~ 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. You can click on the links to read the verses automatically.
For the week of Friday, 22nd June 2018
I love cheese. Too much. A couple of years ago I went to a cheese-making class. Perhaps cheese is my blood! After all, my late father was a dairy technologist who became Director of Dairying for the Department of Primary Industries in Queensland. He regularly brought home samples of experimental cheeses when we were kids (anyone for chocolate cheese?)
At one level, cheese making is easy. Add some rennet and wait for the curds to separate. But at another level, it is very complex and exacting, more science than art. I’ve had quite a few failures along the whey. The biggest challenge is that now I have a number of recipe books, but no-one to ask for help.
The Gospel of Mark has a clear focus on discipleship. Being a disciple is like being an apprentice. You can’t simply learn about faith in a book, you learn about being Christian by living it. Faith is “caught” as much as it is “taught.” In other words, it is more like learning a craft (like cheese-making) than accumulating knowledge.
We learn generosity by being around people who are generous, kindness from those who exemplify it, wisdom from people who have accumulated it, forgiveness from people who are merciful, and perseverance from those who know suffering too well. However the best Masters not only demonstrate high standards, they also articulate the what and the why. Faith is shared both through example and conversation.
May we seek the kind of humble transparency in our words and actions that speaks plainly of the depth and breadth of grace.
Here’s a photo of my blue cheese – not for the faint-hearted!
For the week of Friday, 15th June 2018
Celebrating “mainly music” ministry
On Sunday we’ll be celebrating five years of ministry with mainly music here at Blackwood. This is a wonderful achievement and a testimony to the vision and contributions of many people. mainly music is a great opportunity for parents and children to experience caring community, enjoyable play and faith in a positive environment.
Music, story and drama have always been part of passing on faith. In every culture, for millennia, families have sat around campfires and meal tables passing on their tribal story. “Will you tell us that story again, Grandma?” (even though we already know it all by heart!)
How are you, how are we, passing on the story of faith? It’s like the “whispers” game around the circle. You hear a whisper of grace and truth and hope, and you whisper on to the next person as best you can, perhaps not always getting in right. Yet that’s what you do. Whisper the faith. No need to shout. Just try to be heard clearly enough for someone to get it.
I love to cook. A few years ago I spent about 18 months making a family cookbook of recipes that our kids liked. They wanted it for when they left home. Everyone got very tired of me taking photos of our meals for the cookbook. But the end result was very special. Here’s the Mitchell food legacy! Share our meal table!
What’s our faith legacy? Whisper the story. Share the recipe. Pass it on.
For the week of Friday, 8th June 2018
The movie, Amadeus is a dramatisation of the life of Mozart. Antonio Salieri was a composer who was a contemporary of Mozart. In the movie Salieri is a man whose life is devoted to music. Early in life he made a promise to God that he would give his entire life to God if God would simply allow him to write sublime music.
Salieri’s prayer is answered. He writes beautiful music and is a success in his chosen vocation. He earns a place as chief composer in the emperor’s court.
One day, however, he hears the music of Mozart and he recognises, even if many of his contemporaries do not, that Mozart has gifts far superior to his own. Something happens within Salieri. He becomes obsessed with the desire to destroy Mozart. He even rails against God. He believes that God is mocking him through Mozart even though God has answered his prayer and given him great gifts, those gifts were not as great as Mozart’s, and Salieri cannot forgive God. His own composing career is put on hold as he obsessively seeks ways to undermine the career of his younger rival.
The comparison game is fraught with disappointment because there will always be some who we think are better than we are, or have more than we do, or have been given an easier ride than we feel we have. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard we see workers who originally were happy with the agreement they made become unhappy when they compared themselves with others. They decide that it is not fair that those who worked long hours received the same as those who only worked for a short time.
If what we want from God is fairness, then we will be disappointed. God gives us something better than fairness – God gives us grace. We cannot earn grace – it is a free gift and it is given by an unbelievably generous God. We do not get what we deserve – thank God, we get something much better.
For the week of Friday, 1st June 2018
Physicist Professor Brian Cox and Julia Zemiro hosted a program called Stargazing Live the other week on the ABC. The program explored the cosmos. The various physicists talked about the moment after the Big Bang and Cosmic Background Radiation. They also talked about the expanding universe. I do not understand these things fully – or even a little – but I found this fascinating.
The ancient writers of the Bible knew nothing of the Big Bang or evolution. They were describing the world as they knew it – and God was involved. God who knows the cosmos, the mighty Red Giant Stars, the gas giant planets, the black holes, also knows the amoeba, the microbes, and us.
When we were in Cairns many years ago we went snorkelling at the Barrier Reef. After a while I decided to float and watch the fish. Some tiny fish came right up to me to investigate what kind of creature I was. It was wonderful. The next day we went walking in the forest. The trees were massive. It struck me then that the God who knows the tiny fish, also knows the giant trees and also knows me.
We can never know another fully, we can never really know ourselves fully, but God knows us completely – our potential, our good parts and our flaws. We never have to pretend to God and in a world where there is so much pretence and pressure to show only the best of ourselves, especially for young people on social media, it is a relief to be able to be real – at least with God.
This week I invite you to be real with God who knows you fully and loves you completely.
For the week of Friday, 25th May 2018
Covenanting and Reconciliation
In 1994 the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia discovered God’s call, accepted this invitation and entered into an ever deepening covenantal relationship with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress. This was so that all may see a destiny together, praying and working together for a fuller expression of our reconciliation in Jesus Christ.
Preamble to the Constitution, Uniting Church in Australia
On Reconciliation Sunday, we acknowledge both as a nation and as a church that the First Peoples and Second Peoples of this land have a destiny together. As a Uniting Church, we established a covenant with the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress in 1994. This Covenant acknowledged the custodianship of the land by the First Peoples, and also the grief, pain and loss that had come with European settlement.
The Covenant also committed the Uniting Church to walking in solidarity with First Peoples to seek respect, justice and well-being for them. As Christians, we see this as both a spiritual and physical embodiment of God’s love in Christ.
In 2009, the Uniting Church adopted a revised Preamble to its Constitution, recognising the history of Australia and its peoples, particularly the dispossession that occurred through colonisation. It committed the church to an ongoing journey of reconciliation in Jesus Christ.
You can watch a series of videos which I produced for the Assembly based on the Preamble here: vimeo.com/album/3459179. A Study Guide is available here: assembly.uca.org.au//walkingtogether
For the week of Friday, 18th May 2018
I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
Quoted by the apostle Peter on the Day of Pentecost, these words from the prophet Joel in the Old Testament promised a time when the people of Israel would be free from foreign invasion. Joel doesn’t tell us whether he is speaking of the Assyrians, Babylonians or Persians taking control. The apocalypse of blood, fire and smoke which Joel foretold was the hope of God’s judgement and justice against the oppressive empire. Yahweh was greater!
Joel speaks of a time when the Spirit will move and speak freely among all people! Even women! (Rare in the Old Testament.) Even young people! Even slaves! The Spirit is not confined by patriarchy, privilege or position. God’s retribution against evil and injustice is heralded by the voices of old and young, female and male, slave and free – and at Pentecost, Jew and Gentile.
May we continue to be a community who see the Spirit at work in the lives of young and old, who welcome the voices of the children and outsiders, who dare to expect today’s prophets to find their voice, who see and hear dreams and visions of hope in our time.
For the week of Friday, 11th May 2018
On Thursday it was the feast of Christ’s Ascension. This is a difficult thing to get one’s head around these days. After his resurrection Jesus spent 40 days appearing intermittently to his disciples. Then Jesus left again – this time going permanently back to the Father. We hear that Jesus went up. Up where? Outer Space? Nikita Khrushchev‘s in a speech said “Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.”
The disciples, as with others of their time, believed in a three tier universe – a flat earth with heaven above and hades down below. This was the best way to describe Jesus leaving them. But our scientific minds reject the idea of Jesus being up in the sky somewhere.
I have found it helpful to think in this way (and I cannot remember where I found this idea).
Rather than taking off for some other place and becoming absent from our place, it is as though Jesus has instead become larger. When he walked the earth Jesus stretched all sorts of boundaries to include those who were previously excluded. Now he is stretching the boundaries of his own presence. While walking the streets as one of us, he could only be in one place at a time, but perhaps now he has expanded his presence to such an extraordinary extent that the one place where he is present is now bigger than all the places we could possibly go. Now instead of occupying one place in the universe, the universe occupies one place in Christ. He has become so much bigger, that we can no longer stand back far enough to see him.
However we understand the Ascension it means that the church is now Christ’s body on earth. We are now the one’s who bring the good news of God’s love to the world.
A prayer commonly attributed to Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) is
God of love, help us to remember
that Christ has no body now on earth but ours,
no hands but ours, no feet but ours.
Ours are the eyes to see the needs of the world.
Ours are the hands with which to bless everyone now.
Ours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.
For the week of Friday, 4th May 2018
Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
Love is an often used word in our vocabulary. It ranges from lust, desire, to caring, concern and commitment. It can involve love for another person, a sporting team, an item of food.
Years ago I seem to remember there was a saying “Love is … never having to say you are sorry.”
Love IS saying sorry – and a whole lot more. Love is an action – a choice – a decision made day by day – sometimes in a split second – so fast that we do not realise we are making a choice.
A young lady was a writer for a magazine, and Valentine’s Day was approaching. Her editor asked her to write a poem for the magazine. “But before you do,” he said, “tell me what you think love is.”
She got starry eyed. “It’s looking upon a lily pond,” she said, “with the one closest to your heart, by the light of the moon, while the lilies are in full bloom.”
“Stop!” her editor said. “Let me tell you what love is. It’s getting out of a warm bed on a cold winter’s night and filling hot water bottles for sick children.”
True love is sacrificial, even though we may not feel we are sacrificing anything at the time. Our love can never measure up to ”agape” love, God’s love, because we are humans not God, but our love can at times approximate that love. Anzac Day was just over a week ago. On that day we acknowledge acts of sacrificial love from people in the defence forces – we also see this in the acts of love from our emergency services personnel. We see acts of sacrificial love as one spouse cares for another during illness, as parents care for children, as a stranger goes to the aid of someone in danger.
Sacrificial love is a reflection of the love Jesus has for us. We can love because God first loves us.
For the week of Friday, 27th April 2018
Walking the Talk
Last Sunday I spoke about “abiding” as not only staying with Christ, attending to our relationship with God, but also paying attention to Jesus’ words and example.
The Latin word for Creed is “credo,” which means to swear allegiance. A Creed is not so much a statement of belief as it is a pledge of loyalty – a promise to abide. We may interpret Creeds differently over time, but by stating them, we place ourselves within a movement that is bigger than ourselves. We name ourselves as people who seek first God’s way.
In a free, democratic country such as Australia, allegiance to God and to nation are too easily seen to overlap. However, in many countries in the world, being Christian involves difficult choices about how to live – counter-cultural choices.
Of course, even in our nation, social norms, popular views or government policies don’t always align with the Way of Jesus. Far from it. Whether it be our responses to refugees, our concern for the environment, our attitudes or consumerism, or our response to armed conflicts, we are called first to pay attention to the Gospel, to the teachings and example of Jesus.
To abide, then, is to persist in this alternative way of being and doing – of compassion, justice-seeking, peace-making, generosity, hospitality and hopefulness.
What does God require of us? Micah 6:8 tells us – to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. This is a creed worth living.
For the week of Friday, 20th April 2018
Like a Candle
I don’t know how your week has been, but mine has been pretty mixed. Last Tuesday was the funeral of a friend in Melbourne in her 40’s who died following complications from heart surgery. Jill was an extraordinary human being. We first met in Tasmania in the 1990s. In her 20’s Jill went to the Philippines as an Intern in Mission. The experience changed her life. She developed a deep passion for social justice and went on to work for the Uniting Church in Victoria in human rights, advocating for refugees, covenanting with First Peoples, and mission partnerships. Jill co-ordinated our national About FACE program for years. She was exuberant, opinionated, passionate, funny and generous.
This week I am thinking of the many young adults whom I know – particularly those who have vibrant faith and a passion for justice. May we all encourage the young adults in our lives to discover and live out their calling. May we model faith for them and learn from their faith.
About 20 years ago, a mutual friend from Tassie, Rachel, died quite young and tragically. Rachel was on the staff of NCYC 1997. In memory of her I wrote the lyric for a song, sung last Tuesday at Jill’s funeral.
Like a candle burning wildly
Raging soft against the night
Spark that leaps to clear the shadows
Sending warm, disturbing light
We are called to live the passion
Hope stands strong against all pain
For it’s only in the burning
that the candle shows its flame.
For the week of Friday, 13th April 2018
We all hear criticism much more loudly than we hear affirmations. I have heard it said that it takes 10 positives to make up for one negative. But the right affirmation can make all the difference to someone’s life.
Ben Hooper grew up in the mountains of Tennessee in the 1870’s. He was mistreated because he was born out of wedlock. People were always examining his facial features and trying to guess who his father was. He used to go to a local church and would slip in just to hear the sermon. Afterward, he would hurry out, knowing that a boy such as himself was not welcome.
One Sunday Ben was unable to make his usual quick exit. When he reached the door he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder and fearfully turned to see the new preacher staring at him. Then the preacher said, “Who are you boy? Whose son are you?” Ben felt his heart sink, expecting to be put down once again. But then the preacher began to smile. “Wait a minute,’ he said, “I know who you are. I see the family resemblance. You are son of God.”
Ben left church that day a different person because someone recognised him as a child of God. Later in life, Ben Hooper was elected governor of Tennessee twice.
We are God’s children, not because of anything we do, but simply because God loves us and this is enormously powerful and liberating.
If you ever doubt that you are a person of immense worth remember this verse ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ 1 John 3:1a (NIV).
You are a loved child of God. Claim your inheritance joyfully.
For the week of Friday, 6th April 2018
Today we look at two resurrection appearances of Jesus. While for us Easter morning was a week away – for these disciples it is the evening of that first Easter. Thomas wasn’t with the rest of the disciples that first Easter evening and when they told him of their encounter with the risen Christ he struggled to believe them.
But there is so much more to Thomas that his questioning or doubting. Nine chapters earlier in the Gospel of John, when Jesus had resolved to go to Lazarus – when it was fairly clear that Jesus’ life was in danger – it was Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we might die there with you.” So we find that Thomas was a man of courage. A week later Jesus again appeared and, after seeing the risen Christ, Thomas makes one of the greatest and most faithful statements in John’s Gospel, “My Lord and my God!” One who has been forever tagged as the greatest doubter actually became one of the greatest believers. Legend says that Thomas went to India to preach the gospel and became their patron Saint.
Most of us are no different to Thomas. We want to believe – we do believe – but we also question. Alfred Lord Tennyson once wrote, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.”
Jesus did not castigate Thomas for his difficulty in believing and Christ will not castigate us for struggling with doubts and questions. I pray that as we wrestle with issues of faith we will be led into a deep and sustaining relationship with the divine.
Blessings, Rev Judi Hartwig
For the week of Friday, 30th March 2018
Poised over the Nothingness
When the old has been broken open, and we can’t yet see the new, all there is, is a space.
Entering more deeply into the kingdom of God can feel like repeatedly falling down a rabbit hole.
It takes courage and a wild sort of love to continue to take this sort of path.
The sort of love Mary had for Jesus.
She seeks him out even though he is dead and nothing is as she thought it was.
She finds an absence where the body should be.
It is the space where something new, beyond her imagining, is about to happen.
Later Jesus, again crossing boundaries, rises into the waters above the earth.
Leaving a space where he was and where something new is yet to occur.
And so we leave the disciples in the tension of the in-between.
Waiting on the creative action of the spirit of God.
The Anglican Board of Mission App “Deep calls to Deep”
For the week of Friday, 23rd March 2018
Reflections on Lent
Joy and suffering are two equally precious gifts which must both of them be savoured to the full, each one in its purity, without trying to mix them. Through joy, the beauty of the world penetrates our soul. Through suffering it penetrates our body. We could no more become friends of God through joy alone than one becomes a ship’s captain by studying book on navigation.
Waiting on God
The monk faces the worst, and discovers in it the hope of the best. From the abyss there comes, unaccountably, the mysterious gift of the spirit sent by God to make all things new, to transform the created and redemmed world, and to re-establish all things in Christ.
For the week of Friday, 16th March 2018
Reading: Mark 14:12-71
Thursday in Holy Week
There is something quite frightening when the lights go out, eerie even. If you are in a place where you are unfamiliar it is even scarier because you really are unsure of where to go next, to know where safety is to be found. You are subject to bumping into things, risking a bruise or two. You might also be at risk of panicking.
Something similar happens when faced with an uncertain future, particularly when you don’t feel like you are helpless or when you have no choice except to go when and where you are directed.
Jesus had enjoyed a supper with his friends. They remembered when God had called them into the unknown towards the Promised Land. There was comfort and joy in that. But Jesus also noticed that Judas had slipped out and he knew what he was going to do. For Jesus, his fate had all but been sealed.
Now he was in the garden and he was scared. He knew what obedience would demand but he wanted to give God a last opportunity to change the course of history. He would give anything to take a different course but, at the same time, he knew that his helplessness was nothing compared with where God wanted to go. Jesus’ helplessness was God determination.
When we feel unable to take control and have no certainty about the future the only certainty is that God will walk beside us and even carry us if required. In such times we are not alone and even if the outcome is different from the one we would like we can be encouraged by the knowledge that we don’t have to walk alone.
Next Week: Friday and crucifixion
The Rev Dr Adrian Brown
For the week of Friday, 9th March 2018
Reading: Mark 14:1-11
The Need for a Traitor
The Macquarie dictionary defines a traitor as “one who betrays a person, a cause or any trust”.
It is a common story when a teacher asks a class to do a task in small groups. When the work is completed and handed up there is usually one student who lodges a complaint about another student who did not pull their weight. As a result, the work submitted is, in the opinion of the complaining student, not up to the desired standard. Alternatively, there is a statement along the lines of I had to do a lot more work than I wanted to in order to make certain that the piece of work was the highest standard possible.
In this situation are there one or two traitors? Is the student who did not contribute sufficiently to the group a traitor? Is the student who makes the complaint a traitor?
Stories such as these remind us that acts of betrayal are not restricted to the Bible. There are many acts of betrayal committed, sometimes deliberately, sometimes unintentionally, in the world around us. This week as we consider the story of Judas and his act of betrayal during Holy week we need to reflect on the lives we live and the actions we undertake.
For the week of Friday, 2nd March 2018
Reading: Mark 11: 20-13:37
Tuesday in Holy Week
Each one of us finds us in our inner selves to challenge authority. It might be how we cross a road, the speed we travel at, the expectations on us by our neighbours or our family or any number of other things you can think of where you have challenged authority.
Challenging authority was probably at its height when you were growing up. After all, parents never really know best, do they? Challenging authority growing up wasn’t always accompanied by thinking about the consequences and, in any case, they didn’t necessarily matter all that much and were often consequences worth accepting.
As we get older consequences related to challenging authority often carry a greater burden. Sometimes those consequences can cost us friendships, money or reputation. They do not usually cost us our life.
Jesus knew. He knew that if continued to challenge authority the consequences could be dire and likely lead to death. Nonetheless, he persisted because he had no choice. Those whom he challenged had lost sight of the demands of their own faith and often were more concerned for their own personal needs than those whom they were supposed to serve.
Jesus’ challenge to authority is part of the story which leads to Good Friday and, to the chagrin of those whom he challenged, to Easter Day. Each of us need to ask ourselves why it is we challenge authority and do we have our priorities right. Jesus’ example is good and right and so might our challenges be equally good and right and if they are then we are in good company.
Read Mark 11: 20 -13: 37
Next week: Wednesday in Holy Week: The need for a traitor
The Rev Dr Adrian Brown
For the week of Friday, 23rd February 2018
Face Like Flint
From the perspective of the chief priests, scribes, and Jewish leaders, it was one thing for this teacher from the backwaters of Nazareth to share his stories and make his claims and do his miracles with his followers. But now he was inside the Holy City. He had entered the gates like he was the new David or the new Solomon. And now he has the audacity to declare that the Temple in essence belongs to him and his Father? Who is he to suggest that the Jewish system was enabling sin rather than worship? And how dare he argue that the Jewish authorities were ignorant of true godliness and piety?
From this point forward, there would be no turning back. Jesus is not shrinking back. In fact, he is accelerating the sentence of death.
Evening approaches. The sun will set around 7:00pm, beginning the new day according to the Jewish calendar. Jesus and his disciples make their return to Bethany. Tomorrow will be a new day to confound, to turn things upside down, as Jesus continues to fulfil the eternal plan that will take him to Calvary.
Written by Jonathan Parnell
Your Sorrow will Turn to Joy
Morning & Evening Meditations for Holy Week