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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 7 December 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

From the very first, therefore, Jesus’ life is threatened by the political forces of his time. He represents a threat to their unchallenged reign and promises a world turned upside down. At the same time, there are many who will see what Jesus’ very presence means, even if it requires pursuing a star across the skies day after day. This is the very essence of faith on Epiphany.
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 31 December 2017

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

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

 Call to Worship

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

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

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

Prosperity or Blessing?

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

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

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

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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 24 December 2017

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


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

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

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

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

Go forth in the name of the living Word, the One whose words bring forth the fruit of the kingdom in your own lives! Amen.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

New Life – God with Us.

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

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

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

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

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

It is not because we are significant or because we have answers that love seeks to be born in and through us. It is because God makes what seems impossible completely attainable. God simply waits for our yes, and once we have given it, God goes to work to bring the incarnated love to birth in us and, through us, in the world. The incarnation really is the ultimate love story, Emmanuel, God with us.
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 December 2017

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


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

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

You are a Gift!

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 15, 2017 - 9:32pm
I am told and from my own observations, not having experienced such a thing, that when something as extraordinary as a new baby comes into your life, time takes on new meaning. The change is instantaneous, and before you know it, you cannot imagine what it was to live life any other way. Hours, days, weeks, months, take on new meaning. One thing for sure, you cannot predict the fullness of time any more than you can predict what God will do in any given moment, or exactly when a baby will be born.
Of course, the idea of the fullness of time also means that we believe that there is a general trajectory to the world and that God is the one with the finger on the pulse of that trajectory. Time and time again, we are given clues in Scripture about what that path looks like Isaiah 64: 1-3.  This is no promise of business-as-usual. This is the doors of the prison flung open. This is such as the Long Bay here in Sydney or Guantanamo Bay shut down. This is the atrocities of Darfur or Myanmar completely reversed forever. This is flood-ravaged plains dried up and restored and hurricane destruction rebuilt. This is AIDS eradicated and foreclosures cancelled.
This is a promise so radical, a trajectory so extraordinary, a world so upside down that it prompts only one question: “When, Lord?” We do not know where we are on the arc of God’s plan, any more than we know when a baby will come or when the fullness of time will be revealed once again or God’s great reversal will play out or our world will be turned upside down in the most remarkable, unpredictable, and spectacular of ways.

We are promised that only that those who mourn will wear garlands of roses and orchids and lilies as they dance with delight, and will splash one another with the oil of celebration instead of wallowing in the stink of death. We know that those who hunger and thirst and long to be filled with something other than regret shall be filled, and those who have lavished in plenty and luxury and satisfied self-confidence will have to wait their turn.
Those promises that we hear are to make the struggle worth it. In an animal barn surrounded by farm animals, with the cold reality and the stink of life all around her, a young girl gave herself over to the fullness of time and leaned her body and her spirit fully into that long arc, and the world was turned upside down forever. You are a Christmas gift to the world! We who are members of the body of Christ, are the children of the Spirit and more challenging we are a Christmas gift to the world! We are God’s gift, not just to the pretty parts of the world, but to the ugly, dirty, uncomfortable parts, so that we can bring hope to the hopeless, justice to the downtrodden, and freedom to the enslaved.
John the Baptist could say he was only a witness, sent to testify to the light. But we are more than witnesses; we are children of the light. Jesus, Light of the, told his followers that we were to be the light of the world with him. Yes, following Christ means walking in some very large footsteps— but Christ walks with us, and God’s Spirit empowers us to fulfil this calling. For those who are still seeking we are to be that light and to those who seek know that you also are beloved.
Rejoice, all who hear this good news! We who claim to be Christian are here to show God’s love to those who believe or feel they are unloved, to transform cries into laughter, and to partner with God to turn tears of sorrow into shouts of joy. God’s steadfast love is with us always, and that is a marvellous Christmas gift indeed. But the greatest Christmas miracle is this: God’s steadfast love is with the least and the lost, the poorest and the saddest.

How does this occur? It happens through each one of us. We help the Christmas miracle of God’s steadfast love transform the world when we live this calling and proclaim this message. Rejoice! You are a Christmas gift to the world! Thanks be to that same God.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

What do we hear?.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 8, 2017 - 8:47pm
Advent is not an easy season, with its harried pace and busy schedule. Even non-Christians are surrounded by the holiday patterns of shopping, partying, decorating, and hurrying. Many people are haunted by grief: lamenting broken family relationships, deceased loved ones, and failed friendships. Even non-believers may find themselves yearning for connections with God and community that they seldom notice at other times of the year. And so, God offers the gift of steadfast love to the godly and ungodly alike.
The sinful Israelite's are offered hopeful words of comfort. Our reading this week from the second letter attributed to Saint Peter reminds us that God does not want any person to perish. And we are also reminded in Mark’s Gospel that John comes preaching not just repentance, but forgiveness. God’s gift of love is not just for perfect people, not just for loving people, not just for Christians or Jews or Muslims or Buddhists. God’s Christmas gift of love is for all people, so that “all people shall see it together.” We are given this season of waiting as a gift. For in the waiting, we are all invited to hear God’s glorious promise of love. 
In the waiting, we are all allowed to grieve absent loved ones and lament unfulfilled hopes. All the while, God is waiting with us— waiting for the godly and ungodly alike to hear God’s tender voice, to perceive God’s constant presence, and to accept God’s steadfast love. In this season of hurriedness and impatience, Peter’s words fall like the water of a soothing fountain: “Regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.” God is in no hurry to force us into a realm of love and peace that we are not prepared to accept and embrace. God awaits the day when we will hear and believe: “The glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together.”
In our “church world” today we take the concept of a gospel, good news for granted. We have heard the “good news” throughout our lives. Even outside the church, scriptures are quoted and biblical principles are espoused so that it is impossible to escape some level of “gospelisation.” What would it be like to hear the good news for the very first time? What might the stories of Jesus elicit in our hearts and minds had we not heard them over and over since childhood?
In the opinion of most scholars, the gospel ascribed to Mark is the “beginning,” at least of the written form. Truly, it was a “new thing.” Imagine yourself in a life of poverty, locked into a spiral of hard work for little gain, tied to one place for all time, under the sovereignty of a foreign power, denied basic rights and freedoms, and lacking any real hope of change or advance. For some who will read this, that is the life they live and it’s not hard to imagine. For others it is hard to imagine such situations. Yet they still exist all over our world today both overtly and subtly.
It is easy to frame such an existence as futile and desperate. But into such a reality comes a message of possibility, a story of a redeemer and saviour. This is a story of a champion rising from the common herd, someone just like us, but in very significant ways nothing like us at all— a man who possesses the very power and wisdom of God. Could the stories be true? Could the prophesies and promises of the ages come to fulfillment? Was there hope for the oppressed and the downtrodden?

In our modern world, it is difficult to imagine what first-century Jewish people heard when they first received the “good news.” Yet, in our modern world, we can reflect on what we hear as, again and again, we hear the gospel message. Do we hear promise? Do we receive hope? Does the gospel still contain power to transform lives?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 3 December 2017

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

These words called us to worship

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

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

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


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