Reflection and Prayers
Into the Unknown
Praise to God for the gifts of the past; for the witness of the people of God who went before us.
Praise to God for the gifts of the present: we meet Christ and serve him in friend and stranger.
Praise to God for the gifts of the future: in darkness and in light the Spirit will lead us.
Now, I’m assuming everyone here can remember my sermon from last year’s anniversary service, right?! No?! You mean to say that each of my sermons aren’t burnt into your memories and held in your hearts?! Outrageous!!!
Well, back last January, I suggested that the then teenage St. David’s Uniting Church had – alongside other churches and communities across the world – just experienced a ‘year’s break from the norm which led to many folk reflecting on and changing their perspectives of and priorities in life’. I compared our year to the gap year that many teenagers, myself included, experience after their schooling and before their entry into further education or the world of work as they continue to work out who they are and what they want to be.
For some, a gap year brings answers but for others, the future feels very much unknown. Now, depending on your environment and outlook, such unknowns can be scary, exciting, or possibly a bit of both. In other words, a gap year can be a time of possibilities, imagination and exploration, or one of loss, anxiety, and confusion.
Well, I hope I don’t sound like a broken record if I suggest again that we, as both Castle Square and St. David’s Uniting Church, are in an analogous situation for it could well be argued that, following our Covid-enforced gap year, we’re facing a similarly unknown future. One which can inspire both excitement and fear in us individually and even conflict between us as different voices give very different perspectives as to who we are and what we might want to be. All this at a time in which we just want to get back to normal. We’ve coped with the upheaval of the pandemic. We’ve journeyed onward, navigating losses and gains together, and now, pretty exhausted, we just want to put our feet up and have a bit of normality when there’s a nagging voice telling us that we need to venture into the unknown yet again.
All this can make me feel a little grumpy…a little tired…and a little like a princess. Like Princess Elsa to be precise.
For those of you who haven’t seen the rather excellent Frozen 2…have a word with yourself for starters…but let me bring you up to speed.
Elsa and Anna are sisters and the leaders of Arendelle. In the first film, we discover that Elsa has powers – she can make, control and sculpt ice – can’t we all?! – whilst the sisters discover that sibling love is often much more powerful than romantic love. Anyway, through their actions, the kingdom is saved from destruction, true identities are revealed, and a billion parents are subjected to the song ‘Let It Go’ on repeat. Well, one film on and everything’s great in the kingdom when Elsa hears a voice beckoning her into the unknown and it’s not an invitation that she greets with joy…
Clip: Into The Unknown
“Everyone I’ve ever loved is here within these walls”, Elsa sings. “I’ve had my adventure,
I don’t need something new, I’m afraid of what I’m risking if I follow you into the unknown.”
At we step further out into this new year, I think a number of us might well be able to empathize. But if you prefer your comparisons to be less saccharine, more scriptural, one could argue that we find ourselves in a similar position to that of the disciples after Jesus had returned to heaven. For their world had been turned upside down when Jesus came on the scene. They’d left families, hometowns and comfort zones to go on a journey replete with risk, vulnerability, fear, and excitement and it was when things had reached a crescendo – when their friend and leader had been defeated and killed, then risen and glorified, that they were called, once again, to journey into the unknown.
It must have been scary. It might have been exciting. And it definitely engendered conflict between the group as different voices gave very different perspectives as to what this new church thing was all about. And Jesus foresaw all this, of course, which is why, on the night before he died, he gathered for a meal with his friends and prepared them for his leaving. That evening, feet were washed, teaching was shared, and prayers were prayed. Let’s remind ourselves of it now as Lynda tells us of ‘An Important Meal’ from The Lion Storyteller Bible.
Reading: An Important Meal (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22, John 13)
“I’m soon to return to the Father,” said Jesus. “You’re soon to step out into the unknown. But you don’t do so alone, so here are three things for your journey….”
Firstly, then, Jesus gave us a manual. It wasn’t laminated or anything and it wasn’t exactly long either but, knowing that they would soon be without him, he called them again to ‘love one another’ and, like any good teacher, he showed them what that might look like by washing tired feet and serving hungry friends. After three years on the road together, Jesus knew the gang inside out and given their penchant for putting themselves first and squabbling over who was his favourite or who’d get the best seats, he reminded them to love one another with a humble, self-sacrificial love. A love that would encourage them to put the needs of others before their own. A love that might mean kneeling in service, walking extra miles, turning cheeks, picking up towels and even crosses. A love that can lead both to death and new life. As we journey into the unknown, let us remember the manual Jesus gave us. Let us remember that we were made by Love, in love, and for love. Let us make decisions and choose paths based, not on what’s best, more convenient, preferable for me or us, but on what will bring more love into the world.
Secondly – Jesus knew what it was to go on long journeys so alongside a manual, he gave us a meal to nourish our bodies and souls. It was a meal to help them remember the journey they’d already been on. For it conjured up memories of liberation from slavery and provision in the wilderness. It reminded them of wild weddings and the feeding of thousands. It called them – on whatever adventures were to come – to remember the truths of their past. That God had never abandoned them. God had always been with them. And even as a body was to be broken, blood was to be spilt, God would show them that love is stronger than hate for Christ was to die, but Christ was to rise, and Christ is to come again. And now, every time we share this meal – as we will do later – we remember who we are; we remember whose we are; and we are given the grace, strength, and hope to journey onward – from the cross, to the empty tomb, and beyond.
And finally, alongside a manual and a meal, Jesus promised a mentor. Well, a teacher and advocate, disruptor and friend – a voice we could trust within the cacophony of others. “The Father will send the Spirit of Truth,” Jesus told his friends at the meal. “Others won’t be able to see or hear Her but you will for the Spirit is with you and within you”.
Like Elsa, like those first disciples, we’re to listen out for that voice…still and small as it sometimes is, loud and honking as it can be…for it will speak to us if we listen. It may be comforting at times, challenging at others. It may call confront and confound us. It may call us beyond the walls we know but one thing it won’t let us do is travel onward on our own. So may we listen out for that voice in the mouths of one another, in the melodies of creation, in the stillness of solitude.
So a manual of love, a meal of remembrance and a mentor of God. And in case you’re wondering, Elsa did follow the voice into the unknown…and it led to a journey of discovery, a coping with loss, a renewed identity, and a kingdom of perennial peace. There, by the grace of God, may we go too.
For all that God can do within us; for all that God can do without us. Thanks be to God.
For all in whom Christ lived before us; for all in whom Christ lives beside us. Thanks be to God.
For all the Spirit wants to bring us; for where the Spirit wants to send us. Thanks be to God
Christ has promised to be with us wherever we may journey. We go to serve him. Amen.
Prayers of intercession
The future is always unknown, but for some it is more uncertain and threatening than for others. Let us pray for people who are:
- Anxious for their loved ones who are ill
- Anxious about their own health
- Waiting for the result of tests
- Worried about their business or their livelihood in this pandemic
- Having to make difficult decisions
- Embarking on a new life that is exciting and yet challenging: a new school, college, or university; a new job or business venture
- Forced into a new situation: going into care, learning to live with disability, facing bereavement or a broken relationship
- Fleeing from persecution, danger or poverty and becoming refugees in a strange country
- Living with the threat of war
Our God, you know our uncertainties, our fears, and our hopes. Help us to walk the journey of life with courage and faith, and to remember that no hardship, distress, persecution, poverty, danger or violence, nothing in life nor even death can separate us from the love that you have brought us in Jesus Christ.