~ 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, 10th August 2018
This is week three of our series on Ephesians. Biblical scholar John Heil subtitles this book “Empowerment to Walk in Love for the Unity of All in Christ.” He says that the theme of the epistle is Love – love as a noun, love as a verb, and beloved as an adjective. Paul says that God’s love in Christ empowers us to love God and love one another. Within this umbrella of love, Paul speaks of “blessed,” “chosen,” “grace,” “give,” and “gift” to spell out what God’s love means for our lives.
In week one, our theme was Gratitude. In response to God’s grace, we are invited to live gratefully. This doesn’t mean being thankful for things that go wrong. The Psalms make it quite clear that people sometime rage at God, feel that God is absent, and plead to God to help in distress. Yet, at the root of our faith is not a God of judgement, but a God of grace and the gift of God’s good Creation. How is a life of gratitude expressed in our community life as the people of God?
Week two focused on Grace experienced as Justice, as God liberates captives, frees slaves, and declares that we are all one in Christ – male and female, slave and free, Jew and Gentile. God is a reconciling God who breaks down barriers and binds people together.
Week three, Chapter Three is about grace experienced as Growth. Grace is neither a matter of divine record-keeping, nor just some future promise. God’s love transforms lives here and now. Faith is a journey of encounter and growth. How are we growing?
For the week of Friday, 3rd August 2018
Ever since one group lorded it over another there has been slavery. Sometimes overtly, sometimes surreptitiously. Whatever its presence or form it has always involved speaking angrily and prejudiciously about others who are not ‘one of ours’.
I always felt this when I lived in the United States and had to register each year as an alien. It felt like I was from outer space and not meant to belong. I have no doubt that that was the precise intention even if ‘non-aliens’ were embarrassed by their own government’s language.
This disparaging, put down, language is common. We use a variation when we refer to those who are refugees on Nauru or Manus Island as ‘illegal’ and have no humane interest in resettling them. President Trump does it with his comments about US border crossing immigrants. Adolf Hitler spoke of Jews and Gypsies in similarly disparaging language as did the slave owners of the American South or the Romans or the Greeks or the Hebrews of King David’s time.
Then along came Jesus and Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ teachings and his condemnation of anything that would diminish people or treat them as aliens or outcasts was counter to his understanding of Jesus’ message. Jesus brought an end to discrimination on the basis of one’s circumstances and, instead, opened up a revolutionary view of people as being equal and united in him and called for us to act similarly to any and all with whom we engaged, whatever their circumstances.
The Rev Dr Adrian Brown
As part of your response to Paul’s letter on justice etc you are encouraged to write a letter on a matter of justice and inclusivity on a topic of your choice to the person of your choice such as the relevant Minister or your local Member of Parliament. The more this is done the more something could happen!
For the week of Friday, 27th July 2018
To all the saints who are in Blackwood…
If the apostle Paul were to write a letter to us at Blackwood Uniting Church in 2018, what might he say? How might he encourage us? How might he challenge us? What would he pray for us? What would he want to teach us?
This week we begin a six week series in worship on the Letter to the Ephesians. Each week in worship we will look at part of each of the six chapters. Each week has a theme that explores what it means to live as the people of God.
When we read the Bible, there are three “worlds” to consider – the world of the writer, the world of the readers, and our world today.
The writers – Who wrote the book? When and where did they live? What was their motivation for writing?
The first readers – For whom was the book first written? When and where did they live? How might they have understood its message for their situation?
The readers today – What is our life situation? Our culture? How is it different from the worlds of the writer and the first readers? How does the text speak to our contemporary world, our daily lives?
As you will discover, even with the book of Ephesians, the first two “worlds” raise some interesting questions for us as readers. So, for six weeks, we will try to put ourselves in the shoes of the apostle, of the early church, and also read the letter from our own time and place. Our prayer is that we will see and hear a contemporary word for our lives, our church, our world.
During these six weeks you are invited to read through the whole book of Ephesians. We will provide a daily reading guide each week. You can choose whether to read a section a day or every few days. We will also be writing some letters of our own.
Grace and peace to you
For the week of Friday, 13th July 2018
We are all familiar with the term self-fulling prophecy. We tend to conform to the image we have of ourselves. If we see ourselves as clumsy, we will act clumsily. If we see ourselves as intelligent, we will generally act intelligently and if we see ourselves as bad, unacceptable, unlovable and unworthy, that is how we will behave.
We also become what others tell us we will become. Tell a child that he or she is a good child, praise them for positive acts, tell them you are proud of them, and they will live up to that positive self-image. If consistently told they are worthless or bad the child will live down to that opinion also.
In the 1890’s there were two altar boys. One was born in 1892 in Eastern Europe. The other was born just three years later in America. Each was given the opportunity to assist their priest in serving Holy Communion. Each boy, while handling the communion cup, accidentally spilled some of the wine.
The priest in the Eastern European church slapped the little altar boy hard across the face and shouted, “Clumsy oaf! Leave the altar!” That boy grew up to become an atheist and a Communist. He was the dictator of Yugoslavia from 1943 to 1980. His name was Josip Broz Tito.
The priest in the church in America knelt down to the little boy’s level, looked him tenderly in the eyes and said, “It’s all right, son. You’ll do better next time. You’ll be a fine priest for God someday.” That boy grew up to become Bishop Fulton Sheen. Two young boys. Two similar experiences with radically different endings.
We all need somebody who believes in us, somebody who sees us as we could be. And we all need to feel that we are loved.
A small child broke a vase that was a cherished heirloom. Because she knew its value, the child cried when she broke it. Her mother came running. The child was surprised to see not anger but relief on her mother’s face. “I thought you were hurt,” her mother said, gathering her into arms. Looking back on that event later she said “I discovered that day that I was the family treasure.”
Love, acceptance, value. This is what God offers us. We are God’s treasure, God’s beloved and God delights in us.
For the week of Friday, 6th July 2018
We all know the saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt.” Something like this seems to have happened when Jesus preached in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. While initially impressed with his sermon, the congregation began remembering who Jesus was: Mary’s son, brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and his sisters. Maybe they even remembered the questions around his birth and the things he did as a child. They put him in a box – Mary’s and Joseph’s son, the carpenter.
How often do we put others in a box: nerd, sporty, whiner, good bloke, lovely woman? When we put people in boxes we limit the way we can see God’s grace working in and through them. We may miss experiencing the gifts and ministry they may otherwise bring to us and the community – we constrain them.
We put others in boxes and that is a pity. But even worse, we put ourselves in boxes. We limit ourselves and the way God can work through us. When we see ourselves in a particular way – and only that way – I don’t believe we recognise the gifts God has given us.
I hate the word ‘just’. I hate hearing someone say something like, “I’m just a housewife”, or “I was just a clerk.” You may spend much of your day working as a housewife or a clerk but we are all far more than that – we are people who are graced by God and we should not allow ourselves to be confined to a box or limited in the ways we can spread God’s love to the world. So I encourage you to break out of any boxes which constrain you and spread God’s love far and wide in any and all means that you can think of.
For the week of Friday, 29th June 2018
Today’s stories of the healing of the woman who had bled for 12 years and the raising of Jarius’ 12 year old daughter (Mark 5:21-43) bring up difficult issues. This woman was healed but many more people were suffering and not healed. Jairus’ daughter was raised but many other children died.
*What is healing? Is it just physical or is there a deeper element? Less obviously than a physical cure, healing can be peace and acceptance in the face of disappointment, and a continuing awareness of the presence of God in our situation.
*Does prayer work? If what we mean by this is, “Do we get what we pray for?” then the honest answer will be, “Sometimes, but not always.” No matter how hard we pray we know that not all prayers are answered as we might wish. Praying is not a matter of bending God’s will to my will, my needs or my hopes. To ask something of God is to come into a deeper relationship with God. God may or may not do what I want, God’s mind may or may not be changed – but my mind and heart may be.
These are deep questions – and not to be taken lightly. I would be happy to talk with you if these readings raise issues for you.
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.