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Open Love from the Spirit’s Presence.

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

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

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

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


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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 9 June 2019

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


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

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

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

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

Grace through Diversity.

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

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

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

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








Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Whisper of Hope not Damnation!

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

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

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

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


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 26 May 2019

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


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

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

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