~ 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, 16th December 2018
Both the Isaiah reading and the reading from Matthew’s Gospel speak about a child called Immanuel, which means God with us which, if we really think about it can be a difficult concept to accept.
Think about it this way – if you were God, how would you communicate with human beings without overpowering them and violating the principle of human freedom? God’s plan was to live among us and be revealed to a small group of common people who would tell others what God had done in their lives. Then they would tell others what they had experienced, and as the story of God’s coming is told over and over again humanity would realise the depth of God’s love. God didn’t persuade humanity with dramatic signs that would leave people unable to resist, but with gentle love – in the person of Jesus. God revealed Godself – incarnate in human flesh.
The following story from an unknown source helps us get our heads around this.
‘One Christmas Eve, a man was invited by his wife and child to go to the Christmas Eve service at their church. He refused to go saying, “I don’t understand how a God who is supposed to be loving and kind can let humanity suffer so much. Why would He decide to become a man and be born as a baby in a manger, no less? (cont.) There is no logic in such an idea and I just can’t accept it.” So his wife and child went to church without him.
While they were gone, a storm blew in. So the man put some more wood in the fireplace, pulled up his favourite chair, grabbed his newspaper, and sat down to enjoy a nice quite evening alone. Suddenly, he heard a thumping noise and rose to investigate.
As he looked out his living room window into what was now a fierce blizzard, he saw a flock of birds flying into his window again and again, trying to get into the light and warmth of his house.
Even though the man did not believe in God, he was a good and compassionate man and felt sorry for the birds. “What can I do to help them,” he thought. “I know! I’ll open the barn doors. Then, when they see the open barn, they’ll fly right in”
So he pulled on his coat and boots and trudged out to the barn to open the doors. When he opened the doors and turned on the light, he turned to watch the birds fly into his barn. But the birds just kept flying against his window trying to get in.
“How can I get them to come in?” he asked himself. “How can I get their attention and get them to fly in here. I know! I’ll put out bird food all the way from the house to the barn, then they’ll follow the trail right into the barn.” So that’s what he did. But still the birds just flew against the window trying to get into the warmth.
By now the man was becoming very anxious for the safety of the birds. “I have to help them – but how? They haven’t noticed anything I’ve done so far. What can I do that will get their attention.
I have it! This time I’ll get in front of them and wave my arms and yell and chase them into the barn!” So that’s what the man did. He went up to the window where they were and started to yell and wave his arms to drive them into the barn. But instead of driving them into the barn, he succeeded in driving them out into the storm because they were afraid of him.
The man was distraught He knew he had tried everything he could to get the birds into his barn and safety but nothing had worked. “If only I could become a bird like they are. Then I could communicate so they would understand me and follow me into the barn and be safe.”
Suddenly, he realised. That’s exactly what Jesus did for us! He came as a baby and grew up into a man so He could show us how to find safety in His ‘barn’.’
For the week of Friday, 7th December 2018
I have a minister friend who is a university academic. He says that often when people find out that he is a minister, they will say something like “I’m not religious, but…” and then describe some kind of numinous or mystical experience. Of course, spiritual experiences are by no means confined to people of Christian faith. The Spirit blows where she will.
During Advent we are hearing stories involving angels. I can’t say that I’ve ever seen or heard God speaking that vividly. However there have been plenty of times when I feel some kind of prompt or nudge that turns out to have been worth following. And other times when there was an almost out-of-body God-moment that took me by surprise. Sometimes I was genuinely hoping for guidance, other times I was simply overwhelmed by a sense of God’s grace or goodness.
I doubt that such experiences can or should be sought. Yet I think that becoming more open to the Spirit’s presence and prompting is part of our faith journey. It has sometimes puzzled me that some people of a more ‘conservative’ faith have a stronger expectation of the Spirit working than those who are more ‘liberal’, despite the latter being more open to the possibility that God is not confined by a particular religious tradition. The story of young Mary reminds us that God speaks to those who might least expect it.
I wonder what the Spirit might be blowing our way this Advent?
For the week of Friday, 30th November 2018
This Sunday marks the beginning of the liturgical season of Advent. There are always 4 weeks of Advent and this year Advent lasts from 2 December to 24 December.
Advent means ‘Coming’ in Latin. This is the coming of Jesus into the world.
There are three ways that we celebrate or wait for Jesus’ coming in Advent. We celebrate the birth of Jesus to Mary over 2000 years ago, and how during his life he brought hope to many, but was crucified and rose again. The second happens as we invite Jesus into our lives now. And the third happens as we wait for Jesus’ return in the last days.
Jesus can come into our lives when we least expect it – sometimes in extraordinary ways – but more usually during the general course of our days. We may pass these experiences of the divine as coincidence but if we are waiting and expecting the divine to enter our lives then we will recognise such moments as encounters with the holy.
I pray that during the season of Advent, with all the busyness that the lead up to Christmas entails, that you will take time to wait upon Christ, be alert for signs of the divine in your lives and celebrate encounters with the holy.
For the week of Friday, 23rd November 2018
This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the Christian year. There are many images of Jesus and Christ the King is not an image we use often. We think of Christ the shepherd, the brother, the teacher, the healer, the reconciler, the friend who walks beside us, the Son, the baby in the manger among others.
To say that Christ is the King is a political statement. No wonder the powers in authority – both Jewish and Roman, were concerned. To say that Jesus was King meant that Caesar was not. This is revolutionary – this is political with a capital P and Caesar had a way of dealing with revolutionaries and those who failed to keep them in check.
It is still political today. If we are going to acknowledge Christ as our King then we are saying that it is to Christ we owe our primary allegiance – not the government. Our primary allegiance is not even to our family, our work or anything else. Nathan Nettleton writes, “Every time we pray the Lord’s Prayer we are being political. When we pray “Your kingdom come on earth as in heaven,” we are clearly expressing a dissatisfaction with the way things are on earth and an opinion about the way they should be. We are praying that the political systems and regimes which protect the status quo will have their reign terminated, and that God will rule in their place.”
If all who say that Christ is King (albeit a different kind of King) rose up to follow Christ the world would never be the same. This is political – this is revolutionary.
For the week of Friday, 16th November 2018
Sing a New Song
Following my time recovering from knee surgery, I’ve just had a week’s holiday in Brisbane to see my ageing mother and siblings. (By the way, thank you for the well wishes. I was hoping for more chocolate though.) During the time away I heard news about two young men – one is a relative and one is the son of good friends. Neither of the two know each other. Both guys have led quite difficult lives for some years, with mental health issues, substance abuse and the prospect of gaol time for misdemeanours. Their parents and carers were caused constant grief and stretched to the limit on many, many occasions.
However this week I heard a different story. Those close to these young men spoke tentatively but hopefully of recent, promising changes in their health and well-being as well as their social supports. Slowly, their troubled lives seem to be showing some of the improvement hoped for through many nights of tears and prayers. I won’t say more for the sake of their privacy. While these guys both have a long way to go, even this small growth is little short of miraculous.
This week’s Bible readings from 1 Samuel 1 and Mark 13 are about revolutions in people’s lives. In each case, change doesn’t come quickly or easily. Each story is an encouragement to be hopeful that God doesn’t abandon us, even when all of the evidence seems to say otherwise. Hope hangs in there.
For the week of Friday, 9th November 2018
Magazines and news articles focus on the influence and importance of the powerful and the famous. Chairs of world banks, and national reserve banks can send the stock market into a frenzy. Presidents, Prime Ministers, and other politicians can change lives and futures with the stroke of a pen. These are the people society is taught to regard as important.
Jesus taught that all people are important. We can raise people up in importance – not necessarily by giving them charity but by giving them dignity. I love this story from a minister of the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York. The minister, Tom goes each month to help in the homeless shelter. After people have been fed they are invited to participate in a service of Holy Communion – some do and others do not. This is Tom’s story about one such service of Holy Communion.
As he was moving down the altar serving communion, he came to a man kneeling there who looked like he had been out on the streets for quite a while. The man looked up at Tom and whispered, “Skip me.” “What? Pardon me?” Tom said. In a louder whisper, the man said again, “Skip me.” “Why?” Tom asked. “Because,” the man said, “I’m not worthy.” Tom said, “Neither am I.” Then Tom added, “I’ll tell you what. I’m going to serve communion to these other people. Then I’m going to come back and serve communion to you, and then I would like you to serve it to me.” The man blinked and said to Tom, “Father, is that legal?” Tom said, “Yes, it’s legal and it’s beautiful and that’s what we are going to do.”
Tom went on down the altar and served all the other people kneeling there, and then he came back to the reluctant man and said, “What’s your name?” And the man said, “Josh.” Tom placed the elements of the Lord’s Supper before him and said, “Josh, this is the body of Christ given for you. Eat and drink this in the remembrance that Christ came for you and Christ died for you. Amen.”
Josh blinked back the tears in his eyes and he received Holy Communion. Then Tom knelt and handed Josh the trays of bread and wine and said, “Now, you serve me.” Josh nervously took the trays in his weathered hands and again he said, “Father, are you sure this is legal?” “Yes, it’s legal. Just do it.” Josh’s eyes were darting around from side to side as he looked over this shoulder and then the other, as if he expected at any moment the police, the FBI, the CIA, or the Pope to come rushing in to arrest him. Finally, he held the trays toward Tom and as Tom received the sacrament, Josh muttered, “Body, blood…Jesus for you… Hang in there!”
Tom said later, “Of all the communion rituals I have ever read, I don’t recall the words, “Hang in there” in any of them, but at that moment for me, Holy Communion had never been more “holy.” As Josh walked out of the homeless shelter that day, he was standing a little taller, and he had an extra spring in his step and it was reported that he went everywhere saying, “You won’t believe what I did today.” In fact, the story became so wide spread that from that day, Josh became known on the streets as “The Rev” which of course was short for the Reverend.
Jesus gave everybody dignity and we are called to follow suit.