Friday, 27 April 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 8 April 2018

Gathering God’s People

We all have doubts about many theories and events presented as facts and we would be remiss not to have such doubts. We must not accept anything passed onto us by another person just because they say so. Given that the Bible is written about people who are no longer with us and events that are well and truly in the past, what can we believe?

Well, to start with, some of what is written in the Bible is there for the message it carries and the possible factual or historic content isn't the chief concern of the reader. The biblical writers had a variety of styles of writing and not all of them were a recount of historical events. So, in the case of Thomas, was he right in doubting? Were his doubts justified? How did he resolve the conflict between what he thought was possible and the events in which he found himself ? Is that event represented correctly?

The Rev. John led us through the problem faced by John; one faced by many of us today.

“This is the day to walk in the light.

This is the day to share signs of peace.

This is the day to believe where we have not seen.

This is the day to embrace what we cannot touch. Come! Let us worship the Lord of life.”


Hymn TIS 382: “Now the green blade rises from the buried grain”. The focus of this hymn, for me, is that love cannot be defeated. Love will rise above.

Opening Prayer

“God of manifold blessing, come to us this day. Come and bless us. Come and lead us into the light. For we come to you to find peace. We come to rediscover joy. We come to believe where we have not seen. We come to touch the glory of everlasting life, through the power of your Son. We come to truly live. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

 “Heart of all hearts, Joy of all joys, teach us how to live as one.

You offer us your abundant grace, and yet we still long to find rest and peace.

You have shown us the light of our salvation, yet we often lurk in the shadows.

You promise us the glory of everlasting life, yet we settle for the tarnished glow of selfish pursuits.

Forgive us.

Help us believe where we have not seen; help us walk bravely in the midst of our fear, that we may truly know your peace each and every day. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness

 In Christ, God has forgiven not only our sins,
 but the sins of the whole world. Rejoice in the light and peace of the Holy One. Rejoice in the blessings of our God.

Thanks, be to God!

Hymn TIS 649: “These things did Thomas
 count as real” I think Thomas is being sold
short in this hymn. After all that time with
Jesus I think that he was well aware of the
very real things that we cannot see or touch.
 But this story would have been more than very difficult for anyone to accept.

 The Service of the Word

Moving from Doubt (A summary)

“After illustrating his point, Rev. John said:

 Isn’t it natural for humans to want to give the right answer?…Most often, we don’t want to doubt or challenge leaders or stand in the way of accepted norms. So, when we have our doubts, we tend to keep them to ourselves. That is the safe way.

Today’s Gospel reveals to us St. Thomas—who was the one who had not seen the risen Jesus when he first appeared to the disciples. The others told him they had seen the Lord, but he was skeptical. He doubted. Still, Thomas must have wanted to fit in. He might have said, “Look, friends, I know the answer is supposed to be that. I acknowledge that you saw Jesus, but it sure sounds like a ghost. But the story of Thomas’ honesty and forthrightness gives us hope and empowers us in our moments of doubt. We don’t have to accept mindlessly whatever seems the expected or accepted answer or view.

 Across the Uniting Church, let alone the Church, there are sharp divisions over decisions made at recent Assemblies, Synods and other meetings. Few congregations or Presbyteries are free from controversy, leaving many in doubt about where God stands in all this. Since doubt and fear are bound to come upon us, we do well by facing the truth of these feelings, like Thomas of old. Let us remember that he was in a good and safe place to question and then to see and learn.

 We are here because this is a place where we can encounter the risen Christ, patiently and lovingly leading us into all truth, just as he led St. Thomas. If we are willing to work through our fear and our doubts, we will find the other side of today’s Gospel that teaches us also about faith. If we are honest in our relationships with one another, we can experience mutual support in learning to believe what we cannot easily see…”

 Hymn AOV 63: “We walk by faith” We may not touch his hands and side, nor follow where he trod, yet in his promise we rejoice, and cry “My Lord and God!”

It's a problem that faces each person of each new generation. Only the Spirit’s work in our lives allows us to step away from worrying over the facts to being sure of the outcome.

Intercessory Prayers

Rev. John led us, lifting up all those in need. We prayed for those close to us; for those known to us through the media; for those who face the same spiritual problems we all face; for those in physical needs of any type and for comfort for them. We then drew together all our prayers in the THE LORD'S PRAYER


Hymn TIS 376: "I know that my Redeemer lives" Those of us who have humbled ourselves before a God know this full well, regardless of any historical details.


 Walk in the light of God.

We will live in the light of God and we will bask in the light of God.

May the Light of all lights transform your doubts into faith, and your sorrows into joy.

       We go with the peace of God.

Go with the blessings of almighty God.


Hymn TIS 779: “May the feet of God walk with you,” Could we wish anything better for each other? Could we wish a greater treasure as a gift to each other?


Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 22 April 2018

Being a Good Cat-herd.



Have you ever been out on a walk through your neighbourhood and heard the plaintive miaowing of a kitten? What would you do? My thoughts in such a situation would be to look all around for where the cry was coming from. I’ll tell you a story of one experience I heard about. Well the first thing is that you probably won’t find the source of the cries until you looked up—way up—into the pine tree in your neighbour’s yard. But, there you see a new kitten, crying for all it was worth. As kittens frequently do, it had gone exploring and was now afraid or unsure of how to come down. You stand under the tree, calling “Here, kitty, kitty,” trying your best to persuade the kitten to come back down.


I wonder if you would go home and borrow some treats from your own cats – if you have them - to lure the kitten down the tree. However, nothing works! If it was me I might give up at this point. So, your neighbour comes home and hopefully as she comes over to say hello, she will hear the kitten’s cries. Hopefully, quickly, she would begin calling the cat by name. It would be quieted once it heard her voice, and would even take a few steps down the branch, but then like cats do, maybe it would lay down and refuse to come any further.



To continue, after several attempts, the neighbour, not an especially young woman, pulls a garden bench over to the tree and begins climbing. One could suggest that we call someone else to help, but this is refused by the neighbour who wanted to get her kitten down right away because it might fall. By this stage I think I would be standing underneath holding my breath as the neighbour began to climb up, branch by branch. I wouldn’t feel confident to climb. Finally, she would get to be level with the kitten. I imagine she would tuck it lovingly into her jacket and slowly back down the tree, saying soothing words all the while.


This type of story helps me think about this week’s reading from John 10. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” That cat was not at all tempted by pleas to come down to safety; it had no idea who this person that found it was. The neighbour used the same words and tone of voice in her calls to the kitten, but the results were different. Why? She knew the cat by name, and it knew her voice. Just knowing that she was close seemed to calm the kitten, even though it still could not bring itself to climb down to safety.


I would have been very reluctant to risk a broken limb by climbing the tree, but the neighbour did not think twice. She was much more concerned about the risk to her kitten than the risk to herself. On that day, and I am sure many others, she was a good “cat-herd.” The image of the good shepherd is one that is used for God many times throughout Scripture. It evokes feelings of tender care in us even today, despite our unfamiliarity with sheep and shepherds.


Those who heard Jesus speak these words would have had a far deeper understanding of sheep and those who cared for them. Owners often kept sheep for years and years as providers of wool rather than as meat. Shepherds stayed with their flock by day and by night, protecting them from both human and animal predators, as well as from their own silly tendencies to wander away. Because the shepherd spent almost all his time with his sheep, he learned their individual qualities. He knew who was prone to wander, who hogged the grassiest parts of the pasture, and who was most often cut out of the flock.


The sheep also knew him. If another person called out to them, they would not answer. If the shepherd called, however, the flock would move toward him. As he walked ahead, calling their names, they would follow. Some of the sheep may have been more endearing than others; certainly, some followed more closely. But good shepherds showed the same care for the more recalcitrant members of their flock as for all the others. How blessed we are that we, too, have a good shepherd in Jesus Christ! He promises to care for us, and he showed the extent of that love on the cross, where he gave his life willingly for us. Like sheep, there is nothing that we do to earn such great love; it is given to us freely, often in spite of ourselves.





Friday, 20 April 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 16 April 2018

Spirituality and us. (Abridged)

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

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

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

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

That's what being Christian is.

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

 Psalm 66:

Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth;

    sing the glory of his name;

    give to him glorious praise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always. Amen




The Brill Dictionary of Religion 2006 “Spirituality” Brill.

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

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

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