Monday, 16 July 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 15 July 2018


This week the reading I focused on was from Ephesians 1: 3-14 where Paul was trying to assure the gentile community of their place in the Kingdom.

He tells the people there that God has called them from before the beginning of time, despite what anyone else may have been saying to them.

Much has been made of these verses over the years and there has been discussion about how it clashes with the notion of free will. Further, if some are predestined to belong, the corollary is that some are predestined not to belong which is at odds with all that Jesus preached.

So, my interpretation is that in an effort to cement in the minds of the Ephesians that they were valid members of the kingdom in a way which could not be undermined later, Paul used extreme language to make his point.

Of course, some people have not accepted the invitation to be redeemed, which is clear, because of all the evil in the world.

I added to this by making the point that we should be very careful about judging others because some so-called “sins” we see in them or suffer guilt about ourselves could simply be breaks in cultural norms.

Therefore our assumption should always be that others are children of God, whether they know it or not.

And whether a person has accepted the redemption offered or not, our task is to continue showing them the love of God.

As an application of this, I shared details about the work done by our local Christian Community Aid. It should be noted that most of the people helped by CCA are people who are isolated for one reason or other and more than anything need gathering into the community.

The message was timely because on the previous day our National Assembly released the decision made about whether the Uniting Church in Australia would marry same-gender couples.

A decision was carried by more than two-thirds majority was:

“that the most profitable way forward was to offer two different definitions of marriage, essentially one between ‘a man and a woman’ and the other between ‘two people.’” and then that both ministers and church councils should decide separately as to whether they could, in good conscience marry or not marry same-gender couples.

It was noted that for some this was a more radical change than they were comfortable with, while for others it did not go far enough.

The implication is that there are now people in the Uniting Church in Australia who are grieving over this matter. Our prayer is that they will find a way to experience solidarity with those who are in favour of the change as they find previously.

Division was never sought. Those seeking change wanted it in the name of offering people of any sexual orientation the same gift of marriage as heterosexual people enjoyed.

However, as in any disagreement, our concern for each other can hold us together. One of our ministers wrote most eloquently:


The Uniting Church has a courageous heritage. This Assembly has seen us live this out in a range of bold, wonderful, and painful decisions. We are all God’s people, so may we now focus on what unites us and be about God’s business - reconciliation and renewal.


To that I can only say AMEN! v

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 8 July 2018

This was a service which I led myself and there were two themes but the one I wish to focus on in my reflection is the issue of pride and our need for status and recognition. The reading came from Corinthians and face the account of Paul speaking about his vision.

Paul isn't known for his meekness and as a Pharisee he proudly persecuted the people who followed the teachings of Jesus.

He was so sure that he was doing the work of God in ridding the place of these people who were polluting the Jewish people.

God brought him undone and through a vision that was at the same time a revelation, God blasted Paul with the truth. I think we are all familiar with the account.

Paul could have acted with great pride and  started telling people of his exalted status in God’s kingdom in being given such a vision but he says that he was given a thorn in the flesh to remind him of his lowly status, so he isn't going to boast about being given such an experience but that he will boast in the exceptional character of the revelation.

I should say at this point that I don't believe that God ever does bad things to any of creation. However, there are consequences, so, for example, if Paul fell down and injured himself around the time of having that vision, I can see how he would attribute that to God’s action. There are many possibilities.

It would appear that this “thorn” is quite debilitating to the point that Paul asked God to take it from him no less than three times. But Paul tells us that instead of doing that God let him know that His grace was sufficient to carry Paul through any suffering caused by the affliction and still do God's work effectively.

We really want people around us to see us in our successes but the times that I have thought the most highly of people is when I have witnessed them struggling with some difficulty and clearly calling on God’s grace to get them through.

We visited one of our very elderly friends and despite having to lean on every piece of furniture on her way around her house, she insisted on providing afternoon tea.

The cups clattered onto the saucers from her unsteady hands and the water didn't quite all make it into the cups but she did it all with a smile you couldn't beat, all the while saying how pleased she was that we were there.

Her wounds were always getting better. She didn't fall over, just lost her balance for a bit. And as far a she was concerned everyone did everything so well…it was all so lovely!

My 94 year old brother-in-law is another one…he is always doing what he can for the old people. Until quite recently he would cook rice puddings and deliver them to “the old people” who were probably younger than he is.

These are angels walking the earth.

What would the world be like if we could all be like them!

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 1 July 2018

Today I thought I would focus on the Prayer of Intercession and the hymns.

Before she led us in prayer, Joan directed our attention to some of the verses of TIS 690:

Beauty for brokenness. Hope for despair

Lord, in your suffering. This is our prayer

Bread for the children. Justice, joy, peace

Sunrise to sunset. Your kingdom increase!

                  Shelter for fragile lives. Cures for their ills

                  Work for the craftsman. Trade for their skills

                  Land for the dispossessed. Rights for the weak

                  Voices to plead the cause. Of those who can't speak

God of the poor. Friend of the weak

Give us compassion we pray. Melt our cold hearts

Let tears fall like rain. Come, change our love

From a spark to a flame…


Some people seem to live broken lives and the above words bring hope to anyone in such a situation. But all of us have times when we experience brokenness, despair and suffering. Whether such times are limited or prolonged, the belief cradled in the words above can lift us out of our desperate state.


Not just lift us above our poverty but sweep us up into a place of joy.


The source of all this was reflected in the first line of Joan’s Prayer of Affirmation:

“God of everlasting love, who provides everything.”


The Prayer continued, raising our awareness that in everything we are dependent on God and that the transformation from despair to joy can only work as we surrender all we are, as individuals and as a congregation, into God’s keeping.


As Joan continued we were opened to an understanding of how suffering can take so many forms and how we as Christians must look to God so that we can alleviate the suffering of others.


It is easy to think we are not qualified or that we may be intruding but a hand outstretched in love allows another person in need to be aware of our offer to give any help we can, even if all we can do is sit and be with the suffering one.


Joan prayed for God’s guidance through the Spirit and that each of us, as Christians will seek to show God’s love to the world. If we try to carry out some plan of goodwill founded on our own ideas, we are sure to fail, because we cannot know what another needs, but God does.


This intention to follow God’s will was the idea in line one of the first hymn:

TIS 474, “Here in this place, new light streaming” with the same idea continuing until “make us your own” rounded off the ending.

And for those who think they are not good enough, the old favourite TIS 693 “Come as you are” gave the assurance that the invitation to be God’s child and to do God’s work is for everyone.

But we can't sit still hugging ourselves with our self satisfaction. TIS 531 “Sent forth by God’s blessing,” calls us to action so that others will benefit from God’s love through us.

But TIS 778 says it all: “Shalom to you now…shalom my friends”. In this we wish the very best of everything to all, again a reflection of the Prayer of Intercession, binding the service and our participation in it, together.

Monday, 25 June 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 24 June 2018

I try to vary the form the blog takes and today I thought that the hymns were very uplifting, so I intend to focus on them.


Having said that, Lynette began with verses from Psalm 9 that I think are worth noting:

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;

    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.

I will be glad and exult in you;

    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.


These verses framed our mental and spiritual approach for the next hour, focusing our attention on the One who is the reason for our being, not just our attendance at this service. It is easy to lose sight of our centre and think the things we have or the things which are happening are random or “natural” if they are good and bad luck if they are not. God is the author of all good but if we or others mess with His plan there are consequences.


“Make me a Channel of Your Peace.” How many of us pray to God hoping that our plans or wishes will be fulfilled? We are the servants of God, not the other way around. And God is not there to fight our battles like some sort of big brother. God's plan may not coincide with ours (who would have thought?) and it is the words of this hymn that give us an idea of how we are to carry out that plan as difficult as it might be for us, being humans who are basically fairly selfish.


“May the Mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from Day to Day.” I was sitting at the back of the church and could see so many people swaying in time with the music as they sang. Their whole bodies were absorbing the music with the intent of the words. What if we meant these words 100%? What a world it would be! What if we opened ourselves to be changed to be like Jesus? But I think we all secretly keep at least a little back to cover our own wants.


“Marching, Marching, in the Light of God.” Whether we are marching in the light of God, or living in the light of God, or moving in the light of God, or doing anything at all in the light of God we would be guaranteed to do God’s will and stop messing up in the way we all do so often. That's not to say that we always mess up but if we keep living in God’s light all the time instead of when it's easy, everything would be so different.


“May the feet of God walk with you.” Sometimes I think this is the best part of the service when the prayers and reflection have brought God’s voice to us and have  done their work in us and we are at our very best in terms of our intent to our fellow humans. Here we have the evidence of what has been said above. If we were like this always. Wow! What a World!




Saturday, 23 June 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 17 June 2018

Why are we afraid?

The early Christians adopted a simple drawing of a boat with a cross for a mast as the symbol of the church. In an age of persecutions from the outside and controversy and conflict on the inside, in their experience, the emerging church must have seemed like a boat on a storm-tossed sea. Recalling the story of Jesus' calming of the sea, like those first disciples in the boat, the early Christians must have joined in their desperate prayer, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"


Little has changed in the intervening years. The winds of change and the waters of chaos continue to beat hard on the worldwide church and the people of faith. Christians are still being martyred in shocking numbers in tribal, ethnic, and religious wars around the world. At home, the church is fiercely divided around issues of authority, liturgy, sexuality, and cultural diversity, so that members to each successive leadership body such as Synods and Assemblies must arrive with feelings of foreboding as they look to the business before them with suspicious eyes, preparing to build alliances of power to bolster their respective sides. Today, the prayer of many in the church is: "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"


Our private lives are not spared stress and storm as our individual little boats are tossed about by the waves of economic uncertainty and change, war, divorce, sickness, and death. Hardly a week goes by that we do not face the fearsome realities of these events, either impacting us personally or our neighbours or our friends in the church, and nightly the troublesome images of television news intrude into our homes from the larger world. "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"


In Mark 4 the gospel reading for this week, Jesus calms the wind and the waves and says to the tense disciples, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" He surely intended the link between faith and fear. The opposite of faith is not doubt or unbelief; those tend to be doctrinal differences. No, the opposite of faith more often as not is fear.


We fear the unknown. We fear the undiagnosed lump in the breast, or the persistent cough. We fear Swine Flu, Ross River Fever or Dengue Fever. We fear losing control of our bodies and our health because of aging. We worry about how changes in politics, technology, or the economy will influence our jobs and the income from our savings and retirement funds. Fear is like waves ever seeking to knock us off our footing -- our faith footing.


When facing fear, a priest once told people about how he could be so calm during such times. He explained that in his childhood he had very little supervision from his parents, so he spent many hours each day at the beach. Sometimes a huge breaking wave would catch him by surprise and thrust him under the water, rolling him in the sand. But he said that he learned just to relax and see the thousands of air bubbles as the fingers of God catching him up and lifting him to the surface. Now, whenever he found himself in trouble, he just relaxed and waited for the fingers of God to reach under him and lift him up."


Faith is a stance toward life. Back in the Cold War, when we were all living with the possibility of nuclear holocaust, some researchers interviewed children to see how worried they were. What they discovered was that the children with the least fear were those whose parents were active in nuclear disarmament, or who regularly attended church, or who were deeply involved in the social issues of their communities.


These parents did not feel hopeless in the face of tremendous challenges. They invested themselves in actions to change the world around them and remained optimistic that what they could contribute would make a difference. As a result, the attitudes of the parents infected the emotional and intellectual stance of their children. These children did not feel helpless as they saw parents and others doing something toward resolving problems.


"Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?" In these rather impatient words directed to his disciples, our God through Jesus brings into focus the polarities of faith and fear. Faith is a stance of how we stand up to those things that would threaten us and how we manage our fears, and this makes all the difference. In the midst of troubles, try reaching up your hand to God and saying, "Help!" And when you reach your hand out to others around you and say, "Help!" the fingers of God will never fail to reach down and lift you into new and reassuring experiences of God's grace.




Saturday, 16 June 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 10 June 2018

Gathering God’s People

Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2015)

Come! Here you will find a family of faith where you will always belong. Come! Here you will find friends who will love you as a child of God. Come! Here you will worship a King who rules with equity. Whoever you are, and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.

 All who need a place to belong . .               Come join the family of God.

All who seek spiritual brothers and sisters . Come join the family of God.

All who strive to grow in faith and love . . . Come join the family of God.

All who are unsure and feel unworthy . . .   Come join the family of God

Hymn TIS 693: “Come as you are”

Opening Prayer

Loving Mother, Caring Father, in the midst of our brokenness, knit us together as your family. Heal our wounded hearts, that we may welcome the strangers into our midst and treat them as beloved sisters and brothers. 

Prayer of Confession

Sovereign God, we so often lose our way.

You seek to be our King— to lead us on right paths; to teach us the ways of truth and life; to shelter us from our foes, yet we look to the rulers of this earth for leadership, wisdom, and strength.

You seek to be our comforter— to love us as our Father; to nurture us as our Mother; to shelter us as our Brother; to assure us as our Sister, yet we look elsewhere for love, compassion, and hope.

When our government fails us, and our families disappoint us, you alone remain faithful and true. Open your arms to us once more, O God. We will be your people, and you will be our God and King.

Declaration of Forgiveness

Christ looks to each of us and says: “Here are my mother and my brothers. Here are my father and my sisters. Whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister, mother, father.” As the family of God, as brothers and sisters of Christ, we are loved and forgiven by our gracious God. Thanks, be to God!

The Peace

As the family of God, let us share signs of familial love and compassion, acceptance and forgiveness, as we pass the peace of Christ.

Peace be with you! And also with you!

Hymn TIS 738:My Jesus my Saviour’ (Shout to the Lord)

The Service of the Word

The First Reading: 1 Samuel 8:4-20

The Israelites wanted to be like everyone else and have a king. They told Samuel that his sons weren't following him so they wanted their own king. God told Samuel that that's the way they were. They had rejected him from the beginning so God directed Samuel to warn the people what kings did which was take the sons and daughters to carry out his commands and take the slaves to work for him as well as  takeover land and raise taxes. Anyone in their right mind would have woken up to the pitfalls of such a situation but the people demanded their king anyway,


The Gospel Reading: Mark 3:20-35

Jesus’ family were not impressed with his performance nor were they happy about all the attention he was getting. They decided that he had lost his sanity and went to take him away. The teachers said he was using the power of the devil to do his works but Jesus set them right by pointing out that it wasn't possible for Satan to drive out Satan. He went on to speak in parables along the same line but the radical move came when he was told that his family were outside wanting him and he reached out to those around him and said that they were his family.

Preaching of the Word

Who Really is the Strong Person?

The following is a shortened form of Rev. John’s sermon.

So, who do you think was the strongest man in the Bible? Are you thinking of the book of Judges and the guy with long hair who could kill a lion with his bare hands? …Leadership has often been decided on physical strength over history and the true strengths often needed for leadership were ignored. This must have been on Samuel’s mind in this morning’s reading (concerning the people wanting a king)

After hundreds of years of crying out to God, this people seemed to have forgotten the one who not only answered their prayers, but the only king who has the supernatural power to answer them. The elders wanted a human king like all the other nations..

Like many of us today, however, the Israelites were not willing to be led by God while they waited for the King of kings whom God promised. Through the miracles, signs, and wonders that God had shown them throughout their liberation from multigenerational oppression, the Lord more than proved that he had all the attributes they were seeking in a leader.

 The term power is a constant in everyday language. We talk about power in the contexts of business, government, even the church. As the Gospel of Mark reminds us, however, only Jesus Christ has true power. Through Jesus, we have the gift of forgiveness of sins. When Jesus died on the cross, it would seem as if He had been defeated. But on Easter Sunday morning the rest of the message was received. Jesus defeated the enemy! And we can rejoice today. The World’s Strongest Man has defeated our enemy!

Hymn TIS 609 'May the mind of Christ my Saviour'

Intercessory Prayers

We prayed for the needs or those around us in the world, followed by the

Hymn TIS 613: Lord of all hopefulness, Lord of all joy’


With God as our King,

we go forth to build God’s kingdom.

With our inner nature renewed,

we go forth to proclaim God’s glory.

With our sisters and brothers in Christ, our mothers and fathers in the faith,

we go forth to be Christ’s family.

Go with God.


Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 3 June 2018

Rev. John began by bringing to our attention God’s knowing everything about us, even before it happens, before we do it or before we say it.


This brought to mind other thoughts: Why do we try to run our own lives when God is the author of everything and even knows when we are going to depart from his ways… and the consequences of such actions? This in turn jogged my memory about: “When all else fails, follow the instructions.” The maker knows best how creation, including us, should operate.


I was also reminded of jokes such as ones about people trying to push the “pull” door and getting nowhere, all leading to a total lack of effective result. But we still continue doing the wrong thing, no matter how often the result of such action ends badly.


Then there is our almost laughable habit of trying to hide our sins, silliness, and mistakes from God. Really! This is so silly, firstly because God knows everything about us and secondly, because God loves us fiercely anyway because God is love and can do no other.


Almost immediately another thought sprang up. Not only does God know everything about me and loves me but God knows everything about everyone and fiercely loves them too. Even people I don't like. Even people I disapprove of. Even people who I would judge are breaking God’s laws. The corollary to this is that if God loves these people then I should too. They may irritate me. I might irritate them. But we need to love one another. And not just because God demands that we do, but because the world works best that way.


It is said that we are the children of God. Think about how we love the children we know. We love them despite their errors and mistakes. That's how God loves us, only times a million trillion.


We are to love others…not because of anything about them but because all people are worthy of love as demonstrated by Jesus’ attitude and actions to people during his earthly ministry.


That not only makes a better and happier world but it makes a better and happier  life for the people we love and not so amazingly, it makes a better and happier us. 


All those thoughts came to me because of Rev. John’s introduction but then when we sang, a further aspect was added: “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy”. God’s mercy, his forgiving love for us is not just wide but beyond “the measures of the mind”. Our minds are capable of imagining or inventing anything and everything but God’s merciful love is beyond even that; beyond any limit.


That merciful love was demonstrated when Jesus, setting his face to Jerusalem and facing certain death, continued to spread the message of God’s kingdom. In some parts of the world ordinary Christians can be in the same position.


In Australia, we are not likely to be killed for continuing to spread the Word of God, although if in doing so we offend desperate people we could lose our lives, as some have. But for most of us the worst that is likely to happen is that we may be judged fools or miss out on a promotion because we are unwilling “to play the game”.


However, regardless of the cost of following the command of our God, we cannot do anything else. We can hardly deny the truth we know because it lands us in a difficult position. When torture and death have been the outcome of staying true, many have denied their faith and we all understand the dreadful fear they experienced, but on the other hand we also know that under the surface they knew the truth is still the truth.


Jesus and others did not turn away and it was Jesus’ love for us that motivated his courageous strength. It was that love which was celebrated in the part of our service that followed. It was that love we remembered and celebrated as we broke the bread and drank the wine…a ceremony that strengthens the bonds between us and our Lord and between each other, building the church and in doing so, God’s kingdom.


As Rev. John said after the Communion: “This has been no ordinary meal. It has been one in which we have been fed and nourished with the life of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. May we go from this table, refreshed and eager, to share that life with others. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen”


Rev. John’s sermon was about the value of the Sabbath and how it isn't something about which to make difficult-to-follow rules but a day like all others when we are to do good. It is a time, like all others, when our actions are to lead to healing not to harm. As Rev. John said:


“Our gracious God values life and has set apart a day each week for doing that which “saves life.” I hope we can come to know what this means for us and our life. I hope and pray we are able to learn how to think about the Sabbath as a day for saving life, to come to know how we might faithfully honour the purpose of the Sabbath, without falling into a legalism that extinguishes the very life of the Sabbath. May we be someone who “saves life,” not just in special times, but in all times. May we be a channel of our God’s healing power in every aspect of life.  Amen.”