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.