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Can We Let Go?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 12, 2018 - 12:28pm

We all have heard the saying, "Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die." Many who are Christian have grown up hearing children's sermons or Sunday school lessons that describe the Christian life as a journey to heaven. It's as if heaven is some place "out there," out of our reach or experience, but if we live good lives and are not bad boys and girls, when we die we will go to heaven. The man in the scripture from Mark 10 is not talking about going to heaven. He's interested in how to experience eternal life in the here-and-now.
Perhaps in exploring his profound question, we can lay to rest the notion that heaven or eternal life, whichever expression we choose, is a "place" or something outside and unreachable through human experience. We are all conditioned by our environment. What have we kept since we were little children? As adults, we bring our histories, circumstances, and experiences with us. Our outlook on life is tied to this conditioning. Parents, teachers, friends, neighbours, work associates, and enemies have all contributed to who we are, what we think, and how we live.
The man in Mark's story (Mark 10:17-31) was also conditioned by such influences. He never murdered anyone, didn't run around on his wife, never stole anything from anybody, never told a lie, had not defrauded anyone, and had honoured his parents. This man could be described as the preeminent community example of integrity. But there was one thing in his life that had taken complete hold of him—his possessions.

I am persuaded that Jesus never talked about "going to heaven." He talked about "experiencing heaven." As he said, "The kingdom of heaven is among [or within] you." He never talked about us being good in this life, so we can get to heaven; he talked about heaven in this life. What the man in the story needs to do is what we all need to do— discern and discover how to allow ourselves to be claimed by the love of God. In doing so, we embark on a lifetime journey (now and eternal) of experiencing the goodness of God, the same goodness that claimed Jesus.
We do know that this man had many possessions and in another of the Gospel’s Luke describes him as a ruler which may be significant. As a ruler, he would know what it was to have power over peoples' lives. Who better than this man to understand the power of possessions over one's own life? I believe this man leads us all to Jesus. We all have something that possesses, or rules, and interferes with us living life on God's terms. The man's question is our question: "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Let's pause and consider why he used the word inherit.

The word inherit in the text is klironómisi in Greek. One of its shades of meaning is "to share in." The man is essentially asking, "What must I do to share in God's blessings?" Jesus tells him that he needs to come to grips with the one thing that keeps him from sharing life on God's terms, namely, his wealth. It is clear from the man's response that he has much work to do. He realises it will be nearly impossible for him to relinquish what he holds dear. It is his barrier to sharing in the blessings of God.
What must you and I do to share in the promise of God's blessings? What areas of our lives need some work so that we may share in God's life, life that is eternal? Based on Jesus' encounter with the man, God understands that we all have something in our lives that rules us. It is no accident that the writer notes Jesus' encounter is based on his compassion toward the man.  
We Christians follow the teachings of the one who completely understands how difficult—but not impossible—it is to rule over those things that would dominate us or rule over us. The person of Jesus shows us how to live such a life. So, what are our "rulers"? What gets in our way of being followers of Jesus' example? What sends us away shocked and grieving because we think we cannot live without them? Is it wealth, our phone, our position or even a prized possession? Each of us must answer this question for ourselves.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Deep Connection.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 5, 2018 - 2:08pm
"This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh," says Adam in the Hebrew Scripture called Genesis. Adam immediately recognises his deep connection to the new human being standing before him, a connection that God has woven deeply into the fabric of their lives. For us in the West today, it's very easy for us to focus only on the individuality of Adam and Eve-the union of a single man and a single woman that the ancient story seems to represent.
And it's easy for us to carry that individualistic notion of marriage into Jesus' teachings about divorce, too. It is still too easy sadly, for us today to take the worst of patriarchy and act as if women were not partners, inferior and of less value than our animals.  This still true often during divorce.  When Jesus talks about the dissolution of marriage in today's Gospel, our cultural and legal perspective tempts us to hear him talking only about a man and woman: two individuals who entered into covenant with each other-and we are tempted to hear that the pain of divorce involves only them, at least for the most part.
But in Jesus' time, marriage and divorce were not just about the man and the woman. They were about two families representing many generations, property, honour, and status. Divorce was not just an individual event; it was a risky break of confidence that could lead to family feuds, shame, and hardship for numerous people. The hardness of heart Jesus speaks of seems not only to point to the potential suffering of the woman, who must return in shame to her family of origin; but it also points to the suffering of two entire families and the greater community.
For those of us today who have lived through the pain of divorce, whether our own or others', this ancient understanding of marriage and divorce seems to ring truer than we might think at first. Even today, marriage and divorce affect many more than just those who sign the forms and enter or dissolve the legal contracts. Eve with the acceptance of same gender relationships and marriage not just one part of the relationship suffers but many of the relationships that are part of the two people’s lives. They often affect parents, friends, and siblings, who sometimes wrestle with the part they played or failed to play in a marriage or relationship that didn't work; and they certainly impact children as their schedules and lives must be forever altered.
Jesus' hard teaching about marriage and divorce, then, isn't just for a man and woman. Likewise, the recognition of Adam when he sees Eve is ultimately is a profound statement about how interconnected the whole human family really is. It is about how divorce, as painfully necessary as it can sometimes be, ultimately tears at the fabric of this human family and affects all of us, and the world around us. And here is where today's teaching about divorce touches our world and our church. Divorce is not just about two people. It's about all of those places where we have become hard of heart and have failed to recognise each other as "bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;" places where we tear and unbind, sometimes mercilessly, the ties between us that God made at the foundation of creation.
It's that hardness that we struggle with as we watch the painful realities of conflict in our worlds politics. As we watch people like the US President and our Australian Conservative politicians tear their respective nations apart instead of seeking good for all.  This is important as we reckon with hunger and disease in the world, as wealthy and poor become further divided; as we suffer fear from the cold heartedness that brings war and terrorism to us and to our sisters and brothers abroad; and as we struggle, with abuse that we often heap on the natural world, divorcing ourselves from our deep ties with the natural order and the heritage of a healthy planet we are called by our God to be leaving for our children.
And it is also this hardness that we must be wary of in a time when some in our greater community talk about schism in politics and breaking away. It comes at a time when some in the Uniting Church contemplate divorcing their part of the church as we of the nascent and growing Uniting denomination know it. Of course, the reality is that there will continue to be divorce. And it will be painful. No contract, prenuptial agreement, certificate of dismissal, or any other carefully crafted parting of the ways can get us off that hook.
Jesus holds up that pain to the Pharisees, and to us today as the need and the longing for deep connection that God intends for all of us. It is that hope that we celebrate together when we gather to pray and when we break bread together.  It's a hope that Jesus witnesses to in his life, and that Christ brings to us through the resurrection. And that hope is the good news that runs like a thread through this week’s scripture passages from the three-year lectionary.
We are a family, a community, a people, and a world that suffers from divorce of all kinds. But it is precisely that world that God in Christ enters - and not just with a hope to ultimately end divorce, but with a mission to heal all of us who suffer from it; to heal our hardness of heart, and to help us recognise again that we truly belong to each other, to the world we call home, and we belong ultimately to a God who has, for all eternity, refused to divorce us.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 30 September 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - October 1, 2018 - 2:28am

Today we were led in our worship by Howard, from Uniting World, who had come to raise our awareness of the work of Uniting World and how we could play a part in that work.
While doing that we also became aware of our place among the world’s people and our responsibility to others. Further, Howard’s presentation led us to be aware of the possibilities for service and a change in perspective which could emerge when we listen to the words of Jesus.
Howard began with an acknowledgement of the traditional carers of the land upon which we were worshipping. Europeans came to Australia to civilize the people who were living here as well as exploit any resources. The first resource Australia provided was to be a long way from England and so an excellent gaol.
When we consider both of those intentions in the light of the gospel, the inhumanity of each is appalling. As the scripture which inspired Hymn TIS 686 says, “For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” God paused after creation and saw “that it was good”. All people are God’s creation. All people are God’s children. We are charged with giving comfort to all God’s children.
But the intention of the European’s move to Australia was to isolate the prisoners and to kill any hope they may have had of returning to family. That was so cruel.
They may have thought they were from a superior culture or as Christians, (even if they weren't exhibiting much Christianity) were superior and therefore had the right to squash 60000 years of culture of  the Aboriginal people. What were they thinking? Did they imagine the Aboriginal people were cut off from God?
God speaks to all souls in creation. How people interpret the voice they hear is different from place to place and not always an accurate representation of God’s voice and message. However nobody has a monopoly on truth. Great cautionshould be shown.
Certainly the congregation today showed their knowledge of their relationship with God as they sang Hymn TIS 100, “All Creatures of our God and King, lift up your voice and sing”. And sing we did…with gusto!… Reflecting our enthusiasm for and knowledge of the life-giving grip of our God upon us - and our gratitude for that new life.
These themes were played out in the stories told and films shown about the lives of two couples. One couple live in Indonesia and the other in Western Papua. Both lived in utterly deprived circumstances. However, because they received assistance from Uniting World, each has been able to create a life where they have shelter and a sustainable source of food and income.  Without outside help this wouldn't be possible. The help is available because there are people in places such as Marsden Road Uniting Church who recognise God in their neighbours and therefore their obligation to provide them with shelter, food, clothing and water among other things as though they were giving those things directly to God.
The result not only brings hope to the people who receive help but the changes it brings in their lives inspires and uplifts the people who provide it. A hymn such as TIS 111“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation, O my soul praise him for he is your health and salvation.” expresses this.
All concerned recognise the source of the goodness resulting from one group of people obeying God’s will, recognizing God in other people and acting towards those others as though those were actually God. The all-pervading goodness uplifts everyone.
The result of doing good to bring hope to others leads to hope for all concerned, as we recognise God in each other.
And so we can sing with generous hearts, Hymn TIS 779:
“May the feet of God walk with you, and his hand hold you tight.
May the eye of God rest on you, and his ear hear your cry.
May the smile of God be for you, and his breath give you life.
May the child of God grow in you, and his love bring you home.”
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Whose Side Are You On?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 28, 2018 - 1:49pm

We’re coming to the end of that month of the year in which many regions of the country see competition at its highest level. On most Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, stadiums and gymnasiums have been filled with the faithful from all walks of life, as their teams compete to bring honour and glory to their respective team or districts. This can bring out both the best and worst in players, onlookers and parents.
Many of you will remember with smiles and nods some of the pranks and tricks pulled due to rivalries between schools, teams or university groups. How many of you still harbour a mascot, jumper or flag in their bottom drawer or out in the garage. Mascots still seem to be popular, but we don’t, like some overseas countries, offer prayer and blessing for our school team, district team or side in the national competition. Games still seem to generate the sort of rivalry that makes opponents though decorate their club rooms or gym.
I wonder if we would go as far as some of the American teams and put up a huge sign that read of such things as “God is on Our Side!” When such banners go up it must bring gasps of surprise. I sometimes wonder what the group’s motivation may have been as God apparently didn’t always play well and teams didn’t always win the contest. This week’s scripture readings reflect a sense of God being on the side of those whose stories are set for this week. In the Hebrew scripture, Esther, when facing the destruction of her people and possibly herself, trusts that her behaviour and faith in God will deliver her and her people from what awaits them.
James in chapter 5 tells us that in facing suffering, illness, or sinfulness, with God on our side, we can be delivered.  In the Mark 9, the disciples wonder if someone not from their circle can indeed do some of the things that they’ve been entrusted to do. In all the readings for this week, it is not so much a matter of whose side God is on, as it is whose side we are on.  James would not have shared with us this powerful mandate for prayer if his faith did not reflect his willingness to be on God’s side. Jesus tells his disciples that we control—or should control—how we live our lives to reflect whether we’re on God’s side.
It is a role or vocation that we seek to take on as the baptised. It is a journey that we are called to support the newly baptised on. To be on God’s side means to have a commitment to go beyond just ourselves and our needs and to open our eyes and ears to God’s leading. To be like Esther, we must love like God, love our fellow human beings and be genuinely concerned about their well-being and safety.
As Jacinda Arden, the New Zealand Prime Minister spoke at the United Nations in this last week, she called for a different world order - one that puts kindness" ahead of isolationism, rejection and racism. Her speech directly challenged the view of the world outlined by the US President. She went on to say that, "We can use the environment to blame nameless, faceless 'other', to feed the sense of insecurity, to retreat into greater levels of isolationism. Or we can acknowledge the problems we have and seek to fix them." I would add we can seek to be on God’s side and seek the goodness in and of all of creation.
Christians are called to have that faith that says our conversations with God are important especially as we seek help, healing and the lifting of discomfort of others. The way Jesus lived his life calls us to help others. Our call involves commitments of deep faith. To care about others begins with a faith that accepts Gods care for us. We are called to pray for others on a regular basis understanding that God hears all prayers. To care about others means that we open our eyes and ears to see and hear the needs of those who are suffering around us. This may involve leaving our comfort zones, our areas of security and familiarity, to travel to those parts of our community where previously we have been afraid to go or have felt unwanted.
This may also involve opening up doors of communication that will reveal hurts and pains for healing. To care about others may involve our confronting ourselves about how we’ve lived to this point. It may mean our having to change from being self-centred to God-centred and other-centred. The faith adventure that Jesus called us to follow can start in the lavish palace of a foreign king, in lush pastures turned to savage battlefields, in the quiet of a prayer room or worship area, or in the comfort and quiet of our own homes. At all these times our God is with us. God promises to continue to be with us. What better adventure can we hope for.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 23 September 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - September 26, 2018 - 4:48am

Gathering God’s People

 Acknowledgement of First Peoples
 From river to ocean, from campfire to hearth,
May the First People who have cared for this Land be blessed.
From breath to song, from step to dance,
May those who follow Your Song lines guide us on the journey of living honourably in this place.
From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus,

Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2018)
Blessed are those who meditate on God’s ways, for they are like trees planted by streams of living water, bearing fruit in due season. Happy are those who draw near and grow strong in the Lord.
Draw near to God and grow strong in God’s presence. Seek God’s wisdom and know joy as God draws near.
Live as trees planted by living waters, and Christ will give you peace.
Rest in the shade of the Tree of Life, and Christ will lead you home.
Draw near to God, and God will draw near to you.
Hymn TIS 107:  “Sing praise and thanksgiving”
Opening Prayer
 Source of wisdom and understanding, plant us by your streams of living water, that we may bear the fruit of peace and mercy in the seasons of our lives; …Place your wisdom and understanding within us, that we may be far more precious than jewels to those in need of your healing love. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
 We live in a world, O God, that looks for wisdom and understanding in all the wrong places.
You teach us that charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, yet we strive for these things above the virtues of industry, mercy, gentleness, and service…

Declaration of Forgiveness
When we draw near to God, God draws near to us. God blesses us with humility, gentleness, mercy, wisdom, and understanding. Draw near to God and touch the inexhaustible love of God.
Thanks be to God!

The Peace
When we make peace, we sow the seeds of justice by our peaceful acts. Let us sow the peace of Christ this morning, as we share signs of our commitment to justice and mercy.
Peace be with you!
And also with you
A Word with the Children/Young People
Rev. John told the story of children walking along the street, holding their precious toys. One girl was cuddling her China doll which was knocked from her hands. The result was predictable…the doll smashed, breaking the child’s heart with it. But her friend remained with her, sharing tears of grief. We can rarely mend problems god other people but we can grieve with them. Letting them know that we share their pain and are reaching out to support them.

Invitation to the Offering
 With the wife from Proverbs, who is far more precious than jewels, let us open our hands to the poor and our hearts to the needy. Let us sow peace in our world through the gifts and offerings we collect this day.
 Hymn TIS 650:  “Brother sister, let me serve you.”

The Service of the Word
James 3:13 - 4:3
 13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom.  
Mark 9:30-37
  35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Preaching of the Word
Can Goodness and Wisdom Coexist? –
Here, I have selected just one of the many points Rev. John covered today and drawn his words on that subject together..
James in his letter tries to show the natural link between goodness and wisdom. The combining of wisdom and goodness is not something we want to restrict. We have a contrast of two kinds of wisdom: heavenly/godly wisdom with earthly/evil wisdom. Like the early church people, we want to know how to gain heavenly/godly wisdom.
This distinction between goodness and wisdom is one that has never occurred to me but when we attached “worldly” to “wisdom” all becomes clear. But the “wisdom” of the Bible’s Sophia fits the bill. That wisdom is God’s wisdom, wisdom coming from God. That sort of wisdom goes hand in hand with goodness and the holy action that follows.
Hymn TIS 609:May the mind of Christ my Saviour” Amen to that. Isn't that the point of listening for God’s voice?
Music to lead us to prayer: This is a time for each of us to draw near to our God. A time of quiet to absorb the words we have heard in the readings and the sermon or to contemplate our own concerns and bring them before God.
Hymn TIS  256: “From heaven you came, helpless babe”. And yet we are so unwilling to become helpless before our Lord and be guided by God’s will. We try so hard to find our own solutions.
 Having drawn near to the God of love, we go forth to bear fruit in due season. Having drawn near to the Spirit of wisdom, we go forth with humility and understanding. Having drawn near to the Presence of mercy and grace, we go forth as children of compassion and peace. Go with God.
Hymn TIS 780: May light come into your eyes
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Gift of Breath

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

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Teacher’s Achilles Heel

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Faith and Works

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

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Living Faithfully

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Thin Places

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Food for the Senseless

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Squashed Sandwich.

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Bread That Endures

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 29 July 2018

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

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

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

Where Do Miracles Come From?

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Life of Compassion.

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

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

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 15 July 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 8 July 2018

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

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

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

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

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