Thursday, 27 September 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 30th September 2012: Be Still

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,

Saturday, 22 September 2012

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

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

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


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



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


Threefold Amen

Friday, 21 September 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 23 September 2012: Good Intentions

Good morning,

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

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Newsletter Reflection for Sunday 16th September 2012: Interesting Times
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,

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

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



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


Threefold Amen.