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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
Readings:
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

 


Hymns:
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.
 






Benediction
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.
 
Amen
 
 
 
 
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?
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 3 December 2017

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



These words called us to worship



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

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

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

Keep Awake!

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

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

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

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 26 November 2017

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











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



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


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


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

Calamity! Imagine being one of the Israelites of the Babylonian exile - you would have wondered what would become of your people. Like modern-day refugees from Iraq, Indian subcontinent, Palestine, Afghanistan,… you would have felt lost.
Our part is to think about how we are lost but worse, how we look to the wrong things to mend that lostness. (We are) the sinner whom Jesus seeks to bring back into the fold of a loving and forgiving community.
“I myself will search for my sheep,” says God (34:11). It might seem unlikely or impossible to gather up all the disconnected lives. But God makes it clear that God will accomplish it. “I will seek . . . I will rescue . . . I will bring them . . . I will feed them . . . I will bind up the injured . . . I will strengthen the weak” (34:11- 16)
Hymn TIS 674: Inspired by love and anger”   
Music to lead us to prayer
Intercessory Prayers   -Ruth gave thanks for our many blessings, and asked God to be with the leadership of Marsden Road Uniting Church. She prayed for the ending of wars and unrest and especially for children who have never known peace. She prayed that we will always remember that above all, we are God’s children, regardless of our appearance. She asked for strength and courage for all those who are faced with any obstacles of any kind and for comfort and healing for the sick. She then prayed for our personal concerns after which we joined in The Lord’s Prayer.
Hymn TIS 256: “From heav’n you came, helpless babe” (The Servant King)  Benediction
Come, you who are blessed! Inherit all that is prepare for you!
We leave this sacred space to claim the riches and glorious inheritance that are ours through Christ.
Go out into the world to share your blessings with all in need.
Go forth in the name of the living Word, the One whose words bring forth the fruit of the kingdom in your own lives! Amen.
        
Hymn TIS 779: May the feet of God walk with you”


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unting Church 19 November 2017

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



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


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

Maybe Mum Was Right

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

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

Depth of True Love.

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

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

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 12 November 2017

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

 


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

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

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

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