Sunday, 25 November 2012

Sunday Service Marsden Rd Uniting Church Nov.25

Helen welcomed us and the notices were given including the outcome of the lamington drive, which was $2300 for Frontier Services (well done all) after which

The Call to Worship offered us grace and peace from the everlasting and ever-present Other and ruler, most high.

Hymn 147 "Rejoice the Lord is King" reminding us that our Lord is King over all and for that, we can be joyful.

Kids Time Out  a story of how Kings once demanded obedience but that God doesn't. His wish is for us to choose to obey.
We would be a bit stupid not to, like the people who don't follow the directions on how to operate an appliance and end up breaking it. I'll leave the rest of that thought to you.

Prayers We praised God for his eternal constancy and confessed our own fickleness.
We acknowledged our Lord as the Sovereign God forever, and looked at our concerns as being within a much bigger plan, confessing our inability to keep our eyes on Him, resulting in our being less than we should. For this we asked forgiveness and prayed to enjoy the fullness of God's love. 

Words of Assurance. God sent Jesus not to judge us but to save us.
                                     God accepts both our courage and fears.
                                     In the name of Christ your sins are forgiven.
                                     Dare to accept the gift of a new beginning.

Which can be quite daunting. Where could it lead? What might be asked of us?

Hymn 81 "The King of love my shepherd is" - I nothing lack if I am His and He is mine forever. Being surrounded by the love of the everlasting doesn't leave any space for a sense of lacking for anything.

Scripture Reading Malcolm delivered the readings this morning :
                                Revelation 1: 4b - 8
                                 John.      18: 33 – 37

I am the Alpha and Omega - who is, who was and who is to come. In such our confidence will never be misplaced.

The reading from John can make us uneasy. Jesus refused to be the king people wanted and refused to fit the known concept of king. We have to be careful to give our allegiance to the king God is and not to some idea of king that would be handy to further our idea of life.

Helen explained that this week, the last week of the church year, has been used to stress the concept of "Christ the King", an idea introduced by the Roman Catholic Church in 1925 as a response to what they saw as the rising challenge of communism.

This idea, taken up by the other denominations as well, was to highlight the point that the power of God is greater than the power of the state. She added that in Australia, church and state are separate and when church causes are government-funded there are usually strings attached and if the church should ever make comment on current issues, there are invariably cries to "butt out".

However this separation of church and state has not always been the case and in Jesus' time the 'church' and state were one. That meant that the temple was a political place as well as a religious one.

We were then challenged to think about our image of Jesus-usually the healer or some other benign image-not really Christ on His Throne.

Helen pointed out that the Christmas story is full of political thrust. The cry of the prophets was that a Messiah would come who would free Israel from the oppressor.
Zachariah, the father of John, saw the coming of one who would provide liberation from foreign rulers.

In another example of a political pronouncement, the Angels declared to the shepherds
"Glory to God in the highest and on earth, peace among whom he favours" a direct challenge to the power of Caesar, seen in the similarity to the Imperial Decree of Caesar Augustus, " Glory to the most august Caesar (God in the highest) and peace on earth with whom god Augustus is well pleased."

Helen continued to give examples of the political nature of Christ's birth. The Wise Men went to Herod and asked to be directed to the King of the Jews. Herod's response was to exert his power to prevent any challenge to his position and slaughtered the baby boys.

The wise men were Kings who bowed before Jesus, an overt declaration of His power.
Jesus was killed because he was a threat to the order, stability, authority and power of the state. The question Pilate asked was "Are you the King of the Jews?" but Jesus wouldn’t give a direct answer because His Kingship is not of this world.

Helen challenged us to provide that answer. In the Lord's Prayer we pray "Thy kingdom come" but that can only be if we submit to Christ's rule. Christ is not going to force us to declare him king of our lives and live according to his rule but if we do, we will know a freedom unsurpassed.

"Where is Christ the King in your life?"

Hymn 170 "At the name of Jesus". A song with God's kingship as its focus. "crown him as your Captain in temptation's hour, let his will enfold you in its light and power."

Freewill Offering "
With these gifts, loving God, draw us closer to the reign of Christ, to a time when none go without, and all are clothed in joy."

Musical Interlude A quiet time to think and pray.

Prayers for Others. Joan led us in a prayer acknowledging our inability to live the lives we profess. She prayed on our behalf that we would see our goal to be as kind, loving, caring and generous as God asks of us. Joan prayed for wisdom for all of us to see need with our hearts and to help those who feel lonely, unaccepted or unappreciated to find acceptance and friendship.
A prayer was offered that we will bravely witness to "God the Saviour and Christ the Lord". Joan prayed that we should be given compassion for the victims of disasters and misused power and prayed that each of us would be given the will to encourage harmony.

Joan then named people known to members of the congregation in their particular need, praying for support and comfort for them.

Then together:

Glory to God in the highest
and peace to his people on earth...

Hymn 162 " Crown him with many crowns", a hymn that goes on to list the crowns that God claims.
The sacrificial lamb; the Son of God; the Son of Man; the Lord of love; the Lord of life; the Lord of peace; the Lord of time. The Almighty. The Everlasting. The Beyond anything we can imagine.
To whom we give our total allegiance and obedience.

"To him who loves us and freed us from our sins by his blood and made us to be a kingdom, priests serving his God and Father
To him be glory and dominion forever and ever.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Suday Service Marsden Rd Uniting Church Nov.17

The service began with a welcome by Trudy to Jonathan who was to lead today's service and who gave a Call to Worship that it would be a time of blessing, uttering:

"God be with you" to which we answered:
"And also with you"

Jonathan followed with a Prayer, expressing confidence in God's steadfast love, in which we place our hope, knowing that in our deepest despair and with God knowing all our failings, we can ask for forgiveness.

Hymn 519 "Dear Lord and Father of Mankind" A prayer for forgiveness and healing. A plea for help to live Godly lives in praise of Him, through all the ups and downs of life.

Jonathan then pointed out that words were funny things. We can use a little or a lot. We can use a lot and not say anything. We can use words as weapons to hurt, or as tools to help. We can say profound things in just a few words.
I'm sorry
              I love you
                              Yes please
                                               Thank you
He then referred to "Yes Minister" where Sir Humphrey Appleby would go round the world and back again to say, "No."

Jonathan then pointed out how brief were the Lord's Prayer, The Ten Commandments, and the American Declaration of Independence but how wordy some regulatory documents were which controlled insignificant products.

He then referred to a very academic lecture involving 1000's of words which was given by an eminent theologian. However, when the same theologian was asked to sum up Christianity his answer was:
" Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tell me so"

Jonathan then introduced Hymn 105 with a description of it as the gospel in a nutshell.
Equally, it is a statement of God's great love, revealed in Jesus and the promise of its cleansing work - God's great gift to us.

The Prayer which followed stated that the hands of Jesus Christ heal, lift up and bless, and on our behalf, Jonathan asked for forgiveness when we leave our hands by our sides or use our hands for selfish purposes.
We prayed for forgiveness when we exclude those different from ourselves and prayed that we will love as Jesus loved; care as He cared; and accept others as He does. In Jesus’ name.

Reading Mark 5. This chapter covers 3 healing stories. The demoniac or madman of Gerasa, Jarius's daughter and the woman with a haemorrhage, who touched the hem of Jesus' garment.

Reflection Jonathan introduced his thoughts with a review of Mark's gospel, pointing out that a fifth of Mark is devoted to Jesus' healing ministry and that, in the chapters devoted to Jesus' public ministry, the fraction rises to a third. Clearly, Jesus saw healing as an extremely important aspect of His work and His message.

The main part of the reflection focussed on Mark 5, starting with the healing of the violent, possessed man who lived among the tombs. The story is well known - Jesus sent the demons into a pack of swine, which stampeded over a cliff into the sea. The locals were quite disturbed by this and told Jesus to leave, which he did. Have you noticed when people are confronted with truth they are inclined to act like that?

The man himself wanted to go with Jesus but there were other plans for him. He was to take his story of being healed back to his family - who were Greeks - as Jonathan pointed out - an early instance of Jesus reaching out to the Gentiles.

Jonathan, using William Barclay as a source, gave a summary of how Alexander the Great  had led conquests into the area, explaining the Greek presence. (By the way, anyone interested in A the G, might be also interested in the exhibition at The Australian Museum from November 24).

As Jonathan told us, despite being overtaken by Jewish rule, then Roman rule, these people remained Greeks and, it was among them that this story was to be spread. It was to them, in Jonathan's words, that the healed man was "to be a living, walking, vivid, unanswerable demonstration of what Christ, the healer, can do for a person."

Did everyone get that sentence? Did anyone miss it? Go back and read it again: it's important.

Jonathan then moved onto the healing of Jairus's daughter and the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage.

He pointed out that both, as female, were second class citizens. As well, one was "unclean" and one just a child. It's hard to know who would be regarded as worth the least.

But both were healed: one because her father was prepared to humble himself to ask for help from this itinerant preacher.

The other because she demonstrated pure faith - all she had to do was touch the hem of his garment.

But both were healed because of the love of Jesus, which does not discriminate. The possessed man was hardly at the top of the social register, either.

The message is loud and clear.

We cannot earn healing.

So! For those who think they are not good enough for the attention of Jesus.
No one is.
It's free.

Jonathan made a further, important point.

When Jesus healed the woman, he said, "My  daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your trouble."

Faith, made well, peace and healing. "Through faith she was restored to health and to God...She only touched the hem of his garment."

That's all it takes.

Hymn 158 The testimony of one who has experienced Jesus’ healing, cleansing power and a testament to His multi-faceted nature that works within us in so many ways.
The notices were given, followed by
The Offering  which was taken up and offered for work in the extension of God's Kingdom.

Prayers of Intercession were then offered, asking for blessings on those we know. We were asked to picture the person we knew who needed healing, in the place of the woman in Mark 5, and to pray for that person and for friends and family - overseas, suffering loss, in ill health or needing peace.
 For these we asked for healing, comfort, assurance and guidance, shown through God's love.
Jonathan continued to pray that we would be made discontented with the world around us and come to a new  understanding of our common humanity with those who appear different from us.
He asked for guidance for our personal needs and for wisdom, that God would shed His light in the darkness and, in the noise, whisper of love and peace.

The Lord's Prayer followed and then Hymn 173, a declaration of our continued praise for God's healing in our lives.

The Blessing  May the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God and may the blessing of God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit be amongst you, and remain with you always.

Shalom to you now,
Shalom, my friends.
May God's full mercies
bless you, my friends.
In all your living
And through your loving,
Christ be your shalom,
Christ be your shalom.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Sunday Service Marsden Rd Uniting Church Nov.11

I was not able to attend church this morning, so this blog was written using Helen's notes. I hope I am able to represent the service with some degree of accuracy.
This is also a good time to tell anyone following this blog on the Internet that I am moving house and may be able to write up next week's service but certainly, after that, will not be able to, for a number of weeks until we are set up at the new house.

The service began with the Call to Worship, praying that Christ would be with us, in the service and throughout the week.

Opening Responses sourced from the Iona Community, were an exercise in placing our hearts and minds in the proper place, reminding us of God's authorship and dominion over creation and the joy we derive from our unity in Christ Jesus.

We then focussed on love, faith, justice and peace as essential aspects of our belief and, while we prayed that God would open our lips to praise Him, we acknowledged that even if we were silent, creation itself would shout His praise.

Hymn 109 " Tell out my soul" proclaimed that our lives should shout out God's blessings, dominion, mercy and the sureness of his promise to us.

Prayer of Confession  a prayer to the Creator, the fully Human, the Breathe of Life to have mercy on us.

We then paused to ponder our own faults and failings, after which we recited a formal confession, first our leader and then ourselves, to which the response was

"May God forgive you, Christ befriend you and the Spirit renew and change your life", fulfilling the longings of many.

Hymn 5  (Songs for a Hopeful Church) "Come Holy Spirit, fill this place" an opportunity to use the song to pray to the source of all Grace, to enter our being, to direct our praying, our listening to the word, that we should understand with fulness, the richness of our blessed lives and through that same Grace to give thanks for that great gift.

In keeping with this, we thanked God for speaking to us in so many ways and for working in us so that we will continue to grow in strength, vision and knowledge, with confidence that God will be with us in all that we do.

Scripture Readings  Psalm 127: 1,2 and Mark 12: 38-44. The Psalm passage a neat lesson in the uselessness of working out plans of our own. Unless it is God's plan and done in His strength, it will come to nothing. The Mark reading a warning against hypocrisy and then a lesson on how much more blest is the offering of those who give their all, against those of people who may be able to give abundantly, but with ease.

The Reflection  As I said at the beginning, I was not present for this, so I think it best if I don't try to give the full intent just from the notes. Instead, I will ask for guidance to speak about the readings myself.

I am reminded of a story I read in Readers' Digest years ago. I assume the account was from USA and it was told by a schoolteacher who, early in her career, was teaching a class from all sorts of family backgrounds about the time she was getting married.

The students had heard of the approaching wedding, and were bringing in gifts. One child from a poverty stricken home, looked on for weeks, as other children brought their offerings and then one day, approached the young woman with a brown paper parcel.

Inside were neatly hemmed squares of old sheets and towels, which the girl's mother had prepared. The home made card wished the young couple well and offered the family's gift of "new" dusting cloths. I don't have to finish the teacher's account about which gift almost made her heart burst.

Our Maker doesn't want what we can spare, he wants our hearts and minds; he wants our all.

This leads directly into the reading from the Psalms. We don't give God part of what we earn or have. We don't give God some of our time. We don't carry out God's work after we have finished our work.

When we give ourselves to God, it's our all we give. Be it our talents, our time, our money or our energy, it's not just what we give to the church or charities that is to be used in God's name, it's all we have. Whether we, as I do, teach, or drive a bus or fix plumbing or cars or keep accounts, or cook or paint or do whatever people do when they work in the mysterious fields of IT or electronics, we are meant to be doing it according to God's plan and in his name. This is going to be really hard for me to write, but when we spend "our" money on food for ourselves, it should be spent according to God's plan for our bodies.

In any sphere, clever plans of our own that we might have to better the world or even to further God's kingdom don't count; they don't go anywhere.

I'm not any sort of example here, but it's a bit like looking both ways before we step out onto the road. We should seek God's will first. Not when our lives, or things in general are getting scrambled. Ask me. I know.

Returning to Helen's plan, the next part of the service was the Affirmation of Faith taken from Dorothy McRae-McMahon's "The Glory of Blood, Sweat and Tears"

The congregation affirmed their belief in God who is beside and within; in Jesus Christ, who took upon himself the "encounter between the demonic and the divine", freeing us with his love, that cost him so much. They also affirmed their belief in the "Holy Spirit, who liberates the universe as it groans its wordless longing for life that is just and true" and who gives us hope.

Hymn 520  "Take my life and let it be" the logical conclusion to all that had gone before.

The Prayers for Others.
Prayers today covered a range of concerns. Helen began with prayers for those affected by war in recognition of Remembrance Day and all that encompasses.

Members of the congregation then prayed for people and situations at home and abroad: from people needing God's support in a difficult time to the elections in America and the ramifications of those for the world in the years ahead.

In all matters, the prayers were for God's guiding hand to affect outcomes and God's touch to bring comfort and relief.

These were followed by The Lord's Prayer and the Freewill Offering, each a community expression of commitment to God's plan.

Hymn 537 "May the Mind of Christ my Saviour", a prayer that the many facets of God's nature will work through us, that we may be the head, heart, hands and voice of our Lord in this world.

Collect (from the Church in Kenya)
"From the cowardice that does not face new truths,
from the laziness that is content with half truths,
from the arrogance that thinks it knows all the truth,
deliver us today, good Lord."

The Blessing
Numbers 6: 24-26. I'm sure you're familiar with these verses and perhaps can say them by heart but look them up and read them aloud. Amazing!

Hymn TiS 768
Praise God from Whom all blessings flow
Praise him all creatures here below
Praise him above, ye heavenly host
Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.


Sunday, 4 November 2012

Sunday Service Marsden Rd Uniting Church Nov. 4

The Call to Worship was a commitment to praise God all our lives, for his goodness to all people.

Hymn 573  "Praise God from whom all blessings flow" - an opportunity to act on that commitment in full voice, an expression of our wholehearted and sincere thanks.

Helen pointed out that it was All Saints Day. The question is "Who is a saint?" All those focussing their entire being on Jesus.
Personally, I hope lapses of attention are allowed. I find it so hard to be consistent: to turn to God first, instead of when 'all else fails'.

Then we heard about some ordinary, run-of-the-mill saints, to whose memory stained glass windows had been dedicated, in honour of their devotion to the church. Colin told us about his father-in-law and wife, while Ruth spoke of the Walkers, all people, whose lives were lived, doing God's work.

Reading  Mark 12: 30,31 As Helen paraphrased it:

Love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy, and love others as well as you love yourself.

The reference to 'others' doesn't just mean family and friends. It means asylum seekers, the homeless, people suffering from addiction, the mentally ill, people in gaol, people who are unattractive in appearance or behaviour, even those who bear us ill-will.

Lynelle then sang Hymn 456 "God be in my Head"  God be in my head and understanding; in my eyes and looking; in my mouth and speaking; in my heart and thinking - at my end and departing. Jesus gave his all. We can do no less.

Hymn 455 "Be thou my vision" the same theme from a slightly different perspective.
"Thy presence my Light"

The Nicene Creed was then recited. The words of our mind. Our rational declaration of our belief. "I believe..."

Reading  Ruth 1:1-18. Delivered by Colin, is the story of a family who goes into a foreign land to live and whose sons marry women from that land.
The father of the family and the sons die, leaving the mother and the two daughters-in-law together.
The mother points out to the younger women that there is no chance of her providing them with new husbands and that they should return to the families of their birth.
After some convincing, one does go, but the other, Ruth, stays expressing her loyalty in the most moving declaration of fidelity.

"Do not press me to leave you
    or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
    and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die--
    there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
   and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!"

God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary work.

This reflection on the story of Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, began with an explanation of the word 'hesed' as meaning love, devotion, respect, fidelity and its application in that story as being the type of relationship between the two women and between them and God.

Helen gave us the historical background as being the time of the Judges when the Holy City was to be rebuilt and this story was a device to challenge the rule that said that foreign gods and foreigners within the family (including spouses) were to be put aside.

It was to provide a challenge: what right did the Jews have to reject a non-Jew who had 'hesed' and who was acceptable to God.
There's a lesson in there for all of us, I think.

In the story Naomi has nothing-no man to support her but she has 'hesed' and wants to return to the land of her people but knows she has nothing to offer.

One daughter-in-law does the sensible and acceptable thing and returns to her own family for support but the other, Ruth, has such 'hesed' for Naomi she stays with her.

The story ends well but neither woman could know that when Ruth made her decision-a decision of faith. An ordinary person doing extra-ordinary things. A saint.

Helen followed this with a Prayer, acknowledging for us, our ordinariness and our inability to carry out anything more than ordinary work.
Through her words, we confessed that our religious life is not one of drama but rather that of everyday Christian experiences. Even so, we confidently asked for God's help to carry out His extraordinary work.

Hymn 148 "Love Divine, all loves excelling"  /Joy of heaven to earth come down,/Fix in us thy humble dwelling"

This is how we can come to do God's extraordinary work, by God working through us.

Offering  in a responsive prayer, we offered our lives and our gifts to God.

Prayers of the People Bill spoke of our being in a privileged time, knowing God is always there and gave thanks for that. We then prayed quietly for those we know and then Bill prayed on our behalf for those in the community close at hand, or in the wider world, needing help.

Helen then compared Naomi and Ruth with our own experience in this church; in these pews; leading us to see that we could meet God where we were.

"Now the word was made flesh and dwells among us, Made flesh, our flesh"

Prayer of Confession

This began with a moment where we thought about who we were, before the Holy God.
Lord have mercy.

We then confessed that God's will is not yet done in us; that we fall short, in many ways, of  the life that God, and even we, intend for us.

For this we asked forgiveness.

Helen then washed her hands, asking that our Lord would forgive our sins and remove our iniquities.

Assurance of Forgiveness.

Knowing our prayers were answered, we sang with confidence, of the transformation God can and does, effect in our lives.

Our sins are forgiven. God uses and blesses the ordinary.

Communion Hymn 433 "Let us break bread together" We sang our intention of sharing this communion meal with each other.

Helen then prayed for God's blessing on the elements, that they would become for us Jesus' body-healing and forgiving, that we might become God, loving and caring n the world.

We were then reminded that Jesus said,
“This is my body, it is broken for you" and then later,
"This is the new relationship with God, made possible because of my death. Take this-all of you-to remember me."

The elements were then Distributed  
after which we listened as Helen spoke of

God's Peace, not easy, but not insignificant and not half-hearted, being with us and then we shared the peace with each other.

Hymn TIS 455  A jubilant song about the saints. "O blest communion, fellowship divine! We feebly struggle, they in glory shine, all yours, all joined in unity divine.

Closing Responses
The affirmation of our intention to share in Christ's mission, repeating the last lines,

"the darkness, God shall perish it",

with Helen reminding us to hang onto that and sometimes, that's the reminder we need.

Sometimes the darkness of this world threatens to overwhelm us and all our plans for good, and we need to remember that it's God who overcomes.