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The Disturbing Quality.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 12, 2019 - 10:40pm

Fifty years ago, many of us were fascinated by a set of images or words coming from our media that became part of who we were. Images of the far away moon and representatives of humanity walking there have become part of who we are. Eighteen years ago, a set of images became part of our culture. The collective consciousness of the world expanded to include images of buildings and people falling, images of planes crashing and exploding, images of exhausted first responders. Alongside those images are sets of mental pictures, where we were and who was with us on September 11, 2001.
In the days of the exodus, a set of images became part of Israelite history. God’s chosen people amassed images of their escape, of the destruction Yahweh brought down in plague after plague, of an angry pharaoh chasing after his slave labour as they fled into the desert. The exodus created images of walls of water piling up for the weary nation to cross a riverbed; and in the journey to their freedom, the people of God gathered up images of pharaoh’s great army swallowed up in an unforgiving sea.
Yet in Exodus 32, we struggle to understand a people who conspired together to form a more concrete image of a god, one they could create and touch, one they could understand and control, one they could move and manipulate. The images of past deliverance were not sufficient for their faith. They sought more than the image of a past experience. They pursued an image of God’s presence; but like many of us searching for certainty, they shaped an image of God’s absence. The disturbing, living quality of Yahweh, God is that no image can hold God’s full presence.

And, while images of our life and world will replay around us, we are challenged to see God somewhere in all of them— in that first step onto a far celestial body by humanity, in the first responder’s courage, in the trembling wall of water on either side, in the idea that sometimes we need to change our minds. But as we come back to earth and focus on what is important what are we asked to do by our God.
As we pick up on the reading from Luke 15, we are given a challenge to our focus in life. What do I owe the ninety-nine? I wander far, slipping heedlessly over sliding gravel, jumping doe-like over crevices, relying upon my own grace. Maybe not so much wandering as running away. Panic obscures my memory and my motives. I descend through the canyons until I’m immobilised by abysses that stretch too wide to cross, rock buttresses too narrow to squeeze through. Weakened, I can’t retrace my steps. Just as I surrender to despair, there you are. You sought me and found me and carried me home. Our God has been with us and supported us as we have taken this journey to seek those who are lost.
Here’s my question and a challenging question for us all. What do I now owe the other ninety-nine? The ones waiting patiently, staying obediently with the flock? Did you see their looks of envy and reproach? How do you get to nuzzle against his shoulder, carried on his sweet back? You don’t deserve it! We were faithful, we stayed with the flock and look at you carried shoulder high like a triumphant athlete, laurel leaves for your lies and selfishness!

Like the prodigal’s older brother, they refuse to come to the angelic party given in my honour. What do I owe them? I’d drink to their happiness—if I hadn’t given up drinking. They reject the gift of my gratitude. The ninety-nine banish me to the solitude I sought in the first place. They turn me into a fool. A fool for love. And wiser than I was. Our world can gape in awe at events both positive and challenging in our history, but they pale in the eyes of our God and yet again the question comes of how we acknowledge our God’s presence.
In these scripture readings Jesus and the writers tell us that there is a God who comes to save the lost. God knows us, knows our hiding places and the little nooks and crannies that we slip into from time to time, and he comes to save us. Salvation always looks different than we expect it to—sometimes pleasantly different, and sometimes it looks like rehab, marriage counselling, a job you wouldn’t ordinarily want—but a job is a job is a job.  
We should also never forget that God has a body, the church, and that sometimes God retrieves us through this body. Pastor is Latin for “shepherd,” and in a sense, we are all called to be pastors, shepherds— gatherers of lost people—through our comings and goings, our liturgies, our various gifts. As Christians we ask that our God may give us the diligence to search for the lost and the wisdom to know what to do after we find them.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 1 and 8 September 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - September 12, 2019 - 11:10am
 I have not been able to keep writing my blogs as usual for some time and this week I am going to combine Rev. John’s sermons from the 1st and 8th of September as the basis for today’s reflection.

In his sermon on the 1st September, Rev. John began by reminding us what the writer to the Hebrews said about our lives as Christians and how they should be spent emulating the life of Jesus.
Rev. John also reminded us that so often people and Christian communities turn inward and becomes concerned about the things of self, forgetting Jesus’ message to love one another regardless of our fears of and judgment about others. Sometimes it has been out of misplaced concern for purity, forgetting that Jesus was more concerned about showing compassion for the rejected of society than rejecting them.  When we look at people who, in our eyes, are breaking God’s commandments, we would do well to think about what has brought them to the place where they are, and how they are suffering in their hearts as a result. 
 Then Rev. John pointed to other concerns individual Christians and churches should keep before them:
“In addition to the call for hospitality and social concern, the writer of Hebrews here takes the occasion to remind the community of various other matters that can easily fracture individual and community life. Then there is frugality, which can cross over the line into an unhealthy and spiritually deadly love of money.”
Of course we should not squander God’s gifts but equally, we should not cling to them so that they cannot be used to build The Kingdom.
 “This is a powerful set of concerns.” As Rev. John pointed out hospitality and concern for those less well off had been foundation principles of the Jew’s religion and weren’t invented by Jesus, but then and now people needed to be reminded of what their God expected of them. 
Rev. John’s next words are very true:
 “There seems to be a growing intensity in the fear of strangers in this generation. We have become preoccupied with the risk of opening our borders, churches, homes, and lives to the stranger. We speak of the stranger as an “alien,” which has become a pejorative term.
 Truth is, except for the Aboriginal tribes and the Torres Strait Island peoples, all our forebears were aliens. Hospitality for the stranger, the poor, the homeless, and the oppressed is a virtue proclaimed by the Australian people.“
But when push comes to shove, how do we act? With true hospitality! Or out of misplaced fear of anything a bit different such as the colour of the top millimeter of a persons’s skin or the food they have learned to eat as a matter of availability?
Time to think deep and hard.
   
Rev. John’s sermon on 8th September was quite complex but the words that jumped out and grabbed me concerned my behaviour as a disciple of Jesus.
For starters, God comes first, before Mother, Father, Husband or Wife. It’s not that we are not to care for those people or love them but when there’s a conflict between the requirements of God and the requirements of anyone else, God’s requirements are those that we fulfill.
Then there’s our behaviour towards others:
Rev.John, speaking about the reading for the day said: “During his time in prison, St Paul wrote a letter to the worshipping community who met at Philemon's house. He describes a new family member in Christ named Onesimus, a runaway slave. Paul claimed him as an adopted son and is asking Philemon and the community to receive Onesimus not as a slave, but as an equal partner in the community of Christ. St Paul calls all Disciples of Christ to a higher standard of love, one of forgiveness...”
Once we are disciples of Jesus, we are motivated by something quite different from the rules of secular society. God IS Love, and that love, which is graciously flooded over us, should motivate all that we do. But that will only happen if we keep our focus on God.
Rev. John spelled this out:
“We are the earthly vessels for God to use as witnesses to God's continuous acts of love. Disciples are responsible for preaching, teaching and manifesting the word of God and loving all people regardless of race, creed, colour, class, social status...”
And our acts of love are not going to be effortless and maybe empty words. As Rev. John said:
 “As disciples we accept the costly grace of God, where we are called to act. We cannot stand by idly and not protest at the social ills of our communities. We cannot be bystanders as homeless, uneducated and abused children grow into illiterate, unemployed adults. We cannot stand by silently and accept institutional racism, social economic injustice and constitutional changes that serve the privileged few. We, the disciples of God, cannot stand by and quietly accept the deviant, hateful, political slurs against such as the poor, women and ethnic people.
 We cannot accept the political structural corruption that erodes our neighbourhoods, destroys our families and endangers the future of social security for the elderly. As disciples, we are called to experience costly grace by being God's prophetic voice in a world unplugged to God's love. We are called to scream from the rooftops for equality and justice for all people in the love of Jesus Christ!”
As I said initially, Rev. John’s sermon was quite complex, but just this much has left us with enough to keep us challenged to live authentic lives as true disciples of Jesus. Living out God’s love as we are loved. We may not think others do not deserve our love and effort but think again about Almighty God’s graciousness to each of us.
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Walk Away From the World’s Idea of Security.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 6, 2019 - 5:46am

Born in 1496, John Colet was an English priest on the cusp of the English Reformation, the son of the Lord Mayor of London. Colet became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1505. In 1515, His most famous sermon was one he delivered to the clergy of England, in which he soundly denounced the church for its corruption and abuses. Colet is best remembered, however, for what was in his time a radically new way of teaching. When he returned from study in Italy to Oxford, he began translating the letters of Paul from Greek into English, and delivered lectures based primarily on the texts themselves.

At that time, the medieval style of interpretation of scripture had concentrated on identifying an element of church doctrine, enumerating it point by point, and developing a supporting argument through the use of selected biblical texts and quotes from Church Fathers. In contrast, Colet began with the biblical text and developed a direct interpretation of it. He focused on the writer of the text and its context, rather than focusing on doctrine and tradition.

Colet felt that the teachings of scripture could be taught in such a way as to be easily understood by almost anyone. His approach was to read a whole unit of text, as opposed to an isolated passage. Then he tried to discover what the original writer had tried to say.  In Colet’s hands, the Epistles of Paul were not a string of riddles but the letters of a real people. Colet wanted to understand for himself, and to help others understand, what the writers intended.

As the Dean of St. Paul’s, he continued his teaching habits. Though, his primary impact on the church as we know it today was not in the political aspect of the Reformation, Colet had tremendous influence. Translating scripture into English for his Oxford students was an action strictly forbidden by the church. He carried that one step further in his tenure as Dean by actually having scripture read in English, instead of the authorised Latin, which few could understand.

Colet’s approach to scripture, beginning with the text, is a valuable part of our l heritage. The assumption that words spoken thousands of years ago can shape joyful, productive lives today is vital to our spiritual practice. In the light of that tradition, let us continually seek to see what scripture has to say to us today.

In the book of Deuteronomy in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), Moses is speaking to people who have known only a nomadic life. Their 40 years in the desert have seen the aging and death of those who walked to freedom between the parted waters of the Red Sea. They have come to depend on God’s daily bread, the manna that they find on the ground each morning, and they have drunk water that poured forth from rocks in a dry place. There has been nothing “virtual” about their reality. The journey of escape and wandering are over but a decision confronts them.

The choice is clear: life and prosperity or death and adversity. God stands ready to deliver the promise made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The question is whether this nation, gathered along the Jordan, will claim it with their faithfulness to God’s invitation. Our imaginations tempt us to think this choice must be simple. So many of the stories of the Bible are stories of God’s efforts to encourage his human creation to claim the full promise of the abundant life made possible by God’s covenant.

Move forward several centuries and, as Jesus speaks to his followers, we can hear the faint echo of the aging Moses. The language is somewhat different, more specific this time. The audience is not the nation on the verge of claiming power. Instead it is people subject to Rome, a nation whose power is far greater than theirs. Those gathered around Jesus are again a captive people, citizens of a fairly insignificant corner of the Roman Empire. The promise is not nearly as attractive. Jesus calls them to walk away from family, all that holds their place in society and provides security. 
Instead he actually expects them to carry a burden for life. Further, he proclaims that unless they give up their possessions, they cannot be his disciples. Since Moses spoke to his followers, we have moved from the promise of prosperity and power to an offering that looks very different. Yet, it can be argued that the promise is the same; it is the context that has changed. And the context has changed, and the covenant offered, largely as a result of the actions of the people themselves over the hundreds of intervening decades.

Thanks to Colet and others, we have long been able to read scripture for ourselves and to decide what we hear it saying to us. It seems painfully clear. Consider what it sounds like when we hear it today. Generally citizens of Australia and New Zealand have more possessions than any people that we know of in the history of humanity. Well maybe not us much as those of USA.  The intriguing thing is that along with more money in our pockets than any previous generations, we also owe more money than ever before. It seems that more “stuff” is still not enough stuff.

Here’s a thought. Why do we think we need bigger houses? We need someplace to put
the stuff. More stuff is even a selling point. An August ad for a national retail chain proclaimed in bold type, “Never enough stuff.” So in the light of this, what is Jesus calling me to do?  Christ offers to deliver us from greed and commercial addictions. Jesus invites us to become, as we hear in the Epistles to be prisoners, but prisoners of an enduring, life-liberating love. I wish that this day our prayers for ourselves and for each other be prayers of seeking to find ourselves walking in love as Christ loved us. This would then enable us to discover the true fulfilment of God’s eternal promise.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Rocky Dinner Party.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 30, 2019 - 7:47am

For those who follow the three year scripture cycle for Sunday reading todays reading from Luke 14 suggest we leave out five verses. It’s almost as if when a parent forbids a child to look at a certain chapter in a book on the living room shelf, so we just have to take a peek to see what is in those forbidden verses. We need the full context here. Luke 14:1 tells us that Jesus had been invited for a dinner party at the house of a “prominent Pharisee.” But why was Jesus invited? He was not a real popular person among the Pharisees, after all.
I like many suspect he was not invited out of love. In fact, it looks like they were setting Jesus up as many Priests and Ministers will have experienced themselves. As such, it is neither accidental nor coincidental that Jesus immediately encounters a man with dropsy. Dropsy was what today we would call oedema (Fluid gathering in the wrong places particularly at the extremities, which likely meant his breathing was laboured, and also his face, legs, feet, and hands were swollen because of a cardio-pulmonary problem that caused fluid to build up throughout his body. Likely he looked pathetic.
As his devious hosts suspected, Jesus cannot resist the urge to help. “Would it be all right by you if I healed this man? Is that a lawful thing to do on the Sabbath?” Silence. The dinner party is off to a really rocky start! But it gets worse when in reaction to people’s jockeying for the more important seats at the dining table Jesus begins to urge a bit of humility rather than brashly trying to get the best seat in the house. Did the people blush? Probably. But Jesus is not done. He has more to say and it is not what you’d call Emily Post etiquette or here in Australia June Dally-Watkins etiquette to say what Jesus does at this party.
Ultimately Jesus tells us a parable that was a direct rebuke to his own host or not caring more about the last, least, lost, and the lonely of the world the way God wants us to. Luke doesn’t tell us how that Sabbath-day dinner party ended. But you get the feeling that when Jesus left his hosts were not smiling and saying to Jesus, come again. When we next see Jesus at a dinner a chapter on in Luke we see that Jesus is dining with sinners. In this dining experience while Jesus is dining with the so called sinners the Pharisees are on the outside looking in. Looking in and sneering at Jesus in judgement.
You know, the Pharisees, as often with leadership that has got stuck and rigid didn’t get it. They didn’t get it ever and I wonder how many of us could easily or do easily slip into this sort of judgement. We hear clearly who Jesus’s kind of people were. The question we need to be asking ourselves and of each other is whether Jesus’s kind of people are our kind of people.
The writer Dallas Willard in his book, “The Divine Conspiracy,” noted that we that is humanity, not just those professing to be Christians, often forget what the goal of our life is, our discipleship, and our vocation. The goal is to live like Jesus, follow the way he engaged with people and exhibit great compassion and love for creation. This is not a metaphor or some overblown aspiration but is to be a bright centre for our lives. I have to add that this may also involve us in suffering and sacrifice of various kinds.
There is always a danger, like anything good humans get their hands on, it can be diverted and corrupted. The danger is that the attempt to live like Jesus can be turned to tempting us into acting and believing that it is our obedience that gets us the reward and a free trip to heaven (whatever we believe that to be).  Sadly we seek to look for a system to make sure that God will love me again this week – we look to hear and preach as I heard it once described, “Shouldy sermons.”  We are to go with Jesus to the outside and recognise it’s not about us and that it’s all about grace and for which we continually give thanks.
In Hebrews 13 we have these parting words:
Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.
So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.

“Also an anonymous soul has expressed it well:
Love is the spark that kindles the fires of compassion.
Compassion is the fire that flames the candle of service.
Service is the candle that ignites the torch of hope. Hope is the torch that lights the beacon of faith.
Faith is the beacon that reflects the power of God.
God is the power that creates the miracle of love.




Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 18 August 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - August 24, 2019 - 3:37am

 Lynette Graham led our service today and spoke about her confronting experiences when she visited her son and his family in Kenya, where he works with the Kenyan Anglo/Catholic Community, ministering to people there who are suffering from severe disadvantage. 
Lynette said one of the disturbing and unavoidable experiences was the smell, revealing a community without the privileges we enjoy in our community. The Governor started a clean up programme of the river, which when completed would provide clean water, edible fish and all the other benefits that go with a healthy river.
One of the most horrifying aspects of the river clean-up was the number of discarded bodies retrieved from the river: people of all ages including babies. This was just one of the many types of rejection of people witnessed in Nairobi. Old people were rejected as were babies and children: simply because the family had no way of supporting them.
However, hope was provided by the Mission Community who cleaned up the area around which they lived; who helped people gain skills to use in finding jobs; who did maintenance work in the children’s homes; fed local young people who came on a daily basis; who ran Bible studies to give people  hope for their spiritual selves. All of these gifts to people especially the young ones give them a start with which they can possibly go out and live independently.
As well, the Mission helps and maintains the Imani Children’s homes which has 7 rescue and rehabilitation centres which cater for all the children who have no one to care for them.
There can be no worse start in life than to grow up  knowing that you have been rejected by the ones who brought you into the world. I can’t begin to imagine the extent of the damage to the inner selves of these children done by their feeling utterly rejected and alone in the world.
Fortunately there are those who have heard the a Gospel message that in as much as we feed, visit, comfort, clothe, house, those that are rejected, we do it to Jesus himself. And furthermore, they have acted upon that message, rejecting none, and welcoming all.
This is not just a story of hope given to those that have none. There is a challenge here for us. We may not find a way to support the Kenyan Anglo/Catholic Community or the Imani Children’s Homes, or a group I haven’t written about, The Little Sisters of the Poor who run a Nursing Home but it is our responsibility to respond to Jesus’ message that whatever we do to nurture someone (or reject them) we do it to him. It is that serious. We must respond in whatever way we can.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Who is First, the Person or the System?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 23, 2019 - 7:45am

Have you ever reflected on this question? I often have as I have come to realise that yes we need systems to enable the fairness and inclusion of all I touched on in last week’s Blog. However as Jesus often demonstrated in his engagement with people the compassion and inclusion he practiced worked counter to where the system had gone. Sadly, like many things, systems can start out to help those least able to help themselves than in our society but end up being manipulated by those desiring riches and power to beat others with to bring them into their way which is not what God is calling us to be.
I love the following story that has helped me at times in dealing with whether I beat the person who seems to have failed or love them instead: “A daughter complained to her father about how hard things were for her.” As soon as I solve one problem," she said, "another one comes up. I’m tired of struggling." Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen where he filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to a boil. In one he placed carrots; in the second, eggs; and in the last, ground coffee beans. He let them sit and boil, without saying a word.
The daughter impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. After a while, he went over and turned off the burners. He fished out the carrots and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. He poured the coffee into a bowl. Turning to her he asked, "Darling, what do you see?" "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

He brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. She smiled, as she tasted its rich flavour. She asked, "What does it mean, Father?" He explained that each of them had faced the same adversity--boiling water--but each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting, but after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak.
The egg was fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. By being in the boiling water, they changed the water. He asked his daughter, "When adversity knocks on your door, which are you?"” The woman who had been bent over for eighteen years had experienced eighteen years of adversity. Perhaps the woman who had been bent over for eighteen years started out with the sternness of a carrot, only to find that she had been softened by time with the fading hope of a solution to her problem.
Better still, perhaps she was like the uncooked egg representing a character quality that resembles meekness only to end up over the course of those eighteen years in her heart like the character of the boiled egg---hardened. In any event, she needed someone to come along and help her fix her problem---someone who would change the atmosphere much like coffee changed the water.
Jesus changed people everywhere He went. He always reached out to those on the outside and loved them. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters. We are accountable for how we treat those whom we come in contact with. By our actions we can bring changes for better or worse. To condemn and vilify because we might interpret something written in a particular way is nor what we are called to be. So, are we like the carrot or an egg?
By our actions we can change the hearts of the hard-hearted and make them soft or the soft-hearted or just the opposite, we can make the meek hardened in heart and attitude. Like Jesus we need to change the atmosphere around us by being the salt of the earth and the light of the world so that those standing on the outside can find a haven---a refuge.
Does it show love to keep people in need standing on the outside?  “Government and the religious establishment are too often in collusion when violence against the poor occurs. How can people love only those who are just like them? How can we honestly say we honour the mandate of scripture to “love our neighbour as we love ourselves” if we are passing by “on the other side” of their pain? Are we showing love by keeping people who are in need standing on the outside? Jesus included everyone in His mission.

Jesus included those who were considered sinners and outcasts. But if the truth be told, we are all sinners who hunger for the love that God so freely offers to everyone. Yet, not everyone accepts God’s offer of unconditional love and forgiveness. We are called to be and need to be more like Jesus, in our actions as well as in our words. We need to love like Jesus. What good does it do for us to love only those that are just like us?
“An anonymous soul has expressed it well:
Love is the spark that kindles the fires of compassion.
Compassion is the fire that flames the candle of service.
Service is the candle that ignites the torch of hope. Hope is the torch that lights the beacon of faith.
Faith is the beacon that reflects the power of God.
God is the power that creates the miracle of love. 



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 11 August 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - August 19, 2019 - 10:18am


“Gracious Lord, you have promised to always be with us wherever we live and work, in times of drought and flooding rains, in times when we are gathered with those we love and in times when we are isolated and alone. Hear the praises we bring you as we gather to celebrate your presence within the congregations, we are part of, at home and in the places where our Bush Chaplains and volunteers engage with the people of remote Australia.”
 From the rising of the sun . . .
God speaks, calling out to the earth.
At the beginning of each new day . . .
God speaks, calling us to life and service.
Even with the setting sun . . .
God speaks, reminding us that we are not alone.
As we gather for worship this day
God speaks, inviting us to love freely and to become true treasure on earth.

Despite God’s faithfulness and absolute constancy we look to idols. We may not realize that we have, but instead of worshipping God, we worship the church music, or the minister, or some Godly person, or even the Bible itself. None of these are God, even though they may bring us God’s message or even God’s love. Look to God, the only One.
Opening Prayer
May the Creator Spirit continue to hover over this land of many contrasts, cultures and peoples.
May Christ walk alongside us as we move in His presence. May the cool wind of the Spirit refresh, replenish and restore our souls.
And may the land speak to us in such a way that

we may see, feel and hear God the Creator, God the Spirit and God the Son in the cool evening murmur of the breeze.
Praise be to God.
 And may we seek God and only God, not representations that bring God to us.
The Peace
 Let us share the treasure of love and mercy with one another as we offer the peace of Christ. Peace be with you! And also, with you!
 Announcements
 Launch Quiet Church for this Friday. These are opportunities, among other things, to sit quietly and seek God, and God alone without any distractions.
Offering Prayer
As we offer these earthly treasures back to you, transform these gifts into love and mercy by the power of your Holy Spirit and the gift of your miraculous love. Turn these earthly treasures of human currency into heavenly treasures of love and justice to bring your realm here on earth. Amen
And may these offerings motivate people to seek your outstretched hand and accept your invitation for an eternal friendship.
 The Service of the Word
The First Reading: Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
The Gospel Reading: Luke 12: 32-40
These readings brought to us by Grahame, tell us of people who had a relationship with God. May we not look to them but to the Author, not matter how much that may scare us. Remember, God is ... Love.
 Preaching of the WordDo Not be Afraid (the words in quotes are Rev. John’s the others are mine.)
" ‘Don't be afraid. I will give you the Kingdom. Use your stuff so that you have permanent benefit from it. You will be happy if you are ready for my return.’ Or, to paraphrase it in the simplest way, don't be afraid, enjoy your stuff forever and be happy.
 This sounds wonderful. Our problem is that none of us can do this. Most of our lives are spent in a never-ending journey, searching for something that we hope will give meaning to our lives. Most of us are like the characters in the Wizard of Oz. We look like lions; except we are afraid. We are bright and shiny on the outside, but don't have any of the internal characteristics that help to bring fulfilment. We are tin woodsmen. Or, we are most agile but really don't have wisdom, like the Scarecrow. And some of us, much like Dorothy, are just lost and trying to find a way home.”
Most of the people who are reading this have professed some level of following Jesus for some time, if not all our lives. I think now is the time to step up and look God in the eyes, face to face. It is that that scares us silly, not sacrificing anything of this earthly life, but having a mature relationship with our Maker.
 " ‘Don't be afraid.’" A bold person shared a reflection about the cross. The person said ‘I came to understand that the cross is a test for us. We had God right here with us, in the person of Jesus. God was here to lead and love us out of this mess we are in. And what did we do? We killed him.’
 I wonder if why I struggle not to be one of those yelling out is that there is something in me that can't stand absolute love and goodness, even though I crave it. Yet, God’s answer to my failure is love, forgiveness and presence in my life forever. When I reflect on my failure in the cross, and God's answer, then I can know that I need never be afraid of any failure ever again. I have already failed completely, and God loves me and is present with me, it would be silly and a waste of time to be afraid.”
Think about these words: we are afraid, but God has shown us nothing but love. God has been nothing but amazingly patient with everyone of us. It’s time to look at that squarely and act upon it, stretching out to take the hand of God who has done nothing but love and love us for all our lives.
 “As we grow in love, we grow less and less fearful. As we grow in love, we discover
ourselves focused more and more on eternal relationships. Perhaps, it is scary to think about living this way, but remember the first thing the angels say, "don't be afraid."”
  Hymn TIS 780: May light come into your eyes. Amen to that!
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Drive Them Crazy with Love.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 16, 2019 - 8:11am

This week I have decided to wander off from following the lectionary and would like to reflect on the passage of scripture - Matthew 20:1-16a. This scriptural lesson is hard for those of us who are concerned about fairness. It seems to tell us that God is not fair. The story is simple: Jesus describes a hiring process. Some workers are hired early, some at mid-day, some in the afternoon, and some just before quitting time. At the end of the day, they were all paid the same wage. Those who had worked all day felt that they should be paid more than those who had worked only part of the day. But the employer said, "You all agreed to the wage before it was paid;" and more significantly, "it's my money and if I want to pay everyone the same thing, I can."

From this do we learn that God is not fair? Is it not rather than being fair, God is lavish. One priest, in commenting on this text, said, "I am so glad that God is not fair. If God were fair and gave me what I truly deserve, I would be tortured slowly before being consigned to hell for ever." But fairness is the highest ethical stance of many in our culture. Some would even choose fairness over lavish love. Children see fairness as the standard. They are especially keen on fairness if they believe that they have been treated unfairly. All who are parents are familiar with the cry of outrage, "That's not fair!" This may be accompanied by that other great ethical benchmark of children, "But all the other kids get to..." All good parents have a set of responses to these statements that they heard from their parents.
Children seldom raise the issue of fairness when they are being favoured. In fact, almost no one raises the issue of fairness when they are favoured or privileged. There have been some first class church fights grounded in unfairness. We have the recent and current debates over acceptance and inclusiveness, free speech and vilification of groups in our community despite the call and example of Jesus to live compassionately and lovingly as our God does.
Even sometimes it comes within the Church and it is a group of spiritually aware folk trying to guide the life of a congregation in a more "holy" way. And they are not treated fairly in the decision making. Sometimes it is a group of long time church members who have laboured long for the sake of the congregation and they are excluded from decisions about congregational life by a newer group of members. Sometimes there is even conflict between the clergy and laity. Frequently all of these problems are identified as "fairness" problems. And they are. There is a lot of unfairness in churches, in our community and in our society. There is a lot of unfairness in life. Anyone who wants to fill their heart and life with resentment will have ample opportunity to do so.
Jesus invites us to move beyond fairness and into boundless love. The kind of love Jesus calls us to, is grounded in, and is in his own sacrificial love. This love was won on the cross. Suffering preceded Jesus' death. Jesus' death was unjust. We might see it as a cosmically unfair event. But that awful death became the door to Resurrection for Jesus. In Jesus' Resurrection we see the meaning of suffering, the meaning of injustice, and the meaning of death transformed by God's power into our experience and knowledge of God's limitless love. Even in the process of death, Jesus was transforming meaning. He said to the thief on the cross, who admitted that his death sentence was fair, "Today you shall be with me in paradise."
Jesus said to God about those who were killing him, "Father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing." Both of Jesus' statements were cosmically unfair. Both of Jesus' statements are signs of God's lavish love for us. Jesus' Ascension may have been the most extreme example of God's lavish love. In the Ascension Jesus left a particular time, place, and group of people to be present for all time and in all places and with all people. This act insures that we, even 2,000 years later, thousands of kilometres away, and without any personal knowledge of Jesus' disciples can know that lavish love in the deepest and most personal ways.
So, when you think you are being treated unfairly, rejoice because it reminds you that God loves you lavishly. Also it’s interesting to check out whether what we perceive as unfairness is actually that and not our own greed etc. Once you think you are being treated unfairly do something to make those who you think are treating you unfairly feel really crazy -- forgive them and share with them the love you have received. Not easy I know but that is what we are called to.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Summoning Love toward Life.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 9, 2019 - 6:09am

I’ve had in my life a few friends and people I have been pastorally responsible for who, when they were dying, immersed themselves in deep gratitude. Gratitude—not that they were dying of course—but grateful that dying awakened them to life. They lived at the last knowing the preciousness of every moment. They also lived with the hope of knowing they would be with their God which bought them great comfort. Friendships developed with those I was to be with during this period at the end of their lives for which I have been greatly appreciative. They also began to appreciate their relationships and friendships.
Then there is the shedding of bad relationships and habits that I observed in these friends. Not so much ambitiously “making the most” of the remaining time, but summoning love toward life through each moment they had left. Not so much checking things off an extravagant bucket list, as admiring the symmetry of the bucket itself. Even in diminishment, enlarging the capacity to love. I don’t mean to glamourise dying. More often, that kind of heightened consciousness is impossible through trauma and pain. I’m inspired nevertheless by these friends and fellow Christians during the end of their life journey.
I’m reminded of Saint Benedict’s admonition to “keep death always before you” for the very practice of daily waking and reawakening to life against death. Anchorites took a scoop out of their graves every day for the same reason, or stitched their shrouds so that they might remember the “one thing necessary”—that they might love the gift of life. Being rich toward God seems to me to be more about consciousness than about bustling around the church managing God’s business.
Noticing the scent of lavender and earth and early morning and still being grateful for it at the end of the day. Noticing the other: taking risks in love for Love disguised as the unlovable. Should I ever be too sick to love, I hope I can remember these comforting words from Teresa of Avila. “Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”
You know, when it comes to how we as humans face the end of our life on this planet fear seems to be the key emotion. That fear drives us to all sorts of odd behaviour and increase our pain towards the end. It is, however, also possible for fear to drive us to rather bizarre extremes in all sorts of areas of our life. For instance, if the fear of heights makes us stay in one place, or to never leave the house because we might encounter a tall building. Or if we can't go camping because someone might start a campfire to cook; this is a bit extreme, and it now is driving us to live life in an untenable way. 
And if our fear of scarcity rules us, makes us believe we can't do things; we are now driven by a reality that is only a perception.  You see, this could well lead us to agree with those that say, they are tired of churches saying what they cannot do.  If you look deep enough, what we are fearful of admitting is that we are only limited by our choices.  In other words, it is not that we can't, it is that we choose not to.  And so, an almost non-existent threat now rules our lives.
This is how fear rules us.  When Jesus says, "do not be afraid," it is likely that he was plenty smart enough to know we would be.  He also was plenty smart enough to know that to rule something out of your life; you must know you have it in your life in the first place.  We are convicted by the reality of our fear of scarcity every time we hear those words: "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."   We are so afraid of this that we don't even want to look at it, or we reinterpret it in some really creative and self-serving ways, ways that make common sense, because, we are about common sense. 
We are common sense people. Abundance does not seem plausible, so we are afraid.  We've been trained that way. But, what are we afraid of?  If we would really delve into that question, really look at it, more often as individuals and especially as a people, we would serve ourselves well. Because, sometimes our fears actually teach us something, make the scales fall from our eyes as we see the things we idolise; our health, our wealth, our status, and by so doing helps us to find life and experience life as never before, and in a richer way than ever before. 

That is the trust, the faith that is described in Hebrews and in Luke today.  It really gets at what we fear about Scripture, about this man named Jesus. Because one fear we have, a real one, is that the Gospel is usually bad news before it is good news.  We have to travel through both realities. The things we fear can teach us. But, as in all things, we can't live life in its fullness or get well, until we know and admit our affliction.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 28 July 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - August 2, 2019 - 8:58am


Gathering God’s People
 Acknowledgement of First Peoples
 From river to ocean, from campfire to hearth,
May the First People who have cared for this Land,
where we worship, the Wallumedgal, be blessed.
From breath to song, from step to dance,
May those who follow Your Song lines guide us on the journey of living honourably in this place.
From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus,
May our worship join with the voices of the First Peoples of this Land.
Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2016)
Rev. John referenced the shooting of new life in a forest to try to explain the visions of God’s Grace as it suddenly comes to us:
the warm embrace of God’s limitless love—a love that is all-forgiving, all-encompassing, all-embracing.
and then to us who rail against the world’s injustices:
Come in, angry people!
This is a safe place to vent your fury.
Come in, hurting ones!
Here you will find compassion and grace to heal your wounds.
Come in, all who are in need of love and peace.
Here, we gather as children of the living God.
Hymn TIS 555:  Put all your trust in God
 Opening Prayer
 We pray to God for what we want and we are given what we need. We are still clueless despite years of looking for the way.
Prayer of Confession
Dear God, you have every right to be angry with us. We have such good intentions, but we continue to mess up. Forgive us, God.
We joyfully sing of your love on Sunday morning, but by Monday, we’re feeling lost and unlovable.
Forgive us, God.
We preach tolerance and compassion, but we find ourselves raging at the guy who cuts us off in traffic. Forgive us, God.
(Silence)
Declaration of Forgiveness
Then you forgive our sins, and once more show us how to forgive others. You offer us a vision of truth and love meeting together, and you invite us into their warm embrace.
Thank you, God.
As your forgiven people, beloved children of your promise, you renew us in holy love.
Thank you, God. Amen.
The Peace
 Peace is a gift beyond price. In Christ, we find peace as we are reconciled to God. Let us share this precious gift with one another in joy and thanksgiving! Peace be with you!
And also, with you!
 
Offering
Loving God, you nourish our famished souls by listening to our humble prayers.  We come asking, seeking, and knocking with the full knowledge that you are ready to respond to our supplications.  You deliver us from evil by nourishing our hearts with forgiveness and our minds with understanding.  You prepare a heavenly table for all who believe in the mighty acts of your Holy Son.  Bless these gifts so that your children will feast at the banquet which awaits in your eternal home.  Amen
 Hymn TIS 162: Thank you for giving me the morning
 The Service of the Word
The blog so far has been more a summary than a reflection and that is because I would like to reflect on the Bible Readings myself.

Colossians 2:6-15
6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ. 9 
The reading continued from here but space does not allow reflection on all of it.
The first thought  which occurred to me was that we need to continue to live our lives in God. Day by day we need to look at our lives and recommit each part of it to Christ. It is so easy to sink back into little actions of selfishness. Initially it could be because we are tired or ill that we act in what we think are our own interests but we don’t need to stay there. We need to turn around and reach out to the one who shows us the true way. That is the way that builds us, not only into the people God wants us to be, but into the people we can be so happy with ourselves.
Then the second thought that occurred to me was to do with not being taken captive through philosophy and empty deceit. When we read the bible it is so easy to take an interpretation handed to us by someone else. We need to ask who the words were written for; we need to ask why those words were written and when those words were written. The answers to all those questions will have bearing on how the words can be interpreted. We need to work hard at finding the answers to all those questions to find out the real message of God and not what someone else wants to push upon you.
I had intended to reflect on both readings but I’ve run out of space
Hymn TIS 550: Our Father, God in heaven
Intercessory Prayers were followed by The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn TIS 414: There’s a spirit in the air
Benediction
Go in peace, knowing that you are forgiven people. Go in faith, knowing that God hears your prayers and understands your needs. Go in love, knowing that God
invites you into the holy embrace of truth and righteousness. Go now as children of the living God to serve others in Christ’s name. Amen.
 Hymn TIS 780: May light come into your eyes
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Living Without Trainer Wheels.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 2, 2019 - 6:52am

Do you remember how your legs felt when your legs grew too long to ride your tricycle? Did your parents buy you a bicycle, or as our fellow primary school classmates might have called it—a “two-wheeler.” Only, for many it was really a “four-wheeler” because there were two little wheels attached at the rear tire. Did you ride your two-wheeler up and down the sidewalk in front of your family’s home until you were accustomed to riding upright? And then one day, your parent would have removed the training wheels so that you could ride without them.
Did you fall a few times before your parent jogged alongside you, holding the seat to keep you balanced? After a few laps, riding the two-wheeler it does become a little easier. Often when you made the U-turn at the end of the imaginary finish line, you’d be shocked to see your parent at the other end, watching you with arms folded and a proud grin on their face. When I was going through this I was so focused on avoiding another fall, I had no idea how long I had been pedalling without my parent. But I did it!

I remember feeling I was now one of the big kids. I could ride a bike all by myself, without training wheels or my parent’s or brother’s assistance. Once I achieved this new sense of independence, any memory of my little red tricycle, the number of times I fell, or my parent’s help vanished. It was as though I did it all on my own, but that as we all know this is not the truth.
When the children of Israel wandered through the wilderness, God cared for them, raised them the way a loving father raises his child. After his own presence in their lives, the greatest gift their heavenly parent gave to Israel was their freedom from their slavery to the Egyptians. But when Israel was liberated and empowered to build new lives for themselves, they forgot the one who fed them, kept them safe, healed them, and led them into their new life.
So much so that they preferred instant gratification and the profits from injustice to the longsuffering, patient God who gave them new life. Then we hear in Hosea 11 that although Israel’s disobedience provoked great anger in God, to the point where God is ready to destroy his living creation, his overtaking compassion prevents him from bringing destruction. Like any good parent, our God will still chastise his children. Yet God is always ready to joyfully welcome us into his good graces when we run to him asking forgiveness, ready to conform to his image, and filled with gratitude.
The readings from Luke 12 and Colossians 3 take us further in our understanding of the possible relationship with God and with each other. In Luke 12 Jesus shares a parable about a rich fool, warning against greed and being self-centred. The relentless pursuit of material possessions is a powerful distraction from growing an intimate relationship with Jesus. When we become self-absorbed, we neglect to pray, study God’s word, and prepare for Jesus’s return. Nothing that may be accumulated on earth is as valuable as the eternal riches we have in God’s kingdom.
Never one to miss a good opening, Jesus seizes the opportunity to talk about much more than getting our share of the goods of life—and, thus, the “rich man” who thinks that he deserves his fate in life, and will simply “eat, drink, and be merry” to the end of his self-satisfied days! What is really important in life? It’s a tired old saw, but still pretty effective: if you knew for certain that this was your last day on earth, how would you spend it? What would you be doing that, perhaps, you are not doing now? Well, what are you waiting for?

At some stage in history what is called a new myth appeared. This was that wealth needs to be shared. Work requires just and equitable share in its fruits. The strong have an obligation to care for the weak. This new myth birthed education, unionisation, nationalised health programs, community projects, and for centuries the church stood at the heart of reform, telling the new story. Sadly it is so no longer. The myths of dominance, control, and consumption have displaced the Christ myth, and the church itself has forgotten how to tell the story of prophetic justice.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that “Christ is our life” (Col 3:4). When we become followers of Jesus Christ, our nature is renewed. We become hidden in the risen Christ in that our values and lifestyles are aligned with his teachings and nature. As we conform our lives to Christ, our behaviour changes. Over time, our lives are no longer in step with that of popular culture, but in obedience to God. Submission to the way of the Lord places us in his favour, out of the way of his wrath.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Marsden Road Uniting Church Sunday Service 21 July 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 27, 2019 - 11:50pm


Today, as I have indicated previously, I am focussing on specific parts of the service. Much is being said about our First People recently and so I intend to reflect on the
acknowledgement. I also wish to spend more time on the sermon than usual.

Gathering God’s People

Acknowledgement of First Peoples

“From river to ocean, from campfire to hearth, May the First People who have cared for this Land, where we worship, the Wallumedgal, be blessed.

From breath to song, from step to dance,

May those who follow Your Song lines guide us on the journey of living honourably in this place. From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus,

May our worship join with the voices of he First Peoples of this Land.”

To think more on these words, we need to
do more than just imagine how the first people have cared for this place we now
call home. Perhaps a little study of factual records would help. It is
difficult to appreciate the thought and effort that was needed on the part of
the people who originally lived here without some hard facts on the
difficulties that they faced.

Call to Worship.(Abingdon Worship Annual 2016)

“The ungodly laugh in their conceit,
plotting the destruction of the righteous with sharp tongues and works of
treachery. They are fools. For the righteous are like green olive trees in the
house of the Lord, and will dwell in God’s steadfast love forever and ever.”

Those of us who have always worshipped
at this church might be quite surprised at what was said and thought about them
by their neighbours. As someone who was on the outside, looking in, I know the
level of contempt still held by those around us for those of us who choose to
follow God’s way.

“Like green olive trees in the house of God,we come into God’s presence.

Like young saplings in the courtyard of the Lord,we drink deep from the waters of life.

Like the fruit of God’s vineyard,we ripen in the light of God.

Come, let us worship the Lord.”

Opening Prayer

 “Loving God, your gift of abundant
life is like a basket of summer fruit — a delight to the eye and a pleasure to
the tongue; your presence in our lives is like a green olive tree— a joy to the
heart and a blessing to the spirit. Speak to us your words of life that we may
sit at your feet and know that we are yours. Amen.”

Prayer of Confession

“Merciful God, buffeted by the winds of life, we have grown weary and yearn for your handto hold us.
Pour forth your words of peace, and bring us back to life.

Forgive us when we are heedless to the needs of others.Correct our ways when we are self-centred and neglect the poor and powerless.

Be our vision when we seek refuge in our wealth and possessions.Draw us to you, Holy One, and lead us into life. Amen.” “Declaration of Forgiveness

 Hear the good news: In Christ, we are united
and reconciled with God Rejoice in the knowledge that we receive forgiveness
and abundant life in his name.


Thanks be to God! Amen.”

The Peace

“Peace is a gift
beyond price. In Christ, we find peace as we are reconciled to God. Let us
share this precious gift with one another in joy and thanksgiving.
Peace be with you!



And also, with you!”


The Service of the Word

 The First Reading: Amos 8:1-12Corruption has always existed, and those that practice it
have always ended up badly.

The Gospel Reading:
Luke 10: 38-42
I think we have all found this reading difficult. There is always work to be done. Surely we must
all share the load but I think this is saying we should think more about our priorities.

(Readings: Kaye)

Preaching of the
Word – “Crazy Love: The Search for
Unquenchable

“We live amidst the reality of economic
instability and religious volatility. Yet, there’s something deep inside all of
us that desires another kind of crazy. It’s a crazy love. Our souls are thirsty
for a love that’s everlasting. And yet, reality shows, political parties, and
public institutions alone cannot quench this thirst. We need something more.”



Rev. John then spoke of observing his
step-sons at play and more professional sportsmen       playing and...needing to have their thirst quenched. At home parents choose water with all it’s health giving benefits but professionals often choose commercial drinks which claim to have added ingredients to aid recovery from strenuous exercise and which for the most part don’t.

He also spoke of people who expect God
to come to their aid when they are in the position they are in because they
have not been good stewards of God’s gifts or have grasped at God’s gifts and
simply expect more.

Rev. John then guided our thinking
towards choosing spiritual refreshment over any physical or earthly pleasure or
reward.

To recap: Martha was right in one way.
Hospitality is a great gift but she wasn’t being hospitable. The way she approached
her work made it seem like Jesus was a burden to her whereas Mary made Jesus
wholly welcome by focussing all her attention on him.

No matter how much we attend to our
physical, social and employment needs, we will still experience that deep
thirst which can only be quenched by continuous replenishment of our spiritual
needs by the only one who can meet those needs...God, the source of all things
good.
As Rev. John said at the end of his sermon:
“ we need to come to Gods table and
drink from the fountain of everlasting love. May our God be our eternal love
and thirst quencher?”

Then after the Prayer of Intercession and the Lord’s Prayer:

Benediction: “Though we may leave God’s house,

we do not leave God’s presence.

Like green Olive Trees in the house of God,

our roots go deep in the soil of holy love.

Know that Gods presence goes with us

as we go forth to share Gods love for all. Amen.

Hymn TIS780: May light come into your eyes. Amen”

 







Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Take a Break, Have a KitKat.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 26, 2019 - 7:10am

Last week’s I reflected about keeping Sabbath time as individuals. But there is another aspect to Sabbath rest that is just as important. God doesn’t only tell individuals to rest. God tells communities to keep Sabbath time. God commands Israel to let their fields have a Sabbath, to let their animals and servants have a Sabbath, and once every few years, to let the whole economic system have a Sabbath. The world needs a vacation. Lord knows, the earth needs a rest. We have been extracting her minerals, damming her rivers, pumping toxins into her atmosphere, tearing holes in her ground, and stuffing her with our trash.
In the middle of the Pacific Ocean, a floating island made of our plastic garbage has grown to the size of a continent, reaching out long tendrils of six-pack rings and shopping bags to trap, kill, and devour fish and birds. We feel the earth reeling, staggering under its burden of our human societies. We call her Mother Earth, but we have treated her like a slave, working the world to exhaustion. The world needs a Sabbath. The world’s people need a Sabbath too. The resources we extract from the earth go to factories staffed by eight-year-olds sewing the soles onto sneakers in steaming sweatshops, working eleven- and twelve-hour days, forbidden from taking a break even to use the bathroom.
Oh, sure, it’s tough to do anything about those problems on the other side of the world; especially when Christmas rolls around and we really need to buy our children toys made by other children on the opposite side of the planet. I know people need to buy things. Money makes the world go round. People who are dirt poor cannot afford a Sabbath. But perhaps that’s the problem because the world’s people—especially the half that lives on less than a dollar a day—desperately need a Sabbath.
God declares a Sabbath for all creation. God tells us to give the world a break. God gives Moses instructions in Exodus for a radical holiday, telling him that not only should the community take a break from work for a day out of every week, but every seven years they should give the land a Sabbath. Although they may eat whatever perennials grow in their fields by themselves, they may not plant or harvest. The land itself gets a break and then God declares yet another Sabbath. Once every fifty years, the economic system gets reset. All indentured servants will be released, all debts will be forgiven, and all land will revert to the original families who owned it. They call it the jubilee year; a Sabbath for all creation.

While it is unclear if they ever actually carried it out or not, it is an idea that crops up again and again in the Hebrew Scriptures. Release for the captives, letting the debt prisoners go free. Isaiah and Jesus called it “the year of the Lord’s favour,” and it was to them a little glimpse of that final time when God is to judge the world and set it to rights. God declares a Sabbath for all creation.
Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue? Imagine going to your mailbox and tearing open your mortgage statement and reading, “Total balance due: $0.” Imagine hordes of children leaving the sweatshops to go on their first summer vacation, splashing in the river, riding squeaking bicycles down the road, playing soccer in an abandoned lot. Imagine the panic on Wall Street or at the ASX as tractor-trailer trucks stand abandoned on the freeways, their cargos of iPods and $150 distressed-denim jeans sitting idle, inventories in retail stores across the nation gathering dust. The economy would collapse!

But you’d also have no more car payments, no more student loan debt. Not only that, but the redistribution of property back to its original owners? That’sscary language. Imagine Australian First peoples, Canadian First Nations or   First Nation American peoples leaving their camps, their reservations and home areas and staking claim to George Sydney or the Sydney Opera House or maybe even Manhattan, Wall Street. It’s absurd! Our gods, the gods of the market and conquest, would never allow it. This kind of language scares us,makes us think of socialism or terrorism or communism or some other “ism.” Just imagine the chaos that would ensue.
But nobody ever said God was practical. God stubbornly insists on aSabbath for all creation. However, it’s only a short step from ignoring the Sabbath yourself to imposing your work, your agenda, and your interests on the land and its people. As written in Isaiah 58:13, we tend to put the pursuit of our own interests above everything else, setting up our own businesses as petty gods that we serve and worship. We sacrifice our relationships, our children, and our health on the altar of busyness. We sacrifice justice for the poor on the altar of economic practicality. And let me tell you, I get caught up in this to as I love my comforts and my technology.
Yet could we not see our Sabbath as a kind of nonviolent resistance to the creeping tyranny of wealth and power. Nehemiah says that even if everyone around them is buying and selling on the Sabbath, God’s people will not.  God calls them to be a different kind of community. Imagine a Sabbath for the world. Picture a break for God’s creation and all God’s people. Sure, it may seem impractical, but God calls us to be a different kind of community, a people set apart, and a royal priesthood.
God has a better vision of life for us and our world, a life that includes rest and enjoyment and even time for deep prayer which we call contemplation these days. Talk of prayer does connect us to the readings from the three-year lectionary for this week. But this is not the prayer of demand and asking that we have come to use most of the time. Well before I get carried away, that’s another story for another day.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Take a Break.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 19, 2019 - 9:50am

I’d like to wander away from the readings from the Lectionary today and reflect on a subject that I often wrestle with. The message that often comes to us from the world and the way it operates is that rest seems like a waste of time. Most of us have a difficult time imagining a day devoted to rest. We admire people who work hard and play hard. We have weekend or day off projects, maintaining home or yard or garden. We travel or watch television. We have ball games and family obligations and hobbies. There is too much to do and too little time, and anyway, idle hands are the devil’s workshop, right?
As the old saying goes, there’s no rest for the wicked, and the righteous don’t need any. So to many of us, rest seems like a waste of time. Sure, sometimes we feel the stress of busyness. We know we need a break, and we say that we should stop and smell the roses. But there never seems to be enough time for rest. We try to budget our time, stuffing time into envelopes and rationing it the way we budget money. We make distinctions between regular time and “quality time.”
We know the consequences of such stress: high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes and broken relationships, sleep deprivation, poor eating habits, and so on. Yet, even knowing these things, hearing that we “ought” or “should” try to take a break simply gives us one more thing to squeeze into our calendars between the doctor’s appointment and the deadline. Unfortunately, church doesn’t help much, with our programs and studies and mission projects, all of which are so important to our spiritual growth. How can we rest? We’re doing the Lord’s work! So although we may know we need a break, we don’t feel that we have time to rest.
We fear death. That’s really the problem, isn’t it? We fear squandering the little time we have. “I’ll rest when I’m dead,” we say, and we cling to our finite number of seconds the way a miser pinches pennies. Rest bears too much resemblance to that final rest below the soil, so that we fear rest and the passage of time because it makes us conscious of our own mortality.
Yet God rested. How strange! A God who never sleeps, who is all powerful and ever-present, decides to take the day off. We can hardly imagine it. What does God do on God’s off day? Bake cookies? Do a little gardening? And because God rested, God directs God’s people to rest. The word Sabbath actually comes from the Hebrew verb for “he rested.” God instructs his people to keep the Sabbath holy as a perpetual sign of the covenant between God and Israel. In fact, God takes the day of rest so seriously that the community should put to death “everyone who profanes” the Sabbath.
While it is unlikely this happened often, apparently rest is a serious business! Serious enough that God rested. The truth is we all die, regardless of how we spend our time. When we die we will leave behind unfolded laundry, unchecked items on our to-do lists, and unkept appointments on our calendars. Our business will not be finished. Staring at our datebooks, we realise our entire schedules should be written in pencil, because it all depends on the second-by-second beating of our hearts, tentative, subject to change at a moment’s notice.

A Sabbath rest gives us a chance to become conscious of the eternity in our time, to live mindful of the presence of God. Our time here is too precious not to take a Sabbath rest. Keeping the Sabbath is like tithing our time to God. We give to God the first moments of the day, or the first day of our week. Because we are made in the image of God, we imitate God’s rest after a busy week of doing and creating. Doing so reminds us that all time is God’s time. We make time for a little slice of eternity, and give that time as an offering to God in the same way that we put money into the offering plate.
People who keep a sabbath, whether it is Saturday, Sunday, or some other regular day of rest and reflection, often say that it helps them value their time during the week even more. There’s a paradox at work in the spiritual discipline of keeping a Sabbath. Just as people who give generously never seem to run out of money, people who make a habit of carving out time for sabbath rest never seem to run out of time. Actually, we have more than enough time. Although time is finite, God somehow gives us minutes as fast as we spend them. Look! You’ve just received another one.
God is generous with God’s time. We have more than enough time, so we are called to tithe that time back to God. Imagine your life with a regular Sabbath rest. What do you do with those twenty-four hours if God forbids work? Nap in a hammock. Swing on a porch swing, sipping lemonade. Talk with friends. The Bible tells us that the Sabbath is a foretaste of the kingdom of God, where children play in the streets and everyone sits in the shade of their own vineyard. Imagine: God wants such a life for us! An endless summer afternoon, spent in the company of people we love. God says, why wait for heaven? Start doing it now.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 7 July 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 13, 2019 - 2:32am
John's Blog We often make life more difficult than it needs to be. We do the same thing with our faith. Christianity, it seems to me, is simple. I don’t mean anything derogatory by that. I mean that Christianity needs to be simple because it is meant to be lived. I once saw a sign on someone’s office wall: “Nothing is as simple as it seems. That is because nothing is simple, and nothing is as it seems.” I like that because it is an interesting bit of wordplay, and it does seem to have the ring of truth to it.  We live in a complex world where solutions to most problems are anything but simple. Someone lingers for years with a debilitating illness. There is no simple explanation for a thing like that. Parents who have raised their child without any real thought or plan and worse yet, without consistency, may one day discover that their child has done something beyond the limits of social acceptability. They rush to the counsellor wanting a quick fix—a simple remedy—to a problem that has taken fifteen years to develop. 
There is violence in the world, and crime, and senseless destruction of people and property. There is no simple way to get a handle on these things. Don’t be naive. Simple solutions are few and far between. We also live in a world where few things are as they seem. We go to great lengths to appear to be something we are not. We want to look richer and smarter than we are. The marketing specialists push new products that bear little likeness to the items we cart home from the store. We are masters of disguise. Life is such that when we do stumble onto something that is simple, we are likely to overlook it or dismiss it as ridiculous. 
So, I return to the thought that Christianity is simple. God loves us. God sent his Son to us. God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ is sufficient. There are complex problems in the world, and to seek simple answers to them is naive. But it is just as foolish to seek complex answers when simple ones will suffice. In Hebrew scripture there is a valuable jewel which answers I believe what our God calls us to be and the way Jesus showed us by practice in his life. The Hebrew Scripture of Micah 6: 8 tells us:“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” 
Let’s “unpack that” (a pretentious little phrase I learned in my studies over the years – it means what I want to pass on about the subject here). Let us take a closer look at what God wants/requires from us. Let’s also look at what is not mentioned. The church doesn’t have a monopoly on justice, mercy, humility, or love. You can have them too—and probably already do. Three things—that’s all God gives us here. God says not to worry about fatted calves, turtle doves and buckets full of oil. These things are meaningless and certainly not “required.”
God wants us to act justly, but not in the worldly sense of justice. You do something bad and you get punished. That’s retributive justice—the flavour of justice that about 99.9 percent of the world is interested in including many who call themselves Christian. This does not interest our God. God is more interested in restorative justice—being redeemed and made whole, putting broken things back together again. This is the kind of acting justly that God wants to see us bring about, and to see happen. How do we not punish, but, rather, fix and make whole again? An interesting question I will leave you to reflect on and comment on sometime in the future.
Then God goes on to remind us that we are to love mercy. Notice that God does not just tell us to do mercy, but to love it. Mercy, compassion, love (words I have often used over the last year which seems to be a theme as we face the world as it is at this time — these are the hallmarks of how we are called to be living our lives and that with which we need to be desperately filling our hearts and minds with. 
And yet, our God calls us to walk humbly with him. I find that I am moved deeply by how the verse tells us to walk with (not in front, not behind, not forcing etc. but with), to be in relationship. For me this is at the core of God’s desire: to be in relationship together. I think walking humbly with God also means that, over time, we find ourselves caring about others more and more and ourselves less and less. We find ourselves willing to be selfless more and more. This is not telling us about thinking less of ourselves but it’s about putting more and more time into the love and care of others.
To come back to simplicity of message let us begin to see the reasonableness of at least giving this style of life a try. Never withhold a word of encouragement. The final turning point is our decision to accept what God offers. Are we able to always accept what God offers? Always do what God suggests. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Not true. The miracles of faith and of a Christian life lived out by the grace of God are certain and available to every one of us. Trust in God. It sounds too simple. Still, trust in God. 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Bound Together and to God.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 12, 2019 - 12:59pm

If you have ever stripped wallpaper, you know that it is a tedious and thankless job. I have known people, who before they were even unpacked in their new house get to work on wallpapering as one of the first things they do. Many still live in these houses. As one person whom I knew was working around a room, they pulled down a particular sheet of paper and saw the line on the wall where the paperhangers had put the plumb line—and I remarked to the family, “Well, now at least we know where they started when they put this ugly paper up.” They had a starting point right there in bright chalk-line blue.

The person restruck a line over the old one, because they believed you can never be too sure about the previous owner’s sense of perpendicular. Putting new paper over the crooked line would be a disaster. The plumb line that we find mentioned in Amos 7, which is set in the Lectionary for this week, is seeking to use the image to warn Israel. However the image seems to me to really be about the place where our identity begins. For the audience of Amos’ writing, it is a warning for Israel to return to the ways that God had provided.
Israel had become corrupt; the original identity of the ones chosen by God was to be their starting point, their source of identity. All the other ways that Israel had tried to had left it lost. Our identity is the starting point from which all the other details of our lives will either be aligned or skewed. Who are we? What is that thing we know so intimately about ourselves on a visceral level that prompts us to worship the living God or not? Through God’s gift of grace, we are able to inescapably become God’s own daughters and sons. However with such an identity comes responsibility.

Having been through an election and watched parties spruke visions that didn’t seem plumb, let us renounce that bigotry and party zeal which would contract our hearts into an insensibility for all the human race. Let us honour the first nations of this land we inhabit as other colonised countries have. Let us not harden our hearts with greed and desire for power against those who are different. Let us despite our leaders misguided focus seek to bring love and compassion into our world, especially for those who seem different and alien to our context.
Yet sometimes sadly we are unable to move outside our context as God calls us to and a small number whose sentiments and practices are so much our own becomes a love to them which is can be the start for self-love reflected. With an honest openness of mind let us always remember that kindred between people, and cultivate that happy instinct whereby, in the original constitution of our nature, God has strongly bound us to each other.
Having expressed that thought it leads me to comment on this week’s reading from Luke about the Good Samaritan. What strikes me about this familiar story is not that the Samaritan helped the Jew but rather the extent to which the Samaritan helped him. Our Samaritan exemplar was not only willing to pull over, see what had really happened, and then engage. He went well beyond that. He took the person in trouble to a nearby inn and gave the innkeeper what amounted to a blank check to do whatever made sense for the person’s healing. “The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’”

The Samaritan could have ended his involvement there but committed to returning after fulfilling another commitment. This Samaritan was a man who knew the blessing of grounding one’s life in faithful loving kindness to others. The lawyer whose original question prompted Jesus to tell this story could not have missed this. The issue for our lawyer was not to understand the limit of his responsibility but rather the extent of his opportunity. So it is for us. Where do my gifts, vocation, and past-times create opportunities to bless the lives of others with the steadfast loving kindness of the gospel of the kingdom of God?
If I am part of the Church, where does my church’s time, talent, and treasure offer corporate opportunities for the same? Where these answers lead is where we can validate God’s steadfast love to us by extending it to others. If we read further in our stories of Jesus from the Gospels we can see that he says to his disciples to feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty. He never answers that question the same way in any of his encounters but encourages us to have love and compassion for all of God’s creation. And he never does it with a shout, or a punch. But sometimes he does leave us with a story about mercy and an encouragement. “Go and do likewise,” he says.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Living God’s Simplicity.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 5, 2019 - 12:43pm

We often make life more difficult than it needs to be. We do the same thing with our faith. Christianity, it seems to me, is simple. I don’t mean anything derogatory by that. I mean that Christianity needs to be simple because it is meant to be lived. I once saw a sign on someone’s office wall: “Nothing is as simple as it seems. That is because nothing is simple, and nothing is as it seems.” I like that because it is an interesting bit of wordplay, and it does seem to have the ring of truth to it.
We live in a complex world where solutions to most problems are anything but simple. Someone lingers for years with a debilitating illness. There is no simple explanation for a thing like that. Parents who have raised their child without any real thought or plan and worse yet, without consistency, may one day discover that their child has done something beyond the limits of social acceptability. They rush to the counsellor wanting a quick fix—a simple remedy—to a problem that has taken fifteen years to develop.
There is violence in the world, and crime, and senseless destruction of people and property. There is no simple way to get a handle on these things. Don’t be naive. Simple solutions are few and far between. We also live in a world where few things are as they seem. We go to great lengths to appear to be something we are not. We want to look richer and smarter than we are. The marketing specialists push new products that bear little likeness to the items we cart home from the store. We are masters of disguise. Life is such that when we do stumble onto something that is simple, we are likely to overlook it or dismiss it as ridiculous.
So, I return to the thought that Christianity is simple. God loves us. God sent his Son to us. God’s saving grace in Jesus Christ is sufficient. There are complex problems in the world, and to seek simple answers to them is naive. But it is just as foolish to seek complex answers when simple ones will suffice. In Hebrew scripture there is a valuable jewel which answers I believe what our God calls us to be and the way Jesus showed us by practice in his life. The Hebrew Scripture of Micah 6: 8 tells us:“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Let’s “unpack that” (a pretentious little phrase I learned in my studies over the years – it means what I want to pass on about the subject here). Let us take a closer look at what God wants/requires from us. Let’s also look at what is not mentioned. The church doesn’t have a monopoly on justice, mercy, humility, or love. You can have them too—and probably already do. Three things—that’s all God gives us here. God says not to worry about fatted calves, turtle doves and buckets full of oil. These things are meaningless and certainly not “required.”
God wants us to act justly, but not in the worldly sense of justice. You do something bad and you get punished. That’s retributive justice—the flavour of justice that about 99.9 percent of the world is interested in including many who call themselves Christian. This does not interest our God. God is more interested in restorative justice—being redeemed and made whole, putting broken things back together again. This is the kind of acting justly that God wants to see us bring about, and to see happen. How do we not punish, but, rather, fix and make whole again? An interesting question I will leave you to reflect on and comment on sometime in the future.
Then God goes on to remind us that we are to love mercy. Notice that God does not just tell us to do mercy, but to love it. Mercy, compassion, love (words I have often used over the last year which seems to be a theme as we face the world as it is at this time — these are the hallmarks of how we are called to be living our lives and that with which we need to be desperately filling our hearts and minds with.
And yet, our God calls us to walk humbly with him. I find that I am moved deeply by how the verse tells us to walk with (not in front, not behind, not forcing etc. but with), to be in relationship. For me this is at the core of God’s desire: to be in relationship together. I think walking humbly with God also means that, over time, we find ourselves caring about others more and more and ourselves less and less. We find ourselves willing to be selfless more and more. This is not telling us about thinking less of ourselves but it’s about putting more and more time into the love and care of others.
To come back to simplicity of message let us begin to see the reasonableness of at least giving this style of life a try. Never withhold a word of encouragement. The final turning point is our decision to accept what God offers. Are we able to always accept what God offers? Always do what God suggests. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Not true. The miracles of faith and of a Christian life lived out by the grace of God are certain and available to every one of us. Trust in God. It sounds too simple. Still, trust in God.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 30 June 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 4, 2019 - 1:43am


Because I have been unable to attend church recently I have not written any blogs for a while but now I’m feeling up to being a bit creative, so I thought I’d try something personal.
At home trying to recover from a raft of various illnesses, I have been doing some reading which has focused on prayer.
I think we are all past our prayers being a shopping list and have at least progressed to thanking God for care shown to us and blessings heaped upon us, but these readings took me even past that.
Prayer is not necessarily a special time set apart. We can be in a prayerful attitude all through our day, responding to God’s outstretched invitation to share our lives as we move through the activities or thoughts of our daily lives.  Prayer is an attitude of life when we seek to walk side by side with our maker, minute by minute, being joined with the One who created us and who offers us so much. So much by way of friendship and guidance, but more that that. God through the Spirit, lifts us up onto another plane of being where we become the person we are meant to be.

However the reading I have covered, points to something more. The purpose of prayer is for us to build a relationship with God.  At first this seemed an amazing thought. But when God was asked who he was the answer was : “I am”. That is, a being, and as a being wants a relationship with other beings. An invitation is extended to each of us to join in fellowship, walking through our daily lives, linked with God.
Another issue covered in the readings is that many of us have built lives as Christians, serving others in God’s name. We see our purpose as spreading the news of God’s love by giving that love to others through service to them. But in doing so our time is absorbed with activities that involve other people. Which is right and should be so, except that we forget that the source of that Love is God and for that Love we spread to be authentic it must flow from God and can only do so if we are in a close relationship with God, absorbing that love daily.
That is the focus of today’s blog. Are we seeking a relationship with God? How much do we value God and the relationship we can have with God? Is God and the relationship we can have with God our first intention? Or do we seek our relationship with God for the love offered to us and the world around us?
Imagine how we would feel if we found out that our partner had sought a relationship with us only for the family which would come of it and the love they could offer. Wouldn’t we be hurt? Don’t we want our partner to seek a relationship with us for the sake of that relationship in the first place?
Of course we should talk with God about the things we think we need, or things we think others need. And of course we should thank God for all our blessings. And a special time should be set aside for prayer only. But none of those is the main purpose of prayer.
And so, are we seeking a relationship with God for the sake of that relationship in the first place or for what flows from it?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Another Perspective on Life.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 28, 2019 - 1:10pm

No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the Kingdom of God.  What kind of harsh statement is this?  And it seems at face value to be very exclusive, too.  How about unrealistic?  Undoable?  Ridiculous?  OK, maybe now we are getting carried away.  But when you read this, do you have a nagging question in the back of your mind?  The question for me is: "Then, who is ever fit for the Kingdom of God?" 
 Even in this multitasking world we live in, with every possible organisational gadget we can possibly manufacture, most people metaphorically, "Put their hands to the plough" and then look back, or leave the plough all together!!  If what this means is a never failing faith, without doubt or regret, ever, then there might well be a new word for us all—denial.  
However, as is always the case, we would do well to try to read the whole story, from Luke 9 for this week, as well as the whole story of the Gospel as it teaches us to journey on the way rather than believe in a set of rules that some human wishes to use to set their comfort zones. When we do both of those things we can see that the picture is bigger, as it almost always is.  As in so many things in this life, we like to make this an either/or scenario.  It's got to be one or the other.  Can you say—Perspective?
But take a closer look at this text: instead of an “either/or,” Jesus is really positing a “both/and.”  Notice that both of the poor souls that ask to go take care of other business are exclusive in their request as well.  “Sure, I will follow you Lord, but first, let me go bury my father." And then another, "well sure I'll follow you Lord, would love to, but first let me go tell them good bye at home; I mean they are expecting me for dinner; it would be rude to just not show up!" But Jesus is about inclusion, our God is about inclusion.
In both cases, and in many cases in this world as well, and the church is not excluded, the answer is, "Yes, Lord, I will follow, I will pray, I will give, I will work, I will whatever, BUT FIRST, I need to pay off my boat; I need to find a job; I need to get my taxes done; I need to get the clothes washed. It is the "But First" that seems to be key here.  Or we could say but at first I have to vilify those I disagree with and make money in doing so. But first I need to allow my greeg for material possessions and power be realised before I truly be with God and share the compassion Jesus taught us about.
Those who come to God and wish to follow the way Jesus lived probaly mean well. Those who wanted to follow Jesus seem to be telling Jesus, “to get on your train, I have to get off mine.”  In a sense that is true, but this thinking makes it seem like two different journeys.  It seems unlikely that we could live on the Christian journey at all if this were the truth. 
The whole notion of setting one’s face to Jerusalemseems to be a journey motif, harkening back to Elijah, with many prophetic references.  Setting your face toward Jerusalem is to be on a journey.  But is it one you must start only after all else in your life is finished?  One would hope not, or else we would never get started on it. You might well wonder, what if these people had responded to Jesus, "I will follow you AND I will go bury my father.”  “I will follow you AND I will go and tell those I love at home, about the journey I am going on as well.” 
In some ways we are meant to expect no other response. Jesus tells us and shows us: loud and clear: “You can't compartmentalise following me, you can't do it when you get time, when you clear some space on your Google calendar, after the clothes are washed. This is a way of life, which means yes, the clothes must get washed, and the bills must get paid, and the kids must get fed, and the taxes must get paid, and you most likely have to keep those appointments in your IPhone or Android Phone.”
“BUT, follow me anyway; follow me while doing those things; follow me in a way that makes you do those things in a new way. Follow me forever: no ‘BUT First’s;’ no ‘instead;’ no ‘YES AND’—not ‘either/or.’ Instead:   ‘both/and.’” To do the ordinary extraordinarily well while making all of life a prayer.  It is mysteriously in that sense when we understand that all of our concentration and focus, that which we lavish on details that really don’t matter, on so many specifics that we forget why we do in the first place, all of those distractions help us avoid the greater conversation that rises above all of that. 

It's not about what you are doing or not doing; it is instead about what and who you are being.  It is about what we finally put our hope and trust in every day, and all days.  Following Jesus is something that we do every minute of the day. It doesn't mean not doing everything else, it means doing everything else, with your heart invested in God, through the power and witness of Jesus Christ.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What are the Demons Today?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 21, 2019 - 6:16am

No one promised this loving God and God’s creation – being a follower - thing was going to be easy. Just ask Elijah! This man of God and ordinary human being was no stranger to the rollercoaster ride of being a prophetic voice to God’s stiff-necked, yet beloved people. The work of the Hebrew Scripture prophet seems never to be done: reviving a widow’s only son, saving them both from starving during a time of famine, calling again and again for God’s people to repent and turn, and in this passage running for his life from Queen Jezebel.
Granted, he may have gone just a tad bit too far in his zeal for God; after winning a dramatic showdown against the prophets of Baal, he has them all be slaughtered. In return, Jezebel vows to do the same to him. The ups and downs of ministry — for both the everyday Christian and those called to vocational ministry — remain much the same today (although our slaughtering tends to be more metaphorical). Although the face of ministry has changed, the counterpoint feelings of elation and despair still follow a familiar tune. Elijah is so distressed that he runs for his life into the wilderness.
Elijah is ready to pack it all in and die, but our God had other plans. The Lord of the Universe meets this sinner/saint at his place of need with bread for the journey and water to quench a weary soul. He even speaks to Elijah in a still, small, and surprising voice. God speaks to us today and meets us at our point of need. Even when we make monumental messes and fail fabulously, God is still there guiding, coaching, and putting us back into faithful play in new and exciting ways. The call is to listen.

An important piece of a healthy faith is an honest humility about what we don’t know; that is to say, what we don’t know about God and about what God can or cannot do. Many who come to the faith through an event seem to believe that it is a once only happening. They seem to think at that moment they have all the truth that is our God and know God’s mind despite any other evidence. Often they rely on knowledge from flawed interpretation of the scriptures we use as our guiding light. Scriptures that were written down by humans, written with a particular context or cultural avenue to push and been altered deliberately in places over time.
But back to the strangeness of this story in Luke 8 this week that reminds us of the very important fact that, to put it in the modern vernacular: “that was then and this is now.” For the church, the mission stays the same. Methods change with the times. We are the body of Christ in the world, and we are called to continue Christ’s ministry of healing, care, loving and compassion. But — and this thankfully, perhaps — we are not limited to following his methods. Of course we are to pray for healing, love and compassion. But we also are to take action, from the simplest acts of visiting and being with those who are suffering to vigorously supporting efforts to relieve sickness and hunger and suffering around the world. 
Jesus’ bizarre act of casting the demons into the swine reminds us of our calling to fight to overcome the world’s demons of illness and division and hunger—to stand against exploitation and war and, and, and . . . the list goes on and on.

Here’s another thought. Have you ever thought about the way Jesus communicates through parables, stories, aphorism (I’ll leave you to look that one up) and often deeply obscure riddles. An example of the last is: Many are called but few are chosen. Please note that this methodology is not pleasing to systematic thinkers, a style or way my teachers of theology tried to instil in me. If I had truly communicated as Jesus did when I was training then what I wrote would have been open to misunderstanding, false interpretations and even possibly heresy – somewhat like the teachings of Jesus really. Maybe that is why I struggled to produce the academic papers that were required by my trainers as it was more natural for me to use story, parable etc. to help communicate the person of Jesus.
In Luke there was an occasion when Jesus was addressing a crowd and what he said sounds to me like some Zen-master but very apt when we approach the things of God. In response to the crowd’s question; “when will the Kingdom of God come,” Jesus tells them that ultimate reality is not here and not there which takes away from us our typical attachment to time. The ultimate reality is within you. Don’t forget it is always now and here where God acts and we are called to leave the naked now of our desires and demons for our God.

The world is full of demons/events and behaviours that possess and oppress God’s beloved children. It is our calling to follow the Christ into the world and into the field of pain and difficulty, thus supporting and seeking to deliver our brothers and sisters from the pains and sufferings, afflictions and evil forces that keep them separated from us, from God, and from each other. Note that love and compassion used inclusively are the key.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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