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“Whom Ought I Welcome?”

July 2, 2020 - 2:10pm

This Sunday, the Rev. John’s sermon was focused on “Whom Ought I Welcome?”  – Matthew 10:40-42 “Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”  A number of times during his reflection, the Rev. John reminded us of “Our obligations of welcome and hospitality; Such an understanding of hospitality, of the obligation of welcome, dates back to well before the time of Jesus. It was a matter of survival and community health which translated into the religious understanding of what God wants of us. Where and how do we experience such welcome today?”That is indeed a BIG and difficult question!  Of course, the world is and has been ever changing and it becomes confusing and sometimes unnecessarily guilt provoking if we try to judge everything and everyone against a yardstick from a different time in history.  I sometimes wonder how many of the modern world problems which cause the most angst, are left over from the incredibly tumultuous and war ravaged 20th century and are a direct result of the loss of country, identity, customs and traditions and millions of lives?  History shows us that almost every country has at some time been invaded by bullies who have changed the way the ordinary people can expect to live; and migration has been the pattern for thousands of years.The study of Ancient history in the first year of high school had already taught me that one great Empire followed the other with monotonous and inexorable regularity.  Even at the tender age of 12 it was obvious to me that greed, unrest, distrust and intolerance generally resulted in the decline of an empire - and isn’t that still happening today?  We are certainly watching the great “American Empire” appearing to self-destruct right before our eyes and some are perhaps bemoaning our changed allegiance after the fall of the British Empire of which many of us, our parents and our younger selves were so proud to belong.  Now as a country and as individuals we ask; should we blame or admire those who want to catch onto the coat-tails of the movers and shakers of the emerging modern Chinese Empire?  Didn’t the 20th and early 21stcentury teach us that Communism and Christianity often do not sit well together.The Dark Ages stretched in historical terms from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages or from 300 to 800 - when time morphed into the early Middle Ages – again not a really happy time to be alive.  I was recently fascinated to discover that historians today consider the use of the term Dark Ages, implies a “bad value judgement” because of the “negative connotations” of barbarity and intellectual deficit.Well, historians can call it what they like - and it seems that the preferred term today is “The Migration Period”- however it cannot be denied those days were shrouded in darkness of many kinds.  Surely I am not alone in thinking that this period of time - when an estimated 100 million people died as the result of war, poverty and plague - was indeed a dark time.Once again we are watching huge “migrations” making a mockery of established borders because of aggressive and violent invasions, poverty and famine.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly wonder what history will make of all these events.  There are such diverse views on the morality of almost every situation - whose history can possibly be “the truth”.  Whose “truth” is God’s truth?  The Crusaders certainly didn’t emerge from the early skirmishes with Islam looking too Godly and neither will we; if we condemn any people without thought, acknowledgement, or the lessons of history tempered with compassion.Conquest of  Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 - A 15th Century Miniature painted by David Aubert (1449 - 79)
Public Domain  - Wikipedia 
Will history offer apologies for the extreme violence of this century?  Will we take on the burden of responsibility for terrorism and extremism?  How can we ever agree on who we should welcome into our country, community, church or home?  I agree that successful integration and diversity can bring strong new alliances and friendships, but I believe that diversity both challenges and enriches us personally and as a society; but above all my Christian values tell me that tolerance is the glue that holds any society together.  In order to keep this civilized and enlightened social order that we call society, the enforcement of rules and laws must generally be seen to be the right outcome to preserve the rights of the majority.  It is in fact ironic, that the price for a person who exercises what they may consider to be their personal freedom, in an anti-social way in a “civilised” society, is often punishment by imprisonment, inflicted by that same society.As I grow older and observe the lies and the misinformation which have been propagated as “history” and “truth” in my living memory, I struggle with the probability that my experiences of the time I was alive will not be accurately portrayed.  I lived through the 60s; yet my way of life and the life of all the people I knew, in no way resembled the culture and the morality depicted as “normal”, which is now being passed on to younger generations as fact.  Also, how can it be that it is regularly reported in the media by financial experts that my generation was blessed in easily being able to own their own home in Sydney, when from our first pay packet, both my future husband and I saved very carefully, making financial and social sacrifices in anticipation of a future involving marriage and our personal responsibility for any future children. Our home was modest, with no furniture except a new fridge and mattress on the floor and some ancient borrowed wooden chairs, a discarded laminex table and borrowed suitcases for our clothes. From our families we had collected an assortment of old bedspreads, war surplus blankets and sheets to cover the large naked picture windows so fashionable in the red texture brick dream home of the 1960’s.  There were no fences, paths or gardens in sight.How much of the recorded history and way of life of previous centuries accurately depicts the truth I wonder?    Somehow as I grow old enough to have lived through significant historical events and actually been part of the history of more than half of the 20th century and two decades of the 21st century, I begin to wonder if education and science have now rendered history invalid and useless.  Before Columbus sailed to the New World did anybody dispute the belief the world was flat?I am confused.   Yes it is easy for Christians to feel confusion and guilt, especially as better education allows everyone to have an opinion and certainly in democratic societies to express our opinions.  Does it matter how much new evidence has been “uncovered” - sometimes quite literally - about the Dark Ages or Middle Ages, or any other time in history?Surely scientists can’t – and should not perpetuate theories like the flatness of the earth when we have marvelled at pictures taken from space and which prove the curvature of the earth!  Thousands of concepts like the forces of gravity which ensures that the water does not fall into space from the oceans and rivers as the earth turns upside down; have all been scientifically proved.  However, I can still, in sheer wonder, marvel at God’s amazing “work”.I believe that proven scientific knowledge is different to the recording of events that we call history?  Now this is a really tricky question to which many might consider there is no correct answer!  Should anyone take it upon themselves to try to change the history that has been recorded?  If there are important changes that can correct mistakes in reporting, this could be a reason to make some authorised historical corrections; but we cannot allow the modern opinions of the morality or even the harshness of past events to allow history to be distorted to please the whims of the current generations. Surely this can only lead to anarchy!The Rev John did in his thinking this morning put forward the challenge of who we should welcome, in this whimsical manner:  “Just so we get this straight: whoever welcomes you welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes your friend or neighbour or family member or work colleague or elected official or mother-in-law or next door neighbour or chatty seat companion on an airplane or the stall holder at the Farmers market or grocery checkout person or barber (if you still use one) – there was a slight chuckle here as he is not over-endowed with hair!) -  or the Startrack driver or the child who hit your new car with a soccer ball … and so on and so forth … welcomes God?   The Rev. John even suggested; “We could have fun with this!”“But would there ever be an end to such a list of those who are welcome? If there is an end to such a list of who is welcome, what does this mean? And if not, well -  what does that mean?” he asked.Perhaps there is no real answer to any of those hard questions, although we can truthfully offer some positive answers to the Rev. John’s other question; “Where is our witness to welcoming others, and thereby welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him?”A Quarterly Friendship Circle Morning Tea after Church on a Sunday Morning
Everyone is welcomed for a regular morning tea every Sunday
and anyone who has a Birthday ending in an 0 has a Birthday Cake
Our Marsden Road Church is a place where to my knowledge and experience over the last 50 years, everyone has always been genuinely welcomed and been offered hospitality and friendship; and this has always extended far beyond reasonable expectations and has indeed reflected the love of God through the care of his people.  During the months of the Covid 19 pandemic; although unable to offer traditional hospitality, it has been remarkable the way so many church members have looked after the spiritual and physical welfare of each person, specially caring for all those who are isolated, ill or lonely.  People have been printing and delivering copies of the weekly orders of service, newsletters and blogs to those without a computer and hundreds of phone calls have been made by our caring congregation members. I am pleased to say that our friend Margaret and her husband are at this time the recipients of all manner of hospitality as we all are when we are in hospital or sick at home.  Meals, biscuits, phone calls, encouragement and love are given, as Margaret continues to struggle through the aftermath of two complicated surgeries, with another to come.  I encourage all Margaret’s Blog followers to continue to include her in their prayers of intercession.Our special Solstice $2.50 Excursions for Seniors to see how far they can travel on trains, buses and ferries - and visit all kinds of interesting places are open to friends and family and everyone of any age is welcome - they just have to pay more! 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Let Nothing Disturb You

June 26, 2020 - 2:48am

Let Nothing Disturb You...,Let nothing make you afraid,All things are passing,God never changes.Patience obtains all things.Nothing is lacking to the one who has God--God alone is enough.  

I am sure we are all thanking the Rev. John for the calming reassurance of these words on which he based his Reflection/Sermon on Sunday 21st June.   
So far 2020 has been a very difficult and tedious year for us all and our patience has been strained and our hearts broken by the grief and the worry of trying to care for ourselves and those that we love as we witness the misery and the death that confronts millions of people around the world.  
St. Teresa - known as "Terasa of Avila - Painted by Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640)
(Wikipedia - photo of painting in Kunsthistorisches Museum)
The Rev. John said; “These words, from a meditation titled "St. Teresa's bookmark," are a fine summary of today's Scripture Readings.  They all speak to us, strangely enough, about the gift of patience. We are taught that patience is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, but it often feels like a heavy burden. People in today's society mistake patience for submission in the same way they mistake kindness for weakness -- and they walk all over you. But as usual, we must look beyond the surface. God has a greater message in store.  Some truly great people in the history of Christianity have been "walked on" in this way, you see. Just as one example, St. Teresa, known as Teresa of Avila, is world famous as a theologian, reformer of the Carmelite Order, and spiritual advisor to the great medieval Spanish mystic, St. John of the Cross. But Teresa's ministry was not well received in the community that she loved.  Her sisters had grown lax in faith and practice, she called for reform, and their response was to throw her out of convents that she herself had established.
On one occasion, she was turned out at night in the middle of a rainstorm. Dressed from head to toe in her coarse wool habit, she got back into her donkey cart and was riding along when the wheel of the cart hit a ditch and the cart turned over, dumping Teresa into the mud. She sat there, in mud-soaked wool, looked up to heaven, and said, "Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it's no wonder that you don't have many."
On sitting down to reflect on the Rev. John’s thoughts on Wednesday I found I could really relate to St Teresa’s reactions when, as the last straw of a really bad day, she had a little rant at God and a bit of a Spiritual meltdown.  There was one year about 53 years ago when, like Queen Elizabeth said in 1992, my husband and I could have said it was an “annus horribilis”.  So many difficulties in one year made us decide to dress up and go to a restaurant near Sydney Harbour for dinner on New Year’s eve and begin the new year with optimism and a “bang”.  As the midnight countdown began I smiled in anticipation of a much better and healthier year – then right on the stroke of midnight a passing waiter spilled a glass of red wine all over me as he rushed by to deliver it to another table!   I looked at my lovely white faux fur jacket and my pretty dress and burst into tears as the cheering and the fireworks and the kissing and hugging erupted all around us.  “Well next year will have to be better I said as I mopped up the mess – this one certainly stayed difficult right to the end!”
“But frustrated as she was, Teresa clung to God. Her writings also lead us to suspect that she got a response from God while sitting in that muddy ditch. One of her meditations on the Disciplines of the Holy Spirit talks about how we must not be deceived by the appearance that evil triumphs over good, for sometimes, as she wrote, "God uses the Devil as a sharpening-stone for Christians.”  Teresa not only taught this lesson, she lived by it. She did not give up on God, even when her sisters fought her every step of the way, going to priests and bishops to make trouble for her.”
As a child I thought it was really good the way my Roman Catholic friends could call up a saint to help in a wide variety of inconvenient or difficult circumstances.  However, at the same time I soon discovered that although some of my friends always appealed to St Anthony to find something they had lost, it was my experience that it was much more fruitful to sit down and go back in my mind and work out where, when, why or how, I may have mislaid the item which was missing, before systematically searching thoroughly in all the possible places. 
I found it refreshingly different to focus on a traditionally Roman Catholic Saint in our service this week, specially as a person with an Anglican background. It is not that I have a problem with the recognition of many of the saints whose biographies show amazing kindness and selfless lives as they worked for the poor and lonely or the sick and homeless – it is just that I think that like knighthoods, the Order of Australia, Victoria Crosses and medals or other awards to recognize outstanding human beings, there are only a chosen few who gain wide recognition as saints or heroes in many walks of life.
While it is of course good for those people who are noticed or chosen and for those who admire or love them; we all know that like the unnoticed sparrows, there are countless “saints” and “heroes” as well as quiet and lonely people who will never be noticed, except perhaps by God.
King George VI (Photo from Wikipedia)
This work has been released into the public domain by its author Begoon.
On a night in February 1952 there was a news flash to report that King George V1 had died in his sleep.  On that same night in Sydney during a very fierce thunderstorm my grandfather’s sister Alice also died in her sleep.  Grand Auntie Alice was 78 years old and lived with my grandparents for several years before her death.  She had lived most of her life in the country, had never married and was quiet and reserved and walked with a distinct limp because one leg was several inches shorter than the other.  I never knew anything about Auntie Alice’s life except that she once told my brothers she had ridden a penny-farthing bicycle as a young woman.  This had seemed most incredible to us because as well as being lame, she was a very tiny woman.  When she lived with my grandmother and grandfather she cooked and cleaned for them and never complained.  I hardly ever remember her speaking, but she was a gentle soul and was grateful to be “taken in” by her brother and his wife.

The death of the King of England was front-page news all over the world with blurry radio photos showing the new Queen arriving home in London from Africa, and pages of pictures of the old King’s life.  There were family photos and Pedigree charts and pictures of the life of Queen Elizabeth 11 from the moment of her birth.  Everyone had a story to tell about the Royal Family.  

Auntie Alice died as quietly as she had lived without the world noticing that she had even been here. Yet strangely, I have always remembered that she died the same night as King George V1, and I think that at that time I realised for the first time, that each life is different, yet every life is important. 
I have often thought of Auntie Alice as being one of the fallen sparrows noticed only by God and I wish I could say that I had noticed her more.
So I believe, that as Christians it is only right that each of us must do our part to encourage and thank everyone who we notice being kind, thoughtful and caring and that we look for something special to notice and appreciate in absolutely everyone we meet.  Life is very tough for many people and it is a struggle just to keep going, but often others do not notice their struggles and appreciate their amazing strength of character.  Hence I love this final quote from the Rev. John’s sermon;
“Holy Scripture gives us lots of examples to follow. The Bible tells the story of a God who recognizes the righteous human, striving to do right in the midst of people who would do harm. Jesus spoke of "sheep among wolves" and warned of the harm that comes from people of ill will. But his warning is intended to teach us to handle our problems with the patience of God and to trust in God's righteous outcome, for "A disciple is not above the teacher." When we try to be like God, giving people the chance to do what is right, God steps in at decisive moments -- and miracles happen.”
So we must all be patient for as long as it takes and keep praying and working towards a special miracle to overcome the threat of this 2020 pandemic and for the individual miracles of recovery and healing being brought about by God’s hard-working and selfless “saints” throughout the world.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

"We have so many ways of learning about God."

June 18, 2020 - 2:56pm

I found myself completely in accord with the Rev. John’s Reflection/Sermon last Sunday as I have found great depth and reason in my personal reflection of many many unintended “Jesus movies”.   

“We have so many ways of learning about God. We learn from Holy Scripture, of course. We learn from our worship, from the seasons of the year and the glories of nature, from one another, in our prayers. There is a way of watching movies that can open our minds and hearts to God in ways more powerful than we might imagine. When we see a movie strictly for entertainment, we've received our money's worth, but when we watch the screen through the eyes of faith, God can touch us in ways that are worth much more, ways that are surprising, even transcendent. Ordinary, commercial films become "Jesus movies." Take the film, The Green Mile, for instance.”

I find that I am able to watch and find much to reflect upon in such movies, sometimes watching them over and over again.  The relatively new political correctness of the random “judgements” of “history deniers” can only remove the opportunity for reasonable people to learn from history and avoid repeating some serious mistakes of the past.  Like “Gone with the Wind” - “The Green Miles” could easily be included in the growing list of ‘inappropriate’ movies.

“Gone with the Wind” is an enduring story full of life lessons, laughter and tears.  It is rich in history, although offering a biased account of the American Civil War and slavery.  It paints a broad social history from the perspective of the privileged residents of the Old South.  However, from the moment I first read Margaret Mitchell’s epic novel as a romantic 12 or 13 year old - at a time in my life when I greedily devoured books with my entire being, I did not for even one moment, form ideas of approval for any of the behaviour of the privileged people whose lives were presented.  

Although this Pulitzer Prize winning novel was then just a page turning and exciting story that kept me reading until the small hours of the morning; after the passage of almost 60 years of my own life experience I understand so much more of those life lessons and the historical and cultural significance that I imbibed as I read.  I can remember lying outstretched on the lounge room floor hoping that my mother would not wake up and discover I was still reading.  She had no patience with reading and would have spoilt the magic by nagging me off to bed with a guilty feeling that I had once more wasted my time reading.  My dear mother thought that reading was only a reward for having finished all the outstanding work still to be done.

When my husband and I visited Atlanta, Savannah, Charleston and other southern places in 1991, I re-lived some of the feelings of romance and heroism of the Deep South that Margaret Mitchell lamented in her story which has been called, “The last great posthumous victory of the Confederacy.”   As we drove for many kilometres along a tree lined road looking for our accommodation one hot summer evening the sight of the Spanish Moss hanging in abundance from all the trees instantly transported my mind to the Atlanta of Scarlett O’Hara and Melanie Hamilton.

As we explored Atlanta during the next two days we found Margaret Mitchell’s grave in the Oakland Cemetery; saw beautiful antebellum mansions and visited the impressive Cyclorama and Civil War Museum which houses the largest oil painting in the world.  The painting is 42 feet tall, covers 16,000 square feet and has a 358 foot circumference.  We were told that laid flat, it would cover an entire football field.  With an air of expectancy we were transported to the Atlanta of 1864 and as we sat in rotating tiered seats, the Battle of Atlanta unfolded all around us.  In the foreground of this huge panorama is a three dimensional diorama with scenery and figures which blend with the painting to complete the reality experience.  The canvas was commissioned in 1885 and was painted by artists who visited the battlefields and listened to first hand accounts of the battle. 

Like most foreign tourists we went looking for Auburn Street or “Sweet Auburn” to pay homage to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Junior and visit his birthplace, his tomb and the Ebeneezer Baptist Church where he was the pastor; following in the steps of his father and grandfather.  We discovered four city blocks had effectively become a shrine to the man and his work; yet a white woman we asked to give us directions when we were one block from Auburn Street, literally turned her back on us and muttered, “I wouldn’t know where that is.” 
Ebeneezer Baptist Church in Auburn Street, Atlanta

A few days later, as we watched a thoughtful man slowly walk alone in the grounds of the Carter’s Grove Plantation in Virginia, we wondered about the thoughts of this giant of a man, who just a few generations ago, would have been a much prized plantation slave.  As a white person I felt embarrassed that he may indeed have been a descendant of some of the slaves who had worked this plantation and lived in the slave quarters there.  We had seen an archaeological dig in progress in the mizzen heaps where the original slave quarters had stood and read some of the documented evidence that the Carter’s Grove slaves were brought to America from what we know today as Nigeria and Cameroon.  Was he wondering how they must have felt?  Was he feeling their pain and was he still feeling frustrated by the lack of equality he encountered in the south?  Having read “Gone with the Wind” and seen the movie, we could almost feel his pain.
A Reconstruction of Carter's Grove Slave Quarters
 Carter's Grove Plantation on the northern bank of the James River near Williamsburg, Virginia
was built in 1750 by Carter Burwell  
We discovered as we explored the historical, cultural and architectural highlights in Williamsburg, Virginia; Charleston, South Carolina and Savannah, Georgia that there was still a great division between white Americans and African Americans as well as people from the north and those from the south.  We were surprised to see many Confederate Flags; but perhaps we were most surprised by the unfortunate gap that still existed between the very rich and the very poor - and this gap existed in both the white and black communities.   

We also discovered that the Civil War is still extremely personal in the South and that the selfish flawed characters of Scarlett and Rhett represented the people who adjusted and continued to flourish in the changing order of things after such a comprehensive defeat; while Ashley Wilkes and Melanie Hamilton embodied those who crumpled and lost all when the old South was swept away as if “Gone with the Wind”. 

When it was written this book may have been as divisive as the Civil War itself; but it was one woman’s act of defiance after history took the side of the Union while the people of the South did not really concede defeat.  The ‘heroine’ Scarlett O’Hara represents the fight that Southern women must have faced as they looked towards a very different future and struggled to accept change. Some of the characterisations were surely drawn from Margaret Mitchell’s own life experiences - and that may be why her characters are so believable and timeless. 

Born in November 1900, Margaret Mitchell grew up listening to the war stories of old Confederate soldiers and she suffered grief when her first love was killed at the end of the First World War.  Shortly after this her mother died and it was she who had to care for her father and brother.  Did she secretly wrestle against this responsibility as Scarlett did after the death of her mother?  Margaret was the first serious woman journalist for the Atlanta Journal and was said to have had many suitors – does this sound like the independent Scarlett O’Hara?

Her first husband, Red Upshaw turned out to be a bootlegger and an alcoholic – was he the foundation for the character of Rhett Butler?   She married John Marsh in 1925 and remained married to him until she died as the result of being struck by a car on an Atlanta Street in 1949.  Margaret Mitchell once said in an interview that the theme of her novel was survival and that in writing it she had looked at what it is that makes some people who seemed brave and strong “go under” while others survive similar circumstances.  She called this attribute “gumption”.  Was Margaret Mitchell demonstrating Scarlett’s gumption by having her retreat to Tara to regroup each time she was faced with intolerable odds?  Or do you think it was weakness and denial?  Perhaps even plain selfishness?

I often use a paraphrase of the famous final quote after a hard day when I feel unable to make any more decisions.  If you know me I may have said to you; “I will go back to Tara and think about it tomorrow!“

As the Rev. John noted at the end of his sermon; “John Coffey, the Jesus figure in The Green Mile is obvious; of course.”  However, there are hundreds of movies, old and new, which can help us through our reflections and respect for the past and willingness to learn in our quest to: – “As 21st Century Apostles, identify as people who strive to embody Jesus and to become daily more filled with the love and grace of our Saviour.”   I believe we should not live with guilt about history – we cannot change the past.  However, as Scarlett O’Hara said; “After all - Tomorrow is another day!” God teaches us - if we live well each day we can bring HOPE.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

“Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty”

June 12, 2020 - 1:37pm

When I was in primary school we attended “St. Anne’s” Anglican Church at Strathfield which was rather a grand structure for our Sydney suburbs in the early 1950s. To be quite truthful, it was not all that warm and welcoming for young children – it seemed a bit “stuffy”, although in those times it was not usual for services to focus on the children present.  It was very early that I gave up trying to understand the difficult sermons about Trinity Sunday, which heralded the long “ordinary time” in the church year, when the colour green reappeared in the elaborate drapes and cloths around the Sanctuary and the altar, to stay until Advent in November.  

When we visited the Church of St. Mary in Shawbury in Shropshire, the altar was dressed with green.
The Rev. John Mayor (my GG Grandfather) was the Vicar there for 45 years and it was there
that his son the Rev. Robert Mayor was born in 1791.  

I loved the white and gold of Easter and Christmas, the purple of Advent and Lent; and the red of Pentecost and these church seasons were more interesting and even exciting for me.  After a few years one of my older brothers met a friend who had been to another local church that had a lively youth group, so gradually the family drifted towards that church, which had a warm sense of community.  It is only in the last decade that I have been pleased to hear that some of our Marsden Road ministers continue to have feelings of concern about what the Rev. John this Sunday called, “This anomaly of Trinity Sundays”.  He said; “It is always a Sunday that has provided most clergy with anxiety or anguish or consternation as they attempt to prepare a sermon on the Trinity that is not boring or so full of theological jargon that parishioners will fall asleep. How often have you heard clergy lament on having to preach on the Trinity? Well today is no exception for me.”  Yet, although you can read the Rev. John’s entire sermon as you possibly have already done – I think I should quote an entire long paragraph that I felt very descriptive and thought provoking without causing disturbance of mind or feelings of inadequacy in trying to understand theology.  So here it is:People are not converted to Jesus because we can articulate a theological doctrine, but because we can share our faith in very human terms. Sharing how God has acted in our lives as creator/parent, redeemer, brother, and empower spirit. Our God is a loving and generous God who gives to us unconditionally. The God we worship is the God who created all of us and accepts all of us as we are. God does not make mistakes. Understanding God in this way gives us knew insight into loving and accepting others who are different from us for we are all made in God's image. It is us, not God, who has put limits and parameters on who is acceptable to God. Understanding God this way also calls us to reach out and care for all of God's children especially those who cannot care for themselves. Paul reminds us there are a variety of gifts but one spirit. We are a variety of people in one Spirit. We are called to live out and develop our gifts to the fullest. Our gifts are complimentary to one another and there is no scale of 1-10 on the gifts of the spirit.Everyone is making the most of a difficult situation and doing their best to keep in touch and talk and listen to each other and lift the spirits of others; especially the people who are unable to attend church online.  It is sad that we are missing going to church with the familiar surroundings and the opportunity to Worship together, however the magic of “Zoom” manages to deliver the Sermon, the Prayers and the Bible Readings quite satisfactorily and it is good to see the people sitting at their computers making the best of the situation.  This week the Rev. John tried out a computer “trick” which placed him and his wife in front of a photo of the Marsden Road Church, which felt familiar and “homely”. However, we are still missing the joy of singing the hymns and have tried looking and listening to Youtube, which had some difficulties for a group situation.  We are now trying out having a pianist play the piano in their home while we all mute our sound and sing to ourselves, but somehow it just doesn’t give that wonderful sense of singing together, with the benefits of the amazing acoustics of our little church.  So on Sunday morning when I heard that we were to have the hymn “Holy, holy, holy Lord God Almighty”which was written by Bishop Reginald Heber of Calcutta, I really longed for the time we can all sing together in Praise once again. I have always been rather keen on Bishop Heber’s hymns and as a keen student of history and family history the stories of the British in India and what I have discovered of the dozens of my mother’s ancestors who went to India during many decades of the 19th century for a wide variety of reasons - all of which would probably be seen only in an unfavourable light by those today who deny history - I have done quite a lot of reading and research.  My great great grandmother’s brother, the Rev. Robert Mayor went with his new wife and two other missionaries from the CMS in London, as the first missionaries to “work for ten years among the heathen” in Galle in 1817 and I remember being shocked when I read his memorial plaque in the church in England where he is buried.  Those were the exact words used.  I was quite relieved to discover that he was also a medical doctor who was said to have saved the sight of many of the people he served. 

Among my reading I came across a letter written to Robert’s father by Bishop Heber:“I arrived at this port five weeks ago, in visiting the different parts of my great diocese; and had the pleasure to be greeted, among those who first came off to our vessel, by your son Robert, looking stout and well and very little altered from what he was when I last saw him in England ….. Mrs Heber and I had the pleasure, in our return from the North, of passing the best part of three days with him and Mrs, Mayor, in their romantic abode at Baddagamma, where we also found his colleague Mr. Ward, his wife and family, in perfect health and contented cheerfulness.  I consecrated their church, which is really an extraordinary building, considering the place in which, and the circumstances under which, it has been erected; and I also had the happiness of administering confirmation and the Lord’s Supper to a small but promising band of their converts and usual hearers; and I can truly say, both for my wife and myself that we have never paid a visit which has interested and impressed us more agreeably, from the good sense, good taste, and right feeling, the concord, the zeal, and orderly and industrious piety, which appeared to pervade both families and every part of their establishment.  Mr Ward has in some degree got the start in Cingalese studies, but the progress which both have made in such a difficult language has been mentioned to me as highly honourable to them; and Robert, from his medical skill, his truly masculine sense, his bodily as well as mental energy, and his cheerfulness under difficulties, has qualifications of the most valuable kind for the life which he has chosen.  Both of them are all in fact which you or I could wish them; active zealous, well-informed, and orderly clergymen, devoted to the instruction and help of their heathen neighbours; both enjoying a favourable report, I think I may say without exception, from the governor, public functionaries, and in general from all the English in the colony whom I have heard speak of them.  The cause of Christianity is, I hope, going on well here.”Bishop Heber’s once popular Mission Hymn, “From Greenland’s Icy Mountains”, has been called “A conspicuous example of that fervent belief to convert the world to Christianity which led Heber and others to lay down their lives in the mission field"; has been omitted from some publications in the last 40 years for words that “Seem patronising and insensitive to other beliefs.”  In 1925 Mahatma Gandhi expressed his offence 99 years after Bishop Heber’s death.  He said that such phrases as “Every prospect pleases and only man is vile", and the "the heathen in his blindness [bowing] down to wood and stone", implied assumptions that were untrue in his experiences. Gandhi said; "My own experience in my travels throughout India has been to the contrary ... [Man] is not vile. He is as much a seeker after truth as you and I are, possibly more so".

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Every person should be able to hear God's Word in his or her heart language.

June 4, 2020 - 8:41am

While I was re-reading and contemplating the Rev. John’s sermon which looked at the Pentecost story this Sunday; first from John 20: 19-23 and then from Acts 2: 1-21, I began to consider the wonderful possibilities and the difficulties that could be overcome in the world today if we could indeed all communicate with and understand everyone no matter what language was being spoken.  I love what the Rev. John called, “The stunningly powerful imagery of a raging wind and flames of fire written by St. Paul in Acts”. I continued to read the sermon which you can read in full on the Marsden Road Church website.  The Rev. John wrote; “Filled with the Spirit of God, the disciples can now speak, preach, teach, and communicate in such a way that they are understood by all sorts of different people in many different languages. The power of God to recreate the human community in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit breaks through the human boundaries of language and culture.”

Marsden Road Uniting Church "dressed" for Pentecost SundayAt this point there was a “ping” on my computer to tell me I had a new email.  
I checked my email and discovered a message from a friend of more than 50 years who lives and works in Cappadocia, Turkey to raise awareness of the ‘Love of God and the joy of knowing Jesus’ in one of the places mentioned in the passage in Acts 2: 1-21.  How timely her message was!  Our friend had mentioned in her email last month, that what she called “The Jesus film”, was allowed to be shown on some Turkish secular TV channels for the first time at Easter.  Today she told us that the film was viewed by around eight million people!  Just consider for a moment that 99% of the population of Turkey are non – Christian!
In her email, our friend included a report made on April 21, 2020 from the “Christian Newswire”.
"Amid strict coronavirus lockdowns, millions of people across the Middle East and North Africa clamouring for a spiritual and practical lifeline are finding help right in their own homes through "living television."   In the region where Christianity began but is now a minority faith, Christian satellite television broadcaster SAT-7 ( ) has seen viewer numbers surge and social media interest skyrocket since the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.
"There's an explosion of spiritual hunger across the Middle East and North Africa right now as people stuck at home seek real hope and real answers," said Dr. Rex Rogers, president of SAT-7 USA.   SAT-7 continues to broadcast shows 24/7 that present Christians as 'living epistles' who speak to people where they are in life.  "Millions of people in countries like Iran, Iraq and Turkey are clamouring to see and hear in their own language what it's like to be a follower of Jesus in a time of crisis," Rogers said.
In coronavirus hotspot Turkey, where 99 percent of the population is non-Christian, more viewers have contacted the SAT-7 TÜRK channel daily in the past few weeks than any day in the previous five years since broadcasts began.
"Coronavirus has locked people inside their homes, but it's opening hearts to God," said Rogers. "Lockdown and social isolation do not stop our unique satellite and online Christian programs from reaching millions of adults and children where they live."
Before I finished reading our friend’s email I looked at the website for SAT-7 Christian TV and there was a statement on the HOME page that spells out their goals:
Every person should be able to hear God's Word in his or her heart language. SAT-7 Christian TV supports a growing Church in the Middle East and North Africa, confident in Christian faith and witness, serving the community and contributing to the good of society and culture.
Our friend’s email continued; “I loved our online Turkish fellowship time on Pentecost Sunday (on Zoom) and allowed my imagination to carry me away a little the day after Pentecost, when suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty wind-storm, and it filled the house where we were sitting.  Well! OK it was a day later but it was so stirring and such a privilege and joy to be part of praying for the work of the Holy Spirit here in this land, here in Cappadocia (see Acts 2:9...there were people from Cappadocia there that day!!) ...such longing, such zeal, a fire in our bellies.  We've just been at home in our "upper rooms" with more time to pray.  Now, Lord, what will you do next?”
I’m so glad that our friend’s email arrived at just the right moment so I could share it with you all.
I would also like to share an experience that touched me many years ago on a train in Italy and on the Greek Island of Corfu.  Not all travel experiences are entirely enjoyable at the time of the experience and it is often lack of communication that creates and exacerbates problems.  Almost 40 years ago my husband and I purchased a train ticket from an agent in London for a reserved seat on a specific train, to travel from Rome to Brindisi.  The day before we left Rome we went to the train station and checked the booking and presented our ticket for confirmation.  We were assured everything was in order.
Our tickets were inspected a number of times on the long journey across Italy from Rome to the coast and down to the heel of “the boot”.  It was not however, until about the third pair of inspectors arrived that our tickets created any undue interest and we first heard the words “supplemento rapido”; although after a bit of arm waving and pointing we were left alone and the guards moved on muttering in Italian.
The mood changed at the next stop when a new set of inspectors boarded the train. “Supplemento rapido!  Supplemento rapido!”  shouted the first inspector.  “I don’t understand – do you speak English?” we asked.
“Supplemento rapido!  Supplemento rapido!”shouted the second inspector even louder as he waved his arms furiously to make us understand and held out a hand for some money.  The inspectors continued to shout at us in Italian that we didn’t understand, except for those now familiar words, “Supplemento rapido” repeated at ever increasing intervals and ever increasing volume.  We assumed they wanted extra money because this train was a fast train.  “Does anyone on this train speak English?”my husband asked hopefully and in desperation.  One of the inspectors went off to try and find a translator.  He returned with a Chinese gentleman in tow.
“Speak English, speak English” the inspector told us pointing to his would-be translator, and the hapless Chinese Italian tried unsuccessfully to translate and communicate with us.  Somehow with all the shouting, and with Chinese Italian being translated into Chinese English and then back to Chinese Italian it appeared that we were arguing about a sum of 23,400 lire (₤10) which was about half the amount we had paid for our two tickets.
The inspectors kept shouting louder and louder and waved their arms at ever increasing intervals to make us understand why we were expected to pay more money.  Soon a new word had entered the conversation – the inspectors were now shouting “Polizzi, Polizzi” as they continued to wave their arms about.
“Tell them to call the Polizzi !” my husband finally told the Chinese Italian.  He felt reasonably sure that the police would neither be called or be interested in such a trivial matter.  He was also absolutely convinced the inspectors intended to pocket the money and keep it for themselves if we paid. 
The train continued to speed towards Bari, the next big town along the Italian coast; and as we pulled into the train station we saw no less than three police cars parked in a row along the station platform with eight gun carrying Polizzi coming towards the train to arrest us and drag us off to an Italian prison.
Bari Centrale Railway Station photo by Chris0693 - Own work Wikimedia Commons Licence 
“I think now is a good time to pay the Supplemento Rapido” we decided.  “O.K. I’ll pay the money, but I want a receipt”, he told the Chinese Italian as the Polizzi marched down the train corridor to arrest us.
“I don’t believe I owe any money, but I’ll pay it if I get a receipt,” my husband told the police officers.  Once the money was paid, with a receipt duly issued, the Polizzi left the train and it started on the last uneventful leg of the journey to Brindisi.
As we enjoyed the tranquillity and the backward charm of the little Island of Corfu the next day we came upon a little old Greek woman wearing the typical black clothing of old Greek women all over the world as she sold dolls to tourists.  She spoke no English and we spoke no Greek, yet quietly and easily we had a ‘conversation’.
“Your Bambino?” she smiled as she handed me the traditional Greek doll I had selected.
“Yes” I answered as I paid her the money.  “She is nine years old”; I told the little old lady as I held up nine fingers; and she smiled again and made a sign like an embrace to show she understood how much I loved my “bambino”, and we parted in peace and with understanding.
I realised that in just two days we had enjoyed a lesson in international relations the world leaders could learn from; we had seen two ways of dealing with the difficulties of communication caused by a language barrier - the easy and effective way of the gentle smile and the soft voice, and the ineffectual way of bullying and shouting and shutting out understanding with noise and aggression.   
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

A Most Important Obscure Day

May 28, 2020 - 7:42am

Physical Absence, Spiritual Presence – Acts 1:1-11.   First I must say that I am not a scientist, so I really liked the Rev. John’s introduction to the topic of Ascension Day.  While writing for Margaret on her blog, I am always aware that she is a scientist and does look at the world in a scientific way and she is also a keen student of theology and a Lay Preacher; while I am not at all qualified in either subject.  So when I reflect on religious topics I am generally happy to pass over the really “hard bits” and take joy in the way I observe the Love of God in and through others and feel the hand of God all around me.
This week the Rev. John began his Sermon: “Today is one of those relatively obscure Christian holidays of which many are unaware: Ascension Sunday. This is the day in the church calendar when we celebrate the ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven. In all honesty, the ascension is a rather difficult idea for the modern mind to handle. It’s the story of how Jesus went to the Mount of Olives after his resurrection from the dead. There, according to the book of Acts, Jesus literally flew off into heaven. “He was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.”
Of course my practical side realizes that this is a hard scenario to accept and I was delighted with the Rev. John’s suggestion; “When contemporary people think of the ascension, it is a little hard to imagine the Lord Jesus Christ flying off like a one-person space shuttle into the skies.”  I observed there were a few laughs at this idea that came from the people watching the service with us on their computers; however, for me it did serve to scream out the basic difficulties of always trying to relate the old bible writings (even with a modern translation) to the world of today.
Ascension of Christ - Saint Joseph Catholic Church, Somerset, Ohio
Author Nheyob - Creative Commons Attribution - Share Alike 4.0 International LicenseAt that point my mind immediately turned to the many ethereal images of the Ascension of Jesus that I have, as a ‘romantic’ and an artist, greatly admired in stained glass and paint - and I must confess the images never conjured up doubt or controversy for me. Neither have I actually struggled with the scientific definition of the cosmos which now generally seems to refer to; “The idea of order which is always present in the words universe or world”, although by definition - “In biblical thought, of course, this order is the result of God's activity”.
Rev. John then mentioned “scientific reservations” and the continuing spiritual importance of the Ascension in our modern world.  “On Ascension Sunday, we are called to reassess our devotion to the church as the physical body of Christ still among us. The risen Lord is not here; he has ascended. The body of Christ is very much here, and the way we treat the church is the way we treat the risen Lord.  Ascension Sunday reminds us that we are each, individually, a part of Christ’s body. To honour the church as we honour Christ is also to remember that in a powerful way, we are each a part of this body of Christ.”
People of the Marsden Road Church congregation went away for “church camps” during the 1970s and 1980’s, which was a time when there were many families like ours with children over a variety of ages and this was a wonderful time for everyone from the oldest to the youngest.  We all looked at ways to include everyone in the fun and the religious instruction and often as an adult I loved the times when a “light bulb” seemed to turn on during successful groups and services in which everyone shared at the camps.  Oh!  And how we loved the singing at those weekend camps!
Memories of a Marsden Road Church Camp in the 1970s 
Whenever I hear mention of the importance of each one of us in our role as part of the body of Christ and what each of us can achieve as part of ‘the Church’ if we all work together, I remember how at one camp, all the younger children were called to the front and were each asked to try to pick up and carry a tall strong young man from the ‘stage’ where he was lying on the floor.  Each of the children tried very hard and of course could not even move him on their own, but when they were told to all work together and share the weight by standing all around Craig, there was great excitement and surprise at their success in carrying him away.  I seem to remember there was also a mention of the way tiny ants can all gather around and together lift a large piece of food to take home to their nest to share.  Such a simple idea, but very effective and I suspect all the kids may, like me, still remember the message they were given that day. This message as the Rev. John said on Sunday morning was to; “Remind us that without our individual faithfulness to our role in the church, the body of Christ is weakened and disabled.” 
The Rev. John’s sermon today concluded “This is a critical day in our personal and collective self-understanding. It is significant that the risen Lord ascended into heaven. His ascension invites us to relate to the church as we would to Christ. It reminds each of us of the critical nature of our role in the body of Christ. It calls us to take up Jesus’ work on earth. This is a most important obscure day.”
When I reflect on many religious concepts I wonder if it is perhaps easier for those of us with less scientific or theological knowledge to accept our feelings and instincts with less self-questioning.  Having said that- It may seem surprising, to learn that I have in the past thought and written some heavy questioning thoughts about the Genesis story of Creation in the Bible, the Big Bang Theory and the Theory of Evolution, some of which I will share with you.
"In the beginning of creation when God made heaven and the earth, the earth was without form and void, with darkness over the face of the abyss, and a mighty wind that swept over the surface of the waters." These words are the very beginning of the Bible.  Chapter 1 of the book of Genesis gives this version and goes on to describe events to the end of the sixth day finishing; “So it was; and God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”
So how did the world really begin?  The foremost scientific theory about the origin of the universe is The Big Bang Theory.  I was surprised and interested to learn that this widely accepted theory that the universe was created sometime between 10 billion and 20 billion years ago from a cosmic explosion that hurled matter in all directions was first proposed in 1927 by Georges Lemaitre who was a Belgian priest.  I typed “big bang theory” into Google, and after browsing items 1 - 10 of about 1,250,000 results to try and understand how a priest of all people, put forward an evolutionary idea seemingly so in conflict with the Biblical creation story in Genesis, I only became more fascinated.  However, I did learn that Lemaitre was one of many scientists including Edwin Hubble who were also working on variations of this theory at that time.
Can we believe that the Big Bang was God’s first miracle?  I can, but then I am not a scientist.
Before the Big Bang Theory there had been Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, explained in 1859 in his work “On the Origin of Species”.  I found there are about 225,000 results for “Darwin's theory of evolution” on Google, but to summarise his theory:-
1. Variation: There is variation in every population.2. Competition: Organisms compete for limited resources.3. Offspring: Organisms produce more offspring than can survive.4. Genetics: Organisms pass genetic traits on to their offspring.5. Natural Selection: Those organisms with the most beneficial traits are more likely to survive and reproduce.
If taken literally these ideas probably created religious and moral dilemmas for people when they were first published nearly 150 years ago.  However, today with greatly increased knowledge and ability to act upon that knowledge, some of the possibilities of interfering with the natural order of things are so horrific, I am almost too scared to put them into print! 
Yet I am asking such questions to promote serious thinking about the behaviour of all humans and their often misplaced feelings of entitlement.
1. To say there is Variation in every population is an irrefutable statement. No problems there!
2. Competition is a part of life; but then, does greed creep in here – and does this give some humans ‘permission’ to take more than their share – is it OK to let millions starve to death because the world can’t support an ever increasing population?  Is war then a legitimate way of competing for limited resources?
3. We can accept the fact that turtles and other animals need to produce more offspring to ensure the survival of the species, and we understand that other animals need to kill for food.  However, we can’t accept the death of human babies in the same way; it would seem to be against all we, as civilised humans believe.
4. and 5. are very much related.  Should we be trying so hard to save the lives of humans with genetic diseases that are weakening the human species?  Is keeping them alive and encouraging them to reproduce wrong?  Is natural selection in fact God’s plan to protect us from our own weakness?  Should we encourage the survival of babies so immature that the only reasons for their survival in such a damaged state are the needs of their parents?  Can we be accused of playing God – and is Darwin’s Theory perhaps an expression of part of God’s plan?
Now for another big question.  What is the difference between Scientists, Evolutionists and those who believe the Genesis story?  It is said that, typically, scientists observe evidentiary data and then formulate their conclusions, and evolutionists have formulated their conclusion and then look for the missing data.   It is my personal understanding that believers in the Bible story can accept what they can’t prove or see, and have a sense of wonder that can acknowledge miracles and above all they have faith in God.
I have faith.  I am happy to gaze into the heavens at night with millions of stars smudged across the sky - and feel a thrill I cannot describe; I don’t need to know if there was a Big Bang – I simply feel the truth of Psalm 19; “The heavens tell out the glory of God, the vault of heaven reveals his handiwork.  One day speaks to another, night with night shares its knowledge; and this without speech or language or sound of any voice.”

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

"The Tapestry of Life"

May 21, 2020 - 2:10pm

It could be considered to be “by chance” that the church service last week (10thMay) inspired me to centre my reflections upon the expressive impact of hymns as an integral part of our Worship.  However, having followed those thoughts I was stumped when considering a response to the Rev. John’s online service this week in which his thoughtful sermon turned our minds to poetry in the Bible reading from Acts 17; 22-31.  We know that many of the hymns we love were written as poems before being put to music and becoming hymns, so here I am sitting at my computer, wondering where will my mind go from here?
Just one interesting thought to share here is the comparative ease for most people to learn and remember the words of a song or a hymn, paralleled with the difficulty for many in retaining in their brain the words of a poem ready for instant recall.  When I was young I was extremely lucky to be able to easily learn and recite the poems that I loved - yet often by the time I had listened to my brother repeating the poems he had to learn for homework, I would despair about his lack of progress.  
The difference here was that my brother did not feel the poetry like I did and his heart did not motivate the poetry “centre” of his mind to remember and love the words of the poem.  So for him, learning poetry by rote, with no effort to demonstrate or teach the relevance of the imagery of poetry was like saying dismissively to him that he should ‘Find a bridge and get over it!’  However, my brother John could discover what made anything work and he enjoyed working in the mechanical and engineering fields his whole life.  His memory for details about the cars and trains he kept working perfectly and the achievements and statistics of his competitive bicycle racing was excellent.  I soon learned that my brother, like many others, had no wish or need to be able to recite the endless verses of “The Highwayman” or “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”.
I have looked for ways to express why some of us turn to poetry when we need to express deep or important thoughts and feelings.  I certainly do not consider myself as a poet, yet sometimes I feel compelled to disregard my lack of understanding of the rules and approved techniques for writing genuine poems, to present my special thoughts or feelings to a friend or someone who needs encouragement or consolation in this very personal way.  
In trying to answer this question of why poetry touches my heart, I discovered there are many very satisfying definitions of what poetry is; however, I find that I can’t go past the definition given by William Wordsworth who wrote; "Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity".  Just think daffodils here!
Thirty years ago a talented friend wanted to share her love of stitching Tapestries with people who had not had the opportunity to learn this craft, so she wrote and published a small book called “Tapestry made Easy”, which was richly illustrated with photos of beautiful finished and framed Tapestries that had been worked by herself, her mother, her father and even her husband.  Her family had a small supper party to “launch” the book and several families from Marsden Road Church and other special friends attended the celebration. 

I had been seeing and admiring these beautifully executed tapestry works hanging in our friend’s home for many years; so I was inspired to write a poem to celebrate her achievement in writing the book.  Although I am sure the poem that I wrote breaks many “rules”, the imagery of one’s life as a finished tapestry pleased me and was appreciated by my friend.  Her father who was a perfect gentleman asked me if I would agree to the poem being printed in his church’s magazine and of course I agreed.  It was later printed in a copy of the “Marsden Missive”, so my apologies if you have already seen the poem.  This has become the inspiration for my personal “Tapestry Tales”, a collection of stories and anecdotes of my life and my family, which have been written over a period of 20 years. 
Tapestries worked by Glenys Gillard
Photos by Dayen Grujovic

The Tapestry of Life
Life is a tapestry worked over the years; It’s a blending of threads stitched with laughter and tears.
By our Lord the pattern was printed and trammed -Much richer and fuller than man could have planned.
The technique and tension are for us to decideand the standard of work is our personal pride.
While enjoying support from our family and friends -On our stitching and texture the canvas depends.
The rows that we work with painstaking caremay be less than perfect - we see here and there.
With a little more Faith, more Hope and more Love,while asking for help from our dear Lord above
We’ll be shown the best way to choose the right threads;Sometimes with our hearts; and at times with our heads.
We’ll learn new techniques to embellish our work;and we’ll stitch through the rows where anxieties lurk,
If we create a true Masterpiece - a real work of artIt will prove that we’ve lived - of this life been a part.
When our tapestry is finished and we reach the hour of death,We will meet the Master Planner as we draw our last short breath,
Then for uneven or imperfect work, we surely won’t be blamed,As in the memory of our loved ones - our tapestry is framed.

This Sunday morning (17th May) the Rev. John made reference to the way “St. Paul gives us a good example of the productive process of building bridges because Christians are all, or should all be, disciples.”  He reminded us that, “Bearing witness and spreading the Word is the business of every Christian and finding bridges between the teaching of scripture and the outside culture is necessary to aid that process.”  So, perhaps as expressed in the Rev John’s words “In an age in which the Bible is under fire, poetry might serve as a good place to build a helpful bridge from the Bible to the surrounding culture of today.”
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

"How Great Thou Art"

May 14, 2020 - 2:27am

When I sat down at my computer to reflect on the Rev. John’s Sunday online church service I clicked on a Youtube link for the first hymn “Tell out my Soul” which was written by Rev. Timothy Dudley-Smith who has been writing hymn texts for more than 50 years, and still writes 6 or 8 new hymns each year. He has written over 430 published hymns and this is one of his hymns of adoration which always stirs me.  As I listened, my mind immediately turned to the expressive impact of hymns as part of Worship that has always been for me important as a source of prayer, deep thought, comfort, assurance and delight.   Church was always an important part of my family life and upbringing as the daughter of an Anglican minister and his wife.  My parents met as children at Sunday school and church and my father’s “call” to the ministry came during the singing of the wonderful hymn; “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” when a visiting evangelical minister made a call for people to come forward and give their life to God.  So consequently, for me there was no amazing moment that I can recall when God became the cornerstone of my life – and this has sometimes been a cause of reflection about religion as sometimes an “accident of birth” versus religion as a matter of choice. 
I have often found the stories of some of the writers of our amazing and inspirational hymns to be some of the best life lessons when looking for the “meaning of life.”
My father’s ministry was diverse and his “parishioners” during my childhood and youth were struggling farming families during his time as a Bush Church Aid Chaplain when I was born in Victoria - and then as an army and navy chaplain until I was an adult.   Although this meant that the people attending his service were sometimes reluctant and less than receptive worshippers; my father and other chaplains saw their wartime and service life as being “Full of opportunities for a Chaplain”.

In December 1943 my father joined with a fellow chaplain with whom he had shared his ordination service 10 years earlier and in his letter home he wrote; “Tonight Bill and I combined in taking a service with an Infantry Battalion in an open clearing in the jungle (New Guinea).  The troops were drawn up on two sides and the officers on the third side with the chaplains on the fourth side of the square. The service concluded just as dusk was falling, with the singing of “Abide with Me”.  This time 10 years ago we were in a retreat together in preparation for our ordination.  It is a far cry from then to the jungle and from those days of peace to these days of war.  You never know what lies ahead and we did not dream in our wildest moments that we would even be chaplains in the army on active service in times of war and that 10 years hence we would be combining for a service in the heart of the jungle and with men who have been in action on the front line.”
The piano in our home was not played often, but my father would sometimes sit down for a while on Sunday evenings and play “by ear” from his small repertoire of hymns.  Even today I can never hear “The day though gavest Lord is ended” or “Abide with me” without returning in my heart to those far off days and feeling myself standing by my father and looking over his shoulder as we sang those hymns together. “Abide with me” is for me a hymn of hope and supplication, while “The day though gavest Lord is ended”, is more about hope, thankfulness and benediction.
If you have time on your hands for reflection you may spend many happy hours wandering through the pages of the website you can learn all about the hymns and their writers and the important place they play in our Worship and become part of our life and our understanding of God’s love and our opportunities to share that love.. 
My favourite hymn of all is, “How Great Thou Art” and one memorable day in Norway I turned to my husband and began to softly sing the words of this wonderful inspiring hymn and said; “Surely those words were written by someone who had stood on a mountain peak in Norway!”  Perhaps I was close to the truth; because Carl Gustav Boberg (16 August 1859 – 7 January 1940) was a Swedish poet, best known for writing the Swedish language poem of "O Store Gud" (O great God)from which the English language hymn "How Great Thou Art" is derived.  The hymn of adoration we sing today was translated from the Swedish poem in 1949 by Stuart K. Hine who was born in 1899 in Great Britain. He and his wife were missionaries in the Western Ukraine of Russia, where they evangelized as Christian workers and singers.  In 1931, Stuart and his wife returned to Britain and conducted gospel campaigns throughout Great Britain.
“O Lord my God! When I in awesome wonderConsider all the works Thy hands have made,……………When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee,How great Thou art, how great Thou art!”
That memorable day in 1982 we had travelled by tour bus through wild and spectacular countryside on a road that constantly turned back on itself in a series of sharp hair-pin bends; a journey not for the faint-hearted.   In the region known as Jotunheimen, or “Home of the Giants” we made our way to the top of Mount Dalsnibba where we were met by a fierce, cold inhospitable wind and a view to take our breath away.  We felt like we were in heaven with the world at our feet.
Then we moved on in the bus to the next vantage point and from there we could look across at Mount Dalsnibba and down into the little town of Geiranger nestling near its beautiful Fjord.  We were standing in the clouds and for a few magical moments we had a clear view of the fjord below with two luxurious ships at anchor.  Suddenly a white blanket of cloud made it all disappear like the theatrical magic of Brigadoon vanishing in the mists of time.

When we reached our hotel in Geiranger we set off for a walk in drizzly rain following a very steep road to a beautiful little church perched precariously on a ledge overlooking the fjord.  Through the little churchyard we went, and out the gate, before clamouring down the slopes and tracks to the path that followed the edge of the fjord.   It was no longer raining and we walked for at least an hour enjoying the grandeur of the snow-capped mountains with countless waterfalls rushing down to the fjord that had been formed during the ice-age when the valleys were scraped out by the ice and the sea came in.  The waterfalls thundered and foamed over rocks and bushes until they tumbled into the fjord that was so deep and so still they were stopped in their tracks and created hardly a ripple.
Following along the path we experienced a peace and beauty impossible to describe in words; it was felt as much as it was seen; then suddenly the silence was shattered by the siren of one of the ships as it slipped out of the fjord towards the open sea.  Soon it was joined by the other ship that almost mysteriously vanished as we walked around a bend on our way back to the hotel.
We lingered again in the churchyard of the little church that clung to the steep slope and I thought I could find no more beautiful place to be for all eternity.  There were small flowers growing wild among the grass between the gravestones and God’s hand was everywhere.
After dinner we settled down in front of our window at 10.30pm to watch the coming of twilight.  The reflections of the quickly moving clouds changed constantly in the deep still water of the fjord, and last year’s snow glistened on the mountain peaks.  Soon little farm houses and small villages turned on their lights in expectation of a darkness that never really came. 
Across the fjord it looked like a twinkling star was moving back and forth across the mountain between the trees as a lone car climbed the steep road with its dozens of sharp hair-pin bends.  The sky changed ever so slowly from a soft blue to a deeper velvety shade and our eyelids became heavy so we left our twilight scene and went to sleep thinking of both the magnitude and perfect detail of God’s Creation.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The Church is not a Building - You are the Church!

May 7, 2020 - 10:06am

I have been a bit disorganised in my thinking this week and perhaps there was a little bit of creative avoidance as I pondered the theme of the online service last Sunday.  Experience the Living Christ – Acts 2.42-47The Rev John said; “Give thanks for your church and your place in it. There is no better place to find what you are looking for, which is the touch of the “Master’s” hand in your life. I know because I have experienced it. Thanks be to God for church!” … Ultimately the Christian faith is about living in relationship and community.  The Easter legacy is the church of Jesus Christ”.Instead of my heart hearing the strong messages about “The Good Shepherd” that should have brought quiet assurance, I have been grappling for several days with the whole idea of “the church”.Yet here we all are not able to go to “the building” or even meet with “the community of faith” and every day seems the same – a bit like that old movie “Ground Hog Day”!   It’s enough to stop anyone in their tracks.  With the endless talk of being “locked down”, has been a feeling of loss about many aspects of our old lives - yet being locked out of our churches has been something quite foreign to us in our country where religious freedom is embraced.As the cloud lifted in my mind I began to remember a familiar statement that I really like; “The church is not a building – You are the Church”.   At Marsden Road Church we have used that phrase often in our invitations and letterbox drop material.  These words in the Rev John’s Reflection can turn on a light for us all during these dark days. “Come in, all who are tired and thirsty. The Good Shepherd leads us to grassy meadows and restful waters. Come in, all who are anxious and afraid. The Good Shepherd protects us and leads us through dark valleys. Come in, all who are empty and exhausted. The Good Shepherd fills our lives with goodness and faithful love. Come in, to be refreshed, to rest, and to receive. The Good Shepherd has brought us here.”Whoever would have imagined that almost everything we know would change so much almost overnight and we would be required by law to draw back even from those we love and deny them a hug or even a handshake.  Of course it was important and just plain necessary, yet I found it worrying to stand back and make no contact with the people in the church as we “passed the Peace” that final Sunday in March when we were able to go to “the church”.  I know a young woman who lives alone who rang her sister and asked if she could drop by and hug her family’s dog.  It has been reported that all the animals at the animal shelters have been “snapped up” by people seeking company.  I just pray that these pets will all be loved and cared for when the world changes again and their humans are no longer in need of their love and warmth.In this current climate of sickness and death for many thousands of people around the world there are huge health and financial worries; people are being almost “held in custody” at home or in an hotel room or a nursing home or cruise ship and it can be difficult for us to find our community, peace, joy or hope.   Jobs lost, shops closed, operations cancelled, doctors unable to let patients into their surgery.  At our doctor’s surgery, the doors were locked and we were “told” via gestures to go walk down the driveway and wait.  To our surprise the nurse emerged and there on the driveway we were quickly given our annual flu vaccination and the nurse immediately disappeared inside.  Life is confusing - even the politicians are agreeing with “those on the other side” some of the time!  It seems the world has almost stopped and there is no other news than the corona virus – we see pictures of places like the Spanish Steps in Rome without a single person in sight!  London is deserted along with every other tourist hot spot in the world.  It is hard for our minds to process these sights and accept the awful news that each morning 700 or 800 or more people have died from COVID-19 in some countries in the world, in the short time since we went to sleep last night.However, that sense of community that is the church still shines through and we can see and feel that “The Christian faith is about relationship, it is about love and compassion. In the midst of the comings and goings of our lives, the risen Christ appears, community happens, and the church takes shape.”It has been on my daily walk every afternoon that I have found “the church” as I have encountered much greater numbers of people who want to interact in some small way.  Families are out in huge numbers every day; walking, riding bikes and scooters, walking dogs, laughing, waving to strangers, and enjoying their restricted lives within the new limitations and ever changing rules.Now I have found many new acquaintances and we look out for each other and say “Hello, how are you today?”  The Dalmar Heritage Drive is such a wonderful place to walk with the huge 92 year old trees lining the driveway like sentinels as they provide dappled shade and a safe place for children to ride and play.  About 18 years ago I interviewed a lovely lady who was taken to live at Dalmar Childrens’ Home in July 1928 and she told me that when she and her mother arrived, Hazelwood’s Nursery people and some of the Dalmar boys were planting those “tiny trees” along the Driveway. The Dalmar Heritage Drive runs into a circular area in front of the original Dalmar Childrens' Home

It is a joy to "walk in the country" each day in 2020 and remember the children who found a good Christian Home there at Dalmar and were made welcome at the Marsden Road Church and Sunday SchoolIn recent weeks, children have been drawing and writing in chalk on the Dalmar drive and in a little lane nearby and one day as I walked I saw a lovely new hopscotch game had been added to the Easter Bunnies, Easter Eggs, Mermaid and writing of encouraging “wise sayings” on the drive and pathways.  Of course I felt I just had to hop along as well as I could and the kids all smiled at the old lady trying her best to jump.  I said “Oh dear! I can’t jump properly any more I am too old” and one dear little boy of around 7 or 8 very sincerely said; “I am really sorry that you cannot jump anymore.” Yesterday I discovered new messages in the lane after the rain had washed away the originals; perhaps my favourite was; “No matter what people tell you words and ideas can change the world.”I just love it as the kids sail past on their bikes and wave and smile.  I have a chance meeting almost every day with an elderly Indian lady who wears beautiful bright flowing saris and talks on her phone as she walks; but she always pauses in her conversation to say hullo as she nods her head and smiles.  People who walk dogs are often ready for a chat about their dog for a moment or two and I sometimes wonder if all the dogs are wondering why they are suddenly being expected to go for a long walk every day.  There is one lady whose dog is usually stopped and refusing to move as I pass and his owner is trying to coax him to move again.  We always laugh as she tells me how many times he has refused to move that day!Grimes Lane that runs between Alan Walker Village & Rayward Lodge

One day as I walked along Grimes Lane, a walkway which runs between the Alan Walker Village and the Raywood Lodge Nursing Home, I saw a heart-breaking sight as I paused to say a little prayer for the people locked inside and restricted in their visits and I noticed an elderly man standing on the highest piece of grass he could find and straining to look through the window as he spoke on this mobile phone.  Inside there was a lady (almost certainly his wife) talking on a telephone and waving to him.  If a large family of Kookaburras in the magnificent tall gum trees on the other side of the lane had not chosen that very moment to join in laughter with other groups in trees in the surrounding areas, I may well have cried.  Instead I hoped that the laughter of the birds had brought comfort to them as it had to me.  I stopped and looked up and looked around and was amazed by the perfection of the blue sky and the height and the groupings of the trees - and then I moved on.I feel that I have been “going to church” on my walk every day and as the Rev John has said; “So just pause and reflect for a moment. Easter has come. The tomb has been emptied. The Lord has appeared to his disciples, and the announcement has gone forth: “He is alive!” Jesus is alive! Where do we find him for ourselves?”  Yes, perhaps sometimes it is harder to find Jesus than usual, but if we listen and encourage each other things will improve in time. As the lovely children wrote on the footpath;”It is the little things that matter” and “No rain no flowers” and “You are so lucky to be YOU”. 

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

The sun always shines, even on the darkest of days

April 27, 2020 - 1:37pm

Because the Rev John, and others from our Marsden Road Church have been eager and worked hard for everyone to be able to have access to a weekly church service, it is now posted in full on the Marsden Road Website, with cross links to Rev John’s weekly blog and Margaret’s “Reflections on Sunday Morning” blog, but even more importantly there is a “team” of people who email, print, post or personally deliver both the church service and the weekly newsletter to anyone who wants to receive it, in the manner most appropriate to their needs or wishes. 
For some weeks now the Rev John and his wife Wendy have invited people to join them for a “virtual” and safe meeting in their home, via the miracles of modern digital technology.  This works well for those people who have a computer or a device with the right program, a camera and a microphone and who have already felt the need to have embraced a technology that the majority of people today consider to be absolutely necessary. However, those who do not need or choose to become involved in this different way of communicating can remain fully involved in life.  We must be careful to remember that people who have not become too engrossed in the “new” way of communicating online are often more observant and careful when making “real” connections with other people.   Personally, I feel it is well worth stopping often and slowing down to listen, share and communicate in the old ways.
Margaret has asked me to “mind” her blog while she is recovering from her operations and I feel that in the present situation when so much effort has already been put into making the Sunday Service available to everyone, I might share some “Random Reflections” and thoughts provoked by the Sunday service with her followers.
There are many people all over the world at the moment who are struggling to cope with the situations they find themselves having to face each day – who among us would have believed that we would be faced with so much change, sadness and worry when we began to think about the dawn of the year 2020?
We will need all our Faith in God to live by that new “Easter Perspective” the Rev John spoke about on Sunday morning and to “Dare” to “love one another deeply from the heart” (1 Peter Chapter 1 verse 22).
Yesterday morning I felt the impact of the Call to Worship very strongly as my husband and I joined the Marsden Road Church Service via ZOOM (a new computer program) as we sat in our pyjamas at the computer in our study.   We don’t have a camera or a microphone on our computer so the little screen that appeared with our name to show that we were present was black & blank and we were unable to contribute to the conversation!   I was aware that, although there were about 20 familiar faces rolling across the top of the computer screen, there were many dear people “missing” as the service was about to begin.  It was a wonderfully comforting thought that in other homes and retirement villages around the local suburbs some of those “missing” people were also able to share in the service when they chose to do so. 
As those of us with ZOOM “gathered” there was, as is usual, a bit of friendly chatting before the Rev John called us to begin the service.  While listening to the chatter we became aware of the friendship and phone calls that had been shared among those of is “at church” and those friends not on our screens, yet in our thoughts and prayers during the previous weeks. That was a really good feeling.
Call to Worship
Walking down the road of life, how often do we meet Christ in a stranger? Chances are good we won’t recognize him, even though our hearts may burn within us. Chances are even better he will move on to bless another unless we offer hospitality to our fellow travellers. Walking down the road of life, look for Christ . . . and be prepared to find him in a stranger.
That has always been a concept that I love and value!  Have you ever felt uncomfortable as you walked past a homeless person on the steps of a grand city church; have you wondered was it God sitting on those steps dressed in rags?  Did God wonder why people went inside to look for Him?  Did he wonder why we walked by without stopping to help?
Have you ever felt that God “used” you when you were able to help a lonely or worried person as you passed by?  I believe God sometimes prods us and raises our awareness to step up and engage with a stranger.  Walking down the opposite side of a wide corridor in a hospital I surprised myself when I saw a lady with her head down and looking close to tears and without even consciously thinking, I found myself stopping and gently asking; “Do you need a hug?”  She held out her arms to me and sobbed.  She told me she had just learned that her mother would not be able to recover and was close to death - I knew that God had given me the mission to comfort her before she went out to her car to begin a lonely and sad drive home. 
In many ways the world has been turned upside down by the overwhelming speed of the continuing development of digital technology.  In many ways it has also become an impediment to actual communication which requires stopping to speak and more importantly to listen to all the people we meet “walking down the road of life”.  
As Rev John stressed this morning, “That is, we must put on our new Easter glasses and live “as if” the world has more love than it does, “as if” there is more hope than people are willing to embrace, “as if” the kingdom of God can reign on the earth today.”   Our Easter glasses also give us the holy boldness to ask, “What if?” What if every child had a warm, safe place to sleep? What if there was enough food for every person on this earth? What if we all lived from a sense of abundance rather than scarcity? What if today all the killing of all the wars stopped?”
The sun always shines, even on the darkest of days
I feel that I am truly blessed that I can always “Look for the Silver Linings” and see they are there somewhere, even on the darkest of days.  For me the sun is always shining someplace.  Sometimes I ask myself why I have been so blessed and why I can hang on during a storm and wake the next day ready to go on.  I understand and care deeply for those who are unable to wake each day with a strong feeling of hope for the day.
It doesn’t seem fair when I see the struggles of others and inexplicably; some who struggle the most, appear on the surface to have “golden” lives.  However, we can never really know about the deepest troubles and the struggles, real or envisioned, that plague the minds and lives of other people - even our closest friends and sadly, sometimes family.  Yet, some people seem to have every reason in life to feel ignored or targeted by an unconcerned society, or feel depressed and marginalized by circumstances not of their own making.  The fortunate ones have a mystifying gift, which I can only think of as optimism. Some alternative words for optimism are hopefulness, cheerfulness, sanguinity, confidence, buoyancy and brightness. 
No wonder this gift allows people to go on and find those silver linings and hopefully share them with those whose joys are lost in dark clouds.  

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 19 April 2020

April 22, 2020 - 8:14am

I am facing a complicated spinal surgery next week and then another about eight weeks later.
It is a difficult time now for me, anticipating what is to come and it will be even more difficult during the recovery time later.
My daughter sent me a piece of writing by John Donne which outlined his thoughts when he was very ill and which initiated his well known “No man is an iland”. He said “As sicknes is the greatest misery, so the greatest misry of sicknes, is solitude.”
And so, at this time I, like Donne, have to face these surgeries alone. No person in my family or my circle of friends can accompany me through or lift any of the burdens I must carry during the time to come.
Or do I? 
I don’t need to face these coming experiences alone. God has promised to be with me at all times.
And sometimes I believe that, like now when I am considering the possibility, and opening my heart and head to the promise that God will be with me at all times.
But then My faith fails me and belief leaves me and I feel so alone.
In Rev. John’s sermon on Sunday he spoke about doubting Thomas and his experience of being utterly overcome with belief as he faced Jesus personally.
He then pointed out that “according to Paul Tillich, doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” He advised us to explore our doubts and let that exploration set us on a path of finding the depths of our faith.
That seems to me to be very good advice: advice I intend to follow. Each time I do anything related to my relationship with God, God is generous in responding to even the weakest of my calls. I am aware of God’s benevolent warmth issuing out upon me. I don’t even need to be reaching out to God or asking for God’s help. Any time my head or heart stirs a little in the area of God-thought there is a response that totally overshadows the effort I am making and I am swept away by God’s willingness to embrace me in response to the slightest flicker of belief.
I don't pretend to understand what Paul Tillich meant or what he intended we should do. I just know that as soon as I “look” in the general direction of God, there is the most magnanimous response and my faith is restored.
That is why it is so important to keep up fellowship with other Christians, keep reading the Bible, keep reading the words of Christian writers and most importantly, keep praying. Not fine-sounding prayers but true, from the heart, honest about our needs, prayers.
As I said, I am facing surgery and I’m not sure when I will be writing next. Until then, God’s peace and blessing be yours.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Marsden Road Uniting Church 12 April 2020

April 8, 2020 - 11:00am

Easter Sunday 12th April 2020
Marsden Road Uniting Church Carlingford
“A Candle can be lit and placed somewhere near where you are worshipping” signifying the light Jesus brought into the world. His unflinching defiance of the powerful and their evil intentions. But also His defiance of the evil we all commit when we cling to our selfish ways and the paths that lead to darkness. The candle signifies the other path to light
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
May our worship join with the voices of the First Peoples of this Land.
Call to Worship
Praise the Lord!
God has defeated death. Praise the Lord!
Peace be with us.
Opening prayer
Our Lord and our God, like doubting Thomas so long ago, it is sometimes difficult for us to believe in new life and Resurrection. We ask you to turn our doubts into vibrant faith. We have not seen but help us believe. Amen.
A Prayer of Confession
God of life and love, we rejoice in our own salvation, but find it hard to forgive those who have hurt us.You call us to seek the paths of peace and blessing, to be your face to everyone we meet, but it is easier sticking to well-travelled streets of anger and resentment...Forgive us, Holy One, when we hold on to what we have, rather than share your gifts with the world.
Declaration of Forgiveness
The One whom the prophets foretold, and of whom the Gospels testify, lives among us today. In the love of the Creator; in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ; and in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are forgiven. Alleluia! Amen.
Thanks, be to God!
The Service of the Word
The First Reading: Acts 10: 34-43 This ends so powerfully: All the prophets testify about him
That everyone who believes in him
The Gospel Reading: Matthew 28:1-10. He is risen!
Preaching of the Word –
Rev. John spoke of the life-giving sacrifice of Jesus. It was not anything like giving up chocolate or even eating like the people of Jesus’ day and giving the money saved to the work of God. No, it was bone crushing, muscle tearing pain. All because he would not turn aside from speaking the truth. That truth we all meet when we allow ourselves to be given into the hand of God and be remade in his way. That will cost us, but nothing like the price Jesus paid.
“We really don’t want to go there on Easter Sunday. We much prefer the shiny golden cross, the trumpets, the happy hymns in major keys, the heavily perfumed Easter lilies. We deserve this after all we’ve been through. Holy Week nearly drove us off the rails; worship can’t get more depressing than Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. We need an upper! A shot in the arm! A win for the team!
But if resurrection is really about new life, then it is messy, stressful, and emotional...Of course, there is another side of new life. There are tears of deep joy and surprise, gratitude and wonder. How did this happen? How can this happen? The miracle of life continues to astound and confound us.
Peace be with us.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 5 April 2020

April 2, 2020 - 11:39pm

Today’s Gospel reading is from Matthew 21: 1-11 and the OT readings is from  Isaiah 50: 4-9.
Perhaps if you read those, you will be prepared for the lessons I learned from the service, particularly the readings and the sermon.
 The Gospel reading is one we are all familiar with but there’s one reference I find very puzzling. There is reference to a donkey and a colt. Both are covered so Jesus can ride on them. That wouldn’t be an error but I have no idea what the significance is. Perhaps it’s just not the most despised of creatures but also the lesser colt who are both acceptable to carry the Sovereign King referred to in Isaiah.
In any case we are also familiar with one of the ideas circulating throughout the world of Jesus at that time: that an earthly warrior king would come to release the Jews from the latest of their overbearing rulers from an outside force. The Jews had been overrun by one outside force after another throughout history and longed for the King who would release them in a final victory.
We have been doing this throughout our own short history. If we vote for this party or that party, the country will prosper. It won’t and it will never do so, while our yardstick is an earthly one.
Jesus rode in on a donkey to show His Kingdom was not the one which was expected. His Kingdom is of the Spirit.
As Rev. John says, a political victory was never on a Jesus’ radar. He came to free us from ourselves. He came to raise us out of all those things that mire us down in ways of the rest of the world. The nasty stuff like greed. Greed covers so much, because we can be greedy for so many things.
Isaiah may have been overstating his case but he was on the right track when he claimed obedience to the Sovereign Lord. Short of being obedient to the Lord’s command we fail everything.
And we can remember Jesus’ teaching which tells us that we can call on help to obey the Sovereign Lord. The Spirit has been given to us to guide us so that we can think straight and the Spirit can give us the strength we need to be better than we could ever be on our own.
And for those who think God can’t possibly be calling them to build the Kingdom. Remember the donkey and the colt. Remember the humble fishermen. Remember the Woman at the Well.
Take God’s outstretched hand, which is inviting you, first to be raised up from the things that weigh you down and then for you to reach out to others, demonstrating that freedom and wealth are matters of the spirit, not of any material sort.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 29 March 2020

March 29, 2020 - 12:14pm

Gathering Gods People
 Call to Worship - (Mary J Scifres, Abingdon 2016)
In the midst of life, we are in death. But in the face of death, God’s Spirit comes to bring us life. Can dry bones live? Can life emerge from death? Only God knows. And yet, Christ promises just such a miracle through the power of God’s Holy Spirit. Come, Holy Spirit, come.
All who are dwindling and dying . . .come forth to new life.
All who are lying in darkness and despair . . .come out into the light.
All who feel separated and alone . . .come to the presence of God, whose Spirit finds us here.
This echos the situation we are in here in Australia. COVID 19 is threatening the health and well being of all Australians and even threatening us with death,  but out of that threat is growing our need and the will to stretch out to each other and offer aid. Of course there are always examples of selfish and self-centered and even quite mentally unbalanced behaviour but around me I see many offering help who would never have thought of doing it before.
Hymn TIS 84: “Give to our God immortal praise” Daily, in our every move and word in every situation.
Opening Prayer
Come, Holy Spirit. Breathe new life into our lives and our worship. Create new possibilities, in our imaginations and in our dreams. Send the promise of your hope into our depression and our despair. Expand our hearts and our minds, as we enter your presence this day. Amen.
Which is the very thing we need in these times of such danger to the very fabric of our society.
We need every effort of our imaginations, guided by God’s Spirit to find our way out of the most dangerous situation we are in.
A Prayer of Confession
God of new life and emerging possibilities forgive us when death and despair occupy our focus. Embolden our faith when your future feels out of reach. Strengthen our courage, that we might come forth into the light and life of your promises. In hope and trust, we pray. Amen.
It  is the responsibility of every soul to look at themselves and see their own lapses from God’s way and ask God’s guidance back to the right path.
Declaration of Forgiveness
In God’s love, there is hope. In Christ’s forgiveness, there is peace. In the Spirit’s power, we are renewed and brought forth into life!
Thanks, be to God!
Hymn TIS  242: Lord of the dance.” When we are aware of God working in us, we feel the dance within us.
The Service of the Word

The First Reading: Ezekiel 37:1-14
“Thus says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”
Such is the power of Godthat even the most flat and exhausted of us can be lifted up to be a force for good.
Second Reading John 11:23-45
“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.”  And he did.
No matter how dead we may think we are inwardly, the Spirit can bring us to life. Any of us!
Preaching of the Word
“It's Hard Getting God..., – John 11: 23-45
It's hard getting God to obey us. After all we're the ones on the scene. We know what we need, or our congregation needs, or what we need as individuals. God should listen to us and take our advice. If God would only be here when needed, there would be no tragedy in our lives. That’s very true for us now as we face a major upheaval in our lives with the out fall from Covid-19. We want God to sort this out quick time and we know what God needs to do.”
Some of us, at least are guilty of thinking these thoughts
“Moments of grief may well produce the same partnership between faith and reproach in us...
We want to ensure our survival through this current Pandemic that is isolating many of us from the community which gives us strength. We want to stop our friends and loved ones from dying. We constantly say to God, "If you had been here on time, you could have stopped this happening."
The fact is that we have no idea how this creation works and how we have caused it to break down or how we have interfered with its harmonious running. That is in God’s hands and  it is only when we open ourselves utterly and totally to God’s will that a glimmer of light seeps through.
The root problem is that we have not been let in on the whole story. Before Jesus called Lazarus from the tomb, he said, as an aside: "Loving parent, I thank you for having heard me. I know that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me."...
So in our prayers today let us ask God to give us the gift of loving God's purposes and promises, that our wills may be fixed on the essential and eternal Good which is always there, even when the world around us seems to be coming unglued.”
Hymn TIS 210: “O for a thousand tongues to sing.”
If only all creation would not only give praise but acknowledge God’s plan as the only one.
Hymn TIS 684:“Love will be our Lenten calling.” That is what is going to get us through.
Let those who were languishing and dying rejoice.
Hymn TIS 777: May the Grace of Christ our Saviour”
May the grace of Christ our Saviour and the Father's boundless love, with the Holy Spirit's favour, rest upon us from above...Amen. Amen. Amen.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 22 March 2020

March 23, 2020 - 7:12am

Acknowledgement of First Peoples
 We acknowledge the first people who have cared for this Land, where we worship, the Wallumedgal.  
May our worship join with the voices of the First Peoples of this Land.
Call to Worship - (James Dollins, Abingdon 2016)
Show me your way, O God, my Shepherd. Open a right path and let me hear your call to follow. Show me your way, O Christ, my Healer. Open my eyes to the needs of my world...
Hymn TIS 10: “The Lord’s my shepherd” (Tune - Crimond). Probably as well known as any hymn could be world-wide. And with good reason because of the comfort it brings.
Opening prayer
Visionary creator; give us your vision. Show us our hearts,
our homes, our communities, and our world through your eyes. 
A Prayer of Confession 
Divine God, our Guide, give us the clarity to wake to our short-sightedness and stay woke.
Give us the courage to wake to our shortcomings and stay woke.
Give us the compassion to wake to our hurtful acts and stay woke.
Give us wisdom to face our fears, receive your grace, wake to your call and stay woke.
Hear our silent prayer, as we sit in awareness of our need.

Declaration of Forgiveness
Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ
will shine on you.”
Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ
will shine on you.”
Thanks, be to God!
The Peace
Blessed are the peacemakers: they shall be called children
of God. We meet in the name of Christ and share his peace.
Peace be with you!
And also, with you!
All of the above are a means of reaching out and making any wrongs right before we consider moving forward. It always needs to be done.
God of grace and truth; in Jesus, Light of the world, you have fulfilled your promise to be with us when we walk through the darkest valley.  May our gratitude for this evidence of your love for the world be made visible in these our offerings that we take up now.  

This is a timely message and I think many of us will grasp it close to our hearts. Hymn TIS 256: From heaven you came, helpless babe    (Tune Servant King)

    The Service of the Word
 The Gospel Reading:    John 9:1-41NEB page 819
 (Maybe you have your own favourite version of the Bible from which God’s voice comes to you.)
Thanks be to God.
Preaching of the Word - Clay Vessels of Beauty
Rev. John began with an important warning:
Lent has often been seen as a time of intense self-reflection. But self-reflection without understanding the power that God holds to make something beautiful of our clay vessels, our little lives, is to defy the power of the God of Love. 
Then Rev. John made two points:
According to the book of Samuel, God picks David, a young child, to fight Goliath and to be king of all Israel. And through that kingship, which has its times of horror and times of victory, God makes David the king Israel needed for the moment.
In addition, in the Gospel of John, the blind man suffers consistently throughout his life because people look at him as deficient, as sinful, as someone not worthy.
So God can use very ordinary and unlikely people to reveal his enlivening power in amazing ways. Rev. John goes on to remind us - and we all know from our experience - that self reflection can bring us to times of despair. However we all know from our experience that out of that despair, something beautiful can grow. This growth can remind us, not only what God’s power can do with ordinary souls such as we all are, but also reminds us that God is always ready to draw us closer.

We are all very swift to look at all our weaknesses and think that we could not possibly be of any use to lead anyone else to light but it is that very change which can cause others to wonder what turned us around .
And God says, “It’s in our vulnerabilities that we find the grace” and that finding grace and mercy is the ultimate goal of human existence within the Christian faith.
At this time we are very wary of the Covid19 virus. This should remind  us of being judgmental of others now or in ordinary times in regard to their behaviour. There are so many auto-immune-response diseases in the community at any time going undiagnosed which affect the ability of people to even get out of bed. Let’s be kind to each other - always. Amen
 Hymn TIS 129: Amazing grace Intercessory Prayers

Hymn TIS 681:Lord, let me see Benediction

Go forth, woke to the call of God, your creator. Go forth, true to the path lit by Christ, your redeemer. Go forth, woke to the conscience of the Holy Spirit, your helper and guide. Amen.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 15 March 2020

March 19, 2020 - 6:24am

 We began the service by acknowledging the original carers of the land on which our church is built.
It is always good for our souls to remember all those who have gone before us and made the way easier for us, whether it applies as this does to our physical environment or to our spiritual lives. So many have suffered or simply put in long hours thinking and praying their way through what has come to be our beliefs.
Come, let us sing to the Lord.
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into God’s presence with thanksgiving.
Let us make a joyful noise to God with songs of praise!
Similarly, we need to, minute by minute, praise God for the light that comes into our lives - as a simple gift for those who reach out.
Opening Prayer
We do come with hearts full of thanksgiving to praise you, O God. In time of old you satisfied your people’s thirst with water in the arid wilderness. You still satisfy our thirst, but in ways which have a far lasting effect than mere refreshment...  Amen
 A Prayer of Confession 
 We confess, O God, that we find it difficult to cope with change and there are times when we, like those wanderers in the wilderness, choose to exercise selective memories about the past - remembering only the good things and forgetting the bad...
Thanks, be to God!
 A Word with The Young People
I don’t normally include this section but it is so relevant. Here is a summary. A sponge which is dried out is hard and inflexible but a sponge filled with water is soft and flexible. That is what happens when we are filled with God’s  Spirit. We lose our brittleness and God is able to change us to be like Jesus, and able to help build the Kingdom of God.
So in keeping with that idea we sang the hymn “Be Still for the presence of the Lord”  it is only then that we can be changed into the image of God.
The Service of the Word
This began with the readings Exodus 17:1-17 and John 4:5-42. The first reading was about Moses being told to strike a rock which then produced a spring to quench the thirst of the Israelites who were complying of thirst in the desert. God quenches our thirst but for a spiritual thirst and is the only one who can do such a thing. People try to do it in a plethora of other ways and fail, fail, fail.
The second reading was about the woman at the well questioning Jesus as to why he  would ask her to provide him with water and then he answered in such a way of which we all should take note. He and he alone can quench that terrible thirst we all have and then never need be given any other way of quenching it. Of course Jesus was speaking of our spiritual thirst to be healed of our brokenness.
Preaching of the Word - Willing Conversation
 Rev. John spent some time talking about the poor view of women as read about in the Bible but later focused of “The Woman at the Well” in a way in which I heard the voice of God coming through.
 “This is the longest conversation recorded in the New Testament between Jesus and anybody. There has to be something in this story more important than how many men she had known.
Consider the story. Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. She expresses her astonishment that he would talk to her. He says to her that if she only knew who he was, she’d be asking him for a drink – of living water. She says, “Okay. May I have a drink of this water?” He says, “Go. Call your husband!” Now, to this point, she’s talking about plain old well water. And while that’s the drink that Jesus asked from her, it is not the water he offers to her.
 So, still with well water in mind, she engages the conversation and doesn’t call anyone...
 Her understanding may have been incomplete; “He can’t be the Messiah, can he?” But it was enough to hook people, to pique their curiosity, to invite them in. “Many Samaritans in that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony.”
This woman, who is often remembered badly in church history for her sexual relationships, who would not have been considered a credible witness, was an early disciple.
 This woman, whose witness and testimony were only as strong as: “He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” brought many to faith.
 Now think: How will history remember you? Will it be for your behaviour? Or for your testimony?
The next hymn was  “I heard the voice of Jesus say” - what have you hear the voice of Jesus say?
Categories: Syndicated Blogs