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When the Saints.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - November 1, 2019 - 6:14am

“Oh, when the saints go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number, when the saints go marching in.” Many of us have sung this old gospel hymn with such joy and gusto and our Men’s Group, I believe will be singing it again this year. But really when you reflect on it, sainthood is not a fun-filled path. I would suggest that you look up the verses to this popular song about saints, and you’ll find words that are not nearly as joyous as the refrain. The verses remind us that the path toward God is not usually an easy one.
In this week’s readings from Daniel 7, Daniel’s spirit is troubled, and he has a vision of kings arising like beasts from the earth. Yet God promises that the holy ones will inherit the earth. And in Luke 6 the writer offers future blessings to the poor, the hungry, and the righteous of God. However, the timing of all this blessing is unknown. Luke cries “woe” upon the successful and satisfied of this world, but his promises of later laughter for the saintly are not all that comforting when one is racked with grief.
I’m not sure I do want to be in that number with the saints as they go marching toward God. They march with burdens of martyrdom. They march with the weight of the world. They march with suffering for the needs of others. They march with a willingness to carry earth’s deep sorrows on their back. They march all the way to the cross. They march with persistence and perseverance against all odds, working for God’s realm to come to this earth. Okay, well honestly, maybe I do want to march with them. But does the cost have to be so high?!
I read somewhere and reflected on this thought and was challenged deeply. It goes: “Woe to me, for yearning for an easy path, for I am destined for a bumpy road toward God.” I don’t know about you, but the road toward God being a bumpy has certainly seemed to be my life pattern
Anyone can love when life is good, when the path is easy, but can I love when it is risk-filled, when I will not get a fair return? If we look at his life, Jesus does not back off in proclaiming woes to the rich and self-satisfied in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes, and most of us would be happy if he stopped there. In the next breath he calls us to love those whom he has just denounced, that we are to be merciful as our God is merciful. Loving my enemies is the hardest part of the gospel. Jesus is naming the reality that if you want to bring the Beloved Community—you will upset a lot of people.
Have you ever thought about the fact that most of what we admire about Jesus made someone angry? “Love your neighbour as you love yourself” has been Jesus’s bumper sticker since before there were bumpers, and we all love our nice neighbours. But what about those Samaritans? Or Muslims, or Gang Members, or immigrants, rednecks, socialists, Trump followers—you name them—are they the neighbours I must love? When Jesus said he came not to bring peace but a sword, he is not saying pick up your sword; he is acknowledging that if you want to follow him in the way of love, then expect conflict.
Despite the Beatles claim that “All you need is love,” humanity doesn’t always want to love. We are often a greedy, selfish, suspicious species. Jesus did not say, don’t make enemies. Sometimes you can’t help having them; clearly Jesus did. The point is to not let your heart be consumed with hatred, for that dehumanises you and the other. Don’t destroy yourself by fighting battles you cannot win, and don’t destroy yourself from within by giving in to hate. Continue to bless, even if your neighbour has earned woe.
So, the call of Jesus is that God wants us to do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The amazing thing is that if you live this way, people will be shocked. You maybe even be declared a saint. Some of what you do will seem to go unnoticed, but there are those who will never forget. Your actions will be remembered. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It is exactly what it says. It’s not really a golden rule.
It’s a sweaty, frustrated, teeth-gritted, trying-not-to-be-resentful effort toward acting in the right way toward your neighbours, your co-workers, your family. It makes a nice platitude, except that you know that’s exactly what Jesus did not mean for it to be. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This does not mean be a doormat. It is not an excuse to accept abuse or poor treatment. It is a creed for all who believe their worth has been determined by God—that they are valued and beloved. Thus, you treat others with the respect they may not give themselves.
You remove yourself from harm, from danger, from trial. You do not allow others to grieve their hearts by hurting you. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This does not a saint make. Instead it is the motto of our adopted family—the family that has received us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. This is the work of our family and the family who will help us to live out this verse. Sainthood will be for those who do this and never see it as work.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Persistent Justice

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 24, 2019 - 9:40pm

The parable of Jesus found in Luke 18 is commonly called the story of the unjust judge and the widow. It is a troubling parable. It ends with the promise that "justice will come quickly." If you are satisfied that justice has come, then you are excused from listening. Please pray, while not listening, for those of us who have some doubt that justice will come quickly. The parable also gives the impression that we can "wear God down" by praying. There is no easy resolution of the difficulty in today's Gospel lesson. So, what is the good news in it? Also the parable that follows it raises questions about how we see ourselves and the the way we view our status.
Here are two stories, both true. They do not resolve any questions, but they point to the truth in the Gospel. The first is a prayer story. A congregation had an old, tiny, historic church that was falling into serious disrepair. It could be Marsden Road Church where I serve. As much as they loved it, and they did love it, they prayerfully decided that God wanted them to move to a new place and build a new church that would enable them to minister and grow. They had few members and little money. There wasn't any way in this world that the dream could be realized. They prayed.
The Minister prayed every morning about this for 5 years. One day, a wealthy member of the congregation summoned the Minister. The question asked the Minister was, "How much money can I give to this project?" A year later the congregation moved into and consecrated a beautiful, spacious new church facility on 9 acres of well-located land. And, it was all paid for the day they walked in it. Somehow the prayer and God and the generosity of the wealthy person are connected. But this can't be turned into a formula. Five years of daily prayer equals a miracle. If miracles could be predicted they wouldn't be miracles, they would be science.
Now, let us look at a real justice story. Two very different people, one the Captain of a Slave Ship and the other the son of a rich and powerful English family who were heavily involved in politics were brought together by God to bring justice to those who were slaves. Now, that justice is not fully here. But there is more of it now than 200 years ago and it is coming.
The Slaver was John Newton. Off the coast of Africa, in a slave ship, he experienced conversion. God seems to have a sense of timing and placement that is beyond logic. Newtonbecame an Anglican Priest and, among other things, the author of the much loved "Amazing Grace."
John Newton was serving as Dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in London when Wilberforce, the rich young man, came to him. Wilberforce experienced conversion while reading and discussing the New Testament on a stagecoach, going across France to the Riviera for a holiday. After that experience, he came to Newton seeking guidance. Newton told him to go into politics. He did. His cause was the end of slavery. A brief time after his death the British Parliament passed legislation that outlawed the Slave trade for British Citizens and gave the mission of enforcing that to the British Navy. That fed the Abolitionist Movement in the United States of America, which led to a great war to end slavery in the United States. Legal slavery ended in the 19th century when Brazil became the final nation to act.
Only God could achieve this by entering lives that were unconnected and joining them for holy purposes. But what if people had not prayed for years for a new church? Or what if Newtonhad rejected Jesus in favour of the money to be made in the slave trade? Or what if Wilberforce had rejected Jesus and decided to live as an idle, rich gentleman? Or, what if he had accepted the Lord and then entered the ministry rather than politics? Or what if he had yielded to the temptations of political power? How many of these holy plots to bring justice has God launched? How many were derailed because someone responded rationally, rather than faithfully? We can't know.
However, there is good news in this text from Luke 18. It is displayed by the good news in the two stories. The good news is that we can pray a lot and respond faithfully to God's call to us to join him in bringing justice quickly. We don't have to. That is the kind of freedom God gives us. God has such abhorrence of slavery that we will never be forced to do Gods will. God has such respect for our freedom that it will not be transgressed, even for the holiest of reasons.
That is troubling news. We don't always choose the right way and live in prayer. One only has to read/watch the News or listen to it to see the number of different forms of slavery still being practiced in our world. The way some employees of franchise groups and other industries are treated and paid is one example. The best news is that we can respond to God, pray a lot and live faithfully and work to removing the stain of these forms of slavery. God is helping us. So, where do I fit in this? What is the part I am to play in healing the injustices of this world? I will leave you to ponder those for yourselves.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 20 September 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - October 23, 2019 - 10:08am

MRUC Rev. John’s Blog 20 September 2019
 
We love to count and rank events, people, athletes, books, and so on. It seems that just about any time I turn on the Sports Channels or wait in line at the supermarket; I am bombarded with rankings and comparisons. Countless bookstore shelves and Internet pages are filled with sundry “Top Ten” lists. It’s not all that different when we come to our Christian Scriptures. Many of us probably have a verse that stands out and influences much of what we do, and that’s okay.
 
I think if we read the Christian Scriptures carefully, we find that there are certain stories or characters that just stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance or impact. This is not to diminish the lesser known, more minor elements, but there is no denying that certain parts of the biblical story give meaning to the rest and inform how the subsequent narratives are read. We would certainly argue for Jesus as number one on our list of “Top Ten Bible Characters.”
 
However, without previous events and figures (for example, creation, Abraham, the Exodus, and David), the narratives surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus wouldn’t be nearly as rich or meaningful. In fact, the four Gospels ooze complexity and meaning primarily because of that history.
Jesus’ own self-understanding was greatly influenced by his understanding of his own religious heritage.


Another event that should probably be in our top ten, is the Exile. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Babylonian exile for the people of Israel, for their theology, and for their future. The fall of Jerusalem fundamentally challenged the predominant view of the Promised Land and Israel’s place in it. The destruction of the temple led prophets and priests to think in new ways about how God is present with the people and what authentic worship of the Lord looks like. This has become an ongoing need and concern for Christians also.
 
 
The tragic failure of the Davidic royal line prompted the people of God to lament their circumstances and vehemently protest their situation. They looked inward, outward, and upward for explanations and answers to painful questions about the nature of suffering, hope, and divine presence. We remember from my blog two weeks ago that part of this painful search for meaning and truth includes authentic lament and truth-telling.
 
 
 
As devastating and traumatic as exile is, there is still a word of hope. This hopeful expectation looks to the future by understanding the past and the present. The odd thing about hope is that it never ignores the past or present; rather, hope pays close attention to life in honest and open ways. Hope doesn’t need to be kindled on bright days, but on stormy days and during dark nights. In fact, hope is a truthful commentary on the here and now, a prophetic thought that looks to a new dawn, but it is no sugar coated, fuzzy notion.
 
We may take this to heart when we hear the statement from Jeremiah 31:27-34 the remarks concerning the people’s current status? He says: “I have actively watched over you, my people, but not in ways you might have hoped or thought.” Now that sounds good. I like the sound of that as a follower of God. This spiritual path I’m on isn’t always easy, but it’s good to know that God is watching out for me. But God wasn’t done: “I have watched over [you] to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil.”
What kind of watchman does that? That’s not the kind of shepherd we want—certainly not the kind we think we need. The promised “coming days” are just around the corner, but they don’t erase a difficult past. Looking to the future means understanding how we arrived. Hopeful expectation means admitting that our present condition needs redeeming and that we are powerless to make it happen
 
This knowledge is an indispensable ingredient of life in exile; this is a part of living away from one’s true home. But God isn’t finished with hope as we hear the powerful verbal images to describe the “coming days”: sow, build, plant, and forgive. These are all anticipatory verbs pointing to a new beginning, a new chapter. Hopeful expectation understands that the future begins with the digging of a hole for a seed or with words like “I forgive you.” Yet hope, and all the expectation and anticipation it carries, never really gets ahead of itself. Strong trees don’t grow up in a year; troubled relationships don’t heal fully overnight; new habits are not formed in a day.
 
That’s probably just how most of our top ten biblical stories begin. If we see nothing else here, we see that hopeful expectation never lets go of the possibility that salvation can come to us in the most unexpected ways: on an ark, in a basket floating in the reeds, in exile, in a stable, on a cross, out of a tomb, or in a small but committed community of people who dare to bear the name Christian.
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Hopeful Expectation

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 18, 2019 - 6:32am

We love to count and rank events, people, athletes, books, and so on. It seems that just about any time I turn on then Sports Channels or wait in line at the supermarket; I am bombarded with rankings and comparisons. Countless bookstore shelves and Internet pages are filled with sundry “Top Ten” lists. It’s not all that different when we come to our Christian Scriptures. Many of us probably have a verse that stands out and influences much of what we do, and that’s okay.
I think if we read the Christian Scriptures carefully, we find that there are certain stories or characters that just stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance or impact. This is not to diminish the lesser known, more minor elements, but there is no denying that certain parts of the biblical story give meaning to the rest and inform how the subsequent narratives are read. We would certainly argue for Jesus as number one on our list of “Top Ten Bible Characters.”
However, without previous events and figures (for example, creation, Abraham, the Exodus, and David), the narratives surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus wouldn’t be nearly as rich or meaningful. In fact, the four Gospels ooze complexity and meaning primarily because of that history.Jesus’ own self-understanding was greatly influenced by his understanding of his own religious heritage.

Another event that should probably be in our top ten, is the Exile. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Babylonian exile for the people of Israel, for their theology, and for their future. The fall of Jerusalemfundamentally challenged the predominant view of the Promised Land and Israel’s place in it. The destruction of the temple led prophets and priests to think in new ways about how God is present with the people and what authentic worship of the Lord looks like. This has become an ongoing need and concern for Christians also.
The tragic failure of the Davidic royal line prompted the people of God to lament their circumstances and vehemently protest their situation. They looked inward, outward, and upward for explanations and answers to painful questions about the nature of suffering, hope, and divine presence. We remember from my blog two weeks ago that part of this painful search for meaning and truth includes authentic lament and truth-telling.
As devastating and traumatic as exile is, there is still a word of hope. This hopeful expectation looks to the future by understanding the past and the present. The odd thing about hope is that it never ignores the past or present; rather, hope pays close attention to life in honest and open ways. Hope doesn’t need to be kindled on bright days, but on stormy days and during dark nights. In fact, hope is a truthful commentary on the here and now, a prophetic thought that looks to a new dawn, but it is no sugar coated, fuzzy notion.
We may take this to heart when we hear the statement from Jeremiah 31:27-34 the remarks concerning the people’s current status? He says: “I have actively watched over you, my people, but not in ways you might have hoped or thought.” Now that sounds good. I like the sound of that as a follower of God. This spiritual path I’m on isn’t always easy, but it’s good to know that God is watching out for me. But God wasn’t done: “I have watched over [you] to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil.”

What kind of watchman does that? That’s not the kind of shepherd we want—certainly not the kind we think we need. The promised “coming days” are just around the corner, but they don’t erase a difficult past. Looking to the future means understanding how we arrived. Hopeful expectation means admitting that our present condition needs redeeming and that we are powerless to make it happen
This knowledge is an indispensable ingredient of life in exile; this is a part of living away from one’s true home. But God isn’t finished with hope as we hear the powerful verbal images to describe the “coming days”: sow, build, plant, and forgive. These are all anticipatory verbs pointing to a new beginning, a new chapter. Hopeful expectation understands that the future begins with the digging of a hole for a seed or with words like “I forgive you.” Yet hope, and all the expectation and anticipation it carries, never really gets ahead of itself. Strong trees don’t grow up in a year; troubled relationships don’t heal fully overnight; new habits are not formed in a day.
That’s probably just how most of our top ten biblical stories begin. If we see nothing else here, we see that hopeful expectation never lets go of the possibility that salvation can come to us in the most unexpected ways: on an ark, in a basket floating in the reeds, in exile, in a stable, on a cross, out of a tomb, or in a small but committed community of people who dare to bear the name Christian.


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 6 September 2019

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - October 15, 2019 - 9:45am


Much has been said in the various media about climate change and the possibility of  global warming destroying our home. For that reason Rev. John’s message today is most timely since many believe that we, God’s reflection, are responsible for much of climate change.
Therefore for today’s blog I have concentrated on Rev. John’s message. Conservation of Creation (italics mine)

 “Conservationist, Aldo Leopold, once said that in order to save a place, you must first love it!  What places do you love!  What places have nurtured you during your lifetime?  Perhaps, your special place was a beloved tree in your backyard as a child. You would climb up on a limb of that tree and sit and dream dreams.  Was that tree a gum or an oak?  Whatever kind it was, I presume you loved that tree!”
This introduction struck home. During my primary school years, we used to congregate at the local park.. I could give you a minute by minute account of our time there, but the times I remember best were when we climbed, via a park bench, into the lower limbs of one particular tree. There was a core group of 5 and sometimes a few others joined us. We talked and talked. I don’t remember our exact exchanges but we were practising serious adult conversations, airing our “informed” views of the world.
Despite none of us actually knowing anything at all, we showed serious respect for the “opinions” of others. It is that deep listening I remember that tied us together, held together by the supportive branches of the tree. We could rely on the arms of that tree. No one ever fell. The branches grew out from the central trunk in such a way so as to cradle us while we got on with the business of growing up. Who knows? Someone may have uttered an informed statement at some time before we decided that we were too old to hang about in a tree.
But because of that time, in some ways that tree was as much a part of my upbringing as my family or school.
 All of us have places in nature that we love.  And we would be filled with grief, say if that tree was unnecessarily cut down, or that beach suffered an oil spill, or that trout stream became polluted.  Yet as Christians, we are called to love so much more!  More than just the places we have known and loved.  We are called to love the whole earth that God created and called good!  We are called to love places we will never see or know.  We are called to advocate for the restoration of places that are no longer pristine and pretty because of human decisions. 
 We are called to remember the words of scripture and the words of prophets down through the ages, who have spoken of the interconnectedness of all creation.  We are called to remember the words of one of the American First Nations Chiefs, Seattle, who said, “We did not create the web of life.  We are only a strand in it.  And whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” 
 Since the start of the industrial revolution, we, human beings, have often forgotten or ignored the call of our various religious traditions to care for creation.  We have fallen asleep.  But today, prompted by worldwide concerns for climate change, (no matter how we believe it has occurred) we are waking up!  We are waking up to the ancient truths of indigenous peoples and the modern truths of scientists, who say, we are all interconnected. 
For some of us, that takes a long time. Some of us think it is only other humans who are our responsibility. Some will extend that to all sentient beings but exclude ants and crabs and worms AND PLANTS.
It takes quite a while for us to realize that all living things are within our circle of care, including the ones that irritate us. Every living thing including bacteria, viruses and flies have their place in the web of life. Our job as God’s stewards is to see that all are given their proper places to live.
Even fruit bats. They have a bad press for dirtying our cars or taking over parks. The way to avoid this happening is to see that their habitat is protected so that they don’t look for other places to live. As far as flies and ants and other “annoying pests” are concerned, we shouldn’t leave food around to attract them.
There is a place in the web of life for all of God’s creation. It is our job to preserve those places.
 
 
 
Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Gratitude.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 11, 2019 - 5:38am

This week I have been reflecting on how we respond to those who have treated us with care, loving and grace as we journey through life. Having lamented what, we have done to creation last week my thoughts turned to gratitude for the gift we have in creation and comes from reading Luke 17:11-19 from this week’s lectionary. Then I was reminded of the following little story I once heard and was struck by:
Her name was Edna Miller and she was about as plain as her name implied except when she was inside the walls of a classroom with chalk in hand. She stood barely five-foot tall yet could look eyeball to eyeball with the biggest bully in the school and stare him into repentant submission. And could she teach. Man, could she teach! She began teaching in 1922 and taught until she was compelled to turn in her chalk at the age of 65. She taught through the Depression, making fullness in the emptiness around her. She taught through World War II and was with the children as the telegrams, "we are sorry to inform you," began to arrive with the notice of their brothers' or fathers' death.

Through the years a middle aged woman with a parade of children and a husband would stop by her frame house and say, "you don't remember me, but you taught me in 7th grade and I just want to thank you for the difference you made in my life." Letters would appear around Christmas - "you probably don't remember me but you taught me in high school and believed in me until I could believe in myself....I have a good job now and a loving family and I just want to thank you." At the 50th class reunion of 1945, there was a huge celebration in her honour. And shortly after that, at the age of 95, Miss Edna Miller quietly slipped into the arms of God. But she died with joy. She had been thanked and remembered with gratitude.
As I reflected on this I was also reminded of a teacher I knew in Townsville that finally retired in her 70’s and I wondered what all those students who began their schooling with her over the years would say about the loving grounding in life she sought to give them which was based on her Christian faith. It also reminds me that we need to ask the question: Do we remember God, do we thank our God, and do we turn back with joy and gratitude? Do we remember that "we are the Lord's and not we ourselves" and pause to remember that it is God who protects us, feeds us with honey from the rock, cares for and nourishes us?
Returning to Luke’s story for this week we have with the returning grateful healed leper even more blessing because of his attitude of gratitude. Jesus said to the leper, "Get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well." There is healing within the act of thanksgiving. The medieval Flemish mystic, John Ruysbroeck, says, "Those who do not praise God here on earth remain silent in eternity." Praise affects us - forever.
We live in a materialistic, individualistic, opulent society. And we forget the one to whom we owe all that we have - the God in whom we live and move and have our being. All too easily we think we did it all ourselves and glory in our rugged individualism. We cast in gold the bootstraps by which we believe we pulled ourselves up. Those who do not need God cannot know God. Dependency and thanksgiving hold hands when we acknowledge with gratitude the gifts of ourCreator.
One of those with the disease leprosy that had been cured turned back - and fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. We are called to allow these proud hearts of ours to declare at the feet of Jesus that we love our God, need our God and thank our God. Praise and thanksgiving come from the same word in Hebrew. They can be interchanged, one word for the other. When we thank God, we are praising God. And when we praise God, we are thanking God. The word "yadaw" in Hebrew for praise and thanksgiving means literally "to hold out one's hands." It is both a physical attitude of supplication and of receptive thanksgiving.

It is the posture we see on Sunday’s when the celebrant celebrates Eucharist with us, hands lifted as the prayers are said.  At the liturgy we pray, "Lift up your hearts...we lift them to the Lord." And at these words I can’t help but lift my hands in thanks which some of my congregation may find a bit puzzling. Then there are the words, "Let us give thanks to the Lord our God... It is right to give him thanks and praise." And indeed, it is right and good that we should praise and thank our God with our hearts, our lives, our very being.
Eucharist means literally "thanksgiving". Thanksgiving is the central act of worship, through the Eucharist, for gathered Christians. It is the heart of our worship together. God gives to us all that we are and to God we return it with thankful hearts. Thankfulness is the key to all true spirituality. Above all Christian’s remember the love Jesus Christ had for us one Friday afternoon upon a cross. "Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice."


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

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