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Facing Our Own Nature and Suffering.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 22, 2019 - 12:35pm

The agricultural theme continues in the sayings of the psalmist for this week’s readings and the prophets. Both texts open with a longing for water, a basic necessity for all living things to survive. We in New South Wales Australia have seen the suffering caused by the lack of water bought about by the Climate Change we continue to bring on ourselves. Cotton and Rice Growers us up so much water there is little left and we see the massive kill of fish in our rivers which are now but a series of ponds. 

We see it in the contamination of our water table and supply by greedy miners who don't care what happens in the future unless there is quick profit in it. Like the fig tree, the psalmist is feeling dried up and deteriorated, like a “dry and tired land.” Yet, both the prophet and psalmist are able to claim joy because they see in God a chance at new life and grace. Isaiah attests to the higher ways of God that transcend the conventional wisdom of our broken world.


We might question the nature of suffering and be challenged by other deep questions for which there are no easy answers. But God’s ways and plans are higher than ours, and that promise can give us hope. Likewise, the psalmist expresses confidence in God’s strength, which enables the psalmist to speak praise with joy, and to cling to God with his whole being. The question for us is where we can make personal connections to both texts here. 
Consider how at times you feel like a dry and tired land, or how you feel thirsty and hungry, or how your behaviour might be that of the one whom God is calling to abandon such ways, lifestyle and schemes. Reflect on what you do individually to the land you have care for and stewardship over. Think about how you use this worlds limited resources to the detriment of us all.

Christians are called to see Lent as a time for us to consider a sober assessment of our spiritual state and how we choose to live our lives. Both these texts prompt such introspection. But they both also offer redemption in God’s grace. There is an invitation here to consider how we might like to assess our lives, assess our actions and see where we have experienced God’s love as “the richest of feasts” or a “rich dinner.” However, we also need to asses where we in our greed have pillaged God's creation and given wise stewardship.  The celebration of the Holy Communion is a natural connection to this imagery, inviting people to join together in the heavenly banquet that God has prepared for us in Christ.
Further I think as human beings we can admit that we are uneasy with the connection that both Jesus and St Paul appear to be making in this week’s Lectionary Readings, between sin (wrong behaviour or the turning away from God) and suffering. In the Luke 13 reading, people asked Jesus to theologically explain why people had to suffer. They used as case studies two groups: the murder victims of Pilate and the victims of the destruction of a tower.
In both instances, the questioners pondered a connection between their sin and their fate: “Did their sin cause their suffering?” It is a conclusion that we would rather not consider, for obvious pastoral reasons. That’s why Jesus’s answer to the question is so disturbing. “Unless you change your hearts and lives,” Jesus told them, “you will die just as they did.” Does Jesus really believe that such suffering is caused by our sinfulness, our bad behaviour? Fortunately, there is an answer to our uneasiness, in the parable of the fig tree. When the owner of the fig tree sees that the tree is bearing no fruit, he proceeds to do what any rational vineyard owner would do: cut it down and start over. That would be a reasonable cause and effect to assume.

Sinfulness beckons consequences which can be viewed as punishment, just as fruitlessness beckons pruning. But the gardener intercedes. The Gardener pleads with the owner to give the tree one more chance, appealing to the owner’s heart of compassion to give the tree another opportunity for fruitfulness. He offers to provide extra care and nurture: digging around it to remove competing plant life and preserve water, and giving it nourishing fertiliser to give it the nutrition that it needs. Jesus is the gardener in this story who steps into that gap between sinfulness and suffering in order to offer an irrational, unlikely second chance at life.
If the stories of Pilate and the tower reinforce the natural consequences of our negative behaviour patterns, then the story of the fig tree reinforces the certainty of God’s grace. And in the end, it is God’s grace and love, not the causality of sin that rules the day.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 March 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 22, 2019 - 9:19am

 
Today I took my cue from two readings, Genesis 15: 1-12, 17-18 and
Luke: 13: 31-35 looking at how simply the people of that time interpreted natural events.
 Now even though the people of the Old Testament were interpreting natural events wrongly, they were right on the money when it came to walking daily with God.
A little advice about waiting on God: 


I will make no further comment on that it's not really unusual to have to sit quietly to build a relationship with God. We don't make friends with each other if we don't give time to those relationships.
 
From day to day we have to interact with the people and things around us to get through life. That comes with the usual ups and downs; successes and failures, and so in the daily rush it's hard to think of ourselves as citizens of heaven, but even so, all those ups and downs; successes and failures at an earthly level do not affect our relationship with God. Jesus did not let his Earthly work interfere with his Relationship with God. He was told that Herod was after him but his response was that Herod would just have to wait because he knew from his daily walk with God that his earthly work still had time to run.
Of course we should value our physical existence and the gifts we are given but we need to remember our primary concern is to look after that physical existence and those gifts to continue building God’s kingdom.  In the New Testament we are exhorted over and over to live as though we are already citizens of heaven and that's because we are: God’s kingdom start here and now.

Paul told the Philippians to imitate him and his mob. Hmmm. To be fair he meant to imitate him and his followers in living close to God but even then I would feel safer taking my cue from Jesus himself.
We are in Lent. This was the time when it is traditionally believed that Jesus was on a trajectory to Jerusalem.
Where he knew he would die.
He also knew that if he stopped telling the truth He had learnt through his relationship with God, and went off to live in obscurity he wouldn't have to die.
Jesus lived side by side with God . The truth came to him from his daily, close, patient walk with God. He would have had to turn his back on that and deny all he knew to be true to escape death.
How would we be in such a situation? How highly do we value our relationship with a God and our citizenship in Heaven, whether it be here on Earth or in the afterlife? How highly do we value the truth?
Jesus could not give up his relationship with God. He could not stop telling the truth or living by it. He may have escaped death in the cross but if he had taken the other path, he would have shrivelled up and died anyway.
You may think I am setting the bar too high. That it's all very well talking about the fortitude Jesus showed which came from his close relationship with God. God is far more understanding of our frailties than we are. Feeling not good enough or a failure doesn't help at all. Each time we falter we should reach up for help in finding our feet again. God’s love and support will provide the strength for us to continue and every time we go through that process we will learn a little more about how close God is to us and how God is there for us
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Living into Love.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 15, 2019 - 12:49pm

I have found it very hard to focus on my chosen title for my blog today, since I heard the news this afternoon of the murder of our brothers and sisters in Mosques in Christchurch, Aotearoa (NZ). It bought me a number of issues to wrestle with. One was as to why someone would want to, with extreme brutality, take life just because they thought differently, prayed differently or had a different way of engaging with God. The Second was that this was not the country I had been bought up in or the way I had been nurtured to view all people as equal before God and each person being a beloved of God.
I support the response of the Prime Minister of Aotearoa, Jacinta Arden who made it clear that inclusiveness and compassion were the ethos for the country and that as a country Aotearoa rejected the violence of terrorism, no matter who perpetrated such behaviour. In my life time I had never seen police armed on the streets even though I lived through Springbok Tours and the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. I pray I may never see it again. However let me get back to Living into love.
There was an ad on TV the other night, another get-rich-quick scheme—something about how to make millions through real estate deals without having to work very hard.  Doing things the easy way is almost always more attractive to us than we’d like to admit, more attractive than working hard at something, more appealing than delayed gratification.  Working hard has its own rewards, as we usually learn, but it’s no guarantee of success.  So, a promise of an easier way and supposedly sure results catches our attention. A promise that it is someone else’s fault rather than our own that a new arrival is getting what we see as ahead.
St Paul in the reading from Philippians 3 set for this week is talking to the church at Philippi about a similar thing:  he cautions them not to be seduced by promises of an easier way to live the Christian life.  Paul is always very protective of his own understanding of how to live as a Christian—he often warns his followers about those who are false prophets, those who would lead them astray.  Here, he warns them again about taking the easy way out, and he uses as his example those he calls “enemies of the cross of Christ,” who allow their minds to be “on earthly things.” 
All this week’s readings have to do with covenant and faithfulness and trust.  They acknowledge the difficulty and challenge of holding true, of staying faithful.  We all want the security of connection, of relationship, of covenant.  But such connections require something of us, as well. Relationships are not one-sided, not even with God—relationship implies that both parties are involved.  But sometimes we get distracted and overwhelmed, or have what we think are higher priorities.  Sometimes we’re just tired, or we think that the other party doesn’t care about us—or a dozen other things that draw our attention away from where it needs to be. 
Sometimes it is easier to just let ourselves be distracted than to do the things that keep us in relationship, even though ultimately they nurture us. Making an effort, being disciplined, trusting, being faithful and attentive and intentional—those things take time.  They are taking the narrow way.  They are difficult, especially in a culture that does its best to keep us distracted and off-balance and wanting.  And yet in such a culture, there is nothing we need more than the depth and richness of our relationships with each other—with families, friends, loved ones, communities—and with God.
When we cheat ourselves out of these essential, life-giving relationships, those who love us suffer, of course.  But, we are the ones who suffer most of all.  We are the ones who lose the most.  We cheat ourselves when we take the easy way, when we avoid the narrow way of truth and integrity and love.  Those are the only things that matter, and when we try to live without them, it is no life at all, really.  And then it is us that Paul calls to task, it is us that Jesus weeps over.
The narrow way, is about, loving unconditionally, giving unconditionally.  It is about opening our hearts completely, and stepping to the very edge of the precipice of love and trust.  We are afraid to do these things, and rightfully so—the world does not encourage such behaviour.  After all, our hearts get stepped on and may even get broken when we make ourselves so vulnerable. 
If we’re lucky, we experienced unconditional love as children, but many of our parents were unable to provide such love.  Many of us don’t know what unconditional love looks like—we have never experienced it.  And our children, who may be the only ones we can even come close to loving unconditionally—even they can break our hearts. 
Even though we know, at some level, that God’s love is unconditional, we still all too often believe that being loved really depends on our worthiness.  So, we want some proof, because, of course, we usually believe we are not worthy.  So, we try to bargain for love, even with God, because we can’t understand any other way.  It’s how we are taught.  And after all, even Abraham when called by God asks what he will get out of the deal.
It is us that Jesus weeps over because we do not live into the fullness of the promise.  Jesus wept and I believe weeps over such things as recent events where one group of human beings are unable to include in compassion and love and instead desire hatred and violence. It means we are not living into the covenant.  We are afraid.  We believe and take on a view of scarcity rather than of God’s abundance, and we’re afraid that there won’t be enough for us. We’d rather have a get-rich-quick scheme because it demands less of us. We would rather terrorise and brutalise others because we envy them and want to be exclusive. 
But we are called to abandon our fear and mistrust; we are called to walk wide-eyed into God’s love.  It’s what Paul is talking about when he reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven.”  It is what Jesus weeps for, tears meant to soften our hardened hearts, to wash away our fear, making room for love to grow.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Call is to Show Up.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 8, 2019 - 7:26am

Jesus, filled with God, awakened to a compelling, driving certainty that he must go into the wilderness where people often went to fast and pray. The wilderness provided the open, silent space needed for seeking direction and purpose. Tradition has it that Jesus climbed into a high cave of Mt. Quarantal, a place which is today the location of the Monastery of the Temptation. This is not the experience of the later Transfiguration upon the mountain that we talked about last week but it is still an image for us of being able to connect with our God.
This high place in the wilderness west of the Jordan, less than a day’s walk from Jericho, for centuries attracted God’s seekers. In these caves in the Quarantal, people would fast and pray, seeking needed answers. Jesus, now certain of being loved and touched by God, needed the answers that a forty-day discipline might bring. In the cold, dark cave, Jesus waited and watched. Deprived of the comfort of water, food, and warmth, Jesus tested his spiritual muscles. Three times God’s Adversary came testing Jesus, tempting him to forget his baptismal identity and to use his new power for personal comfort and gain, political influence and glory, even free himself from suffering and death. Three times Jesus turned his back on the Adversary and embraced living a life of compassion as God’s servant.
Love revealed in Jesus, shaped and tested by the forty-day discipline, has for generations called us to our own vocations. While each person must discover (or uncover) specific meanings of God’s call, all share the baptismal certainties: you are God’s child, you are God’s delight, and you are God’s love.
 Yet we deny our identity. We forget these realities. We carelessly allow confusion to rule and let fears bargain for assurances inferior to what God promises or desires. We trade love for short-term profits. Misplaced identity brings confusion and disorientation that seeks from religion personal gain rather than wholeness and holiness. Success rather than transformation becomes our mission. Worldly wealth provides the measure of our worth, instead of allowing God’s grace to grant personal significance. We make compromises that weaken our resolve to stand firm in what is good and right despite God’s promise. All this we do because, at all costs, we seek to avoid sacrifice, suffering, and death.
God surprises us by bringing transforming love through Christ’s presence. A surprising paradox reveals a God continually present and who uses sacrifice, suffering, and even death as the media through which we find love, wholeness, and life. God uses that which we avoid to provide that which we most deeply desire. Four strong yearnings shape our hope:
1.     We each yearn to belong.2.     We yearn to be loved and to love. 3.     We yearn to make a difference, to contribute. 4.     We yearn to continue, to endure, to last—even beyond death.
Each generation must rediscover God’s revealing presence that reaches into our intense longing. Augustine of Hippo walked from village to village teaching and preaching the good news that restless hearts will find peace in God. Centuries later, Francis of Assisi danced, sang, and loved his way through Europe, making Christ’s abundant love visible through the starkness of his self-imposed poverty.
If we are love, then what brings such separation and destruction that runs so freely through our personal and social histories? Two fundamental reasons echo from generation to generation. I have found that in recent times they come in the words written by Gerald May:
“First…we are asleep to the truth; we do not realise who we are and what we are for. The second reason is that we misplace our love; we become attached to things other than God” That is the bad news. The Good News is that God actively engages our lives, sending us wake up calls, one after another. Once we entertain the possibility that God dwells within each soul, then we can choose. We can choose to listen for love, seek love, and allow love to awaken within.”
The season of Lent brings opportunities to awaken to God’s love. Notice throughout the days of Lent who speaks Love to you? Who reveals God’s heart to you? Who brings you knowledge that you belong to God, that you are love, and that your significance rests in compassionate giving?
Unless you show up for prayer, unless you participate in worship, you are likely to remain asleep to the truth. Dare to trust that you have God at the centre of your being. Dare to risk praying. Dare to ask, seek, and find Love within. Learn through your personal experience that you have within you God’s still, small voice.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

"You are dust, and to dust you shall return."

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 6, 2019 - 9:37pm
 It is one of the most ancient phrases of Scripture, coming right out of the early chapters of Genesis. This is what we are reminded of by our traditions on this day each year as it forms the central theme of what we're about. We're being reminded of our mortality and our need for penitence.

But there's another theme at work deep within this sentence that we might do well to ponder as we as Christians enter the period of self-examination and renewal called Lent. Part of our journey as people of God in this season is about re-energising our spirituality and to truly stop for a moment and allow God to do some transformational work in us. We need to truly stop which are perhaps two of the hardest words to hear in our fast-paced always-in-motion culture today.
On Ash Wednesday, it seems appropriate to pause and take a hard, honest look at what drives us. Many of us are being run to exhaustion and near breakdown by fear. If it's not fear that we might lose our jobs if we don't perform well enough, it's the fear that we'll lose our profits or our investors, or that our stock portfolios will begin to drop in value. Many of us have a passionate fears about where our next meal is coming from, or how we will be able to pay our bills next week or next month. And if these fears weren't the subject of some of the deepest soul-searching in the latest political adventures of our country, what was?
We have listened to claims and counter-claims from our politicians over the last months which will continue for a while yet. The assumption that has been made, rightly or wrongly by all sides of the debate, is that the answer is to keep "moving forward," or in financial terms, "moving upwards." So we work harder, driving our bodies to the edge, shortening our tempers, destroying our environment by upsetting its finely tuned balance and stripping the earth of more precious resources. But no one seems to be asking the question, and certainly no one seems to be answering, "Where are we headed? Upwards: towards what? Forwards: to where?" Growth towards what? Growth at what cost to us God’s creation?
Even the market itself seems confused about what its goals and what they really mean. Where this all is supposed to be headed. We are guilty, in so many ways and at so many levels, of the corporate sin of "chasing the wind." And, like most corporate sins, it's a societal ill that each of us has a very hard time finding a way out of. Our businesses fail if we don't pay attention to the bottom line. Our tables and plates are empty if we don't compete and work hard.
Fortunately for us as Christians, the reminder that we hear today, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return," was not written by a market strategist. In fact, it is one of the earliest scriptural statements directly attributed to the voice of God. Like so many things on Ash Wednesday, it seems a grim reminder about our own darkness, our own mortality. That indeed may be true. But there is also a great hope here, and perhaps even the beginning of an answer to our wrestling with our own corporate greed and even our fears.
We in the West have somehow forgotten that we are people of the earth. Remembering that we are dust is a call to return to an ancient wisdom that we are as much physical people as spiritual people. Spirituality and physicality are at root connected. Jesus was not born into a sterile environment, cleaned and sanitised for his arrival. He was born into all the smells and grime of a barn, reaffirming the sanctity of even the dust and dirt that make us up and the rest of the natural world.
Running around with our faces disfigured, or parading our discipline in public will gain us nothing spiritually. Rather, it is the care for our bodies, the washing of our faces, and the quiet, gentle acts of mercy and kindness to the needs of others that will nurture us as whole physical and spiritual beings. We need to be reclaiming and reaffirming our physical selves and the physical selves of others. Seeking balance with our neighbours, the earth, and our well-being is really where we need to be headed.
While the market forces driving our lives will not go away anytime soon, at least we have a way to mediate competition's effects on our lives. So, fast this Lent from some of the frenetic desperation that rules our lives. Make time to find the sleep that is necessary, to spend time with people and the God whom we love. Make time to give energy towards helping those who are in need.
Next time the tap is running or the computer is on, ask where the resources come from, and wonder who worked to bring them to us. And remember to take off the shoes and feel the grass between your toes. I ask that this year our reconnection with whom and what we really are will be our truest and best Lenten discipline.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 17 February 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 4, 2019 - 10:29am
 Call to Worship.

Out of the ordinary aspects of life , we are called into this place-  for this is a special place in which God has been waiting. Waiting for each one of us. In the presence now of God, surely all that we can do is offer our praise and worship. And at the name of Jesus, we must bend our knees in submission and faith. Let’s sing:  
Hymn TIS 231“At the name of Jesus” And until they do it's up to those who do to see that God’s will be done.
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
 God  - in this place we are invited to meet you – to encounter the truth of who you are – your love for all humanity. If we are open to such a message – if we are willing, then we must be impacted, lifted out of our ordinariness. We must become new - with new energy and understanding, for when we meet your truth, when your Spirit works in us, we must be changed…
God help us to help the poor, the hungry and the excluded as we live for you in this place. In Jesus’ name Amen.
Offering For the building of God’s kingdom.
Hymn TIS 210“O for a Thousand Tongues” Today there are far more than a thousand and there are those that praise God but don't know that they are doing so when they praise God’s handiwork or the work of people who are inspired by God.
Bible Reading Luke 6: 17-26
Message
Dermot began by setting the scene of the reading, of the people who had so little, not just so little in a material sense but so little spiritually, who went out to hear Jesus hoping that “this time” they would find an answer to their poverty.
Two thoughts immediately sprung to mind. Firstly, how often do we try to enrich our “flatness” with things that only have to be replaced when they wear out or break or simply disappoint because once we own them…nothing has changed. The message Jesus preached was and is the answer to that. “Lay up for yourself treasures in heaven…”
Then the other thought was that how in the midst of our feeling deprived or flat or missing something, we don't give a thought for those people today who have little more than the people Dermot spoke of. In our own country here are people who either walk out take public transport…everywhere…not just when it's convenient. They NEVER buy food or drink when they are out. A family birthday means everyone turns up for lunch to honour the birthday person but the meal is the same simple meal as always. And then when we think further afield, there are the people in countries about which we know little. In a documentary I watched not long ago, a little boy was setting off for school, kilometres away with a bottle of water. His grandfather handed him half a slice of flatbread to take with him for the day. There was no sense that either of them thought they were deprived or in some terrible situation. Perhaps they found their richness in heaven.
Dermot seemed to agree:
As I read this passage again, I found myself imagining you, who are gathered here, being the people who left your village or your town this morning to head out along a dusty road, joining with others, possibly with a clay jar of water?? – and a piece of flat bread, to head out to where a wandering Rabbi/preacher was to speak.  And why did people go to that effort? Because they were hoping to hear something which might be valuable – which might change their lives.
Was this what it was like for you this morning?   You came hoping to hear something nourishing, something which might be impactful?  You might be a very different crowd to that which came out to hear Jesus, but I wonder whether you might indeed be in fact doing the same thing – seeking after God intervene in their lives.
Dermot continued, linking Matthew and Luke in a way to explain what seemed different messages. Space does not allow us to follow that here. What Dermot said next was:
remembering that Luke’s Gospel has particular concern for the needy and outcast – that is, that God has a particular concern for those in need, for surely what we are encountering is a revealing of the nature of God, then here’s a thought
– maybe, just maybe, it is this message which is the reason Jesus had to die! Maybe for speaking such words, Jesus could not be allowed to live. Maybe these words were too offensive or challenging to the powers who moved against him for them to simply ignore Jesus and let him continue to spread such stuff.
Who would think it today? Aren’t these words simply words of advice and of compassion? NO! We must realise that in such words Jesus was standing face to face with the powers of the day – the powers which exercised control of the political and the religious framework for the whole community. And these powers and authorities are directly criticised by Jesus - they had to put a stop to him.
………
May God forgive us - but we see abusive exercise of authority by one over another in international affairs – and in our national politics – and in our State politics – and local affairs – and even in our families. It is the same drive for power, status, ego, etc and the same sort of fears and lack of trust which motivates such disease at every level of human society – and it all arises from an unwillingness to know and accept others with a respect and concern which should be given to all – we are all children of the same God and bear within us the gift of life and potential to know the nature of God as revealed in Jesus.
It is for us to understand our weaknesses and whatever our age and whatever our place in the community, to speak and do what we can to better those who are in need, whether poor (or poor in spirit) – whether hungry – or whether those who are rejected. For to do so is to become what we are meant to become – this is what Jesus taught to that crowd 2000 years ago
Hymn “Lord of the Dance”
Prayers of the people and Lord's Prayer One of the most important parts of the service but if we leave if at that, it is not enough. We must act where we can
Hymn TIS 272 “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”
Benediction
God calls us to a task of sharing goodness and compassion– to do so is to abide in God’s own nature. Let us go out then with a loving concern borne of our love of God in Christ. Amen.
Going out Hymn
Now unto him
  
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 3 March 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 4, 2019 - 10:29am

Apply the Mountaintop Experience.
 
Put yourself in the Holy Land - 2,000 years ago as we can in our imagination and as we read the passage from Luke 9: 29-36 from the lectionary for this week. Imagine that you are one of Jesus' leading disciples. He calls you apart from your colleagues to go with him on what turns out to be a great adventure. You start walking, happily chatting, and following him toward the high country. At the start, you figure, this is one more time when Jesus needs to get away from the crowds - to rest and refresh and restore his spiritual strength. You, too, are ready for a rest.

 
When Jesus leads you to the destination, you recognise it as a holy place of your faith-set apart for connection with the greatest meaning life has to offer - a place to encounter God. You begin to think that maybe this is not going to be an ordinary retreat, even by Jesus' standards. Suddenly you see Jesus changed - his face has changed and has become dazzling white. You are not sure what to make of this. But you know something extraordinary has happened.
 
Then, you are startled again to see the two most honoured leaders of your faith, Moses and Elijah, long dead, standing there beside Jesus. You do not know what to think or do. Your friend Peter suggests setting up dwellings so they could stay there permanently. But before anything else can happens, you hear the voice of God-"This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"  Now you know the purpose of this adventure. Here is the answer to what you should do. t is clear that you are not to look to Moses and Elijah-not to look back to the old, but to reach forward to the new, listening to this beloved one of God, this Jesus and listening to him only. Then, it is time to go back down the mountain and return to the others. They will be the same, but for you everything is different. God has done a new thing. Everything in your life is transfigured - transformed - changed - to a new reality of God.
 
It is meant to be easy for us, as followers of Jesus, to put ourselves in the place of James or John or Peter. We go through the same kind of adventure in our daily lives; we recognise the same Lord. And we hear the same message from God: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
 
We too have our "mountain tops." Each of us needs places and times set apart for us to take a good spiritual breath. Often this can happen in the midst of worship or Bible study or prayer groups or whenever we gather with fellow believers or even as we share an experience with God’s creation. The "mountain tops" of our lives are also represented by times when we are alone with only silence around us-not with a radio blaring or a television yakking or a computer clicking. This is our personal prayer time and time for meditation and reflection - being still so we know God for what God is, specifically, in our lives. If you have ever sat upon the mountain top or in the bush and watched and listened as the new day dawned in all its glory will now what I am referring to.
 All of us though, too, gain recognition and insight into God when we go to these mountain tops set aside as holy places and holy times for us to focus on God. In the stillness of our quiet and solitude as we watch and wait we learn to see and hear what our God says and does and how God moves us. The presence of God can astonish us in the beauty of creation and the generosity of the love we are surrounded by.
  And we too can listen most attentively to the beloved of God. In these times of quiet prayer and meditation and self-examination, we listen for the words and the truths of our Universe and our God through Jesus. We do this through reading and reflecting and through studying the examples of others whom we Christians call the saints. We connect with the saints of old and the godly people of our own day and communities by opening ourselves to recognise the power of the spirit moving among us and those around us, changing lives to better reflect values of God s kingdom.


However, we too must come down from our "mountain tops," knowing what is possible for us in every part of our lives. We can count on the amazing power of God to transfigure and transform and change what is old into what is new-what is ordinary into the extra-ordinary, into what can be.
The truth of the Gospel affirms that each and every one of us - even if we are lost, blind, misguided, self-centred, and arrogant - can really be transformed into God's beloved children and his faithful disciples. God can transform our sadness and frustration and despair into joy and hope. God can transform our apathy and lack of concern for God's commandments into an active love that brings God's kingdom more closely into being. God can transform our weakness and fear into courage and strength. God can transform our earthy, broken humanity into faithful members of the Body of Christ.
 
We live our lives at the base of the mountain. If we have heard the transforming word of God we will continue to listen to Jesus our Lord and we will pray continually the collect connected with today's Gospel.
 

 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Apply the Mountaintop Experience.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 1, 2019 - 12:29pm

Put yourself in the Holy Land - 2,000 years ago as we can in our imagination and as we read the passage from Luke 9: 29-36 from the lectionary for this week. Imagine that you are one of Jesus' leading disciples. He calls you apart from your colleagues to go with him on what turns out to be a great adventure. You start walking, happily chatting, and following him toward the high country. At the start, you figure, this is one more time when Jesus needs to get away from the crowds - to rest and refresh and restore his spiritual strength. You, too, are ready for a rest.
When Jesus leads you to the destination, you recognise it as a holy place of your faith-set apart for connection with the greatest meaning life has to offer - a place to encounter God. You begin to think that maybe this is not going to be an ordinary retreat, even by Jesus' standards. Suddenly you see Jesus changed - his face has changed and has become dazzling white. You are not sure what to make of this. But you know something extraordinary has happened.
Then, you are startled again to see the two most honoured leaders of your faith, Moses and Elijah, long dead, standing there beside Jesus. You do not know what to think or do. Your friend Peter suggests setting up dwellings so they could stay there permanently. But before anything else can happens, you hear the voice of God-"This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"  Now you know the purpose of this adventure. Here is the answer to what you should do.
It is clear that you are not to look to Moses and Elijah-not to look back to the old, but to reach forward to the new, listening to this beloved one of God, this Jesus and listening to him only. Then, it is time to go back down the mountain and return to the others. They will be the same, but for you everything is different. God has done a new thing. Everything in your life is transfigured - transformed - changed - to a new reality of God.
It is meant to be easy for us, as followers of Jesus, to put ourselves in the place of James or John or Peter. We go through the same kind of adventure in our daily lives; we recognise the same Lord. And we hear the same message from God: "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!"
We too have our "mountain tops." Each of us needs places and times set apart for us to take a good spiritual breath. Often this can happen in the midst of worship or Bible study or prayer groups or whenever we gather with fellow believers or even as we share an experience with God’s creation. The "mountain tops" of our lives are also represented by times when we are alone with only silence around us-not with a radio blaring or a television yakking or a computer clicking. This is our personal prayer time and time for meditation and reflection - being still so we know God for what God is, specifically, in our lives. If you have ever sat upon the mountain top or in the bush and watched and listened as the new day dawned in all its glory will now what I am referring to.
All of us though, too, gain recognition and insight into God when we go to these mountain tops set aside as holy places and holy times for us to focus on God. In the stillness of our quiet and solitude as we watch and wait we learn to see and hear what our God says and does and how God moves us. The presence of God can astonish us in the beauty of creation and the generosity of the love we are surrounded by.
And we too can listen most attentively to the beloved of God. In these times of quiet prayer and meditation and self-examination, we listen for the words and the truths of our Universe and our God through Jesus. We do this through reading and reflecting and through studying the examples of others whom we Christians call the saints. We connect with the saints of old and the godly people of our own day and communities by opening ourselves to recognise the power of the spirit moving among us and those around us, changing lives to better reflect values of God s kingdom.

However, we too must come down from our "mountain tops," knowing what is possible for us in every part of our lives. We can count on the amazing power of God to transfigure and transform and change what is old into what is new-what is ordinary into the extra-ordinary, into what can be.
The truth of the Gospel affirms that each and every one of us - even if we are lost, blind, misguided, self-centred, and arrogant - can really be transformed into God's beloved children and his faithful disciples. God can transform our sadness and frustration and despair into joy and hope. God can transform our apathy and lack of concern for God's commandments into an active love that brings God's kingdom more closely into being. God can transform our weakness and fear into courage and strength. God can transform our earthy, broken humanity into faithful members of the Body of Christ.
We live our lives at the base of the mountain. If we have heard the transforming word of God we will continue to listen to Jesus our Lord and we will pray continually the collect connected with today's Gospel.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 24 February 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - February 26, 2019 - 9:04pm

 
The theme today was “love”. God’s love which has raised us up to minister to others, so that they will find God’s love for themselves. One of the first statements the Rev. John made during The Call to Worship was:
“Love is an all or nothing proposition. Only by loving your enemies as well as your friends do you live as children of the Most High.”
This theme was continued through the Opening Prayer:
 “Inexhaustible source of love and life, be with us in our time of worship as we seek the love it takes to walk in the ways of your Son. Help us love our enemies and bless those who wrong us, for we cannot do so alone. Teach us the joy of treating others with all the same respect and goodness with which we hope to be treated. May our every word and deed make known that we are your beloved children and vessels of your love. Amen.”
which both acknowledged God as love itself and the source of all love. At the same time the prayer called on God to show us how to love as God loves us. But we needed to Confess our inability to do so as God would want us to do because of our human frailty.
“Teacher of hard truths, it is difficult to let go of our anger toward those who prosper through deceit and unscrupulous ways:
It is not easy to make ourselves believe that the meek will inherit the earth, when they are being crushed by the unjust systems stacked against them.


We long to see the vindication of the righteous
and the prosperity of those who work selflessly
 to bring your realm here on earth.
We yearn for the day when all people will
treat one another as they wish to be treated.
 Help us live into that day, Holy One, even
when it is difficult, that your love might
 shine like the sun through our lives and
our ministries. Amen.”
But having confronted our lack and having
asked for forgiveness, we were able to reach
 out, knowing that we are forgiven and can
pass that generosity onto other children of God.
“Let us be known as children of the Most High by sharing our love with all as we pass the peace of Christ.
Peace be with you!
And also, with you!”
We were gathered today to welcome Otis into the family of God and God’s love. Because there is only one way to be so joined the parents were asked if they had made the necessary steps to claim membership of God’s family for themselves and their little boy:
“Do you turn to Christ? Do you repent of your sins? Do you reject selfish living, and all that is false and unjust? Do you renounce all that is evil? Do you believe that the gospel enables us to turn from darkness and evil and to walk in the light of Christ?”
When they answered all these questions in the affirmative, John prayed:
“Almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness and lead you in the light of Christ to his everlasting kingdom. Amen.”
Then knowing Otis would receive proper guidance from his parents, Rev. John continued:
 “Otis, may the Lord open your ears to hear his word and your mouth to proclaim his praise.”
We then showed our love in a practical manner through our offering according to Jesus words:
“Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure. . . running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
This sense of generosity beyond what was necessary was continued in the Bible reading from Luke which admonished us to love without any sense of reward or return…even those who were our enemies.
The Preaching of the WordUnimaginable Love continued along the same line:
 “To love our enemies prevents us from acting out of our own self-interest. It means that compassion and forgiveness are at the very core of our faith. It means that to do harm to others in any way is totally out of the question. It means that we live by a higher standard, one that leads us to a new and different world which transcends the one in which we live. To follow this principle is humanly impossible.”
The same message was reflected in the Prayers of the People, led by Wendy. Not only was the main body of the prayer focused on love to others but the prayer requests of the congregation were little packs of love, wishing peace and God’s comfort on those we know who are suffering in some way.
  This was emphasized in the following hymn, “Joy to the World.” Joy cannot exist without peace and love.
Benediction
 “Go forth into the world in peace; be of good courage;
hold fast that which is good; render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the faint hearted; support the weak;
help the afflicted; give honour to all; love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.  
 
Then we sang a blessing to each other:
HymnTIS 779: May the feet of God walk with you.
May the feet of God walk with you, and his hand hold you tight.
May the eye of God rest on you, and his ear hear your cry.
May the smile of God be for you, and his breathe give you life.
May the child of God grow in you, and his love bring you home.
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Love in the Face of Power.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 22, 2019 - 12:03pm

This week we extend our scripture reading from Luke 6 taking in verses 27-38.  In chapter 6 we believers are reminded that our faith is an act of resistance. In a time wrought with indifference and when we are divided across numerous social constructs of inhumane historical precedent, practicing unconditional respect and uplift of others is challenging. Verse 27 of Jesus’s words transitions from the assurance of blessings to responsibility, to siding with the poor, to the divine imperative of loving enemies. This instructional discourse grounds the Christian ethos. In this text, Jesus is detailing the ways in which God’s priorities, which are antithetical to the ways of the world, should shape our actions.

The purpose of Jesus’s directions for relinquishing material goods or to practice civil disobedience is to challenge systems, that is to say, Empire. The world’s systems, laws, and processes are inherently inhumane and absent of love. We lock people up away from society on Islands and deny them treatment for political ends. We walk past those in need of the basics of life with no comment or no attempt to right the inequalities that put them there. Yet our God asks that we challenge the power that gives rise to these situations.
Those called of Christ are required to embody and exercise love upon all creation. The narrative notes that love is shown in sacrifice of our stuff and ourselves. This text provides us with a new way of being in relationship with one another. Jesus calls us to respond to others according to God’s love. This means that we must abandon our urge to “get even” in order to respond in a way that shares God’s love and protects our humanity.
When Jesus suggests turning the other cheek after being slapped previously, he is not simply challenging antiquity’s “shaming” culture, but encouraging an early exhibition of civil disobedience in the face of dehumanisation. These actions are representations and expressions of truth in the face of power. Jesus’s teachings, like all kingdom pathos, are antithetical to the world’s assumptions and norms. Democratic, legislative, and social ideals grant allowance for equal or greater response to hurt, harm, or danger if upon an individual or that which they control.
When someone mistreats another, it is neither unusual nor unacceptable, across cultures and spaces, to reciprocate such mistreatment. Rather, Christians are called to work in the example of our ultimate ethical witness—Jesus Christ—showing compassion as did the progenitor.
You know the Wesley’s who are credited with founding the Methodist denomination had some very profound things to say about the way we Christians are called to live by our God. A hallmark of Wesleyan practice is adherence to doing no harm, doing good, and loving God faithfully. The word puzzle like the poetry of Psalm 37 gives credence to such basic instruction. The psalmist reminds believers not to get upset over the wrong in the world. We live in a world that is defined by competition. We are constantly compared to others, and often we internalise this behaviour and begin to measure ourselves in relation to others.
We ask why bad people receive good things while we continue to struggle. At times, it is easy to look at others and become angry. Harbouring anger and rage serves to be unhealthy; those in relationship with God release themselves and others of such. They are admonished to do so knowing that the wrong, evil, and ungodly will not last always. Even in our struggle, God shows Godself to be present, powerful, and purposeful. The help of the Lord can come in many ways and forms.
In the verses 39 and 40 of our Psalm for this week we are reminded that God is our refuge in the face of uncertainty and evil. We are called to reside in God’s love, allowing it to transform us even in our moments of anger and resentment. While we may never understand why bad things happen to good people, or why it sometimes seems like the evil are rewarded, God’s love and presence in our life endures. We Christians are comforted knowing that God is always with us, even when we are lost in struggle and confusion.




Categories: Syndicated Blogs

How Do We Measure?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 15, 2019 - 6:15am

There is a story told by a person who felt both messages in the gospel scripture Luke 6:17-26 in a very personal way in an experience. This person was connected to a congregation that had a pattern of doing short-duration mission work in a foreign country. The mission work in this instance was the funding and building of a clinic in a very poor community. Before the clinic was built, the people who lived in the community had no access to even the most basic types of healthcare. There wasn't even a place to get aspirin. As one visitor to the community had said a few years before, "if a sick child doesn't get well because it is loved and prayed for, then that child doesn't get well." It was this observation that motivated the leadership of the congregation to build the clinic.
So, the clinic was built. And the community had a basic health resource for the first time ever. Lives were saved and changed. A family that lived in the community decided to thank the members of the congregation who had been there building the clinic. They decided to have a meal to honour the visitors. This family was very poor. The guests at the meal found the host's home to be three non-mortared walls of cinder blocks. The roof was corrugated metal, lying on poles, held down by rocks. The kitchen was outside and consisted of a hearth with a grate and a clay oven. There were no chairs, no table. The plates were metal.
The food was glorious. There was chicken and rice, beans, well-seasoned avocados, a fresh chutney’s, tropical fruits, and sugared pastries. There was fresh, hot, hand-made bread rolls/damper. To drink, there were Soft drinks and a bottle of brandy. During the meal the guest realized that the cost of the food was equal to more than six weeks of income for the hosts. The guest also realised that was more money than that was on his person. The first thought was to give the hosts the money after the meal. But upon reflection he concluded that the gift would be patronizing and would dishonour the hosts. The next thought was to give the money to the priest who was rector of the congregation so that the priest could slip the money to the hosts. But again, upon reflection, he could only conclude that the action would dishonour the hosts. Finally, he decided to simply enjoy the meal with profound appreciation and gratitude.
Later, the guest said this about the experience. "It was the greatest honour I have even received. That family spent six weeks of income to thank and honour me. No one else has ever come close to that. I realised that the host family is the richest family that I know. They are so rich that they can spend six weeks of income on a banquet to honour someone that they will never see again in this world. I only spent about a month's worth of income to celebrate our child's wedding. And that marriage has given me grandchildren who are the dearest things in my life. I am poor and stingy. My hosts are rich and generous.
This is a challenging text for many to interpret. Luke’s text (commonly referred to as the Beatitudes) points to the manifestation of God in and across our lived experiences. It is challenging because it requires us to see God in places and in ways that are antithetical to the world’s priorities and perspectives. As Christians, we are called to use a formula inverse to that provided by society. The world only sees blessing in the signs and wonders that are principally material in nature, ornate by design, signified by status, and socially accepted or approved. However, God’s priorities do not align with the world. God’s blessing is grace. It is operating and living in the preferences and expectations of God. God blesses those whom society marginalises.
As James Cone teaches, “Christian theology is a theology of liberation, and its task should be concerned with explicating the meaning of God’s liberating activity so that those who labour under enslaving powers will see that forces of liberation are the very activity of God.” Our God is God of the oppressed. God through Jesus Christ intends to liberate the captive; heal the sick; empower the poor and weak; uplift the downtrodden; and radically transform the political, social, and economic systems of this life. And boy does our world need this transformation rather than more walls.
God can and will show up in real and necessary ways. Christians are called to see God evidenced, or made real, in tangible and intangible forms within our lives. Ultimately, if we follow God’s call, we will create conflict with the world around us. Society seeks to reinforce its own values, and the prioritising of God’s values will make us antithetical and antagonistic to the world. But through God’s grace, we are blessed even in our discomfort. We are blessed through entering into a new way of being in which we reject the rubric that society attempts to use to measure our lives.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 3 February 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - February 13, 2019 - 10:33am

 
 Gathering God’s People
Acknowledgement of First Peoples
From river to ocean, from campfire to hearth,
May the First People who have cared for this Land be blessed.
From breath to song, from step to dance,
May those who follow Your Song lines guide us on the journey of living honourably in this place.
From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus,
 
Call to Worship - (B J Beu and other Source)
God has been with us and knew us before we were even born. The one who calls us to love has been loving us longer than we have drawn breath. Sink into the arms of Love this day and trust the hand that holds you.
Therefore we worship God in every way, in every action and thought. Not because we should, but because God’s love in us generates that worship from within us.
 
Hymn TIS 28: “God is our strength and refuge.” No matter how dark, dangerous or difficult, or even easy life is, we haven't the strength or wisdom to go it alone. And God is our only helper
 
Opening prayer
 Wrap us in the arms of your love, Holy One, as we gather in worship this day. Teach us to be patient and kind in our actions, and humble of heart in all of our ways. Help us see and know ourselves as well as you see and know us, that our words may be true, and our love may be pure. Build us into a community that bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things in the name of Love, which never ends. Amen.
 
 A Prayer of Confession
 God of truth and love, when we yearn for certainty in an uncertain world, remind us that we know only in part; when we long for others to see things our way, remind us that we see in a mirror dimly; when we seek to impose our ways upon others, remind us that we have failings of our own. Harken us to your voice once more and reveal to us the truths that you alone can see. In your holy name, we seek your guidance now. Amen.
 
 Declaration of Forgiveness
The one who formed us in our mothers’ wombs looks upon us with love and seeks our highest good. Rejoice in the good news that we are fully known, and that we are loved with a love that heals all wounds and breaks down all barriers that lie between us. Thanks be to God!
 
The Peace
 Now faith, hope, and love abide as signs of God’s care for us. Let us share these signs with one another as we pass the peace of Christ.
The peace of Christ be with you.The peace of Christ be with you always.
 
 
Offering
Source of every good gift, you have watched over us all the days of our lives— guiding our ways, protecting us from harm, and showering us with your blessings. Receive these offerings from our grateful hearts, and bless the world with our heartfelt thanks, that all might know your amazing gift of love. Amen.
 
Hymn TIS 153:“God is love, let heaven adore him” This song acknowledges God’s love and the world’s need for it.
 
                   The Service of Holy Communion
This service has many parts and many purposes and many effects. We remember and in remembering we are reminded of our purpose in life and our dependence on God to live that life to the full. We are reminded that we are all equally welcome at God’s Table and equally loved. 
 
A Prayer after Communion
By your Spirit, make us one with Christ and with one another, and one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at the heavenly banquet. Through Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit in your holy Church, all honor and glory are yours, almighty God, now and forever more. Amen.
 
 The Service of the Word
 
First Reading:1 Corinthians 13:1-13
The Gospel Reading: Luke 4: 21-30
 
The Preaching of God’s Word
Rev. John, using a reference to the Peanuts comic and Charlie Brown’s difficulty in
explaining or even talking about love, spoke of the mystery of love.
It may be difficult to explain or define but we all know when it is absent. Likewise when
Rev. John spoke of how, in our attempt to say something about love, we turn to poetry or
painting, do we do when we want to represent the full strength of its absence.



Today I was relaxing, looking at Facebook and saw a group of very rough looking people
spend a great deal of time and care with the only tool they had, a pair of tin snips,
gently prize a tangled cord from around and inside a waterbird’s beak. Not a smile, not a
gentle look from any of them. But they were showing great love to that bird.
Rev. John said “Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, captivates our imagination. We read these words and before we know it, we are being read by them. We read, and we recognise the depth of what they say. We realise the poignancy and truth of Paul’s message.
 How easy it is for us to forget that these words were written to address congregational struggle and division. They were not written as a sentimental note on the latest wedding card but to speak to the profound truth of the gospel in daily life. We forget that Paul wrote these words to a congregation in ferment…”
So, regardless of whether we like or approve of someone. Regardless of whether we value their work inside or outside the church, remember God loves them because of their intrinsic value as one of God’s created. We can't do anything less.
 
 
Hymn TIS 398: “Come down, O Love divine” God’s love through us is the way.
 
Intercessory Prayers and the Lord’s Prayer
 
Hymn TIS 473: “Community of Christ, who make the Cross your own.”
 
Benediction
God sends us forth with words of love on our lips. Christ sends us forth with acts of love in our deeds. The Spirit sends us forth with the spirit of love sustaining our very lives. Go in the power of God’s love and be ambassadors of Christ’s love and peace, and may the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life be with and remain with you always. Amen.

 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday ServiceMarsden Road Uniting Church 10 February 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - February 13, 2019 - 10:20am

Gathering God’s People
 Acknowledgement of First Peoples
 From river to ocean, from campfire to hearth,
May the First People who have cared for this Land be blessed.
From breath to song, from step to dance,
May those who follow Your Songlines guide us on the journey of living honourably in this place.
From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus.
Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2019)
From fishing fleets and busy harbours, God gathers simple sailors. Through persecution and injustice, God calls brave prophets. When we least expect it, Christ gathers us in, and calls us to follow him. Let us gather and answer Christ’s call. Called by God, we have come to worship. Called by Christ, we have come to follow. Called by the Spirit, we have come to rejoice. Called together, we will listen and pray.
Hymn TIS 693: “Come as you are.” A hymn of great encouragement. Just as we are. No matter how badly we think of ourselves, we are invited.
Opening Prayer
Holy God, we gather to sing your praise and hear your word. Speak to us now, that we may be wise enough to perceive your call. Strengthen us now, that we may be brave enough to answer when you call. Guide us now, that we may follow where you would have us go. Amen.
Prayer of Confession
 Master, we have worked all day and night, for many months and years. We yearn for a heavy catch, a full church, an abundant feast. Forgive us God, when we are too tired to cast our nets one time; when we are too stubborn to do things a little differently. Have mercy on us, when we are too afraid to dive into deep waters and take a risk. Grant us grace, that we may proclaim your word, work for your kingdom, and trust your promises. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Do not be afraid! Christ has called. Christ has redeemed us. Christ will save us all.
Thanks be to God!
The Peace
Those who place their faith in the Lord are blessed. Let us share this blessing with those around us as we pass the peace of Christ.
Peace be with you!
And also, with you!
Offering
Whom should God send? Who will go for God’s people? Here we are, God is
counting on us. Let us share our gifts and our offerings in answer to God’s call.
Increase the strength of these gifts, and the strength of our ministries, O God. Expand the nets of our love, that we may reach deeply and share abundantly. In Christ’s name, we pray. Amen
Hymn TIS 658: “I the Lord of Sea and Sky” Send me. I'll step up. So often we think that the message means someone else. Someone more talented, someone with more time, someone more confident. No it means me.
The Service of the Word
Bible readings (delivered by Laurel)
The First Reading: Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)
The Gospel Reading: Luke 5: 1-11
 Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13)This needs to be read in its entirety to appreciate how challenging and even frightening it can be to hear the call of God. But God doesn't ask us to do anything for which we will not receive strength and support.
Luke 5: 1-11. An example of how we can get it so wrong. The fishermen were experienced and were so sure that Jesus couldn't be serious. However, the results proved their expertise out and they were forced to rethink their whole lives.
 Preaching of the Word - Call to Transforming Love
Rev. John’s message was about trusting God’s voice. We may not think ourselves good enough for the task but then, apart from not trusting God to support us and guide us, so often we at mistaken about the nature of the task. Trust!
Once we listen and follow, Rev. John said:
For we are never the same once we have listened to what Christ has commanded! We are never the same once we have acknowledged our true condition. We are never the same once we place our lives in Christ’s hands.
 It is a truth that sustains us in our journeys, and it is a truth that will keep and protect us during the rough seas of our lives.It is a truth that will take us beyond the religious trappings of our world and into the loving arms of our Master, the One who calls us to follow him into the deep places and catch people for him. Amen.” 

Rev. John went on to say:
 “We are called to be a people who have experienced
that same transforming generosity and love. That same Jesus has invaded our "space" and affected our day-to-day lives. There's been a moment, perhaps a
whole lot of moments when God in Jesus has touched us even in the parts of our lives we have foolishly thought to be "nothing to do with religion".
Hymn TIS 132: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” And when all turns out well, the praise goes, not to us with our new found mission but to God.
Music to lead us to prayer
During this time we prayed our private prayers after which Rev. John led us in the Prayers of the People, followed by The Lord’s Prayer.
Hymn TIS 387: (Tune: Turo) “Christ is alive Let Christians sing” And sing we did, Rev. John’s message had touched hearts and minds.
Benediction
Listen for God’s word. Answer Christ’s call. Go into the deep and love courageously. Rejoice in the harvest of grace! And may Almighty God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life bless you and keep always Amen.
 
HymnTIS779: “May the feet of God walk with you”: Our prayer for each other.
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

To Be Touched.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 8, 2019 - 5:21am

Fishing is a noble occupation but a disappearing one, as economics carry weight and areas are over fished. For some it is a sometimes-dangerous livelihood. Others find it an exciting sport or a tranquil form of relaxation. While conversations about the size, weight or species of fish may go on for hours, including descriptions of "the one that got away" the last thing most anglers want to get is advice from amateurs. If that amateur happens to be a Minister of dubious experience, so much the worse. After all, the Minister is supposed to know a good deal about things "holy", but let's leave practical things to practical people.
St. Luke is perhaps the most careful of all the Gospel writers. He set himself out to be a historian. He felt called to let the non-Jewish world know about Jesus and about the birth and early development of the church. Luke has an eye to detail. He's also good at painting pictures in words. Tradition has it that he was an artist as well as a doctor. In the Gospel we heard today, St. Luke brings us to a lakeshore.
A crowd has gathered to hear the new itinerant teacher and in its enthusiasm threatens to push the teacher into the water. Two boats stand just out in the water. It is morning. Their crews are washing and cleaning their nets after a long and largely unsuccessful night on the lake. Jesus calls across to one of the fishermen, called Simon, and asks permission to come aboard and use the boat for a podium. The Big Fisherman agrees. One can imagine him grumbling that the work is being interrupted. The nets have to be cleaned and coiled and the partners given time to rest before night arrives again. Nevertheless, Simon consents. The teacher sits down and teaches.

Then the Teacher gets to meddling. He orders the members of "Zebedee and Company, Fishing Experts," to throw their newly scoured nets into the lake in broad daylight. One expects to get advice on living virtuous lives from religious instructors. What on earth would a carpenter's son turned preacher know about professional fishing? Simon and his companions were faced with a choice. Did they refuse, politely, or do as they were asked?
If they did as they were asked they would certainly face the ridicule of all who came to know of the incident, a ridicule they would probably share with the Teacher. Goodness knows what Zebedee would say to them when he heard the story! Simon, James and John decided to obey the Rabbi. Simon wanted the order confirmed though. "If you say so, we will let down the nets." They pushed their boats out and threw out the nets. Pretty soon the nets were so full there was a danger they would break. One can imagine them struggling to bring the nets on board and then to get them to shore. At least they had enough customers to buy the fish in the warmth of the day before the catch spoilt.
Simon fell on his knees when he saw their catch. One wonders why? First Century Jews didn't kneel to worship. Anyway, worship was something due to God and there's no hint that Simon, at this stage, had any awareness that Jesus was any more than a "Master", a Religious Teacher. Perhaps Simon was so agitated by the phenomenon, and perhaps very embarrassed that he may have misjudged the young teacher, that his legs gave way under him.
Peter is probably feeling that smallness we often experience when we are suddenly confronted with someone or something that fills us with awe and amazement. Peter’s professional judgment as a fisherman now seemed faulty. The Rabbi had invaded their "space" and known more than they did.
Perhaps it was the sheer wonder of the Teacher's goodness that hit Simon so forcibly. Jesus then told Simon -- Peter would be his later nickname -- James and John that they would now "catch people". What Jesus did was practical and down to earth. Three tired and disheartened people (they had toiled all night and caught nothing) were suddenly turned into three astounded and happy men. Jesus' generosity had invaded their space. They would never be the same again.

Christian’s are called to be a people who have experienced that transforming generosity and love, as Jesus has invaded our "space" and affected our day-to-day lives. There's been a moment, perhaps a whole lot of moments when God in Jesus has touched us even in the parts of our lives we have foolishly thought to be "nothing to do with religion". Often others have been the agents. A word spoken in kindness, a piece of advice, an example of suffering in adversity, a touch or a hug melted our hearts, made us feel unworthy and changed our direction and our outlook. Jesus asks us to show our thankfulness not only on our lips, but in our lives, by giving ourselves to God's service. Zebedee's Fishing Company began with three employees. It has grown to be a multinational reality. We all work with Simon Peter, James and John now.




Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Reluctance to Answer our Life Call.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 1, 2019 - 6:24am

There was a time when for children there time at kindergarten gave pupils their first taste of learning. In these institutions a teacher could give to children gifts that they would use every day of their lives. There is a story of one teacher who taught a child to read. That teacher "loved" her pupils into learning and taught them the joy of schooling. In a way, though, she taught them too well. Their attachment to her left them terribly fearful of going to the next level – to school. Imagine their surprise and chagrin to be called by the school system to move on to another level. Many panicked when they realised this person would not be their teacher forever and that they would have to move up.
Of course, she and the pupils' parents reassured them and the students were promoted to the next level. It all worked out. The experience, though, gives us a tiny glimmer of understanding, a sense of what Jeremiah felt as a young man when he was called by the Lord to be a prophet to the nations in this week’s reading from the first chapter of Jeremiah. Imagine poor Jeremiah - minding his own business, when suddenly God barged into his life - when he heard God's call to him. Jeremiah heard God calling him to be his prophet, to speak his word to the people. And he was not called to be just any old prophet. No, God would set him "over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant."
The Prophet Jeremiah from the Hebrew Scriptures resisted. He was reluctant to obey this call. , However, God wouldn't take a simple, "No," or any kind of "No." So God and Jeremiah engaged in a little dialogue. God said, "I picked you out - even before you were born - I chose you to be my prophet." Jeremiah replied, "O, no, I don't even know how to speak. I am only a youth." God came back and said; "Don't say that. For to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you shall speak." Jeremiah pleaded out of fear but God assured him.
This dialogue was critical for Jeremiah's decision, in a way similar to that of many other leaders of the Old Testament.  Perhaps we should pause to wonder why God has continually chosen the most unwilling characters to do God's will. Why would God have enlisted so young and inexperienced a person as Jeremiah for so immense a task? The obvious answer is that our God calls people for qualities other than gifted speech. We can be certain that Jeremiah's success rested, not within himself, but on God. This is what God promised this very reluctant prophet. We see that all the power and success of Jeremiah's life resulted from this new relationship with God.
You know, God would love Jeremiah as no other would love Jeremiah. That's not the end though and we Christians don't get off lightly and don't get comfort just learning about God's dialogue with Jeremiah. The blowing of God's spirit amongst us moves in our day as well. So we might ask, "Are we, too, called by God as Jeremiah was called?" Often we must confess our reluctance to heed God's call. We can always find a reason not to continue the journey of faith and commitment to which we feel God calling us:
I'm too old or too young. I don't speak well or know enough. I'm too busy. I can't do that. It must not really be God calling. I can serve, but not now, maybe later.
However, if we are willing to engage in a dialogue with God, we might see something else. We are called to look beyond and continue to dialogue with God. This will allow God's spirit into our lives. We are all called into a relationship with God that is challenging. It is we who choose to accept or not accept this call. God tells us, that he will be with us, sustain us, and love us as no other does. We can rest assured of God's support and guidance and strength to sustain us in the task.
Some of us respond eagerly and some will be reluctant, like Jeremiah. But, if we engage in dialogue with God, we can learn to respond positively. We too, are assured that the God who calls us remains forever with us. The living God continually speaks to us, through many forms and media. God speaks to us at unexpected moments: through the created world around us; through the hands and voices of other people; and even in the silences of trials and unanswered prayers.
The God who has called us is always with us, speaking, if we will listen and, if we will accept it. God, who is always there for us, will give us love and support and nourishment, with the same grace that inspired Jeremiah. Despite any hesitations and uncertainties that may attack us, we can learn from Jeremiah's dialogue with God to be as steadfast as this prophet was in discovering God's call and in heeding it.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Where Do I Fit?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 25, 2019 - 11:36am

Get yourself a cup and ball and maybe have some paper in the bottom. By the way the Ball needs to be small enough to put in the cup or use a container that will take the ball easy. Get someone to watch you very carefully. Then what you do is drop the ball into the cup. Tell your assistant that you are going to drop this ball into the cup. Make sure they are ready and watching. Drop ball in cup. Then ask your assistant which parts of your body you had to use to drop the ball in the cup, (Hands, eyes, brain). Could you have done it with your eyes closed? What if you didn’t have any hands? What if your brain wasn’t working right? By now you realise that you need everything working correctly to make the ball go into the cup.
This week our reading from St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12 talks about how all of us are like a body. We all do special jobs, and together we get things done. For instance, which people on any Sunday at worship are important in making the church worship work? Some of those involved include the minister, greeters, readers, intercessors, musician(s), children, the congregation, the stewards and if there is to be Holy Communion someone to get things ready, flower people and so on.) All of these people have their special part to play in making the worship of God work on any Sunday and whenever worship is held.
All of us have special talents and abilities to use to share with others which reflect the story of Jesus and God’s great love through his son. Think about the workings of your hands. We can talk about the fingers and the thumb needing to work together to pick up a coin or food. We all have gifts and we help make our community work by using our gifts. In the Church we Christians use our gifts also to let others know about God’s love and grace through his son Jesus.
All of our gifts are important and I bet you that you have a gift that you can use. A gift to help you help others in the making of a working community. Maybe today at your family meal you could talk with your family about the gifts that you have for sharing with each other and making the household work. Again for Christian we can talk about how we use our gifts to share about God’s love and his son Jesus. Christians talk of their faith as being of the body of Christ and individually members of it. Each one of us is a part of that body. This body would not work without you, or without all of you. Everyone in this community today is very important part of the body especially of creation.
In a lively community of caring people and especially in a caring group of Christians there are many functions shared among those who make up the community. One member can speak in a way that conveys profound things straight to the soul. Another has a gift of helping and caring for people and bringing hope to those who suffer. Yet another can explain ideas with such wisdom that it infuses a new, vital strength into our faith.
Still others can have the ability to organise, and another the gift of leading, while another has an understanding of people that is the source of deep consolation for many troubled hearts. You may have seen all this, and yet the one thing that strikes us in such a community is the presence of one spirit in all of them that ties it all together. Since for Christians the gifts are varied expressions of the one Holy Spirit, who distributes them freely, then it is unthinkable that they may be at odds with one another – they are called to and meant to act in harmony.
The gifts that are given I have learned, are not meant for personal satisfaction, their purpose is to serve. They are given for the benefit of all, that the fellowship of believers may be extended and encouraged in love. Such gifts cannot give rise to rivalry or disorder. While St Paul considers that there are certain special gifts which affect the life of the community as such, he also tells us that each member has particular gifts for the good of all. Therefore each of us need to be content and thankful for the gifts that our loving God has given to us.

St Paul in this scripture reading from 1 Corinthians 12 presents the community as a body, and asks, “If your whole body was just one eye, how would you hear anything? If it was an ear, how would you see anything? Instead of that, God put all the separate parts into the body on purpose. If all the parts are the same then how can it be a body? If you do not seem called to some special task, do not underestimate what God is actually asking you to do in the community or neighbourhood where you are. No matter that the daily grind may seem monotonous and not very meaningful, we all belong to the whole body by belonging to that place. God has chosen this for us and calls us with great love.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Baptism of Jesus and Epiphany

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 18, 2019 - 11:15pm
Sunday 13th January, 2019
Today, we considered the epiphanies, times where God was revealed to people who were changed forever by the experience.
It was my privilege to lead this service, and I kept the hymns and prayers to reflect the theme.
Following is an excerpt of the reflection I offered.
To begin with I shared techniques I had been taught to help understand bible passages when the help of commentaries was not available. The most useful of these is to ask why the passage was written.
Now what was the purpose of the writings that we have read today?
In Psalm 29 the phrase “the voice of the Lord” is repeated many times. The commentators I read agreed that the phrase referred to the thunder accompanying a storm which has rolled off the Mediterraneanand is hitting the coast, from where it shakes the cedars of Lebanon in the north before it swings south to cast bolts of lightning in the southern wilderness.
It was to  proclaim God’s power in this world, where the knowledge that such power exists everywhere in everyday events, was an assurance to the people of Israelin exile.
Everywhere they looked they were suffering from being a captive nation so they needed this assurance that their condition was only temporary and their God was still in charge.
Isaiah was also written to a captive people. A captive people who despite regarding themselves as God’s people were constantly being invaded, attacked, kidnapped, or exploited by other nations. And so this is a mighty declaration that there is a bigger picture. This is a message of restoration and promised protection, spoken with authority that cannot be bested.
Now look at the New Testament to Luke and Acts. In these books Luke is laying out the background and the task ahead for Theophilus.
And so, with the background established for all the readings, I want to focus on one of them and then draw them all together.
John the Baptist was baptizing and Jesus was baptized after which a voice spoke to Jesus affirming him as the son of God in whom God was well pleased and there was an experience of the Holy Spirit being present. Jesus was from that time on, God on earth for us. The people didn't know that in so many words but they listened to Jesus and followed him.
Last week Rev. Bruce Roy spoke of the Epiphany of God to the Magi. The Magi knew they were seeing truth. When people were in Jesus’ presence, they knew they were experiencing truth.
Think for a second or two about why you are still a Christian. 
Why do you still turn up here on Sundays? Why do you keep giving to others? Why do you pray? But don't leave it there. When you go home, think about it at length, because sometimes there is much more to an answer like that than we suspect. Think about your “stuckedness”. What truth have you experienced?
The second point follows from what happened after Jesus’ baptism. When he called people, they followed him. Why did people react as they did to Jesus? What was it about him?
That's difficult to answer because we can't really put ourselves back there, but I think there's a way to find out.
Think about the people you have met in your life who drew your attention because they had a special quality other people don't have. They may not all have been Christians but today I am thinking about Christian people who make the rest of us stop and sit up. People who make us wonder why they can be the way they are.  People who are consistently a bit different from the rest of us.
Invariably they exemplify the life Jesus taught us to live.
They are genuine in every respect.
They are authentic Christian souls. They are people who do not resist that power of God that the Israelites were so aware of.
They are lamps to our feet and to all who they meet.
Jesus was that and more. More without end.
And because of Jesus, we are reminded that we have received grace upon grace from God's fullness to share with the world in which we live. That's what these people do and that is what Jesus did as a result of the Spirit given to him at his baptism.  
It may seem that the task is too hard. That too much that is bad prevails. Here's where those Old Testament assurances will keep us going. God is still in charge. 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Abundance is ours.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 18, 2019 - 6:33am

There are many challenges to churches today: Some are small and struggling, hoping to grow and not finding their numbers increasing. Others have congregations where there is barely a spattering of people under 75 years of age. Others have problems finding qualified clergy or raising enough money in pledges to balance the budget. Others have significant repairs to do on their buildings and lack the funds for the project. And some are in conflict with broken relationships in need of healing.
The scripture readings set in the three year lectionary for this week address the conditions in which so many churches find themselves. In the Isaiah 62 passage, for example, the community had been in exile and lost its vision and focus. Some countries seem to have elected governments that have lost their way and any vision that benefits the whole of creation. The promise of God's restoration spoken by the prophet in those majestic phrases could well be for today's struggling churches: "You shall no more be termed, Forsaken, and your land shall no more be termed Desolate" (Isaiah 62:4). The theme of hope when there seems to be nothing but a failing future is strong in these passages, and it is a stirring piece of prophecy for all who lose hope.

Whereas, St Paul, in Corinthians, takes another tack which is one that is a hopeful sign to churches that are feeling bereft. He says there are a variety of gifts for building up the Body (the Church) distributed by the Spirit. All gifts are needed, and every person is gifted for service. In the Gospel from John 2, Jesus goes to a country wedding and takes the ordinary (water) and transforms it into very good wine. When things seemed to be running out, when there was scarcity about to spoil a very good time, abundance took its place and the feasting went on.
In our society let alone in our religious organisations we are plagued by scarcity. There is never enough, and another group often seems to have all the blessings while ours has the leftovers. The things that will meet the needs of all humanity seem to be held in the hands of a few and only doled out in meagre amounts at a high cost to the receiver. Yet, if God can take a group of exiles and restore them to greatness, and if ordinary people are gifted by the Holy Spirit with what it takes to be the Church, then how can we dare say we do not have enough without insulting God's promise?
Throughout the world people are building faith communities and communities with nothing in terms of wealth. They succeed because these people have caught the spirit of the Gospel where God will use what appears to be the lowly and unimportant to accomplish it. So, if you are waiting for better days in the world and especially in the church know that they have come. If you are waiting until the right leader appears know that the time is now. If you are feeling low because of the things you don't have, take an inventory of the assets you have. Most people are surprised when they discover the talent that is there and the resources that are at their disposal.
The transformation of the lives of women and men is not expensive in terms of the world; and in God's economy, it is free. Our task is to lay aside the things that daunt us, make us afraid and captive to scarcity. Putting on the garment of light in Epiphany means moving into a sharing mode now. So, rejoice with Isaiah that God finds your community or church worthy of delight. Celebrate the gifts given you by the Spirit to move forward in life. Vow to be part of the work of the Gospel which transforms water into wine and God's people into a holy communion of faithful people.

Once there was a church that began to say it was dying and in many churches this is being faced. Some of its members had moved away in a very short time. Other members had become unhappy and quit coming. There was a faithful core, but they were burned out from assuming the many duties of running the church with fewer folk to help. One woman spoke for many at the annual meeting when she said, "If we don't do something there's going to be a funeral -- mine!"
Three people in the congregation decided to pray daily for renewal and growth. At the end of a year they discovered that there were six more people in the congregation, there was a vision about starting a day care for those in a low socioeconomic people and a person who had agreed to run it and there was a new sense of energy among them. Now for many congregations this may not mean doing things as they once did or even having a church building. For many it will mean listening for where our God wants us to be and where our God offers resurrection.
At meeting they asked to speak to the assembly and told the people not to give up hope. They believed God was waiting for them to realize they had to be dependent on God's grace alone before they could be renewed, and they testified that their faithful prayer had been answered.
"When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said, 'They have no wine.' Jesus said to them, 'Fill the jars with water.' “If the Lord can take what we have as abundance to make what is needed all we need to do is ask, and abundance is ours to behold and taste.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Marked and Signed as the Beloved.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 11, 2019 - 12:25pm

The Lion King is perhaps old hat these days. But there is a scene in that story which is helpful as an illustration for baptism. At Simba’s birth he is held up for all the animal kingdom to see. The wise monkey Rafiki baptises, Simba. Mixing some concoction in a half coconut shell, Rafiki then places his thumb in the concoction and then makes a mark across Simba’s head. Simba is marked forever. Later and following Mufassa’s death, Rafiki suggests that Mufassa is in fact still alive and can show Simba. He takes him to pool of water … Look ….. But that is only my reflection says Simba. Look harder …….. Simba sees his father in the reflection... Rafiki reflects: see your father lives in you Simba. Our father and loving parent God lives in us. Our lives reflect our loving parent and father, God. “And the sign and seal of the Holy Spirit shall be placed upon them”

Today in the Churches Calendar many remember the Baptism of Jesus and do so as a big event. There are a lot of things that come together in Jesus' baptism. There are a lot of things that come together in our Baptisms. First, there is John the Baptist. John is a wild man. He came from the wilderness. He dressed in camel hair but it wasn’t an elegant camel's hair coat as we know it today. He ate locusts and wild honey. This is hardly a conventional diet, either then or now. His sermon said, "You den of poisonous snakes, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" This was not an approach designed to gently convince people that they should come to a conclusion about God in their life.
The people who came to John for baptism were desperate to change their lives. The crowd is identified as a mix of tax collectors prostitutes, soldiers and religious people like the Scribes and Pharisees. The Pharisees may have been there to spy. They may have been there to determine whether or not John was the Messiah. Most likely, they were desperate to know the move and peace of God just like the obvious sinners. John said he wasn't the Messiah when he was asked if her were. John said "Jesus is." John's baptism was a washing for repentance. And he believed Jesus didn't need to repent. So, Jesus' baptism changed the meaning of baptism.
As Jesus was praying after the immersion, the heavens opened. The Holy Spirit came down on him in bodily form, like a Dove. This is a strange event. Something outside of the normal is happening. Then a voice, a thunderous voice said, "you are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased." This is God's anointed. God is well pleased, God loves him. He is even identified as God's son. Presumably, Jesus then looked out and saw the gathered tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners who had been baptised with him. These are the things that happened to Jesus in baptism.
He was given an identity...God's son.He was identified as the focus of God's love.He was identified as being very pleasing to God.He was physically given God's Holy Spirit.He was joined into a new group, those who were baptised by John.
Jesus changed what baptism means for us. We receive the same gifts when we are baptised. We receive the gift of water. Water is life. Without water there is no life. We are given an identity. The meaning of our name is transformed. It is now a name given by God. Some of us have had the experience of being a sponsor, a God parent or parent, at a baptism. When the name is pronounced and the words "I baptise you in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are joined to the gift of water a new person or creature is proclaimed. A child of God, where life with spirit and power is held up. The new person, known as a child of God, is in our midst.
Well for Christians when a baptism takes place we are named as beloved by God. In the same way that God announces that Jesus is beloved, we are announced as beloved. We are given a community. We join with the people present at our baptism who are baptised and with everyone who was ever baptised. In fact, one of the ways we know that God loves and accepts us just as we are is because God loves and accepts other people who are as messed up and as sinful as we are. For Christian people baptism is a big deal. It is a chance for people who are desperate to change their lives to gain the same identity, in God's eyes, that Jesus has. It is in a way, the event that leads to salvation. Jesus bought us this gift and God gave us this gift. Also the Holy Spirit sustains us in this gift.
To quote that wonderful song from ‘Life of Brian,’ “always look on the bright side of life.” God has given us a magnificent gift. The gift is the unconditional love and presence of God in our lives.




Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Camels Story.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 4, 2019 - 6:29pm

While we are at Tauranga Aotearoa (NZ) and relaxing, I thought I might share a story that comes from the Epiphany which I enjoy. This is namely the story of the Magi, wise people from a camel’s point of view.
Ships of the desert, my eye! Being a beast of burden is probably not all it is cracked up to be when old nothing but dust for brains Adam named us camels. It was the same when Isaiah proclaimed that a multitude of us would cover the land of promise bearing peoples and gifts from all corners of the earth to come and see the brightness of the light of God's people shining through the thick darkness covering all the earth. But still, without the bunch of us lugging all the supplies and tents, and also those precious and somewhat odd gifts for a baby shower, the Wise Ones would never have made it by the twelfth day. It was by today actually, all those years ago. Well I’m one of the lucky ones who only had to carry one of the Wise One's.
By the time we got to Bethlehem, it was no longer a town bustling and bursting with people and commerce like it had been for those few days of the census. It had returned to its sleepy self after everyone had been counted and gone home. When we got there, the place was empty. There was just a man, a woman, and between them the baby. But there I go getting ahead of myself again. Thank goodness for the camel boys who saw to it that we were fed and watered and had a rub down. This was because the Wise Ones as usual had their heads full of the stars. All the time they were looking out at them. If they were not gazing at the stars they were talking about them, charting them, interpreting them, and searching for this special person.
They were searching for the one that would relieve them of their endlessly restless and yearning spirits. The wise one’s searched the heavens and earth for something they kept calling "the truth." The rest of us in the caravan saw to it that life was lived and everyone was taken care of. They often missed the most interesting exciting parts of the journey. They were so absorbed and preoccupied with their own concerns and interests. Like the mouse who smuggled herself into the saddlebag of Gaspar's camel, Lucky. This was a teenage mouse that had had a terrible fight with her parents. But there I go again. I'm getting off the point.
So where were we? Oh, yes; certainly not at that dreadful King Herod's place. There was plenty of company for all of us camels amidst his livestock and barns, and plenty of water and grain and other good things to eat. But even we could sense the terrible feeling of darkness and death that surrounded his part of the Roman Empire. And who was this Caesar he kept talking about? Herod seemed troubled to hear the Wise Ones talk about the stars and a new King of the Jews and asked for directions to the place where the child lay. Herod didn’t know the way but wanted us to return and tell him where the little one was so he could go there to pay his respects. It wasn't what he said but how he said it that made even the fleas on my humps crawl with uneasiness.  Surely there must be another way out of here, we all thought. And as it turned out, we did head off in a new direction.
We found them at night and it was very cold. The smell of the hay was very sweet, and the cattle's breath, like ours, came out in little puffs of mist hanging in the air. Of course I a camel wasn't supposed to come into the place where they were. In fact, it was such a tiny little cave of a place and there wasn't much room. We had come so far, travelling for so many years to find something, someone, somewhere. It seemed possible that we really might have to search no further. I figured it couldn't hurt if I just stuck my head in for a peek.
So while they were unloading the gifts off the back of my cousin, and the Wise Ones were still consulting their charts and graphs to make certain that this truly was the one they were searching for, I stuck my head in. Well, it was a bit surprising. The scene was so ordinary. I don't know what I had expected, but after years of carrying these Wise Ones and all their gear and supplies all over the place. I guess I thought there would be crowds, and family, and all kinds of hoopla. I mean, even when a new camel is born amongst the herd, there is more attention and excitement as the new baby tries to stand for the first time.
There was none of that in this little place in Bethlehem. There was a man, a woman and, between them the child who at the glance I caught, seemed to be a King." I could see that this little child was true light itself. It is really curious how little babies like this one cannot even get up on their legs the way we do. They just lie there, so, still and vulnerable. Even I could see that stars might bow down before this one, he could teach creepy old Herod a thing or two about being a king. I could see that the heavens and earth and all creation were somehow about to be made new by the presence of this one baby in the hay.
It's too bad the Wise Ones did not seem to see all that. I mean they put their gifts in there, and bowed down on bended knee and all. But then it was back out the door, and looking into the stars again. Soon we were being loaded up and herded down the road and out of town. All of us except that mouse who stayed behind moved on. She just could not bring herself to leave those people alone. She was not going anywhere. She was staying right there with him, the one born to be King. She wanted to live the rest of his story!
Just that glance, a peek in the door was enough to know that this Jesus reveals to you how much God watches over you and loves you. Even I could see that this Jesus calls us to follow him so we might do something beautiful with our lives and bear much fruit. Even camels!
The one thing I saw that night was that the world needs you. Jesus needs you. They need your love and your gifts and your light. Isn't that the funny part of it all? The Wise Ones are off all the time looking at the light in the stars, when the light that is the light of the world is right here in the midst of us. He shows us that. Any camel with eyes could see that! Know, my sister, my brother, that there is a hidden place in your heart where Jesus lives and his light shines!
This is a deep secret that even the Wise Ones overlook most of the time. Let Jesus live in you. Go forward with him into the whole world. Let your light shine, for the light that is the life of the world is coming into the world. Keep looking at the babe in the manger, offer him your gifts, and you will see all that there is to know and see! You will then see some more and then even some more. And who knows, maybe if we all offer as much as we receive, we just might in fact make it through the eye of a needle!


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