Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Unitng Church 17 November 2019


 

The reading today was from Isaiah 65: 17-25, which Dermot explained was among the prophet’s last words.

They were words about God’s creation of a place where everyone, human and non-human thrived. 

There would be no premature deaths and the place would be a place where people would delight in the lives given to them and be joyful.

No more would children be born to die early, no more would people labour only to see others benefit from their labour.

And peace would reign.

This was so important because the fall of Jerusalem and the reign of David shattered the belief of the Jews and they needed a new vision.

Dermot told us to:
Keep in mind that prophets were not people who saw visions of future events akin to crystal ball visions. They were priests and steeped in faith who, having an understanding of the nature of God and human conduct, might give spiritual and moral warnings to leaders or the people. There were schools of prophets. Isaiah is likely to have come from one of these schools. His writings are with us today because they have the potential to open our understanding today of God and God’s hope for us.”

But the next words of Dermot may have opened the eyes of some who either think the days of the prophet are over or that prophets can only be ordained ministers:

And we have ‘prophets’ today – I remember being so impressed with some of the advice and commentary of Rev Dr Dean Drayton, a former head of the Board of Mission – and indeed, I found an article in the SMH by Julia Baird so confronting that it seemed to me that her writing was prophetic in that instance. The cartoonist Leunig has been described as a leading theologian in Australia and prophet.”


Many of us are aware of the defeat and disappearance of the northern kingdom. This was followed by the defeat of any survivors of that disappearance by the Babylonians, and the transport of those and the people of the southern kingdom off to Babylon.

Some survivors of that kidnap later moved south to Jerusalem - which survived for  another 200 years until the Babylonians defeated it.

You can only imagine what a devastating experience it was for the followers of Yahweh to be defeated – twice - having believed that God would protect them. And so, while in exile in Babylon and after release back to Jerusalem, therewas a re-thinking of the relationship between humanity and God - between God and ‘God’s People’.  Much of our Old Testament comes out of this turmoil, albeit, it has been edited and amended over later centuries into what we are left with today.”

Dermot then pointed to the reading which tells of a time when God will create a world as it should be and that some think we can stand back and wait for that to happen or we could give that time a “little nudge”


– remember President Reagan  who was over-heard (tongue in cheek) suggesting that we should ‘nuke’ the Russians.”

But Dermot went on to say

the message is every bit about God’s Kingdom happening now, in the lives which are changed by God’s Spirit in every generation

-      the message is for us to be God’s servants and hands to accomplish the goodness of Christ about us in this world and time.

-      We, the hands and feet and voice of Christ on earth have a responsibility to bring the Kingdom of God into this world.” That sounds like a task far beyond us but Dermot is right on the money when he says: “God’s creative love and grace are available NOW – let’s get on board.” 

-      It’s up to us, powered by God’s creative love.

-      “And God will delight in God’s people and no more shall the sound of weeping be heard.. or the cry of distress – and “the wolf and the lamb shall feed together”. Amen

Saturday, 16 November 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 3 and 10 November 2019


Gathering God’s People (November 3)

 Prelude: This time of quiet music is meant to be a preparation for the service to follow. Many of us are doing that by greeting each other so that we will worship as a unit, but we all need some time of quiet preparation to make a connection between ourselves and our Lord. We are not there to simply socialize although building community is important.

We are there to worship as individuals and as a church. Be still in the presence of the Lord.

Acknowledgement of First Peoples

From river to ocean, from campfire to hearth,

May the First People who have cared for this Land where we worship, the Wallumedgal, 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,

May our worship join with the voices of the First Peoples of this Land.

Call to Worship - (B. J. Beu, Abingdon 2016)

Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song! Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; And from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.
Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you. Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song.

Expressing goodwill to people who hate us or abuse us is hard enough but praying for them and asking God’s blessing on them asks for a level of selflessness which is hard to meet.

BUT. Take courage, all you people. Take courage, says the Holy One, I am with you...

Opening Prayer

...Before your throne we are one with a great multitude which no one could number, and in praising you we join with people from every nation. Grant to your church on earth that as we celebrate the triumph of your saints in glory we may profit by their example and enter with them into the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

 A Prayer of Confession

 You call us to bring good news to the broken-hearted, and to be your living body to a broken and hurting world. Yet, we are afraid to claim your promise of grace, filled as we are with despair at the problems we see around us.

Forgive us when we forget your promise to bring justice and kindness.

Declaration of Forgiveness

Let us hear again, the word of truth: in Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.

And we need to do this over and over and over!

Thanks, be to God!

Announcements and Offering

Our response to God’s love working in us. We must, day by day, open ourselves to God, so that this can happen ...again and again. Stephen read to us from Ephesians and then

Luke 6:20-31Then he looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. And then continued in the same way, saying that all those who we would say are lacking in God’s blessing are in fact, the blessed. Our values are all wrong.
Preaching 

Rev. John pointed out, using many examples, that Jesus’ values were nothing like ours. However, regardless of how many times we are told or how many times we are stung because we choose according to the values of the world, we still head off in the wrong direction.

A book I am reading points us in the right direction - again - via another route: if we enter into deep contemplation we allow ourselves to reveal the “essential us”. That is, we respond to God from the person we are. Not the person we present, covered by all sorts of defensive strategies or the person disguised by the right thing to say - the thing to say that we learned during our formal or cultural education.

We waste so much time and energy over things that don’t matter at all.

Benediction

In all things, give thanks to God, for you have been called to bear witness to the good news. And may the Creator of all, Holy Spirit, and Christ Jesus— one God, living in you and through you and around you, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and deed. Amen.

 

Gathering God’s People (November 10)

Call to Worship

Focused on Christ, our centre, we find faith, hope, life, and love. Anticipating these gifts, we bring our hearts of praise to worship. Great is our God, and worthy of our praise. How can we stop our lips from singing of God’s mighty deeds? How can we stop our hearts from rejoicing in God’s glory as the morning dawns? Great is our God, and worthy of our praise.

Can we just keep that front and centre????

Opening prayer

 Living, loving God, breathe among us this day. Breathe new life into our midst, that we may remember and reclaim our place as children of the resurrection.

Prayer of Confession

When sin floods our lives with deadly temptation, lift us from the flood into the safety of your mercy and grace.

It is so hard to see when we are acting in our own interests and not in the interests of others. Others who may be right before our eyes and in need.

Declaration of Forgiveness

 Do not be alarmed in times of trial, temptation, and doubt. Stand firm, for God is with you. Take courage, for Christ is our strength. And rest assured, that we are safe in the arms of God’s love and grace. In Christ’s resurrection, we are given new life to be children of the living God, now and forevermore.

Thanks be to God.

Offering

It’s not so much the amount we give or the time we give but more the attitude in which we give. We owe God our everything. Give with open hearts.

The Service of the Word

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17 (The last sentence is the one to keep.)

 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

 

Luke 20: 27-38

(This is the part that grabs me:)... they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection...Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’

Preaching of the Word – Don’t Be Fooled (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17)

...Have you ever been fooled? I have, but I don’t like to admit it. My hunch is that you have been fooled in various ways too. However, we don’t like to acknowledge our gullibility... 

The writer is trying in this Epistle to explain to the Thessalonians that they have been fooled. The Thessalonians have been fooled by teachers who claim to have come from Paul. Their message has upset the church.”  

This can be an important message today but in the space of the blog, I don’t want to do more than acknowledge that it was Rev. John’s theme. But something he said later in the sermon stands out to me:

“They have believed the truth of the gospel, and as a result they have been made holy by the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives...Their goodness follows out of their belief...”

“...the individual does not receive this gift as a reward for good behaviour. Good behaviour flows out of receiving the gift...” 

I was thanking someone, just last week,  for the help she has been. Her response was that God had put her together in a way that resulted in her being able to help people in certain ways... “to God be the glory”.

Benediction

As children of the living God, we go forth with the promise of new life, the hope of resurrection in our world, and the passion to keep our hearts focused on your love and life. And may the blessing of God Almighty, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of life be with you always. Amen.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 20 September 2019


MRUC Rev. John’s Blog 20 September 2019

 

We love to count and rank events, people, athletes, books, and so on. It seems that just about any time I turn on the Sports Channels or wait in line at the supermarket; I am bombarded with rankings and comparisons. Countless bookstore shelves and Internet pages are filled with sundry “Top Ten” lists. It’s not all that different when we come to our Christian Scriptures. Many of us probably have a verse that stands out and influences much of what we do, and that’s okay.

 

I think if we read the Christian Scriptures carefully, we find that there are certain stories or characters that just stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance or impact. This is not to diminish the lesser known, more minor elements, but there is no denying that certain parts of the biblical story give meaning to the rest and inform how the subsequent narratives are read. We would certainly argue for Jesus as number one on our list of “Top Ten Bible Characters.”

 

However, without previous events and figures (for example, creation, Abraham, the Exodus, and David), the narratives surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus wouldn’t be nearly as rich or meaningful. In fact, the four Gospels ooze complexity and meaning primarily because of that history.

Jesus’ own self-understanding was greatly influenced by his understanding of his own religious heritage.



Another event that should probably be in our top ten, is the Exile. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Babylonian exile for the people of Israel, for their theology, and for their future. The fall of Jerusalem fundamentally challenged the predominant view of the Promised Land and Israel’s place in it. The destruction of the temple led prophets and priests to think in new ways about how God is present with the people and what authentic worship of the Lord looks like. This has become an ongoing need and concern for Christians also.

 

 

The tragic failure of the Davidic royal line prompted the people of God to lament their circumstances and vehemently protest their situation. They looked inward, outward, and upward for explanations and answers to painful questions about the nature of suffering, hope, and divine presence. We remember from my blog two weeks ago that part of this painful search for meaning and truth includes authentic lament and truth-telling.

 

 

 

As devastating and traumatic as exile is, there is still a word of hope. This hopeful expectation looks to the future by understanding the past and the present. The odd thing about hope is that it never ignores the past or present; rather, hope pays close attention to life in honest and open ways. Hope doesn’t need to be kindled on bright days, but on stormy days and during dark nights. In fact, hope is a truthful commentary on the here and now, a prophetic thought that looks to a new dawn, but it is no sugar coated, fuzzy notion.

 

We may take this to heart when we hear the statement from Jeremiah 31:27-34 the remarks concerning the people’s current status? He says: “I have actively watched over you, my people, but not in ways you might have hoped or thought.” Now that sounds good. I like the sound of that as a follower of God. This spiritual path I’m on isn’t always easy, but it’s good to know that God is watching out for me. But God wasn’t done: “I have watched over [you] to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil.”

What kind of watchman does that? That’s not the kind of shepherd we want—certainly not the kind we think we need. The promised “coming days” are just around the corner, but they don’t erase a difficult past. Looking to the future means understanding how we arrived. Hopeful expectation means admitting that our present condition needs redeeming and that we are powerless to make it happen

 

This knowledge is an indispensable ingredient of life in exile; this is a part of living away from one’s true home. But God isn’t finished with hope as we hear the powerful verbal images to describe the “coming days”: sow, build, plant, and forgive. These are all anticipatory verbs pointing to a new beginning, a new chapter. Hopeful expectation understands that the future begins with the digging of a hole for a seed or with words like “I forgive you.” Yet hope, and all the expectation and anticipation it carries, never really gets ahead of itself. Strong trees don’t grow up in a year; troubled relationships don’t heal fully overnight; new habits are not formed in a day.

 

That’s probably just how most of our top ten biblical stories begin. If we see nothing else here, we see that hopeful expectation never lets go of the possibility that salvation can come to us in the most unexpected ways: on an ark, in a basket floating in the reeds, in exile, in a stable, on a cross, out of a tomb, or in a small but committed community of people who dare to bear the name Christian.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 6 September 2019



Much has been said in the various media about climate change and the possibility of  global warming destroying our home. For that reason Rev. John’s message today is most timely since many believe that we, God’s reflection, are responsible for much of climate change.

Therefore for today’s blog I have concentrated on Rev. John’s message.
 
Conservation of Creation (italics mine)

 “Conservationist, Aldo Leopold, once said that in order to save a place, you must first love it!  What places do you love!  What places have nurtured you during your lifetime?  Perhaps, your special place was a beloved tree in your backyard as a child. You would climb up on a limb of that tree and sit and dream dreams.  Was that tree a gum or an oak?  Whatever kind it was, I presume you loved that tree!”

This introduction struck home. During my primary school years, we used to congregate at the local park.. I could give you a minute by minute account of our time there, but the times I remember best were when we climbed, via a park bench, into the lower limbs of one particular tree. There was a core group of 5 and sometimes a few others joined us. We talked and talked. I don’t remember our exact exchanges but we were practising serious adult conversations, airing our “informed” views of the world.

Despite none of us actually knowing anything at all, we showed serious respect for the “opinions” of others. It is that deep listening I remember that tied us together, held together by the supportive branches of the tree. We could rely on the arms of that tree. No one ever fell. The branches grew out from the central trunk in such a way so as to cradle us while we got on with the business of growing up. Who knows? Someone may have uttered an informed statement at some time before we decided that we were too old to hang about in a tree.

But because of that time, in some ways that tree was as much a part of my upbringing as my family or school.

 All of us have places in nature that we love.  And we would be filled with grief, say if that tree was unnecessarily cut down, or that beach suffered an oil spill, or that trout stream became polluted.  Yet as Christians, we are called to love so much more!  More than just the places we have known and loved.  We are called to love the whole earth that God created and called good!  We are called to love places we will never see or know.  We are called to advocate for the restoration of places that are no longer pristine and pretty because of human decisions. 

 We are called to remember the words of scripture and the words of prophets down through the ages, who have spoken of the interconnectedness of all creation.  We are called to remember the words of one of the American First Nations Chiefs, Seattle, who said, “We did not create the web of life.  We are only a strand in it.  And whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.” 

 Since the start of the industrial revolution, we, human beings, have often forgotten or ignored the call of our various religious traditions to care for creation.  We have fallen asleep.  But today, prompted by worldwide concerns for climate change, (no matter how we believe it has occurred) we are waking up!  We are waking up to the ancient truths of indigenous peoples and the modern truths of scientists, who say, we are all interconnected. 

For some of us, that takes a long time. Some of us think it is only other humans who are our responsibility. Some will extend that to all sentient beings but exclude ants and crabs and worms AND PLANTS.

It takes quite a while for us to realize that all living things are within our circle of care, including the ones that irritate us. Every living thing including bacteria, viruses and flies have their place in the web of life. Our job as God’s stewards is to see that all are given their proper places to live.

Even fruit bats. They have a bad press for dirtying our cars or taking over parks. The way to avoid this happening is to see that their habitat is protected so that they don’t look for other places to live. As far as flies and ants and other “annoying pests” are concerned, we shouldn’t leave food around to attract them.

There is a place in the web of life for all of God’s creation. It is our job to preserve those places.

 

 

 

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 29 September 2019



Prior to this parable in the second part of Luke 16 in the three-year lectionary, we have heard a lot of talk about wealth and poverty. Having heard or read these scriptures do we get the point yet? No? Backtrack to last week, where in the first half of Luke 16 we met a financial manager who was similarly caught up in the things of this world. This man saw his own economic stability fading because he squandered the wealth of one of his clients, and only upon finding out that he was about to lose it all did he become an imaginative and energetic financial whiz. This was due primarily to the fact that, like the man for whom he worked, he had made wealth his master.

This week we meet a rich man and a poor man. These two, along with Abraham, have taken up residence in the afterlife. Abraham was the consummate waiter, a man who was promised some land and some descendants, and then waited, and waited, and waited. After the long-awaited arrival of his son Isaac, Abraham was later willing to give up his own flesh at the behest of God. It seems, then, that Abraham is the perfect figure to mediate between the rich man and Lazarus.

 

Famously rich himself, Abraham’s willingness to part with Isaac makes it seem as though any other material thing would have also been sacrificed had God asked him for it. At any rate, he is clearly in a favourable position in the afterlife, and a man who was previously a beggar in his earthly life finds some comfort right next to this famously wealthy Old Testament figure. Meanwhile, the man who was rich in the earthly life can’t find any relief.

 

Do you find some comfort in the rich man’s eternal torment, in this reversal of roles from one life to the next? Do you, like me, even want to hear Lazarus taunt the rich man from the safety of where he is? The rich man, after all, ignored the hunger of others while having plenty of leftovers at home in the fridge. Well, the exchange seems just right to me. However, I would have to ask you not to confront me with the fact that I should be able to see that I too am among the wealthy (you, after all, are probably right there with me).

 


It might seem refreshing—this word about justice—coming from this man Jesus who is always preaching about grace. But most important, all of our passages from this series make the point that following God is not simply about intellectual belief. In spite of what many have said, belief in the right God or doctrine is only part of what it means to be a person of faith as it is depicted in Scripture. Jesus presupposes that there will be solidarity.

 

The faith presented to us by other Gospels and epistles talk of this. Paul implies in Romans that the renewal of our minds will lead to the transformation of our character. James emphasizes that “faith without works is . . . dead.” Or remember Jesus’ parable about the sheep and the goats. You know, the one in which he boldly teaches that in as much as you have helped or harmed “the least of these,” the poor among us, you have helped or harmed God and will be judged accordingly?

 

Christianity is a belief in the sense that you are so attached to a truth that it causes you to go out and do something. As James put it, you are to become a doer of the Word. Even in Jesus’ time, this understanding of following God was not new. Jesus could immediately envision Abraham saying to the rich man who wanted to “go back” and warn his relatives, “Listen, they have Moses and the prophets . . . you had Moses and the prophets.” I imagine Jesus himself saying later to a few of the disciples, “Look, some of this is old stuff, it is tried and true. I’ve just come to fulfil this.”

 

He knew that Deuteronomy 15 emphasized that the rich have a moral responsibility to help the poor, that Amos’s God is relentless in his criticism of the people when they do not care for the poor. Amos even proclaims that of such unthinking persons, the Lord says, “I will crush you.” All of Scripture, then, tells us that our faith doesn’t stop at intellectual belief, and that piety cannot end at our front gates. Justice and righteous as given to us by God and shown to us through his Son Jesus Christ don’t stop before it’s our turn to act. It doesn’t stop before it gets to our hearts. We are the bearers of justice and righteous for all God’s creation here and now.

 

Lazarus in his earthly life slipped right through the cracks, kind of like that old lost coin from our Gospel reading two weeks ago. Lazarus too is found by the great Searcher, but the Gospel for this week is just as tough: whereas we have found Lazarus, we meet a rich man who is utterly lost himself, and we must wonder whether he will ever be found. Not because of his wealth— again, Abraham better than anyone knew wealth—but because he was blinded by it instead of using it for good. Is this just? Is this love? May God use these difficult words to give us a heart for the lost—the poor and rich alike.

 


 

 

 

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 22 SEptember 2019


 

We acknowledged our first people and their care for this land high is sacred because it was created by the God of all.

Call to Worship

Whoever is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much; and whoever is unfaithful with a very little is also unfaithful in much. May we, who are asked to give an accounting of our lives, be found faithful...

Hymn TIS 90: I’ll praise my maker while I’ve breath. A declaration of a life long devotion to our creator. Singing this on a Sunday is reasonably easy to do, but living it day by day needs attention to our focus on the Spirit’s urgings and action in keeping with those.

Opening Prayer

With reference to scripture, we called out to God for healing because there is none other that can provide that sort of healing anywhere in Creation.

Prayer of Confession

We acknowledged God’s ways as being unfathomable to us and beyond us in degree. We then confessed how hard it is to pray for the people we find hard to love but how we yearned to be faithful stewards. We then asked forgiveness for missing the mark. Day by day we need to do this. We intend to be faithful stewards but just can’t seem to keep focussed.

“Heal our brokenness and our self-centred ways, for you alone are our one true physician, and you alone can make us well. Amen.”

Sometimes I’m surprised by how how self- centered I am.

 Declaration of Forgiveness

 “The author of our salvation, the one who weeps for us and for our world, is the God of compassion. God meets us in our need and heals our many failing. Rejoice and be glad. Thanks be to God! Amen.”

The Peace

 When we offer supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgiving for others, we discover a peace that passes all understanding. Let us share signs of this peace as we pass the peace of Christ. Peace be with you!
And also, with you

The children’s talk began with reference to the balm of Gilead. This was a reference to a God being the final balm to heal those inner wounds and hurts when all other soothers fail. We may try to fill that inner emptiness in a thousand ways but we will still feel empty and at a loss until we respond to God’s invitation of healing.

Offering Prayer

God of manifold blessings, you provide for our every need, and call us to be good stewards of your many gifts. May we be found faithful in a little, that we may also be faithful in a lot…

Hymn TIS 665: “Jesus Christ is waiting” It is so easy to say the words but so much more difficult to see Jesus in the ordinary daily situations where we are called on to act with God’s love.

The Service of the Word

 The First Reading: Jeremiah 8.18 - 9.1We may well cry in our national and international situations: “Hark, the cry of my poor people.” and “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician here?”

The Gospel Reading: Luke 16.1-13 This reading is mostly a mystery to me but the final declaration is quite clear: Nobody can serve two masters.

 

Preaching the WordLost Again - Luke 16:1-13

The following is an abridged version of  Rev. John’s words:

This is a difficult parable—if not for first-century ears then at the very least for moderns. How could the master praise the manager when he had lost so much?..Is Jesus endorsing the behaviour of the manager, suggesting that his followers secure the future for themselves by dishonest means?...However: “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth” means that the manager has now, and has always had, a choice: he could have used the wealth—either his master’s or his own— for the good of his master, himself, and most of all for God and creation (which includes debtors). The manager, however, let the wealth become the master instead of making it a means to the master, or to the “Master.”

Hence, Jesus points out that “no slave can serve two masters,” that no person can “serve God and wealth” (Luke 16:13). In the light of Jesus’ call to first-century people and to us to serve God rather than our wealth, what shall we do? Most of us have money, and

perhaps all the listeners and readers of this passage and my musing have lots of “stuff.

Do we ALL sell our homes and CARS. If we do (and stretch that to mean all our possessions.) who will provide for the poor? Who will offer hospitality? Who will transport the elderly? ......

Hymn TIS 534:Love is his word, love is his way” In fact, God is pure, undiminished, love.

Intercessory Prayers

Often these prayers reveal the deepest fear of loss of those who have added their prayer requests to the prayer sheet. This is when we are most aware that God is our only “balm”.

Hymn TIS 672:Lord of earth and all creation.” Another call for God to direct the daily decisions of those who run the organizations of our lands.

Benediction

Go forth and be faithful in a little that you may also be found faithful in much. Go to be faithful in much that you may be entrusted with the wealth and welfare of others. Go to be faithful with the wealth of this generation, that you may be given the true riches that come from above. Go to be faithful children of light, that you may know the grace, hope, and peace of the one who is truly faithful, in the name of Jesus Amen.

 

HymnTIS 780: “May light come into your eyes.” … signaling that we have, at last opened our minds to God’s teaching.