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Courage to Act In Love.

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

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 18 March 2018

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Like a Kernel of Wheat.

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 11 March 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 13, 2018 - 9:22am

        Today I am posting the blog Rev. John writes each week. Enjoy!   This story from Numbers 21 from this week’s scripture readings should be scary. I don’t think it is a coincidence that God uses the animal that scares us most to scare us straight. Well for we New Zealanders being bought up in a country with no snakes, we tend to be scared by them. And it seems the scare nature works for the Hebrew people. They repent and beg Moses, asking him to intercede on their behalf to their God, against whom they had sinned. So, the killer serpents as it were, lead the people to repentance.   But God does not just get rid of the snakes. The dangers of the world are still there with them. We are left with an image of our God taking a symbol of fear and death and turning it into a symbol of life. Once the people have repented of their sin (understood as turning away from God) and turned again to trust in God, the thing that had been killing them becomes the thing that saves them. And it works very well, by all accounts, for years and years.   I find it interesting because it shows that Moses not only made this serpent but also that it worked, because people were still praying to it centuries later (2 Kings 18:4). Sadly, the people came to believe that the bronze serpent, and not God, was the agent of their healing, so in the time of Hezekiah, Hezekiah rightly destroyed it.  Whenever we mistake the signs and symbols for God, and we begin to worship the signs and symbols instead of God, then we have made idols that need to be crushed.   I also note from this passage in Numbers 21 the fact that it seems that which causes suffering can also be the vehicle for healing, both internal and external. The snakes came upon the Hebrews in the wilderness as consequence of their turning away from God. The people suffered from them. Yet God used this same source of suffering to heal them. Every time they looked at the instrument of their suffering, they remembered the cause of their suffering. Their memories caused them to turn back to God. And because they turned back to God, they were healed.   There are times on our life’s journey and especially for those on a Christian journey when we become aware of the ways we have turned away from God. Often, I look back on events in my life and see there what seems to have been a times of suffering and at those time I have experienced the consequences of self-absorbed choices. At these times, it seems that disobedience, that is to say, the ways we have turned away from or ignored God, are ever before us. Overcome by these imperfections, we often become ready to call out to God. God knows our tragic human flaws and loves us anyway. When I reflect on those difficult and challenging events in my life I see that the very mistakes we’ve made, harm we have caused, and the harm done to us can become symbols of our healing.    Every time we look at them, we remember the suffering resulting from our choices or of those we love; and we remember we can make a different choice this or next time and find healing. God’s nature, which is love, cannot resist expressing itself; God pours out abounding mercy and grace on us. During this season of Lent which is a season of introspection and reflection, it is good to both acknowledge and if able confess the ways in which we have turned away from God and to let go. In this way, we can receive the lavish grace and love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and we make choices that make us and others whole.    


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Scared Straight?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 9, 2018 - 12:41pm

This story from Numbers 21 from this week’s scripture readings should be scary. I don’t think it is a coincidence that God uses the animal that scares us most to scare us straight. Well for we New Zealanders being bought up in a country with no snakes, we tend to be scared by them. And it seems the scare nature works for the Hebrew people. They repent and beg Moses, asking him to intercede on their behalf to their God, against whom they had sinned. So, the killer serpents as it were, lead the people to repentance.
But God does not just get rid of the snakes. The dangers of the world are still there with them. We are left with an image of our God taking a symbol of fear and death and turning it into a symbol of life. Once the people have repented of their sin (understood as turning away from God) and turned again to trust in God, the thing that had been killing them becomes the thing that saves them. And it works very well, by all accounts, for years and years.
I find it interesting because it shows that Moses not only made this serpent but also that it worked, because people were still praying to it centuries later (2 Kings 18:4). Sadly, the people came to believe that the bronze serpent, and not God, was the agent of their healing, so in the time of Hezekiah, Hezekiah rightly destroyed it.  Whenever we mistake the signs and symbols for God, and we begin to worship the signs and symbols instead of God, then we have made idols that need to be crushed.
I also note from this passage in Numbers 21 the fact that it seems that which causes suffering can also be the vehicle for healing, both internal and external. The snakes came upon the Hebrews in the wilderness as consequence of their turning away from God. The people suffered from them. Yet God used this same source of suffering to heal them. Every time they looked at the instrument of their suffering, they remembered the cause of their suffering. Their memories caused them to turn back to God. And because they turned back to God, they were healed.
There are times on our life’s journey and especially for those on a Christian journey when we become aware of the ways we have turned away from God. Often, I look back on events in my life and see there what seems to have been a times of suffering and at those time I have experienced the consequences of self-absorbed choices. At these times, it seems that disobedience, that is to say, the ways we have turned away from or ignored God, are ever before us. Overcome by these imperfections, we often become ready to call out to God. God knows our tragic human flaws and loves us anyway. When I reflect on those difficult and challenging events in my life I see that the very mistakes we’ve made, harm we have caused, and the harm done to us can become symbols of our healing. 
Every time we look at them, we remember the suffering resulting from our choices or of those we love; and we remember we can make a different choice this or next time and find healing. God’s nature, which is love, cannot resist expressing itself; God pours out abounding mercy and grace on us. During this season of Lent which is a season of introspection and reflection, it is good to both acknowledge and if able confess the ways in which we have turned away from God and to let go. In this way, we can receive the lavish grace and love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and we make choices that make us and others whole.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 4 March 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 6, 2018 - 10:47am

Hymn 156: Morning has broken
Hymn 546:Lord Jesus, think on me
Hymn 522: Christ is the heavenly food” (Soll’s Sein)
Hymn 531: Sent forth by Gods blessing(Ash Grove)
Hymn 778: Shalom to you
The First Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-25
The Gospel Reading: John 2.13-22
Call to Worship
Passion consumed Jesus as he overturned the tables of the merchants and moneychangers in the Temple grounds. As we follow Jesus toward the cross, may we too be consumed by a righteous passion to do what is right and honourable.
The heavens declare the glory of God.
The earth proclaims God’s handiwork.
In speech without words, their voices are heard.
In praise without language, their sounds extend
throughout creation.
The law of God is perfect, reviving the soul.
The teachings of God are sure, making wise the simple.
The precepts of God are right, rejoicing the heart.
The ordinances of God are true and are righteous altogether.
Come and proclaim with the heavens the glory and majesty of our God.
Opening prayer
God of righteous fire, just as Jesus was consumed with passion as he cleared the Temple, may we be consumed with passion as we seek justice and righteousness in our world; just as Christ never flinched on his journey to the cross, may we never waver in our devotion to you and our defence of the poor. On this great journey of Lent, teach us the perfection of your ways, as we keep our eyes fixed upon your Son. Amen.

Today's reading and the subject of Rev. John’s sermon and then his blog was the scene in the Temple when Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and drove out all those that were involved in the sale of Temple offerings. Given that it was legal for these people to be there doing what they were doing, why did Jesus act the way he did and with such ferocity?
It was because they were dealing dishonestly with the people who went to the Temple to give offerings in an effort to have their sin forgiven. The people could hardly be poorer and were being forced to use what little funds they had to purchase acceptable offerings….at inflated prices.
The traders in the offerings were betraying not only these poor people who were bound by the law to seek reconciliation with God for assumed sins, but they were also betraying God by polluting the way of relieving people of their burden of guilt.
No wonder Jesus was furious.
Of course we would never act in any way that was similar to  these traders…..would we?
Rev. John spoke to us about “Holy Habits.” Do we always behave in Holy ways or are there times when we are as guilty as the people in the Temple who took advantage of the ordinary people and acted in a way which was not as God wants? Are we ever guilty of making anyone feel uncomfortable at church? Do we ever use the church or any position we have in the church community for our own ends rather than the building of God’s kingdom?
Rev. John pointed out that we are different from God, we are not pure light and love but can we show that light and love to others?
Some of us do for much of the time and some of us do for some of the time but if we are ever using our life in the church for our own ends it will show, and God’s light and love will not show.
Rev. John sent us out with these words:
Walk in the ways of God. Go forth with the song of the heavens in your ears. Listen to the words of life. Go forth to live fully and completely: with the teachings of God’s law to lead you, with the grace of Christ Jesus to guide you, and with the peace of the Holy Spirit to sustain you. Go with God.
And the blessing of God almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be with you always.
 Amen. Amen.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

With Hindsight Comes Challenges.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 2, 2018 - 1:24pm

Hindsight is 20/20 thing, and we humans understand much of life only in reverse and after the fact. Jesus’ disciples were no exception. This week’s gospel lesson from the John’s Gospel recounts Jesus’ dramatic cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem. There is a lot going on here, and you may want to look at some historical source material to set the stage fully to help you understand what was going on.
Oppression under the heel of the Roman Empire, the commoditisation of religion, and economic abuse of the marginalised fuel Jesus’ anger, and he makes mighty quick work of cleaning things up. What a sight that must have been! Think of how things generally go today when someone challenges established practices and authority. It is usually not too pretty. Jesus had some explaining to do, and the religious people present ask him for a sign. In other words, I think they were saying, “Who made you the big cheese, you, marginal rabbi hick from Galilee?”

Of course, in typical Jesus fashion, he gives them a sign that on the surface makes no sense at all. John in his Gospel is big on signs, so fortunately for us, we get an explanation. People today still have a tough time getting what Jesus is all about, and Christians have not done the best job of sharing the good news and living out faith in love. Not everyone will understand or be open to the amazing grace and mercy that is so freely given.
St Paul the writer of seven of our epistles makes that clear in a reading from 1 Corinthians 1 this week. People still want signs, seek wisdom, crave power, and ignore truth by looking for it in all the wrong places. Yet Christians celebrate what the world derides as foolishness, believing instead that nothing is impossible with God— not even redeeming this beautiful, broken creation with a crazy, amazing, incarnate love.
On another tack, Jesus welcomed the beggars and hugged the lepers, while driving out the sellers of doves and money changers from the temple. Today we seem to get this backwards as we seem to shun the downtrodden, the sick, and the poor and welcome the wealthy and the commercial interests. Anne Murray reached the twenty-first spot on the Billboard 100 in the 1970s singing “Put Your Hand in the Hand”: For the buyers and the sellers were no different fellas than what I profess to be, and it causes me shame to know I’m not the gal that I should be.
The lyrics merge the temple buyers and sellers together as one. It is not just wealthy corporations or the rich who come into conflict with Jesus. Sellers do not exist without buyers, and most of us are buyers. If I am honest with myself, even though my politics and values are progressive in nature, I tremble when I look at my spending.
Consumerism is in the air we breathe. It is easier to let Jesus into our hearts than into our wallets. Bringing our bank accounts, church budgets, and credit cards in line with the gospel and following the commandment, “Thou shalt not covet,” is one of the toughest challenge of Christians and for the Church in the western world today.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 25 February 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - February 27, 2018 - 7:21am

Ill health prevented my attendance, so as far as I can, I will let Rev. John’s words speak for themselves.Call to Worship(Abingdon Worship Annual 2018)God’s voice calls to us, naming us in holy love. Christ’s voice chastens us, correcting us when we lose our way. The Spirit’s voice sounds within us, drawing us back to the paths of righteousness. God’s voice heals us, naming us as God’s own.From generation to generation, God names us and claims us.Let heaven and earth praise God’s holy name.From our earliest steps, Christ guides our wayward feet. Let all who draw breath come back to the Lord.From death to life, the Spirit sets us free.Let the faithful rejoice in God’s holy covenant.From generation to generation, God names us and claims us.Let heaven and earth praise God’s holy name. Hymn TIS 52: “Let us sing to the God of salvation”Opening Prayer (reduced)Spirit of the ages, as you called to Abram and Sarai, renaming them according to your purposes, call to us this day. Open our ears to the sound of your voice…. Prayer of Confession (reduced)God above every name, when our vision dims, and we prefer human thoughts to your thoughts, heal our eyes of faith.Grace above every grace, when our suffering closes us off from the joy on the other side of suffering, grant us your strength to follow Christ in hope and promise. Declaration of ForgivenessBy saying no to ourselves, and picking up our cross to follow Christ, we find ourselves. By saying yes to the good news of God’s Spirit working within us, we find faith and wholeness. God’s promises are sure; God’s love eternal.Thanks, be to God!The PeaceLet all who would become Christ’s followers deny themselves and follow Christ in love and grace. Let all who seek freedom pick up their cross and follow him, even when the road is long. On this journey, let us turn to one another and share signs of grace and peace. Peace be with you! And also with you!(You may like to exchange a sign of peace with those around you) Offering PrayerBless us this day, Eternal God, that we may be a blessing to a world in need. Bless our gifts and our offerings in your name, that they may light the way home for those who have wandered far and lost their way. As these gifts go forth to do your work, may they help others hear you call their names and bring them peace. Amen Hymn TIS 412: “God sends us his Spirit to befriend and help us”The First Reading: Romans 4:13-25The Gospel Reading: Mark 8:31-38Just Who Is This Man? “…there must have been a good deal of speculation about who Jesus was. All of his activities, separately and together with his disciples, had to have attracted the attention of many. Certainly, we know the authorities took notice. Just who was this man, Jesus?Finding out exactly who Jesus was brought the disciples more than even they had bargained for when they answered Jesus’ call…Jesus had to continue his teaching to reveal to them the true nature of his mission on earth and, by extension, the mission both for the disciples and us as well. Just as Jesus in his healing ministry gradually opened the eyes of the blind man at Bethsaida, so he gradually revealed to his disciples and others the nature and implications of his journey and way. They must be prepared to deny themselves, to abandon any thoughts of self-centeredness…What Jesus asks of each of us is that we follow him, keeping our eyes on him who endured everything for us. Wherever life's path takes us, we are to let his love and his light, be our guide. How trusting and faithful are we? Can we do better? Let us try during this Lent to be the disciples Christ calls us to be, disciples who truly follow Jesus to the cross.Then truly nothing in this life can touch us for, as St. Paul says, "Whatever may happen, in Christ we prevail. Neither death nor life, neither things present nor things yet to come, shall be able to separate us from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen Hymn TIS  657: “God of Freedom, God of Justice” (Picardy)Following the Prayers of the People and the Lord’s Prayer… Hymn TIS 456: “Your hand, O God, has guided...”  Benediction Hear the voice of God calling your name.We will follow where God leads us.Hear the voice of Christ claiming you as his own.We will live as brothers and sisters in faith.Hear the voice of the Spirit sending you forth.We will go where the Spirit sends us.Go forth, called, named, and claimed by God. Hymn TIS 780: “May light come into your eyes” 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 18 February 2018

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - February 27, 2018 - 7:05am

Rowena introduced her theme with a poem which I think is worth printing in full. 

Call to Worship: Reaching for Rainbows – Ann Weems
(Rearranged to reduce size)
I keep reaching for rainbows. Thinking that one of God’s good mornings
I will wake up with rainbow ribbons in my hair, With my hurts painted over in hues that only angel wings could brush, With black obliterated and chaos hurled beyond the rainbow and my vision. But I keep reaching for rainbows...The world created in a myriad of colours: The hungry fed, The dying held, The maimed walking, The angry stroked, The violent calmed,
The oppressed freed, The oppressors changed, And every tear wiped away.
I keep reaching for rainbows,But instead of colours in the storm, Grey and black infiltrate and dirty the sky, And I hear human voices wailing in the darkness ...Just the same I know the promise of the rainbow. I keep thinking I’ll turn the corner one day And find a litany of rainbows Flung across the sky. Hosannaing back and forth Through all the ages and Out into eternity forever amen!Every tear wiped away – It’s God’s promise
When we become rainbows to each other.  Amen.
Rowena then followed this with a prayer of Adoration, seamlessly continuing the theme of God’s goodness overcoming the darkness that humans carry with Prayers of Adoration:

Let us pray:
God of storms and rainbows, God of rain and sunshine, God of all creation we worship and adore you.  We gaze in wonder at the beauty of your creation and marvel at stormy skies transformed with the vibrant colours of a rainbow.  Like Noah and his family, we praise you for this everlasting sign of your love and care for the whole creation in your desire to preserve and not destroy life.  And at Jesus’ baptism, the sky again revealed your love when you identified him with the same Spirit who empowers and strengthens each of us.  For all these assurances of your love for us and for the whole creation, we praise and worship you, O God, in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour and Lord, Amen.  from
We had been each given a slip of paper on which was printed a rainbow and on each band of the rainbow, sins of which we are all sometimes guilty.
At this point we were invited to make personal confession and take that piece of paper with our confession and offer it to God. We placed those confessions in a bowl and then took another Rainbow printed paper where the bands of which were overprinted with the words: love, creativity, joy, peace, faith and wisdom, all characteristics which grow from the good the Spirit can infuse into us.
Interestingly the first slip of paper was just that…paper, which could disintegrate quickly. The second piece with the solid virtues which can sustain a life of light was laminated to protect it from weathering. The symbolism of the exercise was clear.
Also clear, was readiness of the members of the congregation to accept the opportunity to lay their burdens at the feet of the only one who can relieve us of the sin that is the result of our flawed humanity
Rowena then exhorted us, in the coming week: “to focus on the good things on this card and look to how you can bring them more into your daily living.”  Then:
So, in this way, the time of confession and lifting of burdens was to go with us, even as we proceeded with the rest of the service and our lives after the service.

In her Reflection, Rowena offered:
 We enter and the cross, we cling to the signs of God’s covenantal love.  Seasons of the Spirit – SeasonsFusionLent * Easter 2018 copyright (c) Wood Lake Publishing Inc.2017
Rowena offered many wise and helpful words but space does not allow me to pass all of them on. Let me finish with
In the amazing cosmic moment when sunlight and raindrops interact in just the right balance, like a prism, to create this thing of beauty, God says, “remember.....” remember my promise! Seasons of the Spirit – SeasonsFusionLent * Easter 2018 copyright (c) Wood Lake Publishing Inc.2017
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Making Journeys.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 23, 2018 - 12:23pm

Making journeys is not so unusual these days. People move to find work. People move to study. Young people think nothing of travelling for gap years. We’re a very mobile society. Not so in Abraham’s day. What a statement of faith that he should pack up his whole life and, with his family, go where God calls. So, I have great sympathy with Abraham when it seems that God calls for one more incredible stretch, makes one more demand— to believe that he could start, not just a family, but a whole nation.

It’s something I have done many times in my adult life. I moved to various places in Aotearoa (New Zealand) for education and work and then moved to the Solomon Islands, always accepting that God called me to make these changes. Then I moved to Australia twenty odd years ago to make a new start little realising I would be called into marriage again and we would follow my wife’s occupation to various parts of Australia, leading me to various ministry positions on the way.
It’s clear that Abraham seldom had much clue about what God was up to. Although we read of Abraham spending time in discernment and building altars in testimony, there are occasions when he tries to second-guess God and short-circuit the process. And yet, Abraham has become one of the exemplars of faith, maybe precisely because of his cluelessness. Although he didn’t know why, he did as God asked.

Sometimes those asks were huge asks that some of you may have experienced in your lives.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m a bit clueless like Abraham. We are told that Abraham was asked to pack up his whole life and travel, asked to believe that he could father a nation, asked to sacrifice his one and only heir with no idea that God would provide an alternative. Abraham might well have been clueless about God’s plans, but he certainly wasn’t found wanting in his faith.
Sometimes I have thought about Abraham and Sarah as I have reflected on all the shifts I have had in my life. I have found that some do not understand moving where God calls as it looks like to them you are unstable in some way because you move a lot. In Romans 4: 18, we see Abraham held up as an exemplar of “hoping against hope.” God’s people are called to practice such unlikely faith today so that God’s improbable will can come to pass.
Then if we move on to the reading from Mark this week we find we are being told life is difficult. Awakening to personal complicity with evil in the world cruelly adds to the difficulty. Aligning with God against injustice, oppression, exploitation, and violence propels us toward the cross. In Lent, giving up illusion is probably the primary sacrifice. It seems that we are being called to give up our illusions about God, the world, safety, self-satisfaction; or, even the illusion of clinging to the easier, friendlier Jesus of Galilee and Epiphany rather than traveling with the suffering Jesus of Jerusalem and Holy Week.
Peter tries to cling to an illusion. “God forbid you should die!” Jesus’ harsh rebuke is devastating, and the harshness reflects a continuing struggle. Certainly, Jesus does not want to die a criminal’s death by torture. Why wouldn’t he lash out as Peter witlessly touches this raw nerve? From time to time, it is necessary to abandon the illusion of what we previously called faith.

Faith draws us to a dark realm behind reason. Reason is merely a placeholder of discernment; the content of the pages can shock with their unreasonable wonder, complexity, beauty, horror, emptiness. But dark faith is not the same thing as blind faith. Blind faith draws on ignorance and illusion, while dark faith draws us toward the crucible of liberation from fantasy, compulsion, and self-justification.
To go forward in dark faith sometimes means risking faith itself to face truth. Difficult truths, perhaps like the one that tells us our personal complicity with evil mentioned earlier is a problem. In any case, dark faith leads to the cross. There’s no way around the darkness. And maybe just maybe the cross does stand at the heart of darkness. And then, God’s will for wholeness, for shalom, places the empty tomb at the heart of life itself. 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Life, Liberty and…..?

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

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 28 January 2018

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

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

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

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 11 February 2018

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

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

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

The Faith Story Mantle.

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

In the Stillness

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

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

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

“Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

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

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

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 21 January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting People Where They Are.

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

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

Sunday service Marsden Road Uniting Church 14 January 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Sending Forth of the People of God. - we sang asking for God’s guidance:
Hymn TIS 547 “Be thou my vision” and then went out:
Now go into the world with confidence, trusting that Christ is walking with you.
May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you, now and always. Amen
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Turning Over a New Leaf: Beginning Anew

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

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

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

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


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