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Called to be Disruptive.

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Makeover with Love.

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

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Gods Handiwork.

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

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 28 April 2019

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

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

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


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

 Later Rev. John said:

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

Finding a Place of Shalom.

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


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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Squirrel or Jesus?

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Do We Dare Domesticate?

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Challenge of the Day.

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Emotional Swings.

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Extravagant Love.

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Saints and Sinners.

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 24March 2019

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

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

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.
 

 

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