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Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Reflection: Christmas Condescension

Philippians 2:5-8
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A while ago, I had a conversation with a friend who could not understand how I could accept that the theory of evolution was probably right, and still maintain my faith.

My point had been that human beings can't limit God - who are we to say whether or not God might choose to work through evolution or any other means?

Yes, the first of the two creation stories in the Bible say the world was created in seven days - but that is not written as history, but as a wonderful hymn in praise of God's creativity. (The Bible contains many different kinds of literary forms - narrative, poetry, hymns, laments, history, etc. The form of the first chapter of Genesis is a poem or hymn of praise, so it makes perfect sense that it contains the same kind of figurative language that other poems or hymns will contain.)  It was written by human beings who were not there when the world was created (think of God challenging Job - "where were you when I created....?") And really, it's not about the details of how, but about praising the who - the God who made all things happen. That's a digression, so let's get on with the point.

My friend's concern was that we are made in the image of God - if we evolved from pond scum, how can pond scum be the image of God?

Human beings are made in the image of God in that we are spiritual beings, as God is.  We're also physical beings which God is not. We are bound by the limitations of our bodies - young and old, male and female, age and youth, life and death.  By nature, God does not have any of these limitations. God is wholly Spirit.

In the scale of things, there is a much greater difference between God and human beings, than there is between human beings and pond scum.

One of the most remarkable things about Christmas is that God has condescended to be what God is not.  God, in Jesus, chose to share our physical nature, our limitations, our pain and suffering. In Philippians we are told Jesus "emptied himself" - he gave up his own nature as God - to spend a human lifetime, albeit a brief one, experiencing the life of a part of creation. We often look at what the pain of Easter cost Jesus, and cost the whole of the Trinity.  We don't often stop to think of the cost of Christmas.

For our sake, Jesus left the perfection of Heaven, for a world corrupted by human evil. For our sake, he experienced the limits of a human body - which was totally alien to his God-nature. For our sake, he experienced the poverty of homelessness - being placed in a manger at birth because there was no appropriate place available. For our sake, he was a refugee, fleeing persecution from an evil dictator when he was still an infant. For our sake, he experienced living under foreign military rule, being persecuted and rejected, being tortured and killed.

To my friend who says pond scum could not be the image of God, I would suggest that pond scum has never perpetrated the evils that human beings have.

Human beings are the only thing in creation that intentionally harm each other, and intentionally harm the rest of God's creation. Other creatures may kill for food, but we kill our own species to gain power. And yet, Jesus condescended to be one of us. While we are spiritual beings made in the image of God, in our actions and our treatment of each other, we are the least God-like creatures imaginable. What a painful thing it must have been for Jesus to become one of us!

This year, when we celebrate, and share our gifts and food and all of the things that we enjoy, may we remember that the most costly gift of all was the gift of Jesus, who being one with God, emptied himself of his own nature, to be one with us.

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Monday, 12 November 2012

Reflection: The Prophetic Voice


Zechariah 7:10, Isaiah 1:23-24

In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me -
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
- Pastor Martin Niemoller

There's several variants of the above quote floating around, and it appears Niemoller himself included different groups when he said this at different times, but the basic impact is the same.

Neimoller's quote tells us the danger of neglecting the church's role as prophet in society.  I don't mean "prophecy" in the way it's sometimes interpreted as predicting the future, but "prophecy" in the Biblical sense - the call to justice.  God requires that we are just and compassionate to those who have less, or who are vulnerable. When those with power choose to disregard the needs of the powerless, they are setting themselves up against God's will.

In Biblical times, prophets were often not welcomed for their message.  In Neimoller's day, if he had taken a prophetic stance, the Gestappo would probably have come for him sooner.

In our day, if Christians speak out about injustice towards vulnerable people, there is still resistance.

Athiests say Christians have no right to speak out on political issues. (I know in Australia we don't have a constitutional right to freedom of religion, but we also don't have any laws preventing people of any faith from having a political opinion.)

Christians who have a narrower understanding of Scripture say, but those people are sinners, you can't align yourself with them. Read your Bible!  (I did read my Bible. In it Jesus spent almost all his time with the sinners, ate in their homes and celebrated with them, even defended them. He often argued with the holy people who didn't want to hang out with sinners.)

Others will say, but we didn't have a meeting to discuss it a committee hasn't decided it, or we need to leave it up to the moderator to say that.

When it comes down to it, God calls us all, at times, to be prophets.

When we see anyone being treated with less than the love and respect that they deserve because they are made in the image of God, then we have a responsibility to say what we know: that God does not approve of this treatment.

We don't have to be asylum seekers to speak up for asylum seekers. We don't have to be pensioners to speak up for pensioners. We don't have to be disabled to speak up for people who are disabled. We don't have to be gay, to speak up for gay people. We don't have to be indigenous, to speak up for indigenous people. We don't have to be children to speak up for the needs of children.

All we have to do, is to know the God whose love for the poor, the widowed, the orphan, the foreigner, the outcast, the person who is isolated or vulnerable, is more important than any pressure that we might ever feel to keep silent.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Beside Still Waters

Beside Still Waters is my new book of sermons and brief reflections on Christian Scripture.

It's available in both paperback and ePub versions from Lulu.

The items in the book have all been taken from worship services I have prepared, or reflections on Scripture I have written for church newsletters.  They don't follow the lectionary, in fact they have no set order at all. Each item is meant to be a "surprise", not particularly related to anything else in the book.

Readers can pick the book up, and choose any item, and find it entirely self-contained.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Worship Service for Sunday 14th October 2012: Year B Sunday 28


Call to worship Psalm 22: 1-15 Responsive

Hymn  Together in Song 647 Comfort, comfort

Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Holy God,
You are so different from us
so far beyond us,
greater than we are capable of imagining g-
yet you choose to be in relationship with us
to know us-
to make yourself known to us,
as far as we are able to comprehend you.
To bridge the gap between you and us
you sent your son Jesus –
truly one with you for all time,
he became one with us, for a time,
so that we would know and understand you,
and so that he would bring
the experience of living our lives into your being.

We thank you that he is always present with us
by your own Spirit –
and he is always present with you –
our high priest, and representative
who makes the realities of our lives known to you.

We thank you that you are always present with us
through the easy times in our lives
through the difficult times in our lives
through the times when we struggle
to know whether you are present at all.

WE thank you that you always hear:
our prayers of you and thanksgiving
our prayers of pain and despair
our cries of desperation and loneliness.

We thank you that your presence with us
does not depend on how we feel about you,
or even whether we can feel and know your presence.
It depends only on your free choice,
and your promise to be our God.

We confess there are times when,
because we don’t feel you present
we live and act as if you were absent
as if your existence depended on how we feel about you.

We confess there are times when,
because we don’t feel you watching
we behave in ways we would be ashamed of
if we recalled that your seeing us
does not depend on our seeing you.

We confess there are times when,
we choose to separate ourselves from you
and then blame you for the distance between us
and assume that because we do not hear you,
you do not hear us.

We confess those times when we fail to find you
and we rail against the absence
as if you owed us something
or had a duty to always seem present to us.

We confess the times we have doubted your existence
or your interest in our lives.
We confess the times our lives have been lived
if we were living in your absence.

Change our lives, we pray,
help us to use the times when you seem absent
to build and strengthen our faith
that we may be your faithful servants in all circumstances.

In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness
Jesus came into the world for us. So I have confidence to say to you: our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!

Kids’ time

Hymn Together in Song 229 Jesus loves me, this I know

Scripture
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
Mark 10:17-31
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God

Sermon

Sometimes, it seems like God just isn’t there.  The most faithful and the least faithful Christians all experience this at some time. Sometimes, it seems we just can’t “find God”.
It’s one of the central questions in the book of Job. When we feel like we’re facing life alone, where is God?

It’s a normal part of human life that there are times when we feel as if we are facing life all alone. For some reason, God just doesn’t seem to be there, or  doesn’t seem to care what is happening in our lives.

godhelpus.cheezburger.com
Job complains:
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!
I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.
I would learn what he would answer me
and understand what he would say to me. (Job 23:4-5)

Job is voicing the frustration shared by many people who feel that when things are going wrong, God just doesn’t seem to be there to answer the questions.

Job, as the story has told us prior to this, is a man of great faith, who has consistently done everything possible to be right with God, and suddenly everything he owned, his children and even his health were taken away. In the crisis, at first his faith and determination to obey God did not waver. With time to dwell on his situation, and with friends condemning him, and telling him his misfortune is a punishment  from God, Job finally demands some answers from God. 

And God just doesn’t seem to be there to answer. (Not at this stage of the story.)

Sometimes, when a tragedy befalls us, when we are in shock or grief, or afraid, we call out to God, and it seems that all that greets us is emptiness. Sometimes we call out to God and nothing changes – no-one answers as far as we can tell. The silence of God, the apparent absence of God is not something new, or unusual. Most people experience it at some time.

Sometimes, it is a choice we make which distances us from God, so we can’t hear what God is saying.  The rich young man who couldn’t or wouldn’t give up his money was choosing money ahead of God – so he made for himself the choice that separated him from God, to not be able to hear what God was saying to him through Jesus. He knew he was missing out on something – he went away sad. But he made a choice to put his possessions ahead of God.

Sometimes it is high emotion which separates us from God. We feel so anxious, or lost, or hopeless, or helpless that the overwhelming power of our emotions blocks out any sense of the presence of God.

For some the urge to find God is so powerful, that even that emotion of desire is able to block out any sense of God’s presence. Saints of the past have used terms like “the long night of the soul” to describe that desperate longing to know God’s presence, but not finding it. Such people have found that in that great depth of emptiness – of sensing that God is absent – the only thing to do is to keep up a prayer life, keep seeking God, and eventually the barrier is broken through. If they gave up on their prayer life, their example wouldn’t help us much – because it would be the example of people who in the end had no further relationship with God.

When God seems absent, the only thing to do , is to keep praying. To pray out that feeling of aloneness, as Job did, as the Psalmist did in praying “my God, my God why have you abandoned me?”

We need to be honest about that sense of aloneness and abandonment – God will know if we are being dishonest anyway.  When you read the psalms, or any of the stories in the Bible about people who had powerful relationships with God, you notice they were always completely honest, even about feelings and things we might think it’s not respectful to say to God. We must always be honest, and we also need to keep talking to God, and listening for a response, whether it seems God is listening or not.  Indeed Jesus did exactly that on the cross, praying those words from Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

We know God  understands that we go through those times when we simply do not feel that God is close. God understands, because Jesus has felt that same thing. Everything Jesus experienced as a human being – every part of our lives, he presents before God.  While Jesus came into to reveal God to human beings – Jesus is also our representative before God. God’s presence and action is not dependent on how we feel, whether we sense that God is present.

Job and the psalmist both chose to continue to believe in God, to continue praying about what was happening, in the passages we read today. They didn’t sense God’s presence, and were frustrated by a feeling that God wasn’t paying attention.  They held on to their belief that God was somewhere and spoke out their experience into silence, trusting that God who had been faithful in the past, would remain faithful. And eventually the that faith was proved to be justified.

Notices

Offering

Prayers of the People

Creator God,
We pray for this world which you created good,
but which the actions of human beings has corrupted.

We pray for the needs of w world
where sometimes it seems that you are absent
where people live without reference to you
where the goodness of creation is challenged
by the evils of war, of abuse, of addictions,
of all the many things which destroy the people you have created.

WE pray for people in this world who are afraid to trust you,
because they see no evidence of your presence,
or believe you have abandoned them.

And we pray for all of those needs that we have particular concerns about at the moment.
Be with each person in this place, and with all those who are on our hearts and minds, we pray.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Passing the Peace

Hymn Together in Song 538 Feed us now, Bread of Life.

Service of Holy Communion

Hymn Together in Song 619 Have faith in God my heart

Benediction

Threefold Amen

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 14th October 2012: The Silence of God

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Good morning,

We’re fond of saying that God answers prayers, but most people at some stage in their life of faith do experience at some time that God doesn’t answer, or doesn’t answer immediately.

Some of our Scripture readings in worship today are about the silence of God.

Sometimes, it just seems that God is not listening when we pray, or isn’t aware of what is happening in our world or in our lives.  If God really has counted the hairs on our head, how can God not know when something terrible is happening to us?

Psalm 22 asks this question. As the psalmist struggles with the apparent absence of God, he goes back to his own personal history, and the history of the nation, and recalls that God did actually guide them through the worst of times in the past. God was really not absent, no matter how bad things were, and in hindsight it is possible to see clearly what God was doing.

Having looked at the past, and seeing God’s faithfulness, the psalmist is able to claim the faith that God will still act, that God does care. The psalmist cannot see or hear God at work, but trusts, on the evidence of the past, that God will act because that is God’s nature.

While we can’t always see God at work, while God seems silent when we are in distress, this is what we are able to do as well. God does not change, and if God has been faithful in the past, God will be faithful in the future, whether we are able in our time of distress to discern that or not.

Grace and peace
Iris


 All Stars United: Sweet Jesus

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 30th September 2012: Be Still

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Good morning,

I wonder if you are able to consciously take time out to just be still, and to listen for God.  I’m thinking of Psalm 46:10, but also thinking of the hectic lives people lead in our busy world.

We have far more labour-saving devices than a generation or two ago, but instead of increasing our quiet times, it seems to have just added more that we can or feel we must do in our lives.  We are constantly bombarded with sound and with information, from the radio alarm that wakes us up in the morning to radio and news apps on our phones, to text and email and social media.

We seem to spend our lives constantly busy, at least mentally if not physically.

Stillness, quietness, “time out” seems to be a very rare and precious commodity. But, to grow in a relationship with God, actually requires some time spent just with God.

For most people, to have a quiet moment in the day requires intentionally making space for that time, to plan for it and make it a priority. Sometimes, it requires even being physically apart from other people so as to reduce the distractions.  It requires some discipline to stop thinking about all the rush and problems of everyday life, and just to be aware of God.

Interestingly, though, taking that time apart intentionally, can help us to be aware of God’s presence in the rest of the day – and to keep hold of some of that stillness in the rush and bustle.

Grace and peace,
Iris

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Worship Service for Sunday 23 September 2012: Year B Sunday 25

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Call to Worship Psalm 1:1-3

Hymn Together in Song 474 Here in this place

Prayer of Adoration and confession

Gracious God,
We give you thanks that we mortal beings can join with the angels, and with the rest of creation, in offering your praise. We give you thanks for each new morning, for all of the hopes and possibilities of the new day.

We give you thanks for the coming of spring after the winter, as all of the plants which lie dormant in the cold of winter explode into life, as the birds lay their eggs, and the animals bring their new babies into the world. We see signs of new life all around, and we marvel at the mystery and promise of resurrection.

We give you thanks for all of the people you have sent into our lives. For the people who serve you by serving us, for the people who give us opportunities to serve you as we serve them. For the wonder of what it is to love another, because you love us.

Merciful God
We confess our failure to serve
We confess we have failed to serve you as you have called us to do
We confess that we have looked on opportunities to serve as a duty or something to be avoided – not something to welcome as a way to encounter you in our lives.
When we have seen others in need, we have failed to see you, we have failed to see their need as yours.
We have confessed that we have looked at those who are outstanding in business or politics or sports and considered them to be great, when your measure of greatness is how a person serves others.
We confess that we have sinned, and we ask your forgiveness. Turn us around to follow your way, to love what you love, to want what you want, to work for your will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness
The truth and the promise of the Gospel is this: Christ Jesus came into the world for the sake of ordinary, sinful, people such as us, so I have confidence to say to you “Our sins are forgiven.”
Thanks be to God!

Kid’s Time

Hymn Together in Song 662 I know someone who watches over me

Scripture
Proverbs 31: 10-31
Mark 9: 30-37
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.

Sermon

The disciples were busy arguing about which of them was the greatest, while Jesus was trying to explain to them about his death. While they were distracted by their own importance, he was struggling to get something through to them that really was important.

So Jesus found another way to get through to them.  He put a child in front of them.  We don’t know who the child was, or whose child.  The reason we’re not told anything about the child was probably that children didn’t actually matter. They were more considered property than people.  And he told them that this child, who didn’t matter much, was more important than all of them.

“Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.” Equating himself with the child, said something not only about the disciples’ debate about greatness, but also what he’d been trying to get through to them about his upcoming death.

Unlike the disciples’ understanding of greatness, a child was powerless, just as Jesus would be (or would choose to be) in the face of the cross.  In their society, as in ours, a child is weak – dependent on others to provide the basics of survival, and at risk if others choose to cause harm. A child was considered unimportant, and had no political or economic voice, no influence over the adult world. A child is never in control of his or her own fate, but always under the control of others. 

Jesus was turning their concept of greatness upside down.  The child was a symbol of all who are weak, marginalised, who have no voice in society.

He told them the one who was great, wasn’t the one pushing for the leadership role, wasn’t the one giving orders, but the one who acted as servant to all.

That sounds radical – but really, very similar things had been said throughout Scripture.  Let’s look at that Proverbs reading.  Again, we’re looking at a society where women were more possessions than people.

Here we see an amazing woman who manages her home, teaches people wisdom, runs a successful business, travels and trades apparently by herself. She is deserving of honour and respect in her own right, not just because of who her husband is.  She reminds us of Deborah, the prophet and judge or Israel, or Lydia the dealer in purple cloth who headed a church found She’s the kind of woman that the Feminist Movement worked hard to convince us all women could be.   In Biblical times, apart from a few extraordinary exceptions, women were pretty much overlooked and ignored.  But Proverbs doesn’t just talk about this woman as the kind of wife to look out for. Proverbs also talks about God’s divine wisdom as a woman. Women might be overlooked – but so was the wisdom of God.  Like the extraordinary wife, God’s wisdom was something to be sought, loved, and valued. It was more important than the wealth of this world.

In many places, the Bible is counter-cultural. It turns the values of the society it was written in (and also ours) upside down.  Or, perhaps more accurately, it turns an upside down world right side up.

What we’re seeing in both these passages is that God’s value system is not the same as humankind’s.  Those people who are seen as insignificant, are important to God.  Greatness, is found, not in political scrambling for power, but in weakness.  It is not in wealth or influence, but in vulnerability.  The person who is most important is not the one who gives orders, but the one who serves.  Jesus saves the world, not by gathering an army, but by giving himself up on the cross. And when we welcome the person who has nothing, we are welcoming Christ who rules all of creation.

In the world around us, money does talk; greed, crime and corruption often do pay; poor, weak and powerless people are mistreated not honoured; the people who give the orders are seen as important; the richest magnates get to have the biggest say; and we use armies and weapons to try to save the world.  And all of those things, like the disciple’s bickering over who was greatest, are distractions from what Jesus is trying to show us.

The people of God, are called to live by God’s values, not by those of the world around us.  It’s a challenge, because the distracting values of this world confront us constantly.  Because we live in this world, we need to understand how this world works and what its priorities are.  At the same time, we are asked to live by a different set of standards.

For us, it is the person with the biggest need who is most important, not the one with the most wealth. For us, the goal is not to have power, but to show love; not to be a success, but to care; not to be the winners, but to give ourselves for others’ needs. Our reward is not status, or possessions, or authority over others, but to see Christ himself come to us in the form of the person who is overlooked, ignored, or mistreated.

Hymn Together in Song 690 Beauty for brokenness

Notices

Offering

Prayers of the People

Loving God,
We pray for the servants in this world, for people whose work may not be recognised, people who may not themselves know the true value of what they do.

For the carers of the world, who care for children, the disabled, the elderly – all those who care for people who are unable to care for themselves.

For those who work in industries which serve our daily needs: producers, manufacturers, retailers, public servants, medical and welfare workers, teachers,  - and all the many other people who do the things we count on for day-to-day life.

We pray for the servants of the world, that you would show each one, that in serving others, they are not simply earning a living or doing what they have to do. They are doing the most important work available to human beings, and in so doing, they are able to serve you.

We pray for ourselves, that we would always value the servants we encounter and the work they do for us. And that we would also value the opportunities we have to be servants in your name.

We pray in Jesus’ name, and we use his words……

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 571 Forth in your name, O Lord I go

Benediction

Threefold Amen

Friday, 21 September 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 23 September 2012: Good Intentions


Good morning,
godhelpus.cheezburger.com

You will have heard the saying “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions”. This week, on the news, we’ve been hearing a lot about people who’ve had good intentions, that haven’t worked out quite as hoped for.

An Egyptian man, living in America made a video called “The Innocence of Moslems”, which was apparently meant to be a protest at the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt. If you watch the film on You Tube, you might be forgiven for missing the point – because it doesn’t explain the plight of Christians in Egypt at all well, and only spends moments on it before jumping over to a strange,  unbelievable defamation of the Moslem prophet Mohammad. Although subsequent events have meant that lots of people all over the world have put themselves through the trauma of seeing this film, it hasn’t sparked any international outrage over the persecution of Christians, or of human rights violations, because it’s so badly made that nobody gets the point.

What a number of people have taken notice of is the strange attack on the prophet Mohammad. Moslems around the world have been, understandably, offended by it. If Jesus had been portrayed in this manner, Christians would have been offended. Unfortunately, mass protests, some leading to rioting and violence, have not have the intended result of getting people to show some respect  for others’ deeply-held beliefs.  Instead, it’s had the effect of causing millions of people to watch the film to find out what the fuss is about, and of increasing the mythology of some sort of undeclared war between Islam and the USA.

So that’s two lots of good intentions that have gone off the rails. Let’s now look at a third, that could also prove disastrous. So far it’s only a suggestion and has yet to be acted upon.  The suggestion is that what Brisbane really, really, needs is another casino in the heart of the city not far from the existing one.

Attracting tourists and raising additional income from taxes for the state are worthy goals, but there are other potential consequences of putting another casino in Brisbane.  Having lots of poker machines available doesn’t just attract wealthy people on holiday.  It also has a tendency to attract people who have a problem with (or even addiction to) gambling. That impacts not only on the person with the problem, but on their family, friends, and entire community. Because of the social problems this causes, there was a move not long ago to cut down on the number of poker machine licences that were being issued.

There is a huge gulf between intending to do good, and actually doing good.  Proverbs 2:11-13 encourages us to use a bit of foresight. Whenever we set out to do something, we need to check the map to find out whether the road we are on really is leading where we want to go.

Grace and peace
Iris

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 16th September 2012: Interesting Times


godhelpus.cheezburger.com
Good morning,

There’s an old curse, sometimes attributed to the Chinese, that says: “May you live in interesting times.”

A quick look at the news this week tells us we do, indeed, live in interesting times.

The eleventh anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon, has been marked with the murder of the American Ambassador to Libya, and a number of his staff.  Here in Brisbane, and other parts of the state, public servants are marching in the streets to protest the state budget.  The Federal Parliament is arguing over whether one large supertrawler is a bigger environmental threat than four or five regular trawlers catching the same quota of fish.

Gina Reinhart has told us we could be billionaires if we stopped socialising and drinking, and has recommended Australians be paid less.  We’ve come through the Global Financial Crisis, and are now waiting to see what will the repercussions of the European Debt Crisis will be.  After years of having an economy driven by spending, people are starting to pay off their debts and save money.

Australia’s been through record drought, record floods and record fires, and is still looking at what the changing climate is going to bring to us as time goes on.

We’re once more exporting asylum seekers to small Pacific islands.

We’re living in interesting times. But everyone in history has lived in interesting times.  Every era of history has its own crises, challenges and risks.  It’s easy to become fearful, to become overwhelmed or to despair.

But whatever times we live in, there is still good to be found in our world.  There’s good here, because God is still taking an interest in this world. Jesus as promised to be with us always (Matthew 28:20) no matter how interesting the times.

Grace and peace,
Iris

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Service for Sunday 9th September 2012 : Year B Sunday 23


Call to worship
Whoever we are,
Whatever our past,
God comes to us,
And invites us to come to him.

Hymn Together in Song 210 O for a thousand tongues to sing

Prayer of Adoration and Confession
God of absolute wonder,
We come before you with wonder, knowing of you
Knowing you a little,
But never able to know you fully.
Our minds could not grasp all that you are
yet you call to us
and you come to meet us.
You accept us with our limitations
and reveal yourself as we are able to recognise you and know you.
You pour out your love on us,
 even though our response to you is limited
and cannot reflect the boundless love you show to us.
In Jesus, you give us the ultimate gift of your love,
your Son’s life, for our sake.

We confess
that we have made judgements,
based on what the world around us thinks,
and not on any facts we gather for ourselves, or on our knowledge of you.

We confess
that we have limited your grace
by our unwillingness to share the gospel
with people who are different from ourselves.

We confess
that we have lived lives directed by our own whims
without reference to your plan for our lives,
for our time, for our talents, for our being.

We confess
that we are sinful people, living in a world of sinful people,
and as much need of our forgiveness as
all those in the world around us.

We ask your forgiveness.
We ask your grace for ourselves,
that our lives may be turned around.
We ask your guidance to know your will.
We ask your power and strength to do your will,
in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness

The message of the gospel is this: Jesus came into the world for the sake of sinners. So I have confidence to say to you: our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.

Kids’ time

Hymn  Together in Song 229 Jesus loves me

Scripture
Mark 7:24-37
James 2:1-17
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.


The gospels have lots of accounts of Jesus being caught up in debates with people  - Pharisees, scholars, the people who really knew the religion stuff.

There’s only two instances recorded where Jesus conceded victory to his opponent in a debate.  The first was at Cana, where his mother simply ignored all his objections, and he just did as he was told.

The second was with this woman.

All the experts of the Jewish faith who challenged Jesus found their understanding was too limited, that their wisdom couldn’t compare to his. So it’s utterly amazing that the person who could outdo him in a debate, was a non-Jewish woman, a person he should never even have been speaking to.

There were numerous reasons Jesus should never have spoken with this woman. Religious purity laws were very strict, and his having anything to do with a woman who wasn’t part of his immediate family was strange enough.  (A strange woman might be having her period – which would make her “unclean” and “uncleanness” was contagious.) Having anything to do with a foreigner was also quite extraordinary.  Having a conversation with a foreign woman, was outrageous.

There was a lot of animosity between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews inland, elide on the Gentile seaports of Tyre and Sidon for trade. They could not do without them (and the Jews very much resented this dependence.) The Gentile towns relied, in turn, on the Jewish farmers to provide them with food. Because the Gentiles had the money, they got first choice of what food was for sale. When there was a drought or food was scarce, money meant the Gentiles were far less likely to go without.  In the eyes of many of the Jewish people, the dogs really were stealing the food out of their children’s mouths.

So for both religious and social reasons, the Jews looked down on the Gentiles, and avoided them.

Jesus had gone into Gentile territory, not to preach and heal, but to escape attention.  He wanted to rest somewhere he wouldn’t be recognised.  He had become so famous, however, that there really was nowhere that he wasn’t recognised.

There was no chance to get away and spend time on his own. Presumably, Jesus was tired, worn down, by the time the Syro-phonecian woman appeared with her request. His answer showed tiredness, a lack of patience, and the common prejudice of his people. Leave him alone – he’d come for the children of Israel, and wasn’t giving their food to the dogs. This is one of the points of the gospel which confirm that Jesus, although divine, was also really just as human as we are.

If the woman had argued that her people weren’t dogs – if she’d shown any sign of taking offence, perhaps the debate would have come out differently. But she didn’t argue against him. She didn’t try to trap him the way the Pharisees who debated against him did. In fact, she agreed with him, taking the insult on herself, accepting that she was being called a dog,, but even the dogs get fed the leftovers. What she did was exactly what Jesus himself did in conversation with other people: to take him from where he was, and challenge him to think a little wider, to challenge him to believe that God’s plan was wider than his view.

Jesus did the same thing when answering the question of “who is my neighbour?” with the story of the good Samaritan. And Jesus gave in, because she was right. Israel may have a privileged position in relationship with God – and a greater privilege in that Jesus himself came as a part of that nation. But the privilege was never meant to be kept to Israel alone. God had told Abraham that he was being blessed so that he might be a blessing to others.

Here Jesus was being challenged with the same lesson that he had taught other people. The challenge to his understanding of who he was and who he was there for must have come as a shock. He was forced to stop and re-think what he was doing and why he was doing it. What was he there for? How far was God’s grace to be spread? How would he handle the prejudices of the society he was a part of? Could he just go along with the way everyone in his society saw the people of Tyre? Or was he going to build a new relationship between God and human beings, including human beings of different races and social stations?

Most of the time when Jesus is shown in debates in the gospel, we see that he knew how to win an argument. Here we see that he also had the wisdom and grace to know how and when to lose an argument! When the woman who was confronting him was actually in the right – when what she said was in line with his Father’s will – then he gave her what she asked. The simple fact she challenged him with was that the differences between people were too small and superficial to matter.

James gave the same advice to his readers. The differences we can see between people don’t matter – they are not what is important in God’s eyes.  James criticised the church for kowtowing to the rich – and ignoring the poor members of the church community.  For his church it wasn’t a difference of race, but social standing that had become noticeable and affected the way people treated each other.

In each generation, in each time and place, there are differences between people which are used to judge some as better or more worthy or discerning than others.  People have been given preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, wealth, education, or any number of other issues, while other people have been left out.  That’s the way the world works.  In James’ letter he made it clear that it wasn’t the way the church should work.

God’s grace, as shown in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the syrophonecian woman, is available to everyone: no matter who they are, no matter what their past, no matter what they look like, no matter what their age.


Hymn Together in Song 618 What does the Lord require

Notices

Offering

Prayers of the People

Holy God, we pray for the church, your holy people,
we pray that throughout the world, we may be one community of faith,
 that through us your grace and love might be shown to the whole world.

We pray for this world of yours.  Too long, it has suffered war and violence.
Too often, families have received back bodies of loved ones who have been sent out to fight.
Too often, people have been forced to flee their homes and everything they have known to escape violence.  
Too often the people most in need have been met with too little compassion.
For too long, this world has suffered a lack of love.
Be with this world of yours. Soften our hardened hearts. Teach us to care.

Passing the peace

Hymn Together in Song 508 Jesus, we thus obey

Holy Communion

Hymn Together in Song 531 Sent forth by God’s blessing

Benediction

Threefold Amen.

Thursday, 30 August 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 2nd September 2012: Giving Thanks

godhelpus.cheezburger.com

Good morning,

Have you ever stopped to think about the amazing gifts God has given to our congregation?

Without even thinking about all the different things our church members do during the week (and there are lots), today, let’s think about the gifts of people involved in simply our Sunday morning worship and fellowship time.

We always have someone to preach and lead worship – and God has provided us with a number of people who share in this role. We have people who read the Scriptures and bring us our weekly notices.  We have several wonderful musicians. We have someone (usually Emma) operating the technology. We have Lindy producing the Contact week by week. We have someone coming in before everyone else to unlock and turn on lights, to have the church ready for the rest of us. We have someone at the door to greet us. We have wonderful people to prepare morning tea, and to serve it. We have people who set up for communion (and bake our gluten free communion bread), count the offering, and do endless small but necessary tasks.

Frequently, people will thank the preacher. I wonder how often, we think to thank any of the other people who have contributed to the richness of our worship and fellowship? How often do we thank God that there was someone here who knew how to operate the computer, or to count the offering money? Or that God gave us elders to serve communion, and offer pastoral care?

This week, let’s be more aware. Let’s say “thank you” to each other. More than that, in our prayer time, let’s thank God for the wonderful gift of the people who share our life in this congregation.

Grace and peace
Iris

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 26 August 2012: The Same Old Story

godhelpus.cheezburger.com

Good morning,

A couple of weeks ago in worship we heard Nathan’s parable about rich and poor neighbours, which he told to David after David’s assault on Bathsheba and murder of Uriah.  If you want to read the story again, it’s 2 Samuel 12:1-4. 

I was reminded of the parable, while watching a current affairs program the other night.  Let me share with you a modern story – that sounds very much like Nathan’s.

In the great cities of Brisbane and Sydney, there were people who had low incomes who were living in public housing.  At the time the houses were built, the locations were probably not considered particularly desirable. But now, there were wealthy people living very near the public housing residents, and the land the low income earners were living on was considered to be very valuable.

A television crew found it to be very offensive that low income earners were living on such valuable land, and even made a point that a wealthy movie star was living only a few hundred metres away from a block of public housing units.

The television crew believed this was a problem that needed to be solved, and recommended that the states of Queensland and New South Wales should move the public tenants out – taking them away from their homes, their work, the communities they were a part of – so the land could be sold to build more expensive houses for wealthy people.

I wonder if we have any modern-day prophets in our society, to call us back to our God-given responsibility to respect and care for others, particularly those who are least able to care for themselves.

Grace and peace
Iris


Thursday, 16 August 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 19 August, 2012: Welcoming the Stranger

godhelpus.cheezburger.com

Jesus taught his followers to welcome strangers in need. And even more than welcome them, to recognise Christ himself in those people. "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" (Matthew 25:35-36). This bundle of physical, psychological and spiritual neediness is very familiar. It's right there on our big, flat-screen televisions, as we watch people huddled together on dangerous vessels approaching Australian territorial waters. It's me, Christ here says to his followers, and I need your help. 


Good morning,

In the past week, the federal government has decided to process asylum seekers off-shore.  Assembly President Andrew Dutney has described this decision as both a grave moral failure, and as decidedly unchristian.

It could be argued that it is a very long time since Australia could be considered a “Christian” country in any sense, and that Christian faith and values do not have a part to play in public policy. But on the other hand, Christians vote, and in a democracy we are as much entitled to an opinion as anyone.  And we are entitled to be outraged when our elected leaders make decisions on our behalf which are so in conflict with our beliefs.

There must be a better way to discourage people from risking their lives in unseaworthy boats, than to refuse to welcome the people who were driven to such desperate means.  This decision seems to be mostly aimed at punishing people who are already victims.

Grace and peace
Iris

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Worship Service for Sunday 12th August 2012: Year B Sunday 19

godhelpus.cheezburger.com

Call to worship

Jesus is the bread that came down from Heaven
To feed us, to nurture us and to sustain us.
Whoever eats of this bread will never die,
But have eternal life.

Hymn Together in Song 474 Here in this place

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Bountiful God,
You give us so many good things-
Day by day you provide sunshine for warmth and growth
Rain to water the earth and quench our thirst
Food to eat and be satisfied.
Air to breathe
Dark and night to rest in
People to love us and to be loved by us

You give us so many good things –
But the greatest of your gifts
is that you give us a way to come to know you
You give us your own son Jesus,
As bread for the hunger ordinary food won’t satisfy,
As food, not just for today, but for eternity.
As a way for us to live truly in relationship with you.

We confess that we have sinned
We have sinned in the things we have thought, and said and done
We have sinned in the things we have failed to think and say and do.

We have failed to love you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.
We have grieved you.
We have failed to love our neighbours as ourselves.
We have grieved them and you.

We have harboured grudges
We have resented others
We have spoken about people when we ought to have spoken with them
We have let the sun go down on our anger
When you would have had as forgive.

Forgive us our sins
And give us the grace to forgive those who sin against us.
In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness

Jesus is the bread of heaven, come into the world, for our sake.
So I have confidence to say to you: Our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!

Kids’ Time

Hymn Together in Song 239 Jesus the Lord said “I am the bread”

Scripture

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.

Sermon

Bread – it’s a powerful symbol. For thousands of years, some sort of grain-based food has been a staple in people’s diets all around the world. Every culture recognises bread in some form.  Most of us eat some form of bread every day – and sharing a meal with family and friends often involves sharing some form of bread.  Even the word “companion” comes from the Latin panis (bread) and cum (with).  A companion is literally someone we share bread with. Bread is so much a part of our lives that “bread” and “dough” have become slang terms for money – because money and bread are both basics of survival.

For Jesus’ audience, bread was an important symbol, partly because of the miracle they had been part of when everyone had been fed with only a few loaves.  But it also reminded them of the story of the founding of the Israelite nation – where God personally provided the people with manna so they could survive in the desert.

Jesus told them, the bread they really needed was himself. He was the gift from God, like the manna in the desert. He was the thing that they need for their everyday survival – just as we all use bread, for everyday sustenance.

He told them he had come from Heaven. And, not understanding, they complained that he couldn’t have come from Heaven because they knew his parents. (John’s Gospel doesn’t have a birth story, but this passage hints at his origins.) Jesus was talking on one level, and the crowd on another.

Jesus talked about himself as the bread from heaven, and the food that gives eternal life. The bread he would give for the life of the world was his flesh. If we read on beyond this passage, we would have encountered the outraged response of listeners who heard what he said at only a literal level.

We can look back and see the reference to giving his flesh as bread for the life of the world, as a reference to holy communion. (John’s gospel doesn’t give a story of the institution of the sacrament, either, but we can see it clearly reflected here.)

In this Gospel reading, Jesus made a clear statement about who he was, and his purpose.  His listeners responded negatively. And Jesus said this is because only those who God called would accept and believe in him.

Belief in Jesus, who has come down from Heaven, is the basis for eternal life.  The crowd, who followed Jesus looking for bread, and were offered so much more, were not ready to believe.

Bread sustains life from day to day. But each day we need more.  However long we live, our bodies will need food.

Belief in Jesus sustains life in eternity.  Just as the crowd was offered what they needed for eternal life, so are we.



Hymn Together in Song 535 I am the bread of life

Notices

Offering

Prayers of the People

Holy God,
We pray for the church, your holy people,
We pray that throughout the world, we may be one community of faith,
That through us your grace and live might be shown to the whole world.

We pray especially for those of our brothers and sisters who are oppressed, who suffer for their faith,
We pray that they will be strengthened, that they will know the comfort and strength of the presence of your Spirit,
And that through their witness even their oppressors will come to know you.
We pray for a time when all our brothers and sisters in faith will know peace,
A time when they will worship you in freedom,
A time when they will celebrate their faith openly and thankfully, without fear, without danger.

We pray for those of our brothers and sisters with whom we have disagreements
We pray you will give us the grace and understanding to listen to them and hear what they say.
We pray that they will have the grace and understanding to listen to us and hear what we say.
So that together we may discern the truth as you would have us know it.

We pray for those brothers and sisters who have particular concerns at this time,
Those whose needs we know, and those whose needs are known only to you.
We pray that all of your people would know your presence and peace.

In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Passing the Peace

Hymn Together in Song 505 Jesus invites his saints

Service of Holy Communion

Hymn Together in Song 530 Now let us from this table rise

Benediction

Threefold Amen