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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

Open Love from the Spirit’s Presence.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 14, 2019 - 1:26pm

Today I write around the simple yet complicated paradox in our Christian faith – the Trinity. Thomas Berry, the theologian, environmentalist, and author of The Dream of the Earth, once said, “The universe is not a collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.” The greatest minds of Christendom have applied philosophical rigour to understanding and interpreting the church’s experience of the “father/parent” “son” and “holy spirit” or the Trinity which is the feast or celebration day for this Sunday  But in the end, knowing God and knowing fully God’s truth and love is as elusive as predicting a firefly’s trajectory over a field of hay after dusk, as futile as keeping track of a drop of rain fallen into the ocean in a storm, as blinding as gazing directly at the sun.
Yet contemplating Trinity offers lessons in the dynamism of creation, incarnation, delight, genesis, the interrelationship of being, of nothing, of everything, of darkness, of light. Image. Silence. And, again, nothing. Ah the return to those words from early study for me and words which are a technical language or theology for those outside. And yet, you and I, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit, are invited to co-create, to enter into the imaginative diversity of the unfolding of time.
Once trained in the Trinity, it’s not a great leap to consider the God of multiple dimensions, multi-universes, string theory (to give a nod to the character  of Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory TV show), and hyperspace. Opening to new perceptions of God’s self-revelation is as natural as contemplating innovations in theoretical physics. As I learn and grow, I can be open to God’s Reality more fully, if ever more humbly. Awe deepens. And yet . . . when I pray, it seems Love surfaces from the deep place where the soul touches the universe.

Is that right? Does the soul touch the universe? If that love comes not from something outside ourselves but from something deep within ourselves only, then we are simply made for love. Whether God exists or not, love lies at the heart and meaning of human life—dynamic, relational, intimate, challenging, open Love.
But rather than wander too far let us now look at one of the members of the Christian Trinity – the Holy Spirit. You know there is a whole language in the land of text speak that I and many older people have no idea about: LOL—Laugh out loud. BTW—By the way. TBH—to be honest. TMI—too much information. It’s this last one, too much information, that Jesus seems to be trying to avoid when he began to say farewell to the disciples. Jesus didn’t want to overload the disciples with information. They had more than enough to digest. He knew they simply could not process any more. Jesus also knew that they would have the rest of their lives to work things out, to measure and weigh things in the light of all that he had taught them and shown them.

With the perspective of hindsight. But, more than that, Jesus knew that they wouldn’t have to wrestle with it all on their own. And so he kept it light. Too much information is not good for any of us. We do not and cannot know everything. But Jesus could reassure his disciples that they would not be left to their own devices. That they would have the gift of the Spirit to help them in their discernment.
So as Christians we hold that still, today, the Spirit is our guide. Sadly, we often drown out the soft whisper of the Spirit. We fail to hear her prompting and make the wrong choices. Jesus intentionally did not overload us with too much information. His intention was that we should listen carefully for the prompting of the Holy Spirit. And so, as our world changes, and as we are faced with more and more perplexing choices, the example of Jesus and the guidance of the Holy Spirit leads us to make loving choices. Choices that reflect the loving nature of God. Choices that enable us to find a way through the information overload that assails us today. TBTG (Thanks be to God)!
So for the disciples and for us it becomes a question of what to say and when? Important in any relationship. Thus, the significance of the presence of the Spirit here and now for the disciples and for us. Recognising why the Spirit is front and centre in the reading from John 16 this week at this point may provide a perspective of the Spirit that is less explored in our Christian faith. That is, the Spirit is the one who comes to our aid so as to fill in the gaps Jesus left behind.
As Jesus bids the disciples farewell, the Spirit enters into the space of Jesus’ absence. The Spirit will have a good sense of timing as well—guiding the disciples and us, sharing that which should be known about Jesus, telling them what is to come only when they are able to bear the part of the truth that will support them then. There is something touching, poignant, in this role for the Spirit. The Spirit is not only our Advocate or helper. The Spirit is the Companion that connects one breath to the next, the compassionate one.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 9 June 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - June 8, 2019 - 12:02am

Today is a little different. Rev. John took most of the service with Christine delivering the sermon and assisting in the distribution of  communion.
It was a lovely setting with both ministers dressed for the communion service, evoking a serious and deep response to the said and sung words of the service and the floral decorations enhancing the depth and warmth of the emotion felt by the congregation.
I want to focus on certain parts of the service which I often have to skim over to allow other parts to have my attention.
The call to worship provided words we perhaps couldn’t find for ourselves:
Mystery of God, draw us near.
Fill our minds with awe!
Wisdom of God, surprise us.
Encourage us with hope!
Glory of God, shine through our lives.
Reveal your power and your glory!
In the mystery, the wisdom, the glory of God,
Let us worship!
And then the opening prayer reflected the uncertainty many of us feel from time to time and in its plea, reminded us that in our own times of doubt and apprehension we should call on the only One who can possibly give us comfort.
 Unknowable God, on this most unsettling day, you drew Jesus to your side— promising his companions Spirit, power, mission, and purpose; calling his disciples to trust a future that they could not yet see. As we look to Jesus this day, give us the same hope of Spirit, power, mission and purpose, and call to trust a future that we too are yet unable to see. Guide us into your depths, that we may glimpse the Spirit already at work in our lives— revealing your truth and empowering us to bear witness to the risen Christ. We pray this in the name of Jesus, your Mystery, your Wisdom and your Glory.
However the thing that prevents our perfect communion with God is our ongoing inability to be the people we should be and so there is the need to ask for forgiveness for that:
 A Prayer of ConfessionThe story of Ascension Day challenges us to seek the presence of the risen Christ in the here and now; in our lives, our community, and our world. Let us pray. When we “look up to heaven” for our answers, and so fail to seek the Spirit at work in our midst.

Lord, have mercy.
When we forget to repent of our wrong doings; when we fail to forgive others for mistakes of their own, and so fail to give witness to the risen Christ.
Christ, have mercy.
When we doubt the power of your Spirit, which is at work changing hearts and opening minds, and so fail to embrace relationships of righteousness and peace. Lord have mercy.

Declaration of ForgivenessFriends, the love of God revealed in Jesus forgives us, heals us, and sets us free to witness to his love in the world.

Thanks be to God!
Christine spoke of the difficulty of believing the impossible things, referencing the conversation Between the White Queen and Alice in “Alice through the Looking Glass”, where the Queen declares that she has had the experience of believing “as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
Christine used that analogy to talk about the ascension of Jesus, for which many people throughout history have tried to provide an explanation, some less believable than the ascension itself.
Christine’s point was that “that something fantastic took
 place that day,” and that it “was so overwhelming that they couldn’t put it not words” but “It changed them
forever.”  Christine gave a very strong reason for Jesus
leaving and trusting the leadership to his followers.
 As a single human person he could not take the “good
news of God’s all the nations of the world.”
But by leaving the confines of this earth and being “freed
 of time and space” and he was able to promise “to send
 the power of the Holy Spirit”
Christine then explained the real reason we are celebrating the Ascension...“that we (are) going to receive power from God.” and, more importantly, to remind us that we have no power of our own and must rely on the Spirit.
At this point I leave Christine’s sermon and turn to Joan’s prayer which is possible because of what happened at the Ascension. Joan’s plea “Be with us all, Lord: in all our daily struggles as we seek to follow you” encapsulates the reason and result of Jesus’ leaving and sending the Spirit of comfort and guidance.
That Spirit can give the comfort that Joan prayed to be given to those suffering in any way. That guidance can be given to us and others so that we can better understand the real plight of others who are less fortunate in terms of resources, be they financial or personal resources. That Spirit can lift us to a place of Joy in the midst of all the distress we may suffer ourselves or which surrounds us.
However we experience God’s presence, it is the “Amazing Grace” of John Newton’s hymn and written about by Ron in our latest “Marsden Missive.” Ron tells us of Newton’s journey as a Christian during which time he acted as Jesus would. An example for us all to follow...with God’s ‘Amazing Grace” mediated to us by the Spirit.
The disciples looked up to heaven, and then looked around at each other. Slowly, understanding dawned upon them as they began to recognize the presence of their beloved Jesus in their midst. With their minds enlightened, and their hearts set free, they went forth rejoicing, singing and praying, and waiting for the Spirit’s coming. Let us, too, go forth confident in God. Let us rejoice in one another, as we wait in prayer for the surprise of the Spirit.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Grace through Diversity.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 7, 2019 - 12:50pm

“We just don’t speak the same language,” I hear myself saying. What I mean to convey is that the other person and I cannot seem to find a way to communicate. Perhaps, beyond the possibility of communicating with the other, I am more disappointed or frustrated that the other person does not hold the same values that I hold. She sees the world and God and people differently than I do. Ultimately, I am wondering if she and I will be able to work together; or if, in fact, we will work against each other. Because my base concern is to get my agenda accomplished, will she be the one to help me?

A unified language promotes a unified agenda. The question at the story of the Tower of Babel becomes a question about intent. What purpose does the one language serve? So now, I ask, “What purpose does the unified language of the church serve? Whose agenda is at stake and to what end do we use these words: sin, holiness, salvation, resurrection?” The answer matters. Our answer will clearly determine God’s response.
Also, when I look at one of the scriptures for this week, namely Genesis 11, I have to wonder if we maybe need to understand God’s actions at the tower of Babel as actions of judgment or grace. The people in this story used their common language to “make a name for themselves,” and perhaps even to avoid God’s original command to humanity to fill the earth. It’s almost as if God is intimidated by the power of a people united in language and purpose (“nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them”), and so God scatters them by confusing their language.
They were doing something wrong, and God stopped them by doing two things: confusing and scattering. These hardly seem like actions of grace. This story gives an account of the diversity that we encounter, and it seems at first that this diversity is a punishment. Language is, of course, just the tip of the iceberg. But have we not come to understand diversity as a gift? Who laments the rich diversity of languages spoken across the world? Who laments the rich diversity of experiences and traditions that these languages communicate?
Yet it seems that when it’s left up to us, we congregate near the people who are most like us, who speak the same language, have the same Christmas traditions, and drive the same minivans or utes. So perhaps we might come to understand God’s actions at the tower of Babel as a kind of grace. There is confusion at first, certainly, but God’s good intentions for humanity unmistakably include diversity despite our best efforts to stick with those most like us. How appropriate, then, that the actions of God on Pentecost affirm God’s resolve to promote diversity of language and experience. The spirit of God does not belong to one language group, social class, gender, or age group. Through the lens of Pentecost we can come to understand that God’s acts at Babel are not the antithesis to grace, but perhaps finally a means of grace.
The Holy Spirit that came at Pentecost and the Church celebrates this week does not erase differences among language groups, social classes, genders, races, or age groups—the image of a melting pot won’t work here!—yet there is a sense of unity between these diverse groups because of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit enables each group to hear and speak of the mighty acts of God (Acts 2:11). The Holy Spirit is a companion, or advocate, to all believers who constantly reminds us of Jesus’s words (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit unifies all believers as the one who brings about our adoption into the family of God and then testifies to our own spirits that we really do belong (Rom 8:14-17).
These works of the Holy Spirit make unity in diversity a possibility. It is easy and natural to be dismissive when people begin acting in unexpected ways, perhaps even more so when God seems to act in unexpected ways. The Pentecost event that amazed some left others with a dismissive look of haughty disdain on their faces: “They’re full of new wine,” or in other words, “They must be drunk” (Acts 2:13). This same response is alive and well in the church, let alone in our societies throughout the world. Exclusive Slogans like, “Make America or Australia Great” or “Whites Only”, come to mind and challenge us to speak out. Such statements and such thinking seems to be seeking to deny what God intended for his creation.

Wherever marginalised voices are quickly dismissed for being too libertine, too feminist, too inclusive, and too politically correct and so on we deny our means of grace. Being dismissive of challenging views is certainly easier than engaging them, but this dismissal comes with a great risk as well. The risk of dismissing and silencing such voices is that we would miss the prophecy, visions, and dreams that the Holy Spirit has given to sons and daughters, young and old, of all races and social classes.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Whisper of Hope not Damnation!

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - May 31, 2019 - 8:32am

The Ascension tide remembrance seems an appropriate time for me to take a risk and reflect on some of the happenings in our society over the last few months. I will leave the reader to look up what the Ascension was and why Christians remember it. However, I want to reflect on the sadness that I have felt over our societies reactions to religion and religious issues as I have watched the Elections here in Australia, the debate raging unlovingly over the freedom of expression of one’s religion – if we have one - and freedom of speech. With all these things and with the way we practice them comes responsibilities and consequences.
Unfortunately the voice that is becoming most strident is the voice that seems not to understand the way of life Jesus lived and spoke about. There's a certain brand of Christianity that many in Australasia will be familiar with. They are anchored to names like Israel Folau and Sydney Anglicans here in Australia and in Aotearoa (NZ) people like the Destiny Church of the Tamaki’s and those wanting us to hate and destroy Moslem believers. We have hear them on issues such as prostitution reform, civil unions, recognition of LGBTI people as humans created in God’s image and abortion reform. These men are, and yes mostly men, who seem to follow a Jesus that seems to come from a very different place of the Jesus of compassion and love that I know and follow.

It would seem that they have a belief system built in the 312AD values of Constantine, a Roman emperor who declared Christianity a state religion. When heading into battle, Constantine claims he saw a gleaming white cross in the sky with an almighty voice saying "by this you will conquer." It is this view – of the cross as the means by which we subdue the world into our vision of utopia – which as someone I read recently rightly said has been so prevalent in the headlines.
Followers of Jesus and the followers of all religions have always been at their best when their influence comes from a place of humbly bearing the weight of a broken world together. In the end, I don’t believe in the place of hell that is espoused by some of those calling themselves Christians but do believe in the hell that we create as human beings for ourselves and for the world we live in. As I have often stated, the God I believe in is a God of compassion and love. The God I believe in is love, and eternal violence against his creation isn’t in that God’s nature.
Love will always win against vengeance. Christians are called simply to love God, love their neighbours and love themselves. For my understanding, this means that the whole of creation bears the face of God whom I am to love. Yet, as those who know me, I’m not great at doing that and sometimes it sucks as some of those I meet are hard to love. Also it’s important to note that to do otherwise is to live by fear, guilt and hate. There is a wonderful quote by a person called Wes Angelozzi: “Go and love someone exactly as they are. And watch how quickly they transform into the greatest, truest version of themselves. When one feels seen and appreciated in their own essence, one is instantly empowered.”
Have you ever considered the fact that what we see of people’s lives is just the tip of the iceberg and that makes me realise that we simply can’t be so quick to judge. Often people seem like less of a donkey once you understand what they are going through. It's the relentless tide of Christians such as Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King Jr and William Wilberforce who broke the bows of slavery and poverty and demonstrate the love of God for us. Their credibility was passionate lives laid down for those who had no voice. Their credibility was the moral authority of surrendering their own lives to those who had nothing. I will grant you, this is hard, but a journey we are called to be continually on. As stated before there are some people I don’t want to “get”—people I don’t want to “understand.” However, our God calls us to this vocation.

Understanding and loving others takes more time, more energy, and more compassion. Yet, again I must say that’s what we who call ourselves Christians are called to do—to love one another. When we think back to Jesus, he was nailed to a cross and tortured within an inch of his life. He was hung on a cross, nailed in place by metal spikes driven through his hands and feet. Yet his words speak to our hearts; “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” How many Christians get that and actually practice it themselves?
Exercising compassion and understanding the other person’s story changes us at a core level—and reduces our hugely over-inflated ego. And couldn’t we all act like jackasses, because, of our deluded state. Maybe we need to act less so. Sadly many of the strident voices heard lately come from those who have accumulated wealth, power and position from which they seem to want to practice violence towards others. I sometimes wonder who has hurt them in their lives that they have to lash out at others in such a manner.
And yet, there is one whose approval we don’t need to seek, one we don’t have to “do better for,” one we don’t have to hustle for our worth. We can stop hustling for our worthiness comes from God. While the world and our colleagues and spouses and friends and family might need us to be better, God loves us right here, right now. Not because we are wondrous. . . but because God is wondrous. That’s really the nub of who our God is and how our God operates.
Rarely is anything free. Except grace. Jesus’ whole role as he lived his life while he was here, was to remind people that they were loved and that they were worthy right where they were. God would love them right there, regardless of their tithe, their Sunday attendance, the number of times they taught Sunday school, or the numerous ways in which they turned their face from God. Yet those who describe themselves as church, the institution’s requirements always seem to be higher than Jesus’ own.
I’ll leave you with a final thought from Jerry Hership in his book Rogue Saints: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. There is nothing you can do to make God love you less. Don’t be annoying and conduct oneself inappropriately. The Christian voice was always meant to be at the outlying edges, and not the centre, of society. The message Jesus brought was good news for the voiceless, and so is always suited best to gentle whispers of hope rather than brazen declarations of damnation.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 26 May 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - May 28, 2019 - 12:10am

My apologies for the length of this today but I couldn’t leave anything else out.
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 honourable in this place.
From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus.
Call to Worship(Abingdon Worship Annual 2016)
Rev. John challenged us to think upon the following:
What would your life be like if you made a home for the Holy Spirit in your heart and mind? What would our worship life be like if we made a home for the Holy Spirit in the heart and mind of our congregation? What would our world be like if the love and justice of God ruled in every nation? Let us imagine such a life and such a world as we worship the God who lives in us today.
Having done that there followed a responsive prayer asking for exactly that to be done.
Do we carry that invitation into our daily lives? Do we open up a personal invitation to the Spirit on a minute by minute basis? What a difference that would make.
 Hymn TIS 452:“God of mercy, God of grace.” Both an invitation and a word of praise.
 Opening Prayer (abridged)
...We have heard of the mighty acts of those who received the gift of your promised Holy Spirit, and we are amazed. We dare to invite this same Holy Spirit into our lives, to teach us and to guide us that we too may learn of God’s love and justice. By the grace and power of the Holy Spirit, may your word make a home in us today. Amen.
 Prayer of Confession
 Rev. John acknowledged on our behalf that God had made his living word known to us. After which, in a responsive prayer which went to the depths of our hearts we confessed personally:
Without your mercy, we have no hope, no future, O God.
You have shown us the way of peace, but we have chosen paths of greed, exploitation, and hostility between peoples and nations.
Without your mercy, we have no hope, no future, O God.
You have shown us the way of salvation, but we have embraced practices that lead to death: Lying, idolatry, faithlessness, cowardice, sexual immorality, murder, drug abuse . . .
Without your mercy, we have no hope, no future, O God.
Have mercy on us, according to your loving-kindness. Forgive our sins and restore us by your grace, that we may resist the powers of evil, live in your light, and keep your word. Amen.
 Declaration of Forgiveness
Then we were assured and comforted with these words:
 With justice and equity, God forgives everyone who earnestly repents of their sin. May God’s face shine upon us and save us from our sin.
Thanks be to God! Amen.
The Peace
Jesus said, “Live in me and I will live in you.” As we greet one another with the peace of Christ, rejoice that Jesus Christ lives in each one of us.Peace be with you!
And also, with you
Invitation to the Offering
 When Lydia became a believer and was baptised in the faith, she invited Paul and his companions to stay in her home. Generous giving naturally follows believing! May our giving joyfully reflect our believing.

To offer is the thing. To have to be asked takes so much
 away from any gift and reveals a  lack of generous spirit.
Offering Prayer
Gracious God, we thank you for the abundant blessings
 you bestow upon the earth. As we offer these gifts, in thanksgiving and praise, we pray that they will be a blessing to others. Through our gifts, may the word
 of your goodness spread to the ends of the earth that all
people may know of your love and make a home for you
in their hearts. Amen.
Hymn TIS 408: “O breath of God, breathe on us now”
 It seems to me that the Spirit is the God I know: the God
that refuses to let go and demands that I keep to this path,
 no matter how imperfectly.
The Service of the Word.                  
Readings: Lyn Colless
The First Reading: Acts 16:9-15. Some people talk about his as our imagination opening up the Truth to us. If we look back through history it seems God has pointed men and women to the Truth this way whether they have been loyal followers or not.
The Gospel Reading: John 14:23-29. Following what I have said above and my own imperfect loyalty, I wonder if in God’s amazing generosity, truth is given for the benefit of all, to people who don’t merit its revelation because they have the resources to use it for the rest of God’s creation.
Preaching the Word – No Longer an Orphan - John 14:23-29
Rev. John spoke about wondering how he will feel when his mother is no longer living. He related that a person he had read about who as a child was really quite frightened of such a prospect. When the death of that person’s parents did take place he wasn’t scared but was certainly lonely and he turned to scripture for comfort.
“He read the passage that I have preached from many times during funerals and many of you have heard regularly. John 14:1-6.
 In this particular passage, Jesus prepares his disciples for his departure. Later in the passage that is used in funerals we have our scripture for today. Jesus is leaving them and they will feel alone— “orphaned”—having lost their Master, their Lord. Jesus is acutely aware of their pending experience of grief, loss, and sense of abandonment. It is then that Jesus offers them assurance that God will not forget them and will bless them, by telling them, But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not   let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. (14:26-27).” One of the great promises from God to humans is that God will be with us.
 ...Sometimes we forget to continue reading the chapter 14 as it continues to offer words of comfort. The man I had been reading talking about earlier did. The sharp sense of feeling alone for him diminished and for many of us diminishes. We can feel peace in our hearts. This man went on to say that as he kept praying and reading these two verses, he experienced the Holy Spirit gently soothing his spirit. For this man it was more than a wonderful feeling; he experienced the Holy Spirit flowing into my being like fresh, soothing water.”

Rev. John related a story of a person finding peace through such a reading and through community with friends at church. We know many such stories.
 “The good news of Jesus Christ is that in God’s kingdom there are no orphans, no lonely people, no abandoned children, no forgotten elderly, and no rejected individuals. In God’s kingdom, we have a caring Parent who never forgets us and never abandons us. Praise be to God!”
Hymn TIS 451: “Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us” This hymn soothes and calms.
Intercessory Prayers
Ruth Henderson, relying on the promises of today’s readings and sermon, prayed for the people of God’s creation, worldwide: for their guidance, their healing and their comfort.
We then joined in THE LORD'S PRAYER
Hymn TIS 607: “Make me a channel of your peace” God’s way of being assurance and comfort to the world.
May your heart be a home for Christ. May your home be a place where God’s love abounds. May your heart and your home so abide in God’s love that everyone who knows you will say, “Look! God lives here!”
And may that same Almighty God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life bless you and keep always Amen.
Hymn TIS 780: “May light come into your eyes”
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 19 May 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - May 25, 2019 - 11:23am

Gathering of the People

Alan led our service today, beginning with the

Call to Worship, which were
Jesus’ words to us that we should love each other. It is a short exhortation
but greatly challenging. It’s one thing to say that we should love each other,
but to do it as Jesus has loved us, is on a different level. Often we can quote
such words without realizing their weight.

Hymn TIS 137 “For the beauty of the Earth” A song
of praise, reminding us of all the gifts we have been given.

Prayers of Adoration and Praise.Psalm 148, said responsively, drawing in the congregation and raising the evocative
plane of this prayer as it resonated with each person.

Alan continued
to lead us as we became more aware of our inability to meet God’s standard and
praised God for forgiveness freely offered.
Sometimes as we make our way through our lives, we
fail to acknowledge that we have not loved our neighbour as Jesus loved us. We
think we are as good as the next person but fail to acknowledge that we are
simply broken people and are failing that sacrificial standard set by Jesus.

As we acknowledged our transgressions, Alan, on our behalf, asked for forgiveness.

Declaration of Forgiveness.We were reminded that God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. We humbly accepted that release with: “Thanks be to God”

We then shared that peace we had received with each other.

Hymn TIS 428 “Help us Lord, to learn” Not only
from the Service of the Word to follow but of our own brokenness and need for
healing and for forgiveness.

The Service of the Word


Elaine brought the Bible readings to us:

Acts 11: 1-18
Peter explains the vision he had which revealed that all are acceptable at the Lord’s Table.

John 13: 31-35 I
give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved
you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are
my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Hymn TIS 217 “Love divine, all loves excelling” Another reminder that every time we start congratulating ourselves on how wonderful we are, God wants us to open ourselves to be more than we can ever be through our own strength. 


I’d like to use the translation of Alan’s heading “By this shall all men know” as it is in the NRSV. “By this everyone will know”.         

However, what will be “known” is the most important part: “that you
are my disciples”. Does everyone know that we are his disciples?

Alan recounted an interesting experience he had in England, of
climbing into a “priest’s hole”, a small place used to hide priests from
persecution by Protestants in Tudor times. The recount was made even more
interesting by Alan’s account of the arrival of a Cardinal while he  was there, who would have not survived during the persecution because he was a little on the tubby side and wouldn’t have fitted into the space.

Alan further reminded us of the many persecutions of one group of Christians
against another that went on for years at enormous cost to the world and its

I knew much hatred was spilled out, one group against another, but I
had no idea of the cost to the world. (And we can believe all Alan has to tell
us because when I knew him years ago he was a history teacher.)

If we weren’t humbled by the prayer for forgiveness earlier in the
service, this was enough to make us crumble, asking for forgiveness that humans
could be so horrible to each other. (And we can’t take refuge in “it wasn’t
us”. If we had been there, it would have been us.)

As Alan said: “we have not done well in hearing the words of Jesus”.
In fact it would seem that we haven’t heard them at all.

Later in his sermon, Alan said we use and misuse the word “love” so
carelessly and thoughtlessly that it can become almost meaningless and went on
to cite Martin Luther King Jr in saying that in loving others as Jesus loved
them does not mean we have to like them.

That is so, and something I have learned is that loving someone is not
a matter of finding that person attractive in some way, but simply a matter of
will. We can simply decide that we will love another person to serve them as
Jesus served others.

Alan had much more to say but space means I need to close here.
Today’s message is vital. Take notice and act upon it.

Hymn TIS 699 “A new Commandment I give unto you” This hymn allowed us to
let the words of the sermon sink in.

Prayers of the People

Alan prayed that the Government will, whatever the results of the
election, govern and work for the good of all Australians. He prayed for all
those who care for people and the people of our country regardless of culture
and country of origin. 

He asked for God’s blessing on John and Wendy and our whole
congregation as well as the needs of those known to us, finishing with the
Lord’s Prayer

Sending Forth

Hymn TIS 416 “Great God, Your Spirit is like the Wind” emphasizing God’s
influence in all things.

Blessing and Dismissal
Christ gave his followers a new commandment:
Love one another as I have loved you.
So go to be the people of God, and may all know that you are Christ’s disciplesby the love that you show for each other.

Go in peace to live and serve the world.

Hymn TIS 779 “May the feet of God walk with you.” An expression of our


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Called to be Disruptive.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - May 24, 2019 - 7:08am

My inner response to this week’s Scripture from Acts 16 is best described by the word disruptive. It’s troublesome and unsettling. We move from fortune-telling slave girls to demons being cast out, dark prisons of Philippi, Paul and Silas incongruently singing in chains, earthquakes, and forgiveness for jailors. It almost makes you think that the Acts of the Apostles may be patterned on Homer’s Odyssey, the epic journey coming home from the Trojan War. This is the early Christian version of the epic trials while spreading the gospel.
The passage starts with disrupting injustice. What happens to this woman, who gets mentioned only as a “slave girl”? I hate it when a character enters the story for a few sentences, her already difficult life is turned upside down, and the scene moves on without knowing what happened to her, let alone her name. She is literary collateral damage. The slave’s disappearance from the story disturbs me because of what I have observed, listened to and read about the work in homeless shelters and with the homeless over my lifetime. Much of my response comes from watching the work of the City Missions in Aotearoa (NZ), the Exodus Foundation and the Wayside Chapel at Kings Cross.

If one involves oneself in such work you can watch many people briefly emerge from homelessness or addiction and then disappear from the scene. There sadly will be so many that you will struggle to remember their names. They come from jail, rehab, psychiatric hospitalisation, and fleeing domestic violence; their stories a cascade of overlapping oppressions. Just as we would cast out one demon, another would possess them and carry them back into the hopeless chaos. They would disappear from the life of those working with them as did this slave woman in Acts.
Despite Paul’s intentions, casting out the demon from this woman does not make her life better. He has relieved his own anxiety, can now say he did something about “the problem,” but she is worse off than before. We have done this enough to know that it is impossible to go back and “fix” the situation, and the sufferers disappear too quickly from the scene. I bet he never forgot her, even if Scripture does.
I wonder what other behaviours we practice in our lives as humans that isolate others, ignore them or just be there for a one off support as with the slave girl. I wonder why we as humans but especially as Christians are unable to walk with those who are broken as God calls us to and shows in the life of his Son, Jesus. You know, we all know games of false righteousness: how men will hold the door for women but keep them out of the boardroom; how churches will build ramps but find reasons not to ask people in wheelchairs to be deacons; how sex becomes a commodity rather than an intimacy; how races and cultures are considered grotesque by people who love Jesus; how being good becomes a matter of looking good; how Sunday becomes a looking-good day.
Our politicians can be masters at this insincere fake if you like behaviour. We have just been through two Elections in this state and got our fair share of it. Sadly, it has to be noted that such behaviour seems often to win and the homeless and others are left frozen our yet again.
The gospels present several Sabbath (Holy Day like Sunday) healings: the bent-over woman, the woman with a bleeding discharge, the man with dropsy, and this poor fellow, lying in the Sheep’s Gate entry to a healing pool provided for the afflicted, yet no one will help him into the pool. Each story is a version of Beauty and the Beast. Beauty sees in the Beast what the rest of the world does not. True Beauty refuses to see a being unlike herself. Jesus, who is Beauty in gospel tales, embraces many who are considered grotesque, and presses us to see as he sees, to love as he loves. Those in need carry the face of God whom we are to love deeply and fully. This is the journey of the groups from our communities such as a City Mission, the Wayside Chapel, and the Exodus Foundation exist to become. To be the beauty of Jesus.
Jesus breaks Sabbath rules by healing. In our culture, the rule-break would be “without a license.” Sabbath, he struggles to make clear, is a day to recognise that our lives are not what we make of them but what we find in them. Each life includes something grotesque, something beastly. But that is not all we are. For Jesus, Sabbath is a time to receive Beauty’s kiss, a time when distinctions fall away and the blessing of God is heard. A time to become inclusive not exclusive. In the final act of Jesus’ story, he will become the Beast, betrayed by a kiss. And in his grotesque body, he will be set free by love, and on the Sabbath day.

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The Makeover with Love.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - May 17, 2019 - 6:43am

It has been hard not to get caught up in the hype and false information coming out of the political party old and new machines as they try and buy our vote. It makes one have to choose what we would see as the least dishonest of them all Let me tell you that it is not easy and I find requires the Wisdom of Solomon. Sadly we have been bombarded with policies that fail to encourage us to live as Jesus lived, to love as our God would have us love.
For a number of parties we are encouraged to be greedy and compassionless so that a few can have power and secular wealth.  One would hope that this Election here in Australia would strike a new direction that would see God in the other, see God in those who are homeless, hunger, suffering and affected by war. See God in all and bring a willingness to share what we have equitably. One would hope that a pattern of life would be advocated that helps make all things new for all creation.
In one of the readings set in the Three Year Lectionary for this week is a passage from Revelations 21 about making all things new. This is a familiar and beloved passage, frequently read at funerals, as a comfort and hope of the day when death—and its sting—will be no more. For me as for many passages of scripture taken from Revelations I confess, these words are a stretch. Sometimes they help, other times they fall flat in the face of an immediate reality that is so personal, so painful, and so consuming that the promise of death’s end seems at best cold consolation. It seems impossible.
Perhaps you remember a loved one’s funeral when the reality of death was right in front of you, and the promise of resurrection a vague mystery in some far off, quite possibly imaginary, place. Perhaps you look at the world and see the vast gap between the pain and injustice we live with, and this crazy vision that someday in some alternate reality the ruler of time will proclaim that “mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” Perhaps after our Election in Australia, some might be in mourning because those they supported lost the election or didn’t get the power they wanted. Maybe just maybe we have another opportunity to think and act on inclusiveness rather than trumpet exclusiveness.  
I don’t know if this is true. I do know that I hope it is true. What good is God if God’s dream cannot be unbelievably bigger than mine? How sad to go through life with only the hope of things getting a little better? I might settle for 10 percent less suffering, but God’s dream is far bigger, beginning to end. God called this seer John out of his ordinary reality and into a vision of a new heaven and a new earth—that’s exactly what the text says — because the first heaven and first earth need more than a makeover. Please note: this vision is not disconnected from our reality. It’s consistent with our proclamation that God does indeed dwell with us, and it does not pretend that all is well.

God does not wave a magic wand and make tears disappear. Instead God will wipe away the tears that come from a torn world. And, God knows, we need to be consoled and healed to enter this new world. This dream is not for the satisfied. In a real sense it is for those who are thirsty for the water of new life.
As we reflect on this let us draw also on the Gospel scripture from John 13. Jesus told his disciples, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.” At first glance, this commandment does not seem “new.” Moses told the people of God that they are to love God with all their heart and all their mind and all their strength. Jesus had already added neighbour and self to this Divine directive. What made it new this time?
Perhaps it was Jesus addition, “as I have loved you.” To love as Jesus loves takes the commandment to a whole other level. It is a love that sees others just as they are and accepts them without reservation: even those we don’t agree with or who despise us or betray us or intend us harm. As Jesus’ actions were expressions of love, it means a depth of compassion that is so profound that the soul is restless until it has seen the sick healed, the hungry fed, and the imprisoned set free. Jesus’ complete submission to God’s will empowered him to be available for the works God accomplished through him.

Living the love of which Jesus spoke requires deep and sometimes painful letting go of self-will, self-desire, and self-interest. It means moving through our racism and sexism and homophobia. It means not fighting and struggling with God anymore about the people and places and things we cannot change. So this commandment is new, because it meant the disciples not only needed to know it—they had to live it. Maybe this love brings out the new world that Revelations talks about. Maybe this is what we as humans thirst for.
So that challenges us to ask of ourselves the question of how we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us.  By deepening our relationship with God so we recognise God in ourselves and as a result, in every other person, situation, and circumstance. Reflect on that and see how it changes what we do personally.

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Gods Handiwork.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - May 10, 2019 - 12:00pm

One of the readings from scripture this week continues the reading we had last week from Acts 9. When Peter first arrives, it’s your average pastoral care call. A friend dies, and they call the head pastor, Peter. He arrives in haste. I’m sure he is greeted with solemn faces, many tears. There are hugs and loving touches for all who grieve. The house appears full of mourners—widows who had received the love and compassion of a woman named Dorcas. This is a common sight for us humans as a loved one dies and we go to comfort the family and friends while seeking our own comfort.
Once Peter makes his way through the crowd, the widows begin telling stories. Isn’t that what we do? We tell stories of our loved ones when they have died. We remember together. And apparently remembering Dorcas meant remembering her craft. “All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them.” I imagine many were wearing those tunics and clothing. It seems a wonderful tribute to Dorcas—a living fashion show. The work of her hands walking around while stories are told of her love and compassion. It is the fashion show of her life. They are showing her off by showing off her handiwork.

But then Peter dismisses the others. Alone, he entered the room where Dorcas is. The last time he had done something like this, he wasn’t alone. He was with their friend Jesus and a couple other friends. They entered the room of a daughter who had died. Jesus told her to get up and she did. Peter imitates Jesus. He tells her to get up. And she does. And then calling the saints and widows—Peter shows them Tabitha. Not the work of her hands but the work of God’s hand, the work of the Spirit to resurrect, to give life, to recreate, to lift up. Peter shows them God’s handiwork.
Further, we don’t know how Tabitha died. Had she been an innocent bystander at the finish line of the Joppa Marathon? Was she working at her job when the factory caught fire and exploded? Did she have a cancer diagnosis? However Tabitha died, we know her friends were devastated. They had gathered around her, preparing her body for burial, grieving through tears and by sharing memories, showing Peter the clothing she had made, putting together slide shows with pictures from her life.

Perhaps there was a memorial like the ones we see today, with flowers, candles, and teddy bears, ribbons woven through the links of her chain link fence. The friends rushed into that place of vulnerability to show their love for their friend. They are described as widows, a nameless crowd of women who knew their own kind of loss. They had lost husbands, at the least. And they rushed in to care for Tabitha upon her death. When Peter arrived at Tabitha’s bedside, he found people who offered love and presence in the face of death.
Resurrection happens in those moments. Every time people run toward danger to help others, resurrection happens. Every time people choose love instead of hate, resurrection happens. Every time people come together instead of dividing, resurrection happens. In this season of Easter, we remember we who are Christians are resurrection people. With the disciples who left their locked room to go feed Jesus’ sheep . . . With the widows who rushed in to care for their friend Tabitha. . . We are called to offer resurrection.

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 28 April 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - May 3, 2019 - 7:06am
Gathering God’s People began with Music to set the mood for the time together.
After that we acknowledged the First People who had cared for the land and prayed that those who follow God’s guidance, in turn, guide us. 
Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2019)
Out of despair comes hope. Out of fear comes affirmation. Out of threats comes conviction. Out of our hearts comes praise.
This was followed by a responsive affirmation that in the midst of all our uncertainty, we will remain positive in our praise of God and our prayer for a growing faith.
TIS Hymn 256: “The Servant King.” Our king who showed us the way to be.
Opening Prayer
This prayer affirmed  God as life-giving, and life-affirming, asking that we be filled with hope for the new life given by the work of Jesus. It asked that our hearts will be opened to this never-ending, unconditional love during this time of worship and ever in every day.
Prayer of Confession - abridged
 “Forgive us our doubts, our fears, and our reluctance to witness to you and to the Risen Jesus.
We pray for the courage and conviction of those first disciples — disciples who overcame their fear and doubt to become mighty witnesses.
Lord, we believe; help our unbelief. Amen.”

Declaration of Forgiveness
The one who loves us and frees us will not leave us in despair and doubt, but will fill us with all joy and conviction. Let us praise and witness to the Holy One— the one who says I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end; the one who is with us always.
Thanks be to God!
There was then a declaration and a sharing of The Peace.
We have been called to be witnesses to our faith. We have been called to do so with joy and praise. With hearts full of thanksgiving for all that we have received, let us commit ourselves and our resources to enable the church to be that fearless witness.
TIS Hymn 407:“Breathe on me, breath of God” To be filled anew with God’s life is the focus of our Christian life.
The Service of the Word
 The First Reading: Acts 5:27-32: the disciples are interrogated by the council but Peter’s response is that they are doing what they have been commanded to do, which is to offer relief from people suffering from their guilt, when forgiveness is freely available.
The Gospel Reading: John 20:19-31. This reading covers the event of Jesus appearing to the  disciples who were hiding behind locked doors from the Jews. Thomas wasn't present so didn't believe but did later when he saw for himself . The words for us are : “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (Christine)

Preaching of the Word – A Risen Christ Makes All the Difference!
Rev. John began:
“The season of Easter allows the church to look intentionally at how the early church understood the Easter story and what difference that experience made as it sought to witness boldly to its truth and power.
 Following the Resurrection, John answers the question as to what difference the resurrection of Christ makes in the lives of those who come to believe it. On the same evening of that first day of the week, the followers of Christ huddled together behind locked doors in fear of the religious authorities.”
This was reflected in the Prayers for the People which was partly written by Caroline and then completed by Wendy as they thanked God for the support that is  given to us in our weakness and times of not reaching out ourselves.

        Rev. John’s words referred to scripture and thanks was given in the P for the P that scripture which is a concrete guide to our living, the realistic playing out of what Rev. John was saying about the difference that living through the Easter Story made to the lives of those who were there then.

 Later Rev. John said:

The church is commissioned by Christ to witness to the power of resurrection living. John wants the church to claim the purpose for which it was created and commissioned. John wants the church to trust the presence of the Holy Spirit as it seeks to lead and guide its ministry to a broken and hurting world. Such is the nature of the church and who Jesus calls it to be.
This too, was reflected in the Prayers, as Wendy and Caroline led us in supporting, not only family and others known to us but people in need of support and comfort all over the world.
Rev. John then covered the story of “doubting Thomas” with which we are familiar. This ended with words which will uphold us to be God’s people doing God’s work: “My Lord and my God!” A risen Christ makes all the difference!
TIS Hymn 516: Here, gracious Lord, we see you face to face
This was the actual place for the prayers followed by the Lord’s Prayer. Familiar words guiding our thoughts
TIS Hymn 228: Crown him with many crowns
May God who is Alpha and Omega, who is, and was, and who is to come, fill you with faith and conviction. May the Risen One fill you with peace and joy, that you may affirm your faith. May the Spirit be breathed upon you and give you peace.
And may that same Almighty God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life bless you and keep always Amen.
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Finding a Place of Shalom.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - May 3, 2019 - 6:29am

Reflecting on John Glover, “Ullswater, Early Morning,” c. 1824, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
Sometimes I wonder if we ever take real notice of some of the Psalms. This week’s Psalm for this Sunday in the three year lectionary is Psalm 30. With the events of that have assailed our senses so far this year we certainly need to seek a restoration of our lives and a place to find this inner peace. We have had fire, flood, and shootings so far this year In New South Wales here in Australia we have not only in the midlle of a  Federal Election but also we have had a State one. All of which will have probably tried our wellbeing. So the Picture I have started this blog with is from John Glover and speaks to me of peace. In Aotearoa (New Zealand) I always valued the early morning sunrise in the mountains or near the lakes high in the Southern Alps.
John Glover was a famous English landscape painter. His painting of Ullswater Lake was likely on or near land that he owned. Glover moved to Australia on his sixty-fourth birthday (my age) in 1831, and purchased a large tract of land in what is now Tasmania, where he became known as the father of Australian landscape painting. It seems fitting that “Ullswater, Early Morning” should hang in the Art Gallery of New South Wales. It’s as if God himself is bringing together the best of England and Australia and blessing both of them.
When one looks at this landscape, for many it speaks with one quiet word—shalom—a Hebrew word that can be rendered in English as “flourishing.” In this painting, all is well with a stunningly beautiful yet tranquil world. Why is it that we so seldom experience shalom? We get so busy that we forget that for which we are striving. What is “that,” if not shalom? What if we could make some time and space so that shalom could be found, not merely at the end of the journey, but in every day and every moment of it? This is what the gospel offers to us, if we will only create the time and space for it to take root in our souls, families, and circles of influence.
The God of Psalm 30 turns the mourning of depression into dancing. This is another picture of shalom. Where is a place of shalom, that God has given you?
And now I will wander to another topic that I often wrestle with and is highlighted in this week’s reading from Acts 9. The question again during this year has been, have you ever been wrong about something? It’s a question I think we all need to ask ourselves particularly our leaders and politicians. This is because in our modern world our wrongs seem to be pointed out to us fairly quickly and don’t lie hidden for that long.  The reading from Acts 9 tells us that Saul, before he became St Paul, was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” What began, perhaps, as a zeal to uphold religious doctrine had gone awry.
Saul had become a man possessed. It was no longer about right or wrong; it was about winning the battle and inflicting the mighty blow. Again sounds like some of our politicians and leaders. Only a blinding light from heaven and the voice of the Risen Lord would convince him that he was wrong and stop him in his tracks. For anyone who has ever been bloodied in a theological fight, this could sound like good news. But only if one is absolutely certain that he or she is not playing the part of Saul of Tarsus in the church drama.

In truth, each of us can point to at least one time when we were wrong and did not know it. The good news of the passage is that the story of Saul’s conversion points to the possibility of reconciliation—even under the most extreme circumstances. What may not be immediately evident is that all concerned parties have a role to play in this reconciliation. The reconciliation in this story began with God who has the largest interest in the outcomes. Jesus appeared to Saul, a Jewish leader whose life’s goal was to destroy “The Way,” as Christianity was known, and then to Ananias, a humble follower of Christ who may not even have been in leadership.
Imagine if the ending of this story had either decided to explain away the God-given vision or to shrink from the difficult task. We cannot help but think about troubles not only in our world but also in our church when we read this passage. Do we dare to obey the heavenly vision? Do we dare to step out and seek to bring shalom to the world around us? Do we dare treat all as the beloved and love the whole of God’s Creation? This is quite a challenge for the world, let alone the church.

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Squirrel or Jesus?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 26, 2019 - 7:30am

Once when a preacher launched into a children’s sermon, she was confronted by a visiting child, an eight-year-old friend of a regular member. The boy was new to this church, but was a regular attendee at another congregation that did not have children’s sermons. Nevertheless, the visitor tried his best to follow the line of the preacher’s effort to connect with the children.

Attempting to hook the children with something familiar before making her point, the priest asked the children to identify what she would describe. “What is fuzzy and has a long tail?” No response. “What has big teeth and climbs in trees?” Still there was no response. After she asked, “What jumps around a lot and gathers nuts and hides them?” the visiting boy could stand the silence no longer. He blurted out, “Look, lady, I know the answer is supposed to be ‘Jesus,’ but it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”
Isn’t it natural for humans to want to give the right answer? We church members want to please those in religious authority. Most often, we don’t want to doubt or challenge leaders or stand in the way of accepted norms. So, when we have our doubts, we tend to keep them to ourselves. That is the safe way. The eight-year-old in this story had more courage than we usually do. Sure, he referenced what he considered the accepted norm, but he also found a way to show how much he doubted it.
This week’s scripture reading from the Gospel of John, reveals to us St. Thomas—who was put in a situation similar to that of the boy at the children’s sermon. Thomas was the one who had not seen the risen Jesus when he first appeared to the disciples. The others told him they had seen the Lord, but he was sceptical. He doubted. Still, Thomas must have wanted to fit in. He might have said, “Look, friends, I know the answer is supposed to be that I acknowledge that you saw Jesus, but it sure sounds like a ghost to me.”
Jesus wasn’t a ghost, of course. He was the risen Christ, as Thomas later found out when he had the chance to see for himself. Still, Thomas’ questioning and doubting must have been as difficult for him as it was for the little boy trying to understand a preacher’s illustration about a squirrel. And it had to have been as difficult as life is for us when we struggle with matters that seem clearer to others or seem to vary from accepted norms. The story of Thomas’ honesty and forthrightness gives us hope and empowers us in our moments of doubt. We don’t have to accept mindlessly whatever seems the expected or accepted answer or view.
You know, even for Christians it is OK to be confused and bewildered and afraid and doubtful. Ours are troubling times, and many of us are bound to feel uncertain, even doubting that God is still coming to us. For some, the threat of terrorist attacks in the world seems ever-present and frightening. For others the continuing wars in places like the Middle-East is puzzling. For many a depressed economy is devastating. Some are torn by political rhetoric in a season of elections and an inevitably divisive election campaigns lying ahead in the next year or two.
Across the Church, there are sharp divisions over decisions made in recent years at Synods and meetings, and few congregations are free from controversy, leaving many in doubt about where God stands in all this. Since doubt and fear are bound to come upon us, we do well by facing the truth of these feelings, like the little boy in church and like Thomas of old. Let us remember that both were in a good and safe places to question and then to see and learn.
We are here either reading this or in worship because this is a place where we can encounter the risen Christ, patiently and lovingly leading us into all truth, just as he led St. Thomas. Whether Christian or otherwise, if we are willing to work through our fear and our doubts, we will find the other side of today’s reading from St John that teaches us also about faith. If we are honest in our relationships with one another, we can experience mutual support in learning to believe what we cannot easily see. If we are willing to express our doubts, wrestle with the questions then we will find strength and our faith journey will become one of joy and discovery.
However if we believe we have all the truth and back it up with exclusive use of scripture then that fails. It fails to present us with the true journey God has called us on and shown us in the life Jesus live. Based on our life with God we can recognise the power of the Holy Spirit at work among us, providing new possibilities that can move us beyond doubt and fear and anxiety and psychological paralysis. We will learn that through the power of God, miracles happen—that which we would doubt possible can come to reality. Dreams can be fulfilled, forgiveness offered, obstacles overcome, pain relieved, sickness healed, hunger fed, spiritual longings relieved, good brought from evil, love experienced in all the Easter glory of the risen Christ.

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19th April 2019 - Good Friday 9.30 am We do not know what we are doing.

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - April 25, 2019 - 2:15pm

Gathering God’s People
Call to Worship          We have gathered this Good Friday to remember the betrayal, humiliation and crucifixion of Jesus. We have gathered to experience anew the events that would change the world.  May we experience all the pathos of that day and may we participate in its meaning together.
Where is the light that shines in the darkness? Where do we turn when all hope is lost?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?We were the hollow echo of hosannas once spoken in love.
Were you in the garden when the disciples fell asleep? We were the betrayal in Judas’s kiss.
Were you in the courtyard when the cock crowed? We were the denial on Peter’s lips.
Were you among the scoffers when Jesus was flogged? We were the whip in the soldier’s hand.
Were you in Pilate’s chamber when he washed his hands of Jesus’ fate? We were the hatred of the crowd and the indifference in Pilate’s heart.
Were you with the powers of this world when the soldiers dressed Jesus as a king? We were the mockery in the crown of thorns.
Were you among the spectators at Golgotha? We were the nails that pierced Jesus’ hands and feet.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? We were the silence when no bird sang.
Hymn TIS 123: Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your sideAuthor: Katharina von Schlegel; Translator: Jane Borthwick (1855)

1 Be still, my soul: the Lord is on your side;bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;leave to your God to order and provide;in ev'ry change he faithful will remain.Be still, my soul: your best, your heav'nly Friendthrough thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Shadow of Condemnation
Reading: Luke 23:32-34
Forgiving Christ, when the world condemns us, when wrong is done to us, when we carry the weight of things that are too much to forgive, come along side us in the darkness, and give us the grace to be forgiven and forgiving.
Hymn TIS 347: We sing the praise of him who diedThomas Kelly
We sing the praise of him who died,of him who died upon the cross;the sinners’ hope, though all deride:for this we count the world but loss.
Inscribed upon the cross we seein shining letters, “God is love”;he bears our sins upon the tree;he brings us mercy from above.
Shadow of Separation
Reading: Luke 23:35-43
Reconciling Christ, we are weighed down by sin and separation, a world that is not at peace, people who are not whole. You reached out to the thief, you welcomed him to God’s side. Come alongside us in the darkness, and bring grace and peace to everything that is broken.
Hymn TIS 730: Jesus, Remember Me when you come into your KingdomTaizèCommunity

Shadow of Sorrow
Reading: John 19:25-27
Loving Jesus, we carry the weight of the people we love, concern for their sorrows and suffering. Our care for them is deep, and sometimes there is not much we can do. Come alongside us in the darkness, and cradle the ones we love in your strong hands.
Hymn TIS 357: When his time was over, the palms layRobin MannWhen his time was over the palms lay where they fell.As they ate together he told his friends farewell.Jesus, though you cried out for some other end,Love could only choose a crossWhen our life began again.
Shadow of Despair
Reading: Mark 5:33-34
Lord Jesus Christ, you know what it is to feel that God is far away. You know what it is to call out for God’s presence. Come alongside us in the darkness, and help us call out for God.
Hymn TIS 342: When I Survey the Wondrous CrossIsaac Watts
1. When I survey the wondrous crosson which the Prince of glory died,my richest gain I count but loss,and pour contempt on all my pride.
4. Were the whole realm of nature mine,that were a present far too small:Love so amazing, so divinedemands my soul, my life, my all.
Shadow of Suffering
Reading: John 19:28-30
Suffering Saviour, in all our thirst, in all our sickness, in all our longing, in all our pain, you are there. Come alongside us in the darkness, and walk with us through all our suffering.
Hymn TIS 345: Were you there when they crucified my LordBased on an African-American Spiritual
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?Were you there when they crucified my Lord?O sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble;were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Shadow of Death
Reading: Luke 23:44-49
Reflection -  Quotes to give us all “Food for thought” from John’s SermonTo hear the words we have heard this morning or even to read them is to step on holy ground… How can one hear this story of stories without fear and trembling?
What great sorrow and shame overcomes us who witness the flogging of our Lord, the spitting and the hitting! The perpetrators were people who a few days before were applauding him. These are the people who followed him to hear his words, to touch his garment, to feel the strength of God that flowed through him. And now, the mob violence has taken over perfect goodness is met with perfect hate and fear. The terror of evil seems to be triumphing…
How the heart aches for those who have ignored this solemn day and night! How can one plumb the depths of His love without allowing the heart and mind to recognise the great suffering that resulted from such love.
In our scriptures, one cannot help but notice the details that could have come only from an eye witness. The fear of Pilate, his struggle to appear in control. His fascination with this man who stands before him battered and bleeding, but thoroughly in control himself; these are before us as they happen. And as a counterpoint, we hear Peter, what are you doing? How can you be so faithful through this? As though in him we recognise ourselves.
It’s frightening to realise that Caiaphas knows that he is dealing with the power of God, and very deliberately he sets out to crush it. Otherwise all his power, and all he has built as a career, will disappear. Power is not easily given up.
And those who have religious power have an even more difficult time relinquishing it. This is what has caused so much bloodshed in the name of God through the ages.
We hear with a poignant simplicity: "There they crucified him and with him two others." Here is a question; do we hear the hammer on the nails? Do we see the flesh being torn, the ligaments sheared, the bones crushed? What a horrible way to die. It defies all our powers of imagination.

On this holiest of days, we don't need words. We need to feel. We need to acknowledge the shadows that hung over Jesus and hang over us. To allow ourselves to feel. To feel his pain, for it was real; to feel his aloneness; to feel the terrible darkness that descended on the earth when the Son of God died.
Out of that death comes life. But first we must walk through that terrible death. Caiaphas made the choice to stay powerful in the eyes of the world and sold his own soul. Pilate made the choice to ignore the stirrings of his conscience. Jesus made the choice to obey God, to enter the darkness of death for our sake.
And we must follow. Otherwise, we will not taste resurrection. Amen.
Dearest Jesus, even in death, you are there. When we mourn, when we are afraid, when we come to our own end, you have been there, too. Come alongside us in the darkness, and carry us through death to life.
Hymn TIS 600: O my Saviour, lifted from the earth for meWilliam Walsham How
Prayer:All you who pass this way
Look and see, the shadow of sin
All you who pass this way
Look and see the weight of the world
All you who pass this way
Look and see, the suffering of our Saviour.
All you who pass this way
Look and see, the sorrow of Jesus Christ
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. 
Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name,your kingdom come,your will be done,on earth as in heaven.Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins,as we forgive those who sin against us.Save us from the time of trialand deliver us from evil.For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yoursnow and for ever.                                          Amen.
Hymn 341: “My song is love unknown” V 1,2,3,4 and 7 Samuel Crossman
My song is love unknown My Saviour’s love to meLove to the loveless shown That they might lovely beO who am I That for my sakeMy Lord should take Frail flesh and die

Hold fast to hope. Hold fast to one another. For God, who has promised, is faithful.The day of God approaches. Go in peace.               

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Do We Dare Domesticate?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 19, 2019 - 11:37pm

Well we have come to Easter Day in our Christian Church year and it’s a time of celebration for Christians. Of course those who aren’t still seem to celebrate without knowing why. So, what does it mean to us both church member and nonbeliever? Is it just another holiday or is it time to remember how our God met us and rebuilt a relationship when Jesus was raised. You know, book after book, magazine article after magazine article, movie after movie, all try to tell us just who this Jesus was. Or, more properly, is! When to pin Jesus down as being this or being that is only to place him back into some kind of tomb.
When we pretend that we know just who Jesus is, we simply domesticate him to be the person we need him to be and close him up in another tomb of our own making. We only have to look on Facebook to see much of this happening as people seek to convince others that they know exactly what or who Jesus is and what God intended.
There was much to the death and resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb. Courage and survival are some of the attributes that were seen and still are seen. Have you ever seen photos of breast cancer survivors who have allowed their mastectomy scars to be acknowledged and celebrated? I heard of a photo spread a few years ago of some beautifully artistic, breathtakingly honest photos of women—survivors—who had allowed the most dark period of their lives, the cellular, chemical, and surgical invasion of their bodies, to be photographed.
The photos were hard to look at at first. We are used to seeing topless women only in a certain contexts, something shameful to be ogled, or for the gratification of the person looking at them. We certainly aren’t used to seeing surgical scars in a magazine spread. But these were badges of courage. In every one of those beautiful photos a woman was saying, “I was broken, I fought, I was scarred; and yet, I live. These are my battle scars.” In the showing of his battle scars, in the declaration that he lives, Christ the unbreakable Saviour declares for us life eternal.
We are flesh and bone as he was. We need and we hurt, we struggle and we overcome, and ultimately we are healed. In Christ the flesh and bone Saviour we are forever intimately connected to God in a way that we could have not have been had God not decided to become flesh and dwell among us. If we take the incarnation seriously, if we truly believe as best we can that we are made in the image of God, then we are free to reveal our wounds, our scars, our disappointments, to God, and to one another. We serve a God who was bruised, scorned, cut, and pierced on our behalf. And yet, in the flesh he declares that he lives again. And in that revelation, we are made whole.
Yet, Easter is the day we rehearse the story of the Resurrected Christ. Joyous bells ring. Choirs sing, and the people of God rejoice! Some gospel accounts feature the spectacular: earthquakes and angels in lightening white clothes. Others portray the empty tomb as conundrum for Mary, Peter, and John. Sermons race to their climax when the Risen Christ appears confirming the resurrection and defeat of death. We, in jubilation, shout “Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” And that is the end of the Easter story . . . or is it?
The Gospel’s particularly John’s seems to say, “Wait there’s more.” For some reason, it puts the tomb and Mary centre stage. What can we learn from Mary? While she grieves outside the tomb, Jesus appears and calls her by name. Then he says “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the God my parent.” Do not hold on to me. Jesus had more to do. Maybe for John, Jesus’ glorification has three parts: death, resurrection, and ascension. Jesus told Mary to let go and tell his disciples that he was going to ascend. So what are we to take from the scriptures we have used on Easter morning? Well the most important is that the good news of Easter continues beyond the empty tomb and resurrection.
Sometimes we cling only to part of the sacred story. Sentimentality surrounds the Christmas and Easter holidays. At Christmas, we like gifts and we want Jesus to remain a cute infant with chubby cheeks who never grows up to become sovereign Lord. The Easter holiday bears its own sentiment: the hot cross buns (which have been in our stores for months, maybe like in the USA a special outfit, maybe a special dinner with family, and the big worship service with pomp and pageantry. Easter is a time to celebrate the Resurrected Christ while leaning forward to anticipate the good news the Jesus that has been resurrected and who is glorified will bring us. Easter is a time to celebrate this point or event or miracle in God’s sacred story, knowing the best is yet to come.
Our faith is a journey, a growing, a wrestling with how this resurrected Christ relates to the way we live – the way we are inclusive and not exclusive – the way we are in relationship not only to our God but with each other. So, where are you?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Challenge of the Day.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 18, 2019 - 7:06am

There is no doubt that we are surrounded by evil in this world. Injustice. Racism. Greed. Genocide. Human trafficking. Pride. Exploitation. Not only did our God leave heaven to make his home in this evil-filled world . . . not only did he stare evil in the face on a regular basis but on the cross of Calvary Jesus allowed himself to be cursed and afflicted by evil. If we are too familiar with the scene, it may be easy for us to forget that, on the cross, something terrible was happening. A completely innocent man was brutally killed.
The death of Jesus Christ was a beautiful tragedy. It was tragedy, because Jesus did not do anything to deserve such treatment. He was accused unfairly. He was sentenced unjustly. “He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes” (Isa 53:5). Yet, Jesus’s death was beautiful because of what it accomplished for us. Isaiah 53:5 goes on to say that “he bore the punishment that made us whole; by his wounds we are healed.” Because Jesus was betrayed, we have been treated with kindness that we don’t deserve. Because Jesus was arrested, we have been set free. Because Jesus was denied, we have been accepted.

Because Jesus was condemned, there is no condemnation for us. Because Jesus was mocked, we have been commended. Because Jesus was cursed, we have been blessed. Because Jesus was abused, we have been comforted. Because Jesus was dishonoured, we have been honoured. Because Jesus was beaten, we have been healed. Because Jesus’s body was torn, we have confidence to enter the holy places of God. Because Jesus was forsaken by God, we have been welcomed by God. Because Jesus was killed, our lives have been spared. From Jesus’s anguish comes our peace.
On this sorrowful day, we remember the suffering that results from great love and compassionate concern for the world. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is one who takes on the world’s sorrows out of humility. Although Jewish thought attributes the nation of Israel with this role of “servant” throughout Isaiah’s writings, Christians traditionally attribute these servant songs to Jesus. In either case, a message emerges that is profound and troubling.
Innocent people suffer in our world. One who would be a light to the nations has his life snuffed out due to an unjust and torturous world. This is the sorrow of Good Friday. This has been the sorrow of Jewish communities who have suffered under pogroms throughout history and in recent history in the Holocaust. It has also been the sorrow—and continues to be the sorrow—of oppressed peoples and individuals who strive for justice, advocate for peace, and live radically compassionate love and mercy. Jesus is not the only one who bears our infirmities.
This is a day to remember the suffering people whom Jesus represents in his innocence, his compassion, and his prophetic courage: peacemakers; justice-seekers; and innocent children suffering in poverty, war, or abuse are just a few of the many suffering servants who bear our iniquities. Thinking about the suffering servant in this way challenges the quiet contemplation of this day.
What if the sin that the servant bears for me is the sin of my consumerism borne by a child labouring in a factory? What if my iniquity of prejudice is borne by the political activist imprisoned for her advocacy work? Where am I the darkness that overcomes the light? When have I pierced God’s love with cruelty and even hate? These are the hard questions of Good Friday. Ones we desperately need to reflect upon.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Emotional Swings.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 12, 2019 - 12:21pm

Most of us try and steer clear of violent emotional swings. Elation is wonderful as long as it isn’t shattered by the cold slap in the face of disaster. Driving along a mountain road, taking in the scenery, alive with a sense of joy and wonder is one thing, but to be hit head on by a speeding SUV coming in the other direction is something else. I wonder if that’s how we feel now that the Elections in Australia have started with all sides partaking in falsehoods and nastiness from the get go. Well, in this week’s readings from scripture for Palm Sunday St. Paul writes to the Philippians and the scripture set comes from chapter 2. St Paul can write lyrically about the events that begin with Palm Sunday and end on Easter Day without having experienced, first hand, the highs and lows of the Passion.
That is not to say that Paul isn’t moved. The passage contains some of the most beautiful language the apostle Paul penned, and perhaps fragments from a very early Christian Hymn. Paul proclaims that Jesus is “in the form of God,” is “equal with God.”  That’s a hard subject for a first century Jew to contemplate let alone write about. St Paul believed passionately that there is one God and one God alone. Yet here he is in this passage, through belief and experience, stating that Jesus is God: But what sort of God? And with some of the recent claims by various prominent figures in our society and our politicians or would be politicians this question is extremely valid.
Here’s the scandal. Jesus, who is God, willingly empties himself to become a slave. It’s nearly 150 years since slavery was abolished .in the United States. None of us in Australia or New Zealand have any living memory of that vile institution. However, in Australia our history of treatment of our first peoples and our historical involvement in blackbirding in the Pacific Islands late in the nineteenth century could be classed as forms of not only racism but slavery. A slave was or still can be the lowest form of humanity, with no rights. He or she was owned as if a cow or a horse.
 Imagine God as a slave. Here, God is placed in a position of utter vulnerability, with no defence. The God who is utterly human humbles himself to death. Almost without a pause, in Philippians 2, St. Paul then jumps to the resurrection. Perhaps some of you who are Christian have sung that great hymn, “At the Name of Jesus” recently? Yet St. Paul’s thoughts as we enter Holy Week are so much easier to digest than St. Luke’s story in chapter 19. Now some of us may only hear about the entry to Jerusalem but others will hear Chapter 19 of Luke. Read it and see what brutality Jesus was treated with. There’s been much criticism about the violence portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie of “The Passion”. But to hear and read the Gospel readings for this coming week, is to find ourselves engulfed in a brutal narrative.
Those crucifixes streaming with blood more accurately portray the Passion than our chastely engraved crosses of gold or silver. Nor is St. Luke’s story in the least bit anti-Semitic although it may be used in such a way by hateful people. The rogues of the story are not Jews, but some people who happen to be Jewish and some people who happen to be Roman and of course the mob. Mobs can appear in any country. One can look around our world and see the violence of a mob.
Yet we can say, how wonderful it was for the disciples to enter Jerusalem with their King. They made such a noise that the religious elite, the Pharisees, asked Jesus to shut them up. The disciples were elated. Most of us have experienced moments of religious elation when heaven and earth seem to come together and nothing possible can ever be wrong again. But then the story takes us swiftly down the steep slope of reality.
In the garden Jesus kneels in anguish and terror as he takes in all that now will happen. He is betrayed by a disciple, arrested and dragged before the cynical and the important who will do anything to keep their jobs, preserve the status quo, and get rid of a trouble maker. Then comes a trial before that bloody-thirsty wretch Pilate, the henchman of a disgusting paranoid Emperor. Then troops beat Jesus half to death and burden him with the cross, made to stumble along to the hill of execution, and there executed brutally.  St. Luke then writes: “But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

It’s the distance that is the problem for me because I think the action of many of us is to put distance between ourselves and violence when we see it. We are so used to looking at violence from a distance. We see innocent people killed and mutilated almost daily as we watch TV and chew a hamburger. Perhaps during this Holy Week we will be so far apart that we won’t even give time to be in church to keep watch as the drama of our redemption unfolds in the liturgy. We are called by God to get closer, to imagine the mystery of a God whose love is so great that he shares the worst that can happen to us in order to bring us to the best that can be.
Those of us who work hard to avoid suffering, who have no earthly idea how to deal with tragedy, loss, death itself, those of us who may skip Good Friday, preferring the joy of Easter Day, are challenged by these readings to come closer. We are called to stand at the foot of the Cross with Mary the Mother and St. John. We are asked to reach out and touch that Body and that Blood “given for us.” For in a way we cannot explain, the Cross changes everything for us and for the world. Our loving God forgives us, and would make us new.  To return to St. Paul, we are all to bow our knees, at the Name of Jesus, and proclaim in our hearts and lives that Jesus is Lord, to the Glory of God. Maybe it’s something worth doing  right now.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Extravagant Love.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 5, 2019 - 5:49am

Two things stand out as classic teaching points for those who follow or are interested in the Christian Faith in this week’s passage from John 12. First, when Mary washes Jesus’ feet, everyone knows it. It isn’t something that she hides, but rather, it is out in the open, for the fragrance of the perfume fills the room. The amount of perfume is so ridiculous that everyone has to know about it. Just as Noah sacrificed an offering as he went out of the ark and a pleasing aroma went up to God, so too, here, we can sense the sacrifice made. We can picture the pleasing aroma of the perfume bringing great pleasure and meaning to Jesus. It is a sacrifice, and Jesus is getting ready to become God’s sacrifice for the world.
The second teaching point comes with respect to extravagant gifts. Many of us, like Judas Iscariot, try to put a dollar value on extravagant gifts. We think about what that money could have been used for, or we make some judgment call on the need of a certain gift. Jesus implies that we should always be helping the poor as prescribed in Deuteronomy, but there is also a time to do something extravagant because of our faith. We don’t need to offer to God or others something that costs us nothing, but rather, we should be about giving sacrificially and abundantly.
Anointing, with oil or extravagance in another form, can serve more than one function. You can commission a person as a witness, you can convey the Holy Spirit, and you can even pray for healing. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, said, “The Gospel of Christ knows of no Religion, but Social; no Holiness but Social Holiness.” He went on to say, “You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones.”
I would like to take a brief look at the main people in this week’s scripture reading from John 12. The setting is rather simple: Lazarus’s sisters are hosting a dinner for Jesus.
Martha.The only thing we know about Martha is found in verse 2. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served. Poor Martha. It may speak volumes that when her sister pours the equivalent of a year’s wages onto Jesus’s feet, Martha doesn’t say a word. And Martha not speaking may reveal to us just how far she has grown since their last interaction. For Martha, literally serving Jesus, her family, and their friends is how she lived her life as an offering.
Lazarus.Lazarus is identified with what Jesus has done for him. Let’s pause here for a moment. What would our lives look like if we, like Lazarus, were identified first with what Jesus has done for us? Lazarus is “one of those at the table with him [Jesus].” We hear in scripture that Lazarus died and Jesus raised him from the dead. Aside from walking out of the tomb, we never hear Lazarus do anything more from scripture.
 In all of scripture, he never says a word, never talks about what death looked like, or what it was like to be raised from the dead. What we do know is that Jesus loved him and that Lazarus welcomed him for dinner when he was in Bethany. We also know that after Jesus had dinner with Lazarus’s family, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Lazarus because his life was a living reminder of the power of Jesus. Lazarus’s greatest service to the gospel message was simply being loved by Jesus and living. He may not have done or said anything profound. . . but God used his life in amazing ways.

In our communities, we have people who battle addictions of all sorts. Some of these people rely upon the support they get from Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and many other like support groups. Many of their lives serve as a living reminder of the grace of God. Choosing life and facing your demons/problems each day can be viewed as a testament to God’s faithfulness and love. And that, for some of us, is an incredible expression of service.
Mary.Mary served in a most unusual and personal way. While Jesus reclined at the table, as we have indicated she poured costly ointment on his feet, and then wiped them with her hair. Scripture says that the house was filled with the aroma of perfume. When was the last time that you experienced the love and power of God in such a real way that you reeked from it? What would our lives “look like” if we bore the aroma of the Holy Spirit? What if grace and love and compassion poured out of us in an intoxicating way?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Saints and Sinners.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 29, 2019 - 11:24am

This week’s passage from Luke 15 is considered to be one long teaching moment by Jesus. It’s helpful to remember that in the Greek, there are no punctuation marks. No periods, commas, and exclamation points. In order to translate a passage in Greek, the entirety of the text must be taken into consideration. The prodigal son is one of the more fully developed parables that Jesus told. Many who don’t belong to the Christian faith know and use the teachings of this parable.
None of the characters are two-dimensional. All three express strong emotions in such a way that they invite readers to connect with them. From the perspective of the elder son, it’s the story of how he is steadfast and faithful while his feckless, prodigal brother squanders a fortune and is then welcomed home. From the perspective of the younger son, it’s the story of how he foolishly asks for, receives, and then wastes his inheritance on dissolute living. Chastened and nearly starving, he realizes his father’s servants are better off than he is, and so he formulates an apology and returns.
From the perspective of the father, this is a story about losing a son and, in fact, regarding that boy as dead. It was very unusual that a son would ask for his inheritance before his father died, yet even knowing that this was not a wise choice on his son’s part, the father acquiesces. In giving the inheritance to his son, the father shows surprising disregard for his own rights and honour.

The drama of this story takes off when the younger son practices his apology over and over. In it, he confesses his sin and recognises that he has forfeited his position as son. When the father sees his son across a field, he runs to meet him and we get a sense of hurried excitement. Some theologians wonder if the father is running to protect his son from scorn from his village. The father never seems to judge the sincerity of the younger son’s confession and never waits for explanation. Instead, he orders slaves to “put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it.”
Though honour and reputation were valuable commodities, the father again seems to care little for his own honour that was likely damaged through this incident. His joy is palpable. And later, when confronted by the angry, hurt elder son, the father responds with compassion. He calls his elder son teknon, which means child. It is a form of affection that affirms their relationship. The father pleads with the elder son. He reminds him of their bond as parent and child, saying to him, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” He tries to persuade him to accept his younger brother, “this brother of yours.” In the end, we don’t know what the elder son chooses to do. Neither do we know what happened to the younger son. To be forgiven can catch us at our most vulnerable state. We have no ground to stand on; we simply accept.
Through this parable we can see that the church is to be a means of grace and a herald of truth—not either/or.  We Christians often can’t seem to decide whether we are a museum for the saints or a hospital for sinners.” Many Ministers would say that their fears about choosing one of these options should not, perhaps, form competing visions for local church life, but sadly they often do. The kingdom Jesus proclaimed is the same kingdom of God he enacted, and it is the same kingdom to which he summons the church.
The church is to proclaim and practice reconciliation, that being the essence of the kingdom: the reconciliation of all of us to God and the reconciliation of each of us to the other, and neither the proclamation nor the practice of reconciliation can finally exist without the other. Either emphasis, without the counterweight of the other, leads to ruin. The “hospital for sinners” model can leave believers awash in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” namely, “grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.
It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God . . . the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” The “museum of saints” model, on the other hand, can chill non-believers and even the faithful with a cold and impassive shoulder. An austere, compassionless rendering of the gospel leaves people knowing that they are not righteous but also not necessarily that they are forgiven.
In either view, what might be called true doctrine and true community seem independent of each other. For Saint Paul, however, authentic community and particular doctrinal confessions of the gospel are interdependent. The church is not a group of volunteers who have chosen Christ, but saints chosen by Christ—called and given identity through a particular confession and hope: truth and grace; ministry and message; not one without the other.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 24March 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 28, 2019 - 8:11am

The service began with an acknowledgement to the original carers of the land who were grateful to the land and its creator for all it offered them and replayed with care and reverent respect.
The Call to Worshipdeclared that God, knowing our hunger and thirst, provides generously for us so that we will be satisfied and praise God for that.
So in the Opening Prayer we prayed to God that our hunger and thirst will be met in a way that satisfies our whole being.
However in our Confessionwe admitted to seeking to satisfy our hunger and thirst in transitory ways that left us still hungry and thirsty. For this we asked for forgiveness:
Help us abandon our careless ways and self-seeking schemes that we might return to you, our provider and sustainer.
In response Rev. John declared our forgiveness:
God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted beyond our abilities.
Even in our brokenness, God provides a path to wholeness.
When we confess our shortcomings, God has mercy on us and is generous with forgiveness.
Through Christ Jesus, we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
Then having found our peace we offered that peace to each other.
Offering Prayer
As we enjoy the rich feast you have provided, we know that there are those who want for food and drink. Multiply the offerings we share today, that they may bless those in need. May the spiritual nourishment we receive today strengthen us for continued service in your name.
The Service of the Word.
The First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9
The Gospel Reading: Luke 13: 1-9- brought to us by Christine.
Preaching of the Word Planting Seeds of Hope
Rev John spoke of living an intentional life as a disciple of Jesus. He began by relating the story of an immigrant to New Zealand from Iran who despite his many regrets at leaving his home and all the difficulties of making a new life in another land and culture, did so because of the danger of remaining in his home country.
And because he intentionally made a new life in New Zealand and made choices for that to come about, he was able to do so successfully and as a result enjoys a new life.
Rev. John then said:
 In much the same way, following Jesus is an intentional act. It is a choice and as Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Following Jesus is an intentional, thought-out decision that leads to a new way of life…
To a certain extent, this means we ought to be deliberate with the choices we make. One of the expectations of discipleship is that we are actively involved in a relationship with God where we are making wise choices to help this relationship grow. Should we choose to be passive in our faith, we are in a sense letting life pass us by without embracing the opportunity to receive the gifts…
 The intentional choices made today are like seeds of hope that will blossom tomorrow
When we think about this we could relate it to the story of the tree the owner ordered to be destroyed. The manager pleaded for another year to fertilize it and care for it. This week someone suggested the tree hadn't borne fruit was that the manager had neglected it up until that point. Perhaps our spiritual lives haven't blossomed and borne fruit because we have neglected them. A point to ponder.
Making a real investment in the faith is an issue in our time, but we are not alone.When Jesus teaches about becoming one of his followers, we must recognise that he is teaching this lesson to his own disciples…
 Jesus is inviting his disciples into a deeper, more serious form of discipleship. Jesus is speaking about commitment and dedication. If you are one of those people attending church who have not invested in the church, then perhaps this scripture is teaching you to get invested. Investing in the faith comes with a price…
So, just “turning up” isn't all that is required. We must intentionally attend to feeding our souls on the nourishment offered by God, however that comes to us.
 We say no to ourselves so that we can say yes to God. I witnessed my friend Bruno make sacrifice after sacrifice for the good of his family and his faith. He might have had a promising career in his homeland because of his college education, but he gave this up so that he and his family might live in freedom… 
Makingthe most of our life in Christ involves sacrifices and intentional choices. Each day we have the opportunity to choose whether or not we will follow the way of Christ. Fortunately, we are helped in this decision by the church, which teaches us to live intentionally. The church encourages our participation in Christian practices like prayer, worship, ministry, and hospitality.
That may mean less time spent in other pursuits but also it certainly does mean more time listening for God’s guidance, in whatever form that may come.
Our search for God continues.
Our hunger and thirst will return.
Seek God in all places. Seek God with your whole being.
We will call on God and know that God is near.
And may that same Almighty God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life bless you and keep always.
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