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.

 


 

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 25 November 2018



Christ the King Sunday

Today our focus was “Christ the King” which was reflected in the sermon, readings and hymns. The following hymns are all well known and give praise and thanksgiving for the joy Jesus brought to the world.

Hymns:

Hymn 275: Hail to the Lord’s anointed

Hymn 293: Unto us a boy is born! verses 1, 2, 4 & 5

Hymn 216: Rejoice the Lord is King

Hymn 279: The King of glory comes, the nation rejoices

Hymn 771: Now to him who loved us

 

I have selected a sentence from each reading which resonated with me:

The First Reading: 2 Samuel 23:1-7.  One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”

The Gospel Reading: John 18:33-37 “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth.

 

Christ came to be our King. We have come to be Christ’s people.

The King of kings calls us to follow him. We have come to be Christ’s people.

Christ came to be our King. We have come to be Christ’s people.

 

Opening Prayer

Mighty Sovereign, we approach your throne to behold your glory. Open our eyes, that we

might witness your Son coming with the clouds to rule with justice and righteousness. Open

our hearts, that we may rejoice in your covenant, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning. Amen.

 Prayer of Confession

 Almighty God, we are intoxicated by power—

the power to dominate, the power to control, the power to punish, the power to reward, the power to have our own way.

We live in a powerful country with powerful leaders and a powerful military.

Forgive us when we lose sight of what true power is all about. Forgive us when we forget that Jesus is our true and only King.

Help us refasten our gaze on Christ’s kingdom, that we might work to bring this kingdom here on earth.

In the name of the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, we pray. Amen.

 

This is a very strong prayer where we confess that we have tried to usurp Jesus role and have tried to rule the world. No wonder things have come unstuck. We can't even run our own lives without running into trouble. We are such small people. Someone once said to me that there is something wrong with humans. If is only when we face that fact and hand over the reins to the creator that things can go right.

 Declaration of Forgiveness

 The Lord made a covenant with King David, promising faithfulness to his descendants. In Christ, we have a new covenant, assuring us forgiveness of sins and fullness of grace. In Christ, our true king, our lives are made whole.

Thanks be to God!

 

Preaching of the Word - Famous Last Words

“…King David’s final words, as they are remembered by his people and written in scripture are eloquent and worthy of Israel’s great shepherd/poet. The most significant thing is the blessing they carry. The blessing is a useful reminder, even today, of the gifts and blessings available to not only the leaders of God’s people but to all the body of Christ. David’s words also imply that God has expectations of individuals, and those expectations must be taken to heart…

David was not the front-runner to succeed Saul as king, as he was young with no experience or hereditary rights. Most of the neighbours looked at him as that kid who spent most of his time outdoors with the sheep…

But Samuel, after looking over Jesse’s older sons, had David called in from the fields, and this suntanned, rough-clad poet, who probably smelled like the sheep he cared for, was judged by God to be beautiful…

David’s life, then, teaches us not only what it is to be a shepherd of God’s people, but also what it is to be human.

Jesus did not call himself king. He called himself a servant and proceeded to wrap himself in a towel and wash the feet of those who came to dinner with him. He did tell his followers what kind of people made up his kingdom: not the proud and greedy but the children, the poor, the abandoned, the lowly.

This is worth remembering as we attempt to serve a God in the world. We are not promised recognition or status and certainly not wealth. Sometimes we may not even receive thanks. Our reward is in being the hands and mouth of our God.

 

Prayers of the People

In these prayers we turned to God to lift this world up above the mess that prevails. We asked for God’s help and comfort for those suffering in war, drought, illness or because of any evil wrought by selfish people. And we asked that God uplift all those working to alleviate the suffering caused by that selfishness. We prayed for those close to us and then joined in the Lord’s Prayer.

 

Benediction

The mighty one of Jacob sends us forth.

We go with God’s blessing.

The rock of Israel sends us forth.

We go with God’s blessing.

The Alpha and Omega sends us forth.

We go with God’s blessing.

And may the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life be with you and remain with you always, Amen

 

Monday, 19 November 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 18 November 2018


 

Today's Blog is written by Rev. John Candy.



When we woke up this morning, many of us stepped into a world of expectations. This was not a conscious decision; it's just where we live, in a land where life is so good we have the luxury of taking many things for granted. The air conditioning stayed on, so we could awake to a comfortable room temperature; and if it was dark when we awoke, we reached for a light switch, so the invisible dangers could be revealed. Then we walked into a room with running water inside the house. On a Sunday some of you will be even listening to my voice over the sound system you expected and hoped to work so you could hear me when I turned the switch on. However this Sunday will be different in that we are in Melbourne but the expectations are still there.

 

So many things we expect in life we just take for granted until something doesn't work. The alarm doesn't go off. It's hot in the house. The light switch is non-responsive. We panic for a minute. We get frustrated. Then we think, "This is not how my day is supposed to be. My life is supposed to play out in such a way that I have all that I need to be comfortable. However, this morning, somebody or something flipped the script. And now I have no power when I'm supposed to have power."

 

Most of the rest of our world plays out a very different script; a minor power outage is disappointing. Outside of our country or outside of our neighbourhood there are problems and concerns many of us can't even begin to comprehend. There are illnesses that can't be treated, people dying in need of food, political and civil unrest, and overt exploitation and abuse of humanity and nature. A power outage in most of the world is a good day. Yet many of us see the discomfort and shock of power outages in this country, natural disasters like hurricanes and weather-pattern changes, wars in places where wars have been waged since the beginning of recorded history, and some of us interpret these events as "the sign of the times."

 

Where we live, 'be alert' became more a catch-cry in the 'war against terror' or a tool in the weaponry of road-safety campaigners, than an issue of spiritual 'safety'. What kinds of spheres do we need to be alert in where we live? What do we expect our world to be like in such an environment? One field in which we certainly need to remain spiritually alert and informed about our expectations is in the face of the multitudinous cranks out there, peddling extremist, fundamentalist versions of what Jesus is on about.

 

Not just in what we consider 'extremist' churches, but within mainline ones these days. The recent debates and news about abuse issues and about same gender acknowledgement are some examples. It can happen!

 

It doesnt just happen out there somewhere but can happen right here amongst ones own community.  How can we live in our time and God's time at the same time, in the world and in the church as Christ's Body, and do it free from fear? 'Perfect love casts out fear' says John. Persecution of Christians these days in some of our societies is just as likely to come from fundamentalist protestant or catholic factions within churches more than from outside.

 


Those out there in the wide margins can still persecute and the possibility is growing within in some quarters. The places where misguided people try to draw in church margins tightly round fellow Christians. Isn't it ironic that that's the way Jesus' warnings may be fulfilled today? That Jesus speaks of wars, earthquakes, and famines, as 'the beginning of birth-pangs' could be a helpful way of exploring the pains that our world still - as always - labours under. We have become very comfortable with the expectation that all will remain the same or get better. I really wonder where our focus might be. Is it in the expectation of all the comforts being there and available all the time?

 

On the other hand, is it on where God calls us to be and is it on the most important thing of Gods great love for us. What do we really have to bear to bring something worthwhile to birth? Have we even thought about it? Have we thought about what it is we are meant to be doing here and now?  As distinct from theological philosophising, what practical and constructive steps must we take to 'endure to the end'? I will leave you with some more questions to ponder over the next weeks before our focus is taken to shops and parties and gifts and all the other trappings of our western Christmas lifestyle.

 

Are we as Christians or even those outside the faith listening for what we say and working out how we act in love as we face those whom we meet day to day? And what is this end that Jesus talks about? Whom, is the end for and is it important? Is the Christian call to be working to enable Gods kingdom to be here and now in his love the most important thing? Is this scripture passage too close to the bone?

 


 

 

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 11 November 2018



Society’s Fringe Dwellers
 
This week's blog is by Rev. John Candy.



Often, something positive eventually comes from a disaster. This does not mean that the disaster was Gods way of achieving the positive. The birth of David results from Ruths union with Boaz (encouraged by Naomi), but the biblical events preceding that— Sodom and Gomorrah, Lots incest with his daughters, the famine and death of Naomis family— are not Gods preferred method of bringing grace into the world.

 

If we look at Divorce despite it not being ideal and not what God wants for us it is necessary because of our choices and mistakes. The way God calls us to live as shown in the life of Jesus seems so perfect, yet we are forgiven as we struggle to live in a holy way. Out of divorce can come positive things as we evaluate our own mistakes in the relationship and work towards not making them again. Out of the pain can come positive growth that enables the person going through divorce to be much more fully present and available in their following relationships including maybe a new partner.

 

One of the first widows I ever understood to be a widow was young. She was someone I had known in the community and her husband died of a heart attack while playing basketball. He was twenty-nine. Suddenly, the notion of widowhood became clear to me. It was not that a woman simply outlived her husband, but that there was a blank space at the table, an empty side of the bed, a phone number that goes unanswered, conversations that become one-sided. Widows and widowers of all ages and circumstances frequently surround us. And we forget their status.

 


We forget that they are among those considered most vulnerable and most wise in Scripture. We forget that Gods heart is with them. It is critical to remember that her beloved, deceased partner may not have been a saint, but she will still grieve. That the person still living is still thinking of their loved one, even if you are afraid to bring up the subject. That she may grow accustomed to her new state, but never stop missing the ones who rest in light. Being widowed, being left out of partnership, should not mean being left out of community.

 

Let not the community of God forsake those who mourn. It is not enough to say God is with them. We are to be the hands, words, and consolation of the Spirit with widows, orphans, and strangers. Throughout his ministry, Jesus called to attention those on the margins of society, those who had previously gone unnoticed, the poor, the blind, the lame, the beggars, the lepers, military personnel, and widows. Its a reminder particularly as many of us in Australia and Aotearoa (New Zealand) will be marking Armistice or Remembrance Day which falls this Sunday. These are the same people we find on the margins of our societies today. Those who still are excluded, those whom society looks down on or simply ignores. A widow, living in poverty created by the institution charged with her care. An aged person placed in a Home as there is no one to manage things for them or even visit them.

 


This gospel reading from Mark 12 that continues today doesnt seem like good news: A widow giving her all to a corrupt institution, an institution that fails to care for her as it is supposed to do. But she gives anyway. And Jesus commends her giving. He commends her and condemns the system. Jesus holds her up as an example of how small but significant acts can break down a cycle of injustice and corruption.

 

In the culture of Jesus, widows were non-people. Without a man to support or validate them in society, they were non-beings. Vulnerable and invalid, it was easy not to see them. It is easy not to see the people on our streets living without shelter, food or clothing. Its easy not see the desperation of the refugees trying to reach countries where they might be better off. Its easy to blame the poor, the immigrants, the refugees, the disabled and many others who are suffering. Yet, Jesus not only notices widows on many occasions during his ministry, in this weeks text, he actually uses a widow to teach trust and reliance on God.

 


This gospel is not talking to us about a comparative giving table, steering the prosperous to give more. It is encouragement for those who go against the grain, who practice subversion in whatever way they can, even in the face of injustice. Who, by their subversion, make inroads into creating justice and fairness for all Gods people. It doesnt always take placards and a lot of shouting for trends and policies to be reversed. Persistent, simple subversion also does the trick.