Clergy Convocation 2001

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Through hurt, to hope, and healing:  

The Place of Lament in Worship.

Greeting:

The Lord is with you!

And with you also!

Call to worship: Psalm 146 (responsively)

Praise the LORD!

Praise the LORD, O my soul!

I will praise the LORD as long as I live;

I will sing praises to my God all my life long.

Do not put your trust in princes,

in mortals, in whom there is no help.

When their breath departs, they return to the earth;

on that very day their plans perish.

Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,

whose hope is in the LORD their God,

who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;

who keeps faith forever;

who executes justice for the oppressed;

who gives food to the hungry.

The LORD sets the prisoners free;

the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.

The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;

the LORD loves the righteous.

The LORD watches over the strangers;

he upholds the orphan and the widow,

but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

The LORD will reign forever,

your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the LORD!

                                        (Psalm 146 NRSV adapted)

Hymn No: 474 (TIS) `Gather us in…’

Prayer of Adoration:

O God we praise You for who You are: Arrayed in splendour beyond our imagining, wisdom beyond our understanding, love beyond our worth, and power beyond our control. You supply our purest longings; and Your grace redeems our deepest failures.

We praise You for Your love changing our attitudes, and releasing hope and courage: for making us certain of forgiveness, and providing strength through discouragement and disappointment: for supplying life for Your church while surrounded by an atmosphere of death.

You alone, O Lord, are the faithful lover of Your people, the friend of the outcast and the maligned:

In Your Son Jesus’ death and resurrection we are embraced by Your healing love, inspired by Your eternal purpose, sustained by Your infinite generosity and empowered by Your awesome presence. Here – today – with Your people in every place and through all time, we worship and serve You in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Introduction to today's process:

Let me briefly introduce you to the theme of our Convocation and the process:

A candidate for ordination was recently asked, "How would you respond if you were placed in a Congregation that was tearing itself apart with a number of conflicting groups holding strongly to their convictions – not that we have any such Congregations. "One of those present was heard to say, "Is there any other sort…….?"It is true, that while we are able to reflect upon a wide variety of positive, uplifting, creative, and encouraging experiences in our life with God’s people, we may not have to move too far into Christian circles before we come across a dysfunctional congregation or two; or a frustrated/despairing church member, or a dispirited pastor, or a grieving elder, or an angry young person, or someone living in passive hopelessness. This is by no means limited to Uniting Church experience, but seems to be a common occurrence across the spectrum of institutional Christianity – and, I suspect, is found hiding somewhere in many other areas of our community life. Not one of us here would be untouched by just such a situation in one way or another. It is our purpose today to give us an opportunity to acknowledge - and own - something of both the positive and negative aspects of our faith journey, - through a worship experience. We will talk with `Emmanuel’ the `God who is with us’: Listen to His Word through us: And hopefully, move a little further along the journey from hurt to hope and healing. As we experience the value of lament in worship today, we may also be drawn into a resource that we can take with us to our congregation and/or faith community. This could also be a resource adapted for use in a one-on-one basis; or structured worship at a particular time and specific place.

Within the context of worship, we will move through three phases:-

name our present experience of the church

give expression to our future hopes for the church – dreams, and visions and

be refreshed by what sustains us as God’s people on the journey.

As part of the process, we will meet together in small groups as well as in plenary session. We want this to be a safe-place where we can truly and carefully explore in a personal way, our journey through hurt – to hope and healing. We are free to choose whatever level of sharing we will be comfortable with in our small group. Further – it goes without saying – that in our small groups, we encourage an appropriate level of pastoral care for one another through mutual confidentiality and respect. This is very important! Because this could be both a meaningful and moving occasion in our walk with God and His people, we may need to share more intimately with some other person after we conclude this convocation. Spend a moment or two thinking about some trusted person here who could serve as just that sort of colleague – should the need arise. We have so recognised the possible need for just such a follow-up of our session this morning, that we have asked David Pitman, David Fanning Sue Algate and. Rhonda Heathwood to be available as `Chaplains’, if you will: Please feel free to contact any one of them should it be appropriate, anytime later today – or during the Synod – or even for follow-up after returning home. Let us now explore the lamenting process in the context of worship, believing that we are being both true to worship, and true to the living reality of lament. We will discover more of our unity with all God’s people, and go out from this place with deeper praise and a more vibrant hope. Various members of our team will lead our worship, inviting our active participation as we celebrate God with us.

Our lay brothers and sisters, are also being given the opportunity of going through a similar experience, being led in their worship by our augmented team.

Let us pray together:

Prayer:

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Your Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your Holy Name. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

 

Introducing the Lamenting Process

Reading of Psalm 13

Is God supposed to look after Christians?

In March (14), I went to the funeral of a 50 year old – a fine, Christian gentleman. He was a carer working for Family and Community Support. I met him through his role as a carer and more in the Barnabas home at Durack. He was a sensitive carer, a cooperative person, willing to go well beyond the call of duty. He was Paul Neighbour – well-named since he knew how to be a neighbour to others. But he drowned when the car in which he was a passenger drove into water over the road. Thankfully, the driver who was a good friend, escaped – but what a painful experience for him. Some say the barricade had been removed. No doubt, some people will ask, "I thought your God was supposed to look after you Christians. Did God make a mistake?" From experience, we know that there are no guarantees of special protection for believers. On the other hand, if we declare that there is a God who loves Paul Neighbour, then why did he have to suffer and die a very unpleasant death? Why drowning, when he couldn’t swim and was afraid of water? I received the news just before worship on Sunday morning. During the first hymn when the death was coming home to me, I wasn’t ready to sing God’s praise. I wasn’t about to give up on God, but I was asking questions again about who is the God I believe in.

Naming the tragedy of the death

But then, at the funeral, very little was said about the tragedy of it all. There were a lot of wonderful words about Paul, but little acknowledgement of the pain of the way the death happened – along with the difficulty for the driver who survived. Paul’s daughter spoke of her birthday celebration that was to happen the day he died, and expressed her disappointment that he would not be a grandfather. She is recently married. One pastor spoke of the need to cry and to grieve, but this was outweighed by the all the positive statements about Paul (which needed to said, though perhaps not repeated) and the sermon on heaven as God’s home, God’s throne and my home i.e. for believers in Christ.

In Christ, God embraces human life in its totality

The story of our faith is the story of the "Word made flesh". In Jesus Christ, God embraced human life in its totality with its joys and sorrows, its highs and lows. Specifically, on the cross we see a God who embraces human suffering in Jesus. His cry of abandonment there is an expression of the pain that he endured. A recurring theme in much of the New Testament writings is that the suffering and death of Jesus is redemptive for humanity and for the rest of creation.

Making our protests to God

The people of God throughout history have named their pain to God, and sometimes protested to God about it. In the book of Job we find a few people wrestling with pain and who their god is, in the light of their difficult experience. The writers of many Psalms including Psalm 13 complain to God. Martin Marty wrote, "I noticed that more than half of the psalms had as their major burden or context life on the wintry landscape of the heart." In John’s gospel, both Mary and Martha, following the death of their brother Lazarus, declare their disappointment to Jesus. "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."

God is big enough for our questions.

Through much of the scriptures, God is presented as One who is more than big enough to face our questions, One who is gracious enough to endure our protests. At the same time, the basic promise of the Christian faith is not, "Come to Jesus and all your problems will be solved." Rather, it is that the Lord will never leave us; we will not have to face our struggles alone! Many Christians will share that it is in the rough going they have learned what faith and trust are all about. The desert expanses of our lives are God’s discipleship training school. Even Jesus had his period of testing in the wilderness!

Sharing the dark side of our lives with God

Christians who believe that they must not share their pain and suffering, their struggles and failures with God are denying God’s Lordship over that part of their lives. They are questioning that God could care about these dimensions of their lives. Does this approach to the Christian faith ultimately lead to a dishonesty with oneself and with God about one’s "dark" side? Brueggemann makes the point that the use of the psalms of lament is

an act of bold faith --- on the one hand, because it insists that the world must be experienced as it really is and not in some pretended way. On the other hand, it is bold because it insists that all such experiences of disorder are a proper subject for discourse with God. There is nothing out of bounds, nothing precluded or inappropriate. Everything properly belongs in this conversation of the heart. To withhold parts of life from that conversation is in fact to withhold part of life from the sovereignty of God.

Balancing praise and lament

In recent decades, part of the story of renewal in the church has been a recovery of praise as a central facet of our worship. Sadly, there has often been a loss of balance here – with little or no room to share our pain, our lament with God. Lament is as much part of our worship as praise is. Good Friday is a reminder of this! Don Saliers writes, "Praise and thanksgiving grow empty when the truth about human rage over suffering and injustice is never uttered. --- Christian liturgy without the full range of the Psalms becomes anorexic – starving for honest, emotional range." Similarly, Marva Dawn writes, "At least it is clear that a church that goes on singing "happy songs" in the face of raw reality is doing something different from what the Bible itself does."

Praise and lament enrich each other.

When we acknowledge our wilderness experiences, then we may be able to learn from them. When we fail to lament, it may be a sign of our desire to manage our lives alone. Praise is richer and more honest when combined with lament. Praise without lament stunts the spiritual life by deception. True praise of God revealed in Christ enables us to embrace the darkness and give voice to the deepest cries of our hearts.

We need to learn to lament together!

Stage 1 Naming our present experience

The first part of the lamenting process is naming our present experience: Let’s go back to Psalm 13 which offers a framework for this process.

Verses 1-2 "How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?"

We are going to name our present experience as a church to God. It will include probably some good or healthy dimensions and some disappointing or destructive dimensions. This is not a whinge session, but describing as clearly as we can the current state of the church as we know it. This is only the first of three major steps in the process. When you shape it into a prayer, it may include both some questions and some thanks. 

 

Naming our present experience

At the end of 30 to 40 minutes you will have completed some or all of the following sentences on the worksheet:

    How long ----

    What I don’t understand is ----

    Thanks ----

These sentences will be your group prayer.

*********************************************************

Unison Confession

    Uniting In Worship People's Book, page 59

Declaration of Forgiveness

WELCOMING THE WORD

Scripture Reading Luke 8:26-39

I've been told this has to be exegesis, rather than eisegesis. Therefore, I'm not going to tell you that you can use the story of Legion; naked, demon-possessed, and living among the tombs of the dead; as an allegory for your last Church Council meeting.

I believe, however, without resorting to eisegesis, that we can relate the Gospel for this coming Sunday to the process of lament that we are working through here.

The story of Legion reflects the stages in the lamenting process.

Firstly, the story tells us that Jesus had come into the area where the man lived. The man came to meet him. Our process of lament began, as Sunday worship often does, with a meeting between humanity and the God of Jesus Christ, expressed in adoration.

Next the story names the reality of the unfortunate man's experience. He was tormented by so many evils that he had lost his own identity, a and become known by the name of "Legion" after the legion of evils besetting him. He had been driven out of his mind, and out of human society, living naked among the tombs.

In our small groups we began to name the reality of our experience.

For some, that experience, has been of things to celebrate (examples from feedback)..........

For some, the reality of life in the church contains painful experiences (examples from feedback) ...........

For most of us, there is often a mixture of cause to celebrate, and painful experiences, entwined together in our life as ministers of Christ's church.

After beginning to name our experience in small groups and in prayer, we went a step further and named the broken-ness we all share in confession.

As the story of Legion goes on we discover a wonderful thing. Jesus is interested in the man's situation. He takes the time to talk with him, to show he cares.

This is the most important point in Legion's story, and in ours. God cares. Our concerns become God's concern. Here is the greatest miracle we will very encounter: the immortal God who rules all eternity, chooses to share the concerns of ordinary mortal beings in the temporal world.

Legion discovered hope. The discussion wasn't about wether or not healing was possible - but about the mechanics. Could Jesus even show compassion on the causes of Legion's trauma? In Jesus' presence Legion was able to see a future - a future which was far better than his present.

We will soon be looking to the future - discovering the hope we also have in Jesus' presence.

For Legion, the story immediately jumps to his healing. Sometimes, that is the way healing happens in our lives as well.

Today, however, we will recognise that often, healing isn't instantaneous. We will have to wait to see our hopes and visions for the future realised. In the meantime, we have to find somewhere to place our trust - someone in whom we can place the confidence necessary to see the vision become a reality. In an affirmation of faith - we will affirm that we can trust God, who is always faithful.

In that confidence, we will find the strength to pray for the needs of others, as we wait for the coming of our own futures.

And we will be able to move ahead - growing from our current reality, into a vision of a far better future.

....

Hymn (TIS 693) "Come as you are, that’s how I want you"

Stage 2 Our hopes for the church

Where have we been and where are we going?

We have joined together in praise, we have named our present experience of the church, we have confessed our sin, and we have listened to the gospel and reflected upon it. Now we move on.

Verses 3 and 4 of Psalm 13: "Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death, and my enemy will say, ‘I have prevailed’; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken."

The psalmist had a vision of a time where he would again be engaged with God – that he would be in conversation with God. What are our visions, our hopes, our dreams for the church? The second part of the lamenting process is declaring the vision we had or have been hoping for. Have we been frustrated in our dreaming? What hopes do we hold on to? Let’s hear from a few people on this – some voices from different parts of our Synod!

    Pam Batson

    Dennis Harth

    Richard Roughsey

Hopes and Visions Reflection Time

Please take some quiet time now, to reflect on your own hopes, dreams and visions for the future. You are invited to write these in the appropriate space on your worksheet.

The Lord's Prayer

As we join in the prayer Jesus gave us, notice that this truly is the prayer of an eschatological people. It's a prayer for our life here and now - but also a prayer for our future. As we seek the coming of God's Kingdom, the performance of God's will, we are talking about life here and now, as well as offering intercessions for the future.

When we ask to be saved from the time of trial; we ask about our trials in everyday life - as well as the future trials we anticipate as Christ's people.

Let us join in this prayer, for today, and for the future.....

 

Stage 3 What sustains us? What beliefs motivate us?

    (Sharing in the same small groups for 15 to 20 minutes)

 

 

In "What sustains us?"

We have named our present experience of the church – and offered that to God in prayer. We have heard three people share their hopes for the church, and jotted down some thoughts of our own. There is one more step!

Verses 5 and 6 of Psalm 13: "But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me."

The third part of the lamenting process is to ask, "Why am I persisting in the face of the struggles? What keeps me going? What beliefs sustain me? Where does my energy and motivation come from?

Creed

What does sustain us? What will believe? Where will we place our trust? We've discussed these things in small groups. Now, I invite you to share in a familiar affirmation of our faith.

' We are a Pilgrim People', Uniting in Worship People's book, page 130-131.

Intercessions

What are your prayers now? For the church? For the world? For the specific needs of others which touch your heart?

Reflect on your prayers of intercession and write your personal prayer on the tear-off section of your worksheet. We will offer all of our prayers together, by placing them all in offering plates, and asking our Moderator to present all our prayers as one.

..........

Hymn of Praise: Yesterday, today, forever

Sending Out:

`As we go  -  to lunch  - to the rest of Synod - to the rest of our days - on whose strength will we depend?'
 
`The Lord is my light and salvation!  Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life!  Of whom shall I be afraid?' (Psalm 43)
                                                                (Matt. 28:16-20).