Monthly Archives: November 2008

Where is God?

Sermon for Advent 1 (30 November 2008)

Isaiah 64.1-9

Mark 13.24-37
 

Today was a family service, with Sunday School and Disciple presentations. And a reflection by Sarah on ‘Where is God?’ So, a short sermon!

 

Where is God?

I assume that just about everyone has asked that question. Where is God, when bad things happen? Where is God, when good people suffer and prayer seems useless? Where is God? Where is God when the answers to our questions appear to be in new and better technology?

Do our readings give us any help?

Isaiah speaks about God as a potter (64.8):

O Lord, you are our Father;
we are the clay, and you are our potter;
we are all the work of your hand.

We’re like clay. The clay doesn’t know what it’s going to become. It doesn’t realise that it’s got to be worked, and moulded. It might not look forward to being moulded. The clay doesn’t know that one day, to be really useful and really beautiful, it’s got to go into the fire and be burned. But that has to happen.

A piece of half-formed clay doesn’t necessarily look great. It may have wome rough edges; some bits may be in proportion, others way out of proportion. It needs some reshaping. A bit like us, really. We are in the process of being formed as the vessels God wants us to be.

Where is God when we are being moulded, and sometimes even burned?

Where is God when we ask Where is God? God is forming us as a potter forms clay.

In Mark 13, Jesus speaks to his startled followers about things to come. Things they were to wait for. He speaks of a time (13.24-25) when

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

It’s often when the sun is darkened, when the stars are collapsing from the sky, that we wonder Where is God?

This reminds me of that great story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus. They were asking something like Where is God? And to their astonishment, once they realise, Jesus walks beside them. 

Or the Antarctic expedition in 1916 when Sir Ernest Shackleton and two others were trudging across South Georgia, wondering if they would live or die. When they reached safety, they checked with one another. Each one had thought there was a fourth man walking with them. 

Where is God when we ask Where is God? Walking right beside us.

God is there. God is there at each point of our lives, the good bits—like when your daughter comes home after fifteen months away—and the bad bits too.

Just like the clay needs to be moulded and glazed in the oven, we can let ourselves be formed into the people God wants us to be. When it feels like the sun has forgotten to shine, we can discover God-with-us.

God is there. Amen.

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“if you’re someone who prays, please pray for Zimbabwe…”

One of the best things about being a minister in a congregation is the people you get to know. Let me introduce you to one: Katie Wallis is a young woman trying to live a Christian life. Aiming to be a Christian. This has taken her on a journey. Katie was one of those who went from our congregation to Mwandi in Zambia last year, and recently she returned with another group who were going there. Let’s join her as she takes up the story on 18 October:

my biggest adventure to date happened yesterday and it was a cracker…
i had to go to immigration (so of course the mini-bus i hopped on dropped me at passport control instead) to get my passport stamped. you get a 3 month visa when you enter zambia, but have to get your passport stamped every 30 days for some unknown reason. it’s free, you just have to go to immigration and get your stamp and apply for your next 30 days. so, i finally found immigration (thankfully it was only a few blocks from passport control) and went up to a lovely looking lady (at this point i should mention looks can be deceiving) for my stamp. she opened my passport and promptly said “madam, you are here illegally. you will give a statement, admit to your offence, pay 1,080,000 kwacha ($400) or we will drive you straight from here to the airport and put you on a plane.” i promptly burst into uncontrollable tears. she said “madam compose yourself” which just made me cry harder! turns out the person at the airport when i arrived in zambia had randomly decided to only give me 14 days in the country (because the group i traveled with were all leaving after 14 days) and i didn’t check the stamp in my passport properly.

so, i’m taken to this ‘holding room’ (aka – jail cell) with a bunch of other criminals. i was most fond of the 4 men who came in just after me…in handcuffs! i spent an hour or so being yelled at by 4 ‘lovely’ zambian women who apparently thought that abusing me was, in fact, the best way to get me to stop crying…

Katie goes on to tell of more people who filled the cell, one of whom suffers an epileptic fit. She continues:

i end up sitting in the holding room for over 7 hours with nothing to eat or drink. i cry for approximately 5 of the 7 hours and end up with a crying induced migraine like nothing i’ve ever experienced. i never get to tell my story to anyone at immigration who has any authority to help me. i was forced to pay the fine and then told i had to leave the country by air within 7 days. As i go to leave the holding room one of the immigration ‘workers’ says “katie, are you married?” “No” I reply. “I would very much like to marry and australian woman” he says. hmmm…as delighful as this 7 hours of ‘getting-to-know-you’ has been i think i will say “thanks, but no thanks”… truly the most horrific day of my life!

so today i am sad. i have to leave a project that i love and was really only just getting started at. i will fly to zimbabwe and spend time at a baby orphanage and hopefully be able to have a few more weeks in zambia with chikumbuso at the end of november before flying to london.

Katie was in Zimbabwe for a few weeks, practically incommunicado. We received this email from her on 27 November:

hi all

sorry it’s been a while between emails. have arrived back in zambia after 5 life-changing weeks in zimbabwe (the land of the slowest internet connection ever, hence no email til now)…and amazingly they let me back in the country without feeling the need to abuse me, fine me, make me cry or lock me up…for all of this i am truly thankful. my plane from zim was delayed for 6 hours so i had plenty of time to plan my assault on immigration were they to give me any trouble. the plan i came up with mostly just involved me crying and begging them to let me in…so probably good for all involved that i didn’t need to put said plan into action.

zimbabwe is unlike anywhere else i’ve ever visited and i am not sure how people are still alive there. there is a lot to tell so i’m going to just try and give an overview of some of my biggest highlights…

FOOD
So…basically…there isn’t much of it in the country. i first experienced this when i was dropped at a backpackers upon arriving in harare. i went for a bit of a walk and found what appeared to be a grocery store. literally 98% of the shelf space was empty. just row upon row of empty shelving. all i could find in the first shop was 5L bottles of oil, onions and dishwashing liquid…so deep-fried onion it was! a few days later i made it to bulawayo where i stayed for the rest of my time. eager to move on from my onion diet i got driven to a new grocery store…also completely empty aside from 3 items…onions, dettol and condoms…what on earth had i got myself into. food is very important to me, and i believed it to be essential for most humans to survive…so how aren’t these people dead??? i did eventually find a vegetable shop and a shop which sold in rand where i could get a few treats (soy sauce and oreos)…but the second week i was there the rand shop got closed down because their business was doing too well. nearing the end of my time in bulawayo i realised i could take my jeans off without undoing the button or zip so i hopped on some scales. turns out i’ve lost about 8kg since i left home and i can officially report that the skinny jeans now fit! here is how it all happened for those of you who want to try it at home…

breakfast – bran flakes with long life milk (only 40-50 flakes though because the box that was given to you as a gift has to last 5 weeks)
lunch – boiled egg on toast (one piece of bread only because the loaf that was given to you has to last as long as humanly possible)
dinner – boiled potato with fried onion, cabbage, tomato and any other veg you can get your hands on (add soy sauce occasionally as a treat, but remember the 150mL bottle has to last 5 weeks)
dessert – one oreo…or half an oreo if you find that you are nearing the 5 week mark and aren’t going to make it

aside from a few meals at friends places where i ate anything i saw in their kitchen, this is what i ate every day for 5 weeks…i was hungry…but then i think the whole country is pretty hungry at the moment so it was nice to fit in.

ECONOMY
in the last eight years the economy has inflated 1 000 000 000 000 000 000 000 times…i don’t know much about economy related issues, but this seems a little excessive right?! i have learnt lots of new numbers in zim. quadtrillion is a one with 15 zeros, it was going to cost me several quadtrillion zim dollars to fly from bulawayo to harare (45min flight). the maximum daily withdrawal from an atm at the moment is 500 000zim dollars…not enough to buy a loaf of bread. everywhere you go in town there are thousands of people lining up at atms to withdraw their daily limit and somehow try and figure out how to feed their family of 8…craziness. foreign currency is the only way most people are surviving. ie relatives outside the country send in rand or US$, otherwise it is literally impossible to survive. the government keeps randomly taking zeros off the money and issuing new currency which has left anyone with a savings account or pension plan with money in their account that is worth absolutely nothing…have i used the word crazy yet? i have attached a photo of my friend tarryn with 2 bricks of old money (5 billion dollar notes). this money is now worthless since they’ve taken off 8 more zeros, but if it was current currency it would take 4000 of these bricks of money to buy a loaf of bread.

tarryns-bricks

WHAT DID I DO???
i visited with an amazing project and did not want to leave!!!! the project started out as a home for abandoned babies. my first day at the babies home was terrifying. i was left in a room…by myself…with 8 children under the age of two (including 2 newborns)…yeah that was comfortable for a person with the world’s biggest baby phobia! i got kind of comfortable, but mostly spent the whole time praying that nobody would die on my shift. 2 of the attached photos are babies at the home. bridget (pink jumper – Clare can you show Norma the kids are wearing her jumpers) and daniel (blue jumper). daniel was a week old when i arrived. he was found at one day old in a ditch still attached to the placenta with dirt in his mouth, ears and nose. it is suspected that someone had tried to bury him alive. just one story amongst so many which i came across. the babies are precious to say the least:-) in the photos it appears as though i am sweating profusely as my shirt sleeves are soaking wet. just want you to know that we had just got caught in a big storm…i’m not a big sweaty bush pig.

there are several other homes for older orphans which i visited too, and a home for street children. kids end up on the streets if they are orphaned or suffering abuse at home. there are children in this home as young as 7. this little girl had been living on the streets for over a year…how does a 6-year-old survive on the streets? i loved these kids and spent a lot of time singing with them, learning music from them, dancing with them and writing songs with them. i also worked 2 days a week at a soup kitchen where i became the resident cabbage expert. turns out i’m kind of awesome at cutting up and cooking massive quantities of cabbage. we served over 200 people each day. looking into the eyes of someone who is smelly, wearing rags and is starving to death is a hugely humbling experience. the people working on the ground are inspirational. a lot of them are only making US$15-20 per month…not enought to live on…but they live by faith and always end up with enough…this place has taught me a lot about God’s provision.

daniel-and-i

I know that there is a lot more i could say…but this is getting too long. i hope you’ve got an idea of what zim is like. if you’re someone who prays, please pray for this nation. i have no idea how this place will be restored, it’s truly heartbreaking to see the effects of a corrupt and greedy government. be thankful today for your house, your meals, your hospitals, your families…and your soft toilet paper!!!!

i am still working my way through my inbox and replying individually to emails. i didn’t get much of a chance at all to email in zim, so apologies to those who’ve been waiting to hear back from me for several weeks…it will happen…i promise!

i head to jo’burg on saturday, then to london to stay with hockey friends kel and lee, and meet up with matt and jenn…and eat donuts…

please write to me if you get a chance…hearing from home is always a massive treat!

ok…big amounts of love heading to all of you. i’m in no way homesick, but do look forward to one day seeing all your pretty faces again:-)

blessings

kt xo

ps – i celebrated my 28th birthday in zim (eek…my late twenties) by taking a group of people out to a chinese restaurant…and eating meat…aside from that the vegetarianism is still hanging on…just… 

So, if you’re a person who prays… Don’t forget Zimbabwe. And give thanks for Katie, and people like her. People who just want to be a Christian.

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New ordination services for the Uniting Church in Australia

On 17 November I posted that I was back from Sydney, where one of the things I did (on behalf of the Working Group on Worship) was to present the Assembly Standing Committee with new services of ordination and induction for ministers of the Word—presbyters in many other churches—and deacons.

They take effect from 1 January, and they’ve now been posted! You can find them on this page; they are services 1-4. (Services 9 & 10 are the current ordination services.)

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I cheated, just for you

Yesterday I downloaded Advent08, an iPhone/iPod Touch app which provides daily devotions for Advent.

Not supposed to open it till Advent starts, which as you all know is 30 November this year.

But I thought I should look at the first day in advance, so I could decide whether it’s worth telling both my readers about.

Well, I think it’ll be worth it. It has enough substance to sustain, which is what I was looking for. Also a nice background. Could have done with a bit more proof reading, but hey, I know that can be a problem, so that’s no criticism.

And for $1.99, it works out at less than 7.7 cents per day!

Of course, if you still have to get your iPhone or iPod Touch, it’s a tad more expensive…

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Church signs can be good. Or not.

I was out in the car yesterday and saw a sign outside a church. It failed on any and every level I can think of:

 

MY GOD WILL BE YOUR JUDGE

 

My God will be your judge? Give me a break! I’d never ever visit a church that put that out as its message. Would you?

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The Wiggles do U2

I’ve mentioned before how I love Spicks and Specks on ABC TV. Which other show would have the Wiggles singing a U2 song?

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A wonderful prayer

From Paul (a)—not me!—at Of course I could be wrong:

Heavenly Father, help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children.

Help us to remember that the pierced, tattooed, disinterested young man who can’t make change correctly is a worried 19-year-old college student, balancing his apprehension over final exams with his fear of not getting his student loans for next semester.

Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.

Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slowly through the store aisles and blocking our shopping progress are savoring this moment, knowing that, based on the biopsy report she got back last week, this will be the last year that they go shopping together.

Heavenly Father, remind us each day that, of all the gifts you give us, the greatest gift is love. It is not enough to share that love with those we hold dear. Open our hearts not to just those who are close to us, but to all humanity. Let us be slow to judge and quick to forgive, and show patience, empathy, and love. Amen.

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