Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 26th August 2018

The Gathering of God’s People:  
Fom river to ocean, from campfire to hearth, May the First People who have cared for this Land be blessed.
From breath to song, from step to dance, May those who follow Your Song lines guide us on the journey of living honourable in this place.  From greeting to Amen, from silence to chorus,

Call to Worship   (Abingdon Services 2018)

Centred in this house of worship, sing God’s praises. Centred in the seat of your soul, delight in God’s splendour. Centred in the silence of the ages, pray and meditate on the goodness of our God.

Come! Dwell in God’s courts forever.   Happy are those who live and pray in God’s house.
In God alone our hearts sing for joy.   In God alone do we find strength.
O Lord of hosts, how lovely is your dwelling place.  We have come in prayer to worship the Lord.

The theme of the Service today was “Thin Places – Where this world meets the Eternal world”

Hymn  TiS 44                         “How lovely is your dwelling place”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHxisf6FmHM

This hymn is based on the Scottish Psalter 1650.  (Psalm 84: 1-7, 10 -12)

There followed a prayer to stir and inspire us: “God of signs and wonders, who is your equal in heaven or on earth?  Walk with us in faithful love, that we may know your ways and walk in the paths of righteousness.  Clothe us with the belt of truth and the breastplate of justice that our words may be true, and our actions may be just. Protect us with the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is your holy word, that we may spread your word of peace. Fill our lives with your presence, as you filled Solomon’s temple with your glory and power, that we may stand our ground during the time of trial.” Amen

The Prayers of Confession and the Declaration of Forgiveness were followed by the Passing of “The Peace” where we exchanged greetings of Peace with the worshipers around us.

Children’s Message:  
John talked about the challenges of young children as they learn to walk and navigate obstacles and hazards, like furniture and hot things.  He used these thoughts to explain how the writer of Ephesians is “teaching us how to stand firm and how to move through life without being harmed by powers we cannot see but which can create damage not only in our own lives but in the lives of others. Powers such as cruelty, selfishness, abuse, jealousy, greed, etc.”   In Ephesians, the image of armour is used to represent a battle between good and evil. 

Offering & Dedication:

Hymn TiS 449                        “Stand up and bless the Lord”
It was fitting to sing this hymn by James Montgomery (1771-1854) after looking at the difficulties of learning to stand and walk.  The poet, James Montgomery is one of my favourite hymn writers.  He gave lectures in poetry in Sheffield and at the Royal Institution, London.  He was the editor of the “Sheffield Iris” Newspaper for 31 years and was imprisoned twice for printing material about the “Fall of the Bastille” and riots in Sheffield. He was a great advocate for Foreign Missions and the Bible Society.   
Bible Reading:          Read by Elaine     1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43            John 6:56-69
In the reading from Kings, we heard that; “Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands to heaven.  He said, ‘O Lord , God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart.”
The reading from John’s Gospel finds Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum and it is easy for us to relate to many of his disciples who heard what he said and responded; This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

Reflection:  (1 Kings 8:22-30, 41-43)   “Thin Places”

        John introduced his theme of “Thin Places” by talking of the “Da Vinci Code” in which Scotland’s Rosslyn Chapel featured as a “thin place” where the natural and supernatural are said to overlap. The Celtic Christians believed that these mystical places, called “thin places,” were places where the veil between the holy and the human is traversed so that we may transcend the ordinary for a glimpse of the infinite. 
          John went on; “I do not know what to believe except that people are drawn to thin places—to places where they can sense the supernatural. That is what Solomon’s temple was intended to be. Ironically, that is what a Christian church is supposed to be. That is what our Church buildings are meant to be. People need for churches to be thin places where they can come and feel the presence of God. Maybe that is why it is so disheartening to come to church hoping to encounter a living God and find only a dead congregation in a lifeless worship service. A church can be an awfully thick place.”
           “There were lots of houses for lots of gods in the ancient world. The thing that made Solomon’s temple different was that on the day they dedicated this house of God, God actually showed up and moved in.”
            “When the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house . . .’ for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord’.  This cloud of the Lord is seen throughout scripture. It hovered over Mount Sinai when Moses met with God. It led the children of Israel through the wilderness and later on it enveloped Jesus on the mount of Transfiguration. The cloud was God’s way of letting people know his presence.  The people could not actually see God, but at least they could see where God was. The cloud let them know they were in a very thin place. The “thinness” was simply that God was in the place. And whenever God is in a place, things get really thin. The concept of thin places need not conflict with the doctrine that God is in every place.”
            How I enjoyed John’s beautifully linked thoughts and all I can do here is give you some of the highlights that had me nodding my head in agreement.  “Solomon knew that no human-made structure could house God, but he felt divinely compelled to build a dwelling place for God.  It was not that God needed a place like that. It was that God’s people needed a place like that.”
            “A church is meant to be one of those places. There are some churches where God’s presence is so strong you can feel it. There are other churches where God’s presence is seemingly absent. You can feel that, too.  If there is such a thing as the presence of God in a church, there is also such a thing as the absence of God in a church.”

            As I listened to John I remembered some special places that my husband and I have visited.  Places like Whitby Abbey and St. Alban's church where I was strangely moved and inspired.  If I study my travel diaries I should perhaps go back and call some of them “thin places”.  I remember thinking as we left the huge and magnificent church of St. Alban with the shrine on the spot where the saint was martyred for his Faith in the 3rd Century that he would have been quite satisfied to see “his” church so alive with hundreds of excited children and their families on a week-day after school.  We were welcomed and pressed to stay to see and hear the children present a concert.  However even with all the commotion going on at the end of the concert, I felt a “shiver” as I knelt at the simple shrine - and a “veil” lifted for me.

            I liked John’s thoughts that “We cannot conjure up God’s presence with emotional hype. We can no more control God’s movement than a farmer can control weather patterns. Preachers are like farmers in that regard. But perhaps farmers can teach us a few things about relating to the cloud(s) and to God. There is more life and more that points to God on most farms than in many churches. Farmers have learned to work hard at preparing the soil and leaving the clouds to God. The farmer must prepare the surfaces, so the soil can receive the moisture.”
            “If we want our churches to be thin places, we must deal with our hard places. If we want God to make himself at home in the houses we have built, we need to prepare those houses for God’s comfort, not our own. Some of the things that make a church appealing and inviting to God are apt to make us uncomfortable.”
            “Jesus promised that the “pure in heart . . . will see God,” and that those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness . . . will be filled”. There is apparently something about an earnest desire for God that attracts God. I guess even God likes to feel wanted. David wanted to experience God’s presence so much that his soul panted like a deer for the water. Solomon wanted it so much that he spent seven and a half years preparing a dwelling place for God.”
“All the preparation and desire paid off the day the cloud of the Lord came and filled the house of the Lord. God moved in and made himself at home among his people. Heaven and Earth overlapped a little. All God’s people knew they were in a mighty thin place.”

Hymn TiS 376                        I know that my Redeemer lives”
This hymn was written by Samuel Medley (1738 – 1799), who joined the Royal Navy but was severely wounded in a battle with the French Fleet in 1759.  He had to retire from active service, and was converted when his grandfather read a sermon of Dr. Watts and he joined the Baptist Church in, London.  In 1767 he received a “call” to become pastor of the Baptist Church at Watford.
Prayers of the People:  Val led the prayers of Intercession today and we finished these special prayers for those people whose needs we know; in our church, in our country and all over the world -  by sharing in the Lord’s Prayer.
Hymn TiS 456                        “Your hand, O God, has guided”
Edward Hayes Plumptre (1821-1891), whose impressive theological career began at King's College, London, and University College, Oxford, wrote this hymn. He attained a number of important and influential appointments, including that of Assistant Preacher at Lincoln's Inn; Select Preacher at Oxford and Professor of Pastoral Theology at King's College, London.   

Draw strength from God’s power.     We will put on the full armour of God.
Stand boldly in God’s truth.    We will wear the belt of truth and put on the breastplate of justice.
Put on the shield of faith and pray with the saints. We will wear the helmet of salvation and proclaim the gospel of peace.
Go as ambassadors of the living God, in the name of that same God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life.    We will wear the helmet of salvation and proclaim the gospel of peace. 

Go as ambassadors of the living God, in the name of that same God, Creator, Redeemer and Giver of Life.

Hymn: TiS 778                        "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.”

Monday, 20 August 2018

Sunday Service Marsden Road Uniting Church 20th August 2018

Call to Worship:   
The theme of the Service today was “The wisdom to do what God Wants.”
Hymn  TiS 107           “Sing Praise & Thanksgiving”
This hymn written by Lutheran Minister, Paul Gerhardt (1607-1676) is one that always makes me feel encouraged by the words and the lilt as it builds to a crescendo which is like a beautiful prayer of supplication and praise.
“Lord, frame our desiring to do your requiring, that unto your glory be all that we do; and where we have faltered, give strength and give healing: O praise to the Almighty, sing praise to our God!”

Prayers of Thanks & Confession: 
After these prayers Warwick said; “In Jesus Christ we find the one who forgives us and gives us courage to begin again.”   And we responded; “Thanks be to God.”
Children’s Message:  “Keep praying. God is there. Ask him.”
A childhood memory of praying to God when he was seven years old and had broken his arm, was the way that Warwick introduced the children to the ideas of how and why we pray and for whom we might pray.  He did mention before he began, that his story was intended for all the children under 90 years old; however I am sure even those few people above that age, could also relate to the message. 
Offering & Dedication:
Hymn TiS 168            “For the fruits of all creation, thanks be to God”
Frederick Pratt Green (1903-2000), who wrote this hymn, was an ordained British Methodist Minister who felt there was a need for some hymns to bridge the gap between the older traditional hymns and the very modern ones of more recent times.  I specially like the last few lines for the reminder that we still don’t know everything and we should enjoy God’s wonders and be thankful if we are loved; “Thanks be to God”.
Bible Reading:          Read by Stephen        1 Kings 2: 10-12, 3: 3-14       Ephesians 5:  15–20
In the reading from Kings Solomon asks for wisdom and discernment - God was pleased with that choice.  He granted it - and much more.
The reading from Ephesians elaborates on the importance of wisdom, not just in making daily decisions, but as a tool in following God’s will.     
Reflection:                 “What do we ask for?  - and the wisdom to do what God wants.”
Warwick began by asking; “What have been some of your prayers? Were they answered? Or answered in a different way? Are there some prayers that you are now glad that God didn’t answer?  “What requests have you made of God?”  After showing us a painted mural at Altkoetzchenbroda, Dresden he translated it to say; “God, protect this house against affliction and fire, local government planning - and taxes”.   

He then invited the congregation to “huddle” in small groups and discuss some of their prayer experiences. 

More questions from Warwick followed; “How do we tune out of ourselves and tune into God?       How do we do what God wants, doing it at the right time, in the right way or with the right attitude?”
He then read for us, from the Covenant Service in Uniting in Worship, John Wesley’s writing in 1755, in which he urged Christians to rededicate themselves to Christ:
“Christ has many services to be done: some are easy, others are difficult; some bring honour, others bring reproach; some are suitable to our natural inclinations and material interests; others are contrary to both. In some we may please Christ and please ourselves; in others we cannot please Christ, except by denying ourselves.  Yet the power to do all these things is given us in Christ, who strengthens us.”
Warwick also spoke of the other reading of the day from Psalm 111: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and they who live by it grow in understanding” a good understanding have all those who practice it.”
I found his comments most insightful:
“Wisdom is not just knowledge, but understanding - a fine distinction!“Fear” - not being scared, not something to escape from.  But respect, reverence and obedience.
Respect: Servants’ attitude to their master
Reverence: awe in the presence of greatness and holiness: “reverential affection for God”.
Obedience: doing what God wants, putting that wisdom into practice.”

Warwick admitted what most of us have found to be true; “Discerning God’s will is not always easy.”  He said; “My personal wrestle of faith includes; How do I know that God wants me to do this?  Particularly suspicious if it was something I WANTED to do!”  He went on to say; “Even Christians whom we admire, can make errors of judgment.”
Warwick then introduced the story of Deitrich Bonhoeffer who was a young German Lutheran pastor and theologian, who stood up against Hitler and the Nazi dictatorship and was involved with the German Resistance and Underground activities and was in the end, executed by hanging in April 1945, after being accused in a plot to assassinate Hitler.  Earlier, Bonhoeffer had been disappointed in his own behaviour in April 1933 in relation to a request from his Jewish brother-in-law to conduct a funeral for his father.  The Lutheran Bishop he consulted advised him that he should not “stick his neck out!”  By November he had written to his brother-in-law lamenting his unforgivable behaviour and asking for his forgiveness of his weakness.
It was, as Warwick pointed out, obvious that a person of his standing “A man of God, a modern day saint” ought to have behaved differently.  Then Warwick suggested the question we should ask ourselves when uncertain, is always; “What would Jesus do in these circumstances?
What would Jesus do?”
Hymn TiS 136            “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”
This hymn was written by Frederick William Faber, (1814-1863) and its message is uncomplicated and finishes; “If our love were but more simple we should take him at his word; and our lives would be illumined by the goodness of our Lord.”
Men’s Singing Group:
“It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, Standing in the need of Prayer” was chosen by the group with no prior knowledge of the theme of the service today.  God often surprises us the way he helps us make our worship fit together in such meaningful ways.  I really love it when this happens.
Prayers of the People:  Warwick led the prayers of Intercession today.  He spoke of the importance for him to be able to picture the face and circumstances of the people for whom we pray as he read out the names of the people and the issues that had been mentioned in our prayer sheets.  This is always a special time for our congregation as we pray for people and issues all over the world and close to “home”.  Then we shared together in the words of the Lord’s Prayer.
Hymn TiS 158            “God has Spoken by His Prophets”   
G. W. (George Wallace) Briggs, (1875-1959) who wrote this hymn was a Canon of Worcester Cathedral and a leading member of the Hymn Society of Great Britain and Ireland.  The words give us great reassurance and hope for the future. “In the world’s despair and turmoil one firm anchor holds us fast: God is king, his throne eternal, God the first, and God the last”.
Blessing:   “The blessing of the God of life be ours, the blessing of the loving Christ be ours, the blessing of the fire of the Holy Spirit be ours, the blessing of God - Father, Son and Spirit, rest upon us now and always.” Amen.

Hymn: TiS 779           “May the feet of God walk with you”

May the feet of God walk with you and His hand hold you tight.
May the eye of God rest on you and His ear hear your cry.

May the smile of God be for you and His breath give you life.

May the child of God grow in you and His love bring you home.