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A prayer for the New Year

Our lives are formed by many calendars, God:

calendars that mark the passing of years and months and days
filled with appointments and meetings and deadlines;

calendars that mark Monday to Friday work weeks and then weekend or days off;

calendars that mark the end of summer and the beginning of the school year;

Yet, you summon us to a different way of keeping time:

time marked by your creating and your resting;
time marked by your liberating work among your people;
time marked by feasts to celebrate
your giving and your sending
and your presence with us.

You have promised that, in keeping such times and seasons
we shall find the story that tells your truth
and the courage to choose life
and the strength to live in holy ways.

We want your promises to form our lives
but we are so easily caught up
in our world’s restlessness and anxiety.

So, when our spirits get pulled
in too many different directions;
when our hearts get stretched
by too many competing commitments
when our bodies grow weary
from too many demands,
summon us again into the rhythms of your Holy Spirit.

Shape us again by the patterns of
your endings and
your beginnings

Form us by the pattern of our baptism —
of Exodus and Easter.

Then, re-create us
for bold and risky living
and for the sake of your mission in your world.

We asking the name of your Son Jesus
in whose presence
we learn to move to the rhythms of your grace and love.

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A sermon by the Rev. Dr. Christine Jerrett. The worship service in which this sermon was originally preached can be found at Reformed Worship, week 3. The prayer of confession referred to in the sermon was from The Book of Uncommon Prayer by Steven L. Case. Its congregational response was “We’re on your schedule, not ours.” It was on page 10 of Responsive Prayers.

Scriptures: Genesis 1

What are the calendars that shape your life? For instance, when you say, “Today is August 4th, 2015”, you are using the Gregorian calendar to name the time that you are in. In the Gregorian calendar, the year begins on January 1st and ends on December 31st. It is the way most people in the Western world identify what day it is. It is also a fairly recent way of marking time. The Gregorian calendar is only about 400 years old.

If your family has young children in it, the Gregorian calendar does not really tell you very much about the way you live your life. The year doesn’t really begin on January 1st. It begins on the first Tuesday after Labour Day. “Time” is shaped by the school year and its related events and holidays. It winds up at the end of June. Then, there are two months of freedom, boredom, and family vacations.

Talk with people who work in financial services. They will tell you that the ‘end of the year’ does not happen in December. It happens in March or April or whenever a company’s financial year ends. Farmers live by time that is shaped by seed-time and harvest.

Although we don’t often think about it, the way we mark time matters. It structures our lives. It shapes what we celebrate. It shapes when we are busy and when we rest. It gives meaning to our lives.

The Church marks time by the events in Jesus’ life. The Church’s “New Year” begins in Advent and then moves through the events of Jesus’ life to Good Friday and Easter. Pentecost opens into the longest season: “Ordinary Time”. Year after year, the Church marks those events through which God has called us to be a community that lives in the world the way Jesus lived. Living out of that rhythm is not easy or natural. It takes practice and training for us to get the patterns of Jesus’ living deep into our bodies and minds and spirits.

In this morning’s Prayer of Confession we acknowledged that our culture shapes us into people who are often very busy and who often feel rushed. We live with a 24/7 calendar, always ‘on’, and yet, often feeling that there is not enough time to get everything done that needs to be done. “Time” is a scarce commodity. You have to cram as much into it as you possibly can. Being busy has become a status symbol for ‘successful’ people.

I heard many years ago the story of a man who was always busy, always rushing to appointments and meetings. Someone (his minister?) asked him, “Why are you always in a hurry? Whenever I see you, you are on the run. Where are you running to?” The man replied, “You have to hustle if you want to get somewhere in life. I am running towards the good life, towards success, towards a life that matters.” The minister asked, “What if those things are not up ahead of you? What if they are in the present, waiting for you to recognize them and receive them? What if all your hurrying is simply taking you further away from them?”

The Bible begins with a story of creation The first story in our sacred scriptures is a story about the creation of time. It talks about God creating the heavens and the earth, but mostly it is about God creating the gift of time. “There was evening; there was morning — the first day. There was evening; there was morning — the second day . . .” For six days, God creates in a steady rhythm. Time is not rushed. Hosting that story, we get pulled into a world that is shaped by an orderly pattern. Our life in this world is not just a series of random happenings Everything is connected together. It all holds together by the steady beat of God’s words:

“Let there be light and there is light and God says, ‘There is the good.’”

“Let there be sky and there is sky and God says, ‘There is the good.’”

The rhythm, the repetitive pattern draws us in and makes us participants in God’s creative work.

Every summer in a church that I served, the gymnasium in the church building was filled every morning with children who were participating in drama and dance programme. Over the summer, they would be learning dance routines and singing songs to go with those dances. By the end of the summer, they put on a show, sharing with their parents and friends and the public the routines that they had been practising for several weeks.

Some of the children and young people have been part of the programme for a number of years. They do not know the dances and songs that they will be learning but they know the basic moves and the patterns. There are some children, however, for whom this is all brand new. At this stage, you can tell who they are just by watching.

On Monday, some of the older teens are up on the stage, demonstrating the steps of one of the routines. They were showing the rest of the group what they should be doing with arms and legs and heads and the rest of their bodies. The rest of the children were lined up on the gymnasium floor, imitating them. At first, many of them were making only small steps — hesitant, tentative. As the days go by, you can watch them gradually gain confidence. They begin stepping more firmly. They move their arms with more confidence. Smiles begin to show on their faces. There is more freedom in their movements. The energy in the room picks up. You see them getting in on the dance, becoming part of something that is larger than any one of them could do individually. It will become something that is not only fun but also probably even spectacular by the end of the summer.

That is what is happening in Genesis 1. This is not a story that answers the question, “How did the universe begin? How did the world get started?” The Bible is really not very interested in those kinds of questions. The story is interested in inviting us to live in a time that is full of God’s creativity. It is trying to get us to join in the dance of creation that God is dancing now — in our time, in this place, in our lives. It is showing us the steps: God said . . . and there was. God saw . . . and it was good.  God named . . . God gave, God blessed.

We are like those new children at the drama and dance programme. Living into God’s rhythms can feel new and strange. We are not very sure of ourselves when we are just learning the steps that get us in on God’s creative work.

Being God’s people in this time is different in so many ways from what came before. Genesis 1 begins by saying that the earth was “formless and void” (KJV). It was a “soup of nothingness, bottomless emptiness, an inky blackness” (The Message).  Genesis 1 is a poem for people who live in a troubled times. It is a poem for when things are bad and getting worse. When terrorists blow up innocent people. When the economy hovers in uncertainty. When the environment is under extreme stress and fragile ecosystems are deeply at risk and, whatever we do, it does not seem to be enough. Whatever we try does not make any fundamental difference. It is difficult to discern any hope for the future. That is the “formless void”, the “soup of nothingness”, the “bottomless emptiness” over which the Spirit of God broods like a bird above a watery abyss.

In such a time, it would be easy to give in to the pervasive despair that permeates our culture and our churches. It would be easy to close ranks and just take care of ourselves and just hold on as we try to survive. We could just be part of the despair.

Genesis 1 offers an alternative. God’s Spirit is hovering over the chaos. God is speaking a Word that is bringing a new creation out of a damaged world in a damaged time. God’s people get to participate in that creative, live-giving work. We begin on the seventh day of creation. The seventh day is a day of stopping all our busyness, all our attempts to save the world. We stop and enter into worship which, at its best, is wonder and adoration and awe. We take the focus off ourselves and become aware again of God. We attend to what God is doing and saying. We learn again the steps of God’s surprising, unexpected future-making work.

It is not easy. Worship does not come naturally to us. It does not seem as if we are accomplishing much. These days, especially, we feel unsure of ourselves — inadequate — because God is working in new ways in the world and in the church. Worship, adoration, praise point us towards the future. Worship shows us where hope is found.

Genesis 1 is not an answer to our question, “How did the world begin?” Genesis 1 is God’s question to us: Will you join the dance? Will you be part of the new creation? Will you join in the new beginning, the resurrection, that is happening all around you?

“Let there be” . . . let there be beauty that witnesses to the creativity of our God in this place.

Let every child who enters this building experience their time here as a time when imagination is nurtured and creative potential encouraged and artistic gifts are celebrated. Let the walls of this building be filled with beautiful art; let the pages of Wheels (the newsletter) be filled with profound poetry and thought-provoking writing. Let this congregation be a place where there is music and where musicians of all sorts find their gifts celebrated and their souls nurtured and their spirits stretched toward new horizons.

Let this congregation be known as a place where new ideas are not only welcomed but also freely considered and discussed. Let us be a people who are convinced that God is doing a new thing in our time. Let this community be a place of life-giving possibilities, a witness to God’s amazing alternative to despair. Let our joy be filled to overflowing as we discern what that is and get in on it.

Let all that we do and all that we say and all that we encourage and hope for be a sign and a witness and a foretaste of the glory of God. May we be an invitation to all creation to rest in the the season of God’s grace and love.

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God’s Time

I’ve been working with Luke 13: 31-35 for this Sunday’s worship service. I am struck by the frequent references in this passage to time: “At that very hour”, “today and tomorrow, and on the third day”, “until the time comes”. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem to confront the powers that diminish human life. One of the tactics he uses in that confrontation is an alternate sense of time. Herod wants to be rid of Jesus. Jesus operates out of God’s time to discern when it is time to be finished his work.
In our worship, we live into an alternative sense of time — a seven day week that begins with celebrating Jesus’ victory and resting in God’s sure governance of the world; a liturgical year that resists the rhythm of secular holidays by focusing on God’s actions rather than ourselves; a pattern of 40 years and 3 days by which we interpret what’s going on in the world.
This week we read Psalm 27, which ends by urging us “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!” As worship forms us by a different sense of time, we can dare to wait for the Lord, to be strong, to take courage. God presides over all time, working all things together for good. We can trust that.

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