Wednesday 18th March 2020
Dear BCUC family,
Last night, at an special meeting, the Church Council took the difficult decision to suspend all face-to-face worship services, meetings and activities where we gather together as a group, effective immediately and until it is safe to resume them. We did this as an expression of love and care for our people, many of whom are in vulnerable groups in the setting of a viral pandemic.
We are working on other ways of presenting worship and of ensuring that we provide pastoral care for our people. We are sending this message to all who have email and we would ask each of the pastoral carers to phone those in their groups who do not use email to communicate. In fact, we suggest that the initial strategy to maintain pastoral contacts is by regular phone calls, and relaying this message will be the first opportunity.
In terms of worship this Sunday March 22nd, we will be broadcasting our service at 10am on Sunday morning on the BCUC YouTube channel. You can take a look at our channel now by clicking here. We will email you more about this in the next few days.
We will also be mailing sermon notes, readings and prayer notes to those who cannot access live streaming. More details will follow. We have a number of plans for different ways of presenting worship over coming weeks. Council is meeting again next Tuesday to continue to plan how we can engage with each other over coming weeks.
We will be establishing video conferencing platforms so that committees can meet virtually and so that people can keep in touch with each other. We have begun planning how we will provide programs for our children and youth so they can continue to engage while being protected by adhering to a social distancing policy.
At this stage, the church building will remain open as before for individuals to pray in the open spaces while practising good hand-washing hygiene, social distancing and keeping away if you are at risk or unwell.
This is an anxious time. Please contact your pastoral carer, the church office or myself if you feel particularly distressed over the rapidly changing world around us because we will need to support each other. But our reassurance and hope comes from Christ, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”. We pray God will use this new period at our church for unexpected fruitful opportunities to raise Children of God.
I encourage us all, while we are in the community, to be the peaceful presence of Christ to our friends and neighbours.
If you missed my sermon on a Christian response to COVID-19, you can listen to the sermon here on our website.
Your brother in Christ,
Burnside City Uniting Church
0427 792 869
Today we will Commission Elders you elected at our last AGM to serve on our Church Council. They are Valerie Aloa, Annette LeMay, Tim Piper, Thomas Pruszinski, Nirmal Robinson and Christine You. Our continuing Elders on Church Council are Gil Cibich, Chris Lake, Ian Olver, Gaynor Strapp and Anne Wierenga. Church Council Officers for 2020 are Chair – Ian Olver, Deputy Chair – Nirmal Robinson, Secretary – Anne Wierenga and Treasurer – Tim Piper. Their ministry is vital to the spiritual life and well-being of our congregationas you can see from the following paragraphs:
The ministry of Elder is one of spiritual oversight and may also be exercised in pastoral visitation, teaching, encouraging members of the congregation to share in mission, and assisting the minister in leadership of worship and administration of the sacraments.
Elders who serve on the Church Council have a particular responsibility to ensure that such matters have priority in the work of the church council.
The Church Council shall give priority in its life to building up the congregation in faith and love, sustaining members in hope, and leading the congregation to a fuller participation in Christ’s mission in the world.
The act of Commissioning includes several questions to the congregation:
Will you, the members of this congregation, accept these brothers and sisters as elders serving on the Church Council?
Will you encourage them in love and support them in their ministry, serving with them the one Lord Jesus Christ?
Your positive, practical response to these questions not only supports those serving on our Church Council. It also strengthens our sense of community as together we serve our Lord and his Church using the gifts he has given each one of us. It greatly assists our mission together in Raising Children of God.
The season of Lent has begun.
This is the time of preparation, 40 days before the church celebrates the death and resurrection of Jesus (technically 40 days starts at Ash Wednesday and doesn’t include Sundays).
For this period at BCUC we will looking at the gospel lectionary readings. They are all wonderful stories or Jesus interacting with people. We are loosely calling this the “God connects” series as we discover different ways that God through Jesus personally interacts with people.
For those who are Nick Cave fans (an Australian singer who was big in the 90’s) they may remember a love song called “Into your arms” that begins “I don’t believe in an interventionist God”. Well these stories show that if Jesus is God with skin on, then God is very interested in the everyday person like you and me. He is not absent in his ivory tower, too important and too clever to stoop down and notice little ol’ us. God of Jesus Christ is very interventionist.
Each week will reveal not just how much and in what way God connects with us but also God’s friendship.
“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’” Luke 5:20
Here’s an interesting exercise: use a website or app called ‘bible gateway’ and use the search engine to see how many different references in the New Testament there are to the word “Friend”. It’s quite beautiful and rich. Jesus refers to those who trust and believe in him as ‘friends’. Friends to eat with, to cry with, to celebrate and party with. Not subjects of the great king useful only of distant grovelling, but friends.
At BCUC we love worship to engage all the senses. That’s why for lent we will be able to see the unfolding story of Jesus friendship with silhouettes of at first Jesus and then all the other friends he makes along the way go the cross, finishing at Easter with us. Keep an eye out for them in all three services and thanks Michelle P for your handiwork. Use them as visual reminders of each weeks stories.
I pray we will enjoy the adventure with Jesus together and be challenged, inspired and full of gratitude that God does indeed connect!
The Beatitudes reflect the essence of Jesus’ teaching to His disciples. The simple statement that he sat to teach is not just a description of preaching sitting rather than standing but a testament to the authority of what he was saying. Rabbis “official” teaching was always delivered sitting. In the Roman Catholic tradition, the most profound statements when a Pope invokes the authority of God are pronounced ex cathedra; from his seat. In the secular world the authority of a Professorship gives rise to the term a Chair.
Today we examine: “Blessed are the Peacemakers for they shall be called Children of God”. This is an active role and differs from peace lovers. Peace lovers seek to avoid conflict to keep the peace. Peacemakers face the trouble that is threatening the peace and establish right relationships between people. This is doing God’s work.
Then we have statement about those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs. To suffer persecution for Christ shows a loyalty, but in our country, many may not face that challenge, although increasingly we find society’s attitudes toward the church and its teachings are at odds with Christ’s teaching. The important point is that we never face persecution alone, Christ is with us. However, do we all have to be constant critics, condemning society to show our loyalty? No. Here William Barclay made the point that it is not the duty of every Christian to be vocal, but often living Christian lives silently condemns the lives of the un-Christian and will incite persecution at least in the form of mockery and insult.
I leave you with 2 challenges:
Being a Peacemaker
What is one instance in your life this week where you can actively act to prevent someone’s action (or your own) from disrupting the peace?
Being persecuted for righteousness
Identify one important way that you live your life that is likely to elicit scorn or contempt from those around you and commit to continuing to live that way by the example of Christ.
As we work through the 9 beatitudes or “secrets to happiness” from Jesus sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:1-12, you may have noticed that there meaning is not always obvious. This is partly because every statement Jesus made is rooted in Old Testament understandings. Especially some of Jesus favourite go-to books of the bible: Psalms and Isaiah.
Blessed are the merciful. Mercy as concrete acts of mercy not just a merciful attitude is something Jesus preached and did. In this he is re-enforcing the message of the prophets of old who kept warning the people of Israel of God’s desire for His people. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” Hosea 6:6. How well is your life reflecting to others the mercy of God to us?
Blessed are the pure of heart, they will see God. References to a purity of heart and the consequence of being close to God can be seen in Psalm 24 (especially 3-4) and Psalm 73. We can read about having a pure, a new, a refreshed, a cleansed heart. We song songs about this. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. The outworking of a pure heart is not only a life of integrity but also a heart that is undivided in its loyalty to God. Where is you loyalty? Jesus warns us later in his sermon that we can not serve two masters: God and money. Let us pray with the words of Psalmist “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a loyal spirit within me.” Psalm 51:10.
At times it seems we live in a world gone mad. It’s upsetting. Is there an answer? Is there a reason? What do I do? What can I do? God how can you help me? Why does all that I know and feel is right seem to be so wrong for everyone else?
Jesus help me now. Be my centre, my peace, my life. Be the one from which all else flows and makes sense.
Then I reflect on Jesus words in the Beatitudes. (Matthew 5:1-12).
Blessed are…the poor in spirit… Those who humble themselves to God, who get to their knees and say with earnest hearts… “Not my will but yours be done”. for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. I’m in this for the long game. Jesus the kingdom you showed and talked about is far greater and enduring than any reigning superpowers or other historical cultural moment that comes and goes like an unwatered lawn.
Blessed are… those who mourn, I see the devastation of a bush that burns with angry fire, I hear news of grief and pain, I keep informed of a pandemic fuelled with fear. People mourn, and you bring comfort. Yet this is different mourning. We read Isaiah 61:1-3 and realise Jesus is bringing comfort to those who mourn for God’s kingdom come, for reconciliation of a spiritual and physical world. for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, they will inherit the earth. I don’t know whether I want to be known as ‘meek’? It sounds too passive. Blessed are the ‘pushovers’?. What about all that assertive training I got in primary school. Aren’t we meant to be able to learn to share our feelings both +ve and -ve? Then I read psalm 37:7-11. Meek is more about being still and waiting patiently for the Lord to act, to refrain from my own anger and wrath. To seek gentleness and patience and trust “there is a future for the person of peace” (Psalm 37:37b). Look long term… our inheritance as Children of God is coming.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, What a life of privilege I have lived. There are very few times I can think of not having access to food or water if I really needed it. One person I met who knew poverty and hunger said: “It’s like constantly wearing a shoe that is 2 sizes to small. You can never really ignore it, it focusses you waking and sleeping.” Do we have that same sense of passion and longing for God’s righteousness? Do we have a hunger for ourselves, our church and our community to know the deep redeeming love God has for them and the way of resurrection life, empowered of the Holy Spirit? If we do, if this is our sincere hope and prayer then Jesus says… we will be filled.
Thank you Jesus for your centering wisdom.
Ever wondered what the secret to happiness is?
Google it and you’ll find all sorts of answers from living close to your work place through to decluttering your house.
I remember watching a Will Smith movie called “The Pursuit of Happiness” with keen interest and wondering where it would finish up. It was based on a true story and followed a very intelligent, humble dad who was living on the streets with his young son who he loved very much, as he desperately pursued a career in the stock market to get the money needed to provide for his family. It was a great emotional drama and in the end (spoiler alert) he got the fancy job, the house of his dreams and we assume, found happiness. Happiness was wrapped up in career, finances, home ownership and supporting his family. There is nothing wrong with these but start reading Psalm 1 or Jesus famous sermon on the mount and you quickly get a very different picture.
Jesus sermon found in Matthew chapters 5-7 begins with a list of Jesus own wisdom sayings which have roots in the writings of an older prophet Isaiah, chapter 61. We call them the ‘Beatitudes’ which is the old latin word used at the start of these 9 sayings which translated in English is “blessed are those…”. ‘Blessed’, or in the original greek ‘makarios’, means a wonderful combination of ‘happy’, ‘fortunate’, ‘in a privileged position’, ‘well-off’, but also combines words like ‘blessed by God’, ‘salvation’, ‘peace’ and ‘well being’. Have I got your attention now?
The words that follow these 9 statements of ‘blessed are’ are completely opposite to what many would put in a list. If we played the game show ‘Family Feud’, the survey of 100 people would not start with: ‘blessed are the poor in spirit’ or ‘blessed are those that mourn’. Yet this is what Jesus gives us. At face value some of the statements don’t make much sense but need further explanation. This is what we will doing over February at BCUC. Looking at two each week, starting today. They become quite foundational in understanding the teachings of Jesus and the type of behaviour he calls us into. I encourage us to learn all 9 by heart by the end of the month. I look forward to the journey together.
Today we come to the final topic in our series on Prayer – Confessing Prayer – and it’s also Australia Day.
The key reading for today is Nehemiah 1:1-11. Nehemiah was a Jew who had risen to a prominent position as cupbearer to the Persian emperor Artaxerxes I, part of the Jewish minority living in Persia. As the king’s cup bearer, he tasted the wine before the king drank.
Nehemiah inquired from his brother about the situation back in Jerusalem (vs2-3), empathized with those who were hurting (v4), humbled himself before God (v4) and prayed (vs5-11), expressing adoration to God (v5), confessing and sharing his nation’s sin to the Lord that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of many to Persia (vs6-7), and petitioning God for help (vs 8-11). God stirred the heart of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. That story begins with our reading this morning.
However, in verse 6 we read: I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father’s house, have committed against you (God). Nehemiah was aware that his nation had broken the covenant with God and they were being punished accordingly. Strange? Someone in exile confessing the sins of his nation to God and seeking God’s help to restore Israel’s relationship with God and rebuild the city walls of Jerusalem. And it happened.
Nehemiah had a sense of individual and corporate responsibility which many people lack today. He identifies with his people and his nation historically in a way that we don’t identify with the church and our nation. We don’t confess the failure of the church or of our nation as if we are the ones who have sinned, failed, or fallen short. We’re more likely to say, “It’s not my fault. I didn’t do it. I wasn’t even there.”
On this Australia Day, to pray a prayer of confession like Nehemiah did on behalf of our nation and our church may seem too difficult. However, maybe we will be encouraged by Charles Swindoll who writes in Hand Me Another Brick, “I plead with you—as you go before God in prayer concerning any unresolved… conflicts, have the attitude reflected in these words: ‘Lord, I bring before you these areas where I have caused an irritation. This is my realm of responsibility. I can’t change (the other person – situation). But God, I can tell you that this is my part in it; please forgive me‘”.
Confession prayer begins a renewed relationship with God. Knowing ourselves forgiven, we can better forgive others and pray for them, thus renewing our relationship with them, including our church and our nation.
This Sunday we continue our series on prayer with a focus on prayers for others. In the reading from Ephesians 6:18-20, Paul is in prison and chained day and night to the wrist of a Roman soldier. In wanting to talk to the early church about defending themselves against the temptations of the world he draws inspiration from the soldiers’ armour. There was the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the sandals to show readiness to spread the Word, the helmet of salvation, the shield against temptation and the sword which was the word of God. He then comes to the greatest weapon of all – prayer. He makes three points about prayer: It must be constant; it must be intense and it must be unselfish.
Then we come to the story in Job 42:7-10 who prayed for his friends. God clearly wanted him to pray that his friends escape God’s punishment. God not only answered Job’s prayer but after that prayer, God not only restored Job’s fortunes, which had taken quite a beating, but doubled them.
Many studies have been done of prayers for others and they have led to interesting insights. However, in the end prayer is a matter of faith. Prayers for others show God what is in our hearts. Further, if our prayers align with God’s purpose, they will be granted because of his Grace towards us. The pinnacle of prayer is “Thy will be done”, and prayer leads us to discover what that is for us, and for the others for whom we pray.
Finally praying for others is good for us. Not that we should expect a reward as was granted to Job, but in focussing on the needs of others, and not being self-obsessed, it can put our issues into perspective and allow us to achieve a clarity about our personal challenges.
In Ephesians 3:16-19, Paul is praying for the new Christians in Ephesus. There are many prayers for his new converts sprinkled throughout Paul’s writings, but in this one he is praying for two things: that the Ephesians may be strengthened with power in every part of them, as Jesus makes himself at home in their whole being – body, soul and spirit.
And secondly, that they be given the ability to eagerly possess the multi-dimensions of God’s love, and to know it by experience, not just head knowledge.
There is a closely allied prayer in Ephesians 1:17, “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”
Power to know. This is a great prayer, and one (or 3) that we can readily pray for ourselves, or for the people we love and regularly pray for. Because we and those we love need to know the reality of God’s truth in our whole beings.
There is great power in praying the words and truths of scripture. We can know with absolute certainty that we are praying according to God’s will. Our own prayers are often slanted by self-interest, or lack of vision and understanding. Not seeing the full picture as God sees it. But by praying scripture we are re-programming our minds and attitudes with God’s mind and attitudes. 1 John 5:14 tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of him.”
Many of us are concerned about our children or grandchildren, and this is a great way to pray for them. There are many passages in the Bible that are suitable for adapting; simply personalise it by adding the person’s name, or if you’re praying for yourself, put it into the first person. Here are a few to start with: Philippians 3:14, 1 Thessalonians 3:12-13, 2 Thessalonians 2:15-17, plus the three above, but the possibilities are endless!