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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.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

'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.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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!
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 1 July 2018

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



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


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




Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Becoming Holy.

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 24 June 2018

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




I try to vary the form the blog takes and today I thought that the hymns were very uplifting, so I intend to focus on them.
 
Having said that, Lynette began with verses from Psalm 9 that I think are worth noting:
I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
 
These verses framed our mental and spiritual approach for the next hour, focusing our attention on the One who is the reason for our being, not just our attendance at this service. It is easy to lose sight of our centre and think the things we have or the things which are happening are random or “natural” if they are good and bad luck if they are not. God is the author of all good but if we or others mess with His plan there are consequences.
 
“Make me a Channel of Your Peace.” How many of us pray to God hoping that our plans or wishes will be fulfilled? We are the servants of God, not the other way around. And God is not there to fight our battles like some sort of big brother. God's plan may not coincide with ours (who would have thought?) and it is the words of this hymn that give us an idea of how we are to carry out that plan as difficult as it might be for us, being humans who are basically fairly selfish.
 
“May the Mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from Day to Day.” I was sitting at the back of the church and could see so many people swaying in time with the music as they sang. Their whole bodies were absorbing the music with the intent of the words. What if we meant these words 100%? What a world it would be! What if we opened ourselves to be changed to be like Jesus? But I think we all secretly keep at least a little back to cover our own wants.
 
“Marching, Marching, in the Light of God.” Whether we are marching in the light of God, or living in the light of God, or moving in the light of God, or doing anything at all in the light of God we would be guaranteed to do God’s will and stop messing up in the way we all do so often. That's not to say that we always mess up but if we keep living in God’s light all the time instead of when it's easy, everything would be so different.
 
“May the feet of God walk with you.” Sometimes I think this is the best part of the service when the prayers and reflection have brought God’s voice to us and have  done their work in us and we are at our very best in terms of our intent to our fellow humans. Here we have the evidence of what has been said above. If we were like this always. Wow! What a World!
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 June 2018

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

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

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

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

Why are you afraid?

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 10 June 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - June 16, 2018 - 10:57am



Gathering God’s People
Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2015)
Come! Here you will find a family of faith where you will always belong. Come! Here you will find friends who will love you as a child of God. Come! Here you will worship a King who rules with equity. Whoever you are, and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.
 All who need a place to belong . .               Come join the family of God.
All who seek spiritual brothers and sisters . Come join the family of God.
All who strive to grow in faith and love . . . Come join the family of God.
All who are unsure and feel unworthy . . .   Come join the family of God

Hymn TIS 693: “Come as you are”

Opening Prayer
Loving Mother, Caring Father, in the midst of our brokenness, knit us together as your family. Heal our wounded hearts, that we may welcome the strangers into our midst and treat them as beloved sisters and brothers. 

Prayer of Confession
Sovereign God, we so often lose our way.
You seek to be our King— to lead us on right paths; to teach us the ways of truth and life; to shelter us from our foes, yet we look to the rulers of this earth for leadership, wisdom, and strength.
You seek to be our comforter— to love us as our Father; to nurture us as our Mother; to shelter us as our Brother; to assure us as our Sister, yet we look elsewhere for love, compassion, and hope.
When our government fails us, and our families disappoint us, you alone remain faithful and true. Open your arms to us once more, O God. We will be your people, and you will be our God and King.

Declaration of Forgiveness
Christ looks to each of us and says: “Here are my mother and my brothers. Here are my father and my sisters. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, mother, father.” As the family of God, as brothers and sisters of Christ, we are loved and forgiven by our gracious God. Thanks, be to God!

The Peace
As the family of God, let us share signs of familial love and compassion, acceptance and forgiveness, as we pass the peace of Christ.
Peace be with you! And also with you!

Hymn TIS 738: ‘My Jesus my Saviour’ (Shout to the Lord)

The Service of the Word
The First Reading: 1 Samuel 8:4-20
The Israelites wanted to be like everyone else and have a king. They told Samuel that his sons weren't following him so they wanted their own king. God told Samuel that that's the way they were. They had rejected him from the beginning so God directed Samuel to warn the people what kings did which was take the sons and daughters to carry out his commands and take the slaves to work for him as well as  takeover land and raise taxes. Anyone in their right mind would have woken up to the pitfalls of such a situation but the people demanded their king anyway,
 
The Gospel Reading: Mark 3:20-35
Jesus’ family were not impressed with his performance nor were they happy about all the attention he was getting. They decided that he had lost his sanity and went to take him away. The teachers said he was using the power of the devil to do his works but Jesus set them right by pointing out that it wasn't possible for Satan to drive out Satan. He went on to speak in parables along the same line but the radical move came when he was told that his family were outside wanting him and he reached out to those around him and said that they were his family.

Preaching of the Word
Who Really is the Strong Person?
The following is a shortened form of Rev. John’s sermon.
So, who do you think was the strongest man in the Bible? Are you thinking of the book of Judges and the guy with long hair who could kill a lion with his bare hands? …Leadership has often been decided on physical strength over history and the true strengths often needed for leadership were ignored. This must have been on Samuel’s mind in this morning’s reading (concerning the people wanting a king)
After hundreds of years of crying out to God, this people seemed to have forgotten the one who not only answered their prayers, but the only king who has the supernatural power to answer them. The elders wanted a human king like all the other nations..
Like many of us today, however, the Israelites were not willing to be led by God while they waited for the King of kings whom God promised. Through the miracles, signs, and wonders that God had shown them throughout their liberation from multigenerational oppression, the Lord more than proved that he had all the attributes they were seeking in a leader.
 The term power is a constant in everyday language. We talk about power in the contexts of business, government, even the church. As the Gospel of Mark reminds us, however, only Jesus Christ has true power. Through Jesus, we have the gift of forgiveness of sins. When Jesus died on the cross, it would seem as if He had been defeated. But on Easter Sunday morning the rest of the message was received. Jesus defeated the enemy! And we can rejoice today. The World’s Strongest Man has defeated our enemy!

Hymn TIS 609 'May the mind of Christ my Saviour'

Intercessory Prayers
We prayed for the needs or those around us in the world, followed by the

Hymn TIS 613: ‘Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy’

Benediction
With God as our King,
we go forth to build God’s kingdom.
With our inner nature renewed,
we go forth to proclaim God’s glory.
With our sisters and brothers in Christ, our mothers and fathers in the faith,
we go forth to be Christ’s family.
Go with God.
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What Grows?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 15, 2018 - 12:28pm

As we prepare to visit Vietnam for a couple of weeks and I am unsure if I will be able to put up a blog I began to think about agriculture, Jesus and parables instead of our reliance on technology etc. Maybe it had something to do with the importance of wherever you go of food production and how that every day life relates to our inner life. It is often from images of creation that we get insights to strengthen our inner journey and put us in touch with our spiritual journey.
Jesus taught the crowds using parables. In our parables for this week from Mark 4, we see that Jesus used every day agricultural language to talk about God. In the first parable, he speaks of someone scattering seeds and watching them begin to grow. If you have ever planted a vegetable garden, you know how amazing it is to watch how the seeds come up, begin to grow, and eventually produce a harvest. It is something I had the joy of when younger and my father set aside part of our quarter acre section for each of us to plant and grow.
We don't know exactly why it grows or how it grows, but somehow the earth produces the harvest, and we are able to reap what was sown. In the second parable, Jesus speaks of a mustard seed. It is the smallest of all seeds on earth, and so some might expect that the harvest from the smallest seed would be very small as well. However, Jesus says that from the smallest seed, the mustard bush becomes one of the greatest of all shrubs. It puts forth large branches and all of the birds of the air make nests from its shade.
We also her that Jesus explained in private. If we could have access to the private explanations Jesus gave to the disciples, surely there would be less confusion and more understanding. If we could just have a private tutoring session with Jesus, wouldn't we understand God's hopes and dreams for us just a little better? Since we don't have access to the private meetings where Jesus "explained everything," we simply do our best with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Pentecost suggests to us that the Holy Spirit is present and active in our world. God does not abandon God's people, and the Holy Spirit is always available to us. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit gives us power to do ministry in Jesus' name and to speak the truth about God's love. In these two seed parables, we learn about that which seems to have been the most important topic for Jesus, the kingdom of God.
First, we learn that there is mystery to the kingdom. Some of us do not like mystery in our lives. We want order and structure, and we want to be in control. However, we are reminded that God is sovereign and works in God's own way and timing. While we may see in other teachings that God desires for humanity to join in God's efforts, this particular parable suggests that even if humanity is oblivious to what's going on around them, God is still at work.
A second thing we can learn about the kingdom of God is that God's workings may appear to be small and insignificant, but like a mustard seed, the kingdom will grow in significant ways. When we sing Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus," we affirm that the kingdoms of this world will become the kingdom of God. God's kingdom will reign supreme, and we will experience life as God intends.
Finally, we also learn that Jesus doesn't force feed us. Instead, he gives us as much as we can understand at this point in our lives. That is good news for humans, who are not perfect and who often are slow to understand. God gives us just what we need for each day and situation. Though we may not get the full picture or the deepest understandings that day, we catch glimpses of God's kingdom and that is enough.
Just like the Israelites had to learn that lesson over and over as they wandered in the wilderness we seem to need the same. God will provide for our daily needs. We just have to trust and be open to receiving that blessing. Internally, we may also see that God grants us things beyond our physical needs—like grace, comfort, and peace. How thankful we are for a God who provides just what we need through kingdom seeds!


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Let's Begin Here.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 8, 2018 - 12:54pm

It is often difficult to be patient while we wait for a change in circumstance to come when our minds are focused on what is right in front of us. Waiting on and with God can be difficult for believers especially while enduring challenges with family members, health problems, or simply the day-to-day business of navigating life. One of the helpful things to remember in such situations is to remember what St Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. He wrote that it is beneficial for Christ followers to daily and intentionally remind themselves all things are for our benefit. As grace increases to benefit more and more people, it will cause gratitude to increase, which results in God’s glory.
Remembering that the acts of grace that God extends to each one of us every day increases our gratitude toward our God. Facing a dilemma while recalling that God either got us out of a similar situation or kept us sane while he brought us through a worse situation brings peace and, eventually, patience. Practicing being grateful makes the waiting with God easier to bear. Have you ever come through a difficult situation and wonder how? Similarly, when we face problems or loss our God still walks beside us supporting us to face such difficulties.
This is difficult for us to accept as we like to be in control, we like to think it is from our own resources we survive or overcome. Spend a few moments in a book store or online at Amazon or other Book agencies and scan the titles in the sections on "religion," "spirituality," or "new age." What do you see? On any given day, you will see a wide variety of titles on prosperity gospels, praying your way to health, contacting spirits, "secrets" to success, encounters with angels, encounters with demons, "Christian" reincarnation, earth spirituality—you get the picture.
One thousand and one options, from the ridiculous to the sublime, all aimed at a culture that says it is "spiritual, but not religious." The strong man of organised religion may very well be tied to its own ecclesial throne, while pretenders pillage and plunder the spiritually hungry and seeking. We may be bound, but we're certainly not gagged. Part of our problem is that we are engaged in never-ending disagreements about who is right and who is wrong, who is good and who is evil, who is righteous and who is sinful.
We don’t as a society seem to want to seek unity, harmony, reconciliation, or justice. We are merely adopting the secular culture's passion for competition and winning at any cost. We only have to listen to the twitter comments and speeches of politicians all over the world to see where we have moved to as a society. Sadly, what their message seems to be is to forget grace and forgiveness, ignore love and mercy, disregard patience and tolerance, and label justice and generosity as socialism and communism to put "those people" in their places. If we continue to allow religion to turn from life-affirming, joy-producing, divine blessing into legalistic, authoritarian, proof-texting moralising then no one needs to break in and bind us—we'll do it ourselves.
Listen to the leaders in our Australian Parliament where often they sadly reflect these negative attitudes especially to the wider secular community. This comes about because one of the risks of serving a human leader is the possibility of control. Human flaws create the opening for leaders to be controlled and manipulated by those whom they serve and vice versa. It is for this reason that it is critically important that we as Christians to serve under the governance of Jesus Christ, whether leader or follower.

The term power is a constant in everyday language. We talk about power in the contexts of business, government, even the church. As the Gospel of Mark reminds us, however, only Jesus Christ has true power. Through Jesus, we have the ultimate gift of forgiveness. Sadly, even today, we see the leadership of Israel and the Palestinians unable to see the that gift of forgiveness and what it might bring. Instead they want an eye for an eye and a tooth for a death and to destroy each other. An attitude encouraged by such leaders in our world as those in the USA, Philippines and China. This is not of God or what his Son sought to teach us.
The time has come to set aside differences and focus instead on what we share in common. Jesus says in Mark 3, "But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first binding the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered." Let's begin here. Let's acknowledge that we believe different things and value different things and seek different things, but at our heart and core we are all one family, children of God, and brothers and sisters of the Christ. It won't change anything overnight, but one thing is certain. If we're all on the same side, there won't be any of "those people" left to dislike.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 3 June 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - June 5, 2018 - 8:01am




Rev. John began by bringing to our attention God’s knowing everything about us, even before it happens, before we do it or before we say it.
 
This brought to mind other thoughts: Why do we try to run our own lives when God is the author of everything and even knows when we are going to depart from his ways… and the consequences of such actions? This in turn jogged my memory about: “When all else fails, follow the instructions.” The maker knows best how creation, including us, should operate.
 
I was also reminded of jokes such as ones about people trying to push the “pull” door and getting nowhere, all leading to a total lack of effective result. But we still continue doing the wrong thing, no matter how often the result of such action ends badly.
 
Then there is our almost laughable habit of trying to hide our sins, silliness, and mistakes from God.Really! This is so silly, firstly because God knows everything about us and secondly, because God loves us fiercely anyway because God is love and can do no other.
 

Almost immediately another thought sprang up. Not only does God know everything about me and loves me but God knows everything about everyone and fiercely loves them too. Even people I don't like. Even people I disapprove of. Even people who I would judge are breaking God’s laws. The corollary to this is that if God loves these people then I should too. They may irritate me. I might irritate them. But we need to love one another. And not just because God demands that we do, but because the world works best that way.
 
It is said that we are the children of God. Think about how we love the children we know. We love them despite their errors and mistakes. That's how God loves us, only times a million trillion.
 
We are to love others…not because of anything about them but because all people are worthy of love as demonstrated by Jesus’ attitude and actions to people during his earthly ministry.
 
That not only makes a better and happier world but it makes a better and happier  life for the people we love and not so amazingly, it makes a better and happier us. 
 
All those thoughts came to me because of Rev. John’s introduction but then when we sang, a further aspect was added: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”. God’s mercy, his forgiving love for us is not just wide but beyond “the measures of the mind”. Our minds are capable of imagining or inventing anything and everything but God’s merciful love is beyond even that; beyond any limit.
 
That merciful love was demonstrated when Jesus, setting his face to Jerusalem and facing certain death, continued to spread the message of God’s kingdom. In some parts of the world ordinary Christians can be in the same position.
 
In Australia, we are not likely to be killed for continuing to spread the Word of God, althoughif in doing so we offend desperate people we could lose our lives, as some have. But for most of us the worst that is likely to happen is that we may be judged fools or miss out on a promotion because we are unwilling “to play the game”.
 
However, regardless of the cost of following the command of our God, we cannot do anything else. We can hardly deny the truth we know because it lands us in a difficult position. When torture and death have been the outcome of staying true, many have denied their faith and we all understand the dreadful fear they experienced, but on the other hand we also know that under the surface they knew the truth is still the truth.
 
Jesus and others did not turn away and it was Jesus’ love for us that motivated his courageous strength. It was that love which was celebrated in the part of our service that followed. It was that love we remembered and celebrated as we broke the bread and drank the wine…a ceremony that strengthens the bonds between us and our Lord and between each other, building the church and in doing so, God’s kingdom.
 
As Rev. John said after the Communion: “This has been no ordinary meal. It has been one in which we have been fed and nourished with the life of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. May we go from this table, refreshed and eager, to share that life with others. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen”
 
Rev. John’s sermon was about the value of the Sabbath and how it isn't something about which to make difficult-to-follow rules but a day like all others when we are to do good. It is a time, like all others, when our actions are to lead to healing not to harm. As Rev. John said:
 
“Our gracious God values life and has set apart a day each week for doing that which “saves life.” I hope we can come to know what this means for us and our life. I hope and pray we are able to learn how to think about the Sabbath as a day for saving life, to come to know how we might faithfully honour the purpose of the Sabbath, without falling into a legalism that extinguishes the very life of the Sabbath. May we be someone who “saves life,” not just in special times, but in all times. May we be a channel of our God’s healing power in every aspect of life.  Amen.”
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sabbath Rest?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - June 1, 2018 - 1:16pm

Some of you might enjoy this story I found during my browsing this week. The wife of a man who died assumed they had plenty of money, so she gave him a very nice funeral and a fancy tombstone that said, “Rest in Peace.” However, when the estate was settled she learned he had wasted all their money on gambling and bad investments. This made her so angry she took the little money she had and added three words to the tombstone. The new tombstone said: “Rest in Peace … Until I Come!”
What I was thinking about at the time was what it is we really need if we are going to find peace. It came out of a discussion with my wife over where we wanted to be buried and what sort of funeral we wanted. A bit morbid some might say but important for a spouse to know. The reflection of my wife was that it did not matter as we knew and had the hope where we were going after we leave this life. As someone once said, you don’t need a tombstone to rest in peace; you only need Jesus.

The Hebrew word for rest is Shabbat. There are no vowels in the Hebrew language, so the word Shabbat is comprised of three Hebrew letters: Shin, Beit, and Tav. In this week’s reading from Mark 2-3 we are able to discern what Jesus taught about the Sabbath Day. Sabbath is one of the most misunderstood topics in scripture. There are two questions that trouble many people and they are: (1) Why don’t we obey the Fourth Commandment that says, “Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy?” The other question is: (2) When did we change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday?
You know, I have heard it said that there were a group of religious whiners who followed Jesus around criticising everything He did and said. In this passage, they whine about how Jesus didn’t observe the Sabbath the way they thought it ought to be observed. But we also can say that Christians are not required to follow the Jewish Sabbath rules. This is where it gets tricky as there are a number of ideas that have arisen without looking at the history of the development of what we call a day of rest on the Sunday.
Some of the Pharisees confronted Jesus about this hoping to put a wedge between him and the people who followed him. But Jesus made it clear that God saw the necessity of satisfying human hunger even on the Sabbath. He even pointed out that David had acted on that basis when he as a refugee and those fleeing with him ate sacred bread. Then Jesus said, “God created the Sabbath for people not people for the Sabbath.” In other words, God considered keeping people more important than keeping the Sabbath.

As some will know, there are some groups who follow Jesus, but meet on Saturday, and even follow the Old Testament dietary rules. They don’t eat pork or catfish. Some of them judge those of us who worship on Sunday. They say we’re wrong, and that Sunday worship is actually the mark of the beast. Interesting isn’t it.
What is important is that time is set aside as holy – for divine purpose. From my reading and reflection, I believe that God set aside times other than Sundays for people. Christians need to take those times for worship and spiritual renewal.But all this talk of working on Sunday is skirting the real issue: “Is Jesus Lord of your Sabbath – your time of peace – your time with God?” What do you do on Sunday? What are the rules that may be barriers to you for recharging and finding peace?  
Sadly, this tragedy of what is the Sabbath or what is Sunday remains today. I know we as Christians want people to attend services every Sunday. However, there are some who cannot enjoy worshipping the Lord because they are so consumed with meeting the demands and expectations of others. Some can’t focus on the Lord because they are so busy “policing” the behaviour of others. I am personally thankful for Sundays, and I believe every believer needs to look forward to being in a place of gathering to worship. However, if our demands and expectations regarding Sunday cloud our view of the Saviour, then we have missed the purpose for Sunday all together!

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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