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Watering with Love.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 14, 2020 - 6:21am

According to one of the readings set for this week Deuteronomy 30, everyday life and death, blessing and curse are set before us. It tells us that Blessing is waiting for us if we would love the Lord, walk in his ways, and keep his commandments. Conversely, if our hearts turn away and refuse to listen and obey, it will mean death for us. What will we choose? From that we can draw from this reading is an understanding that God’s commands are for our well-being.
Following God’s commands brings happiness and wholeness to our bodies. But the blessing God desires for us goes deeper than that. God desires that our hearts be at rest and whole. Yet in another of the readings set for this week, Matthew 5, Jesus makes it clear that he takes God’s commands to another level: “You have heard that it was said . . ., Don’t commit murder. . .. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. . .. If they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.”
It is not simply about refraining from killing someone else. It is about being careful to care for their hearts and to take care that anger and malice are not in control of our own hearts. Every day we choose. Every moment we choose. Will we choose life or death? Will we disobey God and reap the destructive consequences in our minds, bodies, hearts, and relationships? Or will we obey God’s commands and receive the blessing he offers? God desires to bless us. God desires that we would not merely survive, but that we would thrive.

Yet, we hear many purporting to follow Jesus and his teachings advocating exclusion, advocating violence, advocating their own power and position. It would seem that our world has chosen to follow such leaders both in Church and Secular government. In the Church by seeking a literalism that advocates violence against those we believe are different or who might be seeking a fuller understanding of their relationship with their God and how to live out the life that Jesus demonstrated. The heart and compassion are key to our understanding of following our God’s commandments.
In Matthew 5 is one of those places where Jesus poses traditional law versus God’s law of Love that he came to fulfill. Human beings desire according to the desiring of others, which leads to reaching for the same objects of desire, and thus sow the seeds to human conflict. A second involves the sacrificial logic that founds and shapes human culture: attempting to substitute a lesser or sanctioned violence for the unwanted violence arising from our desire. The violence ensuing from our desire threatens to unravel human community; sacrificial violence is what we trust to cohere human community.
Jesus fully understands this, and it can be unpacked for modern ears such that we can make use of it in more fully understanding the antitheses between traditional human law and the fulfillment of God’s law in love. A deeper understanding of the Ten Commandments can also assist with understanding these antitheses. Human beings are always at jeopardy of breaking the commandments due to the desires over our neighbour, because we are hard-wired for these desires. The rivalry generated by desires results in increasing envy, resentment, lust, and anger (and ultimately violence).

So, we read that Jesus poses that the anger caused by rivalry (coveting) as on a continuum with slandering our neighbour and even murdering our neighbour. Likewise, lust is akin to the breaking of the seventh commandment on adultery. The problem of human violence must be addressed at its root. The ultimate solution is the Greatest Commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.
Otherwise, we are left to continue our sacrificial solutions of human law based on human councils of judgment and on sacrificial solutions. Any solution less than following the complete love of God coming into the world through the Son is from the “evil one.” These lesser solutions characterise all of our lives if not for the “complete” love of the parent of Jesus Christ that graciously rescues us.
Each one of us has a role given to us by the Lord. Some plant, some water. We don’t get to decide what our role is. There is blessing for us if we will gladly accept the role that God gives us. There is joy for us when we stop comparing ourselves to others and wishing we could do what someone else does. It is up to the wisdom of our God. In scripture we are told that some plant, some water, but God makes growth happen. We do our jobs, but truly, apart from God’s working, our best efforts are worthless.

 We don’t have to make everything happen. It is not our job. We must release ourselves from that kind of pressure. We must be faithful to do what God has given us to do. We will receive our own reward for our own labour. And, we can delight in the reality that the almighty God of the universe allows each of us to play a unique part in his work.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Duality We Live In.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - February 7, 2020 - 4:48am
In one of our scriptures for this week from the three-year lectionary namely Isaiah 58:1-12 we are reminded of the dual context in which we live. Remember: the Israelites are in exile, torn away from their home and suffering from their falling short of God’s vision by being a conquered nation. But even in the stark reality of their oppression, they continue to harm each other by unjust practices and seeking selfish gain. So, they cry “Lord, Lord” and yet turn their back on God by taking advantage of others for their own benefit. They falsely practice their faith through inauthentic fasts, practicing an “empty ritual” while “oppressing all their workers.”

The fact that God chooses is one in which they will feed the hungry, provide a bed for the homeless, and clothe the poor. Only then will they be healed, as their light will shine in the darkness and flood their world with the glory of God. Those who know God act justly and righteously. God hears their cry of exile and will come to deliver them. How will they be allowed to go home if they only mirror the oppression that keeps them captive in the here and now? So too we in the present time are living in a dual context. We live in a consumeristic society that values the things of the world, hungering for power, fame, fortune, and always more accumulations.
Even the churches that we attend have been co-opted by desiring more—more people, money, reputation, and influence. In seeking these things, our fasts are hollow and empty. We long for real meaning in our lives, and more material possessions never satisfies us. As Christians, Jesus demands the same actions from us as the Israelites: feeding the hungry, providing shelter for the homeless, and clothing the naked. Only when we practice our faith in such a way will God hear our cries. Until then, we are in exile, foreigners in an alien land, looking to return home to God. Real spiritual meaning only comes when we reach out and care for the least of these in our midst: the poor, the prisoner, the immigrant, and any who are oppressed. In doing so, our light will shine forth, and God will send meaning and hope to flood our lives.
Further, in the Epistle text from 1 Corinthians 2, we see the dual contexts between limited human wisdom and unlimited spiritual power from God. The unspiritual will never see the twin contexts we live in. This is only accessible by living in the mind of Christ, but we need to remember that no one in the secular world will understand us. Likewise, in Matthew 5, when we care and tend to the least of God’s creation our light shines forth for all to see. Our light is the good deeds we do, and some may give glory to God because people will see why we do such good.
Historian Rodney Stark reports that when the Black Plague ripped through the Roman Empire in 260 CE, Dionysius (Bishop of Alexandria) wrote that the non-Christians pushed those who suffered away and fled for their lives. Christians lived with the Easter conviction of another world instead. They had contempt for death. “Heedless of danger,” writes Dionysius, “they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbours and cheerfully accepting their pains.”
So, where are we in light of such information. Sadly, our world in its shift right seems to value the greedy, self-preservation and power hunger of this world. A bit of the haul the paddle on board Jack, I’m alright. This is not what our God called us to but instead called us to live as his son Jesus lived, to follow his example of love, compassion, grace and joy.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Walking in the Haze.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 31, 2020 - 7:16am

When Wendy and I were first married we had in our house a machine. This machine lived quietly alone most of the time and this is an elliptical machine. Its paddles turn a big wheel, encased in a plastic shell. Each time we get on it, we pushed the pedal, and you would hear the wheel spin, heavily. Sometimes when I used this machine which it would be nice to still have, I reflected on the Beatitudes and it struck me then that these verses have a familiar rhythm of their own. They come around, again and again.
My mother used to caution my brothers and I whenever a squabble broke out amongst us (which was often, and I remember quite often being on the receiving end of my brother’s actions): “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Having said that I wonder if she knew where it came from. I had no idea what that was supposed to mean. I only knew what my mother meant. Stop fighting with your brothers. I did, for some reason, believe it was my job to keep the peace, even if it meant giving in to make the fight stop. Take the blame if you must. It turned me off the Beatitudes. I eventually heard the Beatitudes where this came from by reading the Bible and being informed of this by Sister Childs of the Church Army, our Bible Class Teacher in my early teens.
I read them all, and I thought they sounded sad, mostly. Still, it was clear they mattered, that I was supposed to attend to them. They reflect the human condition, the elliptical way of a spiritual life. We know we are working hard, but we wonder whether we are going anywhere. I’ve gotten on the machine when some other member of the family used it last, someone stronger and taller, and found I could not make the pedals move at all. Unfortunately, it didn’t work very well, didn’t activate, until the pedals went around. So, in order to change the level of resistance from someone else’s 6 or 7 to my level of around 1 or maybe even up to 4, I had to find a way to make the wheel spin first.
The way of Jesus will sometimes feel like the elliptical on an exercise machine set unexpectedly at level 10. When we feel as if someone is persecuting us for being the kind of person we believe we’re meant to be, the kind of person God calls us to be, it’s hard work to turn the wheel, to get things in motion again, to feel actually blessed by God in the moment of challenge. When I have to get the actual elliptical started under those difficult circumstances, I remember that gravity is my friend, and I step on and let my weight carry the paddle down, hoping the batteries will come to life.
Or we could ask for help, if someone stronger is nearby. In our effort to be disciples of Jesus and live the way our God calls us to, we may need to let the weight of the moment carry the pedals around, slowly at first. We may need to ask for the help of others who have been there before. God blesses their faithfulness in the face of resistance. God will bless ours, too. So, what does that mean. What is our life to look like if we are taking the Beatitudes seriously?
If we go to one of the other readings of scripture for the day from Micah it says: “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; / and what does the LORD require of you / but to do justice, and to love kindness, / and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8 NRSV). This time of year, (Post Christmas) I become a lot more conscious of walking. Walking is normally a pretty natural thing for me. I don’t think much about it when I put one foot in front of the other. We’ve had a lot of ash, haze, particle dust lately, though, and walking takes more concentration.
We need to take care. In December when I had been to an appointment I was walking through the haze in Sydney and was concentrating so much on the path in front I failed to see the branch that whacked me in the head. Once of course the haze clears walking is fun. The prophet Micah says God’s people are called to walk humbly with God. Walking with God can be treacherous, easy, fun, or difficult. Sometimes it requires great concentration to decide what is the right thing to do, how to act in a tough situation. Sometimes it’s easy; we know exactly what to do from the beginning.
Sometimes it’s frightening, because walking the right path can lead to change, and change isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Sometimes it is dangerous to pursue justice, or even to love kindness. When we challenge the societal norms, we can put ourselves at risk of being ostracised, or worse.
Walking simply takes practice. The more we practice prayer, being kind, justice-making, the more natural those things become. That doesn’t mean we won’t make a wrong step, slip, or fall down. But we continue to walk with God anyway. The more we walk, the more at ease we become, even on the hazy days.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 26 January 2020

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 29, 2020 - 11:57am


Rev. John’s service began today with an acknowledgement of the First Peoples and the debt we owe them - past, present and future. It is only fitting that we acknowledge the care they gave the land we now call home. Gratitude is always a reflection of our attitude towards God and the gifts we are given which is invariably through other people.
Today was Australia Day and while the sermon did not specifically address that, references were made through other parts of the service. We must learn how to care for the precious gift we have in this country, which with its people has suffered so dreadfully from drought, fires and flood over the last months.

These events have brought to mind the preciousness of our environment and our responsibility to show care, looking at its special needs which are quite different from those of the many countries from which we or our ancestors have come. We are wrong to make assumptions and must think carefully about our stewardship of this marvellous gift, our home.

We may wonder where we can acquire the wisdom needed to change track. Rev. John’s words about the light conferred upon anyone who seeks it from the Spirit of God who is the author of all creation will guide us and illuminate our thinking as we look for ways and means to deal with the environmental issues which beset our home at this time. As Rev. John alluded to, these solutions will probably not be found in a church or any religious setting, after all Jesus spent most of his time out and about dealing with the ills, physical or spiritual, wherever they occurred. The disciples were never in a religious setting when they were called and so, it is most likely that we will find the solutions we need to address the brokenness of our land out where they are occurring.

Rev. John also spoke of being “fishers of people”. It is highly unlikely that anyone seeking healing for their bodies, minds or souls will come to church out of the blue to find it. They are far more likely to look at the people around them who seem to them to be living as though they are healed or being healed.


It could be that the deep yearning or spiritual hunger someone feels will motivate them to seek answers from a person who appears to be finding their hunger and yearning met but not by means of a large house or car or other conspicuous means. We have been commissioned to be fishers of people. Not for our benefit but to share the news of that enlivening spirit that has brought new meaning to our lives.
Which can bring new meaning and new life to all.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Steps in the Right Direction.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 24, 2020 - 3:56am
The crucial moments in which we choose directions for our lives aren’t
usually marked with caution signs, bright red flags, or even the feelingthat we are about to make a big decision. Some of the decisions that matter most slip by without our even noticing. Some of the choices that seem small are bigger than the ones that appear big. Because the sacred is present in the ordinary, we can’t be sure that any decision is unimportant. Because life is holy, every moment matters. Every day and hour are crucial.
Jesus is walking beside a lake one afternoon ion this week’s scripture reading from Matthew 4, when he sees two men in a rowboat waiting for unsuspecting fish to wander into their nets. It’s hard to believe what happens next. Jesus offers them a job with no pay, and they accept: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”  So, the four fishermen drop what they are doing and head off to God-knows-where, to lives they can’t imagine.
People always try to explain away big-fish stories, and this one is noexception. Some commentators suggest that young men often left their occupations to become students of a rabbi. They say it sounds more unlikely to us than it would have to people in the first century. We read the story and assume that this isn’t the disciples’ first encounter with Jesus. Surely, they knew Jesus before this.
The disciples’ instant acceptance of Jesus’ peculiar invitation is as dramatic as any moment we will ever encounter. On occasion, we face big decisions about family, jobs, and faith. We stand at a fork in the road and need to choose. We have moments when we feel that we need to act in a particular way for reasons that we cannot completely explain. We feel the need to sacrifice something we would rather keep in order to follow. We have taken a few big risks. But most of the time, it isn’t that dramatic. We don’t drop everything to start a new life very often. The calling of the disciples is more spectacular than what happens to us most days.
Most of my life is routine. I have gone to work each morning often with a list of things to do. There are phone calls to return, e-mails to respond to, and meetings to attend. There are a dozen administrative details to take care of. The urgency in what I do is usually the urgency of keeping up. Most of it doesn’t feel that holy at all. One positive thing is that often my day is filled with pleasant people.
I receive too much credit for what I do. My work is enjoyable, but it’s not spectacular. My life doesn’t feel as adventurous as that of the disciples, leaving their nets and following Jesus into the unknown. There are women and men who live each day in danger because of their faith. There are people who do astonishing, heroic works. Maybe someday we will do something spectacular. For now, most of us feel called to less-dramatic discipleship.
Maybe Jesus’ disciples had days when their lives didn’t seem sensational, as they walked up and down Galilee from village to village. Maybe they had days when they thought things were going too slow. On those days, perhaps their faithfulness was more modest. We tend to forget the importance of details in the journey of faith. We focus on dramatic conversions, overwhelming encounters with God, and powerful moments of prayer. We search for peak experiences and end up assuming other people are born with a spiritual talent that we just don’t have.
But God is in the details. God calls us every hour of every day. God invites us to be friends, practice kindness, and pray for our daily bread. We live out our faithfulness in worship, work, and study. As Christians the routine, everyday ways in which we follow Jesus, the way we read scripture, welcome strangers, and love the people with whom we live are all crucially important.
God is at work in a variety of unspectacular ways. God is present inevery way that grace is shared, hope is proclaimed, and healing comes. Love spreads word by word. The bucket fills drop by drop. Wrongs are righted one by one. Our calling is to be faithful, to live God’s grace on routine days in ordinary ways.
There is no event so commonplace that God is not there. Every moment and every word have possibilities. Slowly but surely our priorities change. On the day they first followed Jesus, the disciples were brash, impulsive, stubborn, and they smelled of fish. They had to learn day by day how to be the church. We grow in faith, not only in memorable, never-to-be-forgotten moments, but also in forgettable moments when we decide to pray instead of turning on the radio, to do better with the next hour than we did with the last, and to give something that we would rather keep.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 19 January 2020

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 18, 2020 - 3:58am




Because I am unable to attend church tomorrow I cannot write the blog,

so have sent John’s blog. Margaret

How would your life be different if you were A Christian or for that matter not a Christian? For some of us who have lived surrounded by Christian people, it’s hard to imagine, but what if you had no interest in God? So, I am going to explore the question from the perspective of a Christian reflecting on how different my world would be without my faith. How would your life be less or more or just the same? What would you miss about church? I would probably resist singing out loud in public were it not for church on Sunday. Which of your friends would not be your friends? If you had never met the people you have met in Sunday school, how great a loss would that be? How would your family change? How would you spend your time differently? Would you be at home reading the Australian? What do you do because you are a Christian that makes you happy? Which religious activities could you do without? What would be easier if you weren’t a Christian?  Do you feel good about the time you spend helping strangers? Do you wish you still had all the money you’ve given away? Have there been experiences you would hate to have missed—hope-filled books you are glad you read, experiences of God’s grace in worship, times you’ve cared for hurting people?

 If you were not a Christian, would your life be less interesting? Every once in a while, the disciples thought about how different their lives would have been if they had never met Jesus. It started so quietly. John the Baptist is standing with two of his students when Jesus walks by. John says, “That’s the one. You know how cocky I can be, but I’m not worthy to tie his sandals.” The two disciples are understandably curious. They start following Jesus. He turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” They answer nervously, “We thought we would see where you’re staying.” In other words, “We don’t have anything better to do, so we’re wondering what you’re doing.”  Jesus offers the invitation that will change their lives: “Come and see.” They stay with Jesus all day because he’s interesting. They have no idea what they are getting themselves into. They don’t know that they will end up leaving behind their nets, boats, homes, friends, work, and retirements. They will end up changing their ideas about almost everything. Andrew goes to get his brother. “You have to come and see this guy,” he says. Simon is dragged along, going more so that his brother will leave him alone than out of any great faith. When Jesus meets Simon, he says, “Your name is going to be Rock.” The often-confused Simon is anything but a rock, but everything is starting to change. Most of the time, we move toward God in small steps taken as much out of curiosity as out of faith. So, what are we looking for? What are we looking for in our world today, in the actions and life of the Church? Why do some join Church and worship in a church? Some of those attending worship are in Church because their parents didn’t give them a choice. For some, their mother’s voice told them to go to church and somehow this has lodged in their minds, and they can’t get rid of it.
Some are in church because it’s easier to come than to argue with their spouse about it. Most of us didn’t attend with great expectations. The religious reasons we have for being here are mixed at best. We’re interested in thinking about how we could live better lives, but only up to a point. If we’re in worship today for no good reason, that’s okay. Lots of people find their way by accident. Jesus says, “Come and see.” The disciples stumble along, following without knowing where they are going, discovering well after the fact that they have wandered onto a path that leads to grace. “Come and see,” Jesus says. In John’s Gospel the disciples soon taste water turned into wine, watch in horror as Jesus clears the temple, and listen with amazement to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, that the spirit of God blows wherever it wills. They stumble onto a way of life they have never imagined. So, what are we looking for? Deep in our souls, are we looking for something to believe in and hold on to, something important enough to live for, and something big enough to claim our passions. Are we looking for challenge and purpose? Are we looking for God? What begins with curiosity becomes a step toward grace. The emptiness we feel from time to time is God calling us to the paths that lead to meaning. God lets us know that we can look beyond our computers and coffee cups into the enchanted possibilities of grace. God is the one who makes us long for something that lasts. God draws us toward life even when we don’t recognise what’s happening. Come and see” is how the disciples’ story begins. It’s a wonderful line and a great way to start a story. “Come and see” is the invitation to explore, discover, and travel without knowing exactly where we are going, but to know that if we catch a glimpse of God, we will also catch a glimpse of who we can be. Come and see. Come and look for places where we've never been. Come and see what it means to hope, believe, and follow. By being in church we open ourselves to God, who will lead us to new places. The people who follow Jesus end up doing the things Jesus did. They care for the hurting, listen to the lonely, feed the hungry, pray for the broken hearted, bandage those who are wounded, do more than is expected. They look for God and find extraordinary lives. The spirit of adventure is what calls Christians to worship. Christians are seeking the meaning of life, joining with people on the journey, and asking God to help them see where grace invites them. We are there to look at the gifts we’ve been given and the needs of the world. We come to worship together to discover the possibilities. If we worship God, if we share our lives with other people looking for God, we will see beyond what we have assumed. If we look for God, we will find that God is looking for us, offering life.
 
 
 
 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 12 January 2020

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 18, 2020 - 3:31am


Today I was rostered to take the service and I wrote both the liturgy and the sermon around the theme presented in the Bible readings as set down in the Uniting Church in Australia Lectionary.
In Acts 10 there is an account of Peter having a vision or dream, if you like, of a sheet being let down, held up by its four corners. In the sheet there were all sorts of animals, some of which would have been considered by the Jews at that time as being unclean and therefore unsuitable for consumption.
But a voice told Peter to kill and eat. Peter, recognising the voice as that of God, refused, saying he had never let anything profane pass his lips. That was understandable, given the Jewish purity laws. But the voice of God persisted, telling Peter that nothing God had created was unclean and therefore, unfit for eating.
Peter, in the context of another event, realised that God was telling him that the old law had passed away and that a new law had been installed. That new law meant that Jews could then mix freely with Gentiles and that God loved all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.
I then gave accounts of congregations quite different from ours who were loved by God and who all professed to love God. And in those congregations people conducted themselves in vastly different ways, despite being committed Christians.
I also challenged the congregation to include all people with whom they have contact, under the commandment to care for each other.
Knowing that some would need to step out of their comfort zone to do that, I outlined reasons why people could come to have quite different views on how to live out their Christian commitment or different views of which faith to which they should choose to belong (or not belong). I also pointed out that Jesus had commissioned us to do “great things” and that if we needed to step out of our comfort zone, the Holy Spirit would be with us.
I thought that it should be clarified what deeds might be considered “great things”. For some, waving to a neighbour is very difficult if they had never done so in the first 70 years of their life.
But God has given us a command and we should be prepared to prayerfully, take a deep breath, and step out.
I remember a woman who led brilliant leadership programmes saying that “bluff” could impress upon a group that that person leading them at the time was competent and in charge of their material. We can be very unsure of ourselves but if we go forward boldly and believe Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit presence supporting us, it will appear to listeners that we are on top of our game. And with the Holy Spirit working through us, that will be true.
 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Come and See.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 17, 2020 - 5:28am

How would your life be different if you were A Christian or for that matter not a Christian? For some of us who have lived surrounded by Christian people, it’s hard to imagine, but what if you had no interest in God? So, I am going to explore the question from the perspective of a Christian reflecting on how different my world would be without my faith. How would your life be less or more or just the same? What would you miss about church? I would probably resist singing out loud in public were it not for church on Sunday.                         Which of your friends would not be your friends? If you had never met the people you have met in Sunday school, how great a loss would that be? How would your family change? How would you spend your time differently? Would you be at home reading the Australian? What do you do because you are a Christian that makes you happy? Which religious activities could you do without? What would be easier if you weren’t a Christian?  Do you feel good about the time you spend helping strangers? Do you wish you still had all the money you’ve given away? Have there been experiences you would hate to have missed—hope-filled books you are glad you read, experiences of God’s grace in worship, times you’ve cared for hurting people?
If you were not a Christian, would your life be less interesting? Every once in a while, the disciples thought about how different their lives would have been if they had never met Jesus. It started so quietly. John the Baptist is standing with two of his students when Jesus walks by. John says, “That’s the one. You know how cocky I can be, but I’m not worthy to tie his sandals.” The two disciples are understandably curious. They start following Jesus. He turns and asks, “What are you looking for?” They answer nervously, “We thought we would see where you’re staying.” In other words, “We don’t have anything better to do, so we’re wondering what you’re doing.”
Jesus offers the invitation that will change their lives: “Come and see.” They stay with Jesus all day because he’s interesting. They have no idea what they are getting themselves into. They don’t know that they will end up leaving behind their nets, boats, homes, friends, work, and retirements. They will end up changing their ideas about almost everything. Andrew goes to get his brother. “You have to come and see this guy,” he says. Simon is dragged along, going more so that his brother will leave him alone than out of any great faith. When Jesus meets Simon, he says, “Your name is going to be Rock.” The often-confused Simon is anything but a rock, but everything is starting to change.                                     Most of the time, we move toward God in small steps taken as much out of curiosity as out of faith. So, what are we looking for? What are we looking for in our world today, in the actions and life of the Church? Why do some join Church and worship in a church? Some of those attending worship are in Church because their parents didn’t give them a choice. For some, their mother’s voice told them to go to church and somehow this has lodged in their minds, and they can’t get rid of it.
Some are in church because it’s easier to come than to argue with their spouse about it. Most of us didn’t attend with great expectations. The religious reasons we have for being here are mixed at best. We’re interested in thinking about how we could live better lives, but only up to a point. If we’re in worship today for no good reason, that’s okay. Lots of people find their way by accident.
Jesus says, “Come and see.” The disciples stumble along, following without knowing where they are going, discovering well after the fact that they have wandered onto a path that leads to grace. “Come and see,” Jesus says. In John’s Gospel the disciples soon taste water turned into wine, watch in horror as Jesus clears the temple, and listen with amazement to Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, that the spirit of God blows wherever it wills. They stumble onto a way of life they have never imagined.
So, what are we looking for? Deep in our souls, are we looking for something to believe in and hold on to, something important enough to live for, and something big enough to claim our passions. Are we looking for challenge and purpose? Are we looking for God? What begins with curiosity becomes a step toward grace. The emptiness we feel from time to time is God calling us to the paths that lead to meaning. God lets us know that we can look beyond our computers and coffee cups into the enchanted possibilities of grace. God is the one who makes us long for something that lasts. God draws us toward life even when we don’t recognise what’s happening.                                    “Come and see” is how the disciples’ story begins. It’s a wonderful line and a great way to start a story. “Come and see” is the invitation to explore, discover, and travel without knowing exactly where we are going, but to know that if we catch a glimpse of God, we will also catch a glimpse of who we can be. Come and see. Come and look for places where we’ve never been. Come and see what it means to hope, believe, and follow.
By being in church we open ourselves to God, who will lead us to new places. The people who follow Jesus end up doing the things Jesus did. They care for the hurting, listen to the lonely, feed the hungry, pray for the broken hearted, bandage those who are wounded, do more than is expected. They look for God and find extraordinary lives. The spirit of adventure is what calls Christians to worship.
Christians are seeking the meaning of life, joining with people on the journey, and asking God to help them see where grace invites them. We are there to look at the gifts we’ve been given and the needs of the world. We come to worship together to discover the possibilities. If we worship God, if we share our lives with other people looking for God, we will see beyond what we have assumed. If we look for God, we will find that God is looking for us, offering life.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

To Belong to God.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 10, 2020 - 3:53am
John Milton, who once marvellously celebrated the birth of Jesus in his "Ode to the Morning of Christ's Nativity," later attempted a sequel upon the Passion. After writing a few stanzas he ceased in despair and later published the fragment he did write with an appended note: "This subject the author finding to be above the years he had when he wrote it, and not satisfied with what was begun, left it unfinished." Whatever our years may be, they do not mature us to deal with a theme of such magnitude as the suffering and death of our Lord. When we have said our finest word about the whole redemptive drama, there is something that breaks through language and escapes. Similar words could be uttered about the Baptism of our Lord. As we move into that dim borderland where our reach exceeds our grasp, we must be measured at last in terms of our splendid failure to say the impossible.
In the movie The Apostle, starring Robert Duval, there is a powerful scene. Duval is running from the law. He has bludgeoned the youth pastor in the church where he was pastor. The assumption is that he has been baptised and ordained as a minister of the Gospel. The scene in the movie shows a contrite and repentant Duval baptising himself in a river. He announces to God and to no one else that he is baptising and ordaining himself as an apostle. (There is an old black man who has just finished fishing who witnesses the baptism and ordination. Duval is not aware of his presence.)
The scene raises questions about the Baptism of our Lord. Why did he not baptise himself? Why should he seek out John the Baptist and insist that John baptise him? Perhaps an even larger question without an adequate answer is: "Why did Jesus feel a need to be baptised?"
At the risk of attempting to answer questions that have difficult answers, perhaps some conjecture will suffice. John the Baptist, recognising the difficulties in this situation, refused to baptise Jesus. He insists that Jesus should baptise him. Someone has suggested that Jesus "is baptised as a witness to God's claim upon him. He is baptised and by that action says, in effect, 'I belong to God.'" In Baptism, Jesus identifies with a community. We do not know all that we would like to know about John the Baptist's community.
We do not know who was present at this baptism, other than John the Baptist himself. We can surmise that there were others in the community who witnessed this Baptism. While we are now in the season of Epiphany, the Baptism of Jesus is a ratification of his Incarnation. He identifies with a community and with the people in that community.
In our Baptism, we too gain an identity. At the time of our Baptism, person carrying out the rite makes the sign of the cross on our forehead and announces that we "are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ's own forever." We become a part of what God has been doing in the world since the time of creation. Baptism is the initiatory rite into the church and indicates full inclusion into the household of faith. Like our Lord, we too become incorporated into the human condition.
The season of Epiphany is the season in the Church Year in which the identity of Jesus is made clearer to his followers. Baptism calls us to claim our place and our power. There is a period of silence in the life of Jesus from about the age of twelve to his thirtieth year. From the time of Jesus in the Temple, we know little until his Baptism. Out of his Baptism comes a clearer view of what his life's work was to be.
Gabriel Marcel Marques, in his book, One Hundred Years of Solitude, writes about a village in Central America. A virus strikes this community and the effect of the virus is that is causes amnesia. It becomes necessary to hire a person from the outside world to help them recover their memory. This person, from the outside world, goes about the village putting signs on all things with their names. The signs remind the villagers that "this is a ceiling," "this is a floor," "this is a table," and all through the village everything has a sign naming what it is.
Outside the village, the outsider places two signs. On one sign is written: "This is the village of Macondo." A sign posted above that reads: "God Exists." Our Baptism and the Baptism of our Lord are signs and symbols of God's delight in us. Each time a person is baptised, it is a sign that God exists. The sign of the cross on our foreheads reminds the world that God exists. It is also a sign that the Creator takes delight in us and calls us to the community of faith.

So for those familiar and those who have never read or heard it let us again hear again these words drawn from the baptismal rite:

We thank you, Almighty God, for the gift of water. Over it the Holy Spirit moved in the beginning of creation. Through it you led the children of Israel out of their bondage in Egypt into the land of promise. In it your Son Jesus received the baptism of John and was anointed by the Holy Spirit as Messiah, the Christ, to lead us, through his death and resurrection, from the bondage of sin into everlasting life. We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, in joyful obedience to your Son, we bring into his fellowship those who come to him in faith baptising them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 5 January 2020

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 9, 2020 - 4:01am

 
The Rev. Bruce Roy led our service today which included a Communion Service.
He conducted the service in a warm, inviting manner, so we felt we were all part of the service. The Communion Service was conducted, as is fitting, with dignity, but the quietness and stillness of it sometimes makes some people feel a little unsure of their place in it.
However the Communion Service is a deeply spiritual experience and the members of the congregation were aware of a great bond, one with the other, throughout, because of that.
Despite the deep importance of the Communion Service, the part of the service I am going to concentrate on is the reflection, which, I’m sure brought clarity and in some cases, comfort to individuals listening.
Bruce spoke about the meaning of scripture, which causes some people to bridle when it comes to the description of events we haven’t witnessed in our lifetime. How could these things be? And if the Bible includes impossible stories, how can we rely on it?
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give accounts of the birth of Jesus but it isn’t mentioned in Mark or Matthew.
Mark begins with a declaration about John the Baptist followed by the baptism of Jesus as an adult. John is quite different again, speaking in a more spiritual style but again introducing Jesus as an adult being baptised by John the Baptist.
On the surface it does seem a bit odd that such gospel accounts do not quite mesh. Matthew says Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehemthen sometime afterwards is taken to Egypt to escape Herod. After a period of time his family decides to return to Bethlehem, but soon change their mind and travel to Nazareth instead.
According to Luke, however, Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth. They travel to Bethlehem because a censusrequires them to do so. While they are there Jesus is born in a manger. After his birth they wait for Mary to go through ritual purification, following which they travel to Jerusalem to sacrifice two birds at the temple. When the sacrifice had been made they go home to Nazareth.
In addition there are accounts of angels speaking to people, instructing them about what to do: people speak of visions adding further uneasiness for some readers. When have any of us spoken to Angels or had visions? And if the visions were what we call dreams, how many of us have acted them, believing they came from God? 
For people who have been taught that the Bible is the Word of God and who have been taught to believe every word as it is written, all of the above can cause deep insecurity and confusion. Some, unable to make any sense of it, thrown out “the baby with the bath water” and desert their beliefs and the church.
However, Bruce explained that the truth of the Bible is to be found in the message of the accounts and that the “facts” were simply a method of producing that message. We are to look for the truth behind the account.
This is easier to accept if we are told of other accounts. During the first a Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was accused of telling lies about statistics of losses suffered on Iraq’s side and other ‘factual information’. However, the King of Jordon stepped in and explained that the people of the Middle East think in terms of the truth of Passion, whereas the people of the West think in terms of the truth of facts. This is the same disparity between western thinking about the Bible that exist for us.
When we read anything in the Bible, we should not concern ourselves about the facts. We should look for the underlying truth of the message. The account may be “true” as in Western thinking or it may not. That isn’t important. There is a far more important truth just below the surface.
Truths about relying on God. Truths about doing what God says. Truths about seeking out God’s way. Truths about courage. Truths that are true no matter what the age.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sharing the Light.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - January 4, 2020 - 8:51am

It seems that I have either lost track of time or my mind has switched off having almost missed putting up my Blog this week. I think we were out at Coles Bay area yesterday and driving from Swansea to Cradle Mountain today through haze and smoke most of the way. Little in comparison to those in the South East of Australia where we have been focused for the last week or so. Thoughts and prayers are with all those supporting the battle or who have been affected. Certainly needed some sharing of the light in places as we were driving. Also had a visit to Marakoopa Caves and there was so much beauty that one would have missed without light. But back to thoughts about the upcoming feast.
Well, the Twelve Days of Christmas are ending in a burst of celebration and light. The Christmas biscuits and cake are nearly all eaten, even the fruitcake has been nibbled down, and the tree is starting to shed if you have a real one. The presents, every last one of them, are open -- and lots of them are already in use. I think I’ve spotted a couple of bright new ties, some wonderful shirts, and a fancy new dress or two out there! Did you get everything you wanted? What? You didn't get seven swans a-swimming or eleven lords a- leaping? Well, never mind. Maybe you will get them next year.
This year, at least, we got what we always get: the carols of joy, the angels' promise, the shining star, the glowing faces, the mysterious hush of the shepherds and animals, gathered around the newborn baby. And in them, we got the age-old promise: that there is peace, there is joy, there is hope. God will not leave us alone, stranded, lost in darkness and misery. God will come to us in joy, in light, in peace.  Here on this very last of the days of Christmas, we celebrate another part of the promise: that God will come to us ALL, everyone, if we seek his presence, if we invite him into our hearts.
Through these twelve days of Christmas, while angels and shepherds and donkey’s and sheep have surrounded the baby, a group of three stargazers have slogged along their weary way, day after day, seeking the promise, coming to find the baby. And today -- this day, this blessed day -- they have arrived at last. Have you spied the three figures, on their camels, moving closer, every day, to the crèche?
At last, here they are. And who are they? Oh, you know: "We three Kings of Orient are, one on a tractor, two in a car, one on scooter tooting his hooter following yonder star...." No, no, I've got it wrong: "We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar..." And you probably even know their names: Melchior, and Casper, and Balthasar. And you know that they brought gold and frankincense and myrrh. But who are they?
Well, you know something, they are us. You may have noticed, when we read the gospel, that it doesn't say anything about "Caspar, and Melchior and Balthasar." Those names date from stories people told of them in the Middle Ages, not from the Bible. And the Bible doesn't even say that they are "kings."
It calls them "magi" or "wise men." Scientists, scholars, learned students of the stars and the signs, they were, and not necessarily "kings" at all -- though Isaiah's prophecy, that "nations will stream to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawning," has helped us come to think of them as royalty, not researchers.
But most important, scripture says, they are "from the East." They are from outside Israel, outside the ancient covenant with the people of Israel. They are foreigners and strangers. Isaiah tells us, "Foreign nations will stream to your light and the rulers of the whole world will be drawn to you because you are a beacon of light, a sign of peace, of shalom." The Israelites are called upon to make room for the "stranger and sojourner". As the phrase goes all are called to welcome the strangers, to offer hospitality to all comers, to receive those who would come to live among them.
Matthew's story of the visit of the Wise Men says that the matter was decided by God, long before Peter and Paul fought it out. These "wise men from the East" were Gentiles, who saw the star -- a sign from God -- and followed it. And when they saw this King, Jesus in the manger, they knelt down and offered homage to him and in that sign permanently committed themselves to follow him. They were welcomed -- as we are. How do we know they were welcomed? Well, their gifts were accepted and symbolised the whole meaning of the life of this newborn King.
The gold, which represents wealth and royalty, was the sign that he would be king. The frankincense -- incense, which was burned daily in the Jerusalem temple as a holy offering to God was the sign that he was holy, our "Great High Priest". The myrrh was a bitter spice used to wrap the bodies of the dead, was the sign that, royal and holy though he was, he would die. And so, it was.
This newborn baby was given by God to be a king of a new and spiritual kind for all the people who come to him. We are the gentiles, called to be part of the covenant of love and peace, the promise of God given through the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. Not very many of us actually have to cross a trackless desert on camelback. But we do have to transcend our own barriers: our scepticism, our self-centeredness, our pride.
Remember, there are still strangers and sojourners in our world, people seeking light and truth, the love of God and the peace of Christ. The stable door is always open -- to all. And we, those of us who have arrived earlier, are called upon, like our Hebrew ancestors, to welcome the stranger and sojourner to the stable, to the table, to our hearts, and to the life in Christ.
This Feast of the Epiphany not only marks the end of the Season of Christmas, but the beginning the season of Epiphany. Through centuries of tradition, Epiphany has been the season to remember and celebrate the mission of the church, as it spreads throughout the world. As the light of the sun strengthens and lengthens each day of this season, so we are reminded that the light of Christ reaches ever further into our hearts and the hearts of the world -- even into its most troubled corners. As Christians we are called to move steadily into the world, bearing the light of Christ -- to the places we work, the places we study, the places we play. And we are called always to welcome all who come to share in the light.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 29 December 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - January 2, 2020 - 2:15am



This morning Lyn led our worship, telling the Christmas story from the perspectives of people, involved in a event  all following the directions given to them  by God or God’s messenger.

An idea which emerged for me was that of relying on God’s guidance rather than just charging ahead without any thought about consequences.

 God’s message came to people in different ways. Sometimes an angel appeared, sometimes someone had a dream, sometimes someone heard of something going on through the grapevine.

Today it is the same. Sometimes we hear God’s voice through a Bible reading, sometimes through a hymn, sometimes through a homily, sometimes through the words of a friend or even through our reflection while we are sitting quietly in a place where we are comfortable and ready to hear the voice of God coming to us in non-verbal ways, such as the waves of the surf, the landforms or even through the beautiful structure of plants.
The important thing is to allow God’s voice to comeand not imagine what we want to hear. Then we must obey as the various people in Lyn’s homily did. We may be mistaken but from my experience that will become clear to us and we can start again.

Then Lyn went on to talk about how people today fill the Christmas season with everything except the celebration of Christ’s birth, giving  examples of the amazing materialism and greed that is attached to Christmas by so many people today. When children grow up with all of that around them, no wonder they have no idea what it is meant to be about.

 Lyn reminded us that many today are so glad when Christmas is over because of the pressure they are under to provide the various “wants” of family and others at this time. Christmas is supposed to be a time of happy celebration of Jesus’ birth and the joy that he brings to us when we follow him.
 Lyn, by alluding to the candles of Peace, Joy, Love and Hope that we light in the Sundays coming up to Christmas, told us of the true meaning of the season and that we are meant to take that message into the year ahead.
Lyn reminded us that in all Joseph and Mary did they followed the voice of God. Today we can do that by following the words and example of Jesus but do we? Or do we stray from time to time, following our own way?  Lyn said in reference to the terrible times people in Australia are having in the drought and fires:
“Christmas brings people together, but it’s greatest joy is that it brings people together with God.” She then challenged us: “Why not let Christmas bring you together with Jesus, our Immanuel, who promises you will never be alone - even in the toughest of times.”
   Why not - we have every reason to do so.
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Precious Days, Precious Meaning.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 27, 2019 - 8:01am

This is the Sunday of Christmastide when we begin to consider what God has done in the birth of Jesus. In some homes by now the tree has been taken down, perhaps decorations put away. Stores are advertising year-end sales. Some people have already bought presents and cards for next year at significant savings. In the church though it is still Christmas. We have 12 precious days to focus on the wonder of God's love and what it means.
Here are some principal ideas about what the birth of Jesus means. Each of us can find insight in them and grow in our understanding of why the church has held these days to be a festival second only to Easter. For those who wonder, the 12 days of Christmas run from after Christmas Day until the festival day of Epiphany on January 6th.
The first principal is the Incarnate Christ: "The word became flesh and dwelt among us - in the Hebrew Emmanuel." God decided to enter into a personal relationship with humanity. God became like you and me—flesh. God could have chosen simply to watch and see what would happen, but instead chose to connect, interact, and experience the human condition. Not only that, God limited the experience to ours—no special privileges. God took on the living conditions of the time: the smell, the thirst and poverty, the ravages of disease and discomfort. Jesus was not offered anything better than others because of who he was.

So, what does the Incarnate Christ mean for us? It means God wants a relationship with every one of us, not just a chosen few. God wants us to know we are loved, valued, and worth saving, that we are precious. God wants to draw us together into a kingdom of life that is abundant and rich, that has lots of entry points and that involves many different people. Yes, we are all the beloved and loved despite many not knowing or not wishing to know this.
The Incarnate Christ also gives us a guide for mission. If God chose to come and live among us and be like us, then our mission is to seek out those especially who are marginal, lonely, lost, in prison, hurt, angry, afraid, and unsuccessful right where we live—and hang out with them. We can be their light in the darkness, and we can experience God's grace in solidarity with them. If some think that is socialist and to be avoided, sadly they have missed God’s purpose and the love offered and the grace given in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
This leads to the second principal - the Redemptive Christ. Helen Keller, whose life is depicted in the classic movie, The Miracle Worker, lived in a world of deafness and darkness. Her teacher, Ann Sullivan, after much frustration in trying to communicate, takes her to the family well, pumps water over her, then spells the word W-A-T-E-R into Helen's hand, and then pronounces the word as she holds Helen's hand to her throat. Suddenly, the world becomes real and connected to Helen, and her life is never the same again.
Redemption is something like that. God decided the world was worth redeeming and chose to act by coming among us and giving us a model for humanity in Jesus Christ. We no longer have to stumble in the dark, wondering who we are supposed to become. God has begun redemption in each of us through our Baptism. It's a life-long work of remodelling and rebuilding. But Jesus has moved into the neighbourhood, and nothing will ever be the same because of it. Instead of God saying, "Let's see what they do…" God says, "Here is what I am going to do". God acted in a profound way, and we celebrate the action in every Eucharist, reminding ourselves of God's project and of our part in it.
A third principal is that of the Cosmic Christ. Jesus didn't simply show up one day, and he wasn't adopted. We are not just enjoying a chummy relationship with a guy from Galilee. When we are baptised, we enter into a personal relationship with everything that is created and with the divine creator. This principal has never quite caught on in our culture, but other cultures, including many first nations of many countries including the Maori, Aboriginal and Native American, have always known and believed in the sacred relationship of all life.
Having a relationship with the Cosmic Christ means the world is not ours to possess. The title deed already belongs to another. It is rather ours to care for, and includes the land, water, the animals, and plants, and the people of this earth. How we live as a people of the Cosmic Christ should be notable in terms of how we use things, preserve and recycle them, and what we leave behind for others. Since we as Western Nations consume much of the world's available resources while others are in want, believing in a Cosmic Christ should make us want to do everything in our power to see, out of our abundance, that all people have what they need. The Cosmic Christ expects nothing less.           
We have come quite a distance from the babe in the manger. Our journey should not be one away from the crib but into it, for the babe of Bethlehem has brought to us profound power for relationships that redeem. Although many will be glad to see the old year pass away, especially with its turmoil, terror, and upheaval for all of us, we can greet the New Year with something more than relief. We can with joy celebrate what we asked for in Advent: Emmanuel—God with us!


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Emmanuel – God with Us.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - December 20, 2019 - 2:47am


As any introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures will emphasise, biblical prophets were not predictors of the future, but rather social commentators, analysing their own time and describing the consequences that would result from current political practices. When Isaiah tells Ahaz that a young woman is pregnant and will have a baby named Immanuel (God with us), he does not mean this will happen some seven hundred years later. Instead, he points to a pregnant woman right in front of them and says that Ahaz’s political distress will be over before that child is old enough to know right from wrong.

It is easy enough for us to understand that as we read through Isaiah 7, but what do we do with the fact that gospel reading for this week from Matthew 1 seems to identify that child with Jesus and not with a child of the eighth century BCE (Before Common Era)? More than any other Gospel writer, Matthew is concerned with demonstrating ways the life of Jesus aligns with Hebrew Scripture prophecy. He makes connections wherever he can between the Scripture he knows and the story he wants to tell.
But even if we discount a literal association between the Isaianic prophecy and its fulfillment in the birth of Jesus, we should not be quick to dismiss the ways that both Isaiah and Matthew are, in their own ways, answering the same question: in times of great distress, when uncertainty looms, when we are faced with “wars and rumours of wars,” where is God? Isaiah assures Ahaz that God is with us, and he offers the king a sign of God’s presence in the child whose birth is imminent. The birth of Jesus assures us that God is with us, not just as a sign, but as God incarnate. “Do not be afraid,” say Isaiah to Ahaz and the angel to Joseph. So, too, says the word of God to us today.
Further, a newborn child evokes so much hope. The miracle of a child’s first breath and the powerful love that binds a parent to a child inspires poetry and song alike. The trappings of Christmas so often associate Jesus’ birth with these inspirational notions. And yet the story Matthew recounts is dotted with threats. Like the many stories in the Hebrew Scriptures when God’s promises seem to be at stake, it is the faithfulness of God’s followers, their trust in God’s promises, that make all the difference. Unlike Luke’s account of Jesus’ birth, Matthew focuses on Joseph. In this account, Mary never speaks or acts.
Instead, it is Joseph who is the recipient of an angelic visitor, Joseph who must take a step of faith. Upon learning that Mary is pregnant, Joseph seeks to act in a righteous matter and do the right thing. He will “dismiss her quietly” and avoid placing upon her the opprobrium that too naturally falls upon women in such situations, a harsh criticism or censure that Joseph may want to avoid for himself as well. The angel intercedes, pointing to Isaiah’s prophecy of a child who would be a living confirmation of God’s promise that God would never desert God’s people. This is but the first of many threats that would loom over this child’s young life according to Matthew.
If we pay close attention to the contexts of Isaiah’s prophecy to a king worried about encroaching armies and Matthew’s application of this prophecy in the context of imperial domination, we see that Jesus’ birth is not to be avoided or escaped and is political. Why else will Herod react with such naked violence in just a few verses? In short, Jesus’ birth declares an end to the reign of fear that threatened his life from the first and would eventually be the cause of his death.

Another thought from this week’s reading from Matthew 1 is as to what this word ‘Emmanuel’ means and why is it used and how does it engage us today. So, we hear that they shall call his name Emmanuel—to be called, only means, according to the Hebrews manner of speaking, that the person spoken of shall really and effectually be what he is called, and actually fulfil that title. Thus, unto us a child is born—and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Prince of Peace— that is, he shall be all these, though not so much nominally, as really, and in effect.
And thus was he called Emmanuel; which was no common name of Christ, but points out his nature and office; as he is God incarnate, and dwells by what Christians call Spirit in the hearts of God’s people. It is observable, the words in Isaiah are, you/thou (namely, his mother) shall call; but here, they—that is, all his people, shall call—shall acknowledge him to be Emmanuel, God with us. Which being interpreted—this seems to be proof that St. Matthew would have been writing his Gospel in Greek, and not in Hebrew, even though he writes for the Hebrew people. Sometimes these insights help us understand who Jesus is for us today and is for all time.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 15 December 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - December 17, 2019 - 8:01am

Alan led our worship this morning and challenged us to think about the focus of our Christmas celebrations.
He introduced the topic thus:

“Christmas is a funny time. In western countries, at any rate, we have concocted a peculiar and complex web of different traditions, which we cherish as ‘Christmas’”.
He then listed the types of features that pass as part of the Christmas celebrations of many in the Western World:
“gifts under a tree – which is often made of plastic, for goodness’ sake!; there’s a big meal, with a hot fruit pudding – and often much over-indulgence;”
My own family was no different for many years except we did not indulge in expense gifts, choosing instead to guarantee those less well off than ourselves were able to enjoy a pleasant Christmas Day.
Not all my family, then (or now), saw Christmas as the day when we celebrate the hope that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth brought to the world.
However, ironically, as my children grew into adults, without any religious profession, they rejected the over-indulgence in food and gift-giving. So, for many years now, our Christmas Day has been a day for our family to meet and affirm our love and support for each other.
It is quite a simple meal of food which is chosen to see that each of us has something we like and perhaps wouldn’t eat every week. Then a gift for each adult and some little things for the granddaughters . We all take leave of each other still feeling healthy and knowing we are still “glued” together by the love and goodwill shown throughout the day. And all the money saved goes to those who are doing it “tough”.
This year, my husband and I sent a cheque to a country town where people are in deep debt because of the drought and the cheque is being split between the pharmacist and the dentist to help pay for treatment of people who have no means of paying for medical treatment anymore. The thought that a burden is lifted from someone who can’t pay for some essential treatment is the best Christmas present I can think off. And gives hope to those who perhaps thought they been forgotten. I think Jesus would see that as obeying the commandment he gave us to love one another.
I have told the details of our Christmas Day to make the point that most of my family do not profess to be even religious, much less, Christian. But they live in a society which has been influenced and was initially built on Christian principles. They also read and watch the media where Christian ideas are sometimes spread and they have been raised to think of others.
So if a Christian, now or at some other time hadn’t let their light shine, perhaps the society  we live in would not have influenced my family to think the way they do. Perhaps the parents of my granddaughters wouldn’t know that to raise children, parents almost without exception need to sacrifice some or many of their own needs, thereby setting the template for the thinking of those little girls in relation to other people. The words of Jesus of Nazareth is still alive in unexpected places.
Alan went on:
“Amidst it all, as Christians, most of us find time to go to church, either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning, or even both. Worship reminds us, in a way that the plastic nativity scene just doesn’t, that Christmas is actually about Jesus. It’s actually about the coming into the world of the saviour, Jesus Christ...Some Christian families seek to remind themselves that the festival is all about Jesus, by setting an empty place at their table. The empty chair is for Jesus...But who is the Jesus we invite to join us at our table... are we ready to meet the real Jesus? Are we ready to welcome him at our table.
 ...We have all had times of doubt and uncertainty. Perhaps those times too were occasioned by dashed expectations and disappointment.” Jesus’s reply (to John the Baptist) is interesting.
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”

(Alan went on to develop his sermon further, but I cannot follow that in the space of this small blog.)
Jesus is not walking around the earth as he was at that time. But all of us who profess to be obeying his commandment are doing the work of his word in some way. The result of obeying Jesus commandments may not be miracles in the conventional sense. However,  the changes that have been wrought in us so that we obey, and as a result people that we have never met are freed from burdens that we know nothing about, are indeed miracles.

Whether Jesus is able to reach out to his children during the Christmas season  largely depends on those of us who know of his enlivening power; those of us who have already responded in whatever human way we can, to the amazingly generous and totally incomprehensible invitation given to us. The thing is, do we recognize miracles when they are happening before our eyes. Do we recognize Jesus acting through his children ....or anyone or anything he chooses?





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