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Life, Liberty and…..?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 16, 2018 - 9:27pm

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness— words deeply embedded into our Australian ethos which is also embedded into the North American ethos. Maybe we Australians are emulating the North Americans when we follow this ethos. Yet, like them we hold doggedly to the notion that we have certain inalienable rights endowed by God (although we don’t want any mention of God, a higher power or being), including freedom and the opportunity to pursue prosperity.
Some believe these ideals have been adopted as Christian values. If so, then today’s passages may threaten our culture-laden view of Christianity. In Mark 1, Jesus submits to baptism by John the Baptiser. This was a baptism of repentance. Jesus, being sinless by followers of Christ, had no need to repent, but he submitted as an act of obedience that demonstrated the path humanity needed to take. After Jesus came up from the water, the same Spirit that descended upon him drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tested.

What? That’s not what we would expect to happen. God’s Spirit sent Jesus to be tested by Evil? And to many that seems so unfair. Does the fact that God set up this severe time of testing stand at odds with our pursuit of happiness? If, in the quest for success, God’s Spirit sent you into a difficult place that prevented you from obtaining “achievable prosperity,” would you resist the Spirit’s leading?
Ancient Jewish belief held that a righteous person prospered, and a sinful person suffered— it was simple cause-and-effect thinking. Do we presume the same? In 1 Peter, Christ volunteers to suffer unjustly for sinful humanity. Again, this seems contrary to the agenda of Western ideals. Which of us, in pursuing happiness, would voluntarily abandon that quest to endure suffering to benefit others, who may despise us? How many would question God for expecting selflessness?
The message of the two passages from this week’s readings disturbs the peace: God’s Spirit may drive us into difficult situations to test our character, and imitating Jesus may require voluntary suffering. What holds more sway over your life, the quest for personal achievement or imitation of Christ? So, what did Jesus find out on his walkabout in the desert?
I know how my mind works when I am away from home and disconnected: • I wonder what they’re doing right now. • I wonder what the weather is like. • I wonder what they’re having for dinner. (Maybe this one especially.)

The questions get more serious when we use the time away to contemplate the future, as Jesus must have done on his rather extreme retreat. Driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, Jesus stayed until the time was right to come out and begin declaring the kingdom of God to be at hand. To get from baptism to revolution— what desert path did he walk? Hungry, thirsty, thrown back on whatever he could remember.
Perhaps he whispered this week’s psalm 25: Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.
Well for me after Jesus’ walkabout ended; he emerged, declaring God’s kingdom at hand. The big question is, are we ready for that? Or do you still crave what our society sees as life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 28 January 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - February 12, 2018 - 9:14am

I was drawn in immediately the service began by the Call to Worship and the parts of the service which followed:
Call to Worship
(Abingdon Worship Annual 2009)
By this I have known the presence of the Lord:
in the rising of the sun, in the smile of another’s face,
in the touch of a hand or the sound of a laugh,
in the scent of a flower holding the promise of spring.
By this I have known the power of the Lord:
in the healing of hurts, in the forgiveness of sin,
in the giving of gifts beyond all expectation,
in the shower of love that comes from God’s Son.
Let us give thanks to the Lord with all of our heart!
Let us worship our God, whose presence and power
endures forever!
We see God around us in many ways but fail to see that one way others see God is through ourselves. Are we failing to show God to others?
Hymn TIS 52: “Let us sing to the God of salvation” I wonder if we are living out the theme of this hymn? Are we living lives of praise? If we are, we couldn't fail to show God to those around us.
Opening prayer
Almighty and most merciful God, we give thanks that you know us and love us. Help us, through the power of your Holy Spirit, grow deeper, wider, and fuller in our knowledge and understanding of your ways. Help us, through the bestowal of your divine Wisdom, bring others closer to you and to your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
And there it is! If we make this our minute by minute attitude to walking with God, I think our church would be a better witness to our God.
Rev. John then gave the children’s address (to the adults). He told about the pecking order in a chook yard and made a comparison between that and the functioning of society.
He spoke of the violence and aggression. Sometimes that is not so easy to identify and sometimes we don't believe that we are behaving in such a way because the aggression is quiet, the violence is emotional or intellectual.
When Rev. John began his sermon he spoke of experiences anyone of us may have had, where a charismatic leader caught our attention. In my experience that can happen simply because of the personal appeal of the leader. Or it may be that the leader makes their message so relevant to our way of thinking that we think we have found the good oil.
But when Jesus spoke to the people of his time or to people of today through hymns, scripture, preachers, creation or the lives of others, what drew and draws people is a recognition of truth.
Rev. John went on to speak of the ramifications of committing ourselves to that truth. We have to surrender our own personal desires and commit ourselves to the person of the one who is the foundation of all that is. The One who is love and light: the One who gave all that we could live a new life.
This commitment to truth is a very personal thing between each of us and our Lord who is truth.
And we need to commit anew each day. That is because we human beings are just so good at forgetting whose we are and who we need to connect with daily to continue living that truth.
This theme was continued in:
Hymn TIS 560: “All my hope on God is founded”  If only we could keep that before us each day!

Then the BenedictionWe have to act to share our treasure:
Go on; get out of here! God’s prophet, God’s Son, calls
us to teach others of God’s power and might.
From this worshipping fellowship, we go into the
community, seeking to tell others our stories.
Go on; get out of here! Share how God has transformed
you. Invite others to become disciples of this new
We will invite others to share our journey, even if it
scares us to death.
Go on, I mean it; get out of here! Share how God has
brought you to knowledge and wisdom of new ways, new
opportunities, new ways of being.
We go with joy. We leave in peace. Amen.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 11 February 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - February 12, 2018 - 9:04am

Today I would like to pay particular attention to the prayers and hymns because I am usually not able to say much in the space available.
Both prayers and hymns give us the words to express what we are unable to do on our own.
Rev. John introduced the Call to Worship with these words:
Chariots and horses of fire . . . a prophet taken up into heaven . . . a gospel unveiled . . . Moses, Elijah, and Jesus shining brighter than the sun . . . the time approaches and now is. Watch . . . listen . . . perceive . . . God is with us. Nothing is as it seems.

signalling that something beyond our
understanding is involved when God becomes known to humankind.
Depending on our particular bent, God will
come to us in a way we can understand.
For some of us that is through words, for others through music, for others through
creation itself or through the myriad of ways
 God is with us. However, because of God’s greatness we only glimpse a little at a
Call to Worship
 The glory of God is too great for you to bear.
We are not afraid. We will not turn back.
The mystery of God runs too deep for you to fathom.
We are not deterred. We will not turn back.
The fiery chariot of Elijah is not for mortal sight to see. We are blessed with the eyes of faith. We will not turn back.
Come then, and worship our God, who took Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind.
We will worship the Lord, who transfigured Moses, Elijah, and Jesus to shine like the sun
Even though God is great beyond anything we can imagine, as expressed in the first hymn: “Jesus shall reign where’re the sun”, we are invited to approach and fellowship with that Divine presence. How good is that!
 Opening Prayer
 God of mighty tempest and devouring fire, you come to us shrouded in mystery. Just as Elisha followed Elijah until he was taken up into heaven, we will follow Christ up the mountain to behold his glory. Who are Moses and Elijah that we should not join their ranks among the faithful? What is to prevent us from shining with Christ this very day? Give us eyes and ears of faith, Holy One, that we may see the heavens open and hear your voice, calling us to follow your Son. Amen.
Whenever we are touched by God, we know there is so much more to life over and above the daily trivia and dross, which is expressed in the
Declaration of Forgiveness
Through the light of the one who was transfigured to show us the power and glory of God, we find a way through the wilderness of our doubt and confusion; we find strength for the journey and courage for the road ahead. Thanks, be to God!
This Light is the subject of the next hymn: “Jesus the light of your love is shining.” Having the effect expressed in the line: “Set us free by the truth You now bring us”
It is that freedom from all that weighs us down that we all long for.
This theme was continued in the
Offering Prayer:
Light of Light, when we grow accustomed to dwelling in the shadows and painting with drab colours, you bless us with your radiance and the vitality of your love. Illumine these gifts, Holy One, that the world may see your light shining through our offering. Illumine our very lives, O God, that we may remain restless until we shine like Christ upon the mountain, until we follow Elisha’s footsteps and behold your glory. Amen.
In my experience, we are made restless until we reach out to the only source of Light and Love. And if we stray, that restlessness will return until we find the only cure.
And that comes in our own mountain top experiences. As Rev. John said:
 “We too have our "mountain tops." Each of us needs places and times set apart for us to take a good spiritual breath.”
But even when we are aware of God’s presence the mystery remains, inspiring the words of hymns like:
“Immortal invisible, God Only wise.”
The words of the next hymn: “Lord your almighty word” are a guide to finding God and God’s Light and Love to show to the world and thereby commune with God and build God’s Kingdom…now….here.
The words of the Benediction drew the service together and sent us on our way:
 Go forth with the courage to climb the mountain of God.
We will walk in the light and truth of Christ.
Go forth with ears to hear the voice of God.
We will hear the call to follow Jesus.
Go forth to live as people who shine with Christ’s glory. We will leave footprints of light as we walk.
Go forth in expectation and hope, for God goes with you, and may the blessings of that God go with you, Amen.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Faith Story Mantle.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 9, 2018 - 8:35pm

We’ve all been there ... the mountaintop where, for the briefest of moments, all seems right with the world. We have “arrived,” and we want to rest. We want to set up camp and stay there forever. So, we can certainly sympathise with Peter when, having arrived at this critical moment with Jesus (found in Mark 9:2-9), he wants to put some stakes in the ground. He asks to build three dwellings—one for Jesus, one for Moses, one for Elijah—so that they can all stay there, happily ensconced on that mountain, forever. “Nope,” says Jesus. “We still go on.”
As is typical in Mark’s Gospel, there is always some next thing to be getting on with. What Peter has been able to glimpse here is some fullness of time; some thin and holy scenario where these three critical moments in the Hebraic narrative are drawn into a single place in time. Perhaps he also glimpsed there the way that Jesus would soon join the company of these other two prophets, gone on to God and present only in memory. The power of that must have been as heartbreaking as it was dazzling.

Of course, he wanted to stay there forever and keep Jesus in the safety of some mountaintop haven. But, of course, they couldn’t stay. No perfect moment can stay. Maybe to help us get to grips with this reading we can all explore a few of our own mountaintop moments. Maybe, the last night of a church camp, the answered prayer, the return from some long wilderness, the healing of some broken connection ... In those places we are able to glimpse some holy fulfillment of all God’s promises, all of our hopes, and all the mystery of creation. It is natural to want to put up a flag and stay there forever.
But since we can’t—what truth can we take from the mountaintop that will sustain us for the journey ahead? From our Hebrew Scriptures Text this week, 2 Kings 2:1-12, “Elisha went over.” So much narrative potential in those three little words. In addition to setting the stage as a prequel to the transfiguration story, this episode could stand all on its own. The mountain top talks to us about transitions, or maybe it could be about leadership and legacy.
If the transfiguration leads us to examine what we take with us from the mountaintop, then perhaps this reading about Elisha from 2 Kings might engage us in questions about what we leave for those who come after? In what ways do we equip the next generation of leaders to “carry the mantle” of our faith story? How do we help people in their ever day life to understand the good news of Jesus? I would like to turn to things Harry Potter even though I have only watched parts of the movies and not read the books. The readings for this Sunday make it a great time to talk about Dumbledore.
All those times when he gave Harry some small glimpse of truth—without giving away the punchline—that would sustain him for the journey ahead. In other words, Dumbledore did not get to destroy all the Horcruxes in his lifetime; but he made sure Harry had the tools, and all the pieces of the story, to accomplish the thing on his own. Are we giving our children the right tools? And the right pieces of the story? It challenges me not only as a Christian but as a person as to what I am doing about passing on the right tools and the pieces of the story of my life that may support others on their life’s journey.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

In the Stillness

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 2, 2018 - 8:46pm

If this week’s passage from Mark 1:29-39 was played out on the big screen, it would be a montage: a series of brief images, in rapid succession, that imply the passage of time and the progress of the narrative. After healing Simon’s mother-in-law, Jesus heals people in a large gathering from a wide range of maladies. Although these other people may not have names and faces, it would seem that the sheer volume of those healed in quick succession bears the far-reaching implications of Jesus’s ministry.
In the fast-paced rhythm of Mark’s Gospel, we are led to assume that what happened here, happened in many places. Thus, the montage effect. In the span of thirty seconds, we glimpse the bigger picture of what life was about in those days. Notice, then, the importance of the “quiet place,” where Jesus takes himself to pray. That Sabbath moment appears as a stark contrast in what is otherwise a flurry of activity. The eye at the heart of a frenzied storm. And, of course, they come looking for him. “Everyone is searching for you.” Well, wouldn’t they be?
After they’ve seen what can be done in his presence? Renewed in prayer, Jesus gets up and goes to the next place. There will be more teaching, more preaching, more healing of the masses. Perhaps he is ready—renewed in the spirit by his brief time of silence. While here we are certainly focusing on the healing of Simon’s mother-in-law—and the way in which she went about her work after being made well—this could also be a valuable opportunity for us especially in the church to examine our focus and practices – our mission if you like.

It’s something to reflect on for all people in their daily lives. Are we rushing through a packed program year, trying to be all things to all people, engaging in a flurry of high-energy activity, without pausing to fully renew ourselves – and as Christians this would be in worship, prayer, meditation, contemplation or at a retreat.  If we are rushing then, how can we realign and re-imagine our shared lives – to focus on the meaning of life – as Christians to look at ministry in ways that more faithfully mirror the Jesus kind of rhythm—seeking a stillness in the heart of all the movement, where we can be made new for the journey ahead.
Turn on the news and see if you can find an up-to-the minute story of peaceful protest: people showing up for racial justice, an end to hunger, or a ceasefire. Any place where people are standing still and silent in the midst of chaos. What can we learn from those modern-day images, and similar figures throughout history, about how to be a prayerful presence in the midst of great movement and change?
And, we don’t need one of the writers of Isaiah (also part of this week’s readings), acting like a prophet-in-residence, to remind us that “the grass withers, and the flower fades ...” The Israelites and us have lived with withering and fading for years! Climate Change is certainly making that real for us. We know, in our weary bones, that even a return from wilderness does not mean immortality. But that communal awareness of finitude renders the poetry of this writer in Isaiah all the more powerful: all is not lost. God still holds power over all the oppressive powers of earth, and even transcends the body’s weakness in age.

Even the oldest and most frail among them will be given flight. This passage from Isaiah, has the potential for us to be reminded that in our human smallness, the grandeur of God is made known. If we need to see how this works in real time, maybe a field trip to a national park is in order. Or at the very least a guided meditation. Again, that thought of having time for prayerful presence, a time for mindfulness.
For me the I see in my mind the refreshing waters cascading down mountains into green bush areas in the Southern Alps of NZ or in the Deserts of Australia or even in some small chasm of Zion, as places where we glimpse that thin place where we end, and the next holy thing begins. So, as you read this I hope that God may come to you and be known to you in the stillness and that we all may find the holy in our smallness and be made known to us in our ordinary rhythms of life through love and grace.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

“Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 26, 2018 - 9:58pm

We are in the year of Mark’s Gospel in the three-year lectionary and Mark is not known for wordiness or narrative excess. Mark’s is the Twitter Gospel of his day and no I am not likening the writer of Mark to a certain President. The story told by Mark is done so in as few characters as possible, with little embellishment. The result is an abiding sense of urgency: Let’s go. We’ve got work to do. I’ll explain later. Which is how Jesus, seeks to engage with the unclean spirit in this week episode of Sundays readings. Succinctly, authoritatively, and with zero drama. “Be gone with you,” he says, as one who has the authority to command such things.
Which, of course, he does. He does not have time to mess around, over-explaining his every move. Follow him now and figure out the details later. Even the spirits obey him ... This notion of “possession” is so foreign to our contemporary context that many preachers are tempted to substitute the unclean spirit with a modern-day mental illness. A cautionary word in that regard: exploring mental illness as a sort of otherworldly influence can be dangerous territory. Even with the best of intentions, such interpretation can be fraught with all sorts of unintended implications for the hearer. And this I warn from observing an experience while an Ordinand.
A better approach—and a more textually accurate one—would be to explore modern-day understandings of authority. What people or institutions influence our daily decisions, for better or worse? Where do we get our news? What sources do we trust, and why? Whose opinions matter to us? And what impact do all of these voices have on our faith life?
Let’s look at Mark as Jesus enters into that crowded circle of influence. What does he have to say in the daily barrage of messages that we and the people of Israel back then encounter? How might Jesus’ words transform the other voices we have to process, and what “unclean spirits” might we need to exorcise in order to fully embody his spirit of love and mercy?
Take for example a text about food law that is not really about food law. Or rather, does not have to be about food law, for the contemporary audience. The gist is that the community of faith is no longer bound by some of the ancient code that distinguished them as God’s people. God has deemed “clean” for them much of what was forbidden. 
However, it does raise the question of what do we follow and why? The question provides an opportunity for the modern-day faith community to explore its own messaging: What signs, symbols, or verbal cues do we employ, and what message do they convey to the community around us? In what ways do we hold on to ancient laws that no longer serve us? What do we follow and why?
The challenge is to explore deeply what we value and why. This challenge is something many Christians seem to struggle with. Many want to believe what they are told and stubbornly adhere to that although it may be of the mark. Whereas we are called and challenged to explore deeply the values Jesus taught and the context in which he applied them. Today a picture in a magazine will tell you that your look is not right—try this new wardrobe, or this new hair product. A radio ad will tell you that you need a new car. A TV commercial will insist that you must have a new cell phone.
The Open House sign on your corner might beckon, “This way to your dream home.” Reminiscent of the Rolling Stones song, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” You will hear hundreds of these messages today. And every day. They are all invitations to spend yourself. Not just your money, but your very self, in the pursuit of things that will not give you the life you seek. The invitation to constant, unfettered acquisition is an “unclean spirit” in the life of our faith and culture. Those messages keep us isolated and anxious and fill us with a constant sense of inadequacy.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 21 January 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 23, 2018 - 10:16am

The Rev. John always draws us into our services with such evocative prayers that not only seek out our deepest yearnings, but give us the words to speak which we cannot say ourselves. Because of this I am tempted to reproduce them as they were prayed in the service but space does not permit. So here is some of each:

Call to Worship
(Abingdon Worship Annual 2018)
The light God shines forth in Jesus Christ changes everything... This is good news indeed.
 Jesus says, “Now is the time!”
Startle us, God, from our busyness and routines. Show us how very close your Kingdom is.
Jesus says, “God’s kingdom is at hand!”
Deliver us, God, from faith in our own strength. Free us from the traps of violence, dishonesty, and greed.
Jesus says, “Receive the good news from God!” Embolden us, God, to trust you anew. For we are as fragile as breath, and draw our strength from your mercy and compassion.

Opening prayer
 Loving God, in this season of Epiphany, your kingdom has drawn close— so close we can almost touch it. Help us see that we already live under your rule of peace. May our worship today draw us closer to you and to one another.

God, we know that you alone are unshakable. You alone are our stronghold and our refuge. You deliver and glorify us, yet we fail to love and glorify you in return. We live as if we can save ourselves, as if we can be our own stronghold and fortress against the storm. Yet we are fragile as breath. We are consumed by our desires to succeed and dominate. We blindly strive to get our way, and are greedy for all sorts of wealth.
And so, we confess our failings to you and to one another, trusting in your forgiveness and your grace. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness
Beloved, God repays us according to our deeds, and yet in Jesus Christ, we have nothing to fear. Trusting God with everything, we rest in God’s faithful love. Allowing Christ to change our hearts and our lives, we find God’s strength and hope.
Thanks, be to God!

The Peace
God alone gives us peace, a peace that is trustworthy and sure. Greet one another with the good news of peace in Jesus Christ.
Peace be with you!
In the service that followed we worshipped in practical ways, the announcements giving evidence of our Christianity lived out in our church and out in the world and the offering our worship with our gifts for God’s work around us.

The Readings looked at God's warning to Nineveh in Jonah and Jesus calling of the disciples in Mark:
In both readings the people spoken to responded immediately and wholeheartedly. Of
course in the case of the people of Nineveh the threat of dire consequences motivated their jump to action but even though there was no threat to the fishermen to whom Jesus spoke, in each case the people involved knew they had heard the voice of truth. 
I have always wondered about the response of those fishermen. They were poor enough, making a regular income, so why were they so ready to give that up for no guarantee of income at all? And what about their families? My only conclusion has been that Jesus’ word carried with it such authority and truth that the men had no alternative other than to obey.
When Jesus spoke to those fishermen, he promised that they would fish for more followers. That is Jesus’ word of truth to us, but have we responded as quickly and as wholeheartedly as did the fishermen? Have we risked all for the only thing that matters?
In Rev. John’s talk to the children, he recalled the paperboys calling out from street corners, promising that if we bought their papers, we would be able to “Read all about it!”
When people see us, when people hear us, when people interact with us…are they able to “Read all about it?” Does anyone even know we are followers of Jesus of Nazareth?
And are we so convincing that anyone would ever act with such quickness as the people of Nineveh did?
Of course, God allows for our less than stellar performances. God can speak in other ways to anyone who is seeking the truth, but we do have our part to play. 
Rev. John used a DVD to play a prayer, part of which said:
You have come down to the lakeshore seeking neither the wise nor the wealthy,
But only asking for me to follow. You know full well my possessions.
Neither treasure nor weapons for conquest, just these my fish nets and will for working…
O Jesus, you have looked into my eyes; kindly smiling, you have called out my name. On the sand I have abandoned my small boat, now with you, I will seek other seas.

 Go forth and share the good news from God.
God rewards us and our deeds, not with doom, but with mercy. In circumstances both difficult and joyful, God remains our place of safety.
Go forth and proclaim God’s kingdom.
The world as we know it is passing away. We belong to God’s kingdom, which is coming and now is.
Now is the time to be the good news.
We go forth to tell the world the good news of the strength and mercy of our God.
Hymn 779: “May the feet of God walk with you
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Meeting People Where They Are.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 19, 2018 - 9:02pm
As many of you will know, I love to tell stories and the following story talks about our faith and the way we treat people by meeting them where they are.  It also reminds me of the way I have always wanted to practice ministry albeit I won’t be riding a Harley. There was a bloke called Tom who had been in ordained ministry for more than forty years and served as a small church Minister in a smallish town. Tom had heaps of experience in ministry, but he was not a traditional minister. Tom was a tall, lean man with a weathered face and hands that have known hard work.
Tom was more at home in a pair of blue jeans and a t-shirt than in a three-piece suit. He almost always wore a pair of scuffed cowboy boots, and in cold weather, wore a leather jacket. He drove a Harley-Davidson motorcycle and had an infectious laugh. Tom loved a good story or a joke better than just about anyone. He is not what most would think of when they think of a Protestant minister of his age and experience. The most wonderful thing about Tommy though, and what made him such a wonderful preacher, was his love of people.
Tom never met a stranger. Many wondered at Tom’s ability to get to know people he encountered. It doesn't matter where you went in town—a restaurant, the dry cleaners, or Coles or Woolworths—Tom could greet almost everyone by name. At some point in the past he had introduced himself, asked their names, and often learned a little bit of their stories. Tom recognised that all people’s stories were important and took the time to get to know each person he encountered.
He met people wherever he found them, and he offered them friendship. Tom was seen spending time with truckers, nurses, cashiers, and young mothers. He was heard laughing with them and was seen crying with them. He had prayed with them. These people hear about Jesus, and most important, they see Jesus, although many of them have never attended the church where Tom had been a minister. He meets all of them where they are in life. 
Tom's ministry reminds me of Jesus' ministry. This week’s Gospel account from Mark 1 about Jesus’ calling of his first disciples is striking in its simplicity. Mark tells the story very briefly. There aren't many details about the conversation between Jesus and these potential disciples. Jesus simply gives an invitation to follow and they respond. We don't learn much information about their backgrounds, their motivations, or any questions they might have had for this itinerant preacher. Jesus speaks, and they follow. We can speculate all we want to about how Simon, Andrew, James, and John came to be disciples, but the one thing we know for certain is that Jesus met them where they were that first day.
Jesus met the people he called where they were in life, and he made them an offer. "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." What a wonderful connection Jesus made. He didn't ask or expect them to be anything other than they were when he met them. They were simple fishermen, but Jesus invited them to join him in work that would change their lives forever. Jesus' ministry is filled with stories of people he encountered along the way.
Jesus didn't seek out important people who held positions of power but spent most of his time with ordinary people. He didn't wait in the temple or synagogue for the people to come and hear him speak of God's kingdom. He walked among them, and told stories about sowers and seeds, things lost, and things found. He ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the lame, and the blind. Jesus' entire ministry was centred on meeting people where they were in life. He went to find them, not the other way around.
Jesus shared God's love with all those he encountered. When I think about my hope for the church, I think about how wonderful it would be if we embraced Jesus' model of ministry. All of us encounter people in the course of a day who are hurting, alone, lost, and discouraged. They need someone to be the presence of Christ in their midst. People need someone to share the gospel of hope with them.

People need someone to talk to them using their own language. They need someone to engage them in conversation about ultimate things. Many of these people may never darken the doors of a church or a house of worship. I confess that as a Minister, far too often, the temptation is to stay within the walls of the church, waiting for people to come and see me. All Christians not just myself need to be more like Tom, taking the church into my community. I hope we all seek not to miss the opportunity to be like Jesus, to meet people where they are in life.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday service Marsden Road Uniting Church 14 January 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 17, 2018 - 9:46am

Today I led the service myself, with other people contributing at various places in the service. I chose the hymns to complement the read and spoken word, so more space will be given to them than is usually so.
There are many facets of hymns that influence us.  Of course, good Hymns are written to convey a message of significance to people of faith but the music to which they are sung does more than enhance the message and underpin the emotional impact.
The tune cements the hymn in our memory, for retrieval in times of need. And so when the hymn with its message is called upon it returns, with the tune, contributing to the impact it has upon the heart and mind of the one who knows it.
After acknowledging the original carers of the land and giving thanks for the care they showed for the land, we called on God to open our ears and minds to the presence of the Divine so that we would be sure that what we say, hear, think and do is of God.

Invocation -
O God who is wisdom, light and love.
God who creates and enlivens all that is, or could be.
Our need is great but your gifts are without end.
As we listen for your call, may we be attuned to your voice.

The Call To Worship was based on 1 Samuel 3:1-10. In short this said:
What do we do, when God calls?
What do we do? Wake up. Listen. Act.

Hymn TIS 161 “Tell out my soul, the greatness of my Lord.”  Lyn led us as our hearts swelled and we lifted our voices in this great hymn. I remember reading an article by someone who was reminding us to look and act as though our lives were secure in God’s hand. Let others know.

The Prayer of Adoration and Thanksgiving was based on Psalm 139 (in part)
All: O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
A:   You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. Despite knowing this, we try to hide and pretend and so confession is needed to reconcile ourselves with the Lord:

Prayer of Confession:(in part)
All seeing God, how foolish we are to think we can hide our failings from you. We fail to see our bodies as sanctuaries for your Spirit. We get drunk on the seductions of our society, while daintily sipping at your living water. We doze under the tree of temptation, hoping you won't see us and expect us to get up and follow Jesus. Lord, you call, but we do not always recognize your voice.
As  frail and weak as we are we know forgiveness is assured:

Words of Assurance.
For nothing is impossible with God. There is no place you can go, no end of the earth you can run, where God cannot find you. There is nothing on earth or beyond death that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You are forgiven. You are loved. You are reconciled to God. Go and live with the love of God. Amen
The practice of our Faith was the focus of the announcements and the offering where we rededicated ourselves to God’s service:
O God, open our ears and hearts to hear your call to follow Jesus.  Receive and bless our lives and these gifts - may they be devoted to sharing the love of Christ with all those whom we meet.   Amen

Hymn MHB 848 “Hushed was the evening hymn” This hymn introduced the story of God’s call to Samuel and the accompanying message to Eli that his time of leadership had come to an end…from which the theme of today’s service is drawn,

1 Samuel 3: 1 - 20.    John 1: 43 - 51.  These were about people being called by God. God called Samuel and at the same time delivered a message to Eli that his leadership was coming to a close. In John, Jesus called his disciples. In all of the above, all those involved simply accepted the message, and obeyed.

Reflection - In delivering the reflection the focus was kept on believing that God knows what is best.

Using examples from my own life and the lives of others, plus everyday situations, I reflected on times when our lives take a turn which doesn't seem to be to our advantage but in hindsight, led to greater things and unexpected joy, not just for ourselves but for others. I followed this with a prayer:
Holy and Loving God, when your light shines, nothing is hidden;
and when your light shines on us, there is joy in seeing and discomfort in being seen.
Help us by your love, to bear the light of your truth and your integrity, your
forgiveness and your faithfulness. Bring us out of hiding, that we may become children of light, through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen

Hymn TIS 658  “I the Lord of sea and sky” Our affirmation that we accepted the message of the story of Samuel and Eli and the calling of the disciples.

Brief musical interlude for congregation to simply be or privately pray, followed by the Prayers of the People and the Lord’s Prayer

The Sending Forth of the People of God. - we sang asking for God’s guidance:
Hymn TIS 547 “Be thou my vision” and then went out:
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

Turning Over a New Leaf: Beginning Anew

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 12, 2018 - 9:44pm
As we head into the New Year I am reminded of the following story. There was a little boy with an ice-cream cone gets on a lift with his older sister. The ice cream begins to melt faster than he can eat it, and it's making a sticky mess down the side of the cone. The Lift stops, and an elegantly dressed lady in a full-length fur coat gets on. She turns and faces the door with the children standing behind her. The little bloke is now struggling to keep up with the melting ice cream. He looks at the back of the woman's beautiful coat and gently begins to wipe the ice cream off his hands and onto her coat. "Be careful, Billy," says his sister. "You will get fur in your ice cream."
This story illustrates for me the power of perspective and context. Sometimes how we see something depends upon where we stand. As we begin this New Year I’d like us to seek to live from the perspective of God's rich grace shown us in Jesus Christ.  Although we are at the second Sunday of the season of Epiphany and even though the set reading is telling us of Jesus call to Philip and Nathanael I would like to look at the exchange between a man named Nicodemus and Jesus over religious matters.

In the conversation Jesus says something that has guided our faith ever since. "I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above," Jesus says (John 3:3). Nicodemus is confused and questions what Jesus means. It is a fair question. Just what does it mean to be "born from above," or to use the more familiar rendering, to be "born again"? In a word, it means to live with a new perspective.
Nicodemus had a problem, but it was not that he did not have religion. After all, he was a Pharisee, the most religious group in Jesus' world. The Pharisees knew all about religion and could recite the law. Their lives were dedicated to following the proscriptions of the Hebrew faith. Nicodemus' problem was not that he did not try to be good or religious or righteous. It was something else. To this religious man, Jesus says, "be born from above." Poor Nicodemus does not have a clue as to what Jesus means.
Sometimes we don't either. Jesus is inviting Nicodemus to live from the perspective of grace. Jesus' invitation is to discover a faith that carries you rather than a faith you have to carry. Jesus is talking about the amazing grace of God that, when we see it and experience it, makes all the difference in our lives. Do we see life as a prize that has to be won or as a gift to be received? Are our days spent trying to acquire more stuff or becoming aware that all we need has already been given to us by the gracious hand of a loving God? Into a world caught up in keeping the rules, Jesus invited people to embrace the lessons of grace.

When we become aware that life is a gift to be received rather than a prize to be won, we become freed to live by cooperation rather than competition. In this New Year this is the perspective I would like us all to embrace. What if we lived as though everything we need has already been provided for us? There is enough air, water, and food for all God's children. There is enough shelter, and Jesus tells us to not worry about your life.  
In other words, God loves you and is looking out for your well-being. What a difference it makes to live from this idea with clothing, and money for all to live in comfort on this earth. We are challenged to live as if we are rich beyond measure, because we are held every moment in the hands of a love that will never let us go. Has there ever been better news than that?

There is enough, and we don't need to hoard or be fearful. We can share; we can give. There is enough. That is the perspective of grace. There is enough. We are invited to let that perspective birth us into a new way of living in this New Year. Be born again, and again, and again until grace fills every moment, every breath of your life, so you might show the world a new way of living.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 7 December 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 9, 2018 - 10:22am

This Sunday is the first after the Epiphany. An epiphany is an experience of suddenly becoming aware of new knowledge or, as some would say it, a time of gaining new light.
This was the concept on which Rev. Bill based the following
Call to Worship
Arise, shine: for your light has come
And the glory of the Lord is risen upon us.
“From the rising of the sun till its going down, my name shall be great among the gentiles” says the Lord of hosts, “and in every place incense shall be offered to my name and a pure offering
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world: those who follow me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”
That is, Jesus is the source of all knowledge, all understanding. The response to that could be: “Knowledge and understanding of what?” The answer to that is not quite straight toward because while it could be said that it is knowledge and understanding of the important and fundamental issues, that would miss the mark. If we think about the “light” itself instead of any subject, we approach the meaning more closely. Jesus bestows upon us, a state of being in which we perceive ourselves and the way we operate in this world, in a totally new way. A way defying description. A way which only makes sense to those who have opened themselves to its experience.
This was reflected in the collect used:
Collect (Together)
Almighty God, your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world.  May your people, illumined by your word and sacraments, shine with the radiance of his glory, that he may be known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever.  AMEN
We can speak about the above in different ways. We may pray that we will act in a God-like way. We may be constrained to show friendship to the friendless and operate from a place of love but whatever we ask for, or pray to be it all comes down to God’s light acting through us.

Rev. Bill reminded us of a story that told of a time when three men experienced a new understanding of a natural event; an event that was to change their lives forever:
“These men from the East journeyed to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him”.  
You see, they saw an object in creation that revealed something of God, something that made them want to worship.  A created thing led them to worship Christ.”
Their experience brought them joy and when we experience something similar it is very difficult to tell someone else why it has been on a different level from other experiences.
As the Rev. Bill put it: “It is enough to say “Here’s a mystery, a wonder. It’s way beyond me; it’s about something so much bigger than I am.”
Rev. Bill continued to speak about the possibility of other epiphanies, when we know something more than the ordinary and then linked this to the Communion service which was to follow:
We approach the Table of the Lord.
We can remember what happened for the wise men – the light, the insight, the epiphany.  It happens, in what we do here at the Communion Table.
1. The Epiphany of the World. From out of the world, God’s created creatures - we take ordinary things – bread and wine but in this sacrament they take on a special meaning – they represent the body and blood of Jesus.
2. The Epiphany of the Word. We take the Word of God  as the authority for what we do.  The words of institution given by St Paul who quoted the very words of Jesus, his very instructions to obey -Take Bread, take wine – do this in remembrance of me.
3. The Wonder of the World, and the Word.  Here we meet with the very same Jesus of Bethlehem and like the Wise men we worship.  As Horatius Bonar, the Scottish minister wrote in his much-loved hymn:
Here O my Lord, I see Thee face to face.
Here would I touch and handle things unseen.
Here grasp with firmer hand the eternal grace
And all my weariness upon Thee lean.
Indeed by eating the bread and drinking the wine we get a firmer grip on Jesus. And thus are ready, after the wonder of Worldly creatures, Word and Worship, we are ready for
4. The Way ahead.  We  go from here a new way, because our direction is more clearly set for us, having been with Jesus, who now goes with us into the unknown way, the New Way.
Too soon we rise; the symbols disappear;
The feast, though not the love, is past and gone.
The bread and wine remove; but Thou art here,
Nearer than ever, still my Shield and Sun.
The commonplace, our everyday life, is shot through with the glory of God, And it is right here to bring us into fellowship with our Living Lord.
So how is it with us?. Is that our experience, or do we struggle each day to be better Christians?  Is the commonplace shot through with the glory of God? Are we in fellowship with the living God?
Think hard upon those questions.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Not Fake News.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 5, 2018 - 11:48pm
Fear . . . joy— two fairly strongly contrasting emotions that dwell together in the readings from scripture for the Feast of Epiphany. Herod is “frightened” by the news of the magi who come in search of a king. By all accounts, he was a nervous fellow when it came to threats to his sovereignty. He “axed” several of his own family members when he thought they might be after his seat of power. He later orders the “Slaughter of the Innocents” in order to root out what was, in his mind, a pretender to his throne.
Okay, so much for fear; now we know why not only Herod but also “everyone in Jerusalem” was frightened. The “wise men” from the East, despite Herod’s best efforts, do find their way to the child, Jesus, and discover great joy. They discover overwhelming joy, in fact. That’s an interesting sensation to think about— when are the times you can remember being so happy that you were nearly overcome by it?

These wise blokes aren’t Jewish . . . and they probably don’t fit anyone’s definition of a Christian, either, at least not at this point in the story. We can’t make them people of faith. But their response is instructive. They came a very long way to find this child, and when they met him, they knelt and offered him gifts.
Have you ever noted “Bumper Sticker Theology?” People who have pithy sayings about religious topics on their car bumpers— most of which are pretty bad (think of the slogans you see on most church signs or on Facebook. Ouch!). Occasionally, one will hit the mark. There was once one sticker that said, “Wise Men Still Seek Him!” Inclusive language issues aside, not a bad thought.
In Latin America, things are done a little bit different and January 6th or Epiphany marks the celebration of Three King’s Day. On that day, children collect grass and water in a shoebox, which they leave under their beds. During the night the magi visit, taking the gathered supplies for their camels and leaving a present in their place. This celebration or Holy Day, of course, relies on the story of the astrologers from the East who chase a mobile star in the heavens that leads to the doorstep of a toddler Jesus.
There are at least two critical facets to this narrative. First, that the magi follow this star for some incredible distance is a sign of the expansive import of Jesus’ birth; this was worldwide, breaking news – not fake news. The indefatigability of the magi in chasing this star is an example of deep faithfulness as well as openness to see the signs of the time and follow them wherever they may lead.

Second, this is also a frightening story. Herod’s interest in this child is not the same as that of the magi. They come to worship a child in the shadow of his startled parents. They come to adorn him with extravagant gifts. Herod, however, sees in this child, and in the many others that populate his kingdom, a threat. Power is an addictive drug Herod is unwilling to relinquish.

From the very first, therefore, Jesus’ life is threatened by the political forces of his time. He represents a threat to their unchallenged reign and promises a world turned upside down. At the same time, there are many who will see what Jesus’ very presence means, even if it requires pursuing a star across the skies day after day. This is the very essence of faith on Epiphany.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 31 December 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 3, 2018 - 8:24am

Hymn 268: “Joy to the world”
Hymn 301: “The first Nowell”
Hymn 210: “O for a thousand tongues ...”
Hymn 309: “Angels from the realm of glory”
Hymn 779: “May the feet of God walk with you
Isaiah 61: 10 - 62:3;  Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2: 22-40.

 Call to Worship

Joy to the world! Christ has come and Christmas is here! Let all of creation sing praise to our God
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
From the lips of children and infants, you ordain praise and thanksgiving to silence the foe and the avenger.
You make everything beautiful in its own time.
You set eternity in our hearts, yet we cannot fathom what you have done from beginning to end.
What could be better than to be happy and to do good while we live?
O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
O God, our God, you are Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End.
 Opening prayer
 We come to you today, God, the Alpha and the Omega, as people blessed by your tender care. Today, we come to seek your guidance, that we may better understand how to follow the teaching of Christ, our Lord and Saviour, in whose name we pray. Amen.
I have begun by including the beginning of the service as Rev. John delivered it because it evokes a true and vivid sense of what Jesus of Nazareth did for the world.
The world as God created it was a wondrous place but the flawed nature of people means it has been reduced to something not at all like what was intended.

If we look at photos or are fortunate enough to visit places untouched or relatively untouched by humans, we see what could have been for us all.
Not that we should have remained living as nomads necessarily. There are places where the built environment is beautiful because it has been put together to complement the natural environment. In places like that care is taken to maintain the total environment in a healthy state.
The population there see themselves as stewards, who have a responsibility to the natural and built environments to keep both in a healthy state and in a state that supports whole living by people.
Such people also see themselves as being responsible for each other.

There was a “big blow” in the NSW North Coast town of Maclean yesterday. I have an elderly sister-in-law living there and was anxious to contact her but her phone didn't work. The first phone number that worked was for the pub across the road from where she lives. They were able to assure me that she was safe and well because they had gone over to check on her and her house. The church isn't the only place to find loving people who look after their community.
Another word about Maclean. There isn’t any litter. When I commented in this, I was met with a question about why there would be any if the residents don't drop any.
Some of us know how to care for what we have that is a good gift from God.
Our relationships need nurturing too. At any given time in our lives we have many different types of relationships of varying levels. Relationships develop in different ways: work, neighbours, church, sport, or a myriad of other interests. Usually the relationship is established before we notice, but then if we value it, we must show care for the other/s involved.
Otherwise, in all the above situations, we will find ourselves spoiling something about which we should be shouting the praise that is at the beginning of this blog.
But the greatest gift we have been given is the invitation to dwell with the Creator, but we have to say “Yes” to that invitation and we need to care for that relationship on a daily basis.
Otherwise, we will lose the sense of our connection and drift away, and look elsewhere when we need help instead of to the author of Love and Peace.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Prosperity or Blessing?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 29, 2017 - 10:18pm
When Jesus was only forty days old, his family, like all observant Jewish families of the day, presented themselves at the temple for purification, and they offered a sacrifice of two turtledoves. I read this story in Luke 2:22-40 and wonder if the two turtledoves in the “Twelve Days of Christmas” come from this passage. Surely, they have to be the same or is it dreaming on my part. However, Luke’s original audience would have wondered something else. “Turtle doves? Why didn’t they sacrifice a lamb?”
Here are the directions in Leviticus: When the days of her purification are completed, … she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb in its first year for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. He shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement on her behalf … If she cannot afford a sheep, she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering ….” So, without saying, “Mary and Joseph were very poor,” Luke lets the reader know that Mary and Joseph were very poor.

There are preachers who will tell you that if you have faith, you will be financially prosperous. They have found a few verses in Scripture that support this “prosperity gospel” and it appears to be making these preachers prosperous, at least. Our culture wants this prosperity gospel to be true, because the dream that many in the Western world have adopted from America is not built on finding the blessings in poverty.
But if Joseph and Mary had faith enough to listen to the angel, to bring God’s own son into the world, and to be obedient enough to take him to the temple to obey the Laws of Moses, then they should have been prosperous beyond measure. Yet this couple couldn’t even afford to buy a lamb for the sacrifice. If God’s own family was struggling to get by, then we need to reconsider the connection between being blessed and being prosperous.

Simeon, about whom we know only what Luke tells us, was led by the Spirit to the temple. He has been waiting for the “consolation of Israel.” When Mary and Joseph walk in the doors of the temple, temple, the Spirit helps Simeon know he has found the right family, and Simeon takes the baby Jesus and blesses him. But here’s what I want to know. What did Simeon do after he spoke the blessing? After he realized that the family of God’s own son was in financial need.
Did he do something more for the family than speak a blessing? Did he do anything to be a blessing for them? Did he take them to a Subway restaurant to make sure they had dinner before they headed back to Nazareth? I trust that anyone who was led by the Spirit as Simeon was would have done something to alleviate their immediate hardship. But Luke doesn’t give us those details. So, we have to figure out how to be blessings on our own.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 24 December 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - December 26, 2017 - 8:37am


Hymn 265: O come, O come, Emmanuel
Hymn 286 All verses: Light one candle for hope
Hymn 302: The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
Hymn 161: Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
Hymn 282:The voice of God goes out…”
Hymn 777: May the grace of Christ our Saviour,
Call to Worship
(Abingdon Worship Annual 2011)
Host of Hosts, from sunrise to sunrise, and generation to generation, we are your people.
You have been with us wherever we have gone. You will be with us wherever we may go.
You planted us in a land flowing with milk and honey, then you planted our salvation in Mary's womb.
Jesus, who is the Christ, is planted firmly in each one of us.
Our souls magnify the Holy One.
Our spirits rejoice in God, our Saviour.
Rev. John spoke to the children about their names and the meaning of their names and some other names. When parents name their children they do so for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the eldest boy takes a name that is passed down from generation to generation. I am named after both my grandmothers. Other names are given in the hope that the child will grow up to be the person of the meaning of the name such as ‘grace” or “courage”.
Rev. John told us that in the Bible it says that God gave Mary the name she was to give her child -  “Jesus” - which means “the Lord saves” which indicated the reason that Jesus was to be born.
We may not have such a name but God knows each one of us as closely as Mary and Jesus were known. Also, just as Jesus had a reason for being born so do each one of us have a reason for being here. We have our own place in this world and our own task in building God’s kingdom.

In the first of the Bible readings from 2 Samuel 7, we hear that the Ark of God had always been in a tent but that a place was to be built to keep the Ark in one place, signifying that God’s people were to stop roaming where they would need to carry The Ark with them. From then on they would be able to stay in one place and The Ark, a sign of God’s presence, would remain with them.
God is with us wherever we are. The idea of God being in one place has developed as people realized that God is with all creation, everywhere. Therefore we can be assured that God is with us, anywhere we are. Wherever we are, we can depend on God watching over us and guiding us if we look for that guidance which can come to us in a variety of ways. It can come through other people, through our reading, through listening to other people speaking, through our God-given talents or simply as thoughts appear in our heads.

Another way of looking at that story is that we can stop roaming, looking for wholeness and fulfillment, when we settle with God. Then the emptiness stops.
The second reading and the one Rev. John spent time with focuses on the very ordinary people God uses to play out the amazing drama of redemption. We may think we are not worthy or talented enough but we only have to be willing.
Coming up to Christmas we having been lighting the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and finally, today, Love. These are not the prerogative of the rich, educated, or the “cool crowd”  but are characteristics anyone who opens themselves to God’s handiwork can experience and thereby show God, and all that knowing God offers, to the world.

Be strengthened according to the proclamation of Jesus Christ. Go, do all that you have in mind, for the Holy One is with you. Nothing is impossible with God.

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.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

New Life – God with Us.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 24, 2017 - 11:40am
I have never had to try and breathe life into another human being. A person does not get to choose if that time comes or it doesn't. There is a story of Horace who was lying without life and people were trying to give life back to him. They were doing all the right CPR things, pushing on his chest and forcing air into his lungs just like we are taught in first aid and practice in St John Ambulance for when someone collapses. They were doing all that they could as they waited for the ambulance to come.
Horace had given his last breath. He had watched the children sing and had been in the place he loved the best. Horace had been in church. Horace had then got up, walked out of church to his care, closed his eyes and collapsed. All the efforts of the people and the quick attention of skilled people could not open his eyes again. His last vison was of smiling friends and singing children.
The priest left the hospital breathing in the cold night air; the same air that they had tried to breathe into Horace to give him life. Life is so fragile. Each of us is only one or two breathes away from a life beyond any of our efforts. To the life after death.
As the priest returned to the church, the light shining on the manger seemed to dance in the gently falling rain. Mary and Joseph smiled, though the air was heavy because of the loss of Horace that night. They knew.........they knew. Christmas means a child has come who can do what those people that night could not do. This child who was born on a still clear night of long ago breathes life into those who receive. This child is our joyous assurance of that new life. It is one of the gifts of Christmas: the promise of new life given in the middle of efforts that seem to fail. It is the season of hope given to us by the child of Bethlehem - Jesus.
How can we celebrate God with us as a human being? God with us bringing new life. Well there is an answer in the message that God gave the shepherds that first Christmas night. Christmas is not our reaching out or up to God. Christmas is God's hand stretching out to us offering us new life and joy. God makes the first move and calls on us to respond. How we respond to God's precious gift of new life is found in our faith. A faith which does believe that God loves us and the power of that love can conquer all.But most important this gift of new life is something we need to accept. The greatest gift of love ever given. God with us is made real again and again as we Christians share that gospel of love - that new life we have received with others. Love is the great power that symbolises Christmas. A love that is shown when God came to be with us in the form of Jesus Christ.
In our search for this new life that God offers to us, we are sometimes drawn to the past, looking for what might have been. Sometimes our search can lead us to be distracted by the future. But we do not find God in our desire for the past or in the anxiety of the future. We find God as did the wise men - in the eternal now - in the present, right here. Christmas is about a God who is right with us now, today and every day offering us that new life. Let us continue to give thanks for that gift, that gift for all time - new life. A gift that God freely offered for all humankind.

We thank our creator God, for the loveliness of the Christmas story: the child of the manger, the song of the angels, the homage of the shepherds, the tender love of Mary. But most of all we thank our God for the meaning of the Christmas story: that God loved the world so much that God gave his only Son that all might have new life and live through him. So at this time of year we Christians and others join with us in giving all praise and thanks to our God, for so great a love, so great a gift, so great a saviour in the person of Jesus Christ. 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

In Awe of Mary.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 22, 2017 - 12:25pm
You know, many of us Protestants avoid speaking about Mary or exploring her significance in Gods coming into this world. So today I am going to stick my neck out with some reflections on the birth stories in the Luke’s gospel in our scriptures. The first birth Luke recounts is the birth of John the Baptist from the viewpoint of John’s father.
JJohn’s father, Zechariah was a married man, “too old” for sex, and his wife was barren. Zechariah was a member of the religious establishment in the holy city of Jerusalem, a priest of the professional class. His vision of the angel Gabriel foretold the birth of his son, John. Zechariah responded in disbelief and consequently was struck silent so that he could not speak. 

The birth narrative of Jesus is told from the viewpoint of his mother. Mary was a single, teenage girl, “too young” for sex. Given the strongly patriarchal nature of society in her time and place, Joseph, to whom she was betrothed, is notable for his invisibility in this story. Mary was a peasant girl from a working-class neighbourhood of carpenters in Nazareth, a village so insignificant that it is not mentioned in the Old Testament, in the historian Josephus, or in the Jewish Talmud.
Her encounter took place in an unknown, ordinary house. When the angel Gabriel foretold the birth of her son, Jesus, Mary responded in words of faith that have echoed through the centuries: “I am the Lord’s servant . . . may it be to me as you have said.” Her bold belief startled her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, who “in a loud voice . . . exclaimed: ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! . . . Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” These passages can be found in the first chapter of Luke.

 Whereas Zechariah was struck silent for his unbelief, Mary praised God in her majestic “Magnificat” found in Luke 1. For their part, and to our loss I believe, Protestants have tiptoed around Mary, fearing that such exalted language about her veers too close to make her a co-redeemer of humanity. Anything that elevates Mary to that degree is cause for concern. In more syncretistic and popular forms of Christian folk religion among those who either don’t have the education or have such information denied, it is not difficult to find such abuses.
We have also taken exception to dogmatic formulations about Mary that were made much later and that do not enjoy clear biblical support, such as her freedom from both actual and even original sin (Immaculate Conception), and the idea that after her death she was taken directly to heaven (Bodily Assumption). Protestants rightly press a caution that both Catholics and Orthodox believers themselves acknowledge, that we honour or venerate Mary as the Mother of God, but we do not offer her our worship, which is due to God alone.
Genuine veneration of the Mother of God should lead to unambiguous exaltation of the Son of God. Mary played a unique role in the mystery of salvation whereby God humbled Himself to be born as the baby of a peasant teenager in order to reconcile the world to Himself. We can only stand in awe of this woman who was faithful to God’s call to such an improbable role in redemption.
However, Luke’s story is not about this one young woman alone. He invites his readers and hearers to make the same step of faith— to jump blindly into God’s newly arrived Reign by gambling on love. There is no requirement that we understand God’s vision. There is simply the invitation to allow incarnation to happen with us, for love to be born in us, and for God’s Reign to come through us.

It is not because we are significant or because we have answers that love seeks to be born in and through us. It is because God makes what seems impossible completely attainable. God simply waits for our yes, and once we have given it, God goes to work to bring the incarnated love to birth in us and, through us, in the world. The incarnation really is the ultimate love story, Emmanuel, God with us.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 December 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - December 20, 2017 - 10:52am


The Advent wreath, or Advent crown, is a Christian tradition that symbolizes the passage of the four weeks of Advent in the liturgical calendar of the Western church. It is traditionally a Lutheran practice, although it has spread to many other Christian denominations.
It is usually a horizontal evergreen wreathwith four candles, sometimes with a fifth, white candle in the centre. Beginning with the First Sunday of Advent, the lighting of a candle can be accompanied by a Bible reading, devotional time and prayers. An additional candle is lit during each subsequent week until, by the last Sunday before Christmas, all four candles are lit. Many Advent wreaths include a fifth, Christ candle which is lit at Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. The custom is observed both in family settings and at public church services.
At Marsden Road, we have been observing this tradition over past weeks. Lighting first the Candle of Hope, we signalled our hope and expectation that as we celebrate the coming of the Word into the world, so at this Christmas, that Hope will be renewed. The next week we lit the Candle of Peace,  Peace that only our God can bring. This week we lit the Candle of Joy.
Joy is hard to come by. We may be pleased, elated, even happy, but Joy is something else and it was this that Sandra spoke about in the service she led on Sunday.

In her talk to the children, Sandra raised the possibility that that we may be known as the “Peacemaker” or the “Joyful”. This world can only get a hint of what God has in store for us if it is reflected in the people who claim God as their Lord.
I remember someone saying something along the lines of Christians are people who should be making others wonder about why they are hopeful, peacemakers, and joyful. We should be making others curious about our difference from the rest of the world. But are we?
Sandra spoke about an experience she had in the course of her working day. She was attending a lunch and found herself at a table of rowdy, noisy, happy, elderly folk who were thoroughly enjoying themselves. Across the room was a table of other elderly folk, who were described to her as the “good people”, the people who went to chapel and bible-study: all looking as though they were witnessing the worst disaster imaginable. No joy there to make people curious about where it was coming from.
Sandra raised the point that if we are the bearers of the Hope and Peace that is the promise of Christmas, and know the Light brought into the world at that Christmas time so long ago, surely we will also know Joy.
Sandra told of experiencing that Joy during walks where she can hear and feel Creation speaking to her. She repeated such an experience with the blooming of the Jacaranda trees.
I know what Sandra is talking about. Jacarandas don't do it for me but there are times when I know God is present, simply through the surrounding created world. Even parts of the world in which some cannot see life, such as mighty cliffs or the beauty of some human creation (the work of a God-given gift) I can sense the divine reaching out to us all. It makes me want to sing (better done within though, with my voice).
Sandra’s message here is to enjoy what we have been given. Don't take anything for granted.
I know many people who look for joy through stuff they can buy at a shop, the stuff that gets old and needs replacing. And all the while they have gifts in abundance which can bring such joy. But we have to do more than just look around. We need to see what we are offered.
An important alert that Sandra gave us is that we are to be witnesses to the Good News. We are not just to be retelling history. There must be something of truth that shines from us that witnesses to what the gift that came on the first Christmas can do in a person’s life. Otherwise, why bother?  There are many good stories but what we have is more than a story, we have an invitation to live anew.
Sandra reminded us of how certain John the Baptist was of the One who was coming and the change that Man would bring. Are we? Do we have that life within us that makes people wonder what has reawakened us to Hope, Peace and Joy? Are we bearers of Hope, Peace and Joy?
Sandra challenged us: Let us be all that we are meant to be at this season and always.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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


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