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You Are Not Alone.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 20, 2017 - 9:36pm
Here’s something I like about Moses in this week’s Sunday Scripture readings. No matter how many times he saw or heard from God, he wanted more. Not content to rest on the burning bush, or the magic powers, or the pillars of smoke and fire or the receiving of the tablets bearing The Law, Moses says to the Lord: “Show me your glory, I pray.” I understand this. I am one of those people who cannot hear enough times that I am loved and I am one of the beloved. I appreciate displays of affection.
I get Moses, and I love the way God responds. “Okay, mate, I’ll show you my glory, to the extent you can take it in, and I’ll even protect you from looking at me too directly, sort of like one of those pinhole things people use to keep from blinding themselves during an eclipse.” If you have ever needed to reassure a child who did not want to go to school or to day-care, you probably know why one could picture God as an Awesome Mama here. This image is one I read in Margaret Spong’s writing and I find it apt. Little one, go and stand over there where it’s safe, and just to be extra sure, your parent will cover your eyes for you with their Big Giant Hand.”
Much of the time, this is what we need. My observation is that even for my wife it seems at times, she wants to do this for her two grown boys. Yes, they are far away, but there are times when she still wants to do this for them, and not being supernatural, I cannot see how she can wave a magic wand to achieve it. Instead we need to pray for them, pray that they will find their way in this adult world as creative young people and not starve to death. Frankly, we could use a dose of proof right about now, and I’m guessing many of us, worried about the general state of the world, could use it, too.

But Moses! Why did he need it? Hadn’t he gotten more than enough? Can you get enough of God? Perhaps not. Perhaps they had a relationship so intimate that one appearance could not suffice. Because apparently God enjoyed their little talks, too. Another thing I love about Moses is that he talked to God the way I do when I am driving the car or doing the cooking of a meal. “Oh, Lord. What can I do to guide those whom I have care of in this world?” “How can I best help the people at church?” “Why can’t that person see things the way I do when the answer is so clear?”
Moses came to God over and over with his doubts and his frustrations, and by doing just that, he found favour in God’s sight. It doesn’t matter that he was impulsive. It doesn’t matter that he was initially doubtful and frankly resistant. He gave God his all, his flawed and human all, and he found favour with God. Maybe that is something I can do.
In the story of the exodus, presence is also a constant theme. The wilderness was disorienting. The goal was so far away, even after years of being nomads. In the cloud and fire, they somehow found strength and presence. They could sense the connection between their selves and God, and they could also see that God never left, day or night, whether they were traveling or staying still. Sometimes God’s absence is more palpable to us than God’s presence. We look for God but find . . . nothing. We long for God but feel nothing. We pray to God and maybe we hear nothing.
But then there are moments. Moments when in the midst of a horrendous day we have the sense that we are surrounded by a warm cloud of God’s love. Moments when in a sleepless night we think we might see the flame of God’s peace that has not been extinguished. When these moments come, we latch onto them, so we can remember them when neither fire nor cloud is visible.
For me, the moments of cloud and fire usually come through the love and actions of someone else. A kind word from someone. A look of understanding. The touch of my hand and the response of the person in a hospital room as I sit with them and as they face the end of life or a long time of healing. It would be wonderful if we would be able to know the presence of God in those around us, and at those times offer God’s presence to those who need it. From all this remember, you are not alone.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 8 October 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - October 17, 2017 - 7:05am





I was unable to attend this service but was moved by the written message that I received.
Gathering God’s People
 Call to Worship
(Abingdon Worship Annual 2011)
O Lord, you are God. There is no other God but you.
We renounce all that we have allowed to come between us.
O Lord, we worship you. We praise and honour your name.
We worship you on this, your holy day.
For your love, for your word, for all that you have given:
O Lord, we thank you and praise you. We love you.
 
Hymn TIS 745:“Seek ye first the kingdom of God”
 
Opening prayer
Almighty God, your word bursts forth into our lives like a glorious sunrise. You speak, and our hearts rejoice. You command, and our eyes are opened. The sound of your voice brings revival to our souls. Your words are purer than the finest gold. True and righteous one, living Word, light our way. As we listen to your Spirit, may the words of our mouths and the thoughts of our hearts be accepted in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
With this short Prayer, I was immediately transported to a different place. How easily we can forget what God means to us and what God does in our lives. This prayer, and ones like it, can draw us back.

A Prayer of Confession
No matter how righteous we imagine ourselves to be, Lord, your perfect word reveals our imperfections all too clearly.
No matter how hard we strive to fulfil the requirements of your law, we always fall short. We have forgotten that righteousness and perfection come not from rules and regulations but from faith.
We have ignored the truth that your righteousness comes from faith.
Open our eyes to see that all we have accomplished is nothing compared to knowing Christ as our Lord. Let us count everything as loss, that we might gain heaven and be found blameless in Christ.
In the name of the Saviour we pray. Amen.
And with this, we rest in God, relying on divine strength to achieve that which is impossible on our own.

Declaration of Forgiveness
Take heart; have faith. The goal is in sight. Press on to take hold of it, as Christ has taken hold of us. Have no fear; leave the past behind. Reach out for what lies ahead, for the prize, for the life to be found in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Thanks, be to God!
And the burden is lifted! And so, having made our peace with our creator, we are able to reach out to others.

The Peace
 Make the joy of God's love & forgiveness complete: share with one another the love that Christ shares with us.
Peace be with you! And also with you!

Offering Prayer
Almighty God, you gave us your commandments and asked us to live according to your holy will.  As part of your design for honourable living, we participate in this simple act of giving.  We dedicate ourselves to living lives of honesty and peace.  Amen.
 
Hymn TIS 641: “This is my will, my one command”
 
The Service of the Word
Readings: Exodus 20: 1-4, 7-9, 12-20. Philippians 3:4b-14.Matthew 21:22-46.
Firstly, Exodus brought to us the Ten Commandments. These are very straightforward and easily applied to our lives, but it is amazing how we can deceive ourselves into believing that we are keeping them, when we so far from doing so.
If we only had this passage for guidance (Philippians) and followed it, I think we would do very well. If it's not in God’s plan, then it's of zero importance to us and while we are not able to live the life we should, we are on the right path.
Matthew brings us a very serious message. Where do we fit into this story? Are we faithfully representing the landowner or are we the tenants who are self-serving and who will have everything taken from them and given to others.
Rev. John’s Reflection (in part)
God does not want the tremendous seed planted in us to fail to bear fruit. God looks for the harvest, both in our hidden depths and in the wide world around us… God does not place on us an expectation we cannot fulfill. God does not simply demand fruitfulness from us, but provides all the conditions by which this can happen. God cares deeply for his vineyard. It is on this basis that he looks for the harvest. This expectation is not a demand it is a longing.  
 
Hymn TIS 609: “May the mind of Christ my Saviour...”
There followed the Prayers of the People and the The Lord’s Prayer 
 
Hymn TIS 606:“Son of God, eternal Saviour” Tune -  Ode to Joy
 
Benediction                 
Hear the voice of the Creator, the mighty God, the One who built the vault of heaven, who set the sun on its blazing course through the skies! Hear the words of life, declared not by speech or language or voice but written on the heart! Go forth in the name of the living Word, the One whose words bring forth the fruit of the kingdom in your own lives! Amen.
 
Hymn TIS 779: “May the feet of God walk with you,”
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Everybody Loves a Party, Right?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 13, 2017 - 9:20pm
Everybody loves a party, right? Wherever there is food and fun, people will follow. The words “You’re invited” have a welcome ring to them. This Sunday’s readings from scripture abound with images of celebrations, feasting, food, and of course, humankind’s uncanny ability to make a mess of things. In Exodus 32, the people of Israel are tired of waiting for Moses and start their own “party” with a god of their own creation— a golden calf.
“They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel,” says the writer. But things don’t go so well for the impatient partygoers, and they end up drinking the dust of their own idol. In the Gospel scripture from Matthew, Jesus speaks of a wedding banquet and unwilling and unprepared guests. Again, things don’t go so well for those who fail to follow proper party etiquette.
Fortunately, outer darkness, weeping, and gnashing are not the last word. The Lord of Hosts is much bigger than our messes and will not permit us to spoil the divine banquet. God has other plans and, as the consummate host, continually invites us to the divine party. The Hebrew Scripture Isaiah 25 and Psalm 23 speak also to us of feasting, of bountiful tables spread, of overflowing cups, of well-aged wines and rich food. There are no tears and no fear when God is the host, only goodness and mercy.
Sometimes it’s comforting to be reminded that our instant-gratification culture is not a by-product of the digital age, nor a particular failing of “young people these days.” Unwillingness to wait, desire for immediate tangible results, and impatience with the mysterious slowness of spiritual life seem to go back millennia, rather than being a hallmark of the Millennial generation. we are worshiping something that is decidedly not God.
Part of the difficulty is that, at least initially, the idea seems to make sense. People desire a deeper relationship with God— how can we resist giving it to them? Resist we must, because no preacher, teacher, pastor, or parent has ever been able to simply hand spiritual depth over on a golden platter. Building a relationship with anyone let alone our God takes time. Even face to face, it took many days for Moses and God to get to know each other well enough to reach the point where the commandments could be delivered, let alone where they spoke to each other “as one speaks to a friend.”

Desire for relationship is the first step, and the Israelites certainly had that. But a spiritual life, whether that of an individual or a community, also requires effort, energy, honesty, perseverance, endurance, and trust. We have to be willing to wait, to “trust in the slow work of God,” to sit in silence, to put in the same amount of time both listening and speaking as we would with a human friend. But it is so much easier to work with something we can see and touch.
As a leader, it is so much easier to offer the cheap facsimile than to nurture true spiritual relationship. Look at our leaders not only around the world but here in Australia. After what appears to be too tough times we elect leaders who promise us the world, promise us that we will be great. These leaders don’t tell us the journey we need to go on to reach there. No, they tell us we can have it now.
But as we know if we have read this scripture, this story ends strangely with Moses convincing God to reclaim the people as God insists they belong to Moses. (God having apparently forgotten how much work it was to convince Moses to go back to Egypt in the first place!) Yet even knowing this story, the temptation is great. It takes a long time, and “we don’t have a clue” what is happening during the time when nothing appears to be happening, and suddenly we are sacrificing and dancing and giving our hearts to something hard, cold, and unforgiving.


We may tire of wondering what the golden calf looks like in our community. It is important that our own spiritual lives are strong, so we don’t fall into Aaron’s trap of believing we can provide people with anything more than tools and space to seek, no matter how uncomfortable or anxious they (or we) might be. The invitation is explicit though. God’s desire is to include us in the never-ending salvation celebration. Come with rejoicing and thanksgiving to the table for Communion, for a potluck and fellowship, and for eternity. Celebrate the goodness and mercy of God!
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Holding on to What is Precious.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 6, 2017 - 10:21pm
The images of clean-up after a disaster are haunting and heartbreaking. Three days before I arrived in Invercargill, Aotearoa (New Zealand) to take up my first appointment as a clergy person over thirty years ago, a third of the city was flooded and that flood included a backwash of sewerage. It was a difficult and sad time for those people in the suburb of Waikiwi. But also, there came from this event many a story of kindness and compassion and people found the gift of being a neighbour come to the fore. 
Sadly, with the sewerage having been up to 2 to 3 metres on peoples walls the instruction came from the authorities to destroy all property and send it to the tip. For many, this was a devastating thing to have to do and to watch for that matter.  Someone from the churches had this bright idea to invite all people effected to bring their precious items of crockery etc. and linen to the church halls and members would wash them and disinfect them so that the people affected had something to hang on to. It was a time of grief but a time of great love and compassion.
During that time, my role was to help find people to ensure their well-being and help people find their precious property. I also assisted some of those people in getting their bits and pieces to those doing the washing and cleaning. One day I watched as a woman, who was ignoring the television news camera pointed at her, as she found something she recognised in the rubble. She exclaimed out loud that she had found her favourite object, and I watched as she ran to the object, dug her hands into the debris, and pulled out what could only be described as a fragment of what could have once been that precious item. She clutched it to her in shock as if it had been made of gold.
She seemed so glad to have found something she thought she had lost in the flood. In this place of loss and grief, even a part of a precious object that is recovered seemed like a treasure, for it may have symbolised for the woman a truth she had known but could not prove: “Once upon a time I lived here. I had a normal life, I had a job, I had a car, I had this object which was precious. This is a precious object.
Saint Paul, who wrote some of the letters in our Scriptures and has had many others attributed to him, gave a message to the church which comes in a time of turmoil and chaos; suddenly everything the followers of Jesus thought to be true about the fellowship of believers has been turned upside down, and St. Paul reminds the church to take stock, to count every earthly gain as loss, and to count any suffering that has to be endured for Christ’s sake as ultimate gain. What are the remnants of our earthly selves that we search for, in an effort to hold on to something that reminds us that we exist, that we count for something in this world? What scraps would we hold dear to our chest as if they were gold?
For St. Paul, the answer is this: “Christ Jesus has made me his own.” That’s it. That’s the bottom line. After taking stock of his conversion on the road to Damascus, after accounting for all the church plants he created, after being arrested and thrown in prison for the sake of the gospel, it all boils down to this one truth, and the symbol for it all is the cross. The cross is the piece of a precious object you see. In every church that ever has burned to the ground, or has blown away, the cross— or even the idea of the cross if we couldn’t find a physical, tangible one. And as Richard Rohr states, if there was one phrase to describe the Christian faith, it would be the “Way of the Wound”
It is the evidence that, God loved the world, came to earth and dwelt among us and died for us, and we have life because of it. We are good at rules: making them and then breaking them. St. Paul reminds us that, when we gain Christ Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, we receive exactly what we need— forgiveness, grace, hope. God declared us beloved children which brings us a confidence that, whatever we do, we can do it well because we are already equipped and already approved— that’s a lot to live up to. We strive to fulfil the confidence that God places in us, knowing that God spurs us on, having already declared us winners.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Messy Ordinariness.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 29, 2017 - 9:46pm
In this week’s reading set from Exodus, you can hear Moses’ frustration. So far in the readings from Exodus over the last few weeks, they have told us about how God delivered the people from Pharaoh’s army, delivered the Hebrews from starvation. And now, this week they are thirsty. Yet again the Hebrews doubt that God will see them through. So, we get the question, “Why are you testing the LORD?”  It’s a foolish question really. It’s a question for humanity today also. Why do we doubt God’s power or God’s favour? The Hebrews were very like us. This is the way humans seem to continue to act today in our relationship with our God.  
So, the question comes, why do we doubt God’s power or God’s favour? It seems to me that it has something to do with the fact that we are human and therefore fearful. We have experienced before in our lives times when our hopes did not work out, when things or people we needed were not there for us. And, truthfully, we know how frail our lives really are. Lack of water in the desert seems an occasion more appropriate for panic than for trust. But let us note the reactions and behaviour of Moses.
Does the reactions of Moses sound familiar? Does it sound like leaders we have known? Moses, like the people, is in danger from thirst, and he fears their anger: “They are getting ready to stone me.” In fact, while the people complain to Moses, Moses complains about them to God. One begins to wonder if Moses is more concerned that the people doubt God or that they’re on his case. Yet our God does not seem very concerned about the people’s testing, not in this passage or throughout the wilderness journey.
What is God’s response to the people’s need, their doubt, their fear? The response is water. It’s not more commandments, not punishment, not a new teaching. Just water. Here we see a difference between God and Moses. Moses, perhaps due to fear, questions the people’s faith and memorialises their quarrelling. So often we get side-tracked with our own baggage. God goes straight to the point of need: “You’re thirsty? Here’s water.” You doubt God’s care, God’s steadfast faithfulness? That’s okay. God’s graceful providence is not frustrated by our weakness. Have some cool water, straight from the rock.
You know, this ordinariness, the reality of everyday life is at the same time scandalous and appealing. If we move now from considering Moses and his ordinary problem with the physical need for water to Jesus response to human needs and ordinariness. The very Son of God is limited by the things that limit all the rest of us: time and space, living and dying, illness and health, the actions and expectations of others, good and bad relationships. Every day Jesus had to figure out how to get food, where they were going to sleep. Someone needed to be in charge of the money. They had to figure out what road they were going to take to the next town, and sometimes they were running late.
God chose not just to view the messiness that we call humanity from some other plane, but to enter this messiness and to be at home in it. The spiritual and the physical are so intertwined that they cannot be separated, not even in the Christ. Neither is holier than the other. Each is made holier by the other. Wouldn’t it be something if we could see the intertwining of spirit and physicality today? We do, but in an even messier way than Jesus lived it: it is called the Church.

The church is the body of Christ. We worry sometimes that we are not spiritual enough. And we’re probably right. But it’s also likely that we are not mundane enough. One without the other is not the body of Christ. The mundane must be infused with the spiritual, and the spiritual with the mundane. This gets messy, and we make lots of mistakes trying to get it right. We’re limited by our location, our resources, our personalities. Jesus, too, chose to be limited. That puts us in good company.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Who Stands With Us?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 22, 2017 - 10:44pm
This week in our reading from the Hebrew scriptures (Exodus 16:2-15) the Israelite's are in the wilderness just six weeks when they start living in the past. Hungry and cranky, realizing they don’t know where they’re going or how they’ll get there or how long it will take, with no established religion or government, no social safety net, and no leftovers— they complain. “If only we had died in Egypt where we sat around and ate as much as we wanted!” (Ah, flawed memories!)
God again listens to their cries and provides abundance they could never have imagined. This is the central wilderness experience, the first of many lessons in the making of a people. God says, “I will be your God,” calls them “my people,” then needs to teach them what that means— they have to work the vision making process and discern a mission statement (“Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself,” seems pretty good!).

They need to wander in order to discover that God will lead them if they will follow. They want to look back without rose-coloured glasses so they can look forward with hope. They need to learn that God is love and discern who God is calling them to be. This first lesson is learning to rely on God’s goodness and abundance. It sounds cliché and naïve now, and I suspect then, too— but alone out in the desert, the Israelites literally depended on God for their daily bread, their safety, their lives.
Even as they learn the stark truth that we are all dependent on God despite our perceived independence, they learn of God’s faithfulness. They learn that hoarding doesn’t get us anywhere. They learn that God’s abundance comes along with justice— not whatever I want, but what we, the community, need. The story is a familiar one. It happens again and again, not just on the Hebrew people’s trek through the wilderness, but in our communities today. When times are tough, when we are threatened, when we are afraid, it is hard to remember our blessings, and very easy to focus on what is lacking.
Nor should we underestimate the difficulties of life in the desert. The routines of Egypt— whatever their hardships— were a known quantity. Life as slaves is difficult, but survivable. The wilderness, though, has no known support system. But when the waters of the sea closed over Pharaoh’s army, God burned any bridge back to Egypt. The story of manna in the desert is rightly understood as God’s providential care, God’s mercy for the people, and God standing with them to see them through— bread from heaven, indeed. What are we to make, though, of the Lord’s purpose? The Lord speaks to the peoples. God needs to “test them to see whether they follow Instruction or not.”
“What is it?” the people exclaim, when they encounter this manna. Apparently, this is a test indeed. This manna is food (the Egyptian word mennu means “food”), but it is strange food (the Arabic man hu means “This is insect secretions”). God will faithfully send manna throughout the time in the wilderness. Is the “testing” a part of the Lord’s teaching process, reinforcing again and again that God is trustworthy and worth following?

Today it is enough to remember that we are tested like this all the time. More than a thousand years after this story, Jesus will teach that asking for daily bread is enough to pray. We might wish for a lifetime supply of our favourite delicacies, but can we be thankful for what God provides? For the gift of life? For all that God has done and has promised?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 September 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - September 17, 2017 - 11:40am



Today I led the service and I think the reflection was the most significant part. So, the blog today is a shortened version of that. I will list the hymns too, because they added to the theme of  “Forgiveness”.

Hymns:  TIS 228 “Crown him with Many Crowns”; 655 “O, Let the son of God enfold you.”;129 “Amazing Grace”;136  “There's a widening in God’s Mercy”

Reflection
The subject of today’s Gospel reading is “Forgiveness.”
Peter asked Jesus if forgiving someone 7 times was enough. In this, he was being very generous because the Jewish law only required a person to forgive someone 3 times.
Jesus’ reply must have been quite a shock. Depending on which version of the Bible you have,  it was “seventy times seven” or “seventy seven times”.
In either case, Jesus is saying that we should forgive way past the number of times we ever thought we should or ever could forgive.
In the same Bible reading we heard of the king whose slave owed him an unbelievable amount of  money…something about equal to the size of the economy of some small countries.
But the king was a compassionate man and so when the slave pleaded with him, he didn't just give more time for repayment, he forgave the debt.
And so the slave realised what a gift he had been given and was grateful. He also learned a rich lesson on how to treat other people.
Or he should have but he didn't at all.
In this case where the offending person could not make restitution how could justice be reached? As in all similar cases, justice is obtained by a full and frank admission of guilt.

Look at  that from the perspective of one person to another, living today.
But what if we have offended against another in some other way?
They may forgive us out of their own compassion but that forgiveness can't be fully effective unless we acknowledge our offence.
There are times when we would rather pretend that we didn't do anything much.
On the other side of the equation, if we are hurt, even if the offender fails to properly acknowledge the hurt, as Christians we are commanded to forgive them anyway.
I have also heard people say: “I can never forgive them!” Sorry, you, as a follower of Jesus are commanded to do just that, whether you have received an apology or not.
An experience I have had is that I have struggled to bring myself to forgive a person because I wanted justice.
Then I woke up and realised that I wasn't doing myself any good and was able to forgive for my own sake, only to find an enormous burden lifted from my shoulders.
But then an even more amazing change occurred! SuddenlyI could see the situation from the perspective of the other personand realized that life is very complicated and that I had been nursing what seemed like a deliberate hurt from someone else for nothing.
But how can such a thing happen?
How can we, as a human, go from seeing someone else as offending us in some way to seeing them as guiltless in that same respect? It seems impossible.
And I think it is….until we hand over the situation to God.
This change of perspective comes when we, as the offended against, ask for God’s help and accept the spirit’s work of grace.
It takes the same work of grace for us to see our real guilt in any matter.
We as the offender can't expect forgiveness until, through grace,  we are able to admit our guilt frankly.
Anything else does not bring about reconciliation….which is the true aim of confession on one side and forgiveness on the other.
But don't leave acting on this message for too long. In the Guardian in 2006,  it was announced that all 306 British World War 1 soldiers who were executed for desertion or cowardice were to be pardoned. 88 years later. Don't wait even one day.
 
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unting Church 3 and 10 September 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - September 16, 2017 - 6:10am

 
 


Because I have so many calls on my time at the moment, I need to reflect on the two services in the one blog to get them covered. Also, as I have been trying to do, I am taking a bit of a different approach each week, and this week I am reflecting on particular points of Rev. John’s  services.

Rev. John began the Call to Worship in the September 3 service with:
“Jesus reminds us of one of the greatest, and most difficult, paradoxes of Christianity: to save your life you must first lose it. So, we find ourselves, once again surprised by the limitless and inexplicable nature of God’s love, and we rejoice to stand together on holy ground.”
Some of us have been fortunate enough to have walked hand in hand with God since we were small children. However, some of us have had to face a decision: were we going to follow Jesus or were we going to keep control of our own lives, setting our own standards and limits, and making all our decisions based in our own will?  It seemed quite a dangerous move to hand over total control. What if God asked us to do or to be something that cost us heavily?
So, maybe we tried a compromise.We would make the decisions about which parts of the God story we would attend to and which parts we would ignore.
For anyone who did that I will guarantee that it hasn't turned out well. The internal conflict would be dreadful.
But, for those of us who decided that the path we were following wasn’t making us very happy and made the decision to let God take control of every little thing, the result has been so surprising.
The sense of freedom is amazing! Who would have thought being ruled by another, even if it is God, could be so liberating! And how did that sense of contentment simply settle upon us? By this world’s reckoning it shouldn't happen: it doesn't make sense.
But that's what it is like. So, step out and take that chance that some of us had to take. You'll be amazed too.
This service included the Eucharist which is an experience, which again, is hard to explain. The words are carefully chosen and have been refined over time by the Church. Congregation members conduct themselves very reverently. The service remembers Jesus’ life, lived for us, proclaiming the truth, and given up, rather then deny that truth. That is enough to create the special nature of the time which we share together…but there's
something else; something that I can only attribute to the Spirit settling on us, entering our hearts and minds so that we know that God is with us.
In his sermon, Rev. John warned us about being a stumbling block to others. Is the life we lead a contradiction to the message we preach? Is the message we preach a simplified one that we learned as children in Sunday school, which needs to be looked at afresh now that we are adults?
Are we using bible passages to beat people over the head, rather than show them God’s love? Does God call people, who as a result, visit our church, only to be made feel most unwelcome?
We need to be careful and remember this is God’s church, not ours. God welcomes everyone and Jesus showed us that respectability isn't of much account in his Kingdom.
Think about it.


On Sunday September 10, Rev. John’s Opening Prayer picked up the theme of providing a true witness, saying: “Move us, O God, that we may fulfill the law of love and be a people who radiate your light. Touch our hearts, that we may come to love our neighbour as we come to love ourselves.”
We are well worth loving. God loves us. Something that is said to show kids the truth of this is: ‘God doesn't make junk.” There are  lovelier and more sophisticated ways of saying this, but it comes down to the same thing: we are precious in God’s sight. Once we realise this, we longer need to be in the business of trying to win. What recognition could we win that would be of greater worth than being precious in God’s sight? And if we no longer need to win, we can be gracious to everyone we meet each day. We will be able to see and openly acknowledge publicly, their worth. We will be able to let them know that they are precious in God’s sight. And then……
To continue this theme, Rev. John spoke of the lost sheep. Rev. John asked: Did he (the shepherd)  look at its value and say: “Well, that sheep is not good enough, that sheep doesn't have the right values. I won't bother trying to find it.”?
In fact, when we think about thepeople Jesus reached out to, it wasn't the ones who seemed would be of advantage to his kingdom. It was the ones who needed him and his kingdom.
So we should be very careful, that when a divine invitation has been given to someone, when they feel drawn to come to church, that we aren't the ones who cause them to turn away in disappointment.
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Have You Really Been Saved?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 15, 2017 - 11:22pm
We hear that phrase so often as a question tossed off by proselytisers. This is especially so in Sydney as some of our brothers remain so hung up and focused on the phrase. I bet some of you are surprised to hear me asking this question. It may just roll past, but I’m really asking— have you been saved? For an experience of being saved, of being plucked from the fire, is crucial to Christian faith. We’re not talking about finding a parking space when you’re running late. Perhaps that kind of experience might serve as a pale proxy, a way to imagine salvation.
Well, before Jesus’ resurrection, God was in the salvation business. The exodus (along with exile) is a central story that shaped Jewish faith as Jesus knew it. The God of Israel, the God of our scriptures which we Christians call the Bible, the God of Jesus does not make sense without this experience of being delivered from imminent disaster. The movie version cannot do this scene justice. Imagine yourself in the sandals of those Hebrew slaves. With your back to the sea, you can see the dust of the chariots coming. When they catch you, they will kill you and your family and everyone around you, except for the “fortunate” ones that they will beat, rape, and drag back to slavery.
If you have not knowingly been that close to the brink, I guarantee that someone you know has. Listen for those stories. Just recently I heard of a parent whose house went up in flames in the middle of the night. She’s not quite sure how she got out the window to summon help, but she is sure about the firefighters who went in and brought out her child, and about the medical teams who kept the firefighters’ lungs working past the smoke damage. To her, salvation is very real.
Part of salvation is to participate in forgiveness. In our scripture, this week from Matthew 18, Peter reflects on this. To show that he had a magnanimous spirit, he says, “[ Should we forgive] as many as seven times?” Seven times seems like quite a bit, doesn’t it?! In the Jewish mind, seven is a number that represents completion and finality. Surely this would be more than enough!
Jesus answers with a word play on the number seven and says that we should forgive seventy times seven. He doesn’t mean that we should keep track and forgive someone four hundred ninety times, but rather that we must throw away the calculator and live a lifestyle of continual forgiveness.

I imagine the disciples responded much as I would, absolutely dumbfounded at such a notion. Here’s the problem. We understand intellectually the notion that we forgive because we have also sinned and been forgiven, but sometimes the sins against us seem out of proportion and unforgivable. A person once told me that they had been seriously injured in a car accident. The person had gone through many hardships during recovery and had been very bitter toward the driver who hit them.
Guilt at the inability to forgive had plagued the person, doubling their misery. “Then one day,” the person said, “I realised that forgiveness is not a duty, it is the answer. When we forgive the grace comes to heal our hearts.” Working out forgiveness in the complexity of life is a subtle art. There are no simple formulas that will take care of the problem for us. Yet we can’t walk away from forgiveness.

Going through the process of forgiving is painful work, but so is living with the open wounds of unresolved anger and resentment. Forgiveness is not a virtue that comes from within, nor is it a duty we owe to someone else. It is a cry to God that says, “Lord, heal my heart.” Heal my heart and bring me salvation and I will be saved. Forgiveness is not an easy answer to our problems, but it is the most powerful answer.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Apply Minds Hearts and Duct Tape.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 8, 2017 - 9:01pm
In the dynamic process of communicating our experiences of God we tell stories. These stories explain why things are the way they are: stories of our founders— how they coped with crises, triumphed or failed— stories justifying our present traditions. Stories are our common vernacular. As many will realise I find that story telling for me is the best way I can communicate my understanding and experience of God.
The Hebrews told stories about their formation as a nation and culture. They told of dialogue between God and Moses. But, did this communication happen as recorded? Did God really want all that blood and mutton? . . . Well this type of thinking gives me a problem. Is it what really happened? Storytelling continued for centuries. People close to the significant events relayed and recorded what happened. As the stories passed down, they picked up layers. These bits were accumulated and the story grew. They were attempts to justify present actions by claiming they originated by instruction of the founders.
The Gospel records Jesus giving instructions on church discipline at a time when there was no church. In the narrative, he damns unrepentant members to be treated like “Gentiles and tax-collectors,” the very people he ministers to. Furthermore, he suggests that coalitions of church leaders can act unilaterally as long as they have a quorum. Did Jesus really say that? . . .
And I wonder today whether the debate here in Australia over making marriage a universal possibility for all couples has been hi-jacked by this type of thinking and by statements condemning members of God's creation whom we are called to love. Statements that may have come from people who have layered things for their own purposes and not Gods. Remember we are all the beloved of God and we are to treat each other as beloved.
Well this thinking gives me a problem. As the story of God in human experience continues to unfold, we will continue to tell one another the stories of God. There are times when we will baulk at the blood and we will even go as far as to blackball the text we are telling. Does that mean we should quit? The Apollo 13 astronauts didn’t. They applied their minds, and duct tape! They put square boxes into round holes and survived. Perhaps we “Wordonauts” can do the same?
In light of the problems we have with the current text it’s easy to rush to the good stuff in Matthew’s passage from Chapter 18: whatever we bind on earth is bound in heaven, and whatever we agree upon, God will do. But trust me, that’s not the most important part of this passage. The most important part is the difficult but essential truth that community— real community in Christ— is hard. Real community demands that we confront one another in love, that we speak the truth to one another in love, that we be willing to accompany one another through difficulty and disagreement . . . all in love. 

That’s what Paul speaks about, too. All of God’s law— the gift of knowing what is right and wrong that we may tend one another’s well-being— is summed up in a commandment that is as clear and simple as it is challenging: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” That’s why I think that Jesus was not simply laying out a formula by which to resolve conflict. It’s rarely that easy. Different conflicts— and different contexts— will invite different methods of resolution. What’s clear, however, is the need to regard one another in love to keep the well-being of all in the forefront. And currently some of our brothers and sisters sadly are not able to do that believing they have the only truth and seem to fail to listen for Gods truth.
Why is that so difficult? The obvious answer is because of our sinfulness, the way in which we continually turn our faces away from God and Gods call to us. But it’s also more than that, as we need to recognise that we have little practice in demonstrating love during times of disagreement. We live in a culture that is far quicker to rush to judgment, preferring polarised positions and the rhetoric of blame and accusation than speaking truth in love.

One only needs to listen to Trump and some of his so-called followers on various issues such as race and gender. We face this same difficulty in Australia as our current government tries to side step giving all members of our community the same rights. As we face these issues laying out a formula by which to resolve conflict is not the answer, and as we have seen increases the acts of bigotry and hatred. For this reason, we will need to nay are called to practice patience, practice forbearance, and practice love. But if we do . . . what, then, can we not accomplish this in the life and love of our God?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

You are Loved Totally.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - September 2, 2017 - 2:26am
We live in a time when there is a most peculiar notion generally present in our culture. It is the self-help notion. There are books by the crate-full, videotapes, audiotapes, and hundreds of devices and processes designed to assist us or guide us as we help ourselves. We can gain weight, lose weight, become a highly manipulative personality, or a very passive, reflective person. There is a self-help program for every perceived need.
One Minister tells of sitting on an airplane next to a woman, draped with various crystals. She explained all of the wonderful things that the crystals did for her. Then she proceeded to denounce "organised religion" in general and Christianity in particular as being foolish and a waste of time. She then told the Minister that he was a charlatan and should be barred from taking advantage of people.
Jesus might have said to the woman, "What if you gain every crystal in the world and lose your soul?" What he actually said in this week’s reading from Matthew 16 is, "What will you gain, if you own the whole world but destroy yourself? What would you give to get back your soul?" This is a scary question. It comes in a scary place in St. Matthew's Gospel. Jesus has started on his journey to the cross. He is explaining this to his disciples.
Peter responds by rejecting the whole notion and stating that God will not allow this to happen. Jesus rebukes him. Jesus repulses Evil. Then he explains that God's thoughts are not our thoughts. And, he says that we must follow him and take up the cross. In short, Jesus denounces, rebukes, self-help and calls us to lives of self-sacrifice. Jesus tells us that a life of self-sacrifice is the way to have a soul. At this time in the Gospel, Peter and the other disciples probably thought that Jesus was going to restore the political integrity of Israel.
This is a self-help notion. All politicians promise help. The more conservative politicians promise greater opportunities for self-help. The more liberal politicians just promise more help. So, we are to help ourselves as we vote, one way or the other. This is the way human beings think. Peter was a normal human being. Jesus rebuked his way of thinking.
Self-sacrifice is the way of the soul. One parent said this, "I didn't know how to love or really receive love until we had the baby. Before the baby, what I though was love was really a sort of exchange of favours. It was delightful. But it wasn't love. With the baby, we learned about love. The baby cried, we responded. It didn't matter whether or not we were tired, or doing something else, we responded. The baby did not do anything for us.
But in these sacrifices of time, energy, money, and all of the work that goes with having a baby, we found out what love means. A smile from that child fills us with joy. We can't do enough for that baby. We began to see each other in a new way. We began to sacrifice ourselves for each other. Sometimes it was a simple, "I'll tend to the baby, you sleep." Other times it was deeper. We both realized that we had parents who had lavished love on us. We began to see ourselves as recipients of love, not because we deserved it, but because we are alive."
Jesus calls us to sacrifice ourselves because that is the way of love. In sacrifice, we learn to love. In sacrifice, we learn how much we are loved. Sacrificial love is the food of the soul. Whether we give sacrificial love or receive sacrificial love, the soul is fed. Jesus acted this out for us in the way that led to the cross, his death, and resurrection. We are the recipients of God's absolute, unconditional, sacrificial love.

So, the next time you are tempted to self-help, rebuke the temptation. Respond by embracing God's sacrificial love. You are loved completely just as you are. You may think you need improving. God thinks that you are worth loving completely and totally just as you are. 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 27 August 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - August 31, 2017 - 11:50am





Each time I reflect on a service I try to give emphasis to a different part because the restriction in the length means I can't pay proper attention to every part every time.

The Secret
Call to Worship (B. J. Beu, Abingdon Worship Annual 2017)
Rev. John began by drawing our attention to God’s support for us in everything we do or in which we are involved. Life throws up many obstacles, sometimes one after another, and it is only with God’s help that we can continue.

Hymn TIS 123 “Be still my soul: The Lord is on your side”. With this hymn the theme continued. However, it speaks of keeping our hope in dark times, as though they are a contradiction in a faithful life. But life happens, whether we walk with God or not. But if we keep our hand in God’s hand, the dark times will be easier to live through.

Opening prayer
Gracious God, we come this day, to present our minds and bodies to you as a holy and
living sacrifice.  This was the first sentence of the prayer. But is seems to me that when we
give our lives wholly to God, we get a much better deal than if we try to keep control of all or part of it ourselves.

A Prayer of Confession
 merciful God, wash away the injuries we have inflicted upon one another.
When we have made lives bitter through word or deed, forgive us in your mercy.
When we have ignored the plight of others through ignorance or wilful neglect, reclaim us in your grace. Restore us to your path of love and compassion, that we may bathe in the waters of your compassion and love. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness
If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, the weight of the world would have crushed us by now. If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, the weight of our lives would have drowned us by now. Thanks be to God who is on our side, and who rescues us from forces that seek our undoing. In Christ Jesus, we are set free and made whole again.
Thanks, be to God!

Having made our peace with God, we offered the sign of peace to each other.

Offering
It always interests me that we label this part of the service “the offering” when many people offer much more to the building of God’s kingdom in other ways than they do through the collection plate. Our all. That's all God is asking for.

Hymn TIS 467: “I am the church! You are the church!” It's good to remember this. It prevents that “They should” mentality.

The Service of the Word               
Carolynbegan this section of the service with readings from Exodus 1:8-2:10; Romans 12:1-8; and Matthew16: 13-20.

Exodus 1:8 The first reading is the well known story of how Moses survived a purge of Hebrew baby boys and came to be treated as the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter. Moses’ mother trusted God to protect her and her son.

Romans 12:
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your
bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”
This first sentence really covered all that followed. Let God steer. It's safer and more sensible.

Matthew 16: 13-20.
 ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Time to show where we stand.

Preaching of the Word

The Secret - Matthew 16: 13-20
I have selected a few sentences out of John’s sermon. Today he delivered a very complex theological message about why Jesus would want to keep his identity a secret,  but I have chosen just one thought that stood out for me.
Peter is the first disciple to recognize that Jesus is the Messiah. He is the first to discover that this man he knows so well is the one anointed by God. In this moment Peter stands for the whole church again.
 With the outcome that we too shine as the light of Christ and we will not keep the Messiah a secret. Why! Because the world where we spend our days, still waits for him and that world is dying to meet him – and they will meet him through us.
Remember the thoughts from the beginning of  the service that Life is tough and we can only get through it with God by our side.

Hymn TIS 440: “Christ from whom all blessings flow” The blessings aren't just a way of making it through life. We become more like Christ; We become  part of his body. We become what we were created to be.

Music to lead us to prayer while we thought our own thoughts.

Intercessory Prayers led by Wendy  Wendy addressed Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, asking that our prayers be heard. She called for safety and security everywhere but particularly for those people living in the midst of war. She asked that God change leaders who seek to dominate that they will embrace love; that people everywhere will acknowledge Jesus Christ as Saviour and proclaim his gospel. She asked that the Spirit will   lead us in love for God and each other. We joined in the Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn TIS 446: “Glorious things of you are spoken” This hymn summed up all the thoughts we had had so far.

Benediction
Blessed are you who resist the forces of death and destruction. Blessed are you who respond to the cries of the weak and the helpless. Blessed are you who build the kingdom of God with your love and compassion. Blessed are you who seek first what is right and honourable and true. And the blessing of God almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be with you always Amen


Hymn 779: “May the feet of God walk with you,”

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What to do?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 25, 2017 - 10:56pm
As human beings, our natural tendency is to think of ourselves as right and everyone else as, well, wrong. The way we do things seems to us like the best way to do things. And it should. If you grew up driving on the left side of the road, then it will feel wrong to drive on the right side of the road. Your way is not necessarily better, but it will feel better to you. And, that is okay. What you do with that feeling is what matters.
In our scripture, this week from Romans 12 we are challenged not to think about ourselves more highly than we ought. Notice that it does not say we are not to think about ourselves. Rather, it says, we are to think of ourselves reasonably. We are to think about ourselves in light of God’s goodness and his work in our lives. We are not to pretend we don’t have anything to offer. We are not to act as if we ourselves are the saviours of the world. We are to see ourselves rightly.
The scripture continues to say that we are many parts of the same body. God designed the body well and each part has a unique function. Don’t compare yourself to someone else wishing you had what they have. Don’t see yourself as less important because you aren’t able to do the same things as those around you. You were created uniquely. Your gifts are unique. It is possible to spend so much time looking at what you don’t have that you never take time to realise and appreciate what you do have.
The truth is that we need you to do what you have been graced by God to do. And you need the other parts of the body to do what God created them to do. We need each other. “Individually we belong to each other.” Whatever gift you may have, you would do well to recognise it, understand how it fits with the other parts of the body, and offer it wholeheartedly for God’s glory!
There is no gift, no profession that God can’t use for his glory and to benefit his people. In the reading from Exodus 1 we see some unlikely heroes. In this passage, some God-fearing midwives carry out their profession in faith and faithfulness. As lowly service-oriented people, they stand up to the powerful. And, God blesses them. And, he uses them to bless and prosper an entire people.
They did not say, “We are lowly midwives. What can we do?” They lived out their calling in faith and faithfulness. How might you leverage your gifts, your profession, your calling for the glory of God and the good of his people? Also, we see clearly highlighted in Isaiah 51 that it is God’s blessing that prospers us. We do not make ourselves. God is the one who prospered Abraham and made him the father of many nations. It is the same God who blessed the midwives in Exodus 1 and blessed the entire nation of Israel through them.
Many of the scripture readings during the past few weeks have spoken of the tension that exists between what the Bible often calls "the world" and the Christian community. It is not easy for us to understand the radical nature of Jesus' claims.  Yet, it is the very same God who gives Peter revelation to understand who Jesus was and to speak the truth out so boldly and clearly. And, it is the same God who graces us with different gifts as Romans 12 points out.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Blessings of Outsider and Sojourner

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 18, 2017 - 11:41pm
In the light of a recent stunt in Parliament and watching what’s happening in the USA and places like Spain and Finland I have decided to stray from this Sunday’s lectionary and instead look at Isaiah 56. In Isaiah 56 we are confronted with the mention of immigrants and outcasts. For some of us being an immigrant, being an outsider has been part of our family life albeit for some it has been more painful.
But do we all know what it is like to be on the outside looking in. I would hope so. We all know what it feels like to be left out of an inside joke or conversation. We all know what it is like to feel as though we don’t belong somewhere. God’s heart has always been for the outsider. Even when God was choosing to bless Israel, it was not at the expense of all the other nations of the earth.
We tend to think in an either/ or mentality as if God has to choose one nation over another. Instead, God chose to bless the nation of Israel in order that all the families of the earth would be blessed through them. Please note that in order to bless us all. I am reminded once again that in Gods eyes we are all the beloved even though some of us may want to destroy this state of being the beloved.

I wonder how God would view our current Australian approach to those immigrants, whom we place in camps and denigrate and demonise. Yet, these people are outcasts trying to find a place to call home, a place of peace and acceptance. Sadly, our corporate approach as a Nation led by our politicians does not reflect our call as Christians to open our hearts to the outsider.
Notice the words of blessing for immigrants in Isaiah 56. They are active words; actions God will perform. God will bring them to his holy mountain. He will not merely hope that they come on their own. His welcome is intentional and proactive. God will bring them joy in his house of prayer. His desire is not that they simply tolerate or find a place to exist in his house, but that they rejoice and thrive. He will accept their sacrifices and worship.
This is in direct contradiction to what was happening when Jesus saw the money-changers in the temple many years after Isaiah wrote these words. Jesus saw foreigners being excluded and taken advantage of and not allowed in the temple. And, he was angry about it and took serious action.
Along with the readings from scripture this week we can see both acceptance and blessing. Jesus recognises he was sent specifically to the “lost sheep of Israel” and yet, he honours the faith of a Canaanite woman and heals her daughter. We can see that even though God has wholeheartedly accepted Gentiles into his family, he has not rejected his own people, the people of Israel. Our God desires to have mercy on all. Also, we can see God’s control of the details of life.

Both Isaiah 56 and Genesis 45 reference someone who is outside of their country/ culture of origin. Joseph was an Israelite living in Egypt. The people God is gathering into his house in Isaiah are “immigrants.” To help one understand this call by God to welcome the stranger and the sojourner, I suggest it would be helpful to talk to an immigrant and to hear their story. People come regularly to our communities from overseas and having been one of those who albeit from close by has experienced being an outsider, not only here in Australia but during my time in the Solomon Islands.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 13 August 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - August 18, 2017 - 9:39am



Gathering God’s People

Call to Worship (I was not able to be present today but reflected on Rev. John’s notes.)
(Mary J. Scifres, Abingdon Worship Annual 2017)
When God restored the fortunes of Zion, the Israelites wandered home as if in a dream. Let us be a people who wander in our dreams. Wander amongst God’s marvellous creation! Wonder at the amazing things God has done! Do not worry about your life, today or tomorrow. Trust that God values us even more greatly than birds and flowers, no matter how beautiful they may be. Know that God treasures us completely, and gives us all that we will ever need.
Come with hearts overflowing in gratitude. God has done great things for us.
Be glad and rejoice. We rejoice in God’s gifts.
Sing praises of joy. Our mouths are filled with laughter.
Shout with thanksgiving, in sunshine and rain. Praise God for our lives, for harvest and food.

Hymn TIS 560:All my hope on God is founded;” Echoing the words above.

Opening Prayer
As then moving forward with faith in God to deliver the promise:
Giver of life, for sunshine and showers, we give you thanks; for food and drink, we give you praise; for clothing and shelter, we bestow our gratitude. Gather our worries and our burdens this day, and shelter us from fear and despair. Help us rest assured in your arms, knowing that your loving care is enough. It is enough. It is enough. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession
God not only delivers the things of this world but the things of God’s world.
God of abundant love, sprinkle the tears we have sown with your mercy and hope,
that we may reap a harvest of joy; replace our selfish dreams of wealth and prestige, with gratitude for what we have, that we may find contentment in life.
Turn our dreams to you, O Lord. and remind us of the abundance you offer,
for you have done great things for us, turning our tears into shouts of joy.

Declaration of Forgiveness
Through Christ, God’s love has done great things for us. Through Christ, God’s grace restores our life and makes us whole once more.
Thanks, be to God!
The Peace 
Share with one another signs of peace and love. Show Christ to one another, that we may be reminded of the peace that passes all understanding.
 Peace be with you! And also with you!
Today, I have recorded the service almost word for word because in those words there is the expression of the many longings each of us has. We all find it difficult to approach God with the words we need to express what we have to say. And here that is done for us so  beautifully and  so accurately. I hope this is an aid to your expression of your needs to God. In the children’s time, John told the story of the widow offering a few coins, all she had, at the temple. Often we think we have nothing to offer in God’s work. But that all he wants. All of us. And no matter what sort of person we are or how we see our gifts, we all can be used in God’s hands and we are our most effective when we finally offer our all


Offering
John’s Prayer reminded us to be glad and joyful for all the good things we are given.

Hymn TIS 555: “Put all your trust in God” If we put our trust and ourselves, including our plans, in God’s hands and stay alert for his voice, then our path will be true.
                   
The Service of the Word
Readings: Joel 2: 21-27. 1Timothy 2: 1-7. Matthew 6: 25-33 –delivered by Wendy

Preaching of the Word 
Rev. John wrote about various approaches to giving he had encountered or had heard of.
At Marsden Road he said he had encountered great generosity and so have I. Not just generosity with money but generosity with both time and energy.
I would agree with the Rev. John that in the Western World we all have trouble coming to terms with sacrificial giving. Not many of us are able to bring ourselves to the level of sacrifice of Mother Teresa, whom Rev. John refers to.
But many give up much for the benefit of others.
There are many ways of being sacrificial. Some go without sleep for a sick friend or relative. But I would agree with that in the West, our giving normally involves giving up luxuries. Not so many visits to the theatre; not so many holidays away; not so many meals in a restaurant, or whatever it is that is a luxury for us.
But I think it is possible to give sacrificially in another way. We can give our all. Not many are asked to live elsewhere or work within the church administration but we can be God’s nurses and doctors; God’s mechanics and plumbers; God’s architects and engineers; God’s teachers and accountants; God’s drivers, police, firemen, seamstresses. And we can all be hospitable; we can all make sure we are aware of those in need. but we can always look for ways to be better hands in this earth for God. Rev. John said:  “It took Mother Teresa of Calcutta to show us how to live out this parable of Jesus. She literally saw Jesus in those she found dying on the streets of Calcutta and the destitute.”
Even those of us who think we are living simply for the sake of God’s other children or all of God’s creation, can probably “do better.”
It's worth reflecting upon - in Jesus name.

Hymn TIS 589: “Jesus calls us! O’er the tumult” It would be a better place if we could all ignore the trivial and keep our focus on God’s plan for us.

Grahame played while the Congregation reflected privately. This was followed by the 
Intercessory Prayers after which they joined in the

Hymn TIS 143: “Immortal, Invisible, God Only WiseThe only one of whom we can depend.
Benediction Go forth with shouts of joy. Proclaim the greatness of God! Be glad and rejoice in Christ’s care. Trust the promises of God! As you go in Trust may the blessing of that same God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life remain with you always.


Hymn TIS 778: “Shalom to you now,”
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 6 August 2107

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - August 16, 2017 - 1:33am



Call to Worship
(Joanne Carlson Brown, The Abingdon Worship Annual 2017)
As for me, I shall behold your face. . .. When I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.
 Why have you come this morning?
We have come to encounter the Holy One.
You know you’ll never be the same if you do.
We have come to wrestle with our faith, our doubts, and even our convictions.
Then come; let us venture into this time of worship and prepare to encounter God face to face.

Hymn TIS 578: “How firm a foundation, you people of God” God is our rock. Everything else and everyone else can fail us but God, we can always depend on. Always.

Opening Prayer:
 O God of night-time visits and daylight assurance, we come to this time of worship to wrestle with who we are, and who you call us to be. Search our hearts and know us thoroughly. We long to meet you face to face, even if the encounter leaves us forever changed. With open ears and ready hearts, touch us with your words and transform us with your presence. Amen.

 A Prayer of Confession
 God who sees, knows, and touches us, we have many things in our lives that we are not proud of.
We are scared to come before you with all that we are. We are frightened that you will judge us and find us wanting. We are afraid of your rejection or abandonment.
Forgive our shortcomings, large and small.
Reassure us that you are always present with us, that you always love us and want only the best for us.
Forgive our fearful reluctance to open ourselves fully to an encounter with your holy presence.
Wrestle with us, touch us, and awaken us to your love— a love that never lets us go. Meet us face to face, that we may be forever changed. Amen.


Declaration of Forgiveness
Dawn comes, and we will see God face to face. We will behold the face of unconditional love. In this meeting, we will understand the depth of God’s reassuring forgiveness. And in this understanding, we will be changed for good.
Thanks, be to God! Amen


The Peace
A flash of brilliant light, a mushroom cloud rises. Nothing will ever be the same.
We dedicate ourselves to work for peace as we boldly proclaim:
“Never again.”
Forgive our inhumanity.
May wars cease as we work to be peacemakers and not merely peace hopers.
Touch us, O God, and we will never be the same. In life and in death we are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
In gratitude for the gift of eternal life, let us greet one another with signs of peace. The peace of Christ be with you.
The peace of Christ be with you always.


Invitation to the Offering
 Loving God, take our hearts and set them on fire. Take our lives and transform them. Take our church and resurrect it with your life-giving Spirit. Take our gifts and use them for the fulfillment of your vision
of peace and unity. Amen.

Hymn TIS 138: “Eternal Father, strong to save” The theme continues. We can rest in God’s eternal arms, in full security that we will be cared for as none other can care for us.


I have included the service so far, almost as Rev. John delivered it today, because everything that was said and sung touched my heart so poignantly and I thought it would do the same for those who read it. We continued on with the Service of Communion. This never fails to quieten my soul. Whether it be the mighty prayers, the historical events remembered or the reverence of the people celebrating the service, I am stilled. Somehow, there are so many centres to this service. Jesus Christ and his willingness to turn his face to Jerusalem is clearly at the centre of our attention. The effect of that sacrifice on our lives and then as we are offered the bread and the wine, each of us is given the impression that it is just for us. Hallelujah!

The Service of the Word.


The Readings: Genesis 32:22-31. Romans 9: 1-8. Matthew 14: 13-21 brought to us by Lyn.


The first reading about a man wrestling with God no doubt has a traditional meaning and message. However, as one who has wrestled with God, I can say that it leaves a mark like the limp of the man in this reading, that never goes away. No matter how things around me are or how much I would like to sulk in a corner because things aren't as I would like them, I can't say that I don't know my maker. I am stuck.                      
To take Paul's message and place it in a modern context is difficult because there are so many possibilities. I think the message that is coming to me is to let God run his world. Do as we see God guiding us to do and then leave the rest to God.
And the third reading for me says that I (and each of us) have been given resources. Use them to serve others.


Preaching of the Word - God is Good.
Rev. John made these points:
* After a long and exhausting day, Jesus’ disciples come to him and suggest that the crowds be sent away so that they may go into the villages and buy food.
*Jesus answers, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
* The disciples protest. Jesus then tells them to bring him what food they have,
*Jesus tells them in no uncertain terms that it is their job to help feed those who are hungry.
*It’s not someone else’s problem to fix.” The body of Christ is called to help those who are hungry
*Don’t send them away
*Jesus says to us, no matter how meagre our resources “Bring them to me.”
*God can raise up amongst us what we need.
And in those words I heard God’s voice.


Hymn TIS 530: “Now let us from this table rise” The words that leapt out to me were ‘renewed in body, mind and soul’.

Grahame played to provide background for our thoughts and prayers.


Intercessory Prayers
Rev. John prayed to God who is steadfast in love, giving thanks for answered prayer. He continued, bringing before our God, all those affected by war, terrorism, disaster and famine. He prayed for the homeless, the addicted and everyone afflicted in any way, that leaders will see fit to dispense mercy and justice to right wrongs that create the circumstances in which all these terrible evils flourish.
He prayed for those who are close to us and that our gifts will be used for those in need.
He prayed that we will welcome anew all those who come to the table with us, that we will provide the nourishment of fellowship and friendship. We then joined in The Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn TIS 201: “King of glory, King of peace”. To love may never cease. Amen to that.


Benediction
Go forth, knowing that God has heard our cry and will give us the strength to follow God’s call. Go forth to touch the lives of others, as our lives have been touched by God. Go and be the face of God to a world that so desperately needs the loving, affirming face of God. And may the wrestling God be with you always. Amen.

Hymn TIS 778: “Shalom to you now” May God grant you every good thing. Amen.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Move Beyond and Above

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 11, 2017 - 8:36pm
Scripture is full of the natural elements of our world that we all know and experience in our lives -- earth, air, fire, and water. Since we all have some experience of each of these elements in intimate, daily, personal ways, they can provide amazing keys to our understanding of the God that created them -- and us.
Today we encounter water -- and vividly -- in all its dimensions. We know that Jesus' first disciples were fisherman, people who risked their lives on the water and drew their sustenance from the water. Water is essential to human life, we all know that, and it was an especially sharp reality for the people of the Holy Land, where water was frequently in short supply and very precious indeed.
There was also something mystical and frightening about the precious element. It could be the water of Baptism. It gave you, life -- but it could also drown you! It sustained you in the desert but the hidden creatures of its ocean depth might swallow you whole, as was the case with Jonah in his encounter with the whale, the great leviathan. What delivered the doubting Jonah from the depths? His anguished call to God for help when he was sunk deep below the waves in the belly of the whale.

Our scripture for this Sunday from Matthew's Gospel tells one of the most famous of all the stories about Jesus and how he explained the transcendent power of faith to his disciples -- disciples who were charged with going out to the world to preach his message (a perilous business at best). The disciples were at sea in rough waters and Jesus walked out to them, showing them that the faith that he embodied could overcome the natural world, its rules, and its deepest fears.
If you read just beyond today's Gospel, you will see how Peter, like most humans and the disciples, faltered in his belief when he tried to repeat Jesus' amazing act of walking on the water. "You of little faith, why did you doubt?"
These stories we read in our scriptures are really about the act of belief itself. Real belief must rise above the earthly, the everyday, even the logical. Logic would say that in the event a human was swallowed whole by a great whale, he would "stay swallowed," or drown. But in his extremity of fear and "unbelief," Jonah called out with his whole being and the very roots of his faith, and was saved by God.
Our logic would say that no one could walk on the rolling waves. But we do read and state that Jesus did walk on the water because his belief was absolute, and, more important, he showed his disciples, those people who would have to endure many hardships and even death in his name, what their faith could do, what their faith could overcome. In fact, the evolving Gospel story is about, on an even deeper level, the way in which the coming of Jesus, his death, and resurrection, changed utterly what we might once have believed were the "facts of our lives."
We were to be new people living in a new world. And the writers of the Gospels had a very keen sense of how people might be led to understand the mysteries of the faith. Certainly, from humankind's earliest days on earth, water and the journey over and through water, have been central to our understanding of our place in the world. From the days of the ancient world, the cycles of our life and experience have been told in terms of perilous journeys on water.
But the Christian message is different from that of the Norse legends and the Greek epics in one important way: it tells us we can and must move beyond and above the world we know and its restrictions and, with faith, enter into the domain of perfect freedom. Our faith must allow us to walk on the disturbed waters of life and it must save us from the depths of the sea when we fall.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

God is Good: All the Time

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - August 4, 2017 - 10:28pm


Sometimes thinking in the Church is too sophisticated. Sometimes, we tend to miss simple truths, stated plainly and simply. How many of us would feel comfortable in a congregation where the people express a form of what is called the “old-time religion?” I heard of one such church which developed a kind of chant that expressed a simple truth. The preacher would shout, “God is good.” The congregation would enthusiastically reply, “All the time.” It was their way of affirming truths about the power of God to provide for God’s people.
Is this a fundamental truth of the Christian Gospel? This week we do learn anew from our scripture from Matthew 14 that God is God—that God will provide what we need. We re-learn, that God will lift up among us resources to accomplish holy and life-giving purposes. We encounter hungry people being met by a suggestion from the disciples that Jesus send them away to get something to eat. But Jesus had something else in mind. Maybe it was his way of saying, “God is good.” But the disciples didn’t know how to reply, “All the time.” So, Jesus told them not to send the hungry people away but to give them something to eat themselves. He was saying, “You don’t think there is enough for these hungry seekers, but the truth is—there is enough because God will provide.”

The feeding the 5,000 which we call a miracle reveals how God can raise up in the midst of the people of what is need because God is good: All the time. Jesus offers us hope and direction if we can see that everything is possible with God. If we see that looking to love, the love that comes from God, can be the key to meeting the needs of our brothers and sisters. Today we seem to be to sophisticated to believe in miracles—to believe that God really is good—all the time; that the power of God can, in every instance, provide more than we can imagine. Sometimes we know so much we can’t see the truth when Jesus faces us down with the familiar, “You—give them something to eat.” And yet, the goodness of God calls us always to know that God’s love, moving in and overflowing from us, can provide what God’s people need: because God is good: All the time.
In every situation in life, God’s power works toward lifting up whatever promotes love in that situation. Wherever there is injustice or pain or grief or hardship or hunger, God is there, for God is good: All the time. As Paul says so majestically in the Epistle to the Roman’s earlier than today’s reading, “In all things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”  Paul reminds us that in all things God’s abundance will, in the final analysis, become sufficient to meet our needs. Right here. Right now. In the midst of who and what we are, God will provide. Because God is good: All the time. This does not mean, of course, that people of faith will have no problems or no misery. But it does mean that God will give us the grace and aid to bear the load as we overcome and move through whatever may befall us.
Ours is not a faith of easy answers and unrealistic solutions. Jesus entered life and died on the cross for us, showing us that in whatever we experience, in whatever may trouble us, in whatever distress or threat we feel, we need not fear because God is in it with us. God will lift up in our midst what we need to make it through, because God is good: All the time. God is not far away and aloof from us. Jesus shows us that God does not stand outside of life, but is right here with us, beside us in our broken and troubled and suffering world. St. Paul reminds us that nothing in existence can ever separate us from the love of God, revealed in Christ. In whatever crisis or issue we face in life, in whatever trouble may come our way, the power of God’s love will provide what we need. From the midst of us, God will lift up the resources to accomplish his loving purposes, because God is good: All the time.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 30 July 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - August 2, 2017 - 10:00am


Gathering God’s People
For the last few weeks I have been hampered in my ability to get things done, in any sphere, by a nasty cold which fogged up my brain. However, in the little reading I did get done, there was a discussion about our experience of the worship service being one that should lead us to live a life more like that of Jesus.
But does it? Of course, there are those occasions when we are challenged by the Spirit to examine our lives and in doing that, we have an opportunity to be more like Jesus, but how many of us go to a service with that intention?
Many attend worship services in the hope of being uplifted or inspired to face the week ahead with purpose. A good intention, but possibly not one that should be our first. Others are less self-oriented and go to church to worship, glorify and give thanks to our Maker, the source of all that is good. That is getting close to the best reason for being there but if we could follow through that intention with looking for the effect that worship could have, that is, to be more like Jesus, I think we would have nailed it.
For some, the idea of being more like Jesus might seem so far out of reach, but we have to start somewhere and many of us have been fortunate enough to meet people who, because they started “somewhere” and continued to yield to the working of the Spirit are noticeably more like Jesus now.
This growth is spoken of in the Call to Worship of this week's service:
 (B. J. Beu and Mary J. Scifres, Abingdon Worship Annual 2017)
“Waiting is seldom easy. Yet, in the process of waiting, we discover new growth. The Spirit moves and breathes, and treasures are sometimes discovered. As we wait this day, may God’s miraculous presence be revealed in us and through us.”
The first hymn reflected the purpose often seen as the highest one in coming to worship.

 Hymn TIS 93: “Praise the Lord, you heavens adore him”

Then the Opening Prayer moved us further along the path, asking to be shown the way (to be like Jesus):
 Holy One, your kingdom always takes us by surprise— like a mustard seed growing into a great shrub where the birds of the air can build their nests; like a treasure hidden in a field, or a pearl of great price. May we desire your kingdom more than we value worldly things, through Christ, who shows us the way. Amen.


The Prayer of Confession
Here John asked that our hope be transformed into action: another way of asking for us to be changed. And then as our forgiveness was affirmed we were reminded that:
“Nothing can separate us from the love of God: Not death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come. No power on heaven or under the earth can separate us from the love of Christ: Not height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation.” That being the case, then, as we walk with God, we become more like Jesus because that example is constantly by our side.

 Offering
The offering is a time when we show ourselves to be like Jesus - giving for people: giving for the sake of God and for other people. None of this that we give may come back to us but the giving itself changes us for good - to be more like Jesus.


Hymn TIS 106: “Now thank we all our God” Reminds us that God is with us from the time of our birth, guiding us on our way

The Service of the Word
Readings:  Genesis 29: 15-28. Romans 8.26-39.  Matthew 13: 31-33; 44-52
 All these readings carry a message but the one John focussed on was the one from Romans. John spoke of a recent personal experience where he had to draw deep from within to get through the time and showed how God lifts us up at such times.

Sighs for Help - Romans 8:26-39
My own thought is that some burdens are so heavy that we can only act as Jesus would in those situations if we are lifted up and carried through them by God.
John's perspective was this:
“Romans offers words of comfort and reassurance to those of us who carry heavy burdens. At times, we are all too aware of the brokenness of our world. We know that our lives are marred by sin, and we experience suffering in our daily lives…Paul seems to have addressed these words to people like us. They bear witness to the compassionate heart of a pastor, trying to encourage a community during some of the most devastating trials that life offers.”
(Where) 'God’s grace breaks into our lives most powerfully.
 “Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for Words.” What a wonderful gift God has given to us, that even when our words fail, God’s Spirit is present in ways beyond our human understanding.'

Hymn TIS 547: “Be Thou My Vision” The message is clear.
Music to lead us to prayer followed while we all sat in our own silence.

Intercessory Prayers
This is a time when, regardless of the details of the prayer each week, we pray that we and all other people, will act more like Jesus to make this world one of welcome, safety and warmth for everyone.

Hymn TIS 658: “I, the Lord of sea and sky” God hears our plea to be less us and more like Jesus,

Benediction.
Like treasure hidden in a field, Christ offers us the kingdom of God.
All things work together for good for those who love God.
Like a pearl of great price, Christ offers us the kingdom of heaven.
All things work together for good for those who wait for God.
Like a mustard seed that grows into a great shrub, Christ offers us the realm of God’s blessing.
All things work together for good for those who abide in God’s Spirit.
And may the Holy Spirit fill and inspire you with the wonderful knowledge that nothing is able to separate you from the love of God in Jesus Christ.


Hymn TIS 780: “May the light come into your eyes”.
Amen to that, and through this may we be made more like Jesus.











Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Outside the Door to the Christian Life

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 28, 2017 - 11:20pm


The title of this was a wonderful phrase, I found while reading, is attributed to a person called O. Wesley Jnr. In his writing, he went on to say that it could be hard to be a Christian in the first century. Remember, back then most Christians were Jews: if you were a Jew who was a Christian, other Jews who didn’t believe in Jesus said you sold out the faith and the traditions of Israel because you claim Jesus is the Messiah and allow Gentiles in your community.
Or if you were a Gentile who was a Christian and other Romans saw you hanging around with Jews and talking about a Messiah, they said you joined a cult. They expected you at any minute to be hanging out at the airport with a tambourine, selling carnations, asking people if they’re saved, and handing out pamphlets that explain five steps to get to heaven. There was risk and cost to being a Christian back in the first century. You could lose family, friends, livelihood. In some rare circumstances, you might even lose your life.
Maybe you had joined the church thinking God would suddenly make everything go your way. Or maybe you thought Jesus would return on the clouds at any moment so it was okay if things were tough for a short period because you would be in paradise just over the next hill. But things weren’t okay, and Jesus didn’t return. So, the early followers of Jesus asked: Is it really worth it? All the sacrifices? All the danger? All the risks? All the changes? You’ve sold the entirety of your old life to buy into this new life. But is this new life worth it?

Well, Jesus still hasn’t come back some two thousand years later, even though we check the weather report each evening to see if the local meteorologist says, “A warm front will move in to the grass overnight bringing with it overcast skies and the Son of God.” And it doesn’t look like Christians today are any better off than the rest of the population. We struggle with finances and cancer and dysfunctional home life and depression and tensions at work and fear and prejudice just like everyone else.
The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike. But the problem isn’t only that we are just like everyone else. No, we Christians are overachievers: we add some burdens that are particular to our faith on top of the burdens that come with just being human. Small burdens like getting up on Sunday morning in the middle of the summer to come to church to hear a guest preacher when it’d be awfully nice to sleep in and wait until our Minister gets back. Small burdens like reading scripture when we’d rather be reading a trashy novel. Small burdens like saying grace before meals in a restaurant when it’s a little embarrassing.
But we Christians add larger burdens to life too. Like being honest on taxes when we could save hundreds of dollars, like giving more to charity than others do, loving our neighbours as ourselves. And of course, there are some mega burdens too, like loving our enemies, not just our neighbours, like being a peacemaker in a world of violence. Huge burdens of daily taking up our crosses and following Jesus and trying to answer the call, as Matthew says, to be perfect as God in heaven is perfect.
Reflect on this: if before the Christian life, there’s a doorkeeper on guard and you come from a Church or maybe not to this doorkeeper and ask to be let in. But the doorkeeper says that he won’t let you in right now. You ponder this and then ask if he’ll let you in later. “Maybe,” he says, “but no promises and not right now.” Since the gate stands open and the doorkeeper stands to the side of it, you can stoop down to peek through the gateway into the Christian life.
When the doorkeeper sees you doing this, he laughs and says: “If you are so drawn to it, just try to go in despite my resistance. But take note: I’m pretty strong. It will be a struggle to get past me. And I’m only the least of the doorkeepers. From hall to hall there is one doorkeeper after another, each more powerful than the last. It will be a burden to struggle with us all.” You stand there looking through the door and ask yourself, “Is it worth it? Is it worth the risk, worth the burden, worth the struggle to get in? I wonder if the struggle is a treasure? I wonder if the risk is a pearl?” And you take a deep breath, you shift your weight on your feet, and . . .
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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