Thursday, 26 November 2020

Sunday 22nd November 2020 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory …”


The First Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23     The Gospel Reading & Preaching of the Word: Matthew 25:31-46  “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.”

The service this Sunday morning was one of those magical times when we all left the service feeling that God was really there with us – yes even online there was a magic glue that held all the elements of the service together to highlight the messages of the service in a way no one person could have foreseen.  I just love it when this happens and I am sure it happens sometimes for just one or two people and that is important - but sometimes it is so obvious we all share the magic.  As the service unfolded we heard from Davyn from the Parramatta Mission who was to have visited Marsden Road Uniting Church in March to tell us about the joy that had been shared when around 700 people had joined together at the mission for Christmas dinner in 2019.  Many “dinner plates” had been donated by people from our church family and we were eager to hear the good news story of God’s love being shared as people in need were fed and welcomed with love.

Then came “the virus” and almost every plan was disrupted. For so many essential charities who struggle to care for increased numbers of people in need, the challenges have increased and the environment has become more trying.

However, finally Davyn was able to join us online this Sunday morning and he shared the joy of last Christmas and the plans being prepared for this rather different Christmas.  We were all moved by the story he told of one lady he met at lunch, who has now been associated with the mission for more than 20 years; after having met Jesus there as a destitute woman who had been homeless and dependent on drugs which she was introduced to in her home at the age of 12.   Davyn told us that on hearing her story last year his Christmas became extra special – he said he felt as excited as he had been at Christmas when he was a young child.  As he watched this changed lady sitting and talking to a homeless lady and passing on the hope that Jesus had brought to her life years ago, he felt overwhelmed to watch God’s love and hope at work.

At the Parramatta Mission this Christmas, there are some wonderful plans being organised to once again be able to spread hope and joy - while following “virus rules”.  There will be no lunch for 700 people, but homeless people will be “pampered” for two weeks with haircuts and other grooming and well-being appointments, medical help and “Meaningful Gifts” – which are virtual gifts that supporters of the work of the mission can give to their family and friends who will receive a card describing their gift and the boost to the self-respect and hope the actual gift will bring to the homeless person or other person in need who will actually receive the gift.  You might like to look at the Parramatta Mission Website and “buy” a virtual gift you could give to someone “who has everything” and may enjoy together, sharing with someone who needs it much more.

The magic continued to build as the Rev. John read the well-known Gospel reading from Matthew 25 as a prelude to his Reflection/Sermon;  … for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

“God equips us with the gifts and not all of us have the same gifts, but all of us have gifts important to God. The life of faith is about finding and using these gifts to carry on Christ's work in the world.

Yet often it seems to be just too much. There are too many hungry and poor and lonely people for us to make any difference.”

Photo by Matt Collamer Unsplash

Because of the “magic” I was feeling - I watched Davyn’s face and could tell that he was getting excited about the way this so long delayed service had been arranged on just the right day and was giving us all the inspiration that could just help to make this Christmas very special for the strangers, the prisoners, the poor and the hungry and lonely people.   

In his Sermon the Rev John asked the question; “What is the ministry of the laity?” and he gave us the answer; “The ministry of lay people is to represent Christ and his Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be; and, according to the gifts given to them, to carry on Christ's work of reconciliation in the world; and to take their place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church.  ...according to the gifts given them …  Yet often it seems to be just too much. There are too many hungry and poor and lonely people for us to make any difference.”  Of course we have all felt and expressed the frustration of feeling inadequate when it comes to making a difference to a bad situation.

Then the Rev. John told a story about a young boy who was working hard at the beach at dawn to save thousands of starfish that had been stranded on the beach during the night – a good story to inspire us to at least try and make a difference to someone and to show us that if we do nothing – nothing will happen; but if we stand on the beach and throw back some starfish before the sun comes up and they die on the beach – we will have made a difference to those few that we saved.  I could see that Davyn and all the other listeners in the Zoom Gallery were inspired to do something to make those in trouble safer.  

As at 13 November 2020 there were 12,866 inmates in full-time custody in NSW prisons and in-person family visits have been suspended since March to ensure the safety of staff and prisoners.  This strategy has worked, with only one confirmed case in the prison population – yet what has been the mental cost?  Coincidentally it was announced that Covid-Safe In-person visits would commence from the next day, the 23 November 2020.  I did not hear about this on the TV, the radio or the news this week – I asked Google!

Along with renewed optimistic reports of advances in the science and the production of covid 19 vaccinations as this week has advanced; there have been other more widely rejoiced changes to the government’s covid “rules” and other positive signs to bring hope to people in need of relief of all kinds. 

Since March my husband and I have particularly mourned the death of three beautiful gentlemen – all in their 10th decade.  Although they did not know each other, each has at times been part of our lives or part of an extended family through marriage.  I was very sad when a beautiful man from our little church died quite early in the piece when a total of only five people, plus the minister and the funeral people could attend a funeral - because we all wanted to celebrate and share his funeral with his family – we are a Church Family at Marsden Road Church.  So all I could think to do to share the feelings of our Church Family was to go to the church when the door was closed at the appointed time and keep an informal prayer vigil while strolling back and forth along Marsden Road as the traffic rushed noisily past.

The second funeral we attended was on-line and took place in Victoria during the recent sad “second wave” outbreak and even the man’s sisters were unable to be among the 10 people who could attend.  Shortly after the service started, the streaming was interrupted and after looking at a blank screen for some minutes the first part of the service was repeated.  Then, just as the eulogies and the family photo presentation were to begin, the streaming failed altogether and we were left with the sad frozen image of those ten people who were sitting apart and uncomforted in the family church in Victoria that their 96 year old father had helped to plan and build.

Yesterday under the new “rules” which allow up to 100 people suitably separated, to attend a funeral, I was able to attended my first Covid-Safe funeral at Eastwood Uniting Church.  It was such a relief to be allowed to be in the presence of the family as they celebrated the life of their beautiful kind and loving 93 year old father, grandfather, great-grandfather and friend of many people the family would not under the previous “rules” have even known admired and cared for him and supported them in their sadness.

A great-grandson of around 11 years old read a version of Isaiah 40:28-31 which I cannot identify, but I just loved to hear those words coming from the child, who will hopefully inherit the strength of character and kindness of his great-grandfather even if his memory of him grows faint with time.

“Don’t you know? Haven’t you heard? God doesn’t come and go. God is Creator in all you can see and imagine. God doesn’t get tired, doesn’t pause to catch breath. God knows everything, inside and out.  God energises those who get tired, gives fresh energy to dropouts.  Because even young people tire and drop out, young people in their prime stumble and fall.  But those who wait upon God get fresh strength.  They spread their wings and soar like eagles.  They run and don’t get tired.  They walk and don’t lag behind.”

As this week has moved on - my heart has certainly been touched by the possibilities of 2021 being a better and safer year in Australia and hopefully in the whole world.  As I went for my walk yesterday afternoon and looked again at all the lovely jacaranda trees I wrote about a couple of weeks ago in the Blog, it reminded that God is not hiding – we can see and share his glory everyday – but we humans are sometimes too busy to stop and look; so today I took my camera on my walk and several people stopped to talk and admire the beauty of the world with me and we shared just a few minutes of simple joy. 

Thursday, 19 November 2020

“For it is as if a man …” Matthew 25:14-30


First I want to remind myself and others that in reflecting on Sunday’s sermon about the parable of the talents, our Leader Dermot stressed; that the “timid slave” in the story was to be thrown; ‘into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth’.  He then said; “As a 21st century Aussie. (Inevitably, I read into the parable an idea that we are meant to substitute God for the owner.) This doesn’t sound like the God of grace and love I know.”


Next I want to go straight to the end of the Reflection so thoughtfully delivered (via Zoom) and suggest that Dermot, like some of the rest of us, is perhaps weary of trying to sort out the deep thoughts of 2,000 years of trying to come to terms, with the true messages of God which were recorded as parables and churned over year after year as we try to follow God’s ways and his thinking.


In talking about the parable of the talents Dermot shared his love of sitting quietly away from life’s turmoils and just “being with God” at the place in his life where he is at a particular time.  On this theme he said about Sunday’s Parable of the Talents; “But maybe this parable has a message for us personally and for the church today. Things are changing about us and maybe, in some way, we need to switch off the power which we are using, and glide for a time, trusting that in God’s support we will hear and become aware of new ways of being.

“And in doing that, we might allow the message of the parable to emerge – let us not hold back on the grace and love of God out of fear for what we have.  Let’s not try to protect the church from the world. Let’s take risks.  As Bill Loader (Rev Emeritus Professor William R. G. Loader BA (Auckl) BD (Otago) Dr theol (Mainz, Germany) FAHA, Emeritus Professor at Murdoch University) points towards – lets ‘allow the life of God to flow through us’. Let’s release the Spirit from any ropes and chains which we place upon it by our own expectations.  Let’s rejoice in the possibilities of the future. God is offering the “talents” – we need to have the courage and love to use them.  Amen”


I have a special memory of a “girlie” afternoon spent with my mother in front of the Kosi coke burning stove, with her patiently teaching me to knit a pink woollen baby bonnet in the popular feather and fan pattern.   It was only due to my mother’s great patience that I had eventually mastered the art of plain and purl knitting so that I could finish my knitted squares with the same number of stitches on each row as I had started off with; Mum was prepared to sit with me and guide my efforts to make something pretty and useful to be sold at the church fete that was planned for the spring.


As I look back at that happy afternoon, I realise that my mother was probably really eager to get back to her own effort for a new church project which was quite innovative and must have been the subject of much vigorous discussion in the St. Andrew’s Strathfield church meetings before the launching of “The Talents Project”. 


I was probably about 11 at the time and this idea made quite an impression on me as I heard the ideas and saw the enthusiasm of the people from the church as they took on the responsibility of “looking after” God’s talents and increasing them to be returned with a healthy bonus at the end of the time that had been decided for the church’s chosen project.  I don’t know if everyone started with the same amount of money being ‘given’ by the Parish Council, but I do remember that my mother had an amount of ₤5; which in the 1950s was $10 of today’s money, although the buying power of that amount was considerably greater.  However, I do remember that if you wished you could keep ‘investing’ your profit to become appreciated as a “good and faithful servant/slave”. 


Certainly there was no talk of being “thrown into outer darkness or weeping and gnashing of teeth” if your enterprise failed; although I did wonder if some lazy ‘slaves’ took the easy way out and just made a donation at the end so they would not be seen by their peers to have failed. 


For many of the church congregation it was an exciting time of sharing their gifts or talents and buying and selling all kinds of products as they contributed to the overall project.  There was much interest in the sweet little 4 or 5 cm ‘baby’ dolls which my mother bought by the dozens and dressed in perfectly scaled baby dresses with ribbons, lace and embroidered rosebuds.  The dolls also had little pink or blue jackets, bootees and bonnets with narrow ribbons and they were very much in demand.  Some of the dolls were dressed in complete miniature knitted layettes and it was good to watch my mother’s pleasure as her “talents” were recognised. 


My father was away in the navy at the time so my mother enjoyed “playing” with her lovely little dolls and it was good to see her excitement as her project grew, although I cannot remember the amount of profit she actually made for the chosen project. 


The memory of that “girlie” afternoon with mum is still quite vivid so that I can almost feel the warmth and the sensation of safety and protection as my 11- year- old self looked out the window at the wind-blown garden, now being soaked with icy rain.  We were certainly not rich – but it was a comforting feeling to know that we had enough of everything needed for our family – with just a little to share with others who had less.  


This was about the time I began to realise that some kids did not have all the advantages that my brothers and I enjoyed.  My brother John had one friend whose father was a cranky drunk who abused his mother - and he had another friend who was one of 13 children.  In his home there was not nearly enough money coming into the house to feed and clothe them all properly and sometimes his friend had to stay home while his pants were washed and he often had bare feet.  So the church project was a timely lesson in the satisfaction of using your gifts to help people in need.


Good News!  I am happy to say that Margaret has now come home from hospital and rehabilitation and after three operations and many months of tedious recovery she is beginning to feel much stronger.  On Tuesday, she and her husband were even able to join a group of around twenty Marsden Road Church members for a casual picnic lunch in a local park.  I am so grateful for the way hospitality and friendship has survived and grown during the difficult times for our close church community. 

Friday, 13 November 2020

Sunday 8th November 2020 “At that time Jesus said …”

 The First Reading:  1 Thessalonians 4:13-18     

The Gospel Reading & Preaching of the Word: Matthew 25:1-13

On Sunday 8th November, the highlight for me was the Hymn TIS 154: 

Great is your faithfulness”

“Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; 

there is no shadow of turning with thee;

thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; 

as thou hast been thou forever wilt be. 


Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! 

Morning by morning new mercies I see:

All I have needed thy hand hath provided--

Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!


The history of this hymn is not long, but it brings into our hearts and souls a feeling of comfort in the everlasting and predictable faithfulness of God and the joy of hope with the dawn of each new day - and the faith we can have that everything will continue to “be right with the world” as long as God is in control.


It is once again that beautiful time of year when the jacaranda trees splash our streets with riots of purple to be admired against perfect blue skies.  November again! As I stand on my front patio and look out I wonder at the miracle that unfailingly unfolds each year and I cannot believe that another year has gone by already.  I find I measure time differently as I grow older and I take time to enjoy these annual miracles instead of rushing thoughtlessly by.  I was really excited a few years ago when one of our daughters showed me a photo she had taken of a beautiful rose she had seen in the garden of Auguste Rodin in Paris.  “I remembered you told me before I left for my trip to ‘take time to smell the roses’ so this rose reminded me of your advice,” she said.  We often wonder if our children of whatever age take notice of those “throw away” bits of advice on life which we randomly scatter to the wind.

Hymns are like prayers and I think the reason why everything seems to fit together with such complete harmony in “How Great is Thy Faithfulness” is because the writer of this beautiful poem/hymn, Thomas Obediah Chisholm, sent it to his friend, the musician William Bunyan who felt the strength and the joy of the words and prayed for guidance that he might write the perfect tune to help others to experience the same feelings that overcame him when he read his friend’s poem.  William Bunyan first published the hymn in 1923, but strangely, it was not until the Billy Graham Crusades began to travel the world with George Beverly Shea making the hymn “his own” as he and the Crusade choirs introduced the beautiful words and music to “old” and “new” Christians around the world that its popularity grew.  Thomas Chisholm died in 1960 and in his lifetime he wrote 1,200 poems and hymns.


Perhaps you have noticed that I have been avoiding moving on to write about the theme of the reflection/sermon on Sunday 8th November.  The Parable of the wise and foolish bridesmaids has worried me for many decades now – in fact it has upset me since I was a child. I have read and tried to appreciate and understand the various theologically accepted meanings of the parable – yet it still suppresses my faith and assurance about the love and forgiveness of God.  It is a negative effect all round for me - as are some other rather harsh bible stories; although I must confess I am not a person who spends long periods of time in bible studies.  My faith is strong – but simple.  Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4: 8-9


Please stop reading now if I have offended you; but if you read on I would like to offer my suggestions and “alternate” thinking about the story which begins with such authority; “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this.”  Then the story is told and the conclusion is; in verses 12 and 13; But he (the Lord) replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.  Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”


In my 20th and 21st century thinking, I can’t help wondering why any of the bridesmaids wasted their oil by keeping their lamps alight while they were waiting and falling asleep. 


It would surely have been a better idea to keep just a few of their lamps burning for safety or to make themselves visible to the bridegroom in the place where they waited.  Then there would have been oil still available to be shared when the bridegroom arrived.  Or alternatively the wise bridesmaids could have taken the arm of their less prepared companions and showed them the way to the bridal feast along with the bridegroom.  I am rather shocked that the wise bridesmaids were selfish and made no attempt to share their light to go and meet God.  I get a little confused when I view this story alongside the one told only in Luke’s Gospel, where servants were sent out twice “to the highways and byways” to bring in strangers to replace those who ungraciously failed to attend or made insulting excuses.  Going back to the story told this week, I am appalled to contemplate that those bridesmaids who had failed to make contingency plans in case the bridegroom was late were to be shut out by God with no chance of forgiveness. 


In his sermon, the Rev. John said; “The foolish attendants were unprepared. They ran out of oil and were unable to obtain more. So, when their moment came, they lost the opportunity to help light the way. They were unable to act out their appointed role in the community. They lost the chance even to witness the wedding.


I am puzzled by the context of the following thoughts that the Rev. John expressed next; “Over and over again Jesus shows us what God is like. Today, he illustrates the truth that God takes no vacations. God never takes a break from offering love to us graciously. God is always prepared. God never stops forgiving us. God never ceases to watch over us. God never rests from the desire that we follow in his way. God never lets up on loving us, no matter how much we may rebel and stray. God is always ready.”


I am not saying that I do not agree with all those positive remarks about God’s love, forgiveness, constant care, presence and Grace – I am just saying that I still have problems with the thought that because we do not know when God will come; isn’t it possible that some good people may not be ready at the exact moment God comes?  I just have difficulties believing that God will shut us out in the cold and the dark and will unequivocally reject us for ever if we are not ready when He comes.


In my search for an answer to my questioning of the parables and their interpretations I have read some articles on Jesus' Ministry and Teaching.  If you have a computer and are interested, here is the link from which I will record a couple of short quotes that I found interesting.


John Dominic Crossan: Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies DePaul University.  He has written eighteen books on the historical Jesus and earliest Christianity. 


He asked the question: Is this [style of teaching] unique to Jesus?


“The parables are unique only in a very limited sense, in that the primary teaching of Jesus is not taking texts out of the Hebrew scriptures and explaining them, blasting them, commenting on them. What he is doing is telling a perfectly ordinary story. And using that as the major teaching. "The Kingdom of God is like this." Now you have to think, well, I hear the story, but how on earth is the Kingdom of God like that? That's your job as the hearer. So it's open to anyone. And that's, I think, the point of the parable.”


The next question: So right from the start his teaching depends on interpretation?


“If you teach in parables, you give yourself to interpretation. If you really want to tell people what to think you preach them a sermon. If you tell them a parable then you're leaving yourself open, inevitably, to interpretation.”


In the same way I worry about having to interpret parables; I question the work of artists whose paintings or sculptures require me to stand in the art gallery and listen to a long recording on a hired electronic device which explains what the artist was trying to express.


I think I will play the Youtube recording of Thomas Chisholm’s beautiful hymn once more and “sign off” with the thought: 


“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!  Morning by morning new mercies I see:

All I have needed thy hand hath provided--Great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!”

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Sunday 4th October 2020 “At that time Jesus said …”


The First Reading: Galatians 6: 14-18     The Gospel Reading & Preaching of the Word: At That Time, Jesus Said..., - Matthew 11: 15-20

At that time Jesus said, "Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have revealed to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned."

On the closest Sunday to the anniversary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi, the Rev. John’s Reflection/Sermon was focused on him and his life.  But for me - a good quote to begin our own personal review - comes from the summing up at the end of the Sunday Sermon.

“So what are we to make of this famous saint? He has been called "the Other Jesus" by some. He is revered and loved universally, by Christians and non- Christians alike. And yet, he didn't seem to Get it Right.

Perhaps this is what Jesus is talking about when he suggests that the foolish and unlearned may know something that the wise and learned don't know. Perhaps certainty and Being Right are not what Jesus wants from our lives.

Maybe Saint Francis shows us something completely different, something that looks more like perseverance in the face of uncertainty. Maybe the lesson I can learn from Saint Francis is the lesson that faithfulness is more valuable than Being Right; that humility and unknowing are a more appropriate response to God than certainty and knowledge. Perhaps abandoning the pride of self may be the way to begin to understand God. Or, in the words of Saint Francis' famous prayer, that it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

It is interesting to consider that perhaps the most famous prayer often attributed to one of the most famous saints is not included in the official “Prayers of St. Francis” of the Franciscan Order, although the prayer has been recommended by members of the order.  The lavish use of the personal pronouns "I" and "me" and the complete absence of the words "God" and "Jesus" are often used as “proof” of a different author.

It is widely thought to be more like the writing of Giles of Assisi (c.1180 – 1262), one of the close companions of St. Francis and has similarities to his “Golden Sayings of Blessed Giles of Assisi.”

Blessed is he who loves and does not therefore desire to be loved;
Blessed is he who fears and does not therefore desire to be feared;
Blessed is he who serves and does not therefore desire to be served;
Blessed is he who behaves well toward others and does not desire that others behave well toward him;
And because these are great things, the foolish do not rise to them.

St. Francis has been recognised and loved by much of the civilised world going back for many centuries.  He is not just a Roman Catholic saint, but a person with many of the human traits that we can recognise in ordinary people.  His early life was privileged because his father Pietro di Bernardone, was a wealthy and successful cloth merchant who travelled extensively and was in France when Francis was born in 1181/1182.  His was christened Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, but his father called him Francis and gave him every opportunity to enjoy a carefree “entitled” life with his friends. It seems that young Francis was very popular and seen by his friends to be a happy and carefree person who loved parties.  His first biographer, Thomas of Celano wrote that friends called Francis the “King of Revels”.  He was a great favourite among the young nobles of Assisi and had dreams of becoming a Knight, although he was being encouraged by his father to follow him as a merchant, which was not something he enjoyed.  It is recorded that even as a young man Francis had began to develop an intuitive sympathy with the poor people.

When he was 19 or 20 Francis went off to fight the Perugians in a petty skirmish, but he was taken prisoner and held in captivity more than a year.  After suffering from a fever while captive, he began to turn his thoughts to the emptiness of his life but on recovery he again wanted to have a splendid military career.  So Francis arranged to go with a Knight of Assisi who had agreed to accompany Walter of Brienne, who was known as the “gentle count”, who was supporting the Neapolitan States against the Emperor. The biographers of Francis tell us that the night before he set forth he had a strange dream and heard what he believed to be the voice of God.  In good spirits, Francis started the next day on his journey, but a second illness caused him to stop at Spoleto in Umbria, and in another dream where he said that he heard the same voice tell him to return to Assisi he immediately returned to his home city.

It seems clear that at this point in his life he was touched by the Spirit of God and after a short period of uncertainty, Francis the fun loving “would be” knight turned to serious prayer and sought solitude as he answered his call by giving up his fancy clothes and wasteful ways.  In the reading I have done, a recurring theme developed and Francis began to literally embrace and welcome and even kiss lepers and beggars and give away his clothing and his money.  About this time, he made a pilgrimage to Rome where the horde of beggars at the door of the Basilica caused him to exchange his clothing and stand at the door with the beggars and fast. 

Not long after Francis returned to Assisi, the incident described by the Rev. John in his sermon, when Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix at the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damien’s below the town of Assisi, took place.  Francis heard God’s voice again and he said; “Go Francis and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin”.  This event was responsible for panic reactions which resulted in a permanent rift between Francis and his father, who did not forgive his son for rushing off to his shop, and, impetuously taking a load of his materials and also his horse which he rode to a market at Foligno and sold to get the money needed to restore the church.  However, the priest refused to accept the money because of the way it was obtained and Francis hid for a month in a cave near the church to avoid his father’s great wrath, which was not abated at all - even when he got back his money which Francis had thrown down at the feet of the priest.

The stories about the total surrender of all comfort and worldly goods are long and amazing, and soon St Francis who was equally kind to people and animals, was no longer considered to be mad as he wandered the countryside preaching God’s word.  Soon he was being joined by some impressive adherents who joined him and followed his way of life - and the Franciscan order began to spread throughout many countries and his selfless love and service to the poor and the sick people of the world is still reflected in this modern age.

I found this summary about Saint Francis and thought I should share it with you; 

St. Francis of Assisi was a unique spiritual personality who gave up a life of wealth and social position to embrace a life of poverty and chastity – With the approval of the Pope, he founded a new Monastic Order, commonly known as the Franciscans. St Francis is considered one of the greatest saints in the Christian tradition and an example of a life lived in imitation of Jesus Christ.

“Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.” – St Francis – Canticle of St Francis

In 1982 my husband and I visited Italy and I was thrilled to be able to go to Assisi and visit the place where St. Francis had discovered God’s Grace and devoted his life to God’s work.  I felt I needed to pinch myself as we stood in the famous Basilica above the steep streets of this beautiful hillside town and looked at the famous frescos of Giotto and other artists who had painted them nearly a thousand years ago.  I still remember the intensity of my art teacher at school as he held up his precious art book to show his students the photos of these wonderful paintings.   St Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226 and work on the church was started in 1228, the year of Francis's canonisation, and it was constructed slowly over the next 300 years.  We were very sad when the Basilica was badly damaged by two earthquakes in 1982 and some people died in the Basilica and in the town.

Many times I have tried to understand how St. Francis was able to give up all earthly joy and punish himself for his perceived failings when he led a selfless existence with his every thought devoted to God.  I have to admit that I have often had doubts about God’s expectations and asked myself if God really “requires” us to be miserable.  I think joy is the greatest gift in life we can give and share.

Thursday, 1 October 2020

Sunday 27th September 2020 - “Walking the Walk”

 The First Reading: Exodus 17:1-7 The Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:23-32  Hymn TIS 618: What does the Lord require? 

Walking the Walk   On Sunday 27th September, the Rev. John began his Reflection/Sermon by asking those watching him speaking on Zoom, listening via a telephone link, or reading his words which asked us to “Imagine you are watching television and a commercial comes on” and then he went on to describe an idyllic scene which was cleverly orchestrated to convince the viewers that buying their product would deliver “salvation – buy our product and it will save you from your harried, over-scheduled existence and lead you to this “perfect” life”.  

Of course we all know that life is not always perfect, yet each of us must admit that we have sometimes been enticed by clever advertising.  Quite recently, I was convinced by a TV advertisement that a new salted caramel biscuit with a well-loved name and international reputation would be quite delicious – instead I was very disappointed and felt let down and only finished the small but expensive packet of these biscuits to avoid waste.  I suspect the product has not been a great success because, after the initial six to eight weeks of blanket advertising, I have never seen these disappointing biscuits mentioned on TV again.

In the Exodus story mentioned by the Rev. John, the Israelites had no doubt been looking forward to a better and perhaps even “perfect” life as they journeyed out of Egypt, but as we discovered - when things became hard; “The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord ?’   But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’”

As “The Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” – the majority of us have expressed doubts from time to time when things go wrong.  I feel sure that many distressed people have questioned God about the current Covid 19 pandemic and asked how he could have unleashed such illness and struggle upon the world. 

During his sermon, the Rev. John went on to tell us a “modern parable” that described ‘someone’ like we have all seen come to worship at our church and grow in enthusiasm and goodwill, but who gradually found that everything was getting too hard.  Their religious fervour gradually waned, so that they may have slowly drifted away, with us barely noticing that one day they just stopped coming altogether.  The “modern parable”  went on; “He still believed in God and felt love for God but didn’t know how to integrate these pieces into the rest of his life. It all seemed like it was too hard, too much.” 

We should wonder why this person did not keep looking for a closer walk with God in our church community and ask; Do we always “walk the walk as well as talk the talk?” 

The Rev. John said; “Jesus gives a telling example of response to God’s love in his parable today about the two sons being asked to work in the vineyard. The first son tells his father outright that he won’t do it, but then has a change of heart and goes and does it anyway. Whereas the second son tells his father he will and then never does. It’s a pretty extreme example, but it gets the point across. Jesus tells this to the chief priests and elders – who rejected John the Baptist and were rejecting Jesus – in order for them to be caught in their own web of deceit. Jesus asks them, “Which of the two did the will of his father?” and they know they are trapped because the answer, of course, is the first son. He ended up living his life faithfully; he didn’t just talk about it or say things to appease his father.”

We often do similar things in our own lives. “How many of us have told someone we would pray for him or her and then got distracted and didn’t? How many of us have thought or talked a lot about helping the marginalised in our neighbourhood, but haven’t? How many of us have been puzzled when people who were once zealous about their faith faded away, and we intended to contact them but never have?

We all have good intentions. But as Jesus teaches us in our gospel reading today, our intentions don’t really matter. It’s our actions that are grounded in and flow from our relationship with God that count – individually and as a community.”

As Christians; perhaps we should encourage the alternate idiom; “Practice what you preach” as a greater motivation than other versions of “Walk the Walk” which is essentially saying “PROVE IT”.  Other such sayings that have great relevance to the expression of our genuine reactions are, “Actions speak louder than words” and “The road to hell is paved with good intentions!”  A different interpretation of that saying is that the difference between what someone intends to do and what they actually do can often be called procrastination.

A few years ago, when my husband and I sorted through some old papers, we unearthed a “to do” list from more than 30 years ago - and the amazing thing was there was absolutely nothing on the long list that still needed to be done, yet not one job had been ticked as completed.  Although we laughed about it and recognised our serious faults of procrastination, we agreed that so called wise quotes are very much like statistics really; you can find one to support almost any argument you wish to make.  I consider myself a reasonably decisive person; however, I can nod my head in agreement with almost all the dozens of quotes on procrastination that I unearthed via Google.  I think the ‘tongue in cheek’ quote; “One of the greatest labour-saving inventions of today is tomorrow”, which is attributed to Vincent T. Foss, perhaps best fits the sad tale of our old unchecked list of jobs.  Although my mother, if she was still with us, would have opted for the often wisely quoted; “Procrastination is the thief of time” theory?  My mother dusted the house and swept the floor each day – it was like a religious ritual.  I have often wondered and imagined how much time would have been saved if she had procrastinated and done it only when her “round tuit” came conveniently to hand.

As we moved our fingers down the lines of writing on our list, we shed tears of laughter as we noted our soft blue British Wolseley didn’t need polishing - there have been around six replacements for that particular car since then.  More good news - the next thing on the list didn’t need doing either – the fuchsia garden that needed weeding and spraying for the black caterpillars that regularly stripped the leaves each time we felt a little smug about how pretty the garden looked, could be crossed off too.  Our daughter’s “new” bedroom was built over that spot some 30 years ago and the rose garden near the back patio didn’t need weeding either.  The sunroom extension was built over that nearly 20 years ago.

Neither did the wrought iron on the front patio need painting because the lounge room extension covered that patio at the same time the fuchsia garden was lost.   Almost doubled up with laughter, we crossed all the remaining jobs off the list with a flourish, feeling really good about all the time we had saved by not doing those jobs either.  Continuing to build rooms onto the house to avoid weeding the garden or painting, may sound a little extreme but it just goes to prove - if you put some things off long enough you never have to do them at all! 

However, the serious, older and hopefully slightly wiser me must now agree with the quote of Edward Young, which my very busy house-proud mother would have approved; “Procrastination is the thief of time; year after year it steals, till all are fled, and to the mercies of a moment leaves the vast concerns of an eternal state. At thirty, man suspects himself a fool; knows it at forty, and reforms his plan; at fifty chides his infamous delay, pushes his prudent purpose to resolve; in all the magnanimity of thought, resolves, and re-resolves, then dies the same."

My reality is; I believe all people who achieve the things that are important to them in life, gain personal satisfaction and harbour warm feelings of fulfilment as well as setting a good example.  It is for each of us to live according to our own truth. 

However, I would like to share one final quote that may never make its way into the ‘endless list of quotes on everything’ to be found on the Internet.  It is an often repeated quote from a lady who can always find a reason to procrastinate when there is housework to be done.  If you know me well, you have probably often heard me say: “When I lie on my death bed I will not be saying, I wish I had done more housework!”

Thank you Rev. John for asking us if we are “Walking the walk”; We say we are Christians, but how do we know? How do others know? God has given us the gift of our lives and we are called to respond.”  You may like to click on the link and listen carefully to the words of Hymn 618 TiS.  “What does the Lord Require?” “Do justly; Love mercy; Walk humbly with your God.”