Friday, 18 January 2019

Baptism of Jesus and Epiphany

Sunday 13th January, 2019

Today, we considered the epiphanies, times where God was revealed to people who were changed forever by the experience.

It was my privilege to lead this service, and I kept the hymns and prayers to reflect the theme.

Following is an excerpt of the reflection I offered.

To begin with I shared techniques I had been taught to help understand bible passages when the help of commentaries was not available. The most useful of these is to ask why the passage was written.

Now what was the purpose of the writings that we have read today?

In Psalm 29 the phrase “the voice of the Lord” is repeated many times. The commentators I read agreed that the phrase referred to the thunder accompanying a storm which has rolled off the Mediterranean and is hitting the coast, from where it shakes the cedars of Lebanon in the north before it swings south to cast bolts of lightning in the southern wilderness.

It was to  proclaim God’s power in this world, where the knowledge that such power exists everywhere in everyday events, was an assurance to the people of Israel in exile.

Everywhere they looked they were suffering from being a captive nation so they needed this assurance that their condition was only temporary and their God was still in charge.

Isaiah was also written to a captive people. A captive people who despite regarding themselves as God’s people were constantly being invaded, attacked, kidnapped, or exploited by other nations. And so this is a mighty declaration that there is a bigger picture. This is a message of restoration and promised protection, spoken with authority that cannot be bested.

Now look at the New Testament to Luke and Acts. In these books Luke is laying out the background and the task ahead for Theophilus.

And so, with the background established for all the readings, I want to focus on one of them and then draw them all together.

John the Baptist was baptizing and Jesus was baptized after which a voice spoke to Jesus affirming him as the son of God in whom God was well pleased and there was an experience of the Holy Spirit being present. Jesus was from that time on, God on earth for us. The people didn't know that in so many words but they listened to Jesus and followed him.

Last week Rev. Bruce Roy spoke of the Epiphany of God to the Magi. The Magi knew they were seeing truth. When people were in Jesus’ presence, they knew they were experiencing truth.

Think for a second or two about why you are still a Christian. 

Why do you still turn up here on Sundays? Why do you keep giving to others? Why do you pray? But don't leave it there. When you go home, think about it at length, because sometimes there is much more to an answer like that than we suspect. Think about your “stuckedness”. What truth have you experienced?

The second point follows from what happened after Jesus’ baptism. When he called people, they followed him. Why did people react as they did to Jesus? What was it about him?

That's difficult to answer because we can't really put ourselves back there, but I think there's a way to find out.

Think about the people you have met in your life who drew your attention because they had a special quality other people don't have. They may not all have been Christians but today I am thinking about Christian people who make the rest of us stop and sit up. People who make us wonder why they can be the way they are.  People who are consistently a bit different from the rest of us.

Invariably they exemplify the life Jesus taught us to live.

They are genuine in every respect.

They are authentic Christian souls. They are people who do not resist that power of God that the Israelites were so aware of.

They are lamps to our feet and to all who they meet.

Jesus was that and more. More without end.

And because of Jesus, we are reminded that we have received grace upon grace from God's fullness to share with the world in which we live. That's what these people do and that is what Jesus did as a result of the Spirit given to him at his baptism.  

It may seem that the task is too hard. That too much that is bad prevails. Here's where those Old Testament assurances will keep us going. God is still in charge. 

Friday, 4 January 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 30 December 2018

 
Kaye and Andrew visited Marsden Road Uniting Church this week where they are always very welcome as they bring with them their message of hope.

Today Kaye delivered the sermon and introduced it by placing the readings for today, from which she preached, in the context of the UC lectionaries for 2018. This is important for us to understand its place in our teachings.

Then Kaye showed us how Luke had deliberately used key words to stress the significance of the account in Luke, (chapter 2) of Jesus in the Temple. Again, these choices are not random and point our attention to the main ideas.

Jerusalem”, where this account takes place is central to Jesus’ life story and many crucial events take place there.

The “Passover” is central to Jewish practice and the time when the very important stages of Jesus life take place.

Jesus was “twelve”, a number significant in many ways for Jews.

Jesus was missing for three days, another significant length of time for the Christians who followed the teachings of the ones who first responded to Jesus and the “Temple” which was central to both the Jewish and a Christian stories in both a concrete and representative way.

Kaye also raised the use of “your father” in reference to Joseph and My Father’s house in reference to Jesus relationship with God.

By pointing out and explaining these and other references, Kaye set the scene and its significance within the Jesus Story.

Using this foundation Kaye was able to use the parallel between how we move off from our Christmas celebrations back to our everyday routines with how we move off from our contemplation of Jesus’ birth too quickly.

Not only do we move off from our special Christian celebrations but we do this each Sunday as well. When we arrive home on Sunday after church, often lunch becomes the focus of our attention, rather than contemplating the service of worship we have just shared. Like any important experience, it would do us all a service if we sat and thought through that experience later.

She reminded us that after the trauma of losing the 12-year-old Jesus and then finding him speaking with confidence to much older men in the Temple, Mary  “pondered all these things in her heart”

The implication is to stay with the account of Jesus’ birth and childhood and consider their importance to us.

Kaye took this time to ponder the story in the reading.

Friends and family travelled together to Jerusalem for the Passover, in one way, an exciting time to catch up with everyone. But once the festival was over, the people headed home, as we do after Christmas.

But something happened to break the festive mood, Jesus was missing. Most parents have experienced the panic, even only for a short time, of not knowing where their child has gone.

Finally, after a long search, they found him, sitting in the Temple, nonplussed as to why they wouldn't know where he would be. But his answer, including the words “My Father’s house”, stopped Mary in her tracks. And she continued to ponder those words.


What does it mean for us to be in “my Father’s house”? What is the significance of the events of the first Christmas and of the youthful Jesus to us.

And what does it mean each Sunday as we gather to worship together? These gatherings aren't just habits but have deep meaning which can only be appreciated when we think through them later.

We were thankful that Kaye brought our attention to the need to sit with these thoughts, and to ponder them, to find their deeper significance to our lives.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 23 December 2018


 
Gathering Gods People

 Acknowledgement of First Peoples

 From river to ocean, from campfire to hearth,

May the First People who have cared for this Land be blessed.

From breath to song, from step to dance,

May those who follow Your Songlines guide us on the journey of living honourably in this place.

From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus,

Call to Worship

(Abingdon Worship Annual 2009

God has done great things for us!

God’s love is heralded in the promise of Christ.

Holy is Gods name!

God’s promises are fulfilled in the coming of Christ. God’s mercy extends from generation to generation. God’s salvation is offered in the gift of Christ

Hymn TIS 272:  Come, thou long-expected Jesus ...”

Opening Prayer

Referring to the prophecy of Jesus birth, and the fulfillment of that promise, John prayed:

Make us bold enough to proclaim with faith— the coming of your kingdom, the coming of your justice, the coming of your peace. May we sing out the good news of your salvation, trusting in fulfillment of your promises. All this we pray in the name of the one who comes. Amen.

 Prayer of Confession

 Loving God, even in the midst of this season of goodwill, there is much to confess.

In spite of holiday cheer, stress and anxiety rule our lives. We miss the reason for the season, focusing instead on Christmas parties, long to-do lists, and trying to get the shopping done.

We fail to think about your reordered world— a world where the lowly are lifted up and the hungry are filled with good things.

Help us adjust our Christmas priorities, that we might join with you, O God, in preparing a world that welcomes the one who brings us peace.

Declaration of Forgiveness

The ancient promises of God are fulfilled. God does not forget us. Gods mercy extends from generation to generation. Let our souls rejoice in God!

Thanks be to God!

The Peace

Let us share together signs of the peace of God—the peace that passes all understanding, the peace that overcomes all divisions.

Peace be with you!

And also, with you

(We then exchanged the sign of peace with each other.)

Offering Dear God, …Knowing that your promises (of Jesus’s birth) will be fulfilled, we pledge our lives to you in anticipation of the coming of the one who brings us peace. Amen.

Hymn CAOHN: “When God Almighty came to earth”

The Service of the Word

 The First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a A prophecy: And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth;  and he shall be the one of peace.

The Gospel Reading: Luke 1:39-55 The meeting between Mary and Elizabeth and Mary’s prayer of astonishment at the future the birth of her child would bring.

Preaching of the Word
 
Waiting for the Joy to Come - Luke 1:39-55

Here I will share with you, the most pertinent words of the sermon:

On this morning, we also hear these beloved segments of scripture and our hearts thrill within us. Like Elizabeth, when she saw her cousin Mary, our hearts dance within us. 

There is darkness around us. In this darkness, it is a physical relief to enter the church and to feel again anticipation, one of the most cherished human experiences. It is a relief to be able to with our entire senses wait for the light that is to come. To wait like a people who are suffering from insomnia who long for the night to end so that they can see the light of day and stop feeling the anxiety of their sleeplessness.

Micah tells us of the care and tenderness of the good shepherd. The writer of Hebrews assures us that the old order has passed, that God is not satisfied with burnt or sin offerings, but only with hearts that are obedient to God's will. 

However, the most tender and courageous images come from Luke's Gospel. Two women meet on a hill…It is the humble who are being raised. It is those who feel awe before God their maker, that are shown mercy. The powerful are brought down. The lowly are lifted up. And the hungry are fed…So now, we who hear these words 2000 years later discover that they make good sense to us also. They remind us of what matters to God, what God requires of us.


Hymn 161: Tell out, my soul the greatness of the Lord!


Music to lead us to intercessory prayer where Ruth prayed for God’s will to be done in all areas of human life, that burdens might be lifted and the darkness and evil that ruins lives will be vanquished. We followed with the Lord’s Prayer.
 
Hymn TIS 265O come, O come, Emmanuel

Benediction

 Go with the love of God, who extends mercy from generation to generation. Go with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, who prepares us for the coming of our Lord. Go with the peace of the Christ child, who comes to partner with us to bring the kingdom that will never end. Amen.

 
Hymn 779: May the feet of God walk with you.

A prayer of good wishes to each other

 

 

Monday, 10 December 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 9 December 2018


 
This week's blog is by Rev. John Candy
 

Comfort in Our Anxiety.
 

Look around. This place is filled with those who thank God every time they think of you. By the Lords grace and compassion, this place is filled with those who hold you in their hearts, those whose prayers for you are filled with joy. Share the peace of Christ Jesus with one another. (From the service today.)


 
 

We have seen all sorts of really traumatic and difficult things over this past year and it would not be difficult to become anxious and depressed. Yet we have also seen things that encourage and bring hope such as the rescue of the soccer team boys in Thailand. So as the stress and hectic rush leading to Christmas begins to overwhelm us, we are reminded in scripture not to be anxious. The Apostle Paul tells us not to be anxious—not to worry—about anything. But we tend to be people who worry about everything.

 

We worry about what will happen if someone doesnt show up for the big family Christmas dinner (and also about what might happen if they do!). We worry about getting into the right school or university and about the financial aid package coming through. We worry about the cancer coming back and about our company being bought out. We worry about the security of our jobs and the safety of our kids. The congregation I serve has had a difficult year with the death of a number of deeply faithful and involved members who had been part of the fellowship for 30 to 40 years and the distraction of problems with the local Council. I would not be surprised if a number of our members were worried about what the future will bring and how long we can last as an entity despite over 150 years of life as a congregation.

 
 

With so much to worry about, how is it that St Paul of Tarsus can tell us not to worry and not to be anxious? When Dietrich Bonhoeffer sat in his Nazi prison cell, he penned a poem that included these words to the effect that we fearlessly wait, come what may, because God is with us on every new day. St Paul, writing to the church in Philippi from his own prison cell, says something similar. Why is it that we need not be anxious or afraid? Is it because whatever we are worried about is really no big deal? Or because God guarantees that everything will turn out for the best? Or even because God wont give us any more hardship or pain than we can handle?


No. St Paul says that we need not be anxious or afraid because the Lord is near.That is the good news to which everything else in this text is tethered. The Lord (our God) is near,even while we wait for him to come in all his fullness. In fact, St Paul says, he is as close as a prayer. And when Gods children take their worries and anxieties to the Lord in prayer, he will exchange their anxiety for his peace and calm their worried hearts with his love.

 

The sight of a mother cradling a squirming child in her arms and singing lullabies over him until he finally goes limp may be one of the sweetest and most serene things we can witness in this life. Its a scene as old as time, and perhaps it is what the prophet Zephaniah had in mind when he wrote one of the final (and most famous!) verses of his book: The LORD your God is in your midst …. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing(Zephaniah 3:17). When heard in the context of the other lectionary passages for the Third Sunday of Advent, Gods often anxious and worried children can receive these words as an invitation to climb into the lap of their heavenly parent so that our heavenly parent might sooth them with the songs of his love and care.

 


Then, having heard these songs, they might offer him one of their own, perhaps borrowing words from the prophet Isaiah: God is indeed my salvation; I will trust and wont be afraid(Isaiah 12:2). While the Apostle Paul seems to be doing everything, he can to free us from anxiety, John the Baptist seems to be doing everything he can to create anxiety in us. Johns words are so full of alarm, he seems so determined to set us on edge. For John, the news that the Lord is nearis not only a promise that ought to comfort the afflicted. It is also a promise that ought to afflict the comfortable!

Friday, 7 December 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 2 December 2018


 
 
Gathering God’s People

Acknowledgement of First Peoples

From river to ocean, from campfire to hearth,

May the First People who have cared for this Land be blessed.

From breath to song, from step to dance,

May those who follow Your Song lines guide us on the journey of living honourably in this place.

From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus.

 

In making this acknowledgement we are declaring our awareness that God has been available to all people throughout all time. The first people knew of God’s intention for Creation long before they heard the word “God” and because of their authentic response to the Voice they heard were able to act in the way God wanted. That's all God asks. We don't need deep theological training. We simply need to be genuine in our seeking and in our response to the Voice wherever we find it.

 

First Sunday of Advent (Promise)

 Advent is here, and the wait for the birth of the Christ has begun

 As we light the first candle, we are reminded of God’s promise of a Saviour.

 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” (Jeremiah 33:14-16)

God’s promise of hope is for all people; together, we anticipate the day of his coming.

Holy God, you have promised to bring salvation and justice to your creation.  As we wait for the arrival of the Saviour, may we live as those who have already been saved by your grace – and may we share that grace with others.  Amen.

 

Hymn: TIS 289 “Christmas is Coming” – Verse 1 In joining in this short liturgy we focused our minds on the coming pivotal event in the History of the world and the Human race. With the birth of Jesus of Nazareth everything changed.

 

Call to Worship - (David N Mosser and other Sources)

 The time is coming and now is when God’s promises will be fulfilled. Rejoice, the time is here.... even if it is not yet fully realised. Into this time, we come—ready to listen, ready to open, ready to love. The time is coming and now is when we will be part of God’s promise fulfilled.

 It’s time to get ready. It’s time to worship. It’s time to get ready. It’s time to be strong.

It’s time to get ready. It’s time to love.

Let’s worship together, that God may strengthen our love this day.

 

 

The service proceeded as usual: we approached God in prayer. We confessed our sins and asked for forgiveness. And then we worshipped with our offerings, after which we entered into the Communion service. The lines that jumped out and grabbed me were these:

“Because our bread has come from one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.
The bread which we break is a sharing in the body of Christ.

The cup over which we give thanks is a sharing in the blood of Christ.”

 

It is our responsibility to remember that we are one body. We are the Church and whatever we expect of the church, we are asking of ourselves. Not just as we, as an individual want to see things done or events take place but as part of that body, the church. That needs wisdom. Holy wisdom. From God.

 

            Rev. John spoke of: Seasons of Hope: Hoping Against Hope

He conceded that hope seems beyond us if our focus is on all the twisted behaviour of people.

“When we look at the darkness that surrounds us—when we consider all the violence and wars and hatred and disease and poverty and, well, hopelessness that is the canvas upon which God intends to paint—then hope itself seems absurd. We are easily convinced that God simply can’t cover that much darkness.”

However, we are not hoping for the successes of this world, we are seeking the things of the Spirit.

“What we are talking about is a hope that reflects the power of the Resurrection. As Christians, we celebrate everything throughout the year against the backdrop of the Resurrection. At this time of year, when we are contemplating the birth of Christ, we do so with the clear message that this is one who has come to defeat the darkness, to drive back the powers of evil and to bring victory in the face of death.”

 

This was reflected in the Prayers for the People as Caroline prayed “Thank you for Your faithfulness to guide us and see us through times of uncertainty, for lifting us up, and setting us on high.” Caroline also reminded us that scripture is a treasure trove of promises and hope. She then referred to this season of expectation when we prepare to welcome Jesus once again, the author of all hope. And having faith in that hope, Caroline laid out the needs of our friends and family, asking, in that hope, for God’s comfort and support during the difficulties these people are experiencing.

 Benediction

Signs are all around Christ is coming soon. Signs are all around.

Christ has come to earth. Signs are all around. Christmas is almost here.

Signs are all around. Christ’s love is needed now. Signs are all around.

Calling us to love. Signs are all around. Leading us forth with love. Sending us forth in peace.

Go in the name of Christ and Christmas love. Amen

 

Hymn TIS 780: May light come into your eyes.