A unique historic opportunity

I am sitting writing on the eve of what is possibly one of the most historic Easter Weekends – well certainly in my lifetime. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are the most important celebrations for Christians around the globe. In fact, for those who follow the Christian Calendar they are the center of the year – if not the faith.

On this day in some denominations priests renew their ordination vows before a Bishop. Many liturgical churches recall the Last Supper, others hold Tenebrae services well into the night. Tomorrow on Good Friday Christians around the globe remember the crucifixion of our Lord. Services are usually held reflecting traditions and cultures around the world. They range from shorter, perhaps western, evangelical services, to others like the ‘stations of the cross’ that last several hours. This year all that has changed! As I write this, half the countries around the globe are in lockdown.

As already mentioned, the Easter weekend, with public holidays on Friday and Monday, is historically a time set aside for worship and celebration. Yet for many it has become simply a long weekend – an opportunity to take four days off work, catch up with friends, or shoot down to the coast for a final dip in the sea before winter sets in. In South Africa we commemorate this weekend annually with incomprehensible carnage on our roads – the highest throughout the year. Perhaps that statistic alone tells us that we are missing the meaning of the holy-day?

This year all of that stops! We can’t visit friends or go to the shops (unless it’s for certain essentials). We can’t pop down to the Berg or the beach. In fact, we are forbidden to move between provinces. So, what should we do? Catch up on work, perhaps clean the garage? We could read a book or binge watch a new series on Netflix? Or is there something else we could do with the next four days?

I would submit to you that it is a unique opportunity to consider the original purpose of this weekend. It is in fact a wonderful opportunity to ponder and to pray…

To ponder

We have an unprecedented occasion to consider again the significance of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, and to contemplate how those events relate to our lives. The primary way in which we do this is to simply follow these events in scripture. No one says it better than Eugene Peterson. He reminds us that we are not reading these accounts because they are new to us – if anything we know them too well. No! We read to enter into the story ourselves. We re-read these overly familiar passages not to find something new or novel, but rather to find ourselves in the story.

When I first entered ministry, we would gather on Good Friday for worship as well as a message – usually a long one. For most evangelicals the Easter celebrations present ample opportunity for a good gospel message. While I don’t necessarily disagree with this, in more recent years I have edged toward a more traditional approach. More liturgical traditions move the pulpit aside and focus on the story. A cursory glance at most lectionaries will reveal large portions of scripture that need to be covered. Usually a Psalm, a few chapters of Isaiah, a New Testament passage, and then several long chapters from the gospels. Not a lot of time left for a message.

The point, again to paraphrase Peterson, is to immerse ourselves in the story: to hear the call to worship from the psalms and to heed the raw challenge of the prophets. But most of all, the point is to listen once again to the account of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.

I invite you to read again the accounts from the earliest eyewitnesses. To read these events and to ponder their significance for your life.

And to pray

Then I would suggest that you pray. Not formally or out of habit. It could be out loud as you wander around your garden or in the quiet of your lounge. Prayer is intimidating to most of us but it’s not meant to be. Origin, one of the early Fathers of the church said prayer is simply “keeping company with God”.

One of the oldest (and perhaps lost) traditions of the Christian faith is to pray scripture. Why don’t you read and pray – as in, have a conversation with God:

I don’t know why this is here? This sounds stupid. I’m bored!

All of these responses, and more, are perfectly valid.

Slow down – you are not going anywhere (literally). Re-read the passage or chapter. There might be a phrase that stands out or interests you. Don’t study it – ponder it. Talk to the Father about it:

What has this got to do with me? How could this apply to my life?

Many who have journeyed before us on these well trodden paths recommend using a journal. Some pastors overfamiliar with scripture even write out passages. It helps them slow down – to ponder the passage. Journaling can in fact be a form of prayer. Write down what you feel the Father is highlighting to you. Record our thoughts, your personal reflections around a verse or a passage. My point here is not to detail the various practices but simply to encourage you to start. Read a passage, ponder it, and pray.

Many people have put this in different ways but I love the way John Wimber said it:

“Don’t just read scripture, allow scripture to read you.”

A colleague from the Anglican church down the road (Fr. Godfrey Henwood) a number of years back coached us in the ancient practice of ‘Lectio Divina’. I have never forgotten his encouragement:

“We don’t read for information, but for transformation.”

Last but by no means least, our world is in desperate need of prayer. Personally, the most meaningful prayers that I have prayed (or heard prayed), have been straight out of scripture. I am not talking about some formal recitation but often a heartfelt paraphrase. What I love about echoing scripture is that I am joining in the prayers of the church – not only around the world but throughout history. There is something about this that feels wonderful and powerful.

Some of what we read requires contemplation, but there are other passages or verses that speak right into our world at this time. Pray them, with the wider church, for the world. Pray them this weekend!

What follows are some suggestions for reading and immersing yourself in the story over Easter

Good Friday

The main gospel reading is Luke 22-23 but you can back up and read the whole account of the final week from Chapter 19.

On the eve of his arrest Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples (Luke 22:1-22).Why don’t you read about the background to the Passover in Exodus 12? If you enjoy the account set aside some time to read the rest of Exodus.

The Prophetic Writings

The traditional reading from the prophets on Good Friday is Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12.

Isaiah 40-66 almost stand alone and are considered some of the most powerful and important passages in the whole bible. This selection begins with the ‘comfort passages’ and moves on to the ‘suffering servant’ – central to the understanding of the gospel story. This entire section seems particularly appropriate to our world at this time. I am planning to spend part of the weekend in Isaiah 40-66.

The Psalms

The traditional Psalm reading for Good Friday is Psalm 22.

Alternative readings from the Anglican Church are Psalm 40 or Psalm 69.

There are more but perhaps that’s enough for now. Check back on Saturday and I will post the reading for Easter Sunday.

What I usually do is embed a hypertext to scripture references so that when you click on them it simply opens another page with the readings. I have intentionally not done this today. I would encourage you to find a bible, a journal and a pen. Find time and a place to sit quietly – and then read, ponder and pray.

Worship

My wife Bev has selected some songs that fit for Good Friday. I have attached the link below.

As part of your devotions why don’t you set aside some time not just to sing along to these songs but allow them to draw you into worship. Sing them as part of your prayers, your conversations with the Father. Remember that whether you are doing this with someone whom you are locked down with or alone, we are worshipping together, joining our voices in worship that is happening around the world this weekend.

Here’s the Good Friday Playlist.

Our liturgy for lockdown – Sunday 29th March

Welcome

Welcome to our second week of online worship. As with last Sunday, we are not going ‘live’ but sharing some worship as well as a message for today. We would encourage you to find a time and a place to set aside for your worship. You can do it alone or if you are secluded with others, ask them to join in.

Although we are not all in one physical place, it is wonderful that we can still sing these songs together throughout the day. As with last week Francis has recorded an update on the Cover-19 situation.

Worship

Hello. It’s Bev again. I’ve put worship in a playlist for today, so we can have more of a “flow” than a “hymn and a thing”. You start the first song, and the rest should follow.  Wendy and George open in prayer for us today, and then there are some songs, and a contemplation, prayer and scripture from me, and a final song. As happened last week – the last song doesn’t have lyrics, so when you get there, scroll down from the video and you’ll find the lyrics.

‘Lord, pour out Your grace upon each one worshipping with us this morning. Expand our hearts, that we may overflow with your love and mercy. In Jesus’ name’.

 

God of our mothers and fathers (Adam Russell, Andy Squyres and Casey Corum)

[Verse 1]
God of our mothers and fathers
Come now and move among us
What You did before come and do once more
We want to be a part of Your story

[Verse 2]
God of our mothers and fathers
Show Your glory to Your sons and daughters
What You were back then come and be again
We want to see Your power in our presence

[Chorus]
In our time, in our day
Come and move in this place
Come and move, God, move, God, move, God
In this place

[Verse 3]
God of our mothers and fathers
Send Your Spirit just like You promised
You can have Your way, visit us today
We want to see Your power in our presence

[Chorus]
In our time, in our day
Come and move in this place
In our time, and in our day
Come and move in this place
Come and move, God, move, God, move, God
In this place

[Bridge]
God of our mothers and fathers, come be our God
God of our mothers and fathers, come be our God
Come take the vineyard You planted and make us new wine, mm
God of our mothers and fathers, come be our God
God of our mothers and fathers, come be our God
Come take the vineyard You planted and make us new wine, oh Lord
God of our mothers and fathers, come be our God
God of our mothers and fathers, come be our God
Come take the vineyard You planted and make us new wine, oh Lord
And to make us new wine, mm
Make us new wine (And make us new wine)
Make us new, make us new wine, Lord (And make us new wine)

Word

Today I continue with my thoughts on the topic of prayer. Much of this follows on from last week and Friday’s video but I trust you can journey with us as we continue to push in with the need for prayer at this time.

 

You may have noticed I did not end today’s message in prayer. The call to pray is not just for clergy or pastors but for the whole church. Our prayer today is the prayer that you pray. I trust that some of what I have shared will encourage you to put into practice some of what I have said.

Let us pray…

 

Worship and Word for Sunday 22nd March 2020

Welcome

Welcome to our first online time of worship and sharing in God’s word. This may not be a ‘live’ event but we are trusting that it will still be an enriching time in the Lord’s presence.

If you are alone or with others, consider setting aside a dedicated time and space for this weekend’s worship. Take a few moments to sit quietly and invite the Lord to be with you and to connect us as a family as we worship together  – in spirit but not together physically.

Bev has given this week’s worship so much thought and prayer. I trust some of what she leads us in together will linger in our hearts and minds not only today but into the coming week.

Worship

Hi from Bev.

IMG_3434I know the picture isn’t me singing or anything, but it’s recent, and probably what I’m actually up to at the time you’re reading this (if it’s on Sunday morning). For worship this week, instead of all being together, we are in different places, time zones or at different times perhaps, but we still think it’s important to spend some time connecting with God, and maybe you will experience “the fellowship of the saints” too. If you’re watching alone, it’s at least you and me. So what follows is the songs I would have selected for live worship today, and in between the songs there are some readings and prayers that you can use/not use, as you prefer.

Practical note: The first two songs have lyrics in the video stream, but if you need the lyrics in the third song, instead of watching the video, once you have clicked the little play button in the centre of the image, scroll down on this blog, and I’ve printed the lyrics for you.

Prayer

Matthew 18:18-20  (Message) Take this most seriously: A yes on earth is yes in heaven, a no on earth is no in heaven. What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this. When two of you get together on anything at all on earth and make a prayer of it, my Father in heaven goes into action. And when two or three of you are together because of me, you can be sure that I’ll be there.

Lord thank You that You are here, and as we worship, my prayer is that You make Yourself real to each person present.

psalm-121-2-8

Lord God, we cannot put our trust in anything that we do. Mercifully grant that by Your power we may be defended against all adversity, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

At this time, maybe spend a few minutes considering the ways you can trust God to intervene in your life – particularly to defend you against all adversity. He wants to be your point of call, your hope, your tower of strength. Lean on Him now, and let His love surround you and His peace rain deeply into your heart.

Lyrics:

Screenshot 2020-03-20 at 15.14.10

Prayer: God You are near to us all the time. Thank You for this opportunity to connect with you, and that You are faithful to fill our worship with Your presence. Come Lord Jesus, our Prince of Peace. Take authority over every fear and speak Your love and life into us. Holy Spirit, go before us and make a way – bringing light into the darkness, hope and grace into our fallen world and may Your kingdom come in unexpected ways today and every day. Amen.

Message – ‘Prayer in a time of pandemic.’

Here are my thoughts on prayer and the Lord’s Prayer at this time. Many of you may be familiar with what has been on my heart the past few days, but let us journey together and share ways that this could be a reality in the days and weeks ahead.

I would value your participation and suggestions.

To watch click here

During the message I made reference to a blog on Tuesday and last weeks message – both links are below.

Here is an update on the latest Covid19 news and its impact on SA from our very own Francis Herd.

To listen click here

Both Bev and I covet not only your prayer but all your messages and various interactions.

xx Wayne & Bev.

Last Sunday’s Sermon

This past week’s thoughts on continuing to meet at usual

Coronavirus – Faith or foolishness?

The past few weeks have seen not only an unprecedented spread of Covid-19 but also its official upgrading to that of a pandemic. With Sunday’s announcement by our own President, South Africans are considering how their lives and those around them will be affected. As a pastor of a local church I need to consider not only my immediate family but also our church family, as well as the churches that we work closely with.

Personally, I am extremely proud of our President and consider the moves that he has made both bold and courageous. Without detailing what you have no doubt already heard, allow me to sum up the spirit of what I heard him challenging all South Africans to:

We cannot simply proceed as usual.

We need to make radical changes to our behaviour.

This includes not only personal hygiene but all our social interactions including travel, work, and meetings.

Part of what he and other experts have been advising is ‘social distancing’. Although this is not a new term it is in all probability the first time most of us are having to consider it. The benefits of social distancing are undisputed: it is an effective way to minimize the spread of infectious disease. If you are not familiar with the science behind it please read this helpful article in The Washington Post on Flattening the Curve.

So why the title of this post?

In the days since the official announcement I have heard and seen many church leaders’ responses to the suggestions and specifics of what our President is calling for. Most of what I hear seems to be a knee-jerk reaction as to how we can continue business as usual (with some precautions, of course). The only concrete number that he shared, a prohibition of meetings over 100, seems to have been taken as some sort of official or magical formula.

Much of what I have heard is not only discouraging but foolish to say the least. Comments range from: “Well at least our church is less than 100,” to “How do we as larger congregations facilitate multi-services?” There has also been considerable debate around house church meetings. Additionally, I have little doubt that some churches will simply flout the prohibition and gather regardless. One particularly enthusiastic preacher even went to far as to pronounce: “We are not afraid of Corona – it will die here!”

Obviously, this is a very small sample and there are many responsible leaders making some very good and practical suggestions. I simply want to highlight a worrying trend that I am hearing: People of faith think they are some kind of exception.

So back to the Uncle Cyril

What I heard in the President’s appeal is for all South Africans (and he specifically mentioned religious gatherings) to reconsider our behaviour – radically!

So, how can Christian and community leaders respond to our President’s call, in a radical and responsible way? What would that look like to us – and by us, I mean particularly local churches and religious gatherings?

An opportunity for Prayer and Solitude

Let us take a step back and let us prayerfully and wisely reflect on our response in the days and weeks ahead. Jesus regularly withdrew to spend time with His Father. We have a Presidential decree to withdraw – let us use this time to pray.

At one point in his ministry Jesus quoted Isaiah 56:7 saying: “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations,” (Mark 11:17).

Perhaps now more than ever we can consider how to put this into action?

An opportunity to lead by our actions

Let us also consider the example that we set. As community leaders many people will look not only to our words but to our actions. If we continue as usual with meetings and gatherings what will that say to others? Think also of the example you set for those who do not have the same access to hygiene, isolation, or transport that you do.

An opportunity to communicate

Never before in human history has the church had such access to multiple means of communication – from email, websites and WhatsApps, to a plethora of multimedia platforms.

Could this is an opportunity to be stretched in that regard?

If we are not meeting as normal, we can look to ways to communicate even more.

An opportunity to serve

Instead of considering how we can gather people – however small – perhaps let’s rethink how we can best serve people? What ministry is essential to us now? What ‘meetings’ are not?

There have been countless practical suggestions on social media, ranging from providing hand sanitiser for those less fortunate, to shopping for the elderly so that they don’t have to go to malls. Many of us either work with someone using public transport or perhaps they even work in our homes. Consider how we can help them avoid crowded taxis or buses at this time. Can we give them leave or can we give them a lift?

The list is really endless. I have no doubt families and faith communities will think of a myriad of responses – let’s share them with one another.

I firmly believe that the church has been presented with a massive opportunity at this time – let us take full advantage of it. Let us consider how we can best respond at this time in our communities.

And finally, faith for what?

There is a tendency within some church circles to bandy the word ‘faith’ around quite liberally. Some pastors or preachers may declare that they have ‘faith’ to continue to meet and gather their congregations. However, as they articulate this there is often a brazenness about it. I have so much to say about this that I will potentially reserve for another post. But let me say this; exercising wise and even extreme social distancing is a way for us to serve our nation. This is not just about whether one of us gets sick but about the countless people less fortunate than us (or need I say those who don’t have ‘faith’) getting sick even before we realise that we are infected.

You may have faith to meet. But do you have faith that, if you don’t meet, your church and ministry will continue?

 

 

St. Thomas’ Patronal Festival

A special thanks to Fr. Moses for inviting me to be a part of your annual patronal festival. It is a real privilege to not only represent the Vineyard but the Linden Fraternal as well. It is also wonderful to have my family here with me this morning.

Memories of my childhood

It may come as somewhat of a surprise to many of you, but I spent the formative years of my life in this parish. My earliest memories are of Sunday School in the hall and then once a month being able to join in the Eucharist in the ‘big church’. Of course we could not receive communion but knelt quietly at the altar to receive a blessing from the priest. I also have fond memories of confirmation classes up in the coffee bar and of being confirmed by Bishop Timothy.

When I look across the church and see the beautiful kneelers in the church I remember the countless hours that my mother participated in knitting them. I still look around and hear her words: “Don’t put your feet on those kneelers!”  To my nephews who are here today – “Corbin and Dean, I’m watching you – Grandma knitted them!” Continue reading

The Easter Story – is there blood on your hands?

Rehearsing the Easter story through three powerful pairs of images – two gardens, two trees, two disciples.

Two Gardens

GardenTomb

Celebrations around the world on Easter Sunday centre around a garden, a garden tomb to be precise. The garden tomb is the pinnacle of the gospel story. The empty tomb in the garden is a powerful symbol of hope, resurrection, and life renewed. It is not just a picture relevant to our relationship with God, certainly it starts there, but the implications reverberate through all of humanity. Continue reading