Friday, 17 January 2020

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 19 January 2020




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

 If you were not a Christian, would your life be less interesting? Every once in a while, the disciples thought about how different their lives would have been if they had never met Jesus. It started so quietly. John the Baptist is standing with two of his students when Jesus walks by. John says, Thats the one. You know how cocky I can be, but Im not worthy to tie his sandals.” The two disciples are understandably curious. They start following Jesus. He turns and asks, What are you looking for?” They answer nervously, We thought we would see where youre staying.” In other words, We dont have anything better to do, so were wondering what youre doing.”
 
Jesus offers the invitation that will change their lives: Come and see.” They stay with Jesus all day because hes interesting. They have no idea what they are getting themselves into. They dont know that they will end up leaving behind their nets, boats, homes, friends, work, and retirements. They will end up changing their ideas about almost everything. Andrew goes to get his brother. You have to come and see this guy,” he says. Simon is dragged along, going more so that his brother will leave him alone than out of any great faith. When Jesus meets Simon, he says, Your name is going to be Rock.” The often-confused Simon is anything but a rock, but everything is starting to change.
Most of the time, we move toward God in small steps taken as much out of curiosity as out of faith. So, what are we looking for? What are we looking for in our world today, in the actions and life of the Church? Why do some join Church and worship in a church? Some of those attending worship are in Church because their parents didnt give them a choice. For some, their mothers voice told them to go to church and somehow this has lodged in their minds, and they cant get rid of it.

Some are in church because its easier to come than to argue with their spouse about it. Most of us didnt attend with great expectations. The religious reasons we have for being here are mixed at best. Were interested in thinking about how we could live better lives, but only up to a point. If were in worship today for no good reason, thats okay. Lots of people find their way by accident.
Jesus says, Come and see.” The disciples stumble along, following without knowing where they are going, discovering well after the fact that they have wandered onto a path that leads to grace. Come and see,” Jesus says. In Johns Gospel the disciples soon taste water turned into wine, watch in horror as Jesus clears the temple, and listen with amazement to Jesuswords to Nicodemus, that the spirit of God blows wherever it wills. They stumble onto a way of life they have never imagined.
So, what are we looking for? Deep in our souls, are we looking for something to believe in and hold on to, something important enough to live for, and something big enough to claim our passions. Are we looking for challenge and purpose? Are we looking for God? What begins with curiosity becomes a step toward grace. The emptiness we feel from time to time is God calling us to the paths that lead to meaning. God lets us know that we can look beyond our computers and coffee cups into the enchanted possibilities of grace. God is the one who makes us long for something that lasts. God draws us toward life even when we dont recognise whats happening.
Come and see” is how the disciplesstory begins. Its a wonderful line and a great way to start a story. Come and see” is the invitation to explore, discover, and travel without knowing exactly where we are going, but to know that if we catch a glimpse of God, we will also catch a glimpse of who we can be. Come and see. Come and look for places where we've never been. Come and see what it means to hope, believe, and follow.
By being in church we open ourselves to God, who will lead us to new places. The people who follow Jesus end up doing the things Jesus did. They care for the hurting, listen to the lonely, feed the hungry, pray for the broken hearted, bandage those who are wounded, do more than is expected. They look for God and find extraordinary lives. The spirit of adventure is what calls Christians to worship.
Christians are seeking the meaning of life, joining with people on the journey, and asking God to help them see where grace invites them. We are there to look at the gifts weve been given and the needs of the world. We come to worship together to discover the possibilities. If we worship God, if we share our lives with other people looking for God, we will see beyond what we have assumed. If we look for God, we will find that God is looking for us, offering life.

 
 
 

 

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 12 January 2020



Today I was rostered to take the service and I wrote both the liturgy and the sermon around the theme presented in the Bible readings as set down in the Uniting Church in Australia Lectionary.

In Acts 10 there is an account of Peter having a vision or dream, if you like, of a sheet being let down, held up by its four corners. In the sheet there were all sorts of animals, some of which would have been considered by the Jews at that time as being unclean and therefore unsuitable for consumption.

But a voice told Peter to kill and eat. Peter, recognising the voice as that of God, refused, saying he had never let anything profane pass his lips. That was understandable, given the Jewish purity laws. But the voice of God persisted, telling Peter that nothing God had created was unclean and therefore, unfit for eating.

Peter, in the context of another event, realised that God was telling him that the old law had passed away and that a new law had been installed. That new law meant that Jews could then mix freely with Gentiles and that God loved all people, Jews and Gentiles alike.

I then gave accounts of congregations quite different from ours who were loved by God and who all professed to love God. And in those congregations people conducted themselves in vastly different ways, despite being committed Christians.

I also challenged the congregation to include all people with whom they have contact, under the commandment to care for each other.

Knowing that some would need to step out of their comfort zone to do that, I outlined reasons why people could come to have quite different views on how to live out their Christian commitment or different views of which faith to which they should choose to belong (or not belong). I also pointed out that Jesus had commissioned us to do “great things” and that if we needed to step out of our comfort zone, the Holy Spirit would be with us.

I thought that it should be clarified what deeds might be considered “great things”. For some, waving to a neighbour is very difficult if they had never done so in the first 70 years of their life.

But God has given us a command and we should be prepared to prayerfully, take a deep breath, and step out.

I remember a woman who led brilliant leadership programmes saying that “bluff” could impress upon a group that that person leading them at the time was competent and in charge of their material. We can be very unsure of ourselves but if we go forward boldly and believe Jesus’ promise of the Holy Spirit presence supporting us, it will appear to listeners that we are on top of our game. And with the Holy Spirit working through us, that will be true.

 


Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 5 January 2020


 

The Rev. Bruce Roy led our service today which included a Communion Service.

He conducted the service in a warm, inviting manner, so we felt we were all part of the service. The Communion Service was conducted, as is fitting, with dignity, but the quietness and stillness of it sometimes makes some people feel a little unsure of their place in it.

However the Communion Service is a deeply spiritual experience and the members of the congregation were aware of a great bond, one with the other, throughout, because of that.

Despite the deep importance of the Communion Service, the part of the service I am going to concentrate on is the reflection, which, I’m sure brought clarity and in some cases, comfort to individuals listening.

Bruce spoke about the meaning of scripture, which causes some people to bridle when it comes to the description of events we haven’t witnessed in our lifetime. How could these things be? And if the Bible includes impossible stories, how can we rely on it?


The Gospels of Matthew and Luke give accounts of the birth of Jesus but it isn’t mentioned in Mark or Matthew.

Mark begins with a declaration about John the Baptist followed by the baptism of Jesus as an adult. John is quite different again, speaking in a more spiritual style but again introducing Jesus as an adult being baptised by John the Baptist.

On the surface it does seem a bit odd that such gospel accounts do not quite mesh. Matthew says Jesus was born in a house in Bethlehem then sometime afterwards is taken to Egypt to escape Herod. After a period of time his family decides to return to Bethlehem, but soon change their mind and travel to Nazareth instead.


According to Luke, however, Mary and Joseph were from Nazareth. They travel to Bethlehem because a census requires them to do so. While they are there Jesus is born in a manger. After his birth they wait for Mary to go through ritual purification, following which they travel to Jerusalem to sacrifice two birds at the temple. When the sacrifice had been made they go home to Nazareth.

In addition there are accounts of angels speaking to people, instructing them about what to do: people speak of visions adding further uneasiness for some readers. When have any of us spoken to Angels or had visions? And if the visions were what we call dreams, how many of us have acted them, believing they came from God? 

For people who have been taught that the Bible is the Word of God and who have been taught to believe every word as it is written, all of the above can cause deep insecurity and confusion. Some, unable to make any sense of it, thrown out “the baby with the bath water” and desert their beliefs and the church.

However, Bruce explained that the truth of the Bible is to be found in the message of the accounts and that the “facts” were simply a method of producing that message. We are to look for the truth behind the account.

This is easier to accept if we are told of other accounts. During the first a Gulf War, Saddam Hussein was accused of telling lies about statistics of losses suffered on Iraq’s side and other ‘factual information’. However, the King of Jordon stepped in and explained that the people of the Middle East think in terms of the truth of Passion, whereas the people of the West think in terms of the truth of facts. This is the same disparity between western thinking about the Bible that exist for us.

When we read anything in the Bible, we should not concern ourselves about the facts. We should look for the underlying truth of the message. The account may be “true” as in Western thinking or it may not. That isn’t important. There is a far more important truth just below the surface.

Truths about relying on God. Truths about doing what God says. Truths about seeking out God’s way. Truths about courage. Truths that are true no matter what the age.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 29 December 2019




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

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

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

Today it is the same. Sometimes we hear God’s voice through a Bible reading, sometimes through a hymn, sometimes through a homily, sometimes through the words of a friend or even through our reflection while we are sitting quietly in a place where we are comfortable and ready to hear the voice of God coming to us in non-verbal ways, such as the waves of the surf, the landforms or even through the beautiful structure of plants.

The important thing is to allow God’s voice to come and not imagine what we want to hear. Then we must obey as the various people in Lyn’s homily did. We may be mistaken but from my experience that will become clear to us and we can start again.

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

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

 

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 15 December 2019


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

Christmas is a funny time. In western countries, at any rate, we have concocted a peculiar and complex web of different traditions, which we cherish as ‘Christmas’”.

He then listed the types of features that pass as part of the Christmas celebrations of many in the Western World:

“gifts under a tree – which is often made of plastic, for goodness’ sake!; there’s a big meal, with a hot fruit pudding – and often much over-indulgence;”

My own family was no different for many years except we did not indulge in expense gifts, choosing instead to guarantee those less well off than ourselves were able to enjoy a pleasant Christmas Day.

Not all my family, then (or now), saw Christmas as the day when we celebrate the hope that the birth of Jesus of Nazareth brought to the world.

However, ironically, as my children grew into adults, without any religious profession, they rejected the over-indulgence in food and gift-giving. So, for many years now, our Christmas Day has been a day for our family to meet and affirm our love and support for each other.

It is quite a simple meal of food which is chosen to see that each of us has something we like and perhaps wouldn’t eat every week. Then a gift for each adult and some little things for the granddaughters . We all take leave of each other still feeling healthy and knowing we are still “glued” together by the love and goodwill shown throughout the day. And all the money saved goes to those who are doing it “tough”.

This year, my husband and I sent a cheque to a country town where people are in deep debt because of the drought and the cheque is being split between the pharmacist and the dentist to help pay for treatment of people who have no means of paying for medical treatment anymore. The thought that a burden is lifted from someone who can’t pay for some essential treatment is the best Christmas present I can think off. And gives hope to those who perhaps thought they been forgotten. I think Jesus would see that as obeying the commandment he gave us to love one another.

I have told the details of our Christmas Day to make the point that most of my family do not profess to be even religious, much less, Christian. But they live in a society which has been influenced and was initially built on Christian principles. They also read and watch the media where Christian ideas are sometimes spread and they have been raised to think of others.

So if a Christian, now or at some other time hadn’t let their light shine, perhaps the society  we live in would not have influenced my family to think the way they do. Perhaps the parents of my granddaughters wouldn’t know that to raise children, parents almost without exception need to sacrifice some or many of their own needs, thereby setting the template for the thinking of those little girls in relation to other people. The words of Jesus of Nazareth is still alive in unexpected places.

Alan went on:

“Amidst it all, as Christians, most of us find time to go to church, either on Christmas Eve or on Christmas morning, or even both. Worship reminds us, in a way that the plastic nativity scene just doesn’t, that Christmas is actually about Jesus. It’s actually about the coming into the world of the saviour, Jesus Christ...Some Christian families seek to remind themselves that the festival is all about Jesus, by setting an empty place at their table. The empty chair is for Jesus...But who is the Jesus we invite to join us at our table... are we ready to meet the real Jesus? Are we ready to welcome him at our table.
 ...We have all had times of doubt and uncertainty. Perhaps those times too were occasioned by dashed expectations and disappointment.” Jesus’s reply (to John the Baptist) is interesting.
“Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.”


(Alan went on to develop his sermon further, but I cannot follow that in the space of this small blog.)

Jesus is not walking around the earth as he was at that time. But all of us who profess to be obeying his commandment are doing the work of his word in some way. The result of obeying Jesus commandments may not be miracles in the conventional sense. However,  the changes that have been wrought in us so that we obey, and as a result people that we have never met are freed from burdens that we know nothing about, are indeed miracles.

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





Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church December 1st and 8th 2019





Life  at this time of the year puts many demands upon our time. Getting our priorities in order is difficult and trying to see this blog is slotted in divides my loyalties.

This blog serves several purposes. One is to keep people from our congregation who are unable to attend church in the loop, but I also know that it is read further afield and may bring a sense of inclusion to people who have no congregation to which they can belong at all.

However, one responsibility on which I cannot turn my back comes in the persons of two little girls aged 4 and 6, my granddaughters, who crash into me with welcoming hugs. They stayed overnight and needed to be ready to go to Daycare and school the next morning.

Their Grandfather and I couldn’t think about anything else for hours, so much was left undone. But they left us feeling blessed by their love and innocence.

But now I turn my hand to the blog. At the service on 1st December, Joan led the Prayers of the People and that prayer made such an impact on me, I thought I should focus on that rather than do a poor reflection on the services.

Joan’s prayer began with a declaration to our Heavenly Father that we had gathered in anticipation, with joy, of the celebration of the time when Jesus was born and lived among us, “giving His people a glimpse of His Kingdom.”

Jesus did this in two ways: he taught the people of His time what the Kingdom entailed but, more importantly, and with a greater effect, He lived the life of One living in that Kingdom by building it through His example of what a building block of that kingdom would look like.

Joan offered our worship in prayer and hymns, with the hope that in doing so we would be helped by God to live like Jesus every day.

Joan gave thanks for God’s creation and its beauty which feeds our bodies and spirits. Having done so, Joan led us to pray for the church worldwide, and those persecuted for their faith. We may have lost a friend or even a promotion because of our faith but we know nothing of fearing for the safety of our lives because we follow Jesus. And once we respond to God’s call we cannot turn back. Neither can those in unsafe places. We and they cannot betray God or the Truth represented by God’s Being.

Joan asked that we be lifted above our despair in politics and that our dreams of justice and truth be revived along with our passion for good and right. Accordingly, Joan led us to pray that peace triumph and violence lose its power.

We are surrounded by the grieving and the lonely and in the following section of the prayer, Joan, asked that light be brought to all those dark places in our planet. At the time of the prayer, attention was on killing innocents in London and those of our own congregation who were grieving over loss of health and to that was added our heartfelt supplications for those who have lost not only their homes but their livelihoods in the bushfires. Now we have to face the dreadful trauma of the volcanic eruption and the horrible injuries and deaths which have been suffered.

How people can recover from such horror is hard to even think about. Our Father, hold everyone who has been traumatized physically or mentally in your hand.

Advent and Christmas brings families together, sometimes with the most unwanted results. Decades old enmities rise up. Help your people to bring peace at this time so that the focus can be on the celebration of the hope brought by the birth of Jesus.

Joan asked for blessing on the Parramatta Mission and Eastwood Community Aid which each  bring a measure of joy to the poor and lonely. They are among the many groups giving selflessly at this time, showing the Kingdom to the children of God, some of whom have not yet responded to the invitation for wholeness.

Joan asked for forgiveness when we forget to share God’s love with others, preventing them from seeing the Kingdom at work. My prayer is that the Spirit might enter our hearts and minds to remind us that our true task is to glorify God for the Hope and Wholeness offered by Jesus who was born at this time so long ago.

 
Amen! Amen! Amen!









 

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 17 November 2019


 

The reading today was from Isaiah 65: 17-25, which Dermot explained was among the prophet’s last words.

They were words about God’s creation of a place where everyone, human and non-human thrived. 

There would be no premature deaths and the place would be a place where people would delight in the lives given to them and be joyful.

No more would children be born to die early, no more would people labour only to see others benefit from their labour.

And peace would reign.

This was so important because the fall of Jerusalem and the reign of David shattered the belief of the Jews and they needed a new vision.

Dermot told us to:
Keep in mind that prophets were not people who saw visions of future events akin to crystal ball visions. They were priests and steeped in faith who, having an understanding of the nature of God and human conduct, might give spiritual and moral warnings to leaders or the people. There were schools of prophets. Isaiah is likely to have come from one of these schools. His writings are with us today because they have the potential to open our understanding today of God and God’s hope for us.”

But the next words of Dermot may have opened the eyes of some who either think the days of the prophet are over or that prophets can only be ordained ministers:

And we have ‘prophets’ today – I remember being so impressed with some of the advice and commentary of Rev Dr Dean Drayton, a former head of the Board of Mission – and indeed, I found an article in the SMH by Julia Baird so confronting that it seemed to me that her writing was prophetic in that instance. The cartoonist Leunig has been described as a leading theologian in Australia and prophet.”


Many of us are aware of the defeat and disappearance of the northern kingdom. This was followed by the defeat of any survivors of that disappearance by the Babylonians, and the transport of those and the people of the southern kingdom off to Babylon.

Some survivors of that kidnap later moved south to Jerusalem - which survived for  another 200 years until the Babylonians defeated it.

You can only imagine what a devastating experience it was for the followers of Yahweh to be defeated – twice - having believed that God would protect them. And so, while in exile in Babylon and after release back to Jerusalem, therewas a re-thinking of the relationship between humanity and God - between God and ‘God’s People’.  Much of our Old Testament comes out of this turmoil, albeit, it has been edited and amended over later centuries into what we are left with today.”

Dermot then pointed to the reading which tells of a time when God will create a world as it should be and that some think we can stand back and wait for that to happen or we could give that time a “little nudge”


– remember President Reagan  who was over-heard (tongue in cheek) suggesting that we should ‘nuke’ the Russians.”

But Dermot went on to say

the message is every bit about God’s Kingdom happening now, in the lives which are changed by God’s Spirit in every generation

-      the message is for us to be God’s servants and hands to accomplish the goodness of Christ about us in this world and time.

-      We, the hands and feet and voice of Christ on earth have a responsibility to bring the Kingdom of God into this world.” That sounds like a task far beyond us but Dermot is right on the money when he says: “God’s creative love and grace are available NOW – let’s get on board.” 

-      It’s up to us, powered by God’s creative love.

-      “And God will delight in God’s people and no more shall the sound of weeping be heard.. or the cry of distress – and “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together”. Amen