Friday, 20 April 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 16 April 2018




Spirituality and us. (Abridged)

There has been a request from a number of directions that as a congregation we should look into the topic of spirituality. So, I volunteered to conduct a service today around the concept. Firstly, may I remind you that hundreds of thousands of words have been written on this subject so that when I finish today most of them still remain to be explored.

However, I think this congregation knows more about spirituality than they realize. I think what I'm doing today, is revealing to you what you know already but didn't know it was called spirituality.

Some of us may think that spirituality is confined to what I would call “pious” people. And there’s a good reason for that. Initially, it was the pious, the people who withdrew from the world and spent their time in contemplation and prayer who were regarded as spiritual.

However, it is intended that all Christians live a spiritual life ….

That's what being Christian is.

What I want to speak about is the meaning of Christian spirituality as revealed in our readings this morning and during the sung prayer of Praise and Thanksgiving (Magnificat). In the latter we can hear the woman’s heart bursting with joy at the work of God in her life. The people of those readings didn't bother about terminology, they were concerned with one thing: their relationship with God and his work in their lives

 Psalm 66:

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;

    sing the glory of his name;

    give to him glorious praise.

This person is so sure that God is to be relied upon, and so is stretching out to God, exuberant in gratitude, knowing that God is the only source of the goodness they have experienced.

And then the reading from Galatians 5 under  the heading “Life by the Spirit”

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

This reading reveals another perspective on living a spiritual life - service. Service can take many forms and every time we make someone feel a little better about themselves and their situation, we are serving them.

And then for complete clarity, the Sermon on the Mount: (refer Matthew 5 - Blessed are the ….)

In this reading the presence of God in a person’s life isn't indicated in the way that the Psalmist thought. The Psalmist thought success and victory spoke of God and it’s true that all good things do come from God but goodness can take many forms and the Beatitudes spell that out. The words of this sermon point to a deeper view of spirituality. A view of our needing to throw away the values of the material world and seek an inner richness. But as average Australians living average Australian lives, how often do we recognize that we are serving others? Where or to whom do we look for relief from the things that distress us and cause us suffering? Do we feel blessed by God? Life can be difficult, so where does the strength come from to get us through it? Where do those time of great joy come from? And how good are we at acknowledging God’s work. “Look at that lovely rose!” “Yeah, good.”

Think about the last few weeks. Think about any time when you have felt as ease; relaxed, maybe rested. When did you notice a smile coming to your lips or when have you had a good laugh?  Perhaps you have learnt something new and had the thought “Hey, isn't that something!”

Another possibility is that someone acknowledged you in some way or showed you respect.  Or you may have had a chance to enjoy yourself.  And then what about what you have been able to do for someone else? How have you been able to make someone else feel that life is actually ok.

I'm not talking about monumental experiences although you may have been fortunate to have had one of those. One of the readings I consulted makes this point: there is no immediate seeing of God’s actuality.” And then goes onto say that we establish bonds with the divine as it happens in the world. Our spiritual life happens in the world.

And while all of  those experiences are spiritual, there is a need of something more: our acknowledgement of God’s hand in all that is good in our lives and our thanks for it.

Somehow the experience isn't complete until we praise God for his gift.

I know there is one more thing. For those people in each of the readings today it was a way of life.

So we don't leave our spirituality at home when we go to the shops and need to queue; we don't forget to grasp it when the computer won't co-operate; we remember we are creatures of the spirit when we are disagreeing with other people; we keep our spiritual life at the fore in traffic. Another reading I consulted reminds us that “Faith is a fresh act as new obedience.” It's day by day stuff. I know it's hard when the garbage truck wakes us up at 4am in the morning but it's our task that we remember that we are people of God’s spirit always.

Always. Amen

 

 

Acknowledgements:

The Brill Dictionary of Religion 2006 “Spirituality” Brill.

A New Dictionary of Religion ed. John R. Hinnells 1995 Blackwell. “Spirituality”

Theological Hermeneutics Alexander S. Jensen. 2007 SCM pp124,125

Sacred Attunement - A Jewish Theology M. Fishbane Uni of a Chicago Press. pp54,55

 

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 25 March 2018




Rev John began the service in a way that I’m sure all people reading this service would want to share and so I am including that part in full.

 

Call to Worship (Abingdon Worship Annual 2018)

Exaltation and joy... Passover sacrifice and betrayal ... death and life: such is the terrain of Holy Week. Such are waters that sweep us through the holy mystery of our faith. Now is the time to count the cost of discipleship. Now is the time to follow Jesus.

When they came to Bethpage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus gave two disciples a task, saying to them, “Go into the village. As soon as you enter it you will find tied up a colt that no one has ridden. Untie it and bring it here. If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘Its master needs it.’”








This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

They brought the colt to Jesus and threw their clothes upon it, and Jesus sat on it. Many

people spread out their clothes on the road while others spread branches cut from the fields.

Bind the festival procession with palm branches. Open the gates of righteousness for us so we can come in and give thanks to the Lord.

This is the Lord’s gate; those who are righteous enter through it.

Enter the gates of righteousness with shouts of thanksgiving. Hosanna! Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!

The stone the builders rejected is now the foundation stone.

This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvellous in our sight!

The Lord is God, and God has given us light as a lamp to our feet.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

This is the day that the Lord has made.

Let us rejoice and be glad in it!


Hymn TIS 333: “All glory, praise and honour” With this hymn we joined with the people of that time, confessing our belief and honouring Jesus.


Opening Prayer

In this Prayer Rev. John led us, alerting to us to a crucial point about this event:

But never let us forget where this week ends. For the one who emptied himself for our sake,

took the form of a servant and was betrayed and denied by his disciples and closest friends. 


Prayer of Confession

“…Forgive our wayward feet and our fickle hearts: when we are consumed with doubt,

when we succumb to our weakness, when we give in to the impulse of betrayal, when we

turn away in denial, when we confuse expedience with virtue…”

In your holy name, we pray. Amen.


Declaration of Forgiveness

God has opened the gates of righteousness and Christ has beckoned us to walk through.

Sing with the children; throw your clothes upon the road, for the one who comes in the

name of the Lord offers us salvation in his name. Thanks, be to God!

I found these first parts of the service especially moving and so wanted to share them but I have been left with less space to conclude. I will do my best.  

We shared the peace and for me it seemed perhaps even more significant

than at other times. Even the offering which is a more practical expression of our faith seemed to hold extra meaning:

Like broken vessels, we need God’s healing. Like those who are dead, we need the stirring of God’s Spirit within us. As we extend our hearts to those in need, we find God’s healing and experience God’s Spirit making us whole. In our giving this day, may we bear witness to the one who delivers us from evil, strengthens us to stand, and makes us whole again.

Many parts of the service had significance such as the hymns, the men’s singing and the children’s talk but I want to include Rev. John’s message as he took us on a journey of memory,  recalling for us the many times we entered the life of Jesus as part of the crowd.

 During Holy Week; in Bethlehem; during Passover when Jesus was just a boy teaching in the Temple, we were there. We were there in the crowd, there at his baptism and witnessing the miracles and we were there lauding Jesus as the Messiah. Some of us stayed during that terrible time. But if we were transported back to that time when Jesus rode into Jerusalem we couldn't be celebrating with the rest of the crowd:

“We couldn't. We know the rest of the story. Why would anyone want him to die? Why don't his twelve good friends find a hidden way out of the city and take him back to Bethany? He could go back to Bethany and be safe in the home of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus! He could live to a ripe old age and stay here to love us! We cannot live without that love!…

Yet, Jesus is He Who is Always There. The forever of the resurrection is the hope on which our faith is based. But, we’re not there yet... The cross and then the crown. We must find it within ourselves to remain beside the donkey and the man and be with him in the temple and the garden and on Golgotha.



 This is the Jesus whom we must face. The bleeding and bruised Good Shepherd who has carried all of his sheep on his shoulders since time began. We must not let him go on alone. Amen”


This evocative message underpinned the celebratory singing of the next hymn, so well known to us all.












Hymn TIS 348: “Ride on, ride on in majesty”

Laurel led us in the Prayers of the People, extending the message Rev. John had preached into the world about us. When we look at the world’s problems it must be through the perspective of the sacrifice Jesus made to show us the way.

 

Hymn TIS 357: “When his time was over the palms lay where they fell”

 

Benediction

On the back of a donkey, Jesus came to bless us.

With a love that did not count the cost, Jesus came to heal us.

From hopelessness and despair, Jesus came to free us.

With the power of the Holy Spirit Jesus came to save us

May your life declare the lordship of Jesus Christ, to

the glory of God! Amen!

 

Hymn 776: Aaronic Blessing,
 

Friday, 23 March 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 18 March 2018




This week I have been reading a number of texts about three topics:

One is about the history of “Theological Hermeneutics”, big words which simply mean that I have been reading about the systems or frameworks people have used to underpin their study of scripture.

The second readings were about spirituality and the different interpretations people have had of that and have today.

The third was bible study about the Easter Story. One of the concepts addressed there was atonement and the many references made to that in the Bible.

 

 


Returning to the first topic of hermeneutics: over time people have used different approaches to studying scripture depending on when and where they were living and what events were taking place around them. Scripture has to be relevant to the lives of people and if it ceases to be for any reason, people of goodwill who know scripture encapsulates truth, need to find a way of hearing that truth.


At one time people thought that could be achieved by seeing scripture in an allegorical way but then others saw weaknesses in that method and moved on. Others took the view that a literal reading was the best whereas today most people use more analytical approaches, the choice depends on which is most appropriate. The studies we are doing using those readings reveal a history of complex thinking which I won't go into now except to say that all of those people were seeking to hear God’s word but were doing it in different ways.

 





The second set of readings showed a similar trend. Not everyone has seen spirituality in the same light historically, and nor do they today. In the past spirituality was a very Christian and pious way of living and associated with those who lived apart from the world.



 



Not so today. To start with, spirituality isn't confined to Christians and many people who profess other beliefs or profess to be atheists say they seek to live spiritual lives. Again, the several texts I have read have quite different views on living a spiritual life and they are all right because each way works for the people who promote them.

And then the Bible Studies about Easter: some of us have grown up in churches and have been taught in Sunday School in a way that only offers one view of the atonement. For many it was that Jesus stood as a substitute for us and our sins.



It was only as an adult that I even heard that not all theologians see the atonement in that way. In looking further afield I found that not only do the majority of Christians believe in the Substitution or Satisfaction theory but there are many other theories such as the Penal theory, the Moral Influence theory and the Non-Violent Theory and others still which are believed by fewer people.
All have aspects which are helpful and even those which are widely accepted have aspects which are unhelpful.

For any of the above topics I have been reading about I do not offer any resolution to conflicting ideas. My point is that our Christian beliefs have developed over time and in different places under different circumstances. Committed Christians have come to different conclusions as to how to interpret the Bible and the events in the Bible and so have developed different perspectives, even in core issues. As adult Christians it is our responsibility to explore, through wide reading, the extent of our own beliefs and look at what other Christians believe in an effort to grow.

 



We can only do this successfully if we keep our hearts and minds open to the guidance of God’s Spirit.



Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 11 March 2018



 
 
 
 
Today I am posting the blog Rev. John writes each week. Enjoy!
 
This story from Numbers 21 from this weeks scripture readings should be scary. I dont think it is a coincidence that God uses the animal that scares us most to scare us straight. Well for we New Zealanders being bought up in a country with no snakes, we tend to be scared by them. And it seems the scare nature works for the Hebrew people. They repent and beg Moses, asking him to intercede on their behalf to their God, against whom they had sinned. So, the killer serpents as it were, lead the people to repentance.
 
But God does not just get rid of the snakes. The dangers of the world are still there with them. We are left with an image of our God taking a symbol of fear and death and turning it into a symbol of life. Once the people have repented of their sin (understood as turning away from God) and turned again to trust in God, the thing that had been killing them becomes the thing that saves them. And it works very well, by all accounts, for years and years.
 
I find it interesting because it shows that Moses not only made this serpent but also that it worked, because people were still praying to it centuries later (2 Kings 18:4). Sadly, the people came to believe that the bronze serpent, and not God, was the agent of their healing, so in the time of Hezekiah, Hezekiah rightly destroyed it.  Whenever we mistake the signs and symbols for God, and we begin to worship the signs and symbols instead of God, then we have made idols that need to be crushed.
 
I also note from this passage in Numbers 21 the fact that it seems that which causes suffering can also be the vehicle for healing, both internal and external. The snakes came upon the Hebrews in the wilderness as consequence of their turning away from God. The people suffered from them. Yet God used this same source of suffering to heal them. Every time they looked at the instrument of their suffering, they remembered the cause of their suffering. Their memories caused them to turn back to God. And because they turned back to God, they were healed.
 
There are times on our lifes journey and especially for those on a Christian journey when we become aware of the ways we have turned away from God. Often, I look back on events in my life and see there what seems to have been a times of suffering and at those time I have experienced the consequences of self-absorbed choices. At these times, it seems that disobedience, that is to say, the ways we have turned away from or ignored God, are ever before us. Overcome by these imperfections, we often become ready to call out to God. God knows our tragic human flaws and loves us anyway. When I reflect on those difficult and challenging events in my life I see that the very mistakes weve made, harm we have caused, and the harm done to us can become symbols of our healing. 
 
Every time we look at them, we remember the suffering resulting from our choices or of those we love; and we remember we can make a different choice this or next time and find healing. Gods nature, which is love, cannot resist expressing itself; God pours out abounding mercy and grace on us. During this season of Lent which is a season of introspection and reflection, it is good to both acknowledge and if able confess the ways in which we have turned away from God and to let go. In this way, we can receive the lavish grace and love of God revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and we make choices that make us and others whole.