~ Ideas shared in our Sunday morning messages ~
Have you ever suddenly come across a word or a phrase that makes an indelible imprint on your mind? One word which springs to mind is Spirituality – Spirit-uality. This means living each day by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, reading the Word, praying, listening for the still small voice of the Spirit or giving praise and thanks to God.
Something to think about…
Each week we have a small devotion to contemplate for the days following the service on Sunday. These are included in the BUC newsletter for the congregation but they are also provided for you below to read at your own leisure.
For the week of Friday, 23rd October 2020
Here we are, in the midst (wishing it was the end) of a pandemic, with the world in a constant state of crisis. Some governments are coping well; some muddling along; some are failing. It is the ordinary people who are bearing the brunt of government decisions, and lack of decisions. There is so much blame about. Who is responsible for this, who for that, who can we blame for these deaths….. it goes on.
How often do we have major pandemics like this? Once every 100 or so years? Who really knows what’s going to happen? Two things we do know now is that small government does not work so well in a crisis, and that governments should not have stopped being prepared for such an eventuality. I remember when there were meetings to plan for what to do in case of a pandemic or a natural disaster. Be prepared.
It is our response to the pandemic that’s important; the way we cope with it and the way we continue to care for others. And we do continue to care for others, even if those ways are restricted. As Nathan Nettleton says, ‘we shall love’ – we shall continue to love and serve no matter what.
For the week of Friday, 16th October 2020
The story told in this week’s Gospel reading is a familiar story. It appears to have struck a chord with the gospel writers as it also appears in Mark 12. Much has been written about these words; Wiiliam Barclay in his Daily Bible Studies has written the following.
“Every Christian has a double citizenship. They are citizens of the country in which they happen to live. To it they owe many things.
They owe the safety against lawless men which only settled government can give; they owe all public services. To take a simple example, few people are wealthy enough to have a lighting system or a cleansing system or a water system of their own. These are public services. In a welfare state the citizen owes still more to the state–education, medical services, provision for unemployment and old age. This places them under a debt of obligation. Because the Christian is a man or woman of honour, they must be a responsible citizen; failure in good citizenship is also failure in Christian duty. Untold troubles can descend upon a country or an industry when Christians refuse to take their part in the administration and leave it to selfish, self-seeking, partisan, and unchristian men. The Christian has a duty to Caesar in return for the privileges which the rule of Caesar brings to him.
But the Christian is also a citizen of heaven. There are matters of religion and of principle in which the responsibility of the Christian is to God. It may well be that the two citizenships will never clash; they do not need to. But when the Christian is convinced that it is God’s will that something should be done, it must be done; or, if they are convinced that something is against the will of God, they must resist it and take no part in it. Where the boundaries between the two duties lie, Jesus does not say. That is for our own conscience to test. But a real Christian–and this is the permanent truth which Jesus here lays down–is at one and the same time a good citizen of his country and a good citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
For the week of Friday, 9th October 2020
Exodus 32: 1-14; Philippians 4:4-9
Here we have the Israelites in the wilderness, yet again getting impatient & cranky, complaining that they have been abandoned. With Moses somewhere out of sight up the mountain, they coerce Aaron into making them a golden calf that they can worship – something visible. How often do we find it easier to have faith in the seen rather than the unseen? Faith can be hard, especially if we are hurting or feel alone, confused, or just plain lost. Yet we are assured in Philippians that:
The peace of God, which no one can ever make sense of, will move in and take over.
The fears and anxieties will be pushed aside and our troubled hearts and minds will take refuge in Christ Jesus to relax and recover.
(Nathan Nettleton translation)
When we feel overwhelmed and life is just too hard, let us hold this promise in our hearts and hang on in faith to I AM.
For the week of Friday, 25th September 2020
Social Justice Sunday
Is there something greater even than justice?
Grace, mercy ?
For the week of Friday, 18th September 2020
“I’m not sure if this actually happened, but I know this story is true…”
The Bible story of Jonah being swallowed by the whale (aka giant fish, aka sea monster) is well known, even to those outside the Jewish and Christian faiths. Jonah is given a mission by God – to preach repentance to the Ninevites – about which Jonah is less than enthusiastic. He runs away from God and ends up in the belly of a great sea creature! During this intermission in proceedings, Jonah presumably has a change of mind because, when he is finally coughed up by the whale, he agrees to go to the Ninevites, who do indeed repent and turn to the Lord.
The obvious elements of legend contained within the story (being swallowed by a whale; a city that is so repentant that even the animals repent!; a plant that grows and shrivels almost instantly) begs a question: did it really happen?! But perhaps a better question is: does it matter whether it actually happened or not? Would not the significance of the story remain even if, as is highly likely, it is pure legend?
Whether the events depicted in the story of Jonah actually happened or not, one unquestionable reality depicted is the highly unpleasant nature of the Ninevites; Nineveh being the capital of the brutal Assyrian empire. The artwork and writings of the ancient Assyrians makes abundantly clear their practices toward enemies: torture in the most brutal ways imaginable; and it is to these people that God sends Jonah to preach repentance!
The idea of God possibly forgiving the unforgivable, of God forgiving those who were pure evil, appeared not to sit well with Jonah, and so he resisted God’s call, necessitating some encouragement, courtesy of a whale.
Are there some people whom we identify as “irredeemable” and thereby outside of God’s mercy and grace? Why should we preach repentance to those who should never be forgiven?!
Perhaps, like Jonah, we are more willing at times to stand in judgement of another than is even God?
Might it be that “the wicked” (in the many forms we perceive them to take) actually provide a service to us that we do not wish to lose?
We shall explore these and other questions this Sunday.
For the week of Friday, 11th September 2020
(Matt. 18: 21-35)
‘Forgiving from the heart’ Matt. 35
What is the cost of keeping grudges? For Scots clans, it was to live in constant fear of a revenge raid. In the Papua New Guinea Highlands, if a person of tribe A was injured or killed, the PAYBACK system meant that someone from tribe B had to suffer in return. It could lead to a full-blown war.
It was not much different between the children of Israel and their new neighbours the Philistines, the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites. The first chapters of Amos seem to spell out that God will overlook three transgressions from those clans but not more. After that comes PAYBACK from God .
I wonder if Peter was feeling the hurts of being Jesus’ follower but sensed that Jesus did not operate in the old pay-back mode. Peter thinks he’ll multiply Amos’s three to seven times that we must be prepared to forgive before seeking payback. Surely that will do.
Jesus suggests forgiving countless times. His challenge is to accept those who have hurt us just as we are accepted by God, to turn the other cheek, however difficult. That’s smart between, nations, between political parties, and in marriage too. Said William Cowper:-
The kindest and the happiest pair will find occasion to forbear,
And something, everyday they live, to pity, and perhaps, forgive
Rev Dr Malcolm McArthur
For the week of Friday, 4th September 2020
“Love your neighbour as yourself.”
That’s all we have to do.
Doesn’t sound too hard, does it?
According to the apostle Paul in this week’s reading, and according to Jesus in the gospel, all the commandments of God basically come down to this one directive.
Why do we have so much trouble complying with it?!
Why is the equation so very frequently imbalanced, with us not loving our neighbour as we love ourselves?
Is it a deficiency in our loving others?
Is it an over-abundance of our love for ourselves?
Is it a failure on our part to understand the true relationship between ourselves and others?
This Sunday we will explore the way we relate to each other – how we get on as human beings – and how we might better live up to this simple but oh-so-hard-to-comply-with directive.
For the week of Friday, 28th August 2020
“What will it profit a person if they gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul?”
This week we consider the notion of the call of God. Who is it that receives God’s call? Is God’s call limited to the great figures of history: Abraham, Moses, Martin Luther King Jnr? Does God’s call occur in dramatic ways: on mountain tops, in burning bushes?
Or is God’s call a universal call? Is God’s call something that applies to each of us, sometimes in ways that are far less dramatic than a burning bush, and in far less scenic places than a mountain top?!
If God’s call is universal, I wonder how receptive we are to this call when it applies to us? Perhaps at times we “de-tune” our hearing, filtering out calls upon us that may bring with them disruption, inconvenience, sacrifice, and the peril of the unknown. But there are perils other than those involved in answering God’s specific call on our life. In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus, the one who so fully embodied responsiveness to God’s call, poses the question: “What will it profit a person if they gain the whole world yet forfeit their soul?”
When we go our own way, ignoring the “still, small voice” that is so easily drowned out by the noise of our world and that of our anxious thoughts and desires, we may end up living a “safe” life, but do we, in the process, end up not fully expressing whom God created us to be? This week, as we engage with the Old Testament and Gospel readings, we consider the call…to be all God calls us to be.
For the week of Friday, 21st August 2020
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—God’s good, pleasing and perfect will.
A recurring theme with the Bible is that of transformation. Time and again, individuals are called by God and, in the process of answering that call, are transformed; they no longer see the world the same way again. The apostle Paul speaks of this transformation in Sunday’s reading. The Greek word he uses is one from which we derive the English word metamorphosis: to change shape and structure (think caterpillar and butterfly). How might a metamorphosis in our thinking change the structure of the reality we perceive? The human brain is an amazing organ and, through it, we perceive the world in which we live, allowing us to go about our lives. However, it is possible for our minds to become locked into habitual patterns of thinking and interpreting, and we can come to believe that there is only one way to see the world – our way! What might happen if we were to open ourselves to the possibility of new ways of seeing and interpreting our reality? And if we could, then rather than continuing to focus on our desires and what we want, might we instead be better able to “test and approve what God’s will is”?
For the week of Friday, 14th August 2020
Inputs and outputs…
GIGO is a relatively well-known acronym, especially in computing circles. It stands for “Garbage In – Garbage Out.” This speaks of the linkage between the ‘inputs’ to a system – whether that system is a computer system or a living system such as a human being – and the ‘outputs’ from it. If you want good outputs from a system, one should pay very careful attention to the inputs! We can see this clearly in the case of human nutrition, where the quality and quantity of food (input) is so strongly correlated with health and wellbeing (output). On some occasions, when we have eaten too much of a particularly unhealthy food, we may actually feel quite queasy, as though we have somehow “defiled” our body.
In the gospel reading this Sunday, there is a discussion between Jesus and a Pharisee over this question of what precisely “defiles” us. The Pharisee has concerns over ritual purity, and also about the types of food that one ingests (the inputs), feeling that this is what leads to defilement, whereas Jesus moves the conversation away from food as inputs to the behaviours that represent our outputs – the words and behaviours that come from our inmost being; it is harsh words, unkindness, cruelty that, when they came out of us, defile us.
Once again, inputs influence outputs. What positive inputs do we seek out in our lives? Inspiring and uplifting literature, positive intellectual engagement, immersion in nature, stimulating conversation and social connection, devotional and contemplative practices, can all nurture our physical, psychological, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing, making it more natural for our ‘outputs’ to be loving and compassionate.
For the week of Friday, 7th August 2020
This week we hear a reading from Genesis that is the start of Joseph’s story. Last week, we heard something of the dysfunctional family into which Jacob was born and this week continues with the story of Jacob’s wives and children.
When we look back at Joseph’s story and how he was placed to help his family as well as the kingdom of Egypt through seven years of famine, we see God’s hand at work. Do you think Joseph felt the same way while he was being sold as a slave and later thrown into prison when his master’s wife accused him falsely of rape?
Have you been in a situation where you look back and see God’s hand has been at work in your life?
I wonder how the disciples felt out in a small boat in the middle of a storm? Did they feel part of God’s plan? Were they confident of a good outcome? Jesus coming to them across the water serves to remind Matthew’s readers (and us) that Jesus does come in time of trouble and in unexpected ways.
For the week of Friday, 31st July 2020
Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak…
1: to contend by grappling with and striving to trip or throw an opponent down or off balance
2: to combat an opposing tendency or force
3: to engage in deep thought, consideration, or debate
4: to engage in or as if in a violent or determined struggle
A number of my sons have, over the years, engaged in a competitive martial art called Brazilian Jujitsu (BJJ). It is a technique requiring not just strength, but also physical flexibility, specific skills, strategic thinking, and endurance. Until the very end of a bout, it is by no means certain whom will out-wrestle whom.
In the Genesis reading this Sunday, we hear of the famous wrestling match between Jacob and…whom? Does Jacob wrestle with a “man” as it is described in the original Hebrew text? Does he wrestle with a heavenly assailant – an angel – as many commentators suggest? Does he wrestle with God Almighty? Whomever he is fighting in the encounter, Jacob seems very well matched with his BJJ opponent, struggling all night, to a standstill!
What might this wrestling match teach us about our own wrestling: with ourselves, with each other, with God?
For the week of Friday, 24th July 2020
The Kingdom of heaven is like…
a mustard seed which grows into a tree, providing a home for birds;
some yeast mixed with flour enabling the dough to rise into loaf of bread, which nourishes.
These are simple pictures giving us a glimpse of God’s kingdom, which isn’t made up of huge amounts of money, grandiose efforts, slick campaigns or eye-catching feats of daring or strength. Rather Jesus suggests it is made up of the seemingly insignificant stuff, the small acts of genuine kindness, loving service, generosity, faithful prayer… which will grow into a tangible expression of God’s presence.
From little things, big things grow!
For the week of Friday, 17th July 2020
This week, we have the second of our two-part series on Flesh and Spirit, with this week’s focus being on spirit. The ‘flesh’ is so substantial, so tangible. We can see it, we can touch it, we can even smell it at times! The “spirit,” in contrast, is so seemingly insubstantial, so intangible, and so mysterious as to beg the question, “Is it actually a figment of our imagination?”
In this week’s message, we will explore this illusive thing that the apostle Paul called spirit, and how it complements the much more familiar flesh. Perhaps spirit, although strange, isn’t so intangible as it seems. Perhaps, rather than being “unreal,” this mysterious thing called spirit is at the very heart of reality and meaning.
For the week of Friday, 10th July 2020
The Spirit is willing…but the Flesh is weak.
The ‘flesh’ gets a bum rap in the Bible, or at least it seems that way. The apostle Paul wrote a lot about flesh and spirit. It seems that he was usually highlighting the problems and the limitations of flesh, whilst extolling the virtues of spirit. What exactly does Paul mean by ‘flesh’ and what does he mean by ‘spirit’? And once we’ve worked out what they are, is it a simple matter of choosing between the two? Is it an either/or situation or is it something else?
We will be exploring these and other questions as part of a two-week examination of flesh and spirit.
For the week of Friday, 3rd July 2020
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
In this passage Jesus is not offering us a holiday. We are not being offered freedom from work but freedom from onerous labour that saps our energy. Soul weariness comes from work to which we are ill-suited, or work extracted under compulsion or motivated by fear. Weariness also comes from having nothing to do that really matters.
Accepting Christ’s easy yoke means having something to do: a purpose that demands our all and summons forth our best efforts. It means work that is motivated by a passionate desire to see God’s world realised.
Jesus demands much from us but his yoke is easy because it is work suited to who we are as individuals and who we are as a community. This is why discerning our individual gifts and corporate discernment of a congregation’s call is so important. Once we are working with Christ on the things we are divinely called to, our soul is at ease.
For the week of Friday, 26th June 2020
Among the many things available for watching via the internet in this time of ‘no theatre’ is the State Theatre Offering, The Gods of Strangers. I haven’t yet watched it, but the advertising says: “It is said that if a stranger knocks on your door, you let them in – they could be a god in disguise. But, what do they bring in with them?” It sounds interesting.
The Gospel reading today, focusses on welcoming and being welcomed. Sometimes the people whom we need to welcome don’t come visiting in person, but intrude into our lives by phone or e-mail. In busy lives (perhaps less busy at the moment), we can find it hard to give people a proper welcome.
And it’s all very well to welcome someone whom you’ve invited for a meal or for coffee, but it’s often a different matter to welcome someone unexpected, when you’re busy. There are many different kinds of people who may knock at your door unexpectedly (or send you e-mails or ring you), from scammers, charity collectors, salespeople to neighbours just down the road who have a misaddressed letter for you.
As Christians, we’re reminded to be welcoming, but how do we find the strength and the wisdom to welcome people appropriately? The other readings for the day talk about having faith and the responses that we can make.