Monday, 11 February 2019

A Very Basic Introduction to the Old Testament

The Old Testament

The Hebrew Scriptures forms our Old Testament.  In Hebrew it’s called Tanakah - which is an abbreviation of the terms used for the three sets of books included: Torah (Law), Navi-im (Prophets) and Katov-im (Writings.)

Writings include such things as the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs (some translations call it Song of Solomon), Ecclesiastes. Psalms were hymns used in Temple worship - in the church we also use them in worship - sometimes as the words to our modern hymns, and sometimes as prayers. Proverbs are small snippets of wisdom intended for personal enlightenment. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is space for lament in the life of faith.

Prophets include elements of the history of the Jewish nation, as it went into exile and returned home, as well as the stories of the life and teachings of the prophets.  Unlike the popular stereotype, prophets rarely predicted the future.  Rather than foretelling, much of their work was forthtelling - describing what was happening in the world around them and saying what God thought of that; from there they frequently laid out what the consequences would be if the behaviour continued. The prophets denounced injustice, and called for leaders to be fair in their treatment of the poor.  The lesson of the prophets could be summed up in the words of Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, To love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”

As you read through the prophets you will find constant parallels between their teaching, and Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels.

Law is the first five books of the Bible. It includes elements of prehistory, such as the hymn of praise to God as creator of all things that the Bible begins with.  It goes on to the history of the Hebrew people, from their beginnings with Abraham, through slavery in Egypt, and return to the land of Israel.  

It also includes the laws given to Moses to help a group of escaped slaves become a nation.  This was to be an extraordinary nation - a theocracy - ruled by God, rather than human rulers. (Although a few generations later, the people would demand, and be given, a king such as other nations had.)  The law code includes the things you would expect - property law, laws concerning slaves, and laws of restitution, are all similar to other law codes of the ancient world.  But there are also the things that set Israel apart as a holy nation - ceremonies, such as circumcision, feasts and fasts, rules for holiness, rules for food, rules for conduct of worship, sacrifices, the rule of the Sabbath.

It was the law that the Pharisees used in their attempts to accuse Jesus of being a sinner - he broke the law of the Sabbath by healing people (Matthew 12:10, John 9:14), his followers picked grain to eat on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1).

When the message of Christ was being spread to Gentiles (non-Jewish people), who had not been living according to the law, the early church had to face the question of whether people had to become Jews (be subject to to the law) to become Christian.  

The early church gathered for worship, not on the Sabbath as dictated in the law (the day God rested after the work of creation), but instead on the first day of the week (Sunday) (Acts 20:7) the day of Jesus resurrection, and the first day of a new creation where Christ had overcome death. Offerings to help spread the Good News were also taken on the Sunday (1 Corinthians 6:12).

In Acts chapter 10, Peter was challenged by God to leave behind his attachment to the law, to go to the Centurion Cornelius, with the message of Christ.  In a vision God offered Peter foods that were not permitted under the law, with the message that God had now declared these unclean things clean. This led Peter to understand that the message of Jesus was for people who were outside the law, as well as for the Jews. 

Paul started out persecuting Christians, because of his understanding of the law.  His conversion, led him to a new understanding. In Galatians 5:2 Paul went so far to tell Gentiles that if they submitted to circumcision, Christ would be of no benefit to them.  Paul said in the letter to the Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Today, there are churches, such as the Seventh-day Adventists, who try to live the Old Testament law in combination with the Christian faith.  They worship on Saturday, and get around all of the intricacies of the food laws by being vegetarian.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

3 June 2018

Service for Sunday 3 June, 2018

Year B Pentecost 2  Sunday 9

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalms 139:1-6, 13-18
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6


Call to Worship Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18 Responsive (From Uniting in Worship)
Light Christ Candle

Hymn Together in Song 542 Far beyond our mind’s grasp

Passing the Peace
The peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Loving God,
We thank you that you have never left this world of yours, or these people of yours alone.
Thank you that you show yourself to your world, in ways that we can recognise.
Thank you that in Jesus you revealed your own character, and invited us to come to know you, and to love you.
We thank you that the character you have shown us is one of love, love that is patient and forgiving enough to deal with all of our failings.

We confess
We sometimes act as if this world, and the people in it, did not belong to you –
As if we could do what we liked without consequence –
As if our failure to love you,
Our failure to respect your creation
Our failure to love our neighbour
Was of no consequence whatsoever
We recognise once more, that these things matter deeply to you, and we ask your help to turn back from this sin. To try again, to be your people, as you are always our God.
Declaration of forgiveness

… Our sins are forgiven
Thanks be to God!

Hymn Together in Song 690 Beauty for Brokenness

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Mark 2:23 - 3:6
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon: God’s Priorities

I have a confession to make.  I once, technically, misappropriated some things members of another congregation somewhere had donated for a specific purpose.

Gifts of food had been given to the church, to go to a community organisation that distributed it to people in need.  

But before church one Sunday, a very distressed mother came to the church, she had been going to tough things out, not get help for a dire financial situation, but it had come to Sunday morning, and she had no food for her children’s breakfast.  I took her to the table with all of the food on it and asked what her kids’ favourites were. I sent her home with enough food to get the family through until the community organisation would be open during the week.

Of course, I told my congregation what I’d done with their gifts, and while I might not have had permission beforehand, with that particular congregation getting forgiveness was pretty much guaranteed. (Any other member of that congregation, in the same situation would have done the same.)

There’s a saying that “rules are meant to be broken.”

That can actually be true, but there’s an art to knowing when it’s appropriate to break a rule - and the art involves knowing the reason for the rule in the first place.

When we look at the Samuel reading, we see God is about to punish the priest Eli and his family for their rule breaking.  The previous chapter spelled out that they were corrupting the worship at Shiloh, by taking for themselves the best of the sacrifices.  The sacrificial system allowed for the priests and their families to have a part of the sacrifices brought for worship, as a means to support them in return for the work they did.  But Eli’s family were selfish, and were taking more than their share. Put in a modern perspective, a part of our offering pays our minister’s stipend, but we would have a problem if we ever had a minister who took extra money from the offering for their own use.

So Eli’s family were breaking the rules, for their own selfish gain.  And God was not impressed. That priestly family would lose their role, and Samuel would take over their role speaking for God in the community.

Fast forward to our Gospel reading.  Jesus and his disciples were breaking the rule.  

Again, it was a rule about the right worship of God.

Just like the Old Testament sacrificial system, the Old Testament law to do no work on a Sabbath, was about honouring God above everything else.

Here in Mark, we see Jesus breaking the rule of the Sabbath, and allowing his followers to do so as well.

But let’s look at what they’re doing.

The disciples are gathering a little bit of food to eat.  They’re not out harvesting the field, or taking more than they need. They’re just doing the basic things to get by for the day.  

Then we have Jesus healing a man. It doesn’t sound like the man’s affliction was life-threatening, but it was a problem that could affect his ability to earn a living, and to do many of the functions of normal life.

Jesus tells his critics that the Sabbath rule was to benefit human beings. God didn’t need a day to be worshipped. God doesn’t really need anything from us. Humans, however, need to take time out from our normal activities, to rest, and to reflect.  We need a relationship with something bigger than ourselves, and to know we’re not alone in the universe. We are invited to worship God, because it’s good for us, and because God loves us.

To take time away from daily activity, to worship, to rest and reflect is important.  It’s about turning our attention away from our own wants.  Seeing the needs of others, offering what help, care and compassion we can, is also a part of turning our attention away from ourselves. 

Jesus ultimately told us all of the rules can be broken down to two: love God absolutely, and love other human beings.

Doing those two things is far more important than rules, regulations, or routines. To love God and love our neighbour - not simply in words, but in actions, supersedes everything.

Hymn & Offering Together In Song 697 All the sleepy should have a place to sleep

What’s God doing among us.

Prayers of the People

Creator God,
We pray for this world of your creation.
We pray for the future of our planet, with all of its fragility, and with all of the harm that has been caused to it.

We pray for people in need – for refugees, who flee the intolerable, risking everything to go into the unknown.

We pray for people in need – for people who have no safe and healthy place to live, who have no security and no comfort.

We pray for people in need – for people who are lost or alone, who need understanding and love.

We pray for people in need – for those who are sick or in pain, physically or mentally, who need to be healed.

We pray for the leaders of your church, the Uniting Church, and the whole Christian church throughout the world. May they discern what you are doing in the world, so that they may help all Christians to follow your lead.

We pray for all of the world’s political leaders, may you inspire them to love, compassion, justice and peace.

We pray all these things, in and through your Son Jesus, who came and showed us your face. Amen.

Hymn Together in Song 538 Feed us now bread of life

Service of Holy Communion


Hymn Together in Song 599 Take my life and let it be

Sunday, 26 November 2017

Sunday 26 November 2017

Worship service for Sunday 26 November
Ipswich Central Uniting Church

Year A Christ the King

Light the Christ Candle

Call to Worship  
O be joyful in the Lord all the earth;
serve the lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.

Know that the Lord is God;
it is he that has made us and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and bless his name.

For the Lord is gracious; his steadfast love is everlasting
and his faithfulness endures from generation to generation.

 (Psalm 100)

Hymn Together in Song 216 Rejoice, the Lord is King

Passing the Peace

Prayer of adoration and confession 
Loving God,
Creator, Ruler and Judge of all creation
We thank you for the wonder of all your works
For your goodness reflected in all that you have made
we thank you that in Jesus you have come to us to share our lives
to bridge the gap between us, and bring us into closer relationship with you. 
We thank you for your Spirit present with us,
Giving us your strength and peace and hope, day by day
and guiding us in the life you would have us live.

Merciful God,
Creator, Ruler and Judge of all creation
we confess our failure to live in line with your will for us
we have not loved you completely
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves
we are sorry for our failings. 
Help us to turn back to you
help us to start again
In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Declaration of forgiveness

…our sins are forgiven
Thanks be to God!

Hymn Together in Song 230 It passes knowledge

Scripture Readings
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

Hymn Together in Song  629 When I needed a neighbour

Today in the church calendar is the festival of Christ the King. It’s the last day of the church year, so in a sense, it’s what our whole year builds up to.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had readings warning us to be ready. Today, we hear the story which gives us a picture of Jesus’ return as both king and judge. Unlike the parables we’ve heard for the past few weeks - this is not a story of everyday events given extra meaning. Instead this story begins in an other-worldly setting; and in it people suddenly discover the real importance of everyday things they have done.

And what is the importance of what they’ve done? The previous parables focussed on waiting and being ready for Jesus to return.  Suddenly, we are surprised to discover that Jesus hasn’t been that fa away. In fact, he’s come to us over and over again, in and through other people. Jesus was already there, in the poor, the sick, the disabled, the imprisoned.  

No-one realised he was there. Not the guilty (or they might have behaved differently), nor even the righteous. 

The righteous haven’t thought they were trying to pass a test. They were simply living by the rule of life Jesus has given. Jesus’ rule of life is much simpler than a lot of teachers’ rules of life, at least to say, but it’s not all that simple to live.  His rule of life is to love; love God with everything we are and everything we have; and love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

To love in this sense isn’t about an emotion or a romantic ideal.  Love is an action. Those who have truly loved have acted in love, not just (or necessarily) felt it.  And acting, really acting, in love means not expecting anything in return. So of course there are those who have done so are surprised at their reward.

The most vulnerable people in the world are those who cannot help themselves, for whatever reason. Jesus says, “Whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

The Bible leaves us in do doubt that we will all have to face Jesus one day, not only as our shepherd and saviour, but as our judge.  It also tells us the criteria by which we will be judged.  (We can’t say we didn’t know.)  

Jesus will accept or reject us by whether we accept or reject him - we are told throughout the New Testament.  But it is spelled out in today’s passage that Jesus comes to us as the person in need. How we react to him as we find him when he comes to us in need, affects how he reacts to us when he sits in judgment.

The single mother who can’t feed her family - is Jesus.

The middle aged woman at risk of homelessness - is Jesus.

The young person who can’t get a job - is Jesus. 

The gay person who’s been abused because of who he is - is Jesus.

The displaced person, fleeing war, or violence, including those on Manus Island - is Jesus.

The homeless person - is Jesus.

The estranged member of the family - is Jesus.

The Muslim woman abused for wearing a hijab - is Jesus.

The alcoholic and the drug addict - are Jesus.

The person who has hurt us in the past, and now needs our help - is also Jesus.

The person who seems most unlike Jesus as we can imagine - is Jesus when he or she comes to us in need.

Each of these people is Jesus, to us. Each offers us the opportunity to love and to serve him.

They may not look like Jesus.  They may not act like Jesus. They may not speak like Jesus. But whatever we do to “the least of these” we do to him.

Some of them might be easy to feel love or compassion for.  Some of them will be very difficult to feel love or compassion for.  But we’re not judged by how we feel about these individuals, but how we behave towards them.

Love isn’t always easy. But if you or I knew the hungry person beside us really was Jesus, we’d share our food even if we weren’t sure we had enough.

One day each of us will face Jesus.  And what he will see when he looks at us is how we have loved, or failed to love.

Offering and Hymn Together in Song 690 Beauty for brokenness

What’s God doing among us? / Notices

Prayers of the People
Gracious God,
Creator, Ruler and Judge of all creation,
we thank you for the gift of our neighbour
for the people through whom we encounter Jesus day by day.

We pray for the needs of our neighbours,
for those who are weak and need strength,
for those who are frightened and need courage,
for those who are facing difficult decisions and need wisdom
for those who are dealing with major crises and need hope
for those who are in pain and need comfort.

We pray for the needs of our neighbours throughout the world
We pray for the huge numbers of people displaced through war and disaster, particularly for those on Manus Island at the moment.
We pray for those who need practical help, 
and those who need to know that someone cares and they are not alone.

We pray for the needs of our neighbours 
and we pray that you will use us to help meet the needs we encounter day by day.

The Lord’s Prayer


Hymn Together in Song 665 Jesus Christ is waiting

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Service for Sunday 19 March 2017

Service for Sunday March 19, 2017
Year A Lent 3

Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 95; Romans 5:1-11; John 4:5-42. Purple.

Call to worship – Psalm 95:1-7 – Uniting in Worship

Hymn Together in Song 52 Let us sing to the God of salvation

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

Loving God,
we give you thanks for the gift of each new day
for the new opportunities each day brings
We give you thanks for the gift of life
for all of the challenges, hopes, opportunities, this life brings,
We thank you most of all for the gift of Jesus
for his life, death, and resurrection for us
for the new life he offers to us.

We confess the times we live as if
the gift of Jesus didn't matter
the times we say, do, and think things that aren't worthy of your people
the times we fail to say, do and think things that are worthy of your people
Forgive us our failings, we pray.
Help us to begin anew.
In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness

Hymn Together in Song 162 Thank you for giving me the morning

Romans 5:1-11
John 4:5-42

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.


Jesus stops in his journey from Judea to Galilee to speak with a Samaritan woman at a well... and that doesn't seem strange to us.

In his own day – some things were very wrong with this picture:

Firstly, what's he doing at the well anyway? It would have been the work of women in their group to go collect water from the well, not a man, and certainly not their teacher.

Secondly, he spoke with a strange woman. Again, it doesn't seem odd to us – but a Jewish teacher would not be speaking to a strange woman – any strange woman – because of fear of contamination. There was a risk the woman might not be ritually clean, and her uncleanness could be contagious...

But it gets worse, because thirdly, this strange woman was a Samaritan. This wasn't just a rivalry like the one between Queensland and that other state south of the border. This was like cold war USA and USSR. When John says “Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans” it's the understatement of the first century. These two groups of people, even though they shared a common ancestry, did not like each other in the least. Each thought the other had corrupted the true faith – and could not be trusted in any way.

So there was Jesus, by himself, apparently, by a well in Samaria. It was a place where sooner or later a Samaritan woman would show up. But again, it would not just be any woman. He wasn't there at the time all the women came together to get their water – a woman coming on her own would be an outcast in her own community – someone the other women wouldn't want to associate with.

If you had a suspicious mind, you might think that this wasn't a chance meeting at all, that Jesus had gone out of his way intending to meet someone just like this particular unnamed woman. If you had a suspicious mind, you might think he'd chosen her, or at least someone like her – who would be as far as possible from the kind of person he “should” be speaking with. John tells us that if the disciples harboured such suspicions, they didn't dare say so – they didn't ask him why he was speaking with her.

When we first meet this woman in John's Gospel, she's remarkable for all the wrong reasons: she's a Samaritan woman, and she's at the well without all the other women which tells us a lot about how she's seen in her own community.

As the story goes on, she becomes remarkable for other reasons.

This is the longest recorded dialogue of Jesus with anyone. Jesus not only talked with her – he talked with her seriously, at great depth, and with exactly the same respect as he showed Jewish teachers such as Nicodemus.

He revealed a great deal about himself in this conversation, openly declaring himself to be the messiah, and showed that he knew enough about her to convince her he was a prophet. (Even in an era with a high mortality rate and where a man could divorce his wife by simply saying “I divorce you”, a woman having been married five times would be unusual. That the man whose household she was now living in was not her husband – but some relative or other man who had some responsibility for her would not be quite so unusual, but it was still remarkable that Jesus knew this.

So, to some extent, it was Jesus who made this encounter with the woman something extraordinary.

But the woman's response also made the encounter extraordinary. She could have gone away and kept what she knew to herself. She could have thought about it for a while, maybe told one or two close friends.

Instead, a woman who was so unpopular that she had to go to the well alone, went on a missionary journey to the town she lived in. In this town, that really didn't accept her that well, she told everyone about her encounter with Jesus so convincingly that they all wanted to meet him too.

Then she brought them to him, so they could meet him, and could then believe because they saw for themselves.

It's sad that we don't even know this woman's name, because she's a great example for the church. She had clearly been very unfortunate or very unwanted – she had experienced a very difficult life. Being widowed or divorced five times, in a world where there was no social security and family provided everything, would have meant she had more than her fair share of insecurity, poverty, loss. Being an unmarried woman in a society where a woman's value was measured by the children she could produce, meant she didn't matter much to anyone. Like the lepers, prostitutes and tax collectors Jesus associated with, this was a woman no-one wanted to know.

To Jesus she mattered. Jesus showed her that she mattered to him as much as anyone else. From her meeting with Jesus she gained a sense of worth and dignity – and the confidence to go to the town and preach the good news that the messiah had come to visit them. And she had the confidence to preach in a way that people who would normally overlook her, believed what she said.

And then she brought them, the townspeople, the people who had not valued her, to Jesus, so they could discover the truth for themselves. The “living water” she had found, the truth that would never leave her needing more – she shared.

This is the truth of the church – who we are meant to be. We find our value, our worth and dignity in our relationship with Jesus. That is what defines who we are – not what we've done, not how we feel about ourselves or how other people feel about us. Because of Jesus, we all have great value. We are important, not because of anything we can do or anything we have – we are important because we are important to Jesus.

Finding our value, the truth of who we are, in Jesus, we then must choose how we respond.

If we follow the example of the Samaritan woman, we respond by gaining confidence from recognising that we have such a value to Jesus – and we use that confidence to go to share what we have discovered with others. If we are excited by what we have found in relationship with Jesus, we will want to bring others to him as well.

When we look at mission opportunities for the church, we are seeking to find ways to share our encounter with Jesus with the people around us. It's one thing to find ways to share our meeting with Jesus with people who are like us – quite another to, as with the woman at the well – to go to people we might not have a lot in common with to share what we have discovered in Jesus. This is a process of inviting people.

And she brought them to Jesus – so that after first believing because of what she told them – they came to believe in him because they knew him personally. And that's our ultimate goal in mission or outreach – that people would come to know for themselves what we have discovered in Jesus. We could see this as incorporating people into the life of the Christian faith – helping them to find their place where they know Jesus personally, and know how much he values them.

Jesus is the “Living Water” the one thing we really need, but we are meant to share him with others, not keep him to ourselves.

Hymn Together in Song 129 Amazing Grace



Prayers of the People

Loving God
We pray for this world you love
So many people are suffering so much
From natural disasters to human-orchestrated violence
there seems to be no end to the suffering.
God, this is your world, the world you love
These are people made in your own image
People Jesus lived, died and rose again for.
God, be with the people of your world
especially those who are suffering the most,
and help your people, guide us to do what we can to help.

We pray for our congregation here
Guide to find those people in our community who most need to know your love.
Give us to ways to tell them that whoever they are, whatever they have done, their true value is in you – that your love makes them precious.
Help us to bring them to you – so that they can discover your love for themselves, not just because of what we say about you.

In Jesus' name. Amen.

The Lord's Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten Calling


Threefold Amen.