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Love on a Turned Cheek

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 22, 2017 - 1:37pm
In this week’s scripture from Matthew 13, Jesus goes on something of a parable binge as he piles on one simile for the kingdom after the next: seeds, yeast, treasure, pearl, and a fishing net. Mostly all of this points to the apparent littleness of the kingdom— the kingdom can hide in plain sight. Tiny seeds disappear into the soil, yeast becomes indistinguishable from the larger lump of dough, the whole thing can be stumbled upon below the soil in some random field. The kingdom is real and will, in the longest possible run, be the ultimate reality for us all.
But in the meanwhile, you could almost miss it. In fact, if we bring Matthew 13 alongside the epistle reading from Romans 8, we see how Paul needs to reassure his readers in Rome that nothing can separate them from God’s love. Paul needs to do that precisely because there are so many big things in this world that surely look as though they could do the job of removing us from God’s grip. History is loud and noisy with persecutions and troubles and hardships and famines and wars.

The newspaper does not generally proclaim the kingdom of God but instead trumpets all that is happening and going wrong with the kingdoms of people. And a lot of what goes wrong with earthly kingdoms surely can feel threatening to us Christians and definitely looks larger and more powerful than most of what goes on at your average church where the kingdom is preached. But nothing can finally touch the reality of God’s kingdom and our citizenship in it. Jesus told these parables not just in order to describe the kingdom for us but also to reassure us: even when it seems weak or hidden, the kingdom is the greatest reality of them all and it is our joy if by grace we have the eyes to see it. 
Simply put, Jesus said things like, “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.” Stun people with how generously you serve. And again, “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” More gospel love grows on a turned cheek than a clinched fist. This is the power of the good news unleashed in a world that knows neither how nourishing God’s love in Christ really is nor how transforming God’s grace can be.
You know, weed control has nothing to do with pulling weeds. Weed control has everything to do with being God’s people of grace and truth, acceptance and forgiveness, generosity and hospitality in this world. The way of life in Christ is ultimately the way of love. May this week, see you being able to refuse getting caught up in causes but rather be caught up in the movement Jesus launched two thousand years ago. His movement is like a field in which a farmer sowed good seed, believing that God would one day gather a bountiful harvest from the choices we make to live the life Jesus taught us. 

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 16 July 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 22, 2017 - 8:21am

Guest blog by Emma Halgren
But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.
From small things, wonderful things can grow. This year, Matthew and I welcomed our little baby Charlie into our lives, and we — and those around us — are delighting in watching him grow and change and learn each day.
Charlie will be baptised at Sophia’s Spring, the Uniting Church community in Melbourne that Matt, Charlie and I are part of, in September. But today’s service was an opportunity to have him blessed and named within the Marsden Road community which has been such an important part of my life (and the lives of my parents and siblings), nourishing and instructing me in the Christian faith, and nurturing in me a commitment to social justice which has guided many of the jobs and activities I’ve been involved in so far in my life.
Kaye and Andrew Crook, who worship at Blacktown Uniting Church, led the service and the blessing of Charlie. In their sermon, they reflected on the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23) and what we can learn from it about mission today — about “extravagant generosity” in our sharing of the Gospel with others, about being “a doer of the word and not only a hearer”.
They explained that the actions of the sower in this parable — scattering expensive seed recklessly, some of it on poor soil — would have shocked Jesus’ listeners, and most farmers in our own time, as wasteful behaviour. But Jesus is challenging our tendency to “play it safe” and hold on too tightly to our resources, stifling creativity and energy.
“God has always been prepared to risk wasting love on those whom the world judges to be hopeless cases, in the hope that a few souls in the most unfortunate circumstances might nurture a seed and bring it to harvest,” said Kaye and Andrew.
“If there is any hope for the unproductive soil, it is that the sower keeps sowing generously, extravagantly, even in the least promising places.”
We look forward to having Charlie baptised into the community of people of faith who are doing this generous work. The Basis of Union, the foundational document of the Uniting Church in Australia, says that Baptism “initiates people into Christ's life and mission in the world so that they are united in one fellowship of love, service and joy…”.
As a first step, it meant a lot to have Charlie welcomed into the Marsden Road community, and to have Kaye share words of blessing that captured both the day-to-day reality of parenting, and the unfathomable mystery and miracle that is the birth of a baby. Here is the blessing she shared:
Dear Father God, we pray that you might bless Charlie and may he always walk in the light of your love.
We give thanks for the safe birth of healthy children.
We wonder at tiny hands and smiles and gurgles.
We delight in all the firsts that come with a new child  -

first breath, first bath, first sleep through the night, first steps, first words…

We ask that you bless his mum and dad. Give them strength and wisdom as they lead Charlie through life being a part of your family. May these parents gently nurture their precious son Charlie.
May they enjoy the growth of deep relationships.
May they give thanks every day for the gift of Life

We pray too for the godparents. Help them to support Charlie’s mum and dad, and also show Charlie good ways of living. May they have time to spend with Charlie, playing, learning, sharing their lives and the love of God with him.

We pray for all of us here today Lord. Help us to support this family in whatever way we can, especially in prayer.
So bless this family Lord. Shower them with love and wisdom. In the hard times may they know your presence, in the good times may they rejoice in your grace.
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 11 June 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 15, 2017 - 5:53am

First a note to say that I am in holidays for a couple of weeks and so will not be producing a blog those weeks.
On June 11 the sermon did not take place because time was needed for the commissioning of a new Lay Preacher in the Uniting Church.
That new Lay Preacher is me, the one who brings you this blog most times.

I have been preparing for this for some time. To begin with there were classes in the Living our Faith series on eight weekends in: New Testament, Old Testament, Theology and one focussing on Jesus Christ. Within these courses there was opportunity to develop and practise the skills needed in leading worship. Readings were provided, as were assessment items to allow students to tease out their understanding of each course. In addition I needed to attend classes which examined the foundation and values of the Uniting Church.
I should say immediately that these courses were open to anyone seeking personal development, not just people considering the ministry of Lay Preacher.
But for those who had it in mind that they could serve God and the church as a Lay Preacher, other things needed to be considered. The Church Council of the Congregation to which the person belonged needed to prayerfully consider whether that person was suitable in the role and make a recommendation to that effect, Also, the minister leading the church to which the prospective Lay Preacher belonged, needed to write a recommendation too. Then a committee from Presbytery interviewed the person (twice).
But as well, the members of the church had to make a recommendation. This was done through assessments made by selected people during three services at the prospective Lay Preacher’s church and two services at other churches.
This is a very thorough process and it could be thought that it would take someone committed to be commissioned to undertake such a journey.
However this wasn't how it happened for me. I joined the first weekend without any idea of what was before me and certainly without any idea of becoming a Lay Preacher. Of course I knew many people present had that intention and while I was by no means certain that I had any such calling I completed the course work fully to allow whatever option God put before me to eventuate.
Initially, I was more concerned with attending the weekends to untangle and sort out much of my own thinking and to search for a belief where my mind was as comfortable as my heart. The version of Christian belief I had received in Sunday School and later didn't sit well with my other education and I often felt I was expected to leave my brain at the door when I attended services.

The Living our Faith classes provided the place where I could go that was able to do just that. Within the first two sets of weekends I knew I had found the place I needed to be. But still was I one to be any sort of leader?
The indication that Lay Preacher would seem to be a calling came with the completion of the assessments and the services I needed to lead as part of the course. I am not suggesting that I was wonderful at any if this but I felt I was in a place I belonged and I understood what it was that needed to be done,  and how, with advice, I could develop my ability to do what a Lay Preacher needs to be able to do.
But the most strong indication I had of a calling was that I could see how I could help others to find that place of contentment that I had found through completing the course. Others might not be able to attend the course but I could pass in my learning and my new understanding of the Bible and our Faith to them in church services, bible studies and  general discussions. And so, as each new step of the journey unfolded before me I became  more sure that Lay Preaching was a place I could serve God and his people.
And so, in June 11 the church confirmed that calling with my commissioning and celebrated it after the service with a lovely morning tea.
Can I say that this has been a life giving experience. I know that it is not possible for everyone to attend this course or any other, even for self development. But may I urge anyone reading this, to commit yourself to some reading, or audio or video series to focus your heart and mind and to provide a springboard from which you may fly into a faith life greater than you have now.  

Margaret Johnston.
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 9 July 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 15, 2017 - 5:46am

Today we were very happy to welcome Akosita to our church to lead our Sunday Worship. She drew us into the warmth of her relationship with God, through prayers that evoked heartfelt responses from the members of the congregation, hymns that brought back memories and a sermon that spoke to each of us in our individual situations.

Drawing on Matthew 11, Akosita Called us to Worship
One: God invites us to venture into unknown places. We can do that, for we know that God goes with us.
All: We trust, we dare, we follow.
One: Jesus calls us to take his yoke upon us, and learn from him. We can do that, for Jesus also says, “If you are tired, come to me, and I will refresh you.
All: We trust, we dare, we follow.
One: Let us worship God, who challenges us, and who comforts us.
All: We trust, we dare, we follow.

Hymn TIS 52 “Let us sing to the God of our salvation” The one we can rely on…always.

Opening Prayer:
Akosita opened in praise, allowing each of us to lift our hearts to God:
God of Eternal Promise, we are in awe of your amazing goodness.
We praise and adore you, O God, for doing wondrous things in our lives.
For loving and forgiving us, even when we become distracted by the events of our daily existence.
We are aware of your divine activity in our lives, prompting us to deepen our trust in you.
She then reminded us of the eternal invitation to everyone who lives:
Jesus has invited us to come to him and receive a yoke that fits us well, to lead us and guide us in his ways. Loving God, may we step forward…May we step forward boldly and with trust, assured that you care for us deeply and wonderfully. Amen
With this Akosita drew us all into the circle of God’s everlasting arms, and being in this trusting state we were able to confess freely that we aren't what we should be.

Prayer of Confession and Pardon
One: Sometimes, our lives seem out of control. We know what to do.
All: But we just don't do it.
One: We are torn between doing what is right, and doing what is popular. We know what you do.
All: But we just don't do it.
One: Other times, we hide from doing what is right, hoping God won't notice. So we can rejoice, knowing that God also forgives us and gives us strength to begin over.
All: Thanks be to God.
We could all identify with the words that were spoken to us and the words we read, and as a result we were all aware of burdens lifted and a sense of newness.

Lynell then brought to us the readings from the Bible:
Romans 7: 15-25a
Matthew 11: 16-19, 25-30

Akosita took the second half of the Matthew reading on which to base her reflection and delivered a measured introduction, drawing attention to the verses she was using…vv 28-30.
Her theme was Come and Rest, and she spoke of these words in Matthew as a soothing balm to the ears for time when we are struggling and overwhelmed.
She said, that for her, it was a beloved passage, given to invite people to discipleship. It was addressed to the people of Israel who were, at that time, weighed down with the do’s and dont’s of legalism. And so the people were given this marvelous invitation….encouraging the people to come to Jesus.

These words had an awakening effect, providing assurance, forgiveness, and renewal, for which we give thanks to God.
We all need rest….from school, from work, from family and friends and the Holy Spirit refreshes us.
Akosita pointed out that God created the universe and then rested. The whole point of creation is to rest in it and that is the whole point of turning your Jesus…to rest in him. Jesus wanted to lift up people but was seen as ineffective by some because he wasn't the saviour who came to liberate the people from the rule of other political powers. But they and people in this time are looking to the wrong sort of liberation.
We have to see that our worth comes from the gift of love from God. We belong to God who  makes everything and every day holy. Amen.
Hymn TIS 590 “What a friend we have in Jesus” An old hymn that comforts us in difficult times.

Prayers of the People
Akosita led us in praying for those that follow Jesus and those that haven't made that decision yet. Again her words were ones of comfort, keeping our focus in the love that is offered to all. We then joined in The Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn TIS 154 “Great is your faithfulness” another old hymn where we joined to express our praise and our confidence in God for his faithfulness to us in all things.

Sending Out
Go with God who calls you by your name, secure in your relationship with Jesus Christ, and trust in God in so you do. Akosita then pronounced the

Benediction  after which we blessed each other in the words of

Hymn TIS 779 “May the feet of God walk with you’. Our prayer for all.

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A Lamp to my Feet.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 14, 2017 - 1:43pm
Having a break in Thailand with both sun and warm rain I was reminded of a time in my past when certain types of exercise were part of my life. Not just wanders around shops or around ruins in the sun or with an umbrella at the ready. Sometimes I ran or jogged would actually be a better description. This was in the dark, in the winter, when the sun comes up so late that a morning run nearly always begins in darkness. When I shifted to warmer climes I did all my jogging early, before the day got too hot. Sometimes I jogged before the sun had begun to rise, either because my schedule demanded it or because it was already warmer than I liked, and I wanted to finish early.
Often the path I covered had no streetlights, so when it was dark I needed a lamp of some kind. These have changed and developed over the years. At one stage I tried wearing one of those (very dorky) little forehead lights that attaches around your head with an elastic strap. As soon as the morning sky gives enough light for one to see without the lamp, you take it off and carry it the rest of the way (thereby reducing the dork factor, should you be seen by anyone you knew). I found the same headlight helpful when bushwalking into the night or making early starts up mountains.
The headlamp gave me freedom to run without fear of falling over a speed bump or tree root, ensured that drivers could see me when I crossed a street, and enabled me to exercise when otherwise I’d be stuck at home. These days and this generation in this country aren’t much accustomed to the darkness. Unless the power is out, we merely have to flick a switch and the lights come on. What a luxury.
Even so, being in the dark, figuratively, is part of the human condition. We never know just what’s coming next. Even less do we know what the distant future holds. We plan our schooling, imagine what job we’ll have, look for long-term relationships, save for retirement. I am confident in saying that no one’s life has ever turned out exactly how they’d imagined it when they were young.

Because we are in the dark about what’s coming, we need lights. People to whom we can go for advice or help. Friends who encourage us. Family who are our home even when we’re far away. For Christians, our light is our God, who never leaves our side. These lights help us find our way. Alone on an unlit pathway, we trip over our own feet, find ourselves in unsafe situations, grope in the darkness.
With the light of God’s presence, we are less afraid, surer of our footsteps, secure that we are headed in the right general direction. We find in Psalm 119 the words “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path,” to encourage us and bring us hope. We run in the dark, but not alone. With light, we begin to see with growing clarity what was there all along: purpose, meaning, love, faith, hope. As the pathway continues to unfold before us, every switchback brings something new and unforeseen. Around every turn, God is already there, holding the lamp.

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Is our Yoke burdensome?

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - July 7, 2017 - 10:21pm

Few of us use yokes anymore— we often need to explain that a yoke is equipment used to hitch animals together and to something else, such as a plough. Machines do so much of our farming, and so few people work the land, that a yoke is an antique, a museum piece, not an everyday item. However, for Jesus and the people in his community, the yoke was both every day and held double meaning. The most obvious is the agricultural, but there was also the example of Isaiah 58, where a yoke is a system, often a system of bondage— whether that system is economic, political, or intellectual.
Sometimes people are put under the yoke by an oppressive power, as the Israelite's had been by the Babylonians, or as they were under the Romans. Sometimes the yoke is a choice— by choosing to follow a particular teacher, one took his yoke upon oneself. The yoke was the system of teachings, the teacher’s philosophy. And sometimes a system that should be life-giving— like the Torah— is turned into oppression, as we see with the wise and intelligent— the Pharisees and the scribes— who have made the good law of God into a religious and political system that oppresses people and needs to be broken.
So, Jesus calls all of us who are caught in those systems, especially those weary of following all six hundred thirteen laws to the letter and still wondering about the graceof God, especially those who believe God’s love must be earned, to come to him and trade that yoke for another. I always thought the point of breaking the oppressive yoke was to be free. But we all know that isn’t exactly true— as Bob Dylan said, we “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

The question is: will we be yoked to the letter of the law? To the economic and political system? Yoked to our possessions? Social status? Desires? Yoked to our limited understanding of God, or to what we think the good life looks like? Or will we slip into the empty side of Jesus’ yoke and partner with him in the work God has in mind for the world?
When a farmer has a new animal to train, the new animal is yoked together with an experienced one. That way the new animal learns the way while the experienced one carries most of the burden. Eventually the new animal becomes so experienced that it follows the way willingly, and finds the work easy, the burden light. Are we willing to take Jesus’ yoke upon us? Are we willing to submit, knowing it means we cannot continue to pull our other burdens (however much they may look like blessings), to walk with Jesus until we are so trained that our lives won’t go any other way?

Now, that’s quite a challenge to human beings let alone those who see themselves as Christians. Within our community there are many philosophies, events, things and ideas vying for our attention and seeking to yoke us to their way. Sadly, even within our religious organisations particularly those who would espouse fundamentalism, literalist adherence to the religions scriptures or their way of thinking are those who would yoke us to ways that are burdensome and life depleting. The choice of Yoke is ours. Are we willing to take Jesus’ yoke upon us?
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 2 July 2017

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - July 6, 2017 - 9:51am

Call to Worship
(Deborah Sokolove, The Abingdon Worship Annual)
God’s love is steadfast, inviting us to rejoice and find eternal life in love of God and others.
The Holy One calls us to trust God’s steadfast love. With our ancestor Abraham, we say: “Here I am.”
The Holy One calls us to be guided by prophets. With the first followers of Jesus, we say: “Here I am.”
The Holy One calls us into eternal life. With the Gospel writers, we say: “Here I am.”
Let us worship the God who calls us. Amen.
My thought about the response above is that my “Here I am.” is not complete. There's much I hold back, even if I'm sincere as I say the words, within a moment I am protecting the part of me I want to keep control over.

Hymn TIS 102: “Praise to the living God”    
Opening prayer
Wellspring of Grace, Teacher of Truth, Breath of Resurrection, you welcome us into your life, and invite us to welcome others with a cup of water, a bite of bread, a moment of conversation. As we drink from the overflowing spring of your endless love, fill our hearts with thanksgiving and joy, that we may become the body of Christ pouring our lives into a world that yearns to be filled. Amen.
 Another chance to lay all on my God but am I ready to let God be my Lord and King?
A Prayer of Confession
 Teacher of Truth, you tell us to welcome prophets and teachers, and to give to those in need.
Yet we want to hug your salvation to ourselves and keep your gifts for our own use.
You call us to be servants of your teaching, and to remember that we are no longer slaves to sin.
Yet we want to continue doing what we have always done before, hanging onto old habits and opinions, even when you show us a better way.
You even offer us eternal life when we surrender to your will.
Forgive us, Holy One, when we mistake our will for your own. Amen.
The very prayer of confession needed for someone like me. Can I make it mine?
Declaration of Forgiveness
God is a wellspring of grace, offering the gift of eternal life to all who do God’s will. In the name of Christ, we are forgiven, loved, and free.
Thanks, be to God! Amen.
Eternal life, in the here and now. An offer of liberty but still we hesitate. Why?
The Peace
 In gratitude for the gift of eternal life, let us greet one another with signs of peace. The peace of Christ be with you.
The peace of Christ be with you always.
At least God’s grace allows us to open our hearts to our neighbours.
Pentecost God, take our hearts and set them on fire. Take our lives and transform them. Take our church and resurrect it with your life-giving Spirit. Take our gifts and use them for the fulfillment of your vision of peace and unity.

Giving of our gifts is so easy compared with the giving of ourselves.
Offering Prayer
 God of grace and truth, you welcome us into your presence and provide refreshment and renewal for our lives in Jesus, your Son, our Lord.  Receive and bless these gifts and our lives which we offer in response to your many gracious gifts to us.  May our hands be always open to welcome people in Jesus’ name.  Amen
Grace enough to acknowledge Gods great gifts to us. But can we take our hands off the wheel of our lives and give God full control.
Hymn TIS 129: “Amazing grace”

The Service of Holy Communion
The Great Thanksgiving
The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is a right, good, and a joyful thing always and everywhere to give our thanks to you, who saved Abraham from sacrificing his beloved son, Isaac, and has given us the gift of eternal life in Christ. We give you thanks for freedom and friendship, for love and for laughter, for parents and children who travel together in the ways of peace. We give you thanks for new understandings of ancient stories, for happy endings and new beginnings, for cups of cold water on hot, sunny days. And so, with your creatures on earth and all the heavenly chorus, we praise your name and join their unending hymn:
 Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!And we can say this with the greatest authenticity while still holding back. The service continued:….
Invitation to Communion
Are you hungry for God? Come to the bread of life. Are you in need of forgiveness? Come to the table of grace. Are you empty and alone?
At the deepest level…yes, sometimes.
Come to the feast of love. Come, even when naked and vulnerable, for here we are covered with abundant grace and filled with the goodness of God.
Prayer after Communion
God of compassion, through your son, Jesus Christ, you reconciled your people to yourself. Following his example of prayer and fasting may we obey you with willing hearts and serve one another in holy love. Amen.
Obey with willing hearts. I mean to.
Rev. John referred to the story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son at a time when families were willing to do just that to gain favour with lifeless deities.
But in this case, the deity was the Living God and Abraham was shown that such a sacrifice was not asked for or required.
John continued, applying the situation to our own lives: “We can let work drive a knife into the beating heart of a marriage. We can bind our families with cords of anger and addiction that feel like living death. If we are not aware of or sensitive to others, we will kill life’s most precious relationships. The story tells us that God provides a way that leads to life, not death; that sacrifice does not require the death of a child or a spouse. God calls us to worthy dreams and ennobled human values. In the thickets of our, often complicated lives, God has resources offering better ways to live.”
 Hymn TIS 585: “I heard the voice of Jesus say”
Music to lead us to prayer
Intercessory Prayers
Margaret thanked God for the security we are given in the face of all that is unGodlike within us and around us. She asked for God’s direction for all people and gave thanks for the healing and Grace God gives. She asked for God’s protection for all people who serve others in places where they could be exposed to violence and then prayed for those facing the highs and lows of life in sickness and in pain or travelling the roads, the seas or the skies. We then joined in the Lord’s Prayer.

Hymn TIS 650: “Brother, sister, let me serve you”
With prophets and teachers, and all who seek to do the will of God— let us go forth to fill the empty cups of all who ask; let us give in the name of the Breath of Resurrection, the Wellspring of Grace, the Teacher of Truth: The One, Triune God, who gives eternal life. Let us share the blessings of Christ’s eternal covenant, and praise God for the Spirit’s call to love and give. Amen.
Hymn TIS 778: “Shalom to you now”
Sung with sincerity to each other, wishing everyone the highest blessing that God offers.

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