Thursday, 30 July 2020

Finding the Kingdom among the realities of your life

“Today Let's Picture the World as an ungainly, promising mass of dough.”  O.K. That’s different, I thought, as the Rev. John started off his Reflection/Sermon on Sunday 26th July. 

I have been living in the world for more decades than I envisaged I may have survived and I have never once in all that time imagined something as amazing, mysterious and wonderful as God’s world; in such a colourless and heartless way.  The world is sometimes a scary place, sometimes a difficult place, and sometimes a sad place.  I marvel at the miracles and the intricacy of every plant, animal, element and design of God’s amazing creations – every single day!
Often my life is enriched by small unexpected moments of secret joy - moments to be hoarded like a miser’s secret treasure - to be quietly relived and enjoyed later, or to be hugged to my heart to bring warmth to the day.
I am not referring to those spectacular life changing and important moments like leaving home to join my fiancĂ© in church to marry; or like holding each of our daughters in my arms shortly after the miracle of their birth; or even the look of joy on my husband’s face as he held his first grandson in his arms.  I am writing and thinking of those almost unnoticed moments when small acts of love, thoughtfulness or kindness; or moments of overwhelming and unexpected beauty creep into my heart and enrich my life.
These are magical moments; often known only to me and appreciated only by me.  Do you remember such magical secret moments?
I remember such a moment as I secretly observed the look of love on a new mother’s face as she watched her Dad lean tenderly over her new son’s cot and quietly study the miracle of six hour old grandson number three, oblivious to a roomful of excited, noisy and unthinking relatives and friends who all seemed to be talking at once with little regard for the tiredness of the new mother.   I am certain the baby, now a young man, could never imagine just how much he was welcomed and loved at that moment or how the three generations were secretly and momentarily linked.  I am sure God saw that moment - and I saw it too – just a secret moment in time!
The Rev John, in speaking of what he called “the one liner parable of the yeast in the flour” reminded us; “We need to be patient and to exercise discernment (try judgement shrewdness or sensitivity) if a lump of dough is ever to be bread for the world.  He continued; “And we must exercise this same patience and discernment about the universe.  Life is something other than a pile of flour and a bit of yeast. Life is an ungainly, promising mass of dough, on its way to becoming abundant bread. Just as yeast permeates the entire lump, so the kingdom is present everywhere, and everywhere it becomes manifest for those with eyes to see.”

At first I was surprised by the much repeated use of the word manifest in this sermon.  It is a word which is not used as often as it might be; so I wondered why the Rev. John liked it so much - and I looked it up in several dictionaries.   There are so many other words with a similar meaning – he must have had a reason, I thought.  Synonyms given were; obvious, clear, plain, apparent, evident, patent, palpable, distinct, definite, blatant, overt, glaring, barefaced, explicit, transparent, conspicuous, undisguised, unmistakable, unquestionable, undeniable, noticeable, perceptible, visible, recognizable, observable.  All good words.  I discovered the dictionary said; manifestation is the public display of emotion or feeling, or something theoretical made real.  Manifestation's origins are in religion and spirituality because if something spiritual becomes real, it is said to be a manifestation.”
“The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened … Jesus wants us to glimpse the kingdom of heaven, that realm where God’s sovereignty is recognised.”
Sometimes in the noise and clamour of a busy shopping centre or street a moment of God’s magic is seen; everyone knows that young people who are in love walk hand in hand through the streets and the shopping centres, but how much more beautiful is the sight of an ancient Chinese man and his shuffling bandy legged wife holding hands as they walk at a snail’s pace along the street?  And why did the glimpse of an old man driving carefully through the shopping centre in his electric wheelchair, with his wife holding his hand as it rested on the armrest of his chair, bring tears of happiness to my eyes?  Because it is easy to love when you are young - and it is easy to stay in love for a short time when life is good; however, love that endures through time and life’s struggles is much harder, and in the end much more worthwhile and beautiful.   Yet it is a beauty not always noticed or appreciated, especially by the starry eyed young lovers.
At times music and coincidence have also brought magic into my day.  I remember sitting with my husband in a small hotel in France in 1964 and eating our first ever Continental breakfast of dry bread rolls and coffee.  It all seemed foreign and unfriendly as the radio played in the background in the dining room, and it was strangely unnerving to feel for the first time in our lives we were unable to communicate – then suddenly Waltzing Matilda was being played on the radio, and we heard and loved every single note as never before or since.  
Sometimes outside influences intervene to spoil breathtaking natural beauty.  In a huge city like Sydney the cumulative luminous effect of endless electrically lit suburbs, streets and houses diminishes the rich velvet blackness of the night skies.  How I gasped with wonder when we stopped outside the small town of Benalla near the Victorian border to appreciate the dark velvety sky splashed extravagantly with countless millions of stars not visible anywhere near large cities.  It was a breathtakingly magical moment.  How can such nightly beauty be lost to untold millions every night?  What a sad thing that is.
As a student and lover of history and architecture I should probably have appreciated the grandeur and classical style of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome more closely when I visited.  However, instead I was overcome with the magical effects of the light that shone through the famous dome onto the high alter over the tomb of St. Peter.  The lighting seemed symbolic and I could visualize the Pope standing at the alter bathed in heavenly light - the true earthly leader of his people.  It was not until much later that I discovered that the Pope is the only one who is allowed to speak from the high alter.  You can see from my photo that I was not the only tourist to be enthralled by the divine light that day.

I am grateful for the unexpected joys of daily life, and I hope I always remember to take the time to appreciate all the magical moments that come my way.  I will continue to find it difficult to actually follow the Rev. John’s suggestion to “Picture the world as an ungainly, promising mass of dough.”   But yes; “The parable about the yeast in the flour does help us see something of the kingdom of heaven, that realm where God’s sovereignty is recognized.”
“And when you find the kingdom among the realities of your life, nothing prevents you from finding this same kingdom present as well in the circumstances around you, in the lives of other people, and everywhere you choose to look.”
“As it takes faith to believe that bread will rise, so too, faith is necessary to see the kingdom manifest in the everyday and the ordinary. We must exercise patience and discernment wherever God places us. Then we will see that what seems like a dead lump is in fact bubbling with divine life.”
“So may each of us go forth this week, and encounter places and people and circumstances, and look there for the kingdom: not as distant, but near at hand; not as obvious, but hidden; not as static, but alive and becoming manifest; a kingdom making room for all of us.”
“When we look for the kingdom, then we find it present, abundantly present. And when we do, then we have more reasons to give thanks than we ever expected.”

Thursday, 23 July 2020

"Can we stamp out Darnel?" or "Gathering God's People"

The Rev. John called his Reflection/Sermon on Sunday 19th July, taken from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43  “Can we stamp out Darnel” or “Gathering God’s People”.  He indicated that he had some problems tracking down the exact meaning of the word ‘darnel’ when making preparations for the sermon - so of course I immediately took my favourite dictionary down from the shelf, feeling confident of finding a satisfactory answer.  We have a wonderful two volume dictionary that my husband saved from the rubbish skip during an overzealous clean-out at his place of work many years ago.  This edition of The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles” – First Published in February 1933 and updated and corrected many times was printed in 1975 so was probably not all that old when it was randomly discarded. 

This book has been a great asset in transcribing old family wills and working out the legal, property and other terms in common use in centuries passed, while doing family and general history research.  We use it all the time; often comparing it with our Australian Macquarie Dictionary which of course no Australian family should be without in their home. 

Darnel – 1. A deleterious grass, Lolium temulentum, which grows as a weed among corn.  Also a book-name of the genus Lolium.  Also Rye-grass is named and mention is made of ‘cockle’ and ‘tares’ and of “Satan’s sowing of his errors and discords.”  Upon going to Volume 2 I learned:  ‘Tare’ in early times was a name given to some seeds of vetch which appeared as weeds in cornfields. ‘Tares’ are “waste in goods” or “that which is burned” and tare weight is commonly used today regarding packing and transporting goods.  

Having once again read the “Parable of the weeds” during this week, I was reminded of my fascination with the unexpected beauty of the seemingly endless farms in France, where I took many photos of fields that seemed to have the edges sprinkled with Flanders Poppies, field daisies, wild grasses of many varieties and other obviously invading plants the farmer would have resented.  However, I found them randomly beautiful and did not even think about the nuisance to the poor farmer as I took my photos. Because I have never lived in a rural area or on a farm I think I see things a little differently and I am actually so untrained on the subject of farming I can barely recognise most of the crops enough to be sure if they are corn or wheat or maize or almost any other crop.  

Bridge House Cemetery has just 43 graves and sits in farmland like many of the military cemeteries.

In the three weeks my husband and I spent travelling around France and Belgium in 2011, I was enchanted by the beauty and the tranquillity of this country which we had visited only very briefly previously.  The rural areas were scattered with villages and small towns among what seemed to be endless farms; and it seemed that everywhere there were beautifully kept military cemeteries dotted across the landscape.  But of course in reality in 1914, what we called the First World War, all too swiftly followed by the Second World War, were just the latest in centuries of catastrophic wars that created havoc and misery in almost every civilisation from the beginning of time. 

From this farm at Arramanches near Omaha Beach the remains of the huge concrete Mulberry Harbours of D Day 1944 can still be seen in the water.  Note the unwelcome but colourful weeds that have invaded the farmer's fields.

The core message for the day, this last Sunday, was in fact very similar to our “Parable of the Sower” from the previous week, except for the “enemy who came in the night” who obviously represents evil.  This led me to consider that if you ever needed to confirm that there has always been evil in the world - war has been a constant source of discord and evil for countless eons almost from the moment God created the world. 

So perhaps it has always been that each generation fails to listen to the stories and lessons from the past. 

Alexander the Great?

Ancient and medieval history is filled with stories of barbarians whose whole existence centred around endless battles and wars – “and what was so ‘great’ about Alexander?”  He lived just 33 years and his constant war mongering as the head of a civilization much admired by historians and classic scholars led him to lure many hundreds of thousands of soldiers to their death and encouraged those who survived to rape, murder and pillage in the cities and towns that were taken in battle?

Although nobody knows the true number there are estimates of 9 million Christians, Muslims and Jews dying in the 11 medieval Crusades – yet still the fighting carries on in these regions in the 21st century. 

In Moscow in 1982 at an International Peace Conference the message of a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6th August 1945 went largely unheard.  When the bomb exploded some 2,000 feet above the centre of the city she was an ordinary schoolgirl listening to an address by the headmistress.  She told of the “Heaven-splitting flash and earth shaking roar which demolished the city in an instant … The billowing clouds of smoke that brought sudden night … The fires which began all over the city and joined up to make the city of Hiroshima an inferno.”  More than 200,000 men women and children died.

In the Memorial Peace Park in Hiroshima there is a stone chest that contains the names of all those known to have been killed by the atomic blast.  The inscription reads, “Let all the souls here rest in peace; for we shall not repeat the evil.”

Perhaps we have not repeated that particular evil – but with the weapons we have today, we might kill 500 million people and disfigure the earth for centuries.  When we visited the Farnborough Air Show in September 1982 we saw many sophisticated war planes and weapons; and remember this was just after the reality of the Falklands War; so we were aware that these machines had recently been used “for real” against some of God’s people.

I remember having seen on television, great gatherings of people in Argentina, praying to God for victory; and then seeing pictures of people in Britain attending special services to ask for His blessing on them.  Think how confused our children were! 

Now that I am older I worry that young people are not even interested in the lessons of history - and often war is a theatre entertainment or a violent video game, while for some a catastrophe is a broken finger nail or a beached whale.

The Rev. John summarised points of the parable;
1. There is good and evil in the world.
2. Bad things happen that are beyond our control.
3. Jesus & God are aware of the evil deeds in our life and world.
4. Jesus blames the bad deeds on the evil presence in the world.
5. The farm in this parable is the world.
6. Jesus is the sower.
7. The good seed represents the good people in the kingdom or those in a relationship with Christ.
8. The darnel or evil ones will not be a part of the kingdom nor will they have a relationship with Christ.”
When we are tempted to judge and separate the good and bad, we need to back off and remember that we are to love our neighbour. Without this love as the focus of our lives, it is likely that we would be considered to be darnel - the weed that Jesus intends to use for bonfires.”

I believe that while there is life we can and should, continue to encourage and help those who may be considered by much of society as ‘weeds’; and offer them a pathway into the way of life that reflects the love of God.   The Rev. John’s conclusion perhaps puts these ideas in a better way for us.

“The challenge is for each of us to live our lives as the good grain, the wheat, the staff-of-life. Let us pray for the strength, faith, and concentration to allow us to keep our course and to inspire others to join us. Let us pray that we are enabled to share the good news of Christ. Who knows--we may stamp out the darnel.”

Thursday, 16 July 2020

The Responsibility of Hearing

The Rev. John called his Reflection/Sermon on Sunday 12th July, “The Responsibility of Hearing” and this seems to be a good way of looking at and interpreting the parables from the Bible and their relevance in the 21st Century; which may offer different paths of understanding to the culture and lives of the original hearers of these lessons presented by Jesus in the 1st Century.  After giving a brief summary of the Parable of the Sower, the Rev. John said; “Not all of the seed fell on poor soil or poorly prepared ground. Some fell on good ground and brought forth fruit.  In comparing this kind of soil to the hearer, Jesus says it is a person who hears the word, understands, and responds to that same word.  Most of us hear, but it is important that we understand and respond in both word and action also.  How important it is for each of us to know our own hearts and our response to the gospel of Jesus?”

For those of us of a mature age, perhaps there is sometimes a sigh of resignation when we realise that the theme of the day for our church service is one of the well-known parables from the Bible that we have been hearing since we first listened to them with the wonder of a “Once upon a time” story in Sunday School.

Since that time we have probably heard dozens of interpretations of each parable at different stages of our life and I suggest that our reactions may have changed with our understanding as a child, a teenager, a young adult, a parent or a more mature person.  Who among us could not, as a child and a young person, see why the younger brother of the Prodigal son was a bit miffed about the fuss and the welcome given to his returning brother?  Then as a parent, I must admit that I could see that the father might have made things easier for his younger son if he had included him in the whole situation and encouraged his participation in the planning and the execution of the festivities. 

In my life experience, I have found that a good teacher does not ram facts down your throat, but presents the learner with the “tools” to listen, understand, interpret and research how the information presented can help them to embrace the “big picture” and discover the truth for themselves.   As a teacher, Jesus was surely telling his stories to allow involvement and questioning among his listeners and perhaps there were questions and discussions among the people who flocked to hear these “lessons”. 

In relation to The Parable of the Sower - or as the Rev. John suggested it could be called - the Parable of the soils; “It is the reaction of the soils and of the hearers, that makes the difference. He said; “This is the important part of the parable. The sower must possess the seed which is clearly the word of God … We need to first experience the truth of the gospel in our own lives before we can share it with others.”

I read an observation made by  M. – J. Lagrange, who was an early 20th Century scholar of the New Testament, in which he explained that “the parable” is not always clear, because “The purpose of a parable is to strike the imagination, to pique the curiosity, to make the listener reflect and work to arrive at the meaning, but only so that the lesson will be more deeply engraved on the mind.”  I like this idea because we need to have a way of looking into the stories and finding that 21st Century relevance we are seeking.  Perhaps this is why I sometimes like to look at the possible meanings of any of the parables from a different point of view. 

In my reflections on the Parable of the Sower I have come to sometimes random conclusions like; It is perhaps part of God’s great plan that the birds who swoop down and eat the seed that the sower has carelessly cast on paths or the hard ground that will not sustain growth are really in need of that seed to survive. Just last week I was overcome with joy when a small group of sparrows swooped down onto the path I was walking.  They trusted me and landed to retrieve some food from the debris broken off the trees by the wind.  I can’t remember when I last locally encountered sparrows or blue wrens, although they were here in abundance 40 years ago.  Surely God would be as thrilled as I was to know that his birds that are struggling could find some food.

So if as it is implied in Jesus' story, the Word of God is the seed, and we are the soil, doesn’t that mean that those people who may have been carelessly planted among rocks or weeds may need our help to hear God’s word, or to live a life that reflects God’s Love.  In our lives we have seen and heard of many wonderful stories and miracles that have brought Faith and Trust and new life to people who may have been on the wrong road with the wrong kind of friends who may have been harmful weeds or thorns. 

I had an uncle who was a Policeman in the area where my brothers and I grew up and one day he came to my father and said; “You should stop your boys from keeping company with (let’s call him) “Fred” because he has been seen in the company of known trouble-makers.”  Although Fred may not have been the first choice as a friend for his sons, my father told them to be careful; but he told his brother that he was pleased that his sons could recognise the good in Fred  -  and he said that he thought his boys could have a very positive influence on  Fred’s life.  Fred’s father had died as a soldier in WW11 and the good people of Legacy and others were trying to help his widow - and set his daughter and young son on the right path.  My brothers ignored the dubious “new” friends that had come into Fred’s life as he left school at 15 and took a job in the Homebush Abattoirs.  A combination of too much money for piece work with an adult wage, together with a 3.00 pm finish to his working day probably contributed to his falling in with the wrong crowd. 

My brothers continued their friendship with Fred who was often to be found sitting around our house and sharing family life with other “safe” friends.  After my younger brother died a few years ago, another friend told me that he believed that Fred had benefited greatly from having a stable and loyal friend like my brother.  Tragically, when Fred was 19 he was killed in a motor cycle accident – I have always been glad that he had been part of our family and protected from “the thorns” of life by my brothers and their friends. 

I can’t help seeing all gardens as places of hope - I feel we must always look for tiny “plants” and “people at risk” and I thank God for all the wonderful people who spend their lives improving the soil in the lives of those who have problems in their way.  

Last week I sat on our back steps in the warm winter sunshine and looked around at the blue cloudless sky.  I saw the elegant bare branches of the peach blossom trees with their promise of spring buds beginning to swell; ready to burst into September flowers of exquisite beauty. 

 The mighty jacaranda tree with slightly yellowing leaves was giving an early sign of the time in November when the almost bare silver branches will be laden with purple flowers that will begin to fall gently and lay down a purple carpet beneath the tree canopy and beyond. 

And the Lorikeets will return to enjoy the abundance of flowers on the Grevillia in the rockery during the summer months.  We certainly need to look forward in hope as 2020 continues on its dreary and worrying way!

As I looked around, I knew that the grass really needed to be mowed, but that must now wait until spring delivers the riot of wild freesias which will spread their joy throughout our back yard. Yes – those freesias really know how to bloom where they were planted over many years by the vagaries of the wind.

It is wonderful to share with you the news that Margaret is finally home from hospital and rehab and she sounded so much better and brighter when I spoke to her yesterday.

Friday, 10 July 2020

"Come unto me - the Comfortable Words"

I know that it is usually recommended to; “Start at the very beginning.”  However, the end of the Rev. John’s sermon on Sunday 5th July offered such a succinct support of his theme; “Come to me” that I feel I should quote his conclusion before trying to express my thoughts and feelings.  As I have said before; I am by no means a student of Theology; and the Bible passage Matthew 11: 25-30 seems to have been vigorously discussed, investigated and speculated upon by theologians through centuries of different translations and philosophies.  

The Rev. John said; “The Comfortable Words, ‘Come unto me all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will refresh you,’ remind us that God's incomparable, compassionate forgiveness is a gift that releases us into life with God as responsible human beings who want to grow deeper in love and joyful obedience. After all, we are called not only to find peace, refreshment and rest for ourselves but also to live the kind of lives through which others, too, find God's peace, God's refreshing grace, and the joy of placing their lives in God's hands. AMEN.”

Although I do not recall having heard the term “Comfortable Words” as part of my Anglican upbringing, I have always found great comfort in the traditions of the invitation the Rev. John spoke of; "Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ saith to all that truly turn to him..."  and other often repeated and reassuring routines of church services.  I do miss the regular saying of the “Nicene Creed” which was always a comforting reminder of our Christian beliefs and obligations in my earlier days and as part of the Communion Service in later times.  It seems that these days “The Creed” is usually only repeated as part of a service of baptism (and probably a confirmation service if one was to be held) – while I can see that this is a very important ritual of the baptism to remind us all what we are promising for the life of the child I would still find comfort in its regular inclusion in other services, because this would bring comfort and help the “church family” to remember what is required of them.  Then looking around at their fellow worshipers, they would be reassured that each person is surrounded by the love of God and God’s people.

Without knowing of “Comfort Words” - I do remember a warm and comfortable feeling when being given the assurance; "Come unto me all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you."  I really liked the word travail which has among its synonyms; struggle, effort, toil, exertion and labour. The subtle shades of meaning must be something of a nightmare for translators - and the number of different versions of the Bible must be daunting to serious students of theology. However, the Bible I was given for my Confirmation was the King James Version and although probably not the easiest to unravel and understand, I just loved the sounds of the words – they sounded like poetry to me.  When our first child was born she was given “The Good News Bible” by her grandparents.  The next version that seemed to become favoured was the New English Bible which is still generally used in the Marsden Road Church in 2020. 

My paternal Grandfather was born in 1878 in Goulburn, NSW.  He was the youngest of ten children, six boys and four girls and his mother died at the time of his birth, so he was brought up by his father's recently married sister and her husband.  After his father died, he left school at the age of fourteen and started work as a messenger boy.  By then his foster parents had five children of their own to care for, feed and educate and they were difficult times for families in the inner suburbs of Sydney.

My Grandfather’s Uncle was very strict and insisted that he learn the Collect word perfect each Sunday.  If he could not say it correctly his Uncle administered a "hiding" on Monday because; being a God fearing man, he would not break the Sabbath.  For the punishment his cruel Uncle used a rope soaked in a bucket of salt water and I suspect the good that may have come from learning the Collect may well have been destroyed – and the lesson of the Uncle’s pious respect for the Sabbath also lost. 

Although he attended special church services like the Ordination of his son and perhaps went sometimes to listen to him preach, I do not remember my grandfather attending church until, in his mid 70s, he was confirmed by the Archbishop of Sydney at St. Andrew’s Cathedral in the presence of his family.  This really impressed me as an 11 or 12 year old, but it impresses me more now that I am of a similar age. I hope this indicated my grandfather’s forgiveness of his Uncle’s harsh “religious training”.  It was my Grandfather and Grandmother who willingly gave his Aunt a home for the last years of her life and he always spoke of her with gratitude for her care of him.
My Father's Parents in the late 1930s

I was never in any doubt that my grandfather believed in God because he always showed great care and kindness to everyone and went out of his way to help people in gentle thoughtful ways, despite his serious disability acquired at work in September 1933.  During the Great Depression he was working as a wharf labourer and this meant that he had to present himself at the wharves early each morning for "pick up" to obtain work for the day.  During those times the lines of men formed before dawn down “The Hungry Mile” and times were very hard.  My Grandfather was injured while he was down in the hold of a ship when a sling of timber fell on him causing serious injuries that prevented him from ever working again because his spine was fractured and his neck dislocated, leaving him in a precarious condition.  From then on he always wore a heavy leather collar with three buckles at the back of his neck and a metal support under his chin. This accident happened before the days of Workers’ Compensation, yet my gentle grandfather filled his life helping his family, friends and neighbours. 
Hickson Road - "The Hungry Mile" where wharf labourers lined up for work during the Great Depression
He died when I was 15 and I still remember him with great fondness for his kindness, his love and his great courage. However, one of the greatest memories of my childhood is the ritual of his special good-bye each time we met.   My Grandfather would take me onto his knee, put his arm around me and look me in the eye and bless me; "May the Lord bless you and keep you and give you health and strength to carry on."  This may have seemed like a strange farewell to a healthy little girl, but over the years the memory has indeed been very comforting.

The Rev. John’s reflections on the “Comfort Words” and my memories of how it felt to be blessed and comforted by being a part of comforting church services - and my beautiful Grandfather, prompt me to say that “the church” ie. The people of “the church” have a huge job to do at this difficult time to comfort those who are lonely and those whose lives have been unexpectedly ‘turned upside down’. 

We must also remember to comfort the comforters and remember that some people who suffer may hide behind their busyness.   

Thursday, 2 July 2020

“Whom Ought I Welcome?”

This Sunday, the Rev. John’s sermon was focused on “Whom Ought I Welcome?”  – Matthew 10:40-42 “Jesus said, ‘Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.’”  A number of times during his reflection, the Rev. John reminded us of “Our obligations of welcome and hospitality; Such an understanding of hospitality, of the obligation of welcome, dates back to well before the time of Jesus. It was a matter of survival and community health which translated into the religious understanding of what God wants of us. Where and how do we experience such welcome today?”
That is indeed a BIG and difficult question!  Of course, the world is and has been ever changing and it becomes confusing and sometimes unnecessarily guilt provoking if we try to judge everything and everyone against a yardstick from a different time in history.  I sometimes wonder how many of the modern world problems which cause the most angst, are left over from the incredibly tumultuous and war ravaged 20th century and are a direct result of the loss of country, identity, customs and traditions and millions of lives?  History shows us that almost every country has at some time been invaded by bullies who have changed the way the ordinary people can expect to live; and migration has been the pattern for thousands of years.
The study of Ancient history in the first year of high school had already taught me that one great Empire followed the other with monotonous and inexorable regularity.  Even at the tender age of 12 it was obvious to me that greed, unrest, distrust and intolerance generally resulted in the decline of an empire - and isn’t that still happening today?  We are certainly watching the great “American Empire” appearing to self-destruct right before our eyes and some are perhaps bemoaning our changed allegiance after the fall of the British Empire of which many of us, our parents and our younger selves were so proud to belong.  Now as a country and as individuals we ask; should we blame or admire those who want to catch onto the coat-tails of the movers and shakers of the emerging modern Chinese Empire?  Didn’t the 20th and early 21st century teach us that Communism and Christianity often do not sit well together.
The Dark Ages stretched in historical terms from Late Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages or from 300 to 800 - when time morphed into the early Middle Ages – again not a really happy time to be alive.  I was recently fascinated to discover that historians today consider the use of the term Dark Ages, implies a “bad value judgement” because of the “negative connotations” of barbarity and intellectual deficit.
Well, historians can call it what they like - and it seems that the preferred term today is “The Migration Period”- however it cannot be denied those days were shrouded in darkness of many kinds.  Surely I am not alone in thinking that this period of time - when an estimated 100 million people died as the result of war, poverty and plague - was indeed a dark time.
Once again we are watching huge “migrations” making a mockery of established borders because of aggressive and violent invasions, poverty and famine.  I don’t know about you, but I certainly wonder what history will make of all these events.  There are such diverse views on the morality of almost every situation - whose history can possibly be “the truth”.  Whose “truth” is God’s truth?  The Crusaders certainly didn’t emerge from the early skirmishes with Islam looking too Godly and neither will we; if we condemn any people without thought, acknowledgement, or the lessons of history tempered with compassion.
Conquest of  Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204 - A 15th Century Miniature painted by David Aubert (1449 - 79)
Public Domain  - Wikipedia 

Will history offer apologies for the extreme violence of this century?  Will we take on the burden of responsibility for terrorism and extremism?  How can we ever agree on who we should welcome into our country, community, church or home?  I agree that successful integration and diversity can bring strong new alliances and friendships, but I believe that diversity both challenges and enriches us personally and as a society; but above all my Christian values tell me that tolerance is the glue that holds any society together.  In order to keep this civilized and enlightened social order that we call society, the enforcement of rules and laws must generally be seen to be the right outcome to preserve the rights of the majority.  It is in fact ironic, that the price for a person who exercises what they may consider to be their personal freedom, in an anti-social way in a “civilised” society, is often punishment by imprisonment, inflicted by that same society.
As I grow older and observe the lies and the misinformation which have been propagated as “history” and “truth” in my living memory, I struggle with the probability that my experiences of the time I was alive will not be accurately portrayed.  I lived through the 60s; yet my way of life and the life of all the people I knew, in no way resembled the culture and the morality depicted as “normal”, which is now being passed on to younger generations as fact.  Also, how can it be that it is regularly reported in the media by financial experts that my generation was blessed in easily being able to own their own home in Sydney, when from our first pay packet, both my future husband and I saved very carefully, making financial and social sacrifices in anticipation of a future involving marriage and our personal responsibility for any future children. Our home was modest, with no furniture except a new fridge and mattress on the floor and some ancient borrowed wooden chairs, a discarded laminex table and borrowed suitcases for our clothes. From our families we had collected an assortment of old bedspreads, war surplus blankets and sheets to cover the large naked picture windows so fashionable in the red texture brick dream home of the 1960’s.  There were no fences, paths or gardens in sight.
How much of the recorded history and way of life of previous centuries accurately depicts the truth I wonder?    Somehow as I grow old enough to have lived through significant historical events and actually been part of the history of more than half of the 20th century and two decades of the 21st century, I begin to wonder if education and science have now rendered history invalid and useless.  Before Columbus sailed to the New World did anybody dispute the belief the world was flat?
I am confused.   Yes it is easy for Christians to feel confusion and guilt, especially as better education allows everyone to have an opinion and certainly in democratic societies to express our opinions.  Does it matter how much new evidence has been “uncovered” - sometimes quite literally - about the Dark Ages or Middle Ages, or any other time in history?
Surely scientists can’t – and should not perpetuate theories like the flatness of the earth when we have marvelled at pictures taken from space and which prove the curvature of the earth!  Thousands of concepts like the forces of gravity which ensures that the water does not fall into space from the oceans and rivers as the earth turns upside down; have all been scientifically proved.  However, I can still, in sheer wonder, marvel at God’s amazing “work”.
I believe that proven scientific knowledge is different to the recording of events that we call history?  Now this is a really tricky question to which many might consider there is no correct answer!  Should anyone take it upon themselves to try to change the history that has been recorded?  If there are important changes that can correct mistakes in reporting, this could be a reason to make some authorised historical corrections; but we cannot allow the modern opinions of the morality or even the harshness of past events to allow history to be distorted to please the whims of the current generations. Surely this can only lead to anarchy!
The Rev John did in his thinking this morning put forward the challenge of who we should welcome, in this whimsical manner:  “Just so we get this straight: whoever welcomes you welcomes Jesus, and whoever welcomes your friend or neighbour or family member or work colleague or elected official or mother-in-law or next door neighbour or chatty seat companion on an airplane or the stall holder at the Farmers market or grocery checkout person or barber (if you still use one) – there was a slight chuckle here as he is not over-endowed with hair!) -  or the Startrack driver or the child who hit your new car with a soccer ball … and so on and so forth … welcomes God?   The Rev. John even suggested; “We could have fun with this!”
“But would there ever be an end to such a list of those who are welcome? If there is an end to such a list of who is welcome, what does this mean? And if not, well -  what does that mean?” he asked.
Perhaps there is no real answer to any of those hard questions, although we can truthfully offer some positive answers to the Rev. John’s other question; “Where is our witness to welcoming others, and thereby welcoming Jesus and the one who sent him?”
A Quarterly Friendship Circle Morning Tea after Church on a Sunday Morning
Everyone is welcomed for a regular morning tea every Sunday
and anyone who has a Birthday ending in an 0 has a Birthday Cake

Our Marsden Road Church is a place where to my knowledge and experience over the last 50 years, everyone has always been genuinely welcomed and been offered hospitality and friendship; and this has always extended far beyond reasonable expectations and has indeed reflected the love of God through the care of his people.  During the months of the Covid 19 pandemic; although unable to offer traditional hospitality, it has been remarkable the way so many church members have looked after the spiritual and physical welfare of each person, specially caring for all those who are isolated, ill or lonely.  People have been printing and delivering copies of the weekly orders of service, newsletters and blogs to those without a computer and hundreds of phone calls have been made by our caring congregation members. 
I am pleased to say that our friend Margaret and her husband are at this time the recipients of all manner of hospitality as we all are when we are in hospital or sick at home.  Meals, biscuits, phone calls, encouragement and love are given, as Margaret continues to struggle through the aftermath of two complicated surgeries, with another to come.  I encourage all Margaret’s Blog followers to continue to include her in their prayers of intercession.
Our special Solstice $2.50 Excursions for Seniors to see how far they can travel on trains, buses and ferries - and visit all kinds of interesting places are open to friends and family and everyone of any age is welcome - they just have to pay more!