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The Gift of Breath

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 21, 2018 - 1:45pm

In the Hebrew language of the Hebrew Scriptures commonly called the Old Testament, there is a wonderful word, ruach, which can be translated as breath, spirit, or wind. In Genesis 1:1, God's Spirit moves over the face of the watery chaos and brings forth life. In Ezekiel 37, God's Spirit is breathed into the valley of dry bones, and there is life. In the New Testament, the Greek word is pneuma.
Jesus says to Nicodemus, "the wind blows where it chooses" (John 3:8). In John 20, after the Resurrection, Jesus comes to the disciples and breathes on them, and says, "Receive the Holy Spirit. . .." And in Acts 2, on the day of Pentecost, there is a sound like the rush of a mighty wind, and everyone is filled with the Holy Spirit. God's Spirit dwells within us, as close to us as our next breath. To live is to breathe. One of the psalmists says, to breathe is to praise God. It is an imperative. Christians and Jewish people believe that we are created for the praise of God.
To breathe in is to receive the grace of God. To breathe out is to offer praise to God with our words and with our lives. We inhale, and we exhale. There is a natural rhythm. In the same way that music has beats and measures, our lives are measured. There is evening and morning, each day measured. There are six days of work and one day of rest, each week measured. Well in a way in today’s world this seems more of a hope than a fact. God has ordered our lives in such a way that we give and receive, work and rest, inhale and exhale. This is God's intention.

However, our human temptation is to live outside God's will for us. We do not live measured lives. We do not live ordered lives. We sometimes live hurried and chaotic lives. Yet this is not God's purpose for us. We were created to receive grace and to offer praise. But at times we forget to praise.
Many of us, even the most sophisticated among us, can become enslaved to destructive patterns of living. Years ago, I read about the experience of a group of world-class climbers who had died on Mount Everest. An interesting comment was made by one of the expert guides in that field. "Most of the people who die climbing Mount Everest," he said, "make it to the top. They die on the way down. They discover, after they have made it, that they do not have enough oxygen to get down the mountain. Or they make bad decisions, critical errors, because of the lack of oxygen." This is a parable of us.
The spiritual life is our oxygen. We may get everything we want in this life and die in the process. Lack of spiritual insight may lead us to choose things that are not really important in place of what is nearest and life-giving to us. What is God's order and design for you? This question is one sadly not thought about often even amongst Christians and other Religions. In worship that is shaped by the Scriptures we begin to understand that praise is an essential experience for God's people. We forget to give thanks for our lives sustained by our very breath. The rhythm that fires who we are and what we are as individuals.
This has a number of practical implications for us. In worship we discover an order and a design for our lives that we ignore at our peril. If our lives are cluttered or overwhelmed, we need to reorient ourselves toward God, who grants each day to us as a gift. Have you ever tried looking at each day as a gift? It’s amazing how that changes one’s perspective in the mornings. I find my grumpiness depleted and a certain joy about facing the day to come.

Also, God wants us to have times of rest, time for renewal, a time of catching our breath. What has happened to that thought. It seems to have disappeared as we have become caught up in bolting food as we rush out the door to catch the train or bus or get into our cars for the slow crawl to work in what is becoming massive car parks that slowly crawl along as our stress levels rise.
In the wholeness of creation there is the rest of God. We were created to praise God. When our hearts and minds and spirits are oriented toward God, we are not so critical of others, not so weighed down by everyday life. I wonder if we are able to stop and pray and imagine that God is speaking to us, each one of us, his beloved. Our God wants us to know that praise is as necessary to us as our next breath and when we worship our God, it is a foretaste of heaven. Add this thought: our God created us to receive and to give.
If you will breathe in and breathe out, you will discover the shape of your life. God did not create us for burnout or the pace of our lives. Our God wants to shape us, mould us, fill you, use us, breathe life into us.  Our God is delighted when we accept the gift of grace and respond with the gift of praise.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Teacher’s Achilles Heel

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 14, 2018 - 4:06am
As I prepare to go on Retreat for a few days this morning I have been looking at what our Christian may have to say about teaching especially in the letter of James. The teaching profession has always received mixed reactions and the following comments I make are at times with tongue in cheek. However, Teachers are universally revered while at the same time young people are advised not to become teachers because the salaries are low, and some even denigrate teachers. There is the “truism”: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” This same ambivalence is found in the religious world. Theological professors and teachers are often paid ridiculously low salaries and are sometimes ridiculed by their students as being “unable to minister and pastor in a parish.”

This week when James in our scripture from the Letter of James chapter 3, talks about teaching, he is not just talking to any particular group. He is reminding us that all Christians who are baptised have a responsibility for sharing the faith, teaching the faith and living the faith. When a child becomes the newest member of the body of Christ they will, as they grow learn from observing the actions of the community that is present. The newly baptised will learn from observing daily living out of the community’s faith. From those learning’s, they will mature and take their place as each one has done before them and be a light of Christ in this world.
James tells us that most people in the church should avoid teaching because religious teachers will be held to a higher standard by God. Christians are meant to be careful about everything we say and do. James warns those teachers who cannot control their tongues. He goes on to imply that it is the Achilles heel for teachers who speak erroneously. James is quick to admit that all Christians commit sins of the tongue, not only teachers. It’s an assertion that hardly ever receives any argument. James could say with Isaiah the prophet, “I am a man of unclean lips.” Nevertheless, He gives several warnings against allowing one’s tongue to go unregulated.
James likens an unbridled tongue to a ship without a rudder, or a fire that is out of control. James also suggests that there are some areas where one can control one’s tongue. Blessing and cursing should not come from the same mouth. If speaking error is a sin into which we all fall, I wonder why James singles out teachers. He seems to believe that teachers are especially vulnerable to the problem of controlling what comes from their mouth. Teachers use words more frequently than do most people and their vocation has them bear a great burden.
Students hang on to their every word as those growing up in the Church and even outside the church will hang on to the words and take in the actions you show forth in your lives. Remember how important our role is, in sharing the faith and encouraging and supporting others in their faith journey. God will hold teachers and each one of us accountable for what we have taught about our faith and how we have demonstrated that faith in our lives. For ministers and for laypeople that teach and belong in the church, this can be discouraging.
To add to this warning, James says that our words are spiritual indicators. The words that we use indicate what is in our hearts. If our words are not spiritual, then we aren’t spiritual either. This does not mean that James is advocating for a spiritualist vocabulary. On the contrary, he wants our words to be judged by their sincerity. This idea is often ignored in conversations among Christians let alone to those outside the faith. In an attempt to “be spiritual” Christians are tempted to use religious language as a means to impress others. This is the very thing James warns against.
This kind of warning resounds throughout the book of James. He is worried that Christians will say all the right things but fail to do the right things. He argues with those who talk about faith but fail to emphasise deeds that come in reaction to God’s love and grace. The proof of one’s spirituality is not only what you say, but what you do. So, this warning about what you say is important. It is a reminder that words are deeds in the sense that they can help or hurt the person who speaks them and the person who hears them.
One might be tempted to become mute in light of James’s warning concerning the dangers of sinful speech. However, that is not what he recommends.  We are encouraged not to be silent, but we are to use our words wisely. Words can be hurtful, and they can injure at a distance. But words also can be used for good or for evil. The key is in learning how to control our tongues. This means learning to think before we speak. It also means choosing words that do not offend or label. Is it difficult? Yes. Is it important? It obviously is. Look at the current action in our Parliament if you need an example of how not to do it.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Faith and Works

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 7, 2018 - 12:54pm

In his book, “John Wesley for the 21st Century,” John Gooch writes: “All the understandings of “perfect” above have nothing to do with what Wesley meant by perfection. They are “perfectionism's,” the kind of dreams that drive advertising. We’re not going to get that “perfect” body by trying fad diets or achieve complete happiness because we drive a particular kind of car. They are “legalisms,” pushing the idea that if I just try hard enough, I can be perfect.”
Wesley seemed to be following some of the thoughts expounded from our scripture this week which comes from the Letter to James.  He used the words “perfection,” “holiness,” and “sanctification” interchangeably. To him, holiness was not so much an impossible goal to be striving for, but a way of life. In some ways, holiness means, “How we who profess to be Christian live as a Christian in a world where it’s often hard to do that?” In both the early church and in Wesley’s writings, being perfect meant being complete, whole, becoming everything God has put within us to become. This helpful and valid reasoning has come to the surface throughout our Christian History. What it means to me and in some ways to others is that perfection is different for each one of us, because each of us has different gifts and for each of us being complete and whole looks different.
But let’s get back to the idea of riches and how a Christian faces this issue. We are sometimes partial to the rich because we mistakenly assume that riches are a sign of God’s blessing and approval. But God does not promise earthly rewards or riches; in fact, Christ calls us to be ready to suffer for him and give up everything in order to hold on to eternal life. For that means I am to be unattached to the things of this world. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t have things of this world for my well-being, it means that I need to view them as gifts for which I am called to use wisely and be a wise steward of.

God does love us and accept us “just as we are.” God does not expect us to measure up to some impossible standard of “righteousness” before God loves us. Maybe if we hold on to the thought that we will have untold riches in eternity if we are faithful in our present life will help us on our journey of faith. Holiness also means we practice doing good works. If spiritual disciplines help us practice our love for God, doing good works help us practice our love for neighbour. We may begin serving meals at the homeless shelter out of a sense of obligation, but if we keep “practicing,” we reach the point where we see homeless persons as children of God and find joy in our relationship with them.
Some further thoughts on James 2:1-17 follow which gives us all food for thought in this age of growing greed, personal gratification for its sake and an extreme individualism. In verse 14 of James 2 it says; “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? A primary test of faith is our attitude toward God’s and the way we are able to listen to his Word and living that in our everyday lives. “Be you doers of the word, and not hearers only.” A person might look at his face in a mirror and see that his face is dirty but do nothing about it.

A second test concerns our attitude toward people and God’s creation. Apparently in those days there was a tendency to focus more attention on the wealthy than the poor. James says we are to have the same respect for all. Every person is an immortal soul and his life is sacred to God. Another test focuses upon our work. “Faith without works is dead.” We are saved by grace, but we express our gratitude by willingly working for our Lord. A most sensitive test is in the manner of our speech. James talks about the power of the tongue. The same mouth ought not to curse God and then try to praise God.
Think about the way in which you live out your Christian life. Do your words and actions inspire others to seek the Lord? If not, what would you have to change for this to happen?  Remember that every day there comes the challenge of the command: Let your light so shine that others may see your good works and glorify -- not you, but --- your loving parent, your God who is in heaven.
That is really the test of a Christian life, whether it does or does not, glorify our God.  If it does then there will shine out of our lives a great radiance, if only the wick of our life is illuminated by the light of Jesus. Then we shall be people who will bring light wherever we go, the light of love, of tender courtesy, of peace.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Living Faithfully

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 31, 2018 - 1:32pm

In this week’s Gospel from Mark 7 we hear of the Pharisees, who in their zeal for Judaism had turned their religion from a means into an end, from an affair of the heart to an outward form of external observance. Jesus was frustrated with the Pharisees, but I don't think he held them in the same contempt that many of us do today. Among the Jews of Jesus time, the Pharisees were the most faithful. Their religious system was designed to release the worship of the true God from the confines of the Temple and make it more accessible to all people in their daily lives.
They wanted to fulfil a prophecy of Jeremiah and that prophecy was a high ideal. I might add, they did their best to fulfil it. So, with the best of intentions, they applied the law to every aspect of life, and most of all, they were scrupulous about honouring the food which they received from God. God had brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey, and they gratefully took to heart what the Lord commanded them to do in return.
They believed in giving heed to the statutes and ordinances that God taught them to observe, so that they would live well in the land that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, had given them. They believed, you must neither add anything to what I command nor take anything away from it but keep the commandments of the Lord your God. They had accepted the call to observe the commandments diligently, for this would show wisdom and discernment to the peoples. It was believed that, when they heard all the statutes, people would say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!"
But something went terribly wrong. They were not respected as a wise and discerning people. They were treated with contempt, and they suffered under the yoke of Roman oppression. Jesus told them that were not fulfilling Jeremiah's prophecy, but Isaiah's. "These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines." When we talk about the Pharisees' problem we do so by making a distinction between law and gospel.
Many Christians believe we are saved by hearing and believing the good news of Jesus Christ. This is a false distinction. The Law and religion are good gifts from God, and both Paul and Jesus affirm that. But like all of God's good gifts they are subject to use or abuse, and they are abused when they're not practiced in the context of love. This is the most important point about the good news that Jesus bought. The good news is that our God is a God of love.
The trouble for the Pharisees was that they used the law to set themselves apart as better than other people and not to depend upon God. The name "Pharisees" means "separated ones." Perhaps the contempt they'd experienced from others led them to be contemptuous in return. The Pharisees had strict hygiene and dietary rules, particularly when it came to what they ate and what was washed. It sounds like today's Christian believers ending up in hell for eating meat with their salad fork.
Yet, if we are seeking to discover a true religion we need to be honest and admit that no matter how hard we try we can't get it right. If we miss the mark often enough, we may fear that we are headed for a bad end. In despair, we may seek reassurance in comparing ourselves to others. That's very thin ice because we can only compare our insides and their outsides.
In that case, the best we can hope for is a dull and formal religion in which we become like Anthony Trollope's Miss Thorne, whose "virtues were too numerous to describe, and not sufficiently interesting to deserve description." Perhaps it's time to think about renewing our covenant with God and setting aside some time to meditate on ways that we can be a more faithful and obedient Christians.
The law and the rules are a gift from God, but they are not meant as an end in themselves. They can be, however, instruments for expressing your love for God. That is the first commandment. Love God with everything you've got. There is, however, another gift, as important as the law, which shapes inward obedience the way the law shapes outward obedience. For the covenant you make is not just a covenant with God; it is also a covenant with God's people.
God has given us a precious gift to help us keep the commandments in love. That gift is the people in your life that you really cannot stand. Without them you cannot truly learn to love God. Let us pray that we may have the humility to forgive them as we have been forgiven and to love them as Jesus has loved us. That is the way of the true religion for which we have prayed.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Thin Places

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 24, 2018 - 1:16pm

The Da Vinci Code created a surge of renewed interest in Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel. Psychics and paranormal researchers have long regarded Rosslyn as a “thin place,” where the natural and supernatural are said to overlap. It is seen as a place where the line between this world and other worlds is seen to be very thin. Some have suggested that Rosslyn Chapel was purposely constructed over a natural energy field to serve as a point of contact with aliens. There is a rumour that the remains of a crashed UFO are housed in a vault beneath the chapel.
I do not know what to believe except that people are drawn to thin places—to places where they can sense the supernatural. That is what Solomon’s temple was intended to be. Ironically, that is what a Christian church is supposed to be. People need for churches to be thin places where they can come and feel the presence of God. Maybe that is why it is so disheartening to come to church hoping to encounter a living God and find only a dead congregation in a lifeless worship service. A church can be an awfully thick place.
We’ve all heard people who love nature say they feel closer to God in the mountains than in church. Maybe they are just making excuses or cannot endure sound doctrine. Or maybe, just maybe, they are speaking from honest experience. Maybe they have gotten really tired of visiting God’s house when God is obviously not at home. There were lots of houses for lots of gods in the ancient world. The thing that made Solomon’s temple different was that on the day they dedicated this house of God, God actually showed up and moved in.
The cloud was God’s way of letting people know his presence. “When the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house . . . for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.” It hovered over Mount Sinai when Moses met with God. It led the children of Israel through the wilderness and later on it enveloped Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration.  The people could not actually see God, but at least they could see where God was. The cloud let them know they were in a very thin place.
This thinness really had nothing to do with natural energy fields or UFOs in the basement. It was simply that God was in the place. And whenever God is in a place then things get really thin. The concept of thin places need not conflict with the doctrine that God is in every place.  Solomon knew that no human-made structure could house God, but he felt divinely compelled to build a dwelling place for God. It was not that God needed a place like that. It was that God’s people needed a place like that. Solomon understood that the “heaven and the highest heaven” could not contain God. In all of space there is not a single spot where God is not. This is difficult for adults and children to comprehend.
A little boy once asked his Sunday school teacher, “Where is God?” “God is everywhere,” she replied. “Is God in my inkwell?” “Uh, yes,” answered the teacher, “I suppose so.” “Then I got him!” replied the boy as he clamped his hand over the top. Is God in the inkwell? Where is God? Really, I suppose God is in all. Yet, there are specific places where God’s presence is made known - places where God seems to be at home. A church is meant to be one of those places. There are some churches where God’s presence is so strong you can feel it. There are other churches where God’s presence is seemingly absent. You can feel that, too.
If there is such a thing as the presence of God in a church, there is also such a thing as the absence of God in a church. The sad thing is that religious activity can go on with or without God’s involvement. Religious activity is a sad substitute for a genuine experience with God. It’s as if we almost have the power to generate such an experience—as if our churches are without power simply because we have neglected to flip some spiritual breaker. But it is not as though we can coerce God into coming through assertive invocations. Neither can we conjure up God’s presence with emotional hype. We can no more control God’s movement than a farmer can control weather patterns.
There is apparently something about an earnest desire for God that attracts God. I guess even God likes to feel wanted. David wanted to experience God’s presence so much that his soul panted like a deer for the water. Solomon wanted it so much that he spent seven and a half years preparing a dwelling place for God. All the preparation and desire paid off the day the cloud of the Lord came and filled the house of the Lord. God moved in and made himself at home among his people. Heaven and Earth overlapped a little. All God’s people knew they were in a mighty thin place.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Food for the Senseless

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 17, 2018 - 4:14am

My blog is appearing a bit earlier than usual as having some time away. I was thinking about the readings from scripture that have been running over the last weeks has had a bit to do with food. After talking about the simple squashed sandwich last week, I was reminded that in the Eucharist, as in Baptism, simple elements reveal to us important truths about things deeply important to life. The Christian life has meaning as a life that is lived together in community. So, rituals and symbols remind us of things that are important. This is what the bread and wine, and water and oil, seek to express. That life is ours. Life by its very nature is plural. Life is lived together with one another.
So, life is lived together and for Christians, together with Christ. He dwells in us, and we in him. From the very moment we are baptised, such life is ours. Renewed and reawakened each time we take the bread, eat it, and say, "Amen."  Renewed and reawakened each time we look into the chalice and say, "Yes, I will share this cup with others as they share it with me. I will share this cup just as Christ shares his very life with me."
I am reminded of this through the following story. I’m not sure if it is true or apocryphal. A man came in off the streets obviously homeless, and just as obviously "different" than most everyone else present at that lunchtime Communion Service. It was just as the clergy were offering communion to the people. He came skipping down a long and glorious centre aisle, footloose and care free. Right up to the front of the church he skipped, stopping just in front of the Sanctuary party standing at the centre, one with bread and one with wine. He asked, quite plainly, "Is that there the body of our Lord Jesus Christ?" "Yes," answered the celebrant. "And is that there his blood?" "Yes," said the celebrant once again.
"Well then, I guess I will have me some of that!" exclaimed the man. And after eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ, he skipped up the aisle and out the door filled to overflowing with what Jesus calls life. Then, in the familiar and customary fashion, everyone else said their own "yes" to share the cup with each other, with Christ, and with this most extraordinary Eucharist guest! Life lived sharing the common cup!
It had to be that way for Jesus' disciples the night before he died. Something they had done together every day with this man, breaking the bread and sharing the wine, suddenly and quite unexpectedly became a new and extraordinary experience. It was surprising when he said, "This is my body. This is my blood. Whoever eats this bread will live forever!" Suddenly table fellowship took on a whole new meaning.
Although we will never really know what happened that night, we do know it was as surprising and new, just like the homeless stranger who skipped into Church one day, extending the community of one flesh and one body in an entirely new way. We come to the table regularly, not finding it easy to come to it as something new and renewing and reawakening. Over time we tend to come, thinking: we know what this is; we know what this means. We come, we go. And life remains fundamentally the same as when we arrived.  But, God says to us, whoever is simple, let them turn in here!
We are to arrive in simplicity and check our bags at the door. Let go of what we "think" this is all about, and experience Eucharist as if for the very first time every time. Be open to whatever surprises our God has in store. The minute we think we "know" we are in trouble.  All my stale and old understandings are washed away. I want to preserve this moment and to hold onto this new insight into kingdom living. And then if I am lucky, I realise I am already creating new baggage to carry in the next time I come to this table.
Bread is not a mere commodity; things are not mere bits of matter. We can learn something of this from Jesus Christ, the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. When we allow ourselves to come to the table, in simplicity and awe, we find an abundance of life that can be experienced in no other way, at no other time, in no other place. It is food for life.  A life lived together in the body of Christ. It is a surprising new life. Life made new.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Squashed Sandwich.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 10, 2018 - 12:54pm

Food in the summer can be especially delightful. Probably not something we are thinking about now in the middle of Winter. However, what I am thinking about is a time when I was in my home town growing up and living with its seasons. If you live in the country or have a garden in your yard, in such a place the ripeness of the summer crop enriches all the senses; nothing can be more wonderful than a sun-warmed tomato off the vine or plump berries picked from lush bushes. The 30 plus Tomato plants of my fathers each summer bought the most tasty and wonderful fruit - ah the memories. Even city dwellers can get fresh food from farmers' markets: sweet corn picked early that morning from a farmer's field could be on your table for lunch.
In the summer, you can be out-of-doors more, which makes the nature images in scripture that much more alive to you. Many go on long hikes up mountains that did not seem so steep on the map? Hungrier and hungrier, achier and achier, concerned that the sky will never break through the trees, the hiker longs for the assurance we read in Deuteronomy: "The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these 40 years," or in my case 60 plus years. Nevertheless, by following the path -- "walking in [God's] ways and by fearing him" -- the trail begins to level out. The summit -- and your picnic spot -- approaches and you see a vista more marvellous than you could have imagined down there at the trail beginning.
You are tired and relieved when you get there. You are exhilarated and awestruck by where God has led you and what you see unfolding in front of you. For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing.
There are other summer images of abundance: I think of children dancing in the spray of water at a pool, or the ice cream truck that drives through the neighbourhood right up to your door and has just what you want. Think of free concerts in city parks. Think of the smell of bread right out of the oven, standing on the sidewalk outside a bakery. Images like those would be the ones used if the Bible were written today about places where there were four seasons: images of abundance and grace, ordinary, simple and ever available.
Jesus' words about the bread of life rang true with his hearers. The image reminded them of the ancient prophets who used the "bread of life" to mean the word, the wisdom, that comes from God to humanity. Those who long for the knowledge and love of the Lord will find it in abundance and simplicity. It is no mistake that words everyone understands -- bread, water -- are used to tell us what the wisdom of God is like.
Climb that mountain and nothing tastes sweeter than the simple Vegemite and cheese or pickle and ham or tomato sandwich you packed that morning, the one that got a little squashed in your backpack. No vintage wine could be better than flowing water from the mountain stream. Walk down that sidewalk on a hot day and find refreshment that no king could equal by plunging into the cold water of the city pool.
Jesus uses those old images of the messianic banquet, the abundance of the fruits of wisdom, to say this to his hearers: the banquet is here now. You no longer have to wait. Be kind, tenderhearted, forgiving, follow the love God has showed you by loving those around you. We are called to pattern our relationships on the relationship God has with us, exemplified by the love Christ showed to us in his offering and sacrifice.
If you ever get the chance, enjoy the summer. I suppose we could say for us here that we should enjoy the winter. It is our text for these months, showing us the abundance of God's unfailing love, the extreme depth and abundance of the bread of life and the living water Christ offers us. Out of that abundance, we are called to respond in love. Have another sandwich. Take another drink from the stream. Get another ice cream. There is more than enough to go around.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Bread That Endures

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 3, 2018 - 12:52pm

I enjoyed the following old Japanese story - a fable actually - about Tasuku - a stone-cutter. Tasuku was a poor man who cut blocks of stone from the foot of a mountain.  One day he saw a well-dressed prince parade by. Tasuku envied the prince and wished that he could have that kind of wealth. The Great Spirit heard Tasuku, and he was made a prince.
Tasuku was happy with his silk clothes and his powerful armies until he saw the sun wilt the flowers in his royal garden.  He wished for such power as the sun had, and his wish was granted. He became the sun, with power to parch fields and humble people with thirst. Tasuku was happy to be the sun until a cloud covered him and obscured his powerful heat.  With that, he had another wish, and the Spirit complied.
Thereafter Tasuku was a cloud with the power to ravage the land with floods and storms. Tasuku was happy until he saw the mountain remain in spite of his storm. So Tasuku demanded to be the mountain. The Spirit obeyed. Tasuku became the mountain and was more powerful than the prince, the sun, or the cloud. And he was happy until he felt a chisel chipping at his feet.  It was a stone-cutter working away – cutting blocks to sell to make his daily living.
How many of you know people who seem to be driven - unable to relax - unable to find satisfaction for more than a few moments at a time? There are people, a majority actually, who are constantly seeking something - they work, or they play, they build, or they drink, they join clubs and societies or they party, hoping to find in these activities some form of peace, some form of inner quiet, some form of satisfaction. - Yet, despite all they do, they continue to hunger and thirst. What are you looking for? What will make you happy? What will set your soul at rest?
As an aside, I have often wondered why men in general find these questions so hard to look deeply into. Why do men find it so hard to find some form of inner peace and quiet? Sadly, within Christianity one of the reasons I believe has to do with those denominations who pursue what Matthew Fox calls an “original sin ideology,” which seems to make men doubt their beauty and right to be here. These exclusivist and power orientated denominations seem to have this strange teaching about God as a punitive Father, which creates a toxic, punitive role model. These denominations also persist on a view of the Atonement called the penal substitutionary model that espouses an image of an angry vindictive God. No wonder our society is struggling to find inclusive cohesion.
Well back to Tasuku - he never found out - even though all his wishes were granted by the Great Spirit.  Nor - it seems did the people of Israelafter they were led by God out of bondage in Egypt. They demanded water at Marah, - and what was once bitter was made sweet. They demanded bread and meat in the wilderness of Sin, complaining to Moses and Aaron that God had brought them out of the security of their bondage in Egypt only to kill them. To kill them with hunger, - and manna was provided - and meat - enough each day for each day. Yet within a few days, the people were complaining again to Moses and Aaron, complaining that God was trying to kill them, and their children and their livestock.
What were they looking for? They prayed, and God answered them. What would have made them happy? They complained, and God responded. What would have set their souls at rest? Their wishes were granted - yet they still were unsatisfied. What is it that you desire? Is it that which will allow you to "let go or is it that which will allow you to trust or even that which help you to face life with all its uncertainties? Or do you seek that which will only lead you to want more or to want something different? Do you seek the things of God or the things of this world?
When Jesus fed the crowd, all ate, and all were filled - all had as much as they wanted.  And they hailed Jesus as the prophet who was to come into the world.  And they sought to make him king:   - for they realized that he could satisfy their hunger,   - that he could free them from Roman control,   - that he could put their nation on easy street.
Yet Jesus was not flattered by their interest in him when they sought him out after he crossed the sea. He knew what would last, what has the ability to truly satisfy, and what - by its very nature - is only temporary and passing, quick to wither and fade. "Very truly, I tell you", said Jesus, "You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life - which the Son of Man will give you."

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 29 July 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 29, 2018 - 8:11am


Today Lynette led our service, using the theme of gifts and talents to show us how we can serve God and build the Kingdom.
 
Lynette supported her reflections with a relevant and inspiring selection of hymns:
 
TIS 152“Joyful, joyful, we adore you”. This hymn became very important when we thought about Lyn’s words later in the service, exhorting us to look to the Spirit to uphold us and guide us.
TIS 429“Break now the bread of life, dear Lord to me.” Referring to the story of the loaves and fishes and Jesus’ ability to use any offering of ours to do so much good.
TIS 619 “Have faith in God, my heart” Good advice at any time. We need God’s support in this hard world.
TIS 675“Lord, the light of your love is shining.” That's the thing that will lift us up at any time.
TIS 779 “May the feet of God walk with you.” How could we offer each other anything more?
 
To begin her message to us, Lyn showed a DVD and spoke to the kids about the story of the loaves and fishes. Using examples from the kids’ lives, she told the power of sharing and the good it brings.
 
Lyn continued this theme in the reflection for adults, stressing that we all have some giftor resource that we can use to show God’s love to the world.

 
An example Lyn gave was of a woman who did not have much by way of this world’s goods but who, after thought, came up with many ways of showing love to others.
 
She realised that she had a car and could transport people who needed to be taken somewhere and who had no way of getting there by themselves.
 
She knew that while her house was not “flash” it was a place where she could provide hospitality either through providing accommodation or for a shorter time offering others a meal or afternoon tea.
 
Lyn pointed out that even if we have no material resources, we can always listenso that a friend with difficulties can know that they are heard and not just alone in this giant sea of humanity to which we belong.
 
Picking up a tea towelis often a way to relieve the pressure off someone, reducing the chaos in their lives a little, as is picking up a pen to write a nice card or note to a person we know to be having a difficult time. Emails are fine for exchanging information, but there’s nothing like holding a card and being able to look at it across the room to lift the spirit of someone who feels alone in the dark times.
 
Lyn gave more examples of ways we can reach out to people who need to be touched by God’s love. When a person is suffering in some way it is like a miracle for them when someone steps in and solves the problem or at least part of the problem.
 
Then there is prayer. When we can't see anything that we can do ourselves we should do the same as Jesus did and turn to God in prayer.
 
With this Lyn moved into the next part of the reading about the disciples out at sea in the storm but as soon as they looked up and saw Jesus, they were transported to the shore. The message: keep our focus on Jesus. He will carry us through in love, whatever the circumstances.
 
And then the other way to find the way to be God’s hands in this world: scripture.
As we read, the Spirit will speak to us and guide us and we will be given the Grace to proceed.
 
Thank you, Lyn.
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Where Do Miracles Come From?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 27, 2018 - 1:59pm

There is a contrast between the two apostle’s Andrew and Philip, that Jesus chose to accompany him and continue his ministry. Philip was the man who said: “The situation is hopeless; there is nothing to be done.” Andrew was the man who said: “I’ll see what I can do; (and after his experiences with God through Jesus) I’ll trust that through Jesus Christ God will do the rest. It was Andrew who bought the lad to Jesus, and by bringing him, made the miracle possible that we find written in John 6. If you like it, we could say Andrew enabled the event to take place. No one ever knows what will happen and what will come out of it when we bring someone or something to Jesus.
If a parent trains their child in the knowledge of God and in the love and fear/awe of God, no one knows what mighty things that child might someday do for God and humankind. There is a story of an old German school master who, when he entered his class of boys in the morning, used to remove his cap and bow ceremoniously to them. He was asked why he did this. His answer was: You never know what one of these boys may someday become. He was right – because one of these boys was named Martin Luther. This man was the man who encouraged the Church to re look at its direction and its relationship with God.
Andrew did not know what he was doing when he brought that lad to Jesus on that day. Today, we know that he was providing the material for a miracle. How often are we in the same position? How often do we have the opportunity to enable a miracle to take place? Do we instead miss those opportunities? We never know and may never know until we meet our God face to face. I sometimes wonder what if I have missed being there for Jesus but then remember that our God always provides us with new opportunities.

Those gathered around Jesus and his disciples did not have much to offer but out of what he had Jesus found were the materials for a miracle. It does not matter whether we accept the food multiplied literally or whether it encouraged all those gathered to share what they had. There would have been one great and shining deed fewer in history if that boy had withheld his loaves and fishes. The fact is that Jesus needs what we can bring to him. God needs all that we are. God needs our ears, our eyes, our voice and our heart and soul for his work here on earth  We may not believe we have much to bring but our God needs what we have. We may not believe we are worthy, but our God needs who we are for the sharing of his good news of love. It may well be that the world is denied miracle after miracle and triumph after triumph because we will not bring to Christ what we have and what we are.
If, we were happy to put ourselves out in service and in the service of Jesus Christ, there is no saying what Christ could do with us and through us. Scary isn’t it. It makes me reflect on whether I have the trust in God to open myself to such a way of life. Yet, it is important for us to strive for this as we go on our journey in faith and love.
In the Franciscan tradition of the Third Order we have a part in our Principles that talks about humility and says: The faults that we see in others are the subject of prayer rather than of criticism. We take care to cast out the beam from our own eye before offering to remove the speck from another’s. We are to be ready to accept the lowest place when asked, and to volunteer to take it. Nevertheless, when asked to undertake work of which we feel unworthy, or incapable we do not shrink from it on the grounds of humility, but confidently attempt it through the power that is made perfect in weakness.
There is another that tells us that joy is a divine gift, coming from union with God in Christ. It is still there even in times of darkness and difficulty, giving cheerful courage in the face of disappointment, and an inward serenity and confidence through sickness and suffering. Those who possess it can rejoice in weakness, insults, hardships and persecution for Christ’s sake; for when we are weak, then we are strong. But I digress a bit.
Andrew bought people and in this case the lad to a point of decision and from that decision a miracle was able to take place. Are we ready to be involved? Are we ready to be God’s tools for love here on our earth? We may be sorry and embarrassed that we have little to bring and might think ourselves unworthy. Maybe that is rightly so, but that is no reason for failing or refusing to bring what we have and what we are to our God. Little is always much in the hands of Christ.




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A Life of Compassion.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 20, 2018 - 1:10pm

Have you ever moved to a new city? There are many things one can observe that takes the gloss of the initial joy of the decision to move. In many towns or cities, today we will see many homeless and come across many forms of begging. Perhaps it is a sign of the changing economy or maybe just the differences in geography, but these people disturb us both by their behaviour and their look. So, what is our response?
Seeing such things hopefully challenges us. Do we decide to do mission and raise money with garage sales, bags of food or other supplies or do we even raise money and give it to them? If we have children, I wonder how they would react or become involved. Maybe we would search those in need out and give them what we have put together.  In such an exercise are we able to, through the act of giving, experience the beauty of childlike compassion. I ask this question because as adults, our compassion is often hampered by judgment and cynicism. Have you ever watched children exercise a strong desire to help the hurting, even if it meant going out of their way?
As I thought about this I thought it might be a similar kind of compassion we find in Christ. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus' compassion is everywhere. He is constantly healing and helping. Mark 6 gives us excellent examples of Jesus' love and compassion even as he himself is exhausted and in need of rest. In the chapter we hear that he has called twelve disciples, calmed a storm and attracted large crowds wherever he travelled. Jesus has even returned to his hometown only to realise that those who knew him best are not going to receive him.
As verse 30 begins, Jesus and his disciples reunite to talk about all that has transpired, including presumably the death of John the Baptist. As they attempt to get away to a solitary place to eat and talk, a large crowd finds them. Although Jesus is probably in dire need of a retreat to process all that is going on with his disciples, he feels compassion for the crowd and teaches them, eventually performing one of his greatest miracles by enabling the feeding of more than 5,000 people.
Following the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus again attempts to retreat, sending the disciples ahead to Bethsaida so that he can be alone and pray. He joins them later by walking on water to their boat, an act that totally amazes the disciples even after all they have seen. When they arrive at the other side of the lake and anchor their boat, they are again encountered by people seeking Jesus for healing, which even in his exhaustion, he does. I believe that we can learn three great lessons in this passage.
First of all, ministry is tiring. Obviously, the pace of ministry that Jesus kept is not something that we will ever experience in our lives. Whatever the pace, however, following God's call for your life and serving with all your heart takes a lot of energy. Even Jesus was tired sometimes and needed to be recharged. Often in our lives, we allow ourselves to be discouraged by our exhaustion. Instead of taking the chance to recharge ourselves physically and spiritually, we often just continue to attempt service with depleted energies or just give up altogether.
The second lesson we learn from this passage is about the depth of Jesus’ compassion. Even in spiritual and physical exhaustion, Jesus was moved to help those he encountered. He was so moved by their desperation that he stayed and taught and even fed them. In our lives, we rarely allow compassion to move us to that degree. Most of us, seem to find ways of successfully compartmentalising our ability and our willingness to help to the times that we believe we are ready and willing.  Jesus' compassion for the crowd motivated him to stay and be with them, even when the timing wasn't right. Our compassion it would seem to me needs to lead us. However, we must have times of rest from our labours, but we must not use that as an excuse to turn away from those in need.
There's one more thing we can learn from this passage. It's easy to read this story and wish that in our suffering we could see Jesus as the people during his life on earth did. The great news is that the compassion Jesus displayed for people during his life on earth is the same compassion he has for us. Just as he did for the crowds, Jesus cannot stand to encounter our suffering without helping. Whatever our situation, whether we are going through a temporary struggle or something more serious, like illness or poverty, like many of those we encounter by the side of the road, Jesus is moved by compassion for us. Jesus is there for us just as Jesus was there for the people in Mark 6. That love and compassion you show by not ignoring the needs of others is so important.


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Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 15 July 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 16, 2018 - 9:46am



 
This week the reading I focused on was from Ephesians 1: 3-14 where Paul was trying to assure the gentile community of their place in the Kingdom.
He tells the people there that God has called them from before the beginning of time, despite what anyone else may have been saying to them.
Much has been made of these verses over the years and there has been discussion about how it clashes with the notion of free will. Further, if some are predestined to belong, the corollary is that some are predestined not to belong which is at odds with all that Jesus preached.
So, my interpretation is that in an effort to cement in the minds of the Ephesians that they were valid members of the kingdom in a way which could not be undermined later, Paul used extreme language to make his point.
Of course, some people have not accepted the invitation to be redeemed, which is clear, because of all the evil in the world.
I added to this by making the point that we should be very careful about judging others because some so-called “sins” we see in them or suffer guilt about ourselves could simply be breaks in cultural norms.

Therefore our assumption should always be that others are children of God, whether they know it or not.
And whether a person has accepted the redemption offered or not, our task is to continue showing them the love of God.
As an application of this, I shared details about the work done by our local Christian Community Aid. It should be noted that most of the people helped by CCA are people who are isolated for one reason or other and more than anything need gathering into the community.
The message was timely because on the previous day our National Assembly released the decision made about whether the Uniting Church in Australia would marry same-gender couples.
A decision was carried by more than two-thirds majority was:
“that the most profitable way forward was to offer two different definitions of marriage, essentially one between ‘a man and a woman’ and the other between ‘two people.’” and then that both ministers and church councils should decide separately as to whether they could, in good conscience marry or not marry same-gender couples.
It was noted that for some this was a more radical change than they were comfortable with, while for others it did not go far enough.
The implication is that there are now people in the Uniting Church in Australia who are grieving over this matter. Our prayer is that they will find a way to experience solidarity with those who are in favour of the change as they find previously.
Division was never sought. Those seeking change wanted it in the name of offering people of any sexual orientation the same gift of marriage as heterosexual people enjoyed.
However, as in any disagreement, our concern for each other can hold us together. One of our ministers wrote most eloquently:
 
The Uniting Church has a courageous heritage. This Assembly has seen us live this out in a range of bold, wonderful, and painful decisions. We are all God’s people, so may we now focus on what unites us and be about God’s business - reconciliation and renewal.
 
To that I can only say AMEN! v
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'This Man is Disarmed and Dangerous.'

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 13, 2018 - 11:11pm

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. When Herod heard of Jesus and his works, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised."
In the early 1920s, Gandhi and India's National Congress Party began moving more and more towards civil disobedience as a political strategy to achieve independence from British colonial rule. In spite of violent setbacks to the cause and regular clashes with British authorities, which frequently landed him in jail, the founder of modern India never gave up his vision as he continued to walk his way throughout the country preaching the gospel of non-violent resistance.
As he did so, his reputation began to spread such that both Hindu and Muslim villagers would come from long distances on foot, with their bedding on their heads and shoulders, on bullock carts, and on horseback just to catch a glimpse of him. Never before, it seemed, had any political or perhaps religious leader, while still alive stirred the masses to their very depths throughout the country and received the homage of so many people.
Even the civil authorities had to sit up and take notice. Although they resented deeply what Gandhi was attempting to do, they could also not help but admire what he had come to represent. Eventually, the sceptical British Governor of Madras, who lost no love on Gandhi, was forced to declare that British Home Rule was now dealing with an entirely new political phenomenon. And this new phenomenon would bring fear because that this love is the kind of threat that the rulers of this world fear most.
In our reading from scripture Mark 6 this week we are taken into the world of Real Politick. Jesus has just finished giving instructions to his disciples about how they are to embody God's love in the world. Expect opposition and trouble, he tells them, but the only thing you need to take with you is the gospel and a confident faith. And then, Mark, as if to "slam dunk" his point reminds us of the story of John the Baptist; and he does it in a very deliberate way. He does it by reminding us of the fear of King Herod who is not the Herod the Great from the birth story, but his son who was called Herod Antipas.
Herod was despised both by his Roman masters and his Jewish subjects. He was the kind of ruler who thumbed his nose at Israel's religious laws. The particular political controversy that really stuck in John the Baptist's craw was Herod's marriage to Herodias and John publicly accused them of "living in sin".  Apparently, Herod feared John almost as much as he feared his wife. He knew John’s popularity and at least in prison he could keep an eye on him, as well as keep the peace in his own house.
The portrait painted of Herod is of a man who is transfixed with the very thing he fears and despises. Unfortunately, this fascination was not enough to convince him to change his life.  Although Herod apparently didn't know Jesus, he knew that something equally as powerful as John was stirring out there among the people. This reading is not just to remind us of the dangers of preaching the truth. It is to remind us of the delusions of the powerful.
What people then and today would have had doubts about was the effectiveness of truth-telling. Just listen to our politicians and those who lead our huge business’s.  Truth-telling is something they don’t seem to understand or be able to do. Would following Jesus and speaking the truth to loveless power ever make any difference in the end? Mark reminds us that even defenceless, unarmed, decapitated, dead men, like John the Baptist, come back to haunt the powerful of this world. They do, and recent Royal Commissions in Australia show us this.

One of the things that kept such moral and religious giants like Gandhi going in the face of such overwhelming odds was the profound conviction not just that love would eventually conquer, but that evil would defeat itself.  "When I despair," he said, "I remember that throughout history tyrants and dictators have always failed in the end. Think of it. Christians are part of what the prophets called a "saving remnant", that is to say, those who are called and do cast our lots with the courageous victims of this world.
If we then only do so, from the point of view of human survival, it seems that this is something better to do than allow wrong. The very nature of the predators of this world that must, by force, disturb the balance of nature in order to survive, eventually becomes too big to survive. They fall on account of their own monstrous weight. Resurrection, therefore, belongs to those who want it badly enough. So, does extinction.

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 8 July 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 12, 2018 - 10:45pm



This was a service which I led myself and there were two themes but the one I wish to focus on in my reflection is the issue of pride and our need for status and recognition. The reading came from Corinthians and face the account of Paul speaking about his vision.
Paul isn't known for his meekness and as a Pharisee he proudly persecuted the people who followed the teachings of Jesus.
He was so sure that he was doing the work of God in ridding the place of these people who were polluting the Jewish people.
God brought him undone and through a vision that was at the same time a revelation, God blasted Paul with the truth. I think we are all familiar with the account.
Paul could have acted with great pride and  started telling people of his exalted status in God’s kingdom in being given such a vision but he says that he was given a thorn in the flesh to remind him of his lowly status, so he isn't going to boast about being given such an experience but that he will boast in the exceptional character of the revelation.
I should say at this point that I don't believe that God ever does bad things to any of creation. However, there are consequences, so, for example, if Paul fell down and injured himself around the time of having that vision, I can see how he would attribute that to God’s action. There are many possibilities.
It would appear that this “thorn” is quite debilitating to the point that Paul asked God to take it from him no less than three times. But Paul tells us that instead of doing that God let him know that His grace was sufficient to carry Paul through any suffering caused by the affliction and still do God's work effectively.
We really want people around us to see us in our successes but the times that I have thought the most highly of people is when I have witnessed them struggling with some difficulty and clearly calling on God’s grace to get them through.
We visited one of our very elderly friends and despite having to lean on every piece of furniture on her way around her house, she insisted on providing afternoon tea.
The cups clattered onto the saucers from her unsteady hands and the water didn't quite all make it into the cups but she did it all with a smile you couldn't beat, all the while saying how pleased she was that we were there.
Her wounds were always getting better. She didn't fall over, just lost her balance for a bit. And as far a she was concerned everyone did everything so well…it was all so lovely!
My 94 year old brother-in-law is another one…he is always doing what he can for the old people. Until quite recently he would cook rice puddings and deliver them to “the old people” who were probably younger than he is.
These are angels walking the earth.
What would the world be like if we could all be like them!
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When I Am Weak, Then I Am Strong.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 6, 2018 - 12:49pm

In the reading from the gospel of set for this week from Mark 6 we have the story of Jesus's rejection in his own town is a classic one - it is a story that most of us can identify with because it is a story that has happened to most of us. Often our families, our childhood companions, our husbands, or our wives, fail to listen to the wisdom and accept the words of grace and love and encouragement we offer - because they are too familiar with us. The people of our home town know us too well, and therefore they simply cannot accept, at times anyway.
Maybe we were that the boy who used to leave his dirty socks sitting on the kitchen table, or the girl who used to skip school and go hanging around the mallcan be for them God's appointed instrument. However how can we be the agent of God's healing and saving grace or how can they be that for us. I wonder if that is partly for this reason that the royal family of England strives very hard to prevent too much detail about the private lives of the royals from becoming public. I wonder if they fear that the more that is known about them, the less effective they will be able to be as the representatives of the nations of theCommonwealth.
Queen Elizabeth calls the royal quest for privacy "not letting too muchsunlight into the magic". Consider the grumbling of the people in Jesus' home town when he spoke to them: "what is this wisdom that has been given him, that he even does miracles!  Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon?  Aren't his sisters here with us?" And the scriptures go on to say that they took offense at him, and that as result Jesus was not able to do any miracles there, expect lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.
Yes, Jesus was rejected by his own and all because his own thought that they knew him, and it is often for the same reason that we are rejected, - too much sunlight has been let into the magic. But there is more to this story of rejection,for the story of Jesus' rejection by his villagers, is also a story about how we ignore and reject God. We do reject because the call to a positive, loving and compassionate way of life may be too much for us to accept.
It is also a story about our unwillingness to be helped by God, or by anybody else;an unwillingness which comes out of our own certainties our own knowledge, our own strength. For the people who lived in Jesus' home town, their knowledge of him as a youth prevented them from seeing God's power in him as an adult. But for most others the grace of God is shut out, not because they know Christ so well, but because they think they know what is best for themselves, and because they refuse to accept that perhaps they need help, that perhaps their understanding, and their own strength is getting in their way.
The road to spiritual wholeness is not travelled by exercising our own human powers, but rather by acknowledging our human weaknesses, and then, in that weakness, allowing God to exercise his power in us. Members of Alcoholics Anonymous probably understand the gospel better than most theologians - and indeed than most regular church goers. They will tell you that the key to turning their lives around was admitting their weakness, admitting that they were, are, and always will be powerless, powerless over alcohol.
Until we admit our weakness, until we stop being afraid of it, until we stop denying it, we can't find the help we need. There is nothing wrong with being out of control -  as a matter of fact it is good - for now there is room for God to    control you - room for God to help you - and room for us to show you that we love you too." After such a time a change can come.  We may not become perfect.But we can become a little more sensitive to the needs of others. A confession of weakness became the occasion where God's grace, God's strength, finally could get a grip on our lives. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
To the world this is nonsense. Power and strength are worshipped by most people, and weakness is despised above all things. Sadly, the world teaches us to conceal our vulnerability, lest we be hurt, and it teaches us to hide our weakness, lest we be taken advantage of. The world teaches us to camouflage our inadequacies with self-confidence, self-reliance and self-assurance, so that we can build a heaven for ourselves here on earth.

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 1 July 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 4, 2018 - 10:33am



Today I thought I would focus on the Prayer of Intercession and the hymns.
Before she led us in prayer, Joan directed our attention to some of the verses of TIS 690:
Beauty for brokenness. Hope for despair
Lord, in your suffering. This is our prayer
Bread for the children. Justice, joy, peace
Sunrise to sunset. Your kingdom increase!
                  Shelter for fragile lives. Cures for their ills
                  Work for the craftsman. Trade for their skills
                  Land for the dispossessed. Rights for the weak
                  Voices to plead the cause. Of those who can't speak
God of the poor. Friend of the weak
Give us compassion we pray. Melt our cold hearts
Let tears fall like rain. Come, change our love
From a spark to a flame…
 
Some people seem to live broken lives and the above words bring hope to anyone in such a situation. But all of us have times when we experience brokenness, despair and suffering. Whether such times are limited or prolonged, the belief cradled in the words above can lift us out of our desperate state.
 
Not just lift us above our poverty but sweep us up into a place of joy.


 
The source of all this was reflected in the first line of Joan’s Prayer of Affirmation:
“God of everlasting love, who provides everything.”
 
The Prayer continued, raising our awareness that in everything we are dependent on God and that the transformation from despair to joy can only work as we surrender all we are, as individuals and as a congregation, into God’s keeping.
 
As Joan continued we were opened to an understanding of how suffering can take so many forms and how we as Christians must look to God so that we can alleviate the suffering of others.
 
It is easy to think we are not qualified or that we may be intruding but a hand outstretched in love allows another person in need to be aware of our offer to give any help we can, even if all we can do is sit and be with the suffering one.
 
Joan prayed for God’s guidance through the Spirit and that each of us, as Christians will seek to show God’s love to the world. If we try to carry out some plan of goodwill founded on our own ideas, we are sure to fail, because we cannot know what another needs, but God does.
 
This intention to follow God’s will was the idea in line one of the first hymn:
TIS 474, “Here in this place, new light streaming” with the same idea continuing until “make us your own” rounded off the ending.
And for those who think they are not good enough, the old favourite TIS 693 “Come as you are” gave the assurance that the invitation to be God’s child and to do God’s work is for everyone.
But we can't sit still hugging ourselves with our self satisfaction. TIS 531 “Sent forth by God’s blessing,” calls us to action so that others will benefit from God’s love through us.
But TIS 778 says it all: “Shalom to you now…shalom my friends”. In this we wish the very best of everything to all, again a reflection of the Prayer of Intercession, binding the service and our participation in it, together.




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Becoming Holy.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 29, 2018 - 11:19pm

Sitting here after sun rise on Halong Bay having seen a number of temples over the last two weeks I wondered how many of us halongHhhhhhhhhhalongHHave ever thought about holy temples? A temple is usually understood to be a place where religious services are held. The Christian Bible is full of references to the temple in Jerusalem. Most of us know of synagogues today that are called temples. Some Protestant churches are occasionally called temples. The Mormons use the term temple for their place of worship. So, we know about temples.
Holy is a word we use to describe sacred places and things. Holy things are things set apart for God. A holy place is one set apart for God. Therefore, a holy temple is a sacred place set apart for God where often-times we worship God. So, the church we are in on a Sunday or at some point in our lives is holy.
We, at times, talk about people we know as being holy. Sometimes it is saints and martyrs who we refer to as being holy. Other times it is people in our own times, people we know, whom we refer to as holy, since we believe they are truly people of God; people in whom Jesus is present. At times Christians pray that they may be made a holy temple acceptable to God. Have you ever thought what that means? Have you ever thought about yourself as being a holy temple of God? Do you ever think about whether you are acceptable to God? Do you ponder if you have a right relationship with God or not? Do you ever wonder if God will find you to be a holy person?
All of us would like to be found acceptable to God. Maybe that is why many of us keep some connection to the church. We know we are on a journey. We are striving to find a right relationship with the word and maybe to God. Many go to church, to worship God in hope that God will answer their prayers and help to find answers to our questions; to help us grow into a right relationship with each other and with God.
Many of us would like to think that God would make us into a holy temple. But many of us may struggle to figure out what we need to do to bring it about. In the Hebrew Scripture from Deuteronomy set for this Sunday, we hear Moses tell the people they are to open their hand to the poor and needy people of the land, giving willingly, liberally and ungrudgingly. When we give in that way, Moses tells us, we will be blessed. Moses is saying the prosperous have a responsibility to lend to the poor without limit, even if this might result in a loss of capital due to the imminence of the year of release.
There were other rules about lending in Israelite law. Elsewhere in Deuteronomy, we can read that no interest was to be charged to fellow Israelites. The rich were not to increase their wealth at the expense of those less fortunate than themselves. This seems like a radical law for us in our times. But these laws illustrate a fundamental principal of ancient Israelite law: the needs of people override the rights of property. These laws stem from the belief that all wealth is the gift of God.
If one really believes all wealth is a gift of God, then people have no absolute claim over it. Are we in this world prepared to live in such a way. Yet, we Christians believe the gift is God's, and God has absolute claim over it. We are called to enjoy all the gifts God gives to us, the gift of land, the gift of property, the gift of material wealth, as stewards. We are to care for the gifts as steward’s care for what ultimately belongs to the Master. I wonder how the politicians of the world could enact this as it would change our approach to sharing and care and compassion towards each other.
What I am suggesting is that one of the keys to becoming a holy temple acceptable to God is to live into the belief that what we have tended to call ours is really God's. We've all heard the expression that we receive by giving. We hear that the Lord our God will bless us as we give liberally to those of God's children who are poor and in need. In other words, God's blessing will flow to those who give generously to those in need.
God has given us the gift of life. What can we give to God in return for life? What can we give God for all the many, wonderful gifts God has given and is giving us? We can reach out to those in need through our offerings. As we do that, we can help to bring about the state that those who have much do not have too much, and those who have little do not have too little. By sharing from our abundance, we can indeed bring life to those with little. By sharing what we have we are being good stewards. And by being good stewards, perhaps we become holy temples of God.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 24 June 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - June 25, 2018 - 10:57am




I try to vary the form the blog takes and today I thought that the hymns were very uplifting, so I intend to focus on them.
 
Having said that, Lynette began with verses from Psalm 9 that I think are worth noting:
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
 

These verses framed our mental and spiritual approach for the next hour, focusing our attention on the One who is the reason for our being, not just our attendance at this service. It is easy to lose sight of our centre and think the things we have or the things which are happening are random or “natural” if they are good and bad luck if they are not. God is the author of all good but if we or others mess with His plan there are consequences.
 
“Make me a Channel of Your Peace.” How many of us pray to God hoping that our plans or wishes will be fulfilled? We are the servants of God, not the other way around. And God is not there to fight our battles like some sort of big brother. God's plan may not coincide with ours (who would have thought?) and it is the words of this hymn that give us an idea of how we are to carry out that plan as difficult as it might be for us, being humans who are basically fairly selfish.
 
“May the Mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from Day to Day.” I was sitting at the back of the church and could see so many people swaying in time with the music as they sang. Their whole bodies were absorbing the music with the intent of the words. What if we meant these words 100%? What a world it would be! What if we opened ourselves to be changed to be like Jesus? But I think we all secretly keep at least a little back to cover our own wants.
 
“Marching, Marching, in the Light of God.” Whether we are marching in the light of God, or living in the light of God, or moving in the light of God, or doing anything at all in the light of God we would be guaranteed to do God’s will and stop messing up in the way we all do so often. That's not to say that we always mess up but if we keep living in God’s light all the time instead of when it's easy, everything would be so different.
 
“May the feet of God walk with you.” Sometimes I think this is the best part of the service when the prayers and reflection have brought God’s voice to us and have  done their work in us and we are at our very best in terms of our intent to our fellow humans. Here we have the evidence of what has been said above. If we were like this always. Wow! What a World!
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 June 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - June 24, 2018 - 5:02am

Why are we afraid?
The early Christians adopted a simple drawing of a boat with a cross for a mast as the symbol of the church. In an age of persecutions from the outside and controversy and conflict on the inside, in their experience, the emerging church must have seemed like a boat on a storm-tossed sea. Recalling the story of Jesus' calming of the sea, like those first disciples in the boat, the early Christians must have joined in their desperate prayer, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
 
Little has changed in the intervening years. The winds of change and the waters of chaos continue to beat hard on the worldwide church and the people of faith. Christians are still being martyred in shocking numbers in tribal, ethnic, and religious wars around the world. At home, the church is fiercely divided around issues of authority, liturgy, sexuality, and cultural diversity, so that members to each successive leadership body such as Synods and Assemblies must arrive with feelings of foreboding as they look to the business before them with suspicious eyes, preparing to build alliances of power to bolster their respective sides. Today, the prayer of many in the church is: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
 
Our private lives are not spared stress and storm as our individual little boats are tossed about by the waves of economic uncertainty and change, war, divorce, sickness, and death. Hardly a week goes by that we do not face the fearsome realities of these events, either impacting us personally or our neighbours or our friends in the church, and nightly the troublesome images of television news intrude into our homes from the larger world. "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"

 
In Mark 4 the gospel reading for this week, Jesus calms the wind and the waves and says to the tense disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" He surely intended the link between faith and fear. The opposite of faith is not doubt or unbelief; those tend to be doctrinal differences. No, the opposite of faith more often as not is fear.
 
We fear the unknown. We fear the undiagnosed lump in the breast, or the persistent cough. We fear Swine Flu, Ross River Fever or Dengue Fever. We fear losing control of our bodies and our health because of aging. We worry about how changes in politics, technology, or the economy will influence our jobs and the income from our savings and retirement funds. Fear is like waves ever seeking to knock us off our footing -- our faith footing.
 
When facing fear, a priest once told people about how he could be so calm during such times. He explained that in his childhood he had very little supervision from his parents, so he spent many hours each day at the beach. Sometimes a huge breaking wave would catch him by surprise and thrust him under the water, rolling him in the sand. But he said that he learned just to relax and see the thousands of air bubbles as the fingers of God catching him up and lifting him to the surface. Now, whenever he found himself in trouble, he just relaxed and waited for the fingers of God to reach under him and lift him up."
 
Faith is a stance toward life. Back in the Cold War, when we were all living with the possibility of nuclear holocaust, some researchers interviewed children to see how worried they were. What they discovered was that the children with the least fear were those whose parents were active in nuclear disarmament, or who regularly attended church, or who were deeply involved in the social issues of their communities.

 
These parents did not feel hopeless in the face of tremendous challenges. They invested themselves in actions to change the world around them and remained optimistic that what they could contribute would make a difference. As a result, the attitudes of the parents infected the emotional and intellectual stance of their children. These children did not feel helpless as they saw parents and others doing something toward resolving problems.
 
"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" In these rather impatient words directed to his disciples, our God through Jesus brings into focus the polarities of faith and fear. Faith is a stance of how we stand up to those things that would threaten us and how we manage our fears, and this makes all the difference. In the midst of troubles, try reaching up your hand to God and saying, "Help!" And when you reach your hand out to others around you and say, "Help!" the fingers of God will never fail to reach down and lift you into new and reassuring experiences of God's grace.
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Why are you afraid?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 22, 2018 - 10:33am

The early Christians adopted a simple drawing of a boat with a cross for a mast as the symbol of the church. In an age of persecutions from the outside and controversy and conflict on the inside, in their experience, the emerging church must have seemed like a boat on a storm-tossed sea. Recalling the story of Jesus' calming of the sea, like those first disciples in the boat, the early Christians must have joined in their desperate prayer, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
Little has changed in the intervening years. The winds of change and the waters of chaos continue to beat hard on the worldwide church and the people of faith. Christians are still being martyred in shocking numbers in tribal, ethnic, and religious wars around the world. At home, the church is fiercely divided around issues of authority, liturgy, sexuality, and cultural diversity, so that members to each successive leadership body such as Synods and Assemblies must arrive with feelings of foreboding as they look to the business before them with suspicious eyes, preparing to build alliances of power to bolster their respective sides. Today, the prayer of many in the church is: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
Our private lives are not spared stress and storm as our individual little boats are tossed about by the waves of economic uncertainty and change, war, divorce, sickness, and death. Hardly a week goes by that we do not face the fearsome realities of these events, either impacting us personally or our neighbours or our friends in the church, and nightly the troublesome images of television news intrude into our homes from the larger world. "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
In Mark 4 the gospel reading for this week, Jesus calms the wind and the waves and says to the tense disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" He surely intended the link between faith and fear. The opposite of faith is not doubt or unbelief; those tend to be doctrinal differences. No, the opposite of faith more often as not is fear.
We fear the unknown. We fear the undiagnosed lump in the breast, or the persistent cough. We fear Swine Flu, Ross River Fever or Dengue Fever. We fear losing control of our bodies and our health because of aging. We worry about how changes in politics, technology, or the economy will influence our jobs and the income from our savings and retirement funds. Fear is like waves ever seeking to knock us off our footing -- our faith footing.
When facing fear, a priest once told people about how he could be so calm during such times. He explained that in his childhood he had very little supervision from his parents, so he spent many hours each day at the beach. Sometimes a huge breaking wave would catch him by surprise and thrust him under the water, rolling him in the sand. But he said that he learned just to relax and see the thousands of air bubbles as the fingers of God catching him up and lifting him to the surface. Now, whenever he found himself in trouble, he just relaxed and waited for the fingers of God to reach under him and lift him up."
Faith is a stance toward life. Back in the Cold War, when we were all living with the possibility of nuclear holocaust, some researchers interviewed children to see how worried they were. What they discovered was that the children with the least fear were those whose parents were active in nuclear disarmament, or who regularly attended church, or who were deeply involved in the social issues of their communities.
These parents did not feel hopeless in the face of tremendous challenges. They invested themselves in actions to change the world around them and remained optimistic that what they could contribute would make a difference. As a result, the attitudes of the parents infected the emotional and intellectual stance of their children. These children did not feel helpless as they saw parents and others doing something toward resolving problems.
"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" In these rather impatient words directed to his disciples, our God through Jesus brings into focus the polarities of faith and fear. Faith is a stance of how we stand up to those things that would threaten us and how we manage our fears, and this makes all the difference. In the midst of troubles, try reaching up your hand to God and saying, "Help!" And when you reach your hand out to others around you and say, "Help!" the fingers of God will never fail to reach down and lift you into new and reassuring experiences of God's grace.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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