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You are a Gift!

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 15, 2017 - 9:32pm
I am told and from my own observations, not having experienced such a thing, that when something as extraordinary as a new baby comes into your life, time takes on new meaning. The change is instantaneous, and before you know it, you cannot imagine what it was to live life any other way. Hours, days, weeks, months, take on new meaning. One thing for sure, you cannot predict the fullness of time any more than you can predict what God will do in any given moment, or exactly when a baby will be born.
Of course, the idea of the fullness of time also means that we believe that there is a general trajectory to the world and that God is the one with the finger on the pulse of that trajectory. Time and time again, we are given clues in Scripture about what that path looks like Isaiah 64: 1-3.  This is no promise of business-as-usual. This is the doors of the prison flung open. This is such as the Long Bay here in Sydney or Guantanamo Bay shut down. This is the atrocities of Darfur or Myanmar completely reversed forever. This is flood-ravaged plains dried up and restored and hurricane destruction rebuilt. This is AIDS eradicated and foreclosures cancelled.
This is a promise so radical, a trajectory so extraordinary, a world so upside down that it prompts only one question: “When, Lord?” We do not know where we are on the arc of God’s plan, any more than we know when a baby will come or when the fullness of time will be revealed once again or God’s great reversal will play out or our world will be turned upside down in the most remarkable, unpredictable, and spectacular of ways.

We are promised that only that those who mourn will wear garlands of roses and orchids and lilies as they dance with delight, and will splash one another with the oil of celebration instead of wallowing in the stink of death. We know that those who hunger and thirst and long to be filled with something other than regret shall be filled, and those who have lavished in plenty and luxury and satisfied self-confidence will have to wait their turn.
Those promises that we hear are to make the struggle worth it. In an animal barn surrounded by farm animals, with the cold reality and the stink of life all around her, a young girl gave herself over to the fullness of time and leaned her body and her spirit fully into that long arc, and the world was turned upside down forever. You are a Christmas gift to the world! We who are members of the body of Christ, are the children of the Spirit and more challenging we are a Christmas gift to the world! We are God’s gift, not just to the pretty parts of the world, but to the ugly, dirty, uncomfortable parts, so that we can bring hope to the hopeless, justice to the downtrodden, and freedom to the enslaved.
John the Baptist could say he was only a witness, sent to testify to the light. But we are more than witnesses; we are children of the light. Jesus, Light of the, told his followers that we were to be the light of the world with him. Yes, following Christ means walking in some very large footsteps— but Christ walks with us, and God’s Spirit empowers us to fulfil this calling. For those who are still seeking we are to be that light and to those who seek know that you also are beloved.
Rejoice, all who hear this good news! We who claim to be Christian are here to show God’s love to those who believe or feel they are unloved, to transform cries into laughter, and to partner with God to turn tears of sorrow into shouts of joy. God’s steadfast love is with us always, and that is a marvellous Christmas gift indeed. But the greatest Christmas miracle is this: God’s steadfast love is with the least and the lost, the poorest and the saddest.

How does this occur? It happens through each one of us. We help the Christmas miracle of God’s steadfast love transform the world when we live this calling and proclaim this message. Rejoice! You are a Christmas gift to the world! Thanks be to that same God.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What do we hear?.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 8, 2017 - 8:47pm
Advent is not an easy season, with its harried pace and busy schedule. Even non-Christians are surrounded by the holiday patterns of shopping, partying, decorating, and hurrying. Many people are haunted by grief: lamenting broken family relationships, deceased loved ones, and failed friendships. Even non-believers may find themselves yearning for connections with God and community that they seldom notice at other times of the year. And so, God offers the gift of steadfast love to the godly and ungodly alike.
The sinful Israelite's are offered hopeful words of comfort. Our reading this week from the second letter attributed to Saint Peter reminds us that God does not want any person to perish. And we are also reminded in Mark’s Gospel that John comes preaching not just repentance, but forgiveness. God’s gift of love is not just for perfect people, not just for loving people, not just for Christians or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists. God’s Christmas gift of love is for all people, so that “all people shall see it together.” We are given this season of waiting as a gift. For in the waiting, we are all invited to hear God’s glorious promise of love. 
In the waiting, we are all allowed to grieve absent loved ones and lament unfulfilled hopes. All the while, God is waiting with us— waiting for the godly and ungodly alike to hear God’s tender voice, to perceive God’s constant presence, and to accept God’s steadfast love. In this season of hurriedness and impatience, Peter’s words fall like the water of a soothing fountain: “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” God is in no hurry to force us into a realm of love and peace that we are not prepared to accept and embrace. God awaits the day when we will hear and believe: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”
In our “church world” today we take the concept of a gospel, good news for granted. We have heard the “good news” throughout our lives. Even outside the church, scriptures are quoted and biblical principles are espoused so that it is impossible to escape some level of “gospelisation.” What would it be like to hear the good news for the very first time? What might the stories of Jesus elicit in our hearts and minds had we not heard them over and over since childhood?
In the opinion of most scholars, the gospel ascribed to Mark is the “beginning,” at least of the written form. Truly, it was a “new thing.” Imagine yourself in a life of poverty, locked into a spiral of hard work for little gain, tied to one place for all time, under the sovereignty of a foreign power, denied basic rights and freedoms, and lacking any real hope of change or advance. For some who will read this, that is the life they live and it’s not hard to imagine. For others it is hard to imagine such situations. Yet they still exist all over our world today both overtly and subtly.
It is easy to frame such an existence as futile and desperate. But into such a reality comes a message of possibility, a story of a redeemer and saviour. This is a story of a champion rising from the common herd, someone just like us, but in very significant ways nothing like us at all— a man who possesses the very power and wisdom of God. Could the stories be true? Could the prophesies and promises of the ages come to fulfillment? Was there hope for the oppressed and the downtrodden?

In our modern world, it is difficult to imagine what first-century Jewish people heard when they first received the “good news.” Yet, in our modern world, we can reflect on what we hear as, again and again, we hear the gospel message. Do we hear promise? Do we receive hope? Does the gospel still contain power to transform lives?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 3 December 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - December 8, 2017 - 12:14pm



These words called us to worship



The day foretold is coming.
When our tired eyes will behold a fire, a blazing star in the eastern sky!
The one foretold is coming.
Whose light will shine through the deepest gloom.
The day is at hand!
Your redemption is drawing near!
 
The service kept close to the idea of an illuminating presence among us. The lighting
of the First Advent Candle gave a visual manifestation of that and the hymns we sang
throughout the service:
“God of mercy, God of grace show the brightness of your face”
 “Light one candle for hope”
 “Father, we give you thanks,”
“There’s a light upon the mountain”
O Come, O Come Emmanuel
 “Shalom to you”
all spoke of God's enlivening power in our lives which brings enlightenment to our hearts and souls.  This enlightenment points to what can be, and carries with it the hope for all that is good…… a salve to a hurting inner being, bringing healing.
With this comes JOY!

But that joy can be compromised because we lack the courage to act according to that enlightenment, and so we call on God to make our confession of failing to live to the full.
 
          Loving Creator, you call us to hope in your salvation, and rejoice in your promise of the birth that is to come, but we are afraid.You invite us into a world where justice and righteousness prevail, but we turn away in fear.

We long for an easy path into your promised world, but you warn us that there is no easy way.
Birth new life within us, Holy Midwife, that we may abide in hope, and in your perfect love — the love that casts out fear.
And because of God’s great mercy, we can be assured of forgiveness and
restoration of our relationship with our Lord.
 
Declaration of Forgiveness
God’s mercy and steadfast love endure, strengthening our hearts and overcoming our fears. God will remove every obstacle that keeps us from being the body of Christ.
Thanks, be to God! Amen
And with assurance comes Peace which we can share with each other.
 
The service of Communion impressed upon us the reason that we are able to call
on God for restoration of our relationship. God’s generosity in sending his message
through Jesus of  Nazareth, who, in the face of death, did not turn aside from God’s
will. We can do nothing to restore ourselves: only God’s merciful action in our lives
can do that.
 
The Rev. John spoke of the hope that we wait for and reminded us of the various
things we wait for, none of which compares with the hope we wait for which came
with the birth of Jesus.
The earthly things we wait for bring passing satisfaction. Sometimes, we realise, that
having waited, we were wasting our emotional energy. But the joy that God can give,
which was embodied in Jesus, brings sure, lasting, peace and joy. That peace and joy
are the result of our being brought into the light out of the darkness we were living in.
Rev. John then alerted us to the task that comes with the coming of the light. We may
not sit passively waiting for something to happen but be alert and embrace the gift
which is offered. Then we must radiate that light into the world.
Rev. John finished with these words:
The sense of darkness and despair leads to ennui, to inaction, to paralysis. The reality of Advent, however, is the admonition to be on guard, be awake, be alert. God has chosen to need us to make God’s love, presence, compassion, and power tangible. We cannot afford to be sleepwalkers. Time is too precious; God’s people are too precious! Our lives are meant to make a difference in God’s world, no matter how small that difference may seem to each of us. Maranatha! The Lord is coming.
 
At Christmas we celebrate Jesus’ coming into this world to spread the message of
enlightenment and the love which accompanies it. We are commissioned to pass on
this message and the promise of the joy it can bring. And so:
 
Benediction
Go into the world awake to the signs of God’s invitations to new life. Know that the reign of Christ draws nearer with each right action we choose.
And the blessing of God almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be with you always.  Amen
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Keep Awake!

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 1, 2017 - 8:33pm
Christians have the somewhat regrettable habit of pulling readings from Isaiah out for the lead up to and during the Christmas break. It’s similar to the way we dig the Christmas decorations out of the shed, cellar or attic to put up a month or so before Christmas.  It appears from my experience that we read these passages from Isaiah as if he’s a fortune teller or a Nostradamus, making predictions about Jesus. But, maybe we should fight that tendency.  I say this because the writers of Isaiah weren’t writing about Jesus, per se.
No, writers of Isaiah were passing on the messages that they received from God, which were intended to provide specific comfort to specific people during a specific crisis. These people are in exile. The temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. The very home of God had been destroyed. The writers of Isaiah weren’t writing to predict the future. They were writing to give courage to the people of Israel, so they could endure. So that begs the question of how we hear these words from the Isaiah’s if exile is our reality? Imagine we are little Israel and we don’t have military might.  We are now beginning to wonder if our God has also been defeated— where is God when he’s not in the temple?

These thoughts are quite challenging. I invite you this week to spend some time with the book of Isaiah. Listen to the words in their own context. Let them speak to you in your context. What is going on in your life such that heaven being torn apart and mountains quaking would be a sign of hope? Just imagine what is happening around our world politically with the rumblings of the USA against North Korea and other nations and the return rhetoric from those countries.
As Christians, we seem to have a hard time reading the book of Isaiah without immediately thinking of Jesus. Because while we are preparing for Jesus’ birth in four weeks, we know what happened two thousand years ago. God did tear open the heavens. And good, observant Jews, who had been hearing the book of Isaiah’s writings all of their lives, recognised a connection between Jesus and the words of the book of Isaiah. The Gospel accounts of Jesus were written down by people who often framed their understanding of who Jesus was through the lens of the book of Isaiah’s writing. “Oh, that you would tear open the heavens and come down.”
And God did come. God heard the cries of the people and changed the way we relate to the Divine. A baby was born in Bethlehem, in a manger, away from the halls of power and privilege. And the world was turned upside down by this man, fully human, fully divine. Once the Divine enters the world, even the heavens themselves will be shaken. By making reference to sun, moon, and stars, this weeks reading from Mark 13 is cluing us in to the truth that God’s reign is a cosmic reign, it isn’t just a change of administration like ion the political sphere of our worldly nations. It isn’t just new people taking over. It is an entirely new creation.
And so, we wait in patience, knowing that not every act of God resounds like a pounding sledgehammer. In the book of Isaiah’s metaphor, God does not always split open the heavens. Whereas even his closest disciples longed to call down fire from heaven and to brandish swords, Jesus compared his coming kingdom to tiny mustard seeds and to the imperceptible but certain fermentation of yeast.

As we enter Advent, we begin it with a revelation that a change is coming. And we are told to wait for it. To watch for it. In the coming weeks, as we light the candles and prepare for Christ’s return and for Christ’s birth, watch, wait, and keep awake. Or for others, as we put up the decorations and select the gifts we are still to watch and wait and keep awake. The Good News is at hand.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 26 November 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - November 27, 2017 - 9:19am











Gathering God’s People
Call to Worship  (Abingdon Worship Annual 2011)
The Call to Worship said in part:
Make a joyful noise to the Lord. Worship God with gladness.
But is it really like that? How glad are we for all that God is? Or are we  looking too much at what we lack. And is what we lack of any importance at all? How glad are we that God is and holds us close?
 
Hymn TIS 738: “My Jesus, my Saviour” (Shout to the Lord)
Opening Prayer
Tender, comforting Shepherd, your steadfast love is present in this place and resides within each of us. But sometimes it is hard, so very hard, to open ourselves to your love. We feel like scattered sheep, frightened and alone. Help us know your loving presence as we live as your gathered community. Enlighten our hearts, that we may know the hope to which we have been called. Amen. 



Help us; enlighten us. Amen and Amen.
 
A Prayer of Confession
Holy One, we are like sheep that stray from your fold. We are the perpetually hungry, ever in spiritual need, and at times in physical want.
We are the naked, with wounds exposed and bleeding. We are the sick, fevered, chilled, and in pain. We are the strangers, separated from others and even from ourselves.
Hear us now as we confess our brokenness and our need. Amen.
 
We should remember that brokenness can be mended and accept the words that follow, otherwise we cannot be God’s servants.
 
Declaration of Forgiveness
       Our creator God sees our hunger and gives us food. Christ, the healer, touches our wounds, offering comfort and blessed relief. The Spirit blows through us, cools our fever, and eases our pain. God sees and touches and heals our wounds. Thanks, be to God!
The Peace
When we were strangers, Christ welcomed us. Let us share the peace of Christ with friends and strangers with words of welcome:
The peace of Christ be with you.
And also with you!
Offering Prayer
Holy One, you have given us all that we have and all that we are. Through these gifts and in our lives, help us be the shepherds and healers and lovers that you are calling us to be. Amen.
 
Hymn TIS 675: Lord, the light of your love is shining” And our offering is one way to allow that to happen. Also, our congregation is older than some others and so many of us are not so well. If would be easy to look around and see other people living more comfortable lives. But if we look at how blessed we are, that will shine through.
The Service of the Word


The Readings delivered by Elaine: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. Ephesians 1:15-23. Matthew 25:31-46.
For the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
The Preaching of the Word


Scattered and Dispersed.
Rev. John’s message today was so clear, so I have copied and then summarised the first main points:
Scattered. Dispersed. People, like boats, can be cast loose from their moorings and drift away. Sheep, preoccupied with grazing, can move from one patch of grass to another until they look up and find they are nowhere near where they began. The same is sometimes true for people.

Calamity! Imagine being one of the Israelites of the Babylonian exile - you would have wondered what would become of your people. Like modern-day refugees from Iraq, Indian subcontinent, Palestine, Afghanistan,… you would have felt lost.
Our part is to think about how we are lost but worse, how we look to the wrong things to mend that lostness. (We are) the sinner whom Jesus seeks to bring back into the fold of a loving and forgiving community.
“I myself will search for my sheep,” says God (34:11). It might seem unlikely or impossible to gather up all the disconnected lives. But God makes it clear that God will accomplish it. “I will seek . . . I will rescue . . . I will bring them . . . I will feed them . . . I will bind up the injured . . . I will strengthen the weak” (34:11- 16)
Hymn TIS 674: Inspired by love and anger”   
Music to lead us to prayer
Intercessory Prayers   -Ruth gave thanks for our many blessings, and asked God to be with the leadership of Marsden Road Uniting Church. She prayed for the ending of wars and unrest and especially for children who have never known peace. She prayed that we will always remember that above all, we are God’s children, regardless of our appearance. She asked for strength and courage for all those who are faced with any obstacles of any kind and for comfort and healing for the sick. She then prayed for our personal concerns after which we joined in The Lord’s Prayer.
Hymn TIS 256: “From heav’n you came, helpless babe” (The Servant King)  Benediction
Come, you who are blessed! Inherit all that is prepare for you!
We leave this sacred space to claim the riches and glorious inheritance that are ours through Christ.
Go out into the world to share your blessings with all in need.
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

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unting Church 19 November 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - November 24, 2017 - 11:09pm



Again, I was unable to attend our service but I was helping a student with her study of Shakespeare’s The Tempest which provided a stimulus to think about a number of very human issues.
One reason that Shakespeare is still studied today, apart from being one of the very best of writers of the English speaking world, is that he explores a whole range of human ways of being, meaning that his work has universal appeal, not just across a generation but from one generation to another, over hundreds of years.
The Tempest is no exception, with the characters having to confront aspects of their own character with which until the present time in the play, they have been able to live quite comfortably.


The characters in the play represent various layers of society: fathers and children; rulers and the ruled; masters and servants. At any time in history, certain assumptions are in place concerning the behaviour of one layer of society towards another. In this play, as all of us have experienced in our own lives, these conventions are challenged and can come unstuck.
For example, it was assumed that masters had every right to direct the lives of their servants, without any need to apologise for any wrong caused. Children had to obey their parents, regardless of the wisdom, or lack of it, of the parents. Rulers would continue to rule, whether they were doing so fairly or not.
When all of these assumptions fail, people get hurt. When people get hurt, forgiveness is the only way to right the wrongs.
Learning this lesson can be painful and may take time but once learned, progress can be made and relationships restored. This was achieved between some characters in the play. One sought forgiveness. The other accepted the plea and forgave. Mission accomplished.
But what happens when the hurt is so deep, that regardless of the sincerity of the pleas for forgiveness or the genuineness of the repentance, the hurt party turns away and won't forgive?
The lesson learned concerning such a situations is that the matter must be left with God. There is just so much that we as humans, can do.
But what of rulers and masters? Should they belittle their status and lower themselves to ask forgiveness?
Doesn't such a move threaten the stability of society? Perhaps, but better that, than for them to remain in a state of offending against another person, no matter how lowly. And much better that, than to not seek forgiveness. And so much better that, than not to receive forgiveness and for those offended against to be able to forgive,
The whole asking for and giving of forgiveness cleanses the relationships of all concerned.
This was just one issue explored in The Tempest, but in studying the play we are given the chance to examine ourselves at arm’s length. Does the matter of forgiveness ever cross our minds or do we just bluster our way through our lives day after day?
Many of us are parents. Do our children simply have to bear our mistakes which damage their lives and get on with it? After all, if we apologize or ask forgiveness, isn't our authority in the family brought into question?
Better that, than for our children to see us as frauds.
And if we think of our experiences of being given an apology or being asked for forgiveness, doesn't the other person somehow grow taller in our sight.
Regardless of our social or family status, it is required that we asked forgiveness of those we have offended against and that we should forgive those who repent and ask for our forgiveness.
Thems the rules.
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Maybe Mum Was Right

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - November 24, 2017 - 9:44pm
As life has gone on I have found that it turns out that often what my Mum said was right — One of these sayings was that we are known by the company we keep. When I was growing up in Timaru, Aotearoa (NZ, I would often get taken into the rural areas by our Father. The rural areas where the closest living neighbours were often livestock. Out in the bush where our Father took us, it wasn’t hard to keep company that our parents would approve of, because we were spending most of our days around family.
Surprisingly in those early times of my life, even at school, the rules were pretty easy to figure out. The boys played with the other boys and the girls played with the girls, and the only bleeding over of those two groups was that the very athletic girls sometimes played games with the boys, if the boys were feeling conciliatory on the playground that day. It got a little more complicated, in high school for some when students from various schools came together as one class, and suddenly there was a little variety— just a little, though, maybe one hundred twenty students total at each level.
Even though I attended an all-male high school suddenly I could hang with the smart kids, or the arty kids, or the sporty kids, or the rough kids or what some called the no-hopers. And to my wonder and amazement, I was told that at the other High School old friends found it was suddenly okay to befriend the opposite sex. Although if I’m being honest, girls rarely came to the Boys High. I’ll also admit that the boys who got to hang with awkward, twelve to thirteen-year-old girls were those who came for specific things like Music and German language classes.
At the beginning of High School, one could say, is an exciting but sometimes excruciating time to figure out who we are. It is also a time much less when we find out who our friends are supposed to be. Yet, we haven’t quite figured out that the choices we make when we are adolescents need not rule the rest of our lives. Everything feels so weighty, as if our making one wrong choice would disrupt the course of our whole life. At least that is what I thought I had understood when I was twelve or thirteen years old.
At first read, our text from the final verses of Matthew 25 for this week seem to be about how to earn a place in heaven with Jesus, how to be judged favourably by the Shepherd King: be a sheep, not a goat. The original hearers of this sermon would have understood “sheep” and “goat” to be very specifically coded words with deeply ingrained cultural meaning.
Matthew reinforces this with the use of “left” and “right.” The right hand was the socially acceptable hand, used for eating and greeting. The left hand was used for unmentionable, private tasks, and was never used for public greeting. For all intents and purposes, everybody was a right-handed person, whether they wanted to be or not. To be on the left was a very bad thing, and everybody hearing this story would have understood that.
So really, it seems as if Jesus is simply saying, “Do the right thing.” The problem is that the sheep don’t really understand why they are sheep, and the goats don’t know what goat-like behaviour has left them in the predicament they are in. Since, in reality, sheep and goats grazed together and travelled together and acted as one herd until it was shearing time or sacrifice time; it is almost as though everybody ended up surprised when the sorting happened. It can’t really be as simple as that, can it? The secret here to being favourably judged can’t be just “Don’t do anything stupid.” Don’t we wish.

Are we humans called to act in this way or is that we are called to respond differently? Well, as Christians we are called to welcome the stranger, feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison. Christians are called to speak out against the injustices and inequities that plague society. They are to work to ensure that the message of God’s love is not subsumed by the much louder, more forceful noises of the secular world. These actions are to be done out of love for God, love for each other and oneself as well as out of the spiritual centre that develops from spending time with God. 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Depth of True Love.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - November 17, 2017 - 7:52pm
“I was afraid.” Too many times those words have been a door closing against an invitation to grow. I was afraid to love. I was afraid to let another love me. I was afraid to reach beyond the familiar, to share my faith, to raise my voice, to stand apart, to move beyond a stereotype. In the terrain of the heart, “I was afraid” is buried in a place both deep and yet highly accessible.
True love is anything but shallow. But it is not gorgeous and glamorous and perpetually young. The last servant, in this week’s reading from Matthew 25, fearing the shape-shifting dirtiness of love, paradoxically buries it in the ground to preserve it as it is. By protecting love from change and tragedy, adventure, wildness, and the sheer awe of engaging in life, this servant loses the very gift he had, through simple lack of imagination.
You have to give this third servant credit. He was only following what was, in his day, a sensible and responsible course of action. A talent was one of the largest values of currency in the Hellenistic world, a silver coinage you’d want to get help carrying home— it weighed between fifty-seven and seventy-four pounds. This is fifteen years’ wages for a day labourer, about a quarter of a million dollars when adjusted for inflation. In ancient times, the safest place on earth for something of such great worth was underground. 
Josephus, a first-century historian, said that it was not unusual for people to bury their treasure during times of military conflict. Further, unexpectedly discovering underground treasure, a scenario we stumble upon in one of Jesus’ parables, was not uncommon. “If you want to secure your money,” advised a rabbi from antiquity, “bury it.”
St. John of the Cross wrote that “in the evening of life we will be judged on love alone.” The two servants in this week’s reading from Matthew 25, probably more experienced in loving, fearlessly invest their portions of love. Heedless of the sheer fool-hardiness of the project, they risk ego, rejection, derision, even death, adventurously increasing the master’s wealth of love in the world. The last servant misses the point. The poor clueless man finds himself in the outer darkness because he was clinging to the supposed safety of burying his love in the ground.
John Wesley comments, “So mere harmlessness, on which many build their hope of salvation, was the cause of his damnation!” Love begets love. The more you give the more you get, exponentially. But investing in love can seem counterintuitive, because true love can be mundane, ordinary, passionless, plodding. And love shape-shifts to fit circumstances of tragedy and necessity, loss and age and death, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health.

What I pray for is that the Master of the house may find you and I adventurous in our loving.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 12 November 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - November 13, 2017 - 10:06pm

 


I was unable to attend the service today, so instead, prepared for the upcoming advent study, The Gospel According to Scrooge.
In the introduction to the study, the focus is stated: “The purpose of this series of small-group sessions is to enable Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol to be a springboard  for our prayers.”
 
My first reflection on the above is that if we are to grow as a result of our experience of the coming Advent period, we need to put effort into creating an authentic and full interaction with God and each other during the approaching time by studying its base and ramifications.
 
If we “play it by ear,” not only will we not get the best out of the time ahead, but we will be revealing the little value that this time in the year has in our lives. This, in itself, cannot lead to the best we can have or be.

 
To experience the most authentic perspective of advent, that we as individuals can have, we need to seek to find our place in the meaning this time holds for our church. The “unabridged version” of this would take years, but a study like the one we intend to undertake, centred on The Christmas Carol, will provide early steps in what can be an ongoing journey over other Advent times in the future, during which our understanding of the season can only grow.
 
This study encourages us to look inward, to examine the deeper things that motivate us. It also encourages us to take an honest look at whether this time is indeed a time of “goodwill to all”. As well, our attempt to provide a happy time for our family and friends, as well for others in the wider community, we can often lose sight of the real meaning of this season. Therefore, the intention that this study is to be a springboard for our prayers at this time, is the very thing to bring our attention to the true and deeper meaning of this time.
 
It was reported that a woman looking through Christmas cards at the newsagent, was heard to mutter: “They’re trying to put religion into everything now.” Could we get any further away from the foundation of this time? By using this study as a stimulus for our conversations with God, we have an opportunity to be sure that this Advent our attention will be where it should be. The basis for our thoughts and actions will be the genuine one, growing from our relationship with God and a clearer appreciation of the significance of this time, and God’s will for us at this time.

 
The stated intention of the study is to act as a springboard for our prayer. Prayer can take many forms, but can I suggest that to start a period of prayer at this time it would be good to sit and just be. Let God use the story and the songs to bring to life a new way of seeing. Let God use that new way of seeing inject into you a new way of being. It has been my experience that by allowing a God to work in this way, our prayers that follow, become the prayers which can build the Kingdom. Those prayers will reflect the will of God for ourselves, our family, our friends and the world around. These prayers will come from a changed us, and in turn, will change us.
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

No Vacations.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - November 10, 2017 - 8:53pm
Can you imagine a scene in which there are ten contestants, pitted against each other at an international piano competition? Imagine further that five of them have constantly practiced their entries to perfection, and remained ever ready to be called to play. Meanwhile, imagine the other five contestants spending their time watching television and eating pizza and doing everything but practicing. If you can envision this, it won't take much imagination to figure out who would meet the approval of the judges.
This might be an example through which Jesus would approach us in our time, to make an important point about the ways of God. But, of course, Jesus was not aware of piano competitions, so he drew from what he knew. In this week’s gospel from Matthew 25, we find him telling about some maidens who were called to serve as attendants at a wedding.
In that time, weddings were great moments in the life of a village, with every resident participating. If the bridegroom came from another village, as seems to be the case here, there was no way to know exactly when he would arrive, and therefore it was not certain exactly when the wedding would begin. To compensate for this, maidens kept the bride company, awaiting the arrival of the groom with great anticipation. Of course, when it grew dark on such occasions, lamps were needed to see.
As soon as the bridegroom arrived, a festive welcome was made, and a torchlight procession led the couple to the place of the wedding. When the procession reached the appointed place, all entered, the doors were locked, and the festivities began. No one was admitted late. Jesus used this familiar setting for his listeners and us, to present a parable about ten maidens, five who were prepared for the eventualities and five who were not.
The wise ones had prepared. They had enough oil to last until the bridegroom came. They were ready. They knew what was required of them, and they did it. When the time came, they could act in a manner that was faithful to their culture.  The foolish attendants were unprepared. When their moment came, they lost the opportunity to help light the way. They were unable to act out their appointed role in the community. They lost the chance even to witness the wedding. 
Repeatedly Jesus shows us what God is like. Our God takes no vacations and never takes a break from offering love to us graciously. God never stops forgiving us and never ceases to watch over us. God never rests from the desire that we follow in his way. God never lets up on loving us, no matter how much we may rebel and stray. God is always ready.
For our part, as we seek to stay on the journey of faith, we live and move by doing and being what Christ has shown and taught us. We are to take no vacation from being prepared to act in keeping with the values we have been shown. We are called to imitate the wise maidens, remaining prepared, moving in accordance with our training, when the time comes to act.
And like the maidens in Jesus' parable, we do not know when or how we will be called upon. But if we remain always prepared, we will be able to act in accordance with the values we confess.  We are called to act our values and practice them, more perfectly, and with more dedication, than the wise maidens.
Although God's gifts are free, we are still challenged to be like the wise or the foolish
maidens? Will we be prepared to recognise and accept what God offers us? Will we recognise God's love, God's grace, God's forgiveness, God's joy, hope, and the wonders of God's creation? Are we prepared? As God presents us daily with challenges and choices, will we be ready?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 5 November 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - November 8, 2017 - 12:18am

 
Gathering God’s People.
Today I would like to focus on the readings and Rev. John’s reflection, while attempting to give an idea of the service as a whole.
During The Call to Worship we remembered that we are part of a world-wide church which has come to us through generations of people seeking to relate to their God through worship.

Hymn TIS 455verses 1, 2, 3, 7 & 8: For All the Saints
During The Opening Prayer we asked God to be with us and to reveal to us through Jesus how to be true followers of God, humble and content, caring and co-operative, givers of goodness, strong in God’s strength, living in peace, according to God’s way.
We then confessed our weaknesses, praising God at the same time for his faithfulness and asking for forgiveness for our failings.
Rev. John then declared our forgiveness: Beloved, we are the children of God. Don't fear failure. It is endemic to our human nature. Learn from your mistakes, and cherish the forgiving grace of God. Give thanks for all you are, and go forward in faith, knowing that God is faithful.
We then exchanged the peace:
The peace of Christ be with you.
The peace of Christ be with you always.
Following that we offered of our material possessions: 
Holy God, we thank you for the great cloud of witnesses that surrounds us as we worship. Their diversity reminds us of your infinite grace to all your creatures. Thank you for the vision of a world at peace: paradise restored, where no one hungers, no one thirsts, and no one is wanting in any way. You guide us to the source of living water and invite us to drink deeply of your love. Your magnificent generosity evokes our deepest thanks. And so, receive these offerings, that we may join that great cloud of witnesses as we share our gifts with others. Amen.

 Hymn TIS 522: “Christ is the heavenly food that gives.”  

There followed the Service of Holy Communion, which always strikes to the core of all of us. Today, the following remained with me:
In this meal, we give you praise and thanks, Creator God,
as we remember all those who have passed on into glory. You came in human form to walk among us, teaching us the way to live as your children. In Jesus Christ, you showed us what holy living looks like, and gave us the sacraments of baptism and Communion to remember and experience anew your presence, encouraging us to live in relationship to you.
And then:
Holy God, we came to this table scarred by regrets and broken dreams, anxious about many things, knowing that we are not immune to evil's lure. And you met us at this table; embracing us in our brokenness, naming us "beloved", claiming us for eternity. We thank you, living, loving God. Amen.

There followed The Service of the Word,beginning with the Scripture Readings: Revelations 7:9-17. Describes a great throng from all nations who have come through to be before the throne of God. This is the promise I heard: They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’
Matthew 5:1-12
These are known to us as the beatitudes delivered during the Sermon in the Mount. I don't think I need to repeat them here and if you would like to read the details Matthew 5 is the reference. The most important message for me is that those who will be the Blessed of our God aren't those that are successful by this world’s standards but those who seek the ways of a servant.

 Preaching of the Word
 Are we Chosen? – Revelation 7 and Matthew 5
Rev. John pointed out that our culture seems fascinated with the afterlife as though this life doesn't matter all that much and is just a place where we can win a spot in the good seats in Heaven. He pointed out the Bible hasn't much to tell us about the afterlife or who qualifies.
“All Jesus will say on the matter is that we don’t know anything and that our expectations are woefully inadequate.” “First John 3: 2 reminds us “we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.” Even now, we are already chosen, already loved, already called. What we will be . . . well, no one knows about that yet, and it isn’t the point anyway”. “Some people are so heavenly minded they’re no earthly good” (attributed to both D. L. Moody and Oliver Wendell Holmes, but a great line, no matter who said it).”
Rev. John went on, referring to scripture, saying that our chief concern is to live in our relationship with God in the present.
My own experience is that the confidence of knowing that I am a child of God who watches over me, guiding my life, makes any concern about the afterlife something to be left for when I get there. God will be as faithful to me then as now.

Hymn TIS 497: "Let all mortal flesh keep silence”
Music to lead us to prayer

 Intercessory Prayers
Grahame led us in prayer for all those God has commissioned us to care for worldwide, nationally and locally, including our own congregation and those close to us needing God’s comforting hand. After that we joined in The Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn TIS 456: “Your hand, O God, has guided”
 
Benediction
We are renewed and filled with the sweetness of God. Go forth to bless the world with joy in the Spirit of God's redemptive love and sustaining peace.
And the blessing of God almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be with you always Amen

Hymn TIS 778:  “Shalom to you”
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Practice What You Preach.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - November 3, 2017 - 9:18pm
“Why don’t you practice what you preach?” Have you ever said those words? Maybe someone has said them to you. Hypocrites are people who pretend to be something they are not. They may say one thing and then do the opposite. They may act one way in a certain setting and then act another way in a different setting. It is very important that as Christians, we follow the example of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t matter where we are or who we are with. The words we speak and the things we do should always reflect our faith. Sometimes we are good at telling other people what they should do and how they should live, but we fail to follow our own instructions. We need to, as the saying goes, “walk the walk, not just talk the talk.”
Some time ago, I saw a Peanuts comic strip that had Snoopy on top of his doghouse with a flock of baby birds. The time had come for the baby birds to learn how to fly, and Snoopy was their teacher. Snoopy flapped his ears and walked to the end of the roof of the doghouse. He leaped into the air and continued to flap his ears. Unfortunately, he landed right on his head. He got back up onto the roof and shared this lesson: “Do as I say to do and not what I do.”

In this week’s scripture from the gospel of Matthew 23, Jesus tells the crowds and his disciples to do what the Pharisees and the scribes teach them to do, “but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.” In other words, the leaders talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk. Why is it important to practice what we preach? The most basic reason is the integrity of our faith; as we who call ourselves Christian are the body of Christ for the world.
In Matthew 5:14, Jesus tells us, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.” People should be attracted by the light of the way we live and the words we speak. Whether we like it or not, people are watching us and seeing how we respond to the ups and downs of everyday life. Children watch adults and then imitate what they see and repeat what they hear. Are our words and actions something we want repeated by our children? Our friends, neighbours, co-workers, family members, and classmates are watching us.
What evidence do we offer of our profession of faith? Are our responses any different from those of persons who don’t profess to know Christ? Not only are nonbelievers watching us, but so are other Christians. Persons who are new to the faith often look to more-mature Christians. Do our words and actions encourage and build up other Christians?
How do we all as members of humanity practice what we preach? One way is to be careful about the words we speak. You can tell a lot about a person by the words they use. You can tell even more by the words they use when they are distressed, angry, or threatened. In the letter called James, the writer tells us the tongue is very dangerous. It can set a great forest ablaze. Humans can tame, all kinds of animals, but we cannot tame the tongue. People are listening to the words we speak. Do our words build people up or cut them down? Do our words bring peace and calm to a situation or do they add fuel to the fire?

The words we speak are meant to match the person we claim to be. If we profess that we are followers of Christ, then our words need to reflect that relationship. We practice what we preach when we live our lives as reflections of the life of Christ. The way we act at work needs to be the same way we act at home, at church, around other Christians, in the supermarket, or waiting for a bus. I like the saying, “What you see is what you get.” It reminds us to try to act the same wherever we are. When people see us, they need to see a reflection of Christ. Do we live our lives in ways that reflect him?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 29 October 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - October 31, 2017 - 11:59am

 


Today’s service was the result of a combined effort of many people of goodwill.
Margaret was unable to deliver the sermon and so Warwick did that for her and he did that very well too and we were very blessed by the outcome. Today I want to pay attention to the prayers and the reflection.
After acknowledging the Barramattagal people, the traditional carers of the land we continued:

The Gathering of the People of God.
Call to Worship
Let us start this service well, by reminding ourselves: That it is not we who chose Christ,
but Christ who chose us,
That we are not here because of our goodness but because of Christ’s grace,
That we are not here to enlighten ourselves, but to allow Christ to enlighten us,
That we have not come to be entertained but to worship God with heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen ~ written by Bruce Prewer

Invocation
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. We thank you that you have enshrined your name in our hearts
That we will always be looking to you and longing for that wholeness That only you can provide. We open ourselves to you, in this place, Lord.
May your Spirit enter into and direct our worship today.
 
Prayer of Adoration and Thanksgiving -Alexis
You, loving God, are the ground of our being and the river of life;
P. You both steady our roots and draw them to seek the living waters.
You are like the sunlight enticing us taller P. And like the breeze rustling our leaves.
You are with us through hard seasons of summer heat,
P. And in the nights when winter’s frost ice the landscape
your love warms and sustains us. P. You are everything to us.
O let our gratitude be great, let our praise be plentiful, let our worship be wonder-full!
Through Christ Jesus your ever-living Son. Amen! — written by Bruce Prewer
 
Prayer of Confession.
Together: O God
We confess the blindness that is not even aware of our offences; The pride that dares not admit that it is wrong; the selfishness that can see nothing but its own will; the self- righteousness that knows no fault; the callousness that has ceased to care;
the defiance that does not regret its own actions; the evasion that always tries to make excuses;  the coldness of heart that is too hardened to repent.
God, we have failed and let you down. Our plea- be merciful to us. Amen.

Words of Assurance.
Through God’s generous mercy your sins are forgiven  Take hold of this forgiveness
And live your life in the power of the Spirit.

Offering
Lord, generosity and kindness are the characteristics of your way of being. We thank you for all the blessings we enjoy and ask that these offerings will be used in your service for the building of your kingdom.

Reflection - Margaret - “The Big Picture” delivered by Warwick.
The reflection began by setting the scene and providing background to the conversation between Jesus and the Sadducees and Pharisees in Matthew. That made it clear that though Jesus had angered the leaders by preaching and living out God’s liberating message, he wasn't going to stop even under threat to his life. In reference to the attitude of the leaders to not being able to answer Jesus’s question:
They really wouldn't have liked that. They were shown to be short of expertise in their own area…in public. This would not be the end of it.
Whenever, I hear a bible story I think about what character in the story I would be.
Where would we fit in these stories?
It could be something touched you early in today's reflection and that's where God is talking to you. It may be that it happened later in the reflection. Or if you are like me, there is something about each character you can identify with.
I have completed more formal education than most Australians, and yet there are times when I am absolutely floored by my own stupidity.
I need the sort of help in life that the law was meant to give to the Jews. Rules guide me. Especially ones like not braking as I'm steering around a corner. That did not come naturally to me. And when my little granddaughters are acting up I have to control my voice and hug them close to find out the cause of the problem. (BTW it's usually that we are late with their food and they are hangry).
And there are times when I worry that I'm being like a Pharisee or Sadducee. I pray that when that appears to be the case, my will may be thwarted and that God’s will may be done.
But there are times when I remember that Jesus is my Way and I try to do what he would do. If there's anything I've learnt in that formal education I spoke about, it's that it's impossible to even imagine how much more there is to know. For that reason, I lean on the only One who does know.
Lord, speak to each heart here today. Show each of us what our next step should be. For the sake of your kingdom. Amen

Prayers of the People (excerpt)
O, Lord, we reach out to grasp your outstretched invitation to be one with you.
We place our will within yours and ask that your wisdom will inform all our actions.
May that wisdom inform the decisions of all leaders worldwide, nationally and locally. We pray for the leadership of your church, especially here at Marsden Road. Bless John and Wendy, our elders and our councils and committees as they seek direction for our congregation here.
O, Lord, we reach out to grasp your outstretched invitation to be one with you.

Words of Mission
Now go into the world with confidence, trusting that Christ is walking with you.
May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy  Spirit be with you, now and always. Amen
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Spirit of Love in Touch.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 27, 2017 - 10:02pm
The Spirit of Love in Touch.
“Would you like for me to pray with you?” I asked the elderly person I was visiting in the hospital. Without hesitation, “Yes, I would like that.” “Is it okay if I hold your hand as we pray?” “Please,” they smiled. I have no idea what I actually said in my prayer. However, after my “Amen” I heard the words softly offered, “I felt the Spirit through your hands as we prayed.” And as hesitant as I am to acknowledge it, I have come over the years to understand that they were right. I have often felt something too, when praying at the bedside with people facing the end of the life through either age or trauma.
The Spirit of God has expression in and through our touch. How we touch one another, when we touch, who we touch evidences our relationship, or lack thereof, to the Spirit of the Living God. In the Pentateuch, the Law was practised by the people of Israel as a way of life. It ordered the boundaries and social structures and the governance prescribing what is holy and profane. Profane— for all practical purposes, is defining “good” and “bad” touch. Though Moses and Joshua had been called by the Lord to the tent of meeting for the transfer of leadership, this week’s text from Deuteronomy states, “Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him.”

Christians baptise with touch. We offer the gifts of bread and wine with our touch. We anoint for healing, confirm, and ordain with our touch. Though we must, with preference and compassion, tend with great sensitivity those among us abused by unholy touch and those at risk of being hurt, the Church cannot deny the gift of the Spirit that can be revealed through our touch. God’s breath gives our bodies life, and Christ embraced our flesh. Let our touch testify to the Spirit of Truth at work in us and in the world.
Touch also signifies love and connection. Love begets love. It seems the more love you give, the more love you have to give. Love by loving. The way of loving God and neighbour is by loving God in neighbour and loving neighbour in the love of God. And loving the most difficult neighbour at that. “For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?”
John of the Cross says that in the end we shall be judged by love alone. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the world offers plenty of opportunity for the challenges of love. One only need to consider the behaviour of our brothers and sisters in the world let alone our leaders to see love, true love, the love of our God is desperately needed. The treatment by one gender to the other needs a lot of love and work as witnessed recently by those in whom we have put trust. Many of our politicians sadly do not show love and compassion to others in their day to day lives. Yet, we are called by God to respond to these people with love.

We hear in our scriptures, but here is “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The very foundation of that world is love. And, every step toward loving builds up the foundation of the kingdom of love. Often, I express that love of God deeply with touch. I share the love of God with contact. Sometimes I do so unaware of how that touch affects the other person, how it moves them, and they feel supported and loved. I hope and pray that my love is positive and of God. I hope and pray my touch is not negative in consequence but shows the love of our God. Without grounding in that love, I am nothing but not only that I disrespect the other. But with love . . .
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 1 and 15 October 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - October 23, 2017 - 8:17am



Two recent services at MRUC focused, at least in part on the parable of the Two Sons told in Matthew 21.  Rev. John Candy spoke on October 1 and then Rev. Bill Ives spoke on October 15




Near the start of Rev. John’s service was a prayer: “ We gather in your presence, Christ of compassion, thirsting for your living water. Flow through this time of worship with your grace and wisdom. Nourish us with words of truth and challenge.  Strengthen us to go forth in humility and love as your servants working in the world.”
 
This set our hearts and minds upon our purpose at that time, a purpose which directed the lives of all present but having been said, renewed our awareness of our goal as Christians
Rev. John focused on the story of the two brothers in Matthew 21, one who said he would do the father’s bidding but didn't and then the other who refused to do as his father asked but then did it. As far as the application to our lives is concerned, one is no easier to get on with than the other. Rev. John’s point was that the awful part is that sometimes, despite our profession of allegiance to Jesus, we are both.
 
All too often many of us fail to embody in our lives what we say we believe with our lips.”
 
We don't recognize this because all too often, we only let the loyal servant parts of our lives float up into our consciousness. The times when we are not what we profess, stays hidden from our own view.
 
But
The good news is that God loves us anyway.”
That love is what will power us to live the life of God’s servant Sunday through to Sunday with “arms stretched out in love to one another.”
And so we were dismissed with: “May we go forth with the mind of Christ and the love of God…” .
 

Rev. Bill Ives began with the same bible passage but went straight to the reason Jesus was telling the story at that time. He was making the position of the Jewish leaders clear. “He is going to tell them that they have the wrong slant in things.”
Rev. Ives linked this to God’s calling of the People out of Egypt.  God called them out of slavery into freedom but that required the people to say “Yes” to God. Just as the father couldn't build his farm without a “Yes” from his sons, so God needed a “Yes” from his people.
 
We were challenged: “Will you say “Yes” to God and mean it?”
Rev. Bill then threaded his way through the Liturgy, showing how we come to hear God’s word to us and showing us our opportunities to say “Yes”
 
In the Prayers of the People we show how we will put ourselves into our prayers to serve a desperate world, which is realised in the “Sending Forth”.
 
The need for action was illustrated through the words of the chorus from “The Pirates of Penzance” where a frightened police body singing “we go, we go” until it is pointed out that they don’t  actually go.
 
Perhaps they are keeping their inability to act buried deep away from their own sight.
 
Rev Bill admitted that going out may entail sacrifice, spoiling our own comfort, “ But God calls us as he called his son, Jesus.”
 
The message couldn't be clearer.

 


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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

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