When we become followers of Jesus, either suddenly, or slowly over the years, we experience a profound change. All things are new and exciting and old things are seen from a new perspective. We no longer see people from a human point of view. New spiritual depths are plumbed and new resources for living become available through the Holy Spirit at work in us. If that were not so, many of us would have slipped back into a befuddled apathy towards Jesus years ago.
Believers don’t see themselves as living fully right now in the kingdom of God. We do recognise we have been caught up in a new way of seeing and living, of respecting ourselves as God’s children, of treating each other lovingly, and of reaching out in love to those who are still trapped in the ways of the world around us.
This newness is particularly clear to new Christians who have had no previous church experience. For them the contrasts are dramatic. The whole world looks different. A new abundant life, teeming with possibilities, opens up before them.
For those brought up in the faith since childhood, the contrast between the old creation and the new isn’t as sharp. We can be lulled into taking the miracle of saving grace for granted while newcomers are on cloud nine with Jesus!
It’s helpful for long term Christians, to have close encounters with brand new Christians to make us stop dead in our tracks, look around again at the old world and its negatives and marvel at the privilege that has become ours.
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Prayer: Our Deepest Longing
When a doctoral student at Princeton asked, “What is there left in the world for original dissertation research?” Albert Einstein replied, “Find out about prayer. Somebody must find out about prayer.”
Prayer is universal because it speaks to some basic human need. As Thomas Merton put it, “Prayer is an expression of who we are… We are living incompleteness. We are a gap, an emptiness that calls for fulfilment.”
When I interviewed people about prayer, typically, the results went like this. Is prayer important to you? Oh, yes. How often do you pray? Every day. Approximately how long? Five minutes- well maybe seven. Do you find prayer satisfying? Not really. Do you sense the presence of God when you pray? Occasionally, not often. Many of those I talked to experienced prayer more as a burden than a pleasure. They regarded it as important, even paramount, and felt guilty about their failure, blaming themselves.
Why does prayer rank so high in theoretical importance and so low in terms of actual satisfaction? Everywhere, I encountered the gap between prayer in theory and prayer in practice. In theory prayer is the essential human act, a priceless point of contact with the God of the universe. In practice prayer is often confusing and fraught with frustration. Why?
Advances in science and technology no doubt contribute to our confusion about prayer… In much of the world modern scepticism taints prayer… Prosperity may dilute prayer too… Time pressures crowd out prayer. Where does God fit into a life that already seems behind schedule?
My main qualification for writing about prayer is that I feel unqualified- and genuinely want to learn. God will find a way to fulfil that deepest longing. The psychiatrist Gerald May observed, “After twenty years of listening to the yearnings of people’s hearts, I am convinced that human beings have an inborn desire for God. Whether we are consciously religious or not, this desire is our deepest longing and most precious treasure.” Surely, if we are made in God’s own image, God will find a way of responding to that deepest longing. Prayer is that way.
If prayer stands as the place where God and human beings meet, then I must learn about prayer.
(Condensed and adapted from “Prayer” by Philip Yancey, Chapter 1)
The Dangers of Going to Church!
In one of her books, Annie Dillard, notes the curious way we come to church on a Sunday. We come into carpeted sanctuaries, with padded seats where all is orderly, neat, tied down and respectable. Yet, she says, if we knew much about the Bible and what it says it is like to meet God, the stewards should hand out crash helmets instead of newsletters.
One of those who had such an encounter was the boy Samuel. He was assistant to the aging priest Eli, so he spent a lot of time hanging out in the Temple. A pretty wholesome place you would think. Nobody expected much to happen, after all, we’re told, “In those days the word of the Lord was rare. There were not many visions.”
But one day that changed. Samuel was encountered by God and not only his life but many others were transformed.
It sounds like some other Bible stories doesn’t it? People going about their day to day business, following predictable, conventional paths, only to be disrupted by an intrusive word, a life changing word. David was minding sheep. Peter was fishing. Ordinary lives disrupted because God called their names.
Samuel’s story comes with a promise and a warning. The promise: that the word of the Lord may be rare, but God is not forever silent. Will we hear God’s voice? The warning: if you don’t want your life disrupted you’d better quit hanging around church. You just never know when you might hear your voice being called!
Arthur Stace: Mr Eternity. Arthur Stace had a tragic childhood and early adult life. Born in Redfern, a ‘down town’ inner Sydney suburb, in February 1885, to alcoholic and abusive parents, he never knew the meaning of “love”. He was brought up in abject poverty and fear of being beaten by his father. In order to survive, he resorted to stealing bread and milk and searching for scraps of food in bins. By the age of 12, with virtually no formal schooling, and working in a coal mine, he was made a ward of the state and put into a state home, then foster care. As a teenager he became an alcoholic and was frequently locked up. In his 20s he ‘graduated’ to working in the underworld. In March 1916, at the age of 32, he enlisted for WWI with the AIF and spent 3 years in France. He was a survivor. Just as he had survived a horrific childhood, he survived the horror of war, and later the poverty of the depression.
When all seemed lost – a serious alcoholic, lonely, virtually homeless, a frequent inmate of the local jail, – one night in August 1930, he found himself listening to a sermon by the evangelist, RB Hammond. That night he made a commitment to try life with Christ. By the love of God he was given “New Life”. Two years later, he was listening to another preacher delivering a sermon on “Eternity”. In Stace’s words, “Eternity went ringing through my brain and suddenly I began crying and felt a powerful call from the Lord to write “Eternity”. Even though he was illiterate, he spent the next 35 years of his life, writing the word “Eternity” in beautiful copperplate script, daily starting at 5.00 am and writing it perhaps 40 times a day. His chalk written “Eternity” adorned footpaths and walls, and was in lights on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, in the early hours of 1/1/2000. He was “born again” and spent the rest of his life serving his Lord in the local church, serving in shelters for the homeless and challenging people to consider their “Eternity”.
Our life and faith story may not be as dramatic and colourful as Arthur’s, but by the Grace of God, we too can experience the gift of Life ‘Eternal’, assured of the presence of the Spirit of the Risen Christ.
Today is the day of celebration we know in the Church as Pentecost. The term “Pentecost” means “fiftieth”, and in the Jewish tradition celebrates the day 50 days after Passover, also known as The Feast of Weeks. In the Christian tradition, it comes 49 days (the seventh Sunday) after Easter and celebrates the coming of the Holy Spirit on the disciples of Jesus and other followers of Jesus who were gathered in Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks.
In the Christian Church it is also the day which many call the birthday of the Church and the start of the Church’s mission to the world.
The events of that day are dramatically recounted in the second chapter of the book of Acts. There we find the disciples gathered in one place when there was the sound of a mighty wind and what appeared to be fire resting on the disciples. One result of this was that the disciples began to speak in the languages of other nations. Not surprisingly this caused a bit of a stir among the populous. Some thought they were simply drunk and dismissed them (Acts 2:13, 15). Others, however, wondered, “What does this mean?” (Acts 2:12)
It’s a good question. What does it mean, this amazing event? There are many answers that could be given to that question but one of the answers surely is that the Spirit is a life giving Spirit- the Spirit brings life!
In the very beginning of the Bible we read that the earth was formless and void, but the Spirit was hovering over the earth and began the process of creation- bringing life. The writer of the Psalms, reflecting on this affirmed, “When you send your Spirit… they are created.” (Psalm 104:30). The prophet Ezekiel is given a dramatic vision at a time when the nation of Israel was going through the most difficult of times, when the nation seemed to have lost its life. In the vision of the valley of the dry bones Ezekiel sees the bones joined together and flesh is put on them, but they are still not living. God says, “I will put my spirit within you… and you will live.”
That is why the Church in its creeds proclaims, “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.” Pentecost, the celebration of the Spirit, is a celebration that God is a life giving God.
At Burnside City you are invited to be involved in both praying & asking for prayer.
Wednesday 7.45 – 8.30 am: Small group Bible study and prayer for those who prefer to start early
Wednesday 9.30 – 10.30am: Small group Bible study and prayer based on the lectio divina method of listening for God’s voice
Sunday 11.30am: Prayer after the Café service, on request for all members
Sunday 12 noon: A group gathers to pray for BCUC and its people
Prayer Chain: A group of anonymous BCUC people will pray individually for your needs in the strictest of confidence
2BY2 prayer: Confidential hands on prayer where and when you prefer with 1 or 2 pray-ers
If you would like more information on joining in, or receiving prayers from any of the above please contact one of the ministers or:
Jenny Olver, Donald Sarre, Colette Williams or Angela Andrew
What a wonderful experience it is to be chosen – to know that we are important to someone, that we are valued, that we are desirable! Being chosen is of great consequence in shaping our self-image, our self-confidence – of understanding who we are!
Today, in our gospel (John 15:9-17), we hear that Jesus has chosen his disciples not simply to be his servants, but to be his friends. And we are Jesus’ disciples today.
Abraham was the friend of God (Isaiah 41:8). In the Book of Wisdom (7:27), Wisdom is said to make us the friends of God. But this word used by Jesus is really made clearer by a custom which was practised both at the courts of the Roman Emperors and those of the eastern kings.
At these courts there was a very select group called ‘the friends of the king’, or ‘the friends of the Emperor’. At all times they had access to the king: they even had the right to come to his bed chamber at the beginning of the day. He talked to them before he talked to his generals, his rulers, and his statesmen. The ‘friends of the king’ were those who had the closest and the most intimate connection with him.
As friends, Jesus shares himself with us. He’s faithful to us, even when we do wrong. He does things for us, even when we are not able to do things for him. He treats us as his brothers and sisters before the Father. He forgives us when we ask for forgiveness – and often when we don’t. And he seeks for us the joy that he wants to be ours.
Indeed, as our Lord says to his disciples in today’s gospel:
“I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy be full.”
It’s All About Love
Throughout the centuries and across the world, people have used many and various means to show others they are Christian. For example, there was the sign of the fish which I wrote about a couple of weeks ago. Others, such as monastics, wear special clothes to not only show they are Christian but also to disclose something of their lifestyle choices. Today the cross is often worn by people as a sign of their faith. Less popular now but once quite common were bumper stickers.
All of that is fine in its place.
But throughout the NT there is another means by which we who follow Jesus are to show the world that we are Christian. That identifying sign, the better mark that reveals our Christianity is… love.
This was the mark, Jesus said, by which we are to be known.
‘By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ (John 13:35)
Love is a theme picked up in many places in the New Testament. Perhaps most famously, Paul wrote about it in the great love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13: “And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (verse 2)
And in the short letter of 1 John we read: “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:11)
Jesus consistently focused on and drew people back to the centre- love. That’s why he shocked people, especially the religious leaders. He wasn’t about to let people get away with holding on to false and illusory markers as signs of their faith. He just wanted to know one thing; are people moving toward love of God and people or away from it? Because basically, that’s all that matters.
Later in life, so the story goes, the apostle John, who wrote so much about love, was asked to give a word to the people who had gathered around him. “Little children, love one another.” This became too much for one listener who had grown tired of hearing this message, and said, “Why don’t you talk about something else? All you ever talk about is love.” ”Because,” replied John, “there is nothing but love.”
This is the Sunday before ANZAC day and the reading from John’s Gospel (John 10: 11-18) has a theme which is suited to this day remembering the efforts and sacrifices of previous generations which have resulted in the great lifestyle opportunities that we have today. The theme of the reading is the good shepherd and it starts with Jesus drawing a distinction between the good shepherd and the bad shepherd. The bad shepherd just did the work as a job for a salary which was what motivated him. He had no commitment to his flock. For the good shepherd it was his calling to care for the sheep with which he had formed a relationship and would risk his life to protect them from dangerous wolves or thieves which threatened them.
However, there was a further challenge here. It is one thing to be a good shepherd to our friends and neighbours. Jesus was called to be the good shepherd to all, not just those who thought they were exclusively God’s people. Certainly, he needed to win over his own flock first, but the greater goal was to win over wider world. He was to be the one shepherd and a focus for unity in our world. This sets our agenda to play our role as missionaries, spreading the Gospel to the world.
The theologian, William Barclay tells the story from the First World War of a young French soldier who was so badly wounded that he needed his arm amputated in order to save his life. The surgeon was so upset that he had to amputate that he sat by the soldier’s bed to give him the news personally. When the young man awoke the surgeon said. “I am sorry to tell you that you lost your arm”. “Sir,” said the man, “I did not lose it – I gave it for France”.
Jesus speaks of laying down his life for his people as God’s will had required. But here it is important to realise that Jesus did not lose his life because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time and fell foul of the Romans, he laid down his life voluntarily, of his own free will in order to save his flock from their sins. He did it so they may have life and have it in all its fullness. Against that sacrifice of the good shepherd how could we behave in any other way but by being good shepherds to each other.
The Sign of the Fish
On Easter Day, in the creative spot, I made reference to the origin and meaning of the fish symbol in Christianity. Afterwards someone mentioned that they had never heard what it meant, so if there are others who have not heard about the meaning I offer a brief explanation.
The symbol of the fish, without the writing in it, is a long held symbol of the Christian faith. It comes from the Greek word for fish, transliterated into English as ichthus. Ichthus is an acrostic where the letters stand for other words.
Theta (th) is the first letter of Theou (????), Greek for “God’s”
Upsilon (y) is the first letter of (h)yios (????), Greek for “Son”.
Taken together the word ichthus stands for “Jesus Christ God’s Son Saviour”.
The symbol first appeared in the second century and its use became widespread through the third and fourth centuries. It is, of course, connected to the many stories involving fish in the Gospels, including the scene following Christ’s resurrection when Jesus cooked fish to feed the disciples.
It is said that the sign itself became a sort of secret code whereby Christians could identify one another at a time when Christians were persecuted. If two people met on the road, for example, one would draw one arch of the symbol and if the other completed it with the second arch, you knew you were in the company of a companion disciple.