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Who Stands With Us?

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

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

Today it is enough to remember that we are tested like this all the time. More than a thousand years after this story, Jesus will teach that asking for daily bread is enough to pray. We might wish for a lifetime supply of our favourite delicacies, but can we be thankful for what God provides? For the gift of life? For all that God has done and has promised?
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Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 September 2017

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



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

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

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

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

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

 
 


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preaching of the Word

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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