore, but it will never be the same. There will be photos and drawings for ever, but never enough to capture its entirety.

There will, wonderfully, be stories, like the ones my friends are telling. In that way, a building becomes alive, not because of stones, but through awe and worship and wonder.

In this week, of all weeks, this holy week, when we live and tell our experience of the crucified, and risen, Christ. In this week, of all weeks, our story is one of what God has imagined and brought to reality; and we bear that story in our lives.

Let us tell it well, because all is changed, all made new.

International Women’s Day: A Prayer

I was asked to compose a prayer for International Women’s Day.
I wrote this, particularly, with my grandmothers, my mother, my two sisters and two daughters in mind and heart. And, of course, my wife.
I hope this small piece does justice to my task.

May this one day,
life-giving, life-bearing God,
cause us to remember for each day,
every day.

We give thanks for leaders and servants,
for scientists and prophets,
for farmers and economists and radical actors.

We have been blessed by nurture,
by proclamation, insight
and scintillating humour.

We have seen hope enfleshed,
as the courage
to crack the shackles of disbelief
and dismantle the bastions of culture
is lived out again and again
and again.

For those who suffer,
who risk their lives by living them,
who are unsafe because of their humanity,
we pray justice,
we pray action,
and we pray it now and always.

For these women,
and so many more.

We bless you,
for your image we have met in them,
for grandmothers and mothers,
sisters and daughters,
of our shared blood, or
shared story.

On this day, we pray.  

Easter Is Why

I am listening to my favourite piece of music as I write this. It is the first classical recording I ever purchased, at the record store in the Manning Building at Sydney University.  Apart from the beauty of the piece, it raises the memory of when I first heard – and saw – it.

I had just been to a movie, Children of a Lesser God, where a teacher of students, who are hearing impaired, is asked to show what a piece of music “looks like” when someone is unable to hear the sounds. And so, I fell in love with the Second Movement of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto in D Minor, and Pink Floyd’s Comfortably Numb moved into second place.

We are invited, as disciples, to bear witness to the gospel which has changed our lives. What does that look, and sound, like? Our word “martyr” is a direct descendant of the Greek word which means to bear witness, to testify. We bear witness not just with our words, but with our bodies, our very lives.

Easter is when God bears witness to us. It is when Jesus Christ, in his very life, testifies to all that God is, in mercy, and suffering, and hope. And love.

We are inheritors of a story where the God of all creation, and all of history, becomes as one with us, suffers and dies. We wait, in silence, and are astonished when Christ’s resurrection proclaims God’s intention to save creation and all within.

So, when we are asked to show what this symphony looks like, to those whose hearing is impaired by all the other demands and voices and fears and sounds of our raucous world, what shall we do?

How shall we bear witness to this Christ, with more than our words, or with actions that confirm our words?

Some of us persist with the false dichotomy, being either “evangelists” or advocates of “social justice”. This conversation is a waste of God’s mission and a waste of our time. When Jesus healed people, they received their lives back socially and physically. When Jesus offered forgiveness, it was restorative of life and community.

I was asked recently why our Uniting Church is so engaged – and progressive – around concerns in our community. I responded that our faith in Jesus places us squarely in the marketplace of our world.

Our faith in Jesus has us kneeling beside those whose lives seem beyond repair. Our faith in Christ crucified would have us nowhere else, and whether the brokenness comes from our own hands, or the hand of another, that is where we belong.

Easter is why we feed those who are hungry for bread and justice and forgiveness; that is why we advocate for refugees, chained by politics here and overseas; that is why we agitate about fair treatment for those trapped in the prison of addiction; that is why we offer a voice for our planet, particularly to those leaders who ears are stoppered.  

And we are not there only because Christ is crucified.

We are there because Christ is raised.

The hope of Christ’s resurrection proclaims our belief that forgiveness for sins is real. We believe that chains can be broken, and prisoners released; we declare that our ears can be opened, as well as our hearts.

Easter is why we worship, in voices and languages and music which reflect the world in which we live, the hospitality we offer and the God whom we serve. We worship and witness and serve, imitating the crucified and risen One, with the Spirit’s inspiration, to the glory of God. 


A Sonnet for Ash Wednesday | Malcom Guite

Receive this cross of ash upon your brow,
Brought from the burning of Palm Sunday’s cross.
The forests of the world are burning now
And you make late repentance for the loss.
But all the trees of God would clap their hands
The very stones themselves would shout and sing
If you could covenant to love these lands
And recognise in Christ their Lord and king.

He sees the slow destruction of those trees,
He weeps to see the ancient places burn,
And still you make what purchases you please,
And still to dust and ashes you return.
But Hope could rise from ashes even now
Beginning with this sign upon your brow.

Dust and Ashes Touch Our Face | Brian Wren

(Walter Michot/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images)

Dust and ashes touch our face,
mark our failure and our falling.
              Holy Spirit, come,
              walk with us tomorrow,
              take us as disciples,
washed and wakened by your calling.

Take us by the hand and lead us,
lead us through the desert sands,
bring us living water,
Holy Spirit, come.

Dust and ashes soil our hands –
greed of market, pride of nation.
              Holy Spirit, come,
              walk with us tomorrow
              as we pray and struggle
through the meshes of oppression.

Dust and ashes choke our tongue
in the wasteland of depression.
Holy Spirit, come,
walk with us tomorrow
through all the gloom and grieving
to the paths of resurrection.

Words and music © 1989 Brian Wren
Hope Publishing Co.

As we gather for worship this weekend, as we meet to pray with friends and family, we consider the ongoing ravages of drought in our state of NSW and western Queensland;
we consider the flooding crisis in Townsville and now in several farming communities in Queensland, where there had been years of drought until this new disaster;
we consider the bushfires in Tasmania and Victoria, and the warnings in Western Australia.

We pray for the immediate needs of individuals and communities.
We pray for the wisdom of community and political leaders.
We pray for the ongoing and imminent disaster of climate change – for courage and wisdom to act and to lead.

Raise your voices in lament for those suffering and near to breaking,
confession for our ignoring the truth, and our failures to act,
intercession for those in fear and need,
raise your voice and hands in hope because the risen, crucified Christ is with all who suffer, and with all of us.

And when you pray, move your feet.