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Depth of True Love.

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

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

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 12 November 2017

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

 


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

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

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

No Vacations.

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 5 November 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Practice What You Preach.

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

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

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

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 29 October 2017

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

 


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spirit of Love in Touch.

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

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

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

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 1 and 15 October 2017

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



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




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

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

 


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

You Are Not Alone.

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

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



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 8 October 2017

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Holding on to What is Precious.

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

Messy Ordinariness.

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Who Stands With Us?

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

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

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

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 September 2017

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



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

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

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

Look at  that from the perspective of one person to another, living today.
But what if we have offended against another in some other way?
They may forgive us out of their own compassion but that forgiveness can't be fully effective unless we acknowledge our offence.
There are times when we would rather pretend that we didn't do anything much.
On the other side of the equation, if we are hurt, even if the offender fails to properly acknowledge the hurt, as Christians we are commanded to forgive them anyway.
I have also heard people say: “I can never forgive them!” Sorry, you, as a follower of Jesus are commanded to do just that, whether you have received an apology or not.
An experience I have had is that I have struggled to bring myself to forgive a person because I wanted justice.
Then I woke up and realised that I wasn't doing myself any good and was able to forgive for my own sake, only to find an enormous burden lifted from my shoulders.
But then an even more amazing change occurred! SuddenlyI could see the situation from the perspective of the other personand realized that life is very complicated and that I had been nursing what seemed like a deliberate hurt from someone else for nothing.
But how can such a thing happen?
How can we, as a human, go from seeing someone else as offending us in some way to seeing them as guiltless in that same respect? It seems impossible.
And I think it is….until we hand over the situation to God.
This change of perspective comes when we, as the offended against, ask for God’s help and accept the spirit’s work of grace.
It takes the same work of grace for us to see our real guilt in any matter.
We as the offender can't expect forgiveness until, through grace,  we are able to admit our guilt frankly.
Anything else does not bring about reconciliation….which is the true aim of confession on one side and forgiveness on the other.
But don't leave acting on this message for too long. In the Guardian in 2006,  it was announced that all 306 British World War 1 soldiers who were executed for desertion or cowardice were to be pardoned. 88 years later. Don't wait even one day.
 
 
 
 
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Unting Church 3 and 10 September 2017

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

 
 


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

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


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

Have You Really Been Saved?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, the next time you are tempted to self-help, rebuke the temptation. Respond by embracing God's sacrificial love. You are loved completely just as you are. You may think you need improving. God thinks that you are worth loving completely and totally just as you are. 
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 27 August 2017

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching of the Word

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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