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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 13 May 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - May 20, 2018 - 1:19am

Gifts for the Family.  In Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour, much is made of thank-you notes, especially thank-you notes for wedding presents. One of her sample letters reads as follows: Dear Aunt Patience:Rhino and I are thrilled with the magnificent silver sugar shaker you sent us. It adds not only beauty and dignity to our table, but amusement, too, as some of our friends who are both ignorant and daring have not waited for the berries to be served but have shaken it over their meat. "This could only have come from your Aunt Patience," said one, and we were proud to say that it had. Rhino joins me in thanking you for your kindness. We look forward to having you in our new home.Love,Daffodil Most of us have gotten gifts that we weren't quite sure how to use. We smile politely, say "thank you very much," but think to ourselves, "What on earth am I supposed to do with this?" With any luck, the giver will notice a look of perplexity on our faces and give us some clue as to the intended purpose of the item. But, just as often, we are left to figure it out for ourselves. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don't, and there are times that we just never find out how this beautiful but strange gift is supposed to be used. I would bet that it wasn't too different for Jesus' disciples in this week’s scripture from the gospel of John. Pentecost Sunday is a day when Christians give thanks for God’s many blessings, for the Church in which we are nurtured and through baptism are made members. Christians believe we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit -- and the question is asked. "What on earth am I supposed to do with this?" Nobody had ever received that gift before. There was no helpful lady at the registry at Myers or David Jones to tell them just why they should have this particular item and how to use it. And so, when Jesus breathes on his followers and gives them this amazing and perplexing gift, he tells them right away how to use it -- to forgive sins and to be bearers of peace. When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is not ours to keep tucked away for our private use. The Holy Spirit is a gift that is to be shared generously and lavishly. Like the fine china and beautiful linens, we give and receive as wedding presents, the Holy Spirit is given as a token of the day on which we take vows to live in unity with Christ. And, like those beautiful dishes and tablecloths, the Holy Spirit is a sign that our lives with the Lord will be lived not in isolation, but in gracious and loving service to other people. You know Marriage legally forms earthly and visible families within communities, groups of people who promise to be together in good times and bad, to balance each other's talents and abilities, so that in sharing and giving of what they have and who they are, they will live a life that is fuller and more satisfying than any life they could possibly imagine having alone. Graciously with the very best of what we have and the various talents of each person we are called to make the whole thing work. This doesn't happen in isolation, but in consciously living in the wider community of family and for Christians this is God's family. We bring the beautiful and precious gifts of our baptism to the banquet table of God's family. Each of us has something different and distinctive to bring to this table. Each of us has something to give thanks for and we are called to share those blessings that we have received. At God's table, every colour, shape and texture of dinnerware -- from the finest gold-banded china to hand-thrown pottery, and even paper plates -- is needed, wanted and welcome. Until everyone has a place setting at the table, a place specially designed for that person, there is something missing at the feast. We are to offer the gifts that we have as a welcome addition to the life of the family of God, and to rejoice that it makes our life together fuller and richer than any we could possibly imagine if it were absent. Pentecost seems to be the season in which we celebrate such things. We look to the desire that all our lives will be richer and fuller than it was before and that we are also enriched by each one’s presence and gifts among us.
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Gifts for the Family.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - May 18, 2018 - 2:12pm

In Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour, much is made of thank-you notes, especially thank-you notes for wedding presents. One of her sample letters reads as follows:
Dear Aunt Patience: Rhino and I are thrilled with the magnificent silver sugar shaker you sent us. It adds not only beauty and dignity to our table, but amusement, too, as some of our friends who are both ignorant and daring have not waited for the berries to be served but have shaken it over their meat. "This could only have come from your Aunt Patience," said one, and we were proud to say that it had. Rhino joins me in thanking you for your kindness. We look forward to having you in our new home. Love, Daffodil
Most of us have gotten gifts that we weren't quite sure how to use. We smile politely, say "thank you very much," but think to ourselves, "What on earth am I supposed to do with this?" With any luck, the giver will notice a look of perplexity on our faces and give us some clue as to the intended purpose of the item. But, just as often, we are left to figure it out for ourselves. Sometimes we get it right, sometimes we don't, and there are times that we just never find out how this beautiful but strange gift is supposed to be used.
I would bet that it wasn't too different for Jesus' disciples in this week’s scripture from the gospel of John. Pentecost Sunday is a day when Christians give thanks for God’s many blessings, for the Church in which we are nurtured and through baptism are made members. Christians believe we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit -- and the question is asked. "What on earth am I supposed to do with this?" Nobody had ever received that gift before. There was no helpful lady at the registry at Myers or David Jones to tell them just why they should have this particular item and how to use it. And so, when Jesus breathes on his followers and gives them this amazing and perplexing gift, he tells them right away how to use it -- to forgive sins and to be bearers of peace.
When we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, it is not ours to keep tucked away for our private use. The Holy Spirit is a gift that is to be shared generously and lavishly. Like the fine china and beautiful linens, we give and receive as wedding presents, the Holy Spirit is given as a token of the day on which we take vows to live in unity with Christ. And, like those beautiful dishes and tablecloths, the Holy Spirit is a sign that our lives with the Lord will be lived not in isolation, but in gracious and loving service to other people.
You know Marriage legally forms earthly and visible families within communities, groups of people who promise to be together in good times and bad, to balance each other's talents and abilities, so that in sharing and giving of what they have and who they are, they will live a life that is fuller and more satisfying than any life they could possibly imagine having alone. Graciously with the very best of what we have and the various talents of each person we are called to make the whole thing work. This doesn't happen in isolation, but in consciously living in the wider community of family and for Christians this is God's family.
We bring the beautiful and precious gifts of our baptism to the banquet table of God's family. Each of us has something different and distinctive to bring to this table. Each of us has something to give thanks for and we are called to share those blessings that we have received. At God's table, every colour, shape and texture of dinnerware -- from the finest gold-banded china to hand-thrown pottery, and even paper plates -- is needed, wanted and welcome. Until everyone has a place setting at the table, a place specially designed for that person, there is something missing at the feast.
We are to offer the gifts that we have as a welcome addition to the life of the family of God, and to rejoice that it makes our life together fuller and richer than any we could possibly imagine if it were absent. Pentecost seems to be the season in which we celebrate such things. We look to the desire that all our lives will be richer and fuller than it was before and that we are also enriched by each one’s presence and gifts among us.

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 13 May 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - May 15, 2018 - 12:28pm




Call to Worship

(Abingdon Worship Annual 2018)
We want to celebrate Mothers as a wonderful gift from God, but we want to be certain that we recognise mothers – and likewise, families in general – as a gift from the God who has created all things. So today, as we are called to worship by the scriptures, we’re called to worship a God who loves us and welcomes us into his family.
Clap your hands and shout to God with loud songs of joy.
Sing praises to God, who fills the world with forgiveness and grace.
Christ is alive. He is risen from the dead.
The Holy One calls us to worship and praise.
Baptised with the power of the Holy Spirit,
we live with Christ in our hearts.
Clap your hands and shout to God with loud songs of joy.
Sing praises to God, who fills the world with forgiveness and grace.
 
Hymn TIS 106: "Now thank we all our God" I have noticed that when I keep looking for my blessings and thanking God for them, the impact is far greater than if I accept them as a given.

Opening Prayer
 God our Father, your Son Jesus Christ lived in a family in Nazareth: Grant that in our families on earth we may so learn to love and to live together that we may rejoice as one family in your heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Prayer of Confession
Jesus said, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Holy One has set.”
Yet we keep searching for signs and omens, trying to predict the future instead of living fully each day.
Jesus said, “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
Yet we are more concerned with following the proper procedures, than with opening our hearts to those around us.
Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”
Forgive us, Holy One, when we try to shape the world according to our desires, instead of asking for the power to do your will.

 
Declaration of Forgiveness
The Holy One enlightens the eyes of our hearts, that we may know the hope to which we are alled. In the name of Christ, you are forgiven. Thanks, be to God!

 
The Peace
 In the power of the Holy Spirit and the love of Christ, let us share signs of peace with one another. Peace be with you! And also with you.
 
Hymn TIS 457: "The Church’s one foundation" An article I read recently stressed the centrality of God in our church. The point made in that article was that too often God gets forgotten and the church itself becomes the centre. That is no more or less than idolatry.
                  
The Service of the Word
As it was Mothers’ Day Rev. John spoke on the topic of families and family relationships. No family is perfect and there is friction from time to time in any group of people living together. (My nephew who was serving in the military overseas made this point at one time, saying that he was having trouble with his constant companion…..his pistol.) In fact there are times when we become so irritated with a family member we can hardly put up with their breathing heavily. A friend told me of a family car trip where her son became quite angry because his brother was looking out of “his window.”  Sometimes these times of friction come down to personal preferences but at other times someone has done something very wrong.
The Rev. John had this to say about that:
We do not fail or even sin that grace may abound. But when we fail to live by God’s call we can start again, and we can be sure that grace abounds as we repent. Seemliness is no closer to godliness than cleanliness, and it is a comfort to know that no failure, no sin, no wound can separate us from the love or purposes of God. Even the holy family—Mary, Jesus, and Joseph—were beset by intrigue and rumour. Mary and Joseph were not yet married when she became pregnant. That is not to suggest that, as I heard one preacher say, unwed pregnancy is "OK," only that in and of itself unwed pregnancy does not disqualify us from serving God.
 
Hymn TIS 137: “For the Beauty of the Earth” For everything that brings joy - every good thing- thanks be to God.
Grahame led us into prayer with music and there followed the Prayers of the People and the Lord’s Prayer. This is such an important time for us when we can each draw close to the One who loves us so much.
 
Hymn TIS 526: Lord Jesus Christ" Focussing our hearts and minds on the centre of all things.
 
Benediction
May the Lord who brought us to birth by his Spirit,
strengthen us for the Christian life.
May the Lord who provides for all our needs
sustain us day by day.
May the Lord whose steadfast love is constant as a
mother's care,
send us out to live and work for others.
And the blessing of God Almighty.
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be with you and remain with you always. Amen
 
HymnTIS 779: “May the feet of God walk with you,” And with this we blessed each other as we parted.
 
 
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 6 May 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - May 13, 2018 - 9:53am


Call to Worship - (Abingdon 2013 and Dorothy McRae-McMahon)
Sing joyful songs to God! Alleluia! We are Easter people!
God has worked miracles! Jesus is our joy!
Sing joyful songs to God! Alleluia! We are Easter people!
God’s love for us lasts forever. Jesus makes us into friends.
Sing joyful songs to God! Alleluia! We are Easter people!
Alleluia! Even the ends of the earth see the saving power of our God.
The sea roars with joy, and the floods clap their hands. Trumpets sound and horns celebrate with song!
Alleluia! The Holy Spirit falls upon all who hear the word of God.
When God shows such generosity, how can we withhold our love?
Alleluia! Jesus has extended to all people the friendship of our God.
We were strangers and then servants, but now we are God’s friends.
 
Hymn TIS 168: “Sing a new song, sing a new song...”  A new song denoting a new life, starting now.
 
Opening prayer
Holy God, you make us Easter people— a people transformed by the resurrection of your Son, Jesus. Your first and final word to us is Love. You reach out to us, offering joy and wholeness. Yet we often greet your resurrection by grieving at the tomb, doubting the good news we hear, or quaking in fear as we hide in our upper rooms. Still, you call us deeper into Easter, answering our resistance with your loving presence. You claim us as your friends. As we gather now to worship, teach us once more to abide in your love, that our joy may be complete. Amen.
 A Prayer of Confession
 Lord Jesus Christ, you reach across every boundary, even death itself, and draw us into loving intimacy with you.
Forgive us for resisting your love. You call us your friends, yet we act like minor acquaintances or even strangers. You send us into the world to proclaim your love, yet we gape in astonishment when you include all people in your love.
The light of your resurrection conquers the darkness in our lives, yet we act as if your love is a burden.
Give us Easter lives, we pray, for you alone have the power to save us. Amen.
 
Declaration of Forgiveness
Jesus promises, “You did not choose me. I chose you.” We know that we are God’s children, raised to new life with Christ. Abide in the saving love of Jesus Christ.
Thanks, be to God!  We then exchanged the sign of the peace.



 
Hymn TIS 236: “Jesus’ hands were kind hands”
Rev. John was focusing on Jesus’ view of his
disciples and us as his friends. Kindness makes
friends.
There followed the Communion, the intent of
which was summed up in these word. This has
been no ordinary meal. It has been one in which
we have been fed and nourished with the life of
Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. May we go
from this table, refreshed and eager, to share that life with others. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen



























 The Service of the Word
Preaching on the reading John 15: 9-17, Rev. John focussed on our friendship with Jesus.

This friendship was expressed in the hymns and in the Communion meal. Rev. John
reminded us that Jesus said to his disciples and therefore to us: "I do not call you servant
any longer . . . I have called you friends."
We are servants and apostles but we are friends. Meals are share by friends. In meals we
offer hospitality to each other - we extend care to each other. However the Communion
meal fed and nourished us in a way quite different from our daily meals.
The men’s group had sung “Amen” sealing in voice the experience we all have in the
Communion but also in fellowship with each other and in prayer with God.
After such experiences whether physical or spiritual we feel refreshed to start anew. This is
what we can do for each other in friendship.
Rev. John pointed out that in calling his disciples friends, Jesus was doing something quite
revolutionary by way of imagining our relationship God. Friends care for each other and
show love to each other in all its forms and if we don't we aren’t being obedient to Jesus’
teaching. Rev. John went on to say that sometimes we want to take control and modify that
command.
Think of the times when we think someone does not deserve our love or isn't one of us. As
Rev. John said, Jesus said “you are all my friends”.
We might make mistakes but we are drawn back. So when others offend us, we must
remember that God accepts them and so must we. We must look on others as Jesus does.
For myself, I know that I can be a pain in the neck but God draws me back and so do my
friends.
Rev. John told us that we are to love others in their best bits and their not so good bits. It's
not how we feel about each other. It's a matter of following Jesus Christ. We are defined by
our behaviour in obedience to Jesus.
As we live our lives must point to the one who leads us.
It has been said that we should walk a mile in another person’s shoes. We are all living the
same life. Think of the mistakes we all make. This of the times we unwittingly give offence.
Think of the times we lash out because we are hurt or feel threatened. Our friends take us
back. God welcomes us with open arms.
That's the way we must live
Space remaining does not allow all the hymns or prayers.
 
Benediction
The whole creation celebrates God’s victory of love. Live lives of victorious faith.
When God shows such generosity, how can we withhold our love?
Jesus abides in the love of God. Abide in God’s love every day of your lives.
When God shows such generosity, how can we withhold our love?
Jesus calls you his friends. Carry the friendship of God to everyone you meet.
When God shows such generosity, how can we withhold our love? Amen.
 
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All Things Common

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - May 11, 2018 - 10:27pm
As we reflect this Sunday on Mother’s Day and think about family, whatever our experience, it is interesting to look at what made those first Christian communities.  The paradoxical need in our overcrowded world is for community: we long to know that we belong and that we matter to those around us. The proliferation of gangs, political parties (those with specific negative agendas) and radical militant groups are just some examples of the possible negative results of that need. Common enemies, ritual practices, or a cause of some sort form a sense of power and meaning for destructive ends. Another emerging and rapidly growing community builder is blogging and tweets. Facebook, Twitter and Blog-sites, join people together from all over the world.

But whether it is the counterfeit brother- and sisterhood of gangs and militants or the virtual communities of the Internet, there is a sense in which these communities fall short of what people truly need. The picture of community we find in scripture in Acts 2 is dynamic and radical. The dynamism is best described when St Luke writes that they were a people of signs and wonders. As much as churches talk about how caring and friendly they are, the most important point of commonality is the presence of the power of the Holy Spirit. It was the power of the Holy Spirit that made the people of faith into a dynamic, multipliable force.
The authentic church is still being characterised by signs and wonders: changed hearts; healed bodies, minds, and relationships; witness and social action in the world. It is sad that signs and wonders is a description that people often only apply to charismatic denominational and nondenominational churches. At its heart, the church is not about what people do, but rather about what the Holy Spirit does through openhearted, open-minded people
Providing good parking, communicating in the vernacular style of the people, and having well-organised welcoming strategies is good, but they cannot substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit in the Christian Church. I wonder what it is in the other organisations that supplies the direction and knitting together of the group? The Acts 2 picture of community is deeply radical to many people and even too many Christians. Luke writes that they “had all things in common.” For a slave community with little or no property or assets, this kind of sharing makes sense. As the church grew, however, this model became rare.
 But the clear picture is that the church was bound, economically as well as spiritually. “They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Most church goers today would be hard-pressed to name their areas of need, economically or otherwise. In fact, we work hard at presenting the image that, because God has blessed us, we are not needy. We love to help the needy, but we don’t want to be like them. We secretly believe that needy people are deficient and inferior to us, put there by God to make us feel grateful and guilty for being more blessed.
Could it be that one of the reasons that our sense of community is often artificial because there is very little holding us together? Down deep in our fallen selves, we really do want to believe that we don’t need each other. The Acts 2 picture also includes the investment of time that community requires. People don’t “go to church”—they are the church. Early Christians were community at work, home, worship, fellowship, and witness. Parents and family’s day by day, as they spent much time together in worship, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.”
How different this is from the characterisation of the twenty-first-century communities we live in or the Church we may belong to. Our situation might be described this way: “And since they were very busy people, they spent as little time with each other as they could get away with, eating on the run and never feeling satisfied, competing and scrapping over worship, and having the mistrust and criticism of the majority of the people.” The opportunity to be a dynamic and radical community of faith has been given to many.
So, how do we respond to a family experiencing a death where a wife and children are left behind. Have we as a community learnt the what it is to be the body of Christ. Have we surrounded youth in our community as they face difficulties with love and care? Common grief can become a source of common commitment and purpose. Through tragedies, we can learn better than ever who, and whose, we are: the people of God, dynamically and radically bound in spirit, in goods, and in shared time. And with it there have been and there will be more signs and wonders.


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Living Up to Your Appointed Position

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - May 4, 2018 - 10:52pm

With every senate, parliament, student body, or school board election, there are appointments to positions of authority. As seems true for every elected official who has the authority to appoint, the special positions go to those who were most supportive during the election. History has shown that sometimes the process is successful, but it is more likely that the people in new positions are mediocre at best. Success is dependent on how closely the appointee matches the requirements of the job and has little to do with one’s performance during campaigning.
One only has to look at Trumps appointments to positions, let alone the way our parliaments appoint those to lead Ministries. Do we appoint people to lead health who have a background in health and know something of what is needed? Or does this have problems?  I remember reading about someone who was appointed to agriculture in the USA who had a background in farming and appeared to be a natural fit for the appointed position. His credibility was severely affected when he discussed the invasion of fire ants into the United States.
On national television, he sincerely talked about the problem and was apparently doing an adequate job of sharing information. If any of you have ever been the recipient of a swarm of fire ants, you know that you will do everything in your power to avoid the pain associated with their anger. The secretary had what appeared to be a glass aquarium sitting on a table before him as he spoke. During the presentation, he removed the top and continued to discuss the severity of the sting from the tiny creatures. He casually dipped his hands into the mound of loose dirt inside the aquarium. What he found was not the sweet nibbles of tiny fish, but the anguishing fire of hundreds of tiny ant’s intent on protecting their place in the world.
As programmed by nature, the ants did just as they are expected to do. There was chaos on the stage as the Secretary and his aides quickly began brushing the tiny insects from the target of their wrath. Even when a person is perfectly appointed to a position, there is a risk of failing or exposing ourselves to pain from our actions to fulfil the obligation. In John 15:16-17, Jesus makes a crucial appointment. He appoints his disciples—people who love and follow him—and, more important, you and me, to the highest appointed position in Christendom. Jesus said, “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that God as parent will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”
Jesus said these words just after he had assured his listeners that they are his friends. He rejects the word servant because the servant does not know what his master is doing. Instead, he calls them friends because he had already shared with them everything that he had learned from God. Jesus’ admonition that he had chosen them and considered them friends was a natural lead into their appointment to live a life of good works. I find it interesting that Jesus appoints followers to love others and to do good works toward others.
It seems to me that Jesus was encouraging the appointed to find joy in themselves and to love their own mind, body, and soul so that they might love others. Most of us can find much pride in our accomplishments and in our gifts to the church and community. The nature of human beings is often to tell God why we cannot fulfil the requirements of our appointment. People who continually say they cannot meet the expectations of the job will surely fail.
We are called to accept any appointment with a can-do attitude followed by gratitude and when we accept our appointment with the attitude of gratitude and maintain complete faith in God, we will be successful in our appointed role. I believe that Jesus expects us to be sensible in our approach to the appointment—to first love ourselves so that we can love others, never putting ourselves or those we serve in harm’s way. We must know the signs that we have caused pain and suffering to others and to ourselves. We are expected to avoid dipping our hands into the fiery stings of failing to serve. Now, if only all our leaders, particularly our politicians could follow such a call.
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 29 April 2018

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

 
Because I was working in another area of the church I was unable to attend the service at Marsden Road UC, so I read a number of reflective pieces from different sources.
One was written by Fr. Michael Whelan who shared his thoughts on John 15:1-8.
Jesus the True Vine
15 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes[a] to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed[b] by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become[c] my disciples.
 
Michaelspoke of this being a story of love. I have never seen that as its primary message but if you are like me look again.
 
We are told how a God in his love has done such good things in us and for us. God is reaching out to love us and to create people who are part of the True Vine and who will bear fruit as a result of that.
Our new life will be a sign of that fruit to come and as new beings we will show God’s love to the world.
Imagine what a difference it would make to our behaviour if we kept at the front of our mind that the Everlasting God seeks to love us with unending love.
The passage says that those that don't bear fruit will wither and die. I have always seen that as a punishment. But what would happen to our physical bodies if we ceased to take in nourishment? Cut off the source of life and death is the natural consequence.
And why would we do that when our Creator is reaching out with a free invitation to abundant life? Jesus said “I am the vine.” But there were many other “I am” statements. The Word is our all. Grasp the invitation to be loved and given new life.
 
“Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you do with your evenings,
How you spend your weekends, what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in Love, and it will decide everything.”
 
(“The Treasure of our Heart”, Pedro Arrupe SJ (d 1991).
© Copyright Aquinas Academy 2013  |  t: +61 (2) 9247 4651  |  f: +61 (2) 9252 2476  | 
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 8 April 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - April 28, 2018 - 2:13am

Gathering God’s People

We all have doubts about many theories and events presented as facts and we would be remiss not to have such doubts. We must not accept anything passed onto us by another person just because they say so. Given that the Bible is written about people who are no longer with us and events that are well and truly in the past, what can we believe?
Well, to start with, some of what is written in the Bible is there for the message it carries and the possible factual or historic content isn't the chief concern of the reader. The biblical writers had a variety of styles of writing and not all of them were a recount of historical events. So, in the case of Thomas, was he right in doubting? Were his doubts justified? How did he resolve the conflict between what he thought was possible and the events in which he found himself ? Is that event represented correctly?
The Rev. John led us through the problem faced by John; one faced by many of us today.
“This is the day to walk in the light.
This is the day to share signs of peace.
This is the day to believe where we have not seen.
This is the day to embrace what we cannot touch. Come! Let us worship the Lord of life.”
 
Hymn TIS 382: “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain”. The focus of this hymn, for me, is that love cannot be defeated. Love will rise above.

Opening Prayer
“God of manifold blessing, come to us this day. Come and bless us. Come and lead us into the light. For we come to you to find peace. We come to rediscover joy. We come to believe where we have not seen. We come to touch the glory of everlasting life, through the power of your Son. We come to truly live. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession
 “Heart of all hearts, Joy of all joys, teach us how to live as one.
You offer us your abundant grace, and yet we still long to find rest and peace.
You have shown us the light of our salvation, yet we often lurk in the shadows.
You promise us the glory of everlasting life, yet we settle for the tarnished glow of selfish pursuits.
Forgive us.
Help us believe where we have not seen; help us walk bravely in the midst of our fear, that we may truly know your peace each and every day. Amen.



Declaration of Forgiveness
 In Christ, God has forgiven not only our sins,
 but the sins of the whole world. Rejoice in the light and peace of the Holy One. Rejoice in the blessings of our God.
Thanks, be to God!

Hymn TIS 649: “These things did Thomas
 count as real” I think Thomas is being sold
short in this hymn. After all that time with
Jesus I think that he was well aware of the
very real things that we cannot see or touch.
 But this story would have been more than very difficult for anyone to accept.


 The Service of the Word
Moving from Doubt (A summary)
“After illustrating his point, Rev. John said:
 Isn’t it natural for humans to want to give the right answer?…Most often, we don’t want to doubt or challenge leaders or stand in the way of accepted norms. So, when we have our doubts, we tend to keep them to ourselves. That is the safe way.
Today’s Gospel reveals to us St. Thomas—who was the one who had not seen the risen Jesus when he first appeared to the disciples. The others told him they had seen the Lord, but he was skeptical. He doubted. Still, Thomas must have wanted to fit in. He might have said, “Look, friends, I know the answer is supposed to be that. I acknowledge that you saw Jesus, but it sure sounds like a ghost. But the story of Thomas’ honesty and forthrightness gives us hope and empowers us in our moments of doubt. We don’t have to accept mindlessly whatever seems the expected or accepted answer or view.
 Across the Uniting Church, let alone the Church, there are sharp divisions over decisions made at recent Assemblies, Synods and other meetings. Few congregations or Presbyteries are free from controversy, leaving many in doubt about where God stands in all this. Since doubt and fear are bound to come upon us, we do well by facing the truth of these feelings, like Thomas of old. Let us remember that he was in a good and safe place to question and then to see and learn.
 We are here because this is a place where we can encounter the risen Christ, patiently and lovingly leading us into all truth, just as he led St. Thomas. If we are willing to work through our fear and our doubts, we will find the other side of today’s Gospel that teaches us also about faith. If we are honest in our relationships with one another, we can experience mutual support in learning to believe what we cannot easily see…”

 Hymn AOV 63: “We walk by faith” We may not touch his hands and side, nor follow where he trod, yet in his promise we rejoice, and cry “My Lord and God!”
It's a problem that faces each person of each new generation. Only the Spirit’s work in our lives allows us to step away from worrying over the facts to being sure of the outcome. 
Intercessory Prayers
Rev. John led us, lifting up all those in need. We prayed for those close to us; for those known to us through the media; for those who face the same spiritual problems we all face; for those in physical needs of any type and for comfort for them. We then drew together all our prayers in the THE LORD'S PRAYER
 
Hymn TIS 376: "I know that my Redeemer lives" Those of us who have humbled ourselves before a God know this full well, regardless of any historical details.

Benediction
 Walk in the light of God.
We will live in the light of God and we will bask in the light of God.
May the Light of all lights transform your doubts into faith, and your sorrows into joy.
       We go with the peace of God.
Go with the blessings of almighty God.
 
HymnTIS 779: “May the feet of God walk with you,” Could we wish anything better for each other? Could we wish a greater treasure as a gift to each other?
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 22 April 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - April 28, 2018 - 2:12am

Being a Good Cat-herd.
 
 

Have you ever been out on a walk through your neighbourhood and heard the plaintive miaowing of a kitten? What would you do? My thoughts in such a situation would be to look all around for where the cry was coming from. I’ll tell you a story of one experience I heard about. Well the first thing is that you probably won’t find the source of the cries until you looked up—way up—into the pine tree in your neighbour’s yard. But, there you see a new kitten, crying for all it was worth. As kittens frequently do, it had gone exploring and was now afraid or unsure of how to come down. You stand under the tree, calling “Here, kitty, kitty,” trying your best to persuade the kitten to come back down.
 
I wonder if you would go home and borrow some treats from your own cats – if you have them - to lure the kitten down the tree. However, nothing works! If it was me I might give up at this point. So, your neighbour comes home and hopefully as she comes over to say hello, she will hear the kitten’s cries. Hopefully, quickly, she would begin calling the cat by name. It would be quieted once it heard her voice, and would even take a few steps down the branch, but then like cats do, maybe it would lay down and refuse to come any further.
 

 
To continue, after several attempts, the neighbour, not an especially young woman, pulls a garden bench over to the tree and begins climbing. One could suggest that we call someone else to help, but this is refused by the neighbour who wanted to get her kitten down right away because it might fall. By this stage I think I would be standing underneath holding my breath as the neighbour began to climb up, branch by branch. I wouldn’t feel confident to climb. Finally, she would get to be level with the kitten. I imagine she would tuck it lovingly into her jacket and slowly back down the tree, saying soothing words all the while.
 
This type of story helps me think about this week’s reading from John 10. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” That cat was not at all tempted by pleas to come down to safety; it had no idea who this person that found it was. The neighbour used the same words and tone of voice in her calls to the kitten, but the results were different. Why? She knew the cat by name, and it knew her voice. Just knowing that she was close seemed to calm the kitten, even though it still could not bring itself to climb down to safety.
 
I would have been very reluctant to risk a broken limb by climbing the tree, but the neighbour did not think twice. She was much more concerned about the risk to her kitten than the risk to herself. On that day, and I am sure many others, she was a good “cat-herd.” The image of the good shepherd is one that is used for God many times throughout Scripture. It evokes feelings of tender care in us even today, despite our unfamiliarity with sheep and shepherds.

 
Those who heard Jesus speak these words would have had a far deeper understanding of sheep and those who cared for them. Owners often kept sheep for years and years as providers of wool rather than as meat. Shepherds stayed with their flock by day and by night, protecting them from both human and animal predators, as well as from their own silly tendencies to wander away. Because the shepherd spent almost all his time with his sheep, he learned their individual qualities. He knew who was prone to wander, who hogged the grassiest parts of the pasture, and who was most often cut out of the flock.
 
The sheep also knew him. If another person called out to them, they would not answer. If the shepherd called, however, the flock would move toward him. As he walked ahead, calling their names, they would follow. Some of the sheep may have been more endearing than others; certainly, some followed more closely. But good shepherds showed the same care for the more recalcitrant members of their flock as for all the others. How blessed we are that we, too, have a good shepherd in Jesus Christ! He promises to care for us, and he showed the extent of that love on the cross, where he gave his life willingly for us. Like sheep, there is nothing that we do to earn such great love; it is given to us freely, often in spite of ourselves.
 

 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Time and Stewardship

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 27, 2018 - 1:12pm

Christians believe all time is a gift from God.  So often, we talk and function as if time belongs to us and yet we are called to be wise and just stewards of time. These days, one can do so many seminars, courses and read so much on time management. We often can hear people talking and making comments such as “He/she is good at wasting her/his time; they are hopeless, never on time and they waste so much time!” I heard of someone in a family referring to their brother as “Uncle Not Today”; because every time they suggested they do something his reply, often, was “not today!”
I remember someone saying something along these lines, “The more labour saving devices we have the busier we become, and time just seems to fly.” We live in an “instant” age. These days, many people expect things to happen right now. We seem to be at the beck and call of mobiles phones, tablets; we can have instant photographs when we want them. With DVD, the Internet, Netflix, live streaming, Foxtel or Austar we can have movies on demand. There are also instant meals which may or may not be okay for our nutrition. This raises the question of whether we are becoming a society of impatient people who are missing the joy of allowing things to take place over time.
However, there are some things that just take time. If we think about pregnancy, it is a time of waiting for about nine months. Children generally meet the “milestones” of life over a period of time. Maybe we need to hear the words of Ecclesiastes several times to remind us about time – a time for this and a time for that. In scripture the word time is used 900 times. In John 7, we read that Jesus said the right time had not come. Jesus understood the importance of time in regard to his earthly life.

So, for Christians the call is that we need to be a wise steward of time. Prayer takes time.  People say that God does not speak to them, but when reflecting on that, the question arises as to whether it is because we are giving God the time to speak to us. It is important that we allow ourselves time to listen to God. Discerning the will of God is not always easy, but our experience as Christians tells us that if we wait on God over time then God will lead.
Time is important as we only have it once. If we don’t use time when we have it, we won’t have it again. So, while timing is important, making the most of the opportunities we have is just as important. Time is opportunity and a gift to be used to the full at the instant. Time, we need time to pray. Time, we need time to read and study the scriptures. Time is not only a gift but a blessing such as the right use of the Sabbath. Time is God’s gift and we are called to be wise stewards of the gift of time.

How do we react to people who believe waste time? Have we ever pondered why we react in particular ways? Do we actually see time as a gift and a blessing? A blessing from God so that we use our time to effectively? For those of us who are Christian we need to recapture that meaning of the Sabbath and understand our own response.  
The book of Ecclesiastes makes it clear that there are special times for certain events in life. This can be expressed as making the most of each opportunity that comes our way and it is important for us to take those opportunities and celebrate life. For Christians our Gospels tell us that Jesus said that his time had not come. Timing is important and there are benefits of waiting on God. It is important for us as Christians to reflect on those benefits of waiting on God and the challenges that will bring for us.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 16 April 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - April 21, 2018 - 4:25am



Spirituality and us. (Abridged)
There has been a request from a number of directions that as a congregation we should look into the topic of spirituality. So, I volunteered to conduct a service today around the concept. Firstly, may I remind you that hundreds of thousands of words have been written on this subject so that when I finish today most of them still remain to be explored.
However, I think this congregation knows more about spirituality than they realize. I think what I'm doing today, is revealing to you what you know already but didn't know it was called spirituality.
Some of us may think that spirituality is confined to what I would call “pious” people. And there’s a good reason for that. Initially, it was the pious, the people who withdrew from the world and spent their time in contemplation and prayer who were regarded as spiritual.
However, it is intended that all Christians live a spiritual life ….
That's what being Christian is.
What I want to speak about is the meaning of Christian spirituality as revealed in our readings this morning and during the sung prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving (Magnificat). In the latter we can hear the woman’s heart bursting with joy at the work of God in her life. The people of those readings didn't bother about terminology, they were concerned with one thing: their relationship with God and his work in their lives
 Psalm 66:
Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;
    sing the glory of his name;
    give to him glorious praise.


This person is so sure that God is to be relied upon, and so is stretching out to God, exuberant in gratitude, knowing that God is the only source of the goodness they have experienced.
And then the reading from Galatians 5 under  the heading “Life by the Spirit”
You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
This reading reveals another perspective on living a spiritual life - service. Service can take many forms and every time we make someone feel a little better about themselves and their situation, we are serving them.
And then for complete clarity, the Sermon on the Mount: (refer Matthew 5 - Blessed are the ….)
In this reading the presence of God in a person’s life isn't indicated in the way that the Psalmist thought. The Psalmist thought success and victory spoke of God and it’s true that all good things do come from God but goodness can take many forms and the Beatitudes spell that out. The words of this sermon point to a deeper view of spirituality. A view of our needing to throw away the values of the material world and seek an inner richness. But as average Australians living average Australian lives, how often do we recognize that we are serving others? Where or to whom do we look for relief from the things that distress usand cause us suffering? Do we feel blessed by God? Life can be difficult, so where does the strength come from to get us through it? Where do those time of great joy come from? And how good are we at acknowledging God’s work. “Look at that lovely rose!” “Yeah, good.”
Think about the last few weeks. Think about any time when you have felt as ease; relaxed, maybe rested. When did you notice a smile coming to your lips or when have you had a good laugh?  Perhaps you have learnt something newand had the thought “Hey, isn't that something!”
Another possibility is that someone acknowledged you in some way or showed you respect.  Or you may have had a chance to enjoy yourself.  And then what about what you have been able to do for someone else? How have you been able to make someone else feel that life is actually ok.
I'm not talking about monumental experiences although you may have been fortunate to have had one of those. One of the readings I consulted makes this point: there is no immediate seeing of God’s actuality.” And then goes onto say that we establish bonds with the divine as it happens in the world. Our spiritual life happens in the world.


And while all of  those experiences are spiritual, there is a need of something more: our acknowledgement of God’s hand in all that is good in our lives and our thanks for it.
Somehow the experience isn't complete until we praise God for his gift.
I know there is one more thing. For those people in each of the readings today it was a way of life.
So we don't leave our spirituality at home when we go to the shops and need to queue; we don't forget to grasp it when the computer won't co-operate; we remember we are creatures of the spirit when we are disagreeing with other people; we keep our spiritual life at the fore in traffic. Another reading I consulted reminds us that “Faith is a fresh act as new obedience.” It's day by day stuff. I know it's hard when the garbage truck wakes us up at 4am in the morning but it's our task that we remember that we are people of God’s spirit always.
Always. Amen
 
 
Acknowledgements:
The Brill Dictionary of Religion 2006 “Spirituality” Brill.
A New Dictionary of Religion ed. John R. Hinnells 1995 Blackwell. “Spirituality”
Theological Hermeneutics Alexander S. Jensen. 2007 SCM pp124,125
Sacred Attunement - A Jewish Theology M. Fishbane Uni of a Chicago Press. pp54,55
 
 
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Being a Good Cat-herd.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 20, 2018 - 12:59pm

Have you ever been out on a walk through your neighbourhood and heard the plaintive miaowing of a kitten? What would you do? My thoughts in such a situation would be to look all around for where the cry was coming from. I’ll tell you a story of one experience I heard about. Well the first thing is that you probably won’t find the source of the cries until you looked up—way up—into the pine tree in your neighbour’s yard. But, there you see a new kitten, crying for all it was worth. As kittens frequently do, it had gone exploring and was now afraid or unsure of how to come down. You stand under the tree, calling “Here, kitty, kitty,” trying your best to persuade the kitten to come back down.
I wonder if you would go home and borrow some treats from your own cats – if you have them - to lure the kitten down the tree. However, nothing works! If it was me I might give up at this point. So, your neighbour comes home and hopefully as she comes over to say hello, she will hear the kitten’s cries. Hopefully, quickly, she would begin calling the cat by name. It would be quieted once it heard her voice, and would even take a few steps down the branch, but then like cats do, maybe it would lay down and refuse to come any further.

To continue, after several attempts, the neighbour, not an especially young woman, pulls a garden bench over to the tree and begins climbing. One could suggest that we call someone else to help, but this is refused by the neighbour who wanted to get her kitten down right away because it might fall. By this stage I think I would be standing underneath holding my breath as the neighbour began to climb up, branch by branch. I wouldn’t feel confident to climb. Finally, she would get to be level with the kitten. I imagine she would tuck it lovingly into her jacket and slowly back down the tree, saying soothing words all the while.
This type of story helps me think about this week’s reading from John 10. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” That cat was not at all tempted by pleas to come down to safety; it had no idea who this person that found it was. The neighbour used the same words and tone of voice in her calls to the kitten, but the results were different. Why? She knew the cat by name, and it knew her voice. Just knowing that she was close seemed to calm the kitten, even though it still could not bring itself to climb down to safety.
I would have been very reluctant to risk a broken limb by climbing the tree, but the neighbour did not think twice. She was much more concerned about the risk to her kitten than the risk to herself. On that day, and I am sure many others, she was a good “cat-herd.” The image of the good shepherd is one that is used for God many times throughout Scripture. It evokes feelings of tender care in us even today, despite our unfamiliarity with sheep and shepherds.
Those who heard Jesus speak these words would have had a far deeper understanding of sheep and those who cared for them. Owners often kept sheep for years and years as providers of wool rather than as meat. Shepherds stayed with their flock by day and by night, protecting them from both human and animal predators, as well as from their own silly tendencies to wander away. Because the shepherd spent almost all his time with his sheep, he learned their individual qualities. He knew who was prone to wander, who hogged the grassiest parts of the pasture, and who was most often cut out of the flock.
The sheep also knew him. If another person called out to them, they would not answer. If the shepherd called, however, the flock would move toward him. As he walked ahead, calling their names, they would follow. Some of the sheep may have been more endearing than others; certainly, some followed more closely. But good shepherds showed the same care for the more recalcitrant members of their flock as for all the others. How blessed we are that we, too, have a good shepherd in Jesus Christ! He promises to care for us, and he showed the extent of that love on the cross, where he gave his life willingly for us. Like sheep, there is nothing that we do to earn such great love; it is given to us freely, often in spite of ourselves.





Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Trying to Find Order Out of Chaos.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 13, 2018 - 1:41pm

Imagine being married for 13, 14, 15, maybe even 20 years or more……   and thinking that things were generally pretty good between you and your spouse. There were occasional ups and downs, like every marriage. And then, out of the blue one day your spouse comes to you and says, "I've filed for divorce." “I’m leaving you permanently non-negotiably.” After the shock wears off, you try marriage counselling for a time, to try and patch things up, to understand what the problem is...but nothing works and a year or so later, you are divorced. Some of you may not have to imagine it. For some of you, this may be your reality.
Or, imagine working for a large, multi-national corporation for many years, giving your time, your effort, your ingenuity, thinking that this large, secure, wealthy corporation will always have need of such fine employees as yourself. But then, when you are in your mid-50s, the corporation alters its organizational structure so that one Friday afternoon, without any warning, you receive a letter informing you that in less than a month your services will no longer be needed. You feel unwanted, rejected, bitter, and without any hope. You then find yourself out on the street, over-skilled in a bad global economy. Some of you may not have to imagine it. For some of you, this may be your reality.
I could give many examples but here is one last example. Imagine that for one reason or another you have just moved from one part of the country to another or to another country. You have left behind friends, neighbours, maybe family, but also routines, schools, churches, favourite restaurants, and the cleaners who know just how you like things done. In your new "home" you have no friends and only a handful of acquaintances. Your neighbourhood seems cold and distant. The grocery stores don't carry favourite brands. People talk funny all around you. You can't find anything good to say about your new "home," in fact, it hardly feels like home at all. Some of you may not have to imagine it. For some of you, this may be your reality.
I could give many examples but here is one last example. Imagine that for one reason or another you have just moved from one part of the country to another or to another country. You have left behind friends, neighbours, maybe family, but also routines, schools, churches, favourite restaurants, and the cleaners who know just how you like things done. In your new "home" you have no friends and only a handful of acquaintances. Your neighbourhood seems cold and distant. The grocery stores don't carry favourite brands. People talk funny all around you. You can't find anything good to say about your new "home," in fact, it hardly feels like home at all. Some of you may not have to imagine it. For some of you, this may be your reality. 
We do this by a variety of methods: family, work, recreation, money, to name a few and we attempt to keep chaos at predictable and safe. We throw ourselves into work hoping to be rewarded with money and respect. We pursue hobbies and vocations thinking they will make us better people or that they will fill a void in our lives. We gather as much wealth as we can, fooled into believing that life can be care-free. However, we choose to order our lives that order will at some point break apart.
No family is going to bring enough love, no job is secure enough, no amount of money is great enough to distance us from the given of chaos. Family relationships often disappoint. We may find ourselves in a dead-end job, or be laid off, or "down-sized." Money solves nothing; each income bracket produces its own problems and challenges. Chaos happens, whether we are rich or poor, young or old, living in the city, suburb, or country, our carefully ordered existence will, at some point, disintegrate, resulting in disorder.
This moment of chaos which follows the collapse of order is an experience of crucifixion. Like Jesus, who did not seek the cross neither do we seek chaos. It is painful. We suffer in it. It feels like we have died. When our lives are being built up, God is with us. When they fall apart, and we crash, God is with us as well. The Christian community is not a self-improvement society where we work to get just a little bit better each day of our lives. We are prepared for things to get ugly and nasty and neither do we fear death, for out of death emerges new life. As slowly and quietly as dawn emerges on a still, spring morning, so the new life, a new order, a new creation emerges out of the chaos.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

I May Be Wrong, but I Doubt It.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 6, 2018 - 1:36pm

“I May Be Wrong, but I Doubt It,” is the title of a collection of columns by a late and irascible journalist named Mike Royko. The interesting context of doubt: doubt standing in the place of certainty, Royko's certainty that his observations about Chicago city politics and life in general are right on the mark. This, perhaps, serves to point us in the right direction with Thomas and this whole episode in some closed room in Jerusalem – found in the scripture from John’s Gospel this week. For to get anywhere with this story (John 20:19-31), one absolutely must begin with the understanding that doubt is not the opposite of faith. The opposite of faith is indifference, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel remind us.
Doubt, writes Frederick Beuchner, is the ants in the pants of faith. Doubt keeps faith awake and moving. Whether your faith is that Jesus is the son of God or that he is not, if you don't have any doubts, says Beuchner, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Thomas is not a doubter. Thomas is a true believer. He has made that clear earlier in John's Gospel. It is Thomas who, when Jesus insists on going to Judea, declares, "Let
us also go with him that we may die with him." And it is Thomas who makes the first explicit acknowledgment that Jesus is God: "My Lord and my God!"  

This loyal believer who has given us the expression "Doubting Thomas" deserves to be remembered better than this. He did not refuse belief and wanted to believe but did not dare without further evidence. Because of his belief, loyalty, and goodwill, Jesus gives him a sign after refusing to do so for the Pharisees. Please note that the sign did not create faith in Thomas, but it released the faith that was in him already. Thomas is the patron saint of all who believe and still want to see for themselves.
As we, or others we know, face the daily darkness of depression, disease, loneliness, racism, ethnic hatred, and religious intolerance, we know that Jesus is in the midst of it. Any one of these situations could be enough to cause some doubt in our resurrection faith. Any one of these situations could be enough to send us to God asking for a sign. Our wounds are very much on the surface every day. Anyone can come into a church and look at around and see our grief, our pain, and our suffering. Anyone can come in to our churches nearly any Sunday at any service and see people reaching out to Jesus for healing of whatever it is that hurts: mind, spirit or body, in themselves or loved ones.  
The Lord still confirms his presence in the scripture from John this week, as he acts in his unique and unmistakable way. Jesus enters into our experience by his own initiative, breaking through all barriers. Jesus is there despite "the doors being shut" ...... from fear. The familiar greeting of shalom was spoken with authority with upraised hands spread in the familiar gesture of blessing - this was the needed action to calm the disciples fear. There is nothing quite like the word of Jesus to deal with our fears and nothing like the presence of God as Jesus to deal with our aloneness. 
As indicated Jesus enters into our setting, to be with us at our points of need, helping us to deal with the present that constantly assails us. For the disciples, the problem was fear that had reduced them to cowards hiding in fright. Jesus dealt with them at their point of need and continues to deal with his followers at their points of need, no matter what they are.
The second shalom in this reading from John was with the future in view. I believe Jesus was helping those present to move towards going beyond that hour that they were experiencing. As God has sent me, even so I send you. The "breathing" upon them signified the freshness that would be with them, their life and work. It was a symbol of their reception of the very spirit of Jesus so that they were open to further gifts and guidance to serve God.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Why Enter the Sacred Space?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 31, 2018 - 8:09am

That first Easter experience seems somewhat lacklustre, especially in the lives of those first responders. The story involves three people who were followers of Jesus. Mary Magdalene, Peter, and the beloved disciple are the first to the tomb that morning. John doesn't tell us why Mary comes. Maybe she is there to grieve. Maybe she comes to remember and give thanks for the life of this saviour who had changed her life forever. 
Maybe Mary comes because she needs some time alone to think and to sort out what the past few days' events mean to her. John doesn't tell us. As Mary arrives she sees that the stone is rolled back from the entrance of the tomb. Immediately she leaves without further investigation. Mary tells Peter and the beloved disciple. Once they know they too run to the tomb, with the beloved disciple getting there first.

Peter looks in and sees the place where Jesus had been, and nothing is there. The beloved disciple looks at the same scene, and the Scripture tells us he believes. Then, they go home. Mary now encouraged by the boldness of the other two wants to take a look for herself. She too sees the place, only now there are two angels, one sitting at the foot of where Jesus had been and the other at the head. "Who are you looking for?" asks one of the angels. Mary begs him to tell her where they have taken Jesus' body.
As she turns around she sees Jesus but does not recognise him. She supposes he is the gardener and asks him if he knows where they have taken the body. If he will but tell her she will go and get the body. Jesus then calls her by name, and immediately she recognises him. Jesus then instructs her not to touch him and to go and tell his followers, which she does. What a strange and mysterious story.
The greatest event in human history is dramatically unfolding, and the first three eye-witnesses have very strange and mixed responses at best. Mary reduces it to grave robbing, the beloved disciple John sees and believes, Peter sees nothing. After witnessing the empty tomb, Peter and John just go home. Where is all the hype, the celebration, the reality of the fact that what Jesus predicted happened—no party, no ticker tape parade, no news coverage, nothing. Isn't this just like God? It seems God has God's way of working in human history. This story sounds very familiar.
Maybe the message in this Easter season is for us to allow God to be who God is, to do what God does, and in the time, God deems necessary in our lives. Maybe that is the real power of this story. God acting in history to change the shape and movement of the world, and people just responding in such different ways trying to grasp all that God is doing.
The older I get the more comfortable I become with allowing God to be God. I say now—more than I ever would admit when I was younger— that I just don't know. I am coming to realise that maybe knowing isn't what this faith business is all about in the first place. Maybe what this is really about is what God is doing and the power of my just trusting it and giving it the freedom to do what it needs to do in my life and to lead where it needs to lead.
Have you ever been white water rafting? The last time for me was in Skippers Canyon in Aotearoa (NZ). Before we climbed in the boat, the guide gave us some instructions about what to do if we found ourselves in the water. He told us to keep our feet up, trust the buoyancy of the life vest, and to enjoy the ride. The movement of God in the world seems to be like that. God is moving and working at God's pace, in God's time, and in God's direction. Maybe our response needs to be to keep our heads up, trust what God is doing, and just enjoy the ride!
God loves no matter what our response is. That is the good news. God brings resurrection because of who God is. The reality of the empty tomb reminds us God is at work in the world doing what only God can do. God goes about God's business; our lives and the life of the world will never be the same again. Mary came looking for the Jesus who had died. Peter and John came looking in response to news of a possible grave robbing of Jesus' body. Why do we, you and I, come? As we enter sacred space, who is it we came looking for?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Pivotal Life Moments.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 29, 2018 - 8:25pm

My pivotal moment of faith was not a moment but a journey toward accepting a call to ministry. A Church Army Sister began the journey of introducing me to theological questions and the way Jesus lived that have emerged into a lifelong relationship with God and a way to understand my feeling of God’s tugging at my heart. The tug became stronger as I completed Pharmacy School and I was part way through theological studies and finally chose to offer for ministry in the Diocese of Dunedin, the place of my birth.
Pivotal moments of faith are not limited to calls to the ministry. Each time we encounter God, our faith relationship with God changes. Some of our God encounters are more significant to our faith development than others. Thoughts about that tug come to me each year at this time as I reflect upon the Passion of Jesus and particularly his crucifixion.
 For many years, James Michener felt a desire to write novels, but when a plane in which he was riding crashed on the South Pacific island of New Caledonia he acted on his dream. The next day he began writing Tales of the South Pacific. Most of the biblical call stories are similarly dramatic. Moses heard the voice of God, from a bush that was burning without being consumed, urging him to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt. Saul of Tarsus had a revelation of light and the voice of Jesus that radically changed him to St Paul, and his mission from persecution to proclamation of Christianity.

Isaiah experienced an epiphany of forgiveness at the throne of God, and Jeremiah was empowered through a vision of God. The scriptures are full of such pivotal moments of faith and transformation. Jesus may have experienced a personal struggle with identity and calling. The Gospels tell us that that Jesus’ understanding of his call and purpose emerged through various pivotal moments in his life. Whether through a dramatic revelatory experience, or through an encounter with God over time, God’s call offers a pivotal moment of faith for many.
Such calls demand a response, and our response influences our faith. Our response to God’s call is seldom enthusiastic. When the Lord told Jonah to go to Nineveh, he fled in the opposite direction. When calamity fell upon his ship, Jonah urged the sailors to throw him overboard knowing that the hound of heaven was pursuing him. We are told that a large fish swallowed Jonah and deposited him on shore. That passage reminds us that while some run from God’s call, others offer excuses. “Ah, Lord GOD!” said Jeremiah. “Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (Jeremiah 1:6).
The Lord touched Jeremiah’s mouth and gave him words to say. Moses stuttered. “O my Lord,” said Moses, “I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). In response, God sent Moses’ brother Aaron to speak for him. Isaiah’s response is typically human. Prostrate before the Lord he claims to be unworthy. “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). A seraph touches Isaiah’s lips with a hot coal, and his response to the grace of God is to enthusiastically step forward as a prophet to Israel, “Here am I; send me!” (Isaiah 6:8).

Feeling the tug of God on our heart initiates a struggle with God. Some run away from God’s call. Others make excuses, and still others claim to be unworthy. The struggle with God initiates a pivotal moment of faith and an empowerment never before experienced. When we read the scriptures dealing with Jesus’ arrest, trial, death and resurrection we hear him struggling with a pivotal moment. As a forgiven and reconciled individual, Isaiah seemed renewed in faith and fearless in his task to confront Israel with their sin. In every biblical story involving a call from God, God empowers those who are called with the gifts necessary to accomplish the task before them.
The call of God offers mystery, risk, and lack of personal reward. God’s call is always to serve others. The focus of the call of Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah is to save Israel. For Jonah, it was to save Nineveh. The task for Jesus and for Paul was to share God’s love in an ever-widening circle. Each one felt the tug of God upon his heart and struggled with how he could best serve God. Each of us may discover how God wants us to spend our love. Our response to God’s call may be to run away, to make excuses, or to express our unworthiness. Discerning a call from God always initiates a pivotal moment of faith and a new relationship with God.

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 25 March 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 27, 2018 - 7:50am



Rev John began the service in a way that I’m sure all people reading this service would want to share and so I am including that part in full.
 
Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2018)
Exaltation and joy... Passover sacrifice and betrayal ... death and life: such is the terrain of Holy Week. Such are waters that sweep us through the holy mystery of our faith. Now is the time to count the cost of discipleship. Now is the time to follow Jesus.
When they came to Bethpage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village. As soon as you enter it you will find tied up a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it.’”







This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and Jesus sat on it. Many
people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields.
Bind the festival procession with palm branches. Open the gates of righteousness for us so we can come in and give thanks to the Lord.
This is the Lord’s gate; those who are righteous enter through it.
Enter the gates of righteousness with shouts of thanksgiving. Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!
The stone the builders rejected is now the foundation stone.
This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our sight!
The Lord is God, and God has given us light as a lamp to our feet.
The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
This is the day that the Lord has made.
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Hymn TIS 333: “All glory, praise and honour” With this hymn we joined with the people of that time, confessing our belief and honouring Jesus.

Opening Prayer
In this Prayer Rev. John led us, alerting to us to a crucial point about this event:
But never let us forget where this week ends. For the one who emptied himself for our sake,
took the form of a servant and was betrayed and denied by his disciples and closest friends. 

Prayer of Confession
“…Forgive our wayward feet and our fickle hearts: when we are consumed with doubt,
when we succumb to our weakness, when we give in to the impulse of betrayal, when we
turn away in denial, when we confuse expedience with virtue…”
In your holy name, we pray. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness
God has opened the gates of righteousness and Christ has beckoned us to walk through.
Sing with the children; throw your clothes upon the road, for the one who comes in the
name of the Lord offers us salvation in his name. Thanks, be to God!
I found these first parts of the service especially moving and so wanted to share them but I have been left with less space to conclude. I will do my best.  
We shared the peace and for me it seemed perhaps even more significant
than at other times. Even the offering which is a more practical expression of our faith seemed to hold extra meaning:
Like broken vessels, we need God’s healing. Like those who are dead, we need the stirring of God’s Spirit within us. As we extend our hearts to those in need, we find God’s healing and experience God’s Spirit making us whole. In our giving this day, may we bear witness to the one who delivers us from evil, strengthens us to stand, and makes us whole again.
Many parts of the service had significance such as the hymns, the men’s singing and the children’s talk but I want to include Rev. John’s message as he took us on a journey of memory,  recalling for us the many times we entered the life of Jesus as part of the crowd.
 During Holy Week; in Bethlehem; during Passover when Jesus was just a boy teaching in the Temple, we were there. We were there in the crowd, there at his baptism and witnessing the miracles and we were there lauding Jesus as the Messiah. Some of us stayed during that terrible time. But if we were transported back to that time when Jesus rode into Jerusalem we couldn't be celebrating with the rest of the crowd:
“We couldn't. We know the rest of the story. Why would anyone want him to die? Why don't his twelve good friends find a hidden way out of the city and take him back to Bethany? He could go back to Bethany and be safe in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus! He could live to a ripe old age and stay here to love us! We cannot live without that love!…
Yet, Jesus is He Who is Always There. The forever of the resurrection is the hope on which our faith is based. But, we’re not there yet... The cross and then the crown. We must find it within ourselves to remain beside the donkey and the man and be with him in the temple and the garden and on Golgotha.



 This is the Jesus whom we must face. The bleeding and bruised Good Shepherd who has carried all of his sheep on his shoulders since time began. We must not let him go on alone. Amen”

This evocative message underpinned the celebratory singing of the next hymn, so well known to us all.











Hymn TIS 348: “Ride on, ride on in majesty”
Laurel led us in the Prayers of the People, extending the message Rev. John had preached into the world about us. When we look at the world’s problems it must be through the perspective of the sacrifice Jesus made to show us the way.

 
Hymn TIS 357: “When his time was over the palms lay where they fell”
 
Benediction
On the back of a donkey, Jesus came to bless us.
With a love that did not count the cost, Jesus came to heal us.
From hopelessness and despair, Jesus came to free us.
With the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus came to save us
May your life declare the lordship of Jesus Christ, to
the glory of God! Amen!
 
Hymn 776: Aaronic Blessing, 
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Courage to Act In Love.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 23, 2018 - 12:53pm

Each year those leading worship and preaching are asked to choose between emphasising either Palm Sunday or Passion Sunday. They have distinct emphases, it is argued, and doing both is too much, too confusing. Perhaps. But I think a few notes of frenzy and confusion are in order to capture the mood and events of the week we call “holy.” It is a week of great swings in emotions, fortunes, and more. 
The key to navigating it all is locating a particular element that ties the various passages and emphases together. The element that I will choose to reflect on this year is courage. Notice, for instance, that in the accounts of both the Triumphal Entry and the Last Supper, Jesus makes preparations. He identifies ahead of time someone with a colt and makes arrangements to use it on that day. Similarly, he contracts with someone earlier for a room in which to share the Passover meal with his disciples.

When we reflect on this we can see that Jesus chooses his actions. His fate is not some tragic accident or unexpected twist of fate. Rather, he looks his destiny in the eye and chooses to embrace it, even when it includes, as St Paul notes often in the epistles he wrote, death on the cross. This is the very definition of courage, as courage is not having no fear, but rather acting faithfully in spite of fear.
For this reason, Paul sings, Jesus is praised— not because of his divine nature or status of equality with God, but rather because out of great love he gave all those things up, taking on our lot and our life in order to be joined to us in every possible way. The result is that wherever we may go and whatever we may experience, we know that Jesus has already been there. And where Jesus now is, we are promised we shall someday be. In other words, given the choice Jesus didn’t choose the easy way but out of love chose a way that would lead to a very gruesome death.
Jesus is revealing, perhaps too subtly, that what he brings is very different from what previous rulers and most of the rulers of today offer. Yet the crowds missed that then and many of us still miss that today. Most of the disciples don’t understand it. They’re too busy calling for salvation, and they know exactly what they want that to look like. This is one of the challenges of Holy Week— letting go of what we want salvation to be and allowing ourselves to be open to what it is.
Easter helps us not to fear death; however, most of us are still afraid of dying. This coming week, Holy Week we remember a lot of dying. The recollections of betrayal and false accusation and crucifixion cause us to tremble, but the dying begins here, with branches in our hands. Dying well takes honesty and courage no matter what the circumstances. How honest are we ready to be? Are we honest about our discomfort at being touched?

Are we honest about our uncertainty at the story of the crucifixion? Our sense of being overwhelmed or underwhelmed by a story that’s been told many times? Are we willing to be honest that Jesus isn’t the king we are expecting? Are we prepared to die to the notion that goodness, our right behaviour, can make us right with God? Are we prepared to be honest that we don’t always look for Jesus in others, and we do not always let people see Jesus in us?
In this Holy Week, are we prepared to die, within ourselves and in our actions, to our prejudices, fears, and insecurities? Are we prepared to crucify injustice, anger, judgment, and mistrust? Will we cry, “Hosanna to the King of Kings,” and mean, “Save us, Jesus, save us”? Are we prepared to seek goodness in our world, speak out about injustice and act in a way that is loving to all creation both human and otherwise? 

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 18 March 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 23, 2018 - 8:21am



This week I have been reading a number of texts about three topics:
One is about the history of “Theological Hermeneutics”, big words which simply mean that I have been reading about the systems or frameworks people have used to underpin their study of scripture.
The second readings were about spiritualityand the different interpretations people have had of that and have today.
The third was bible study about the Easter Story. One of the concepts addressed there was atonement and the many references made to that in the Bible.
 
 

Returning to the first topic of hermeneutics: over time people have used different approaches to studying scripture depending on when and where they were living and what events were taking place around them. Scripture has to be relevant to the lives of people and if it ceases to be for any reason, people of goodwill who know scripture encapsulates truth, need to find a way of hearing that truth.

At one time people thought that could be achieved by seeing scripture in an allegorical way but then others saw weaknesses in that method and moved on. Others took the view that a literal reading was the best whereas today most people use more analytical approaches, the choice depends on which is most appropriate. The studies we are doing using those readings reveal a history of complex thinking which I won't go into now except to say that all of those people were seeking to hear God’s word but were doing it in different ways.
 




The second set of readings showed a similar trend. Not everyone has seen spirituality in the same light historically, and nor do they today. In the past spirituality was a very Christian and pious way of living and associated with those who lived apart from the world.


 


Not so today. To start with, spirituality isn't confined to Christians and many people who profess other beliefs or profess to be atheists say they seek to live spiritual lives. Again, the several texts I have read have quite different views on living a spiritual life and they are all right because each way works for the people who promote them.
And then the Bible Studies about Easter: some of us have grown up in churches and have been taught in Sunday School in a way that only offers one view of the atonement. For many it was that Jesus stood as a substitute for us and our sins.



It was only as an adult that I even heard that not all theologians see the atonement in that way. In looking further afield I found that not only do the majority of Christians believe in the Substitution or Satisfaction theory but there are many other theories such as the Penal theory, the Moral Influence theory and the Non-Violent Theory and others still which are believed by fewer people.
All have aspects which are helpful and even those which are widely accepted have aspects which are unhelpful.
For any of the above topics I have been reading about I do not offer any resolution to conflicting ideas. My point is that our Christian beliefs have developed over time and in different places under different circumstances. Committed Christians have come to different conclusions as to how to interpret the Bible and the events in the Bible and so have developed different perspectives, even in core issues. As adult Christians it is our responsibility to explore, through wide reading, the extent of our own beliefs and look at what other Christians believe in an effort to grow.

 


We can only do this successfully if we keep our hearts and minds open to the guidance of God’s Spirit.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Like a Kernel of Wheat.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 16, 2018 - 12:19pm

This excerpt of scripture is from what is commonly interpreted and called Jeremiah’s “Little Book of Consolation” (Jeremiah 31:31-34). It points to the classic tension between head religion and heart religion, the tension between what we know about our faith and how we live faith from the heart. Jeremiah wrote to people who knew God’s word but were on the verge of being consumed by their sins and their enemies for failing to live what they knew. The revival of religion they had experienced years before, under King Josiah, had waned and there they were, in the sin-rut again, with the prophet’s feet nailed to his soapbox while he screamed judgment and warning against the people and their leaders because of their sin (their turning away from God and the life he called them to lead).
After such railing, the consolation offered is almost too good to be true. The tension between head knowledge and righteous living is resolved by changing where the Law is written— from stone tablets to the human heart. Our culture often envisions covenant relationships in terms of loyalty or commitment. This may have been true in part for adherents to the old covenant, but God has given us a new covenant. So, for Christians this new covenant brings God into such intimacy with humankind that it minimises or even eliminates our human propensity for breaking God’s heart.
But how? We find clues in the remaining readings from the Lectionary for this week (Hebrews 5:5-10 and John 12:20-33). We are encouraged to find reconciliation with God through Christ and a diligent aspiration to become the people of God through Christian practices such as study and prayer. The passages from Hebrews and John remind us that the mission of God in Christ was to reconcile the world to God reminding us to become familiar with God’s nature, with God’s ways, and with God’s will; thus, writing the word (Word) on our hearts.
In John 12 the appearance of the Greeks who sought after Jesus has always been something of a reminder to me that we never know who is going to be intrigued with the message about the Christ about the resurrected Jesus. These people seem to come from left field, and Philip seems a little puzzled as to what to do with them. Ever have someone like that come to your church or your home and ask challenging, awkward and important questions? We all say we want to reach or get to know new people— but then when we  get somebody who is really from beyond the edge of our normal constituency, we struggle.
At such time we find ourselves asking the internal question, “How did they get here?” To Jesus, it seemed to represent an important development; it is almost as if he says, “Okay, you guys; if the Greeks are showing up, then it’s just about time to kick this thing into high gear.” Does Jesus know then that this means the proverbial stuff is about to hit the fan? He seems to intimate such knowledge with his prayer about being troubled and asking God to save him from the hour.
Certainly, the humanity of Jesus is a significant aspect of our shared faith. We can’t always make Jesus into Superman when he must surmount a difficult obstacle, calling on some sort of magical power not available to the rest of us. What God had him do was hard and he must have found himself somewhat reluctant, at times, to carry it forward. To journey in life knowing that his lot was to go through an horrible death through crucifixion must have been really something for Jesus. And, yet, the Saviour is willing to play the part of the kernel of wheat falling to the ground— there is new life yet to come even in the midst of an impending burial.


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