Heard any good news lately?
Once upon a time, before every home had telephones – yes, ‘telephones’ not mobile phones – a young, pregnant woman awaited the birth of her first child. Their neighbours, an elderly couple, insisted that when the time came, their telephone was to be used to call the hospital, no matter what the hour of the day or the night.
And so the time came for her to be delivered (sound familiar?). Stuck to the wall above the neighbour’s telephone, in very large numerals, was the hospital’s telephone number. Thus the process began, culminating in the birth of the couple’s first-born son.
Over the next 48 hours, the new father visited many, many friends and relatives, each conversation beginning with the words “I’ve got some really good news for you!”
Luke 2:15-20 records the appearance of an angel of the Lord to a most unlikely group of men – shepherds, among the outcasts of their society – looking after their sheep on the hills above Bethlehem. “Don’t be afraid – have I got some really good news for you!” could be a paraphrase of his greeting. Not only did they hear his greeting but also the good news that Messiah – the long awaited, anointed One from God – had been born. He was to be found in a stock feeder wrapped up nice and tight in the little town below them. Being curious by nature, the shepherds hurried down to Bethlehem to discover things were just as they had been told.
But the shepherds didn’t stop there. They had heard some good news, they had seen for themselves it was true and they spread the word to amazed townsfolk and anyone who would listen to them – good news from most unlikely sources.
Now is a great a time for Christians to ask, “Have you heard the Good News lately?”
Advent – How do we measure it?
Scientists and governments love to measure things. This week there was a new shock and horror campaign about ICE and its effects. The government agencies said it wasn’t evidence based and the organisers cleverly asked back about the evidence base for the “Grim Reaper” ads about AIDS.
This got me thinking about people measuring Christmas. Do we measure it by the size of presents we are given? You know how it goes – an expensive present means he/she loves me more. Or perhaps it’s the quality of the food – NO-ONE makes better mince pies than I do, or my turkey stuffing is the best, or the lights/decorations (our roof leaked one year after our daughters took down the many lights they put up in such a way that one of the tiles was half off) are the very best in the street. There of course many others we could add.
We could take a step in the right direction and measure how much we love others. Back in the eighties I remember getting a call about 3pm on Christmas Eve from a young man I had married in the spring. He was a courier driver and he and his fellow workers were sitting around celebrating and decided they needed to do something for others, so they passed the hat around and raised over $500 – which was a lot for a bunch of courier drivers. He was the only one with any contact with someone who might be able to do something – so we did.
We could measure our own response and decide to do even more; maybe volunteer to serve Christmas lunch at a homeless shelter, or pack Christmas Hampers at Uniting Care Wesley Bowden or another agency, or invite a lonely person to share our family Christmas in a non-patronizing way.
But perhaps the best way is to think about the measure of God’s love, who put at risk his only Son, who sent him to a situation where he would be misunderstood even by those close to him, face constant harassment from those opposed and then to see him betrayed and crucified, and the Father choosing not to intervene and save him. That is the best measure of Christmas and I encourage you this Advent to use this as your measure!!
Fully Alive in Christ
Next week is the beginning of Advent. Advent is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ. A time of realising that the world was remarkably changed when God entered it, and a chance for us to think about how our lives have been completely changed when Christ entered them. As Christians we believe our life is made complete in Jesus and therefore our potential is only fully released through a life lived intimately with him. Therefore we have chosen our theme for Advent to be “FULLY ALIVE IN JESUS”.
We will have many different ways of expressing this in worship. We will use the four traditional themes of Hope, Joy, Peace and Love for each Sunday exploring how our lives become fully alive through each of these. We will have liturgy and will build colours over the four weeks to remind us of all the ways that Jesus brings us fully alive. Of course we will have the junior church Christmas service and the lessons and carols service on the 9th of December. We will also have puppet plays for the contemporary service and we hope the puppets will make guest appearances at the other services.
We will also be asking you to “buy in” each week. One way we will be asking this of you is that we will be asking you to wear a colour each week. The first week is BLUE (2nd December). If you don’t have suitable clothes in one of the colours we will ask you to pin a scrap of cloth or even paper to your clothes. This can be very helpful as the best way to have a full Christian life is to commit and be a participator with Christ. I hope to see some outrageous clothes in the various colours.
I encourage you to prepare for Christmas by doing at least the following : 1. Read the stories for yourself. 2. Pray for Jesus to come into your life in a new way or into a new area of your life. 3. Find a way to show love to a stranger as often as possible. 4. Reflect on the theme each week and look for the ways hope/joy/peace/love enrich your life.
In the midst of busyness we can lose sight of the important things, they don’t cry out over the urgent – we have to make space for them. Please find a way to encourage at least one other in the church by telling them how you see the life/fullness of Jesus in their lives; for that was the purpose of Jesus coming, that we might see the fullness of God.
Encourage one another!
A congregation made the decision to do a major renovation on its thirty-five-year-old sanctuary. The first step was to put together a crew of people to do the internal demolition. Around forty people showed up to take care of this task.
Dust was everywhere as they ripped up carpet, knocked out walls, tore down ceilings, and dismantled the platform. There were people of all shapes, sizes, and ages. It was a wonderful project for everyone because absolutely no skill was needed. It doesn’t take much training to destroy something.
When this phase was completed, the remodelling began. This was the part that required skilled and trained people—those who knew how to construct, build, and refurbish. Their task was much more difficult and it took much longer than the demolition. Anybody can tear down, but not everyone can build up.
As we make our way through the Letter of Hebrews with its glittering and sometimes confusing images, the following verses come to us with a remarkable clarity and freshness: ‘Let us consider how to provoke/stir up one another to love and good works/service, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.’ (Hebrews 10:24-25)
How might this consideration of stirring one another to love and service operate in practical terms?
- Discerning people’s strengths and opportunities, rather than fixing on their weaknesses and needs?
- Praying that people might be encouraged to give something of themselves which God might enable them to share for the mutual benefit of their faith and this community of faith?
A wise person once said: “Flatter me, and I may not believe you. Criticize me, and I may not like you. Ignore me, and I may not forgive you. Encourage me, and I will not forget you.”
The journey to maturity
As Christians one of our goals is grow in faith and love. This journey is the journey of discipleship. To grow more like Christ in our attitudes and behaviours, to have interactions with our neighbours in which we reflect Christ to them, in which, we in effect become the gospel. This entails a journey of change, in which we read are influenced by the scriptures, in which our prayer life deepens and we learn to listen for the voice of God.
As we mature it involves putting off childish aspects of faith and growing in many ways. We are people who unknowingly carry many attitudes and values from our families without reflecting whether they are Godly or not. In my family I learnt many good things from my extended family but there were also attitudes and values that were not of God. My journey in life is one where I have reflected on these from time to time. I have affirmed many of the values I learnt from my parents but there are others I have left behind and replaced with others. My parents were wary of strangers and particularly Japanese as my father fought in New Guinea in WW2. In later years he grew beyond this, but I was influenced by this as a child. Values from our family of origin should not be excluded from scrutiny as we grow as disciples, and part of our journey is to leave values behind that will not fit in the coming Kingdom of God, and that do not fit within the church today.
I would encourage you to also reflect on the way that hurts from the past can diminish us for much of our lives. We can easily see how someone who was abused as a child can be affected by that abuse for decades or a lifetime, but it is also true that when we have experienced small hurts as a child they can shape the way we interact with others for decades. Many children have their hopes dashed and withdraw. Not all of us can be like Shane Warne who, rejected by the St Kilda football club, became determined and focussed on cricket.
So this week I encourage you to consider how unexamined values and behaviours may be stunting your growth in discipleship. I encourage you to bring these matters before God, to do some soul-searching and leave behind values and behaviours that hamper our growth into Christian maturity.
We are called to become the very best version of ourselves, for Christ’s sake.
In the 2016 National Census, in the City of Burnside, 35.5% of people responded that they had “No religion”. An additional 7.9% of people did not state any religion. Add to that the impact of the decline in church attendance of those who did state a religion.
As a consequence, how many children grow up with the idea that the public holiday on December 25th is all about Father Christmas!!
We have the opportunity to present a Christmas play to a large number of primary children in a few weeks time. The children – and staff – will hear at least a part of the true message of Christmas. A high percentage of the children in the designated year levels attend the plays and they show interest in them.
Yet we probably won’t be able to do it. Why? Because we haven’t got enough volunteers willing to help.
Ally Russell, the Director, has assembled some volunteers from her church – St. George’s Anglican Church, Magill. She still needs people to play very simple roles: Joseph, Mary, Shepherds, Angel, Wise men, Gabriel, Innkeepers. They are not taxing – the script was written for older children to play. She also needs someone to make a big star. And some simple painted cardboard ‘Inn’ outlines.
Dates are yet to be confirmed with the schools, but the performances will be early December. There will be 3 or 4 rehearsals leading up to the performances with times and venue depending on volunteer availability. A leaflet containing more details was included in last Sunday’s Newsletter and is also available at the front desk. Please pray very seriously about this situation. If you are willing to help, contact the church office ASAP for more information or to sign up!
When Jesus told Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life”, he was referring not only to our bodily resurrection at the end times when Jesus returns, but also to the quality of our resurrected life right now.
If we have given our lives to Jesus, we are “in Christ”, and he has brought us out of spiritual death into new spiritual life. (John 5:24) We are, in Jesus’ words, born again, and we have a brand new born again spirit within us which responds to the Holy Spirit and longs to do God’s will. Our bodies and minds however, take a bit more getting under control and bringing into alignment with God’s ways.
Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days and he was on the nose! All hope was gone. They could only look back with regret and say, “Lord, if you had been here…”
But then the authoritative voice of Jesus cut through the atmosphere of grief, “Lazarus, come out!” And to the astonishment of everyone present, Lazarus stumbled out, still fully encased in strips of linen, but alive! Jesus instructed, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
Miraculously, Lazarus had been given back the gift of life. The unthinkable had happened! But if Lazarus was going to live his new life effectively, the grave clothes had to be removed. They had the stench of death clinging to them; they were restrictive and disabling.
And what about us?
We have been brought from death to life, but do we, like Lazarus, still have remnants of our old, spiritually dead life clinging to us? Are we living in the freedom that Jesus, at huge cost, has won for us? Or are we still bound up by old mindsets, guilt, unforgiveness, shame, fear etc.? Like the grave clothes, they are restrictive and disabling.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Gal.5:1)
I encourage us all to ask the Holy Spirit to show us if we are still bound up by anything from our old, unredeemed life, ask if there’s anything we need to do by way of forgiveness etc., and then invite him to deal with it once and for all.
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…”
Becoming Mature Disciples
One goal for Christians is to become mature disciples. To become more like Jesus or to live as Paul describes it “in Christ” is a rich and fulfilling outcome. The reality is that for most of us we have barely begun on that journey.
There are many parts of our lives that do not come under the Lordship of Christ, and for many of these we are either unaware or in denial about this. The areas we are unaware of are something we can afford to be patient about. If we continue to commit to growing as disciples, then these will come into awareness, and though it may be painful to deal with them, we can grow them, and with the support of our brothers and sisters in Christ, see this time as a significant and positive part of our Christian journey.
The areas we are in denial about are where the real issues arise. Often we are in denial for a long time and so our justifications are well developed and our “quieting” of the voice of our conscience is well practiced. Many of these are areas that we believe are “ours”. It may be our use of power, or our command of our emotions, or our sexuality, or our family relationships or . . . or . . .
These areas are often the major blockages to our maturity. Like the rich young ruler we may seem to have everything but know there is something lacking. And like the rich young ruler when we are confronted by Jesus, we can find we have constructed our own prison for, like him, we may find that those things we thought were under our control have in fact come to control us.
One area of our lives that we seldom think of as needing to be under Christ’s Lordship is our emotions. We believe these are ours alone and yet they are very much part of our createdness. God knows and understands we are emotional beings. If we look at Psalm 22 we see the psalmist is emotionally all over the place, and yet he seeks to bring even his dark emotional place under the hand of God. To grow into Christian maturity we too need to bring our emotions under God’s control. This does not mean we shut them down, rather it means we know our emotions, hear what they are telling us about where we are, and then bring this before God to find God’s wisdom about how to act in an appropriate way.
Then we will grow more and more in the imitation of Christ.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news. But sometimes the good news of Jesus sounds like bad news. Jesus is a teacher who tells us the truth and sometimes the truth hurts before it can heal. Fortunately for us, Jesus, the good teacher, continues to teach us, continues to make possible that even for people like us, faithful discipleship is possible.
The question, put to Jesus by this man in Mark 10, is about a big, grand, difficult subject – “eternal life.” Rather surprisingly, Jesus, the good teacher, demands that the man give up his great possessions and follow him. Jesus is inviting someone to be his disciple. But unlike the earlier call stories in Mark, this one ends with the recipient of the call turning away and rejecting Jesus.
It is the only story Mark tells about somebody who refuses to follow Jesus; and for that reason alone we should sit up and take notice because it means that the reason this man used to excuse himself may be the same reason that some of us do.
Yet we note that the story doesn’t really end with the man’s grief and his rejection of Jesus’ call to follow him. It ends with Jesus’ affirmation of his disciples, those who have indeed left all and followed him.
As we see throughout Mark’s gospel, the disciples are rarely portrayed positively. Today may be one of those rare moments when the disciples finally get Jesus’ point. The story ends in affirmation and rejoicing. Discipleship – following Jesus – is difficult and demanding. That’s the bad news. Yet the good news is that with God “all things are possible.” And therein is our hope.
When I looked up the lectionary a few weeks ago and found that Mark 10: 2-16, the passage about divorce, was the Gospel reading, the irony was not lost on me given the current same sex marriage debate. Divorce was a hot topic of the day but rather than seek his counsel the Pharisees were trying to trap Jesus into speaking against the teaching of Moses that they held as sacred; and Jesus did not disappoint them. Moses had said in Deuteronomy 24:1 that if a wife fell out of favour you could write a Bill of Divorce. In Mark, Jesus indicates that in effect Moses was trying to protect women who were regarded as just possessions against being easily discarded by men for any reason. He was introducing structure in that time, not issuing a permanently method for divorce. Jesus wanted those of his day to understand the context of Moses statement, that the joining in marriage was meant to be a lifelong bond and not something to be taken trivially. He goes further back to Genesis where the bond between husband and wife is to be stronger than between parents and children. In Mark’s time divorce, predominantly still only available to the man, could still be on trivial grounds. Jesus was restoring marriage by showing that God meant it to be a permanent bond which could not be broken by man’s laws and regulations. There were no exceptions. But here again, in an object lesson those who just pluck versus out of the Bible out of context without interpreting them, Jesus had to explain Moses’ statement Furthermore, if you refer to the same story in Matthew 19: 3-9 Jesus does make an exception for adultery, since that has broken the bond and divorce is simply a consequence. This version is considered more accurate than the version in Mark.
My focus is on “what God has joined together let no-one separate”
Why would God join us together in marriage? It is not just for procreation but fulfils a universal human need to belong, as part of living life to the full. In attachment theory intimate relationships between human beings are what life revolves around and if denied anxiety and depression result.
So, how do we know what God has joined together? We have all seen marriages which end in divorce where it seemed there was a mismatch right from the start. It seems convenient to suggest that it was not a marriage where God joined the couple together. However, we often making decisions without trying to discern God’s guidance.
How do we approach deciding what God has joined together? Jesus gives us a clue in the second part of the reading where he puts the emphasis on children. Children are usually non-judgemental of others but simply trust people, they have humility and they show obedience.
We are facing 2 important questions about “what God has joined together”. One is around same gender couples and the other is around the Uniting Church itself.