Monday, 27 August 2012

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 26 August

After the welcome, which was extended to all but particularly to any visitors (of which we had a few, it being the baptismal service of little Dylan) and after the notices Helen summoned the congregation with the

Call to Worship.
which was taken from 1 Kings 8: 27, Solomon's words at the dedication of the temple he had built.
Will God indeed dwell on the earth?
Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you,
much less this house that I have built.

Solomon, knowing that God is everything that is good without any hint of diminishment; that God is beyond anything that could be imagined; that God is beyond anything created; that God is beyond...was staggered at the prospect of this God dwelling in the temple he had built.  Equally so, the prospect of God entering with us today in this building or entering these temples of our spiritual bodies is just as staggering...but all it takes is an invitation.

The Prayer which followed asked for God's help in forgetting our everyday concerns to take advantage of this time in God's house to focus on all that He has to say to us, knowing His promise to come to us and be amongst us.

Hymn 80. “Immortal, invisible, God only wise" acknowledged the incomprehensibility of the nature of God and His hand moving through creation and asked that through Christ's story we might see him and open our hearts to him.  It seems such an easy thing to do, but sometimes it takes us so long to get over our need to control our own lives.

Adelyn and David presented Dylan for baptism and they, with the whole congregation were reminded that we, as Jesus' disciples have been commanded to baptize in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, incorporating the baptized into the body of Jesus Christ.

Not a matter to be taken lightly and to make everything even clearer the Apostles Creed was said, declaring the beliefs that underpin the church. Dylan's baptism proceeded with the purpose of the sacrament kept uppermost and afterwards the congregation sang
The Aaronic Blessing to our newest little member.

The parents and the congregation were separately asked to pledge their continuing support for Dylan in his Christian journey and the service finished with the presentation of the Baptismal Candle and the words:

Dylan, you belong to Christ, the light of the world.
May you always walk as a child of the light.
Let your light shine before the world,
that all may see your good works and give glory to our Father
who is in heaven.

These were words to us all. Have we been seeking to walk in that light? Have we been nourishing our relationship with the source of that light? For some, a time to take stock.

Hymn 509. "Stand up, stand up for Jesus" reminded us to let our light shine forth - and made no bones about it.

The Prayer of Confession. We were able to ask forgiveness for the times we had failed to live the life of a loving community, failed to nurture each other, or to uphold one another or to encourage those around us. We then focussed on our private concerns - the things between ourselves and God.

The Words of Assurance sung in the hymn "Search me O God" gave comfort in the knowledge that our prayers for forgiveness were answered before the words left our mouths and that God's healing work was happening in our hearts.

The Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6: 10-20 was delivered by Jack, telling us to don the armour of God, so as to fight the forces that oppose our Lord, relying on God's strength.

The Reflection,  "Just Stand". delivered by Helen explored this idea in depth.  Helen spoke of the different perspectives on this theme she had encountered, beginning with the idea that "putting on God's armour" entailed prayer, Bible reading and spending time being in relationship with God.

This was seen as a way of ensuring protection against spiritual darkness. The assumption is that we will experience opposition and so we must put on this armour and stand against such opposition.

Paul was in chains when he wrote this, but spoke out as an ambassador for Christ. (remember hymn 509?) He was speaking of a battle between good and evil and Helen pointed out that this continuing tension is not something we can fight in our own strength.

She then reminded us of another interpretation that existed just after WW2 when the world was suffering upheaval in every sphere and that upheaval was seen as producing a way of life that was economically and sociologically different and opposed to the way of Christ. This was seen by some as a time for the little people to stand against the powers; against the shadows.

Clive Pearson saw these shadows as the economic, financial and trade policies; as the power of the media and as the influence of the new technology.  To this Helen now thinks we could add the way the Health system is run.

But how can ordinary people hold sway against such odds?  The answer is the same as it always has been-in God's strength.

It was suggested that this could also refer to an internal battle.  A battle within each of us between the side that wants to act for God and the side that feels defeated before any effort is attempted.

Helen then said  that God's armour is the thing that gives hope when everything looks bleak, describing common situations where that can be so and giving an example of how sharing with each other what God is doing in our lives can help build the armour of others.

Much of our beliefs are moulded by what others have shared with us and so we are beholden to tell of our knowledge of God's work to support others.

Then together we can stand in strength-whatever. It sounds impossible.  But we won't know unless we give it a go.

Hymn 481 v. 1,2,4 " Soldiers of Christ arise" stressed the positive - encouraging us all as we sang, exhorting ourselves and each other to just stand.

We then gave the Freewill Offering, acknowledging God's generosity to us, being thankful for a place to worship together and asking that our giving should reach out into the community around us.

We were then given a time of Meditation to consider the place of all that we had heard in our lives, which led into 

The Pastoral Prayer was led by Laurel who prayed for families everywhere and who also beautifully described the range of families that exist, asking for support for each in their particular circumstances, following with The Lord's Prayer.

Hymn 109.  " Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord" said it all again in different words, the strength of the music and the words giving us all the opportunity to declare our intention to just stand and make the message of God's greatness known.

Having heard the message, renewed our commitment in the baptismal service, and taken upon ourselves the strength of our Lord, we were sent face each day.

The Blessing "For you deep stillness of the silent inland" was a salve that we each applied to the souls of the others as we left together to face each day, putting on the armour of God, to resist those shadow forces that work against His will.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 19 August

The theme for the service today was "A Discerning and Wise Heart.  "It was about the choices we make in life and how they affect our future. What are the moral choices for society?  How do we make choices?  It was about the need for a quietness and time for reflection which will ensure that our actions are more purposeful.

Colin welcomed us all with the hope that we would come to know God better through our worship and extended a special welcome to Carolyn who was taking the service.

Carolyn familiarised the congregation with her relationship with MRUC and exhorted us as People of God that we make the most of our time together - with each other and with God- to seek wisdom.  When I think about it, that is probably the best way to approach each minute of the day but as the saying goes  --"When all else fails, read the instructions".

Hymn 40  "I sing the almighty power of God" had us singing of the power and the wisdom of God who is always present; always caring; always guiding...into wisdom.

Carolyn led the Opening Prayer in which we thanked our Lord for being the God of wonder and delight and then, with our heart, with our soul, with our mind and with our strength we expressed our gratitude for all that God is and asked to be able to discover that anew.  Thanks was given for all the gifts and resources we are given and we prayed for guidance in sharing these gifts with others.

The Prayer of Confession was a time to acknowledge that God is the God of creation who gives us life but a time also of confession that we do not appreciate any of it at times.  We sought forgiveness and asked for guidance to experience and recognise God's wisdom in every moment of our lives.  The Assurance of Pardon was given and we thanked God for the spirit of wisdom.

Hymn 337 "Your words to me are life and health"  reminded us that listening to God's word gives health to our spiritual lives, guiding and teaching us God's wisdom and will.

Lauren read from 1Kings 2; John 6:51-58; Ephesians 5:-5-20.    These readings began with Solomon succeeding David and thanking God for His care for David but when Solomon's turn came to ask for God's help, he asked for Understanding and Discernment, an example to all. Then in John, Jesus is presented to us as the Living Bread, the nourishment for our spirit and in the context of today's service, the source of understanding and discernment. Finally Ephesians gave us, in practical terms, advice on living wise lives.

Carolyn then prayed that having been brought to praise God, that we might listen for God's wise and discerning guidance, away from the distractions of life - and that our words and thoughts would be acceptable in God's sight.

In the Reflection that followed it was pointed out that the readings focussed on having a wise and discerning heart as Solomon had, realizing he had to be more aware of the people of God for whom he was responsible.  (apologies here for not only the pedantic use of "whom" - I tutor high school English - but also the overuse of "discerning" but I don't know enough good synonyms).

But how do we achieve this discerning heart?  Carolyn suggested that we should keep singing the Lord's song. That is, we should keep God as our focus and keep close to Him so that His will can permeate our hearts and minds.  That way we will be able to stay true as we are tempted to do evil and as we live in a world where evil exists.

The situation of the Asylum Seekers was offered as a situation where we should show wisdom by acting as Jesus would act, by identifying with them and taking their suffering upon us.

Carolyn referred to Deepak Chopra's insight in the Eighties that science wasn't the answer to everything, that 2000 years could not be ignored. Accordingly as Christians we believe that a life in Christ transforms us, makes us discerning, (there's that word again) makes us wise.

Moving on, Carolyn referred to secular society's stress on "my rights, my needs" instead of looking to the common good.  This perspective was then applied to the government’s intervention in the management of the lives of our indigenous people.  Was that for the good of the people whose lives it disrupted and whose adult dignity was taken away or for the political good of the government?  (you might be amazed at the degree of interference in Aboriginal lives this entailed including the suspension of the Racial Discrimination Act -that in itself is enough to give pause.)

How do we obtain a discerning and wise mind: Seek God's spirit through prayer; keep our hearts and minds open to God's work in us and have Christ as our example and leader.
When we look to God in this way we can help those wounded by life: the hungry and exploited; the lonely and those affected by war and the homeless.  We can also find ways to help or influence those around us in the community.

Hymn 328 "Filled with the Spirit's power, with one accord"   in this hymn the Spirit's power constrains us to confess our Lord as our unifying power and to work together for the good of the whole church and to show love to all.

The Offertory followed with a prayer of gratitude for all we have received and a prayer that our gifts could be used to share in God's work.

The Prayers of the People followed reiterating that our song to God will energise our journey, keeping our eyes on the Lord, to bring harmony and reconciliation and at the same time to encourage others to look to God.  With this in mind we continued to pray for the needs of those close to us.

Hymn 465 "All my Hope in God is founded" tells us to put all our trust in God and that anything of this world or of our own making amounts to nothing.  We sang of God not only enduring forever but of how He shows Himself in the details of each day, which is the reason we should sing His praise.

We were sent out to make the most of these times, seeking wisdom and giving thanks. We were then blessed and left singing "may the feet of God walk with you" blessing each other as we went.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 12 August

As it was the second Sunday of the month we began by declaring our faith with our favourite hymns and then we were welcomed and the notices were given, followed by the Call to Worship where Helen led us in a responsive declaration:

We are hungering and thirsting for hope and peace.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Our hearts long for the nourishing presence of God.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.
Give to us the living bread of your peace that we may hunger no more.
Open our hearts to joyfully receive your life-sustaining love.

I am grateful for opportunities such as this, when I am able to say aloud the vague thoughts and inner aches, after they have been pinned down by the words of someone else, allowing me the relief of offering them up in a coherent way.

Hymn 3 "All creatures of our God and King" followed, echoing the confidence of the call to worship, that our Lord can satisfy every longing and provide every need: that our Lord is owed thanks by each one of us and all creation for our abundant blessings and that all of creation should burst out in praise.

Kid's Time followed with a message for all of us about being careful with our words and remembering not to become so entangled in the trivia of life that we forget who is really at the centre of it.

Hymn 105 “The great love of God" promised us that God's love which makes everything possible and which was revealed in Jesus, can make us what we can't be under our own steam.  Given this is so, you would wonder why we are so determined sometimes to keep such a strong grip on the steering wheel of our lives.

Ruth then read Ephesians 4:25-5:2
In this passage we are entreated to treat each other with honesty, kindness and forgiveness. To give up malice and bitterness; not to grieve the Holy Spirit but live in love (note: that means family too) as Imitators of Christ keeping in mind his sacrifice of himself for us. "Imitators of Christ" - that is setting the bar high - but it is clear that that is the expectation, with God's help.

The Prayer of Confession gave us the opportunity to admit how we have failed in carrying out the commands given in Ephesians: to admit our childish behaviour, refusing to accept responsibility for our own failures.  We were also given the words to express our confession of a wrong attitude to God, forgetting that our lives are meant to be lived to God's glory, not for our own tinny, so-called successes.  Having opened our frailty to our Lord we were able to ask for forgiveness and healing and the will to truly worship and work for God's ends in this world.
How precious is this time - to lay it all out before the Lord.  He knows anyway, but we cannot be healed until we acknowledge and confess our every wavering from His will.
Having bowed with humility before God we were then able to claim the

Words of Assurance. "God has heard your cries and knows your anguish, In Christ Jesus you are loved and forgiven" restored our relationship with our Lord. This was followed by

Helen's reflection, firstly reminded us of our continuing theme, that Jesus is The Bread of Life: the Bread that is Life by which we are nourished so that we are able to put off our old selves, leaving behind our old ways and becoming our new selves.  In this state we are able to completely turn around to God and do what he wants us to do.  And what that is, as given in today's reading, is to act as a community, to act as one.  Together we are the body of Christ and when one hurts, we all hurt and so we should support each other, being careful what we say, helping, forgiving, with each pulling our weight.

Helen then moved on, speaking about communities that exist and pointing out that in a community like one she had lived in, where everything is interdependent, there is no time to indulge petty likes or dislikes because if the town was to function healthily, people just had to get on with each other.  In the city we can avoid others and our connections are spread from one group to another, so how do we build community?  

Helen cited a Mamre community that started out making land available for domestic farming as a service to the refugee community but found instead that the activity actually made community as the people met and shared their stories and as their time working with the land brought them healing and peace. 

And the message to us?

How do we at Marsden Road serve our community?  How do we at Marsden Road form community?  Anyone expecting an answer to be provided was disappointed as Helen marched off, leaving the answer for us to find.  It is crucial that this becomes our chief concern.

For anyone drifting off-target
Hymn 607 "Make me a Channel of Your Peace" allowed us to continue, through song, to pray for God's strength to give of ourselves in bringing about His will for peace among all people. The freewill offering was a practical expression of this same prayer.

The Time of Meditation is always a challenging time. Just me and my Lord.  No time for polite conversation; no time for a little pretend smile; no time for the public persona.
Just the real me looking at my inner self and being open to whatever God has in mind.

The Pastoral Prayer followed with a plea for the courage to accept God’s power in our lives and for us to remember that God is with us at all times. (or is that to remember at all times that God is with us?). We also continued the prayer that we will reflect God's love and compassion in service to others which we began by praying for the needs of those close to us, followed by the Lord's Prayer, the basis for a life lived according to God's will.

Hymn 478 "Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah" was sung in the knowledge that we had heard God's message for us and that our prayers had and would continue to be answered.

We were then sent out:
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord
In the name of Christ. Amen
And then we left,
Singing the blessing "May the feet of God walk with you"
ensuring our safe way.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Sunday Service Marsden Rd Uniting Church 5 August


Call to Worship.
With the call to worship, Helen reminded us that God is the God of all time, who as a perfect parent, cares for us, which is something we can reflect on now, as many of us are older and we can look back over our lives and see the evidence of God's hand upon us.  In particular we were reminded that he is the God of the life beyond that is within us now and we were given the opportunity and the words, to say out loud that we thank him, that we praise him, and that our hearts sing because of his glorious love.

This praise from our joyful hearts was given voice again in Hymn 25  "Sing Praise and Thanksgiving", where we further acknowledged our maker and guide who has brought us into the light.

Kid's Time, in which Helen focussed on Jesus being the Bread of Life, the one who sustains our needs - not our petty wants - was followed by Hymn 109 "Tell out my Soul", sung with gusto, reminding us that we are commissioned to pass on this care, this love, this enlightening, sustaining force of Jesus to others and the congregation began this in a practical way with the Offering, to make a difference in people's lives.

Carolyn read John 6: 24-35, set in the time after the feeding of the 5000, with the people following Jesus as he sought a place to rest.  He lets them (us?) know that he knows their (our?) motivation is for earthly support whereas what they (we?) really hungered (hunger)  for was (is) spiritual food and that there is only one way to that.  Jesus said to them, "I am the Bread of Life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" - What a promise.  Totally free!  No qualifying period, no HSC or tertiary qualification, no "physical" to pass - but no variations of the contract either.  It's not for those who want to keep their allegiances to other gods as well.

Helen then pointed out that the people who followed Jesus in the reading were people who struggled to feed their families and so anyone who told them, "I am the Bread of Life" was offering them Hope in an immense sense.  Their hope was based on the tradition that the Messiah would provide manna as Moses had.  In other words life would become one of ease and security.  No more fear for the health and lives of their children.  Heaven on earth.  But Jesus had something else in mind.  Something more basic.  Something spiritual on which to build our lives.  And we have to keep our hearts and minds open for God to build.  We have to actively search.  We should not become settled but continue looking for God's will for our growth in the faith and when we come to church this is a special time to focus on this journey with God.  The familiar hymns are lovely, as are the prayers and Bible stories but our task is to look for new perspectives, new paths to follow and to still our minds to hear that Voice.

The prayer that Graham then led directed our thoughts to the hunger of our hearts and the thirst of our spirit.

It seems to me that so often we try to appease that hunger and thirst with the wrong things.  New clothes; a holiday at a top resort (in the new clothes); a new car; a better address.  It's a bit like feeding the roses with lamb chops.  It was never meant to work that way so it won't.  The silly thing is that when one holiday at a top resort in the new clothes doesn't work we try two.  Hmmmm.  Then we looked outwards to ask for support for those in the world at large and the community close by.

The Prayer of Confession, taken from Psalm 51: 1-12 was an opportunity to look directly to God, not trying to conceal our vulnerability; hiding nothing; pretending about less; letting the light shine on our failures and offences against the Lord and freely acknowledging our need for God's saving help.

We prayed through this to ask for God's purging, cleansing work in us.  Then Helen led the plea:-
Create in me a clean heart, O God
Cast me not away from thy presence,
And give me the joy of your saving help again.
And then the challenge of a personal confession.  The time to look deep within and face up to our own nature and deeds.

These confessions were followed by The Words of Assurance which we are able to take to ourselves because "God forgave my sins in Jesus' name" and after which we could move  forward  because "Freely, freely, you have received, freely, freely give."
The Invitation to the Table made it clear that we approach the table in God's strength and goodness; not in our own, for we have none.

The Communion Hymn 344 "Break Now the Bread of Life" recalled the feeding of the throng and our hunger for the food of the spirit, which will free us and give peace. Helen then reminded the congregation of the foundation of the communion in The Words of Institution and we responded with a declaration of being open to God's work in us and gave thanks to him for that work, following with the Lord's Prayer, prayed as an act of obedience as to how to pray and what to pray and for which reasons to pray.

The Bread was broken as a symbol of food for healing and wholeness.
The Cup was offered as a symbol of hope,
wellspring of resurrection life.
We then served each other as a sign of our relationship within Christ.

Helen then led us in prayer, asking for the gift of the Holy Spirit that God's light will shine through us, witnessing his glory to the world.

With faith that God's work is being done in us we sang with joy Hymn 147 Rejoice the Lord is King.

And then with all things attended to:
Confession, our plea for cleansing, the call on God's promise, the symbolic nourishing to indicate the work of the Holy Spirit being done to accomplish God's will,
We were sent out.

Amen, Amen, Amen.