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The Challenge of the Day.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 18, 2019 - 7:06am

There is no doubt that we are surrounded by evil in this world. Injustice. Racism. Greed. Genocide. Human trafficking. Pride. Exploitation. Not only did our God leave heaven to make his home in this evil-filled world . . . not only did he stare evil in the face on a regular basis but on the cross of Calvary Jesus allowed himself to be cursed and afflicted by evil. If we are too familiar with the scene, it may be easy for us to forget that, on the cross, something terrible was happening. A completely innocent man was brutally killed.
The death of Jesus Christ was a beautiful tragedy. It was tragedy, because Jesus did not do anything to deserve such treatment. He was accused unfairly. He was sentenced unjustly. “He was pierced because of our rebellions and crushed because of our crimes” (Isa 53:5). Yet, Jesus’s death was beautiful because of what it accomplished for us. Isaiah 53:5 goes on to say that “he bore the punishment that made us whole; by his wounds we are healed.” Because Jesus was betrayed, we have been treated with kindness that we don’t deserve. Because Jesus was arrested, we have been set free. Because Jesus was denied, we have been accepted.

Because Jesus was condemned, there is no condemnation for us. Because Jesus was mocked, we have been commended. Because Jesus was cursed, we have been blessed. Because Jesus was abused, we have been comforted. Because Jesus was dishonoured, we have been honoured. Because Jesus was beaten, we have been healed. Because Jesus’s body was torn, we have confidence to enter the holy places of God. Because Jesus was forsaken by God, we have been welcomed by God. Because Jesus was killed, our lives have been spared. From Jesus’s anguish comes our peace.
On this sorrowful day, we remember the suffering that results from great love and compassionate concern for the world. The Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 is one who takes on the world’s sorrows out of humility. Although Jewish thought attributes the nation of Israel with this role of “servant” throughout Isaiah’s writings, Christians traditionally attribute these servant songs to Jesus. In either case, a message emerges that is profound and troubling.
Innocent people suffer in our world. One who would be a light to the nations has his life snuffed out due to an unjust and torturous world. This is the sorrow of Good Friday. This has been the sorrow of Jewish communities who have suffered under pogroms throughout history and in recent history in the Holocaust. It has also been the sorrow—and continues to be the sorrow—of oppressed peoples and individuals who strive for justice, advocate for peace, and live radically compassionate love and mercy. Jesus is not the only one who bears our infirmities.
This is a day to remember the suffering people whom Jesus represents in his innocence, his compassion, and his prophetic courage: peacemakers; justice-seekers; and innocent children suffering in poverty, war, or abuse are just a few of the many suffering servants who bear our iniquities. Thinking about the suffering servant in this way challenges the quiet contemplation of this day.
What if the sin that the servant bears for me is the sin of my consumerism borne by a child labouring in a factory? What if my iniquity of prejudice is borne by the political activist imprisoned for her advocacy work? Where am I the darkness that overcomes the light? When have I pierced God’s love with cruelty and even hate? These are the hard questions of Good Friday. Ones we desperately need to reflect upon.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Emotional Swings.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 12, 2019 - 12:21pm

Most of us try and steer clear of violent emotional swings. Elation is wonderful as long as it isn’t shattered by the cold slap in the face of disaster. Driving along a mountain road, taking in the scenery, alive with a sense of joy and wonder is one thing, but to be hit head on by a speeding SUV coming in the other direction is something else. I wonder if that’s how we feel now that the Elections in Australia have started with all sides partaking in falsehoods and nastiness from the get go. Well, in this week’s readings from scripture for Palm Sunday St. Paul writes to the Philippians and the scripture set comes from chapter 2. St Paul can write lyrically about the events that begin with Palm Sunday and end on Easter Day without having experienced, first hand, the highs and lows of the Passion.
That is not to say that Paul isn’t moved. The passage contains some of the most beautiful language the apostle Paul penned, and perhaps fragments from a very early Christian Hymn. Paul proclaims that Jesus is “in the form of God,” is “equal with God.”  That’s a hard subject for a first century Jew to contemplate let alone write about. St Paul believed passionately that there is one God and one God alone. Yet here he is in this passage, through belief and experience, stating that Jesus is God: But what sort of God? And with some of the recent claims by various prominent figures in our society and our politicians or would be politicians this question is extremely valid.
Here’s the scandal. Jesus, who is God, willingly empties himself to become a slave. It’s nearly 150 years since slavery was abolished .in the United States. None of us in Australia or New Zealand have any living memory of that vile institution. However, in Australia our history of treatment of our first peoples and our historical involvement in blackbirding in the Pacific Islands late in the nineteenth century could be classed as forms of not only racism but slavery. A slave was or still can be the lowest form of humanity, with no rights. He or she was owned as if a cow or a horse.
 Imagine God as a slave. Here, God is placed in a position of utter vulnerability, with no defence. The God who is utterly human humbles himself to death. Almost without a pause, in Philippians 2, St. Paul then jumps to the resurrection. Perhaps some of you who are Christian have sung that great hymn, “At the Name of Jesus” recently? Yet St. Paul’s thoughts as we enter Holy Week are so much easier to digest than St. Luke’s story in chapter 19. Now some of us may only hear about the entry to Jerusalem but others will hear Chapter 19 of Luke. Read it and see what brutality Jesus was treated with. There’s been much criticism about the violence portrayed in Mel Gibson’s movie of “The Passion”. But to hear and read the Gospel readings for this coming week, is to find ourselves engulfed in a brutal narrative.
Those crucifixes streaming with blood more accurately portray the Passion than our chastely engraved crosses of gold or silver. Nor is St. Luke’s story in the least bit anti-Semitic although it may be used in such a way by hateful people. The rogues of the story are not Jews, but some people who happen to be Jewish and some people who happen to be Roman and of course the mob. Mobs can appear in any country. One can look around our world and see the violence of a mob.
Yet we can say, how wonderful it was for the disciples to enter Jerusalem with their King. They made such a noise that the religious elite, the Pharisees, asked Jesus to shut them up. The disciples were elated. Most of us have experienced moments of religious elation when heaven and earth seem to come together and nothing possible can ever be wrong again. But then the story takes us swiftly down the steep slope of reality.
In the garden Jesus kneels in anguish and terror as he takes in all that now will happen. He is betrayed by a disciple, arrested and dragged before the cynical and the important who will do anything to keep their jobs, preserve the status quo, and get rid of a trouble maker. Then comes a trial before that bloody-thirsty wretch Pilate, the henchman of a disgusting paranoid Emperor. Then troops beat Jesus half to death and burden him with the cross, made to stumble along to the hill of execution, and there executed brutally.  St. Luke then writes: “But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.”

It’s the distance that is the problem for me because I think the action of many of us is to put distance between ourselves and violence when we see it. We are so used to looking at violence from a distance. We see innocent people killed and mutilated almost daily as we watch TV and chew a hamburger. Perhaps during this Holy Week we will be so far apart that we won’t even give time to be in church to keep watch as the drama of our redemption unfolds in the liturgy. We are called by God to get closer, to imagine the mystery of a God whose love is so great that he shares the worst that can happen to us in order to bring us to the best that can be.
Those of us who work hard to avoid suffering, who have no earthly idea how to deal with tragedy, loss, death itself, those of us who may skip Good Friday, preferring the joy of Easter Day, are challenged by these readings to come closer. We are called to stand at the foot of the Cross with Mary the Mother and St. John. We are asked to reach out and touch that Body and that Blood “given for us.” For in a way we cannot explain, the Cross changes everything for us and for the world. Our loving God forgives us, and would make us new.  To return to St. Paul, we are all to bow our knees, at the Name of Jesus, and proclaim in our hearts and lives that Jesus is Lord, to the Glory of God. Maybe it’s something worth doing  right now.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Extravagant Love.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - April 5, 2019 - 5:49am

Two things stand out as classic teaching points for those who follow or are interested in the Christian Faith in this week’s passage from John 12. First, when Mary washes Jesus’ feet, everyone knows it. It isn’t something that she hides, but rather, it is out in the open, for the fragrance of the perfume fills the room. The amount of perfume is so ridiculous that everyone has to know about it. Just as Noah sacrificed an offering as he went out of the ark and a pleasing aroma went up to God, so too, here, we can sense the sacrifice made. We can picture the pleasing aroma of the perfume bringing great pleasure and meaning to Jesus. It is a sacrifice, and Jesus is getting ready to become God’s sacrifice for the world.
The second teaching point comes with respect to extravagant gifts. Many of us, like Judas Iscariot, try to put a dollar value on extravagant gifts. We think about what that money could have been used for, or we make some judgment call on the need of a certain gift. Jesus implies that we should always be helping the poor as prescribed in Deuteronomy, but there is also a time to do something extravagant because of our faith. We don’t need to offer to God or others something that costs us nothing, but rather, we should be about giving sacrificially and abundantly.
Anointing, with oil or extravagance in another form, can serve more than one function. You can commission a person as a witness, you can convey the Holy Spirit, and you can even pray for healing. The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, said, “The Gospel of Christ knows of no Religion, but Social; no Holiness but Social Holiness.” He went on to say, “You cannot be holy except as you are engaged in making the world a better place. You do not become holy by keeping yourself pure and clean from the world but by plunging into ministry on behalf of the world’s hurting ones.”
I would like to take a brief look at the main people in this week’s scripture reading from John 12. The setting is rather simple: Lazarus’s sisters are hosting a dinner for Jesus.
Martha.The only thing we know about Martha is found in verse 2. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served. Poor Martha. It may speak volumes that when her sister pours the equivalent of a year’s wages onto Jesus’s feet, Martha doesn’t say a word. And Martha not speaking may reveal to us just how far she has grown since their last interaction. For Martha, literally serving Jesus, her family, and their friends is how she lived her life as an offering.
Lazarus.Lazarus is identified with what Jesus has done for him. Let’s pause here for a moment. What would our lives look like if we, like Lazarus, were identified first with what Jesus has done for us? Lazarus is “one of those at the table with him [Jesus].” We hear in scripture that Lazarus died and Jesus raised him from the dead. Aside from walking out of the tomb, we never hear Lazarus do anything more from scripture.
 In all of scripture, he never says a word, never talks about what death looked like, or what it was like to be raised from the dead. What we do know is that Jesus loved him and that Lazarus welcomed him for dinner when he was in Bethany. We also know that after Jesus had dinner with Lazarus’s family, the Jewish leaders plotted to kill Lazarus because his life was a living reminder of the power of Jesus. Lazarus’s greatest service to the gospel message was simply being loved by Jesus and living. He may not have done or said anything profound. . . but God used his life in amazing ways.

In our communities, we have people who battle addictions of all sorts. Some of these people rely upon the support they get from Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous and many other like support groups. Many of their lives serve as a living reminder of the grace of God. Choosing life and facing your demons/problems each day can be viewed as a testament to God’s faithfulness and love. And that, for some of us, is an incredible expression of service.
Mary.Mary served in a most unusual and personal way. While Jesus reclined at the table, as we have indicated she poured costly ointment on his feet, and then wiped them with her hair. Scripture says that the house was filled with the aroma of perfume. When was the last time that you experienced the love and power of God in such a real way that you reeked from it? What would our lives “look like” if we bore the aroma of the Holy Spirit? What if grace and love and compassion poured out of us in an intoxicating way?


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Saints and Sinners.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - March 29, 2019 - 11:24am

This week’s passage from Luke 15 is considered to be one long teaching moment by Jesus. It’s helpful to remember that in the Greek, there are no punctuation marks. No periods, commas, and exclamation points. In order to translate a passage in Greek, the entirety of the text must be taken into consideration. The prodigal son is one of the more fully developed parables that Jesus told. Many who don’t belong to the Christian faith know and use the teachings of this parable.
None of the characters are two-dimensional. All three express strong emotions in such a way that they invite readers to connect with them. From the perspective of the elder son, it’s the story of how he is steadfast and faithful while his feckless, prodigal brother squanders a fortune and is then welcomed home. From the perspective of the younger son, it’s the story of how he foolishly asks for, receives, and then wastes his inheritance on dissolute living. Chastened and nearly starving, he realizes his father’s servants are better off than he is, and so he formulates an apology and returns.
From the perspective of the father, this is a story about losing a son and, in fact, regarding that boy as dead. It was very unusual that a son would ask for his inheritance before his father died, yet even knowing that this was not a wise choice on his son’s part, the father acquiesces. In giving the inheritance to his son, the father shows surprising disregard for his own rights and honour.

The drama of this story takes off when the younger son practices his apology over and over. In it, he confesses his sin and recognises that he has forfeited his position as son. When the father sees his son across a field, he runs to meet him and we get a sense of hurried excitement. Some theologians wonder if the father is running to protect his son from scorn from his village. The father never seems to judge the sincerity of the younger son’s confession and never waits for explanation. Instead, he orders slaves to “put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it.”
Though honour and reputation were valuable commodities, the father again seems to care little for his own honour that was likely damaged through this incident. His joy is palpable. And later, when confronted by the angry, hurt elder son, the father responds with compassion. He calls his elder son teknon, which means child. It is a form of affection that affirms their relationship. The father pleads with the elder son. He reminds him of their bond as parent and child, saying to him, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” He tries to persuade him to accept his younger brother, “this brother of yours.” In the end, we don’t know what the elder son chooses to do. Neither do we know what happened to the younger son. To be forgiven can catch us at our most vulnerable state. We have no ground to stand on; we simply accept.
Through this parable we can see that the church is to be a means of grace and a herald of truth—not either/or.  We Christians often can’t seem to decide whether we are a museum for the saints or a hospital for sinners.” Many Ministers would say that their fears about choosing one of these options should not, perhaps, form competing visions for local church life, but sadly they often do. The kingdom Jesus proclaimed is the same kingdom of God he enacted, and it is the same kingdom to which he summons the church.
The church is to proclaim and practice reconciliation, that being the essence of the kingdom: the reconciliation of all of us to God and the reconciliation of each of us to the other, and neither the proclamation nor the practice of reconciliation can finally exist without the other. Either emphasis, without the counterweight of the other, leads to ruin. The “hospital for sinners” model can leave believers awash in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace,” namely, “grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system.
It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God . . . the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” The “museum of saints” model, on the other hand, can chill non-believers and even the faithful with a cold and impassive shoulder. An austere, compassionless rendering of the gospel leaves people knowing that they are not righteous but also not necessarily that they are forgiven.
In either view, what might be called true doctrine and true community seem independent of each other. For Saint Paul, however, authentic community and particular doctrinal confessions of the gospel are interdependent. The church is not a group of volunteers who have chosen Christ, but saints chosen by Christ—called and given identity through a particular confession and hope: truth and grace; ministry and message; not one without the other.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 24March 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - March 28, 2019 - 8:11am

 
The service began with an acknowledgement to the original carers of the land who were grateful to the land and its creator for all it offered them and replayed with care and reverent respect.
The Call to Worshipdeclared that God, knowing our hunger and thirst, provides generously for us so that we will be satisfied and praise God for that.
So in the Opening Prayer we prayed to God that our hunger and thirst will be met in a way that satisfies our whole being.
However in our Confessionwe admitted to seeking to satisfy our hunger and thirst in transitory ways that left us still hungry and thirsty. For this we asked for forgiveness:
Help us abandon our careless ways and self-seeking schemes that we might return to you, our provider and sustainer.
In response Rev. John declared our forgiveness:
God is faithful and will not allow us to be tempted beyond our abilities.
Even in our brokenness, God provides a path to wholeness.
When we confess our shortcomings, God has mercy on us and is generous with forgiveness.
Through Christ Jesus, we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
Then having found our peace we offered that peace to each other.
Offering Prayer
As we enjoy the rich feast you have provided, we know that there are those who want for food and drink. Multiply the offerings we share today, that they may bless those in need. May the spiritual nourishment we receive today strengthen us for continued service in your name.
The Service of the Word.
The First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-9
The Gospel Reading: Luke 13: 1-9- brought to us by Christine.
Preaching of the Word Planting Seeds of Hope
Rev John spoke of living an intentional life as a disciple of Jesus. He began by relating the story of an immigrant to New Zealand from Iran who despite his many regrets at leaving his home and all the difficulties of making a new life in another land and culture, did so because of the danger of remaining in his home country.
And because he intentionally made a new life in New Zealand and made choices for that to come about, he was able to do so successfully and as a result enjoys a new life.
Rev. John then said:
 In much the same way, following Jesus is an intentional act. It is a choice and as Jesus said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” Following Jesus is an intentional, thought-out decision that leads to a new way of life…
To a certain extent, this means we ought to be deliberate with the choices we make. One of the expectations of discipleship is that we are actively involved in a relationship with God where we are making wise choices to help this relationship grow. Should we choose to be passive in our faith, we are in a sense letting life pass us by without embracing the opportunity to receive the gifts…
 The intentional choices made today are like seeds of hope that will blossom tomorrow
When we think about this we could relate it to the story of the tree the owner ordered to be destroyed. The manager pleaded for another year to fertilize it and care for it. This week someone suggested the tree hadn't borne fruit was that the manager had neglected it up until that point. Perhaps our spiritual lives haven't blossomed and borne fruit because we have neglected them. A point to ponder.
Making a real investment in the faith is an issue in our time, but we are not alone.When Jesus teaches about becoming one of his followers, we must recognise that he is teaching this lesson to his own disciples…
 Jesus is inviting his disciples into a deeper, more serious form of discipleship. Jesus is speaking about commitment and dedication. If you are one of those people attending church who have not invested in the church, then perhaps this scripture is teaching you to get invested. Investing in the faith comes with a price…
So, just “turning up” isn't all that is required. We must intentionally attend to feeding our souls on the nourishment offered by God, however that comes to us.
 We say no to ourselves so that we can say yes to God. I witnessed my friend Bruno make sacrifice after sacrifice for the good of his family and his faith. He might have had a promising career in his homeland because of his college education, but he gave this up so that he and his family might live in freedom… 
Makingthe most of our life in Christ involves sacrifices and intentional choices. Each day we have the opportunity to choose whether or not we will follow the way of Christ. Fortunately, we are helped in this decision by the church, which teaches us to live intentionally. The church encourages our participation in Christian practices like prayer, worship, ministry, and hospitality.
That may mean less time spent in other pursuits but also it certainly does mean more time listening for God’s guidance, in whatever form that may come.
Benediction
Our search for God continues.
Our hunger and thirst will return.
Seek God in all places. Seek God with your whole being.
We will call on God and know that God is near.
And may that same Almighty God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life bless you and keep always.
Amen.
 
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