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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

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 12th August 2012: Homelessness in Australia


Good morning,
Wesley Mission Brisbane, Facebook Page

I recently read a very disturbing statistic on Wesley Mission Brisbane’s Facebook page.  One out of every 38 Australian children up to the age of four has spent time in a homelessness service.  Each night up to 32,000 Australian youth will be sleeping on the streets.

Australia is a wealthy country. It ought to have the resources to support all of its people.  Yet even here, more people than we realise, are spending cold winter nights without shelter.

There’s no simple solution to the problem. Wesley Mission is appealing for donations to help. Their web address is: http://www.wmb.org.au/page/Get_involved/

And now on winter nights, when we’re all wrapped up in our warm blankets, let’s spare a moment to pray for all those who do not have the blessings we have.

Grace and peace
Iris
                                                                                                                                                  

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Service for Sunday 5th August 2012: Year B, Sunday 18

godhelpus.cheezburger.com

Call to worship
Whoever we are,
Whatever we have done
God welcomes us home,
Invites us to stay,
And claims us as family.

Hymn Together in Song 213 Father, whose everlasting love

Prayers of Adoration and Confession (incl Psalm 51:1-12)

God of all,
We come to worship with just a fragment of understanding of who you are,
You are perfect in all things and completely beyond us,
Yet you choose to live in relationship with us,
And choose to meet with us.
You have given us only two rules
To love you, and to love our neighbour,
And in our imperfection, we have failed to live up to your standard in even those.
We come to you with our prayers of confession – and we share the words used by King David


Psalm 51:1-12 – Responsive - confession

Declaration of forgiveness

God’s love for us is eternal.  When we choose to return to God, we are joyfully welcomed back. So I have confidence to say to you: our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!

Kids’ Time

Hymn Together in Song 467 I am the church! You are the church!

Scripture
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
John 6:24-35
This is the word of the Lord:
Thanks be to God!

Sermon: Turning Around
Who would want to tell a king they were wrong? Imagine what Nathan went through to deliver his message to David. That was the normal job of the prophet, however, to speak out on justice issues. The constant message of the Old Testament prophets was about treating the poor properly, defending the widows and orphans, those who were vulnerable.  Justice was the heart of the job of the prophet.

King David, usually known for doing the right thing in God’s eyes, had behaved incredibly unjustly.  He’d seen Bathsheba fulfilling her monthly purification ritual, and decided he needed to have her. He sent the palace heavies, to collect her.  Bathsheba would have had no choice at all about going.

Then, to cover up his crime, David had first tried to trick Uriah, and failing that, had set him up to be killed.  

So here was Nathan, with the worst job in the world – to reprimand the most powerful person in the nation. He set about doing so in terms of a parable.  He put David in God’s role – the judge, and told the story of a rich man who instead of using his own wealth of resources, stole all that his poor neighbour had. Once David had offered the judgement – then Nathan explained that God shared David’s opinion – but that the offender had actually been David himself. David, God’s chosen king, had been guilty of rape and murder. He had committed pretty much the worst crimes it was humanly possible to commit.

Nathan’s story reminded David, that although God loved him dearly, God also loved both Bathsheba and Uriah as well. Crimes against them were crimes against God who loved them.

David’s immediate response had been repentance. He confessed what he had done, he turned back to God.  The psalm we used as our prayer of confession this morning was David’s prayer of repentance after Nathan confronted him. 

Repentance is more than just saying sorry, it’s about a whole reorientation of life, so it is focussed back on God. That is what David was doing.

And God forgave him.

Now, here’s where this applies to us.

I want you to think now about the worst thing you’ve ever done. I’m not suggesting you tell anyone – but just remember what it was.  Whatever it was – it did not stop God loving you and wanting the best for you.  Whatever it was – it was not so bad that God could not forgive it.

God is a God of justice, and, as we hear from the prophets again and again, wants us to love justice too. God wants us to care for those who cannot care for themselves, to protect those who are vulnerable, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick.

We, however, are human beings. We are fragile and fallible. We slip up.

Sometimes, like David, our own greed, our own desires, get the better of us, and we mistreat others to get something for ourselves.

Sometimes, we get disoriented. We have what seem like very good reasons to do things that are actually unjust or harmful to vulnerable people around us. (Think of all the “very good” reasons put forward for rules which actually make life even harder for refugees.)

Sometimes, we just don’t get the whole picture. Think of the times people use a single verse from Scripture, without the context of the rest of what that passage of Scripture was saying, to try to justify an opinion or an action. It’s not that they’re trying to do the wrong thing, they just didn’t read the whole story. The message was only half-heard and half-understood.

Sometimes, we just take the course of least resistance. We do what everyone else is doing without thinking critically about it. We don’t stop to ask how God would see the situation.

What these things are called is sin. Sin is putting anything else in the place of God.  When we just go with the flow – we are putting society, or our democratic or capitalist system, or peer pressure, or whatever, in the place of God. When we give in to our own wants and desires ahead of God’s justice – we are putting our own greed in the place of God.  When we come up with “good reasons” to rationalise unjust actions, we are putting whatever those good reasons are in the place of God.  When we take a single verse of Scripture without the context of the whole of Scripture, and use that to justify injustice, we are putting our own agenda in the place of God.

The aim of God’s justice is not punishment – it’s love. To provide for the poor isn’t about punishing the rich – it’s about loving and sharing the good things God has given. To protect the vulnerable isn’t about punishing the strong – it’s about loving our neighbour and sharing God’s gifts so everyone can benefit.

Likewise, the aim of God’s justice in dealing with our sin is not about punishment – but about love.  That’s not to say that God cannot or will not punish human sin.  It is to say that God loves us so much as to not want to punish us. God would rather restore us to that same loving relationship we enjoyed before we sinned – before we put something else in God’s rightful place.

Because God has given us free will – the freedom to make our own choices about the way we will live our lives – that restoration requires something from us, as well as from God. It requires us to make a choice – to repent (literally to turn around). It requires us to make the necessary changes in our lives so that God is once more in charge of all of life.

That is what David did in the psalm – recognised that what he had done was more than a crime against human beings (as king, there was no higher human authority to answer to for that), but that it was a sin against the greatest authority of all – God.

And next he sought God’s help to change – to put God back in God’s rightful place in his. “Create in me a new heart – and renew a right spirit in me” – is a request to get his life oriented back the way it is supposed to be – directed towards God.

God’s justice aims always to restore us to that relationship of love.  Love is a relationship that works two ways, so that restoration works both ways – God is always willing to forgive. But to receive that forgiveness we also have to act – we have to make a choice to re-orient our so that God is most important.

Hymn Together in Song 155 O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder

Notices

Offering

Prayers of the people
Gracious God,
We pray for this world of yours.
You are a God of justice,
Yet there is so much that is unjust in your world
There are people who do not have enough to eat,
Who do not have a place to sleep,
Who do not have homes or productive work,
Yet, you have given this world everything we need.
We pray for the people of this world –
For our leaders, and for all of us,
That we will have the will to share your gifts justly.

In a time of silence, we pray for those needs on our hearts and minds…
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 690 Beauty for brokenness

Benediction

Threefold Amen

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 5th August, 2012: Who We Are


Good morning,

There’s a wonderful item on the wall of the kitchenette in the church – somewhere not everyone goes. It’s our congregation’s mission statement.  I don’t know how long ago it was adopted, but I am really impressed. Other congregation’s mission statements will about who the congregation aims to be as a gathered community – ours does that, but also talks about who we are as individuals when we’re not gathered together on Sunday morning.  It commits us to being the people of God everywhere we go, every day. 

In case you haven’t read it for a while, I’m reproducing it here:




Mission Statement

As individuals, each of us will try even harder to take the love of God into our local community wherever we perceive physical, social, material or spiritual need.

As a congregation we will worship together as part of the Body of Christ, always striving to increase our knowledge and love of God, encouraging one another both in the faith and in the efforts we make to extend God’s kingdom.

We will offer true fellowship to all whose lives are touched in any way by our activities as individuals and as a congregation.

We commit ourselves to pray and give, in support of the above goals and also in support of the wider work of the Church.

I think this is a wonderful statement of who we are and who we hope to be.  I hope and pray God will continue to help us to reach these goals.

Grace and peace

Iris