Last Sunday morning we had our annual Blessing of the Pets service. In fact, we had 2 services — one in the Church (with maximum allowable humans) and a parallel service enjoying the beautiful weather in the courtyard (with even more people). There was some crossover towards the end when pets from inside and outside paraded past the front of the Church with their carers for their personalised blessing. The service in the Church, including Belinda’s mini-sermon, was recorded and has been uploaded to the Church’s website.
All pets were remarkably well-behaved! Thanks to all who brought their pets, to those young people who shared reflections on favourite Bible verses about animals and to all the young people who led the outdoor service. Below are just two of the many pictures that were taken on the day.
Monty (and Grace) & Mischief (and Miriam).
Gilly (and John) & Claude (and James).
In keeping with the theme of the morning, Sundays@6 on Zoom took the form of a free ranging (?) discussion about animal welfare and vegetarianism/veganism. It was great to have some youth and young adults joining us for the discussion. Thanks again to Emily Stein for facilitating. Seeing this coming Sunday (18th) is the third for the month, Sundays@6 will again be a time for meditative prayer guided by Lucy. As usual, we’ll begin by reflecting on and praying about the past week or so — what we are thankful for; where we have sensed God working; and in what ways God has been prompting us. We’ll end with sharing and discussion arising from our meditation. We’ve been finding this a very beneficial exercise and encourage others to join us.
In the morning service on Sunday, Belinda commences a brief series on the lament Psalms. Very relevant and appropriate in view of this annus horribilis! The sermons will be drawing on material from Psalmist’s Cry by the renowned Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. There will also be an opportunity to explore and discuss this material further in a 5-week pop-up group. It will meet at the Church (and may be Zoomed) from 6-7pm on Monday nights from 19 October to 16 November inclusive. Each night will include a short video from Brueggemann with discussion of related questions. Here is part of the advertising blurb for the study material to whet your appetite.
“We all live in a constant state of denial. Culture tells us all problems are solvable, or at least manageable; we simply need to try (or buy) the right solution. Our self-help, pop-a-pill culture is prone to masking symptoms and calling that mask a cure. But as long as we deny our pain, we lose the danger of the Gospel the part where we give up control and allow God s mystery to unfold in our lives and in doing so, we lose the depth of its goodness.
In Psalmist’s Cry, Walter Brueggemann explores Psalms as scripts for lament guides for how to express feelings honestly, in ways normally not permitted or expected within Christian community. In this 5-week study, discover the fullness of God when we allow our lives to become about him healing us and not about us controlling or
managing our way through life.”
To tie in with this series there will also be two lament-writing workshops led by Rebecca Hilton. A face-to-face one will be held from 7.30-8.30pm on Wednesday 28 October at the Church and another will be held over Zoom from 7.30-8.30pm on Wednesday 4 November. Up until Advent, we will be including in the services some of the laments that people have written. There will also be opportunities for people to share what they have been learning from reflection on the Psalms of lament.
Before I conclude, I want to pass on some pleasing news. As many of you know, the Federal Government has been wanting for some time to legislate the removal of mobile phones from those in immigration detention. As you also know, mobile phones have been a lifeline for detainees, allowing them to keep in touch with family and friends during traumatic times. Many of you have generously donated funds for the supply of phones and for top-up credits. The vote of Jacki Lambie, a Tasmanian independent, was going to be crucial to the success or failure of the latest attempt to pass the required legislation. Before deciding which way to vote, she set up an online poll on her website to gauge community sentiment. I was one of the many who left comments urging her to vote against the proposed bill. I must admit that I wasn’t very hopeful. The outcome was reported by Lisa Visentin in the Sydney Morning Herald on October 10-11, 2020 (p18).
Two days later, she announced she would not support a bill to give the government the power to seize mobile phones from people in immigration dtention. Explaining her position on social media, she said she “wasn’t comfortable” with confiscating phones from people “who aren’t doing anything wrong with them”. “Most of the people in immigration detention came to Australia legally,” she tweeted. “Most of them are using their phones to text friends. They’re using it to watch videos about cats or whatever, They’re not usiong it to organise bloody riots.” She based her decision in part on the outcome of an opinion poll she set up through her personal website. She said more than 100,00 people voted in the poll, of whom 96 per cent opposed the bill.
Finally, here is something from N.T. Wright to prompt your further thinking on lament. It is part of an article which was published on the website of Time on 29 March 2020 during the early days of the COVID19 pandemic and just before Easter. It was provocatively entitled “Christianity Offers No Answers About the Coronavirus. It’s Not Supposed To.”
Rationalists (including Christian rationalists) want explanations; Romantics (including Christian romantics) want to be given a sigh of relief. But perhaps what we need more than either is to recover the biblical tradition of lament. Lament is what happens when people ask, “Why?” and don’t get an answer… At this point the Psalms, the Bible’s own hymnbook, come back into their own, just when some churches seem to have given them up…
The point of lament, woven thus into the fabric of the biblical tradition, is not just that it’s an outlet for our frustration, sorrow, loneliness and sheer inability to understand what is happening or why. The mystery of the biblical story is that God also laments. Some Christians like to think of God as above all that, knowing everything, in charge of everything, calm and unaffected by the troubles in his world. That’s not the picture we get in the Bible.
God was grieved to his heart, Genesis declares, over the violent wickedness of his human creatures. He was devastated when his own bride, the people of Israel, turned away from him. And when God came back to his people in person—the story of Jesus is meaningless unless that’s what it’s about—he wept at the tomb of his friend. St. Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit “groaning” within us, as we ourselves groan within the pain of the whole creation. The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches us to recognize the One God in the tears of Jesus and the anguish of the Spirit.
It is no part of the Christian vocation, then, to be able to explain what’s happening and why. In fact, it is part of the Christian vocation not to be able to explain—and to lament instead. As the Spirit laments within us, so we become, even in our self-isolation, small shrines where the presence and healing love of God can dwell. And out of that there can emerge new possibilities, new acts of kindness, new scientific understanding, new hope.
Whether you’re lamenting or rejoicing or both this week, may you know the blessing of the Lord with you through it all.
Grace and peace,