Monthly Archives: December 2008

Time is fleeting

It’s astounding, time is fleeting
Madness takes its toll
But listen closely, not for very much longer
I’ve got to keep control

Time is fleeting, but this isn’t another Advent reflection. This time last week, my blog received 662 visits in one day (normal average just over 20 visits a day). For a brief—fleeting—time, I had the fastest-growing English-speaking WordPress blog in the world. Over successive days, the number of visits went to 287, then 96, 68… and back to the usual number. I guess I had the fastest-declining English-speaking WordPress blog in the world.

What happened? I linked here to a video of the Wiggles singing the U2 song, Angel of Harlem. The U2 fans came out in droves.

It’s tempting to find more crazy U2 covers and put them in… But I only put that one in because I love the show it was on, Spicks and Specks.

It’s tempting to do it again…

I remember doing the TIme Warp
Drinking those moments when
The blackness would hit me and the void would be calling
Let’s do the time warp again…
Let’s do the time warp again!

 

Now I’ve had 15 minutes of something akin to fame, it’s tempting to do whatever it was again. But that way lies madness…

 

With a bit of a mind flip
You’re there in the time slip
And nothing can ever be the same
You’re spaced out on sensation, like you’re under sedation
Let’s do the Time Warp again!

Yes, time is fleeting. And focussing on things that might bring some kind of short-lived boost at the expense of ultimate realities is tempting. And the Time Warp seems kinda exciting…

But I reckon one thing Advent teaches us is that the Lord is Lord of time. We can put our time in God’s hands, and then go for the ride. 20-odd visitors is kinda ok.

(You didn’t really believe I wouldn’t try to get Advent into this, did you?)

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Christmas Messages from Australian Church Leaders

On this page, you can read Christmas messages from the leaders of the churches that are members of the National Council of Churches in Australia. Here is the Uniting Church message, from our President, Rev Gregor Henderson:

How different Christmas feels this year!  Twelve months ago the economy was steaming along, it felt like the new government was doing all the right things, our prosperity and security seemed assured.

But since the middle of this year it’s all changed.  Now we feel vulnerable.  Unemployment is on the rise, a recession may hit, the Aussie dollar has plummeted, living standards may drop.  Terrorism is in the news again, the war in Afghanistan goes badly, ice caps are melting, and Africans are still dying from disease and poverty.

Wars, disasters, poverty and vulnerability were part of Jesus’ world too.  The Roman Empire had a firm grip on Jesus’ world – they taxed heavily, they ruled with brutality, and they dealt ruthlessly with every insurgency.

Jesus came into this world, teaching God’s love and modelling a life of self-giving service and peace.

True security lies in knowing you’re loved, no matter what.  That’s what the birth of Jesus means for us.  No matter who we are or what our circumstances, God’s love and God’s guidance are there for us.

Receive God’s love afresh this Christmas, and thus find true security in life. 
Revd Gregor Henderson, President
Uniting Church in Australia

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Whatever is Christ’s, is ours

Sermon for Advent 3 (14 December 2008)

Isaiah 61.1-4, 8-11

John 1.6-8, 19-28
 

Today, we will celebrate. Brent and Chloe are being baptised—there’s just a few years between them, but that doesn’t matter. And Felicity and Jared are being confirmed—we are confirming their baptism, and rejoicing with them that they are taking on the promises of baptism for themselves. And if that’s not enough, Ben is being confirmed tonight.

We tend to think of baptism and confirmation as things we do; but in reality, the main action is God’s and God’s alone. It is God who brings us into the Christian family through baptism. It is God who gives us the faith to respond to God’s love and grace. (By the way—some people don’t have faith. That’s not because God doesn’t offer it to them. It’s that they don’t receive it. God gives faith to everyone who will receive it.) Finally, it is God who sends the Spirit upon us, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and wonder in God’s presence, the Spirit of joy and delight in God’s service. The Spirit, in fact, of Jesus Christ.

We just stand and get wet. Or kneel and have hands laid upon us. God does all the work. Continue reading

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Anniversaries.

Ok. The really important one first: today is the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As we look around the world, we see there is still so much to be done. Even in Australia! According to the Getup! campaign , Australia is the only democracy in the world without human rights protection. We don’t have the right to express our opinions, or the right to an adequate living standard, to be free from physical and psychological torture or discrimination. I think I’m safe—I’m white, middle class, educated, straight… But there are others who may not be so safe. The good news is that the Government has decided to ask us whether we think human rights are worth protecting.

So if you’d like to join me in asking the government to put Human Rights legislation in place, go here. Thanks!

That’s the really important anniversary today. The less important one is that today marks the 20th anniversary of my ordination as a minister of the Word. I’m grateful to God for that. And to my family. And that I’m still enthusiastic about ministry. And that I’ll be getting together with Brisbane-based friends on Friday night and celebrating!

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Coming empty-handed to God

I’m reading a gem of a book called The Spiritual Landscape of Mark by Bonnie Thurston, a Disciples of Christ (that’s Churches of Christ in Oz) minister who lives in productive solitude. She looks at the Gospel of Mark through its landscapes, such as desert, sea, mountain. There are so many helpful things in this book! This one arrested me:

 

It is a great and terrifying truth that God can only fill the hands of those who approach God empty-handed. Jesus says ‘Blessed are the poor’ for a reason, and it isn’t economic.

So many gifted people come to God wanting to use ‘their’ talents in their way, and theirs alone. Hands that are full can hold no more. Let’s allow God to fill our hands this Advent.

Years ago, we used to sing a short song called Empty, empty. I remember the words and the tune—but I haven’t got the music any more. Wish I did! Here are the wonderful lyrics:

 

Empty, empty,
I come empty
to the bleeding Lord.
Empty, empty
hands before me,
fill them, living Word.

In the mystery of the water,
mystery of the bread and wine.
Bind me, bind me,
fast and firmly
to the Crucified.

 

Let us be empty, as Mary was empty. Let us be filled by the Spirit of God, who longs to bring Christ uniquely to birth in us.

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Let’s try to rediscover the spirit of Christmas

From Barney Zwartz, religion editor of The Age (read more of Barney’s articles here):

FRIEND took his daughter to the Myer Christmas pageant recently. Unsullied by any religious references, it had floats featuring various toys available at the store—a fact the master of ceremonies was at pains to emphasise—as well as the obligatory few footballers (because AFL is so relevant to Christmas) and the Chinese New Year dragon (ditto).

Australia’s greatest festival is nearly upon us, and all round the nation people are stressed about what offerings to lay at its altar: the cash register. They are maxing their credit cards and preparing to devour—before debt, in turn, devours them. Should we spend less than last year, the media will present it as an economic disaster.

Isn’t it wonderful what secularism can do to a religious festival? In many shops, schools, councils and government departments we can’t even call it Christmas any more, because that’s insufficiently inclusive. Never mind that I never met a Muslim, Jew, Buddhist or Hindu who resented Christmas. Indeed, they welcome it, and hope only that their religious festivals might also get a modicum of recognition.

It’s not followers of other religions who are making Christmas ever-more bland and banal, ever-more distant from the supposed spirit, though they are usually invoked. It’s the secularists—some with naive good intentions, some determinedly with malice aforethought — who are trying to eliminate Christ from the festival that bears his name. Thus we receive festive cards wishing us season’s greetings or happy holidays, decorated with snow-clad conifers; primary teachers no longer put up nativity scenes; and we sing Jingle Bells rather than O Come, All Ye Faithful.

Mind you, religion is not entirely eliminated. The vacuum is being filled by worship of another omniscient, omnipresent, benevolent deity: the one in Coca-Cola red with a bushy white beard and a sack over his shoulder (though even he is too “religious” for some).

None of this is new, of course. I am not simply railing against commercialism. That battle was lost long ago. Nor am I suggesting Christmas should be a uniquely Christian festival, because non-believers are just as entitled to a holiday—and they are welcome to share mine. Nor can Christians tell pagans to find their own festival. They will rightly retort that December 25 was theirs first.

In fact, many Christians have been ambivalent about this holy day that arrived late on the liturgical calendar.

Some Christians oppose celebrating Christmas because they fear it offers nominal Christians and non-believers a veneer of sentimental religiosity that tides them through the rest of the year, while others see it as a welcome opportunity to give the Gospel message to a once or twice-a-year audience.

My plea is to keep some spiritual relevance in Christmas, for believer and atheist alike. For Christians, Christmas is pre-eminently about grace, the incarnation, God entering human history to redeem and restore. It marks something transcendent and sacred. But secular people, too, are spiritual, and they too are impoverished in the absence of anything transcendent and sacred. They will not find it in a festival to Mammon.

The tragedy is that for so many people Christmas has become an ordeal, and its hopes and expectations have been postponed to the holiday that begins the day after.

You can be spiritual without religious belief, but you can’t be spiritual if you are enmeshed in the joyless, stressful pursuit of a mirage. Just watch the desperate faces of shoppers in the last few days before Christmas, the pressure parents feel to do something exceptional. When did the mark of how much you love someone become how much you spent on them?

Even the celebratory nature of the feast has receded now that we live in a time of perpetual overindulgence.

It’s hard to suggest this without sounding naive and sentimental, but perhaps Christmas can be reinvented. Perhaps we can rediscover the innocence and wonder with which it is at least ideally associated.

This Christmas, we could all pause and reflect, take time to be grateful, count our blessings (or their secular equivalent).

Are we living in accord with our best beliefs, our purest conscience, and how can we do it better?

So, my compliments of the season, and have a relaxing but reflective festival. And, if you are a Christian, happy Christmas.

My comment: I love this: ‘secular people, too, are spiritual, and they too are impoverished in the absence of anything transcendent and sacred. They will not find it in a festival to Mammon’. This is so true! We are all lessened by the way Christmas/the holidays/whatever is celebrated these days.

Barney suggests we rediscover the ‘innocence and wonder’ which accompany Christmas—certainly, an innocence and wonder we knew as kids. Perhaps this is the way we ‘become as little children’ (Matthew 18.3) for Christmastide?

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Living the mission of God as disciples of Jesus united in the Spirit

Yesterday, the morning and evening congregations worked on our missional goals, based on some work done over the past few months by leaders of groups in the congregation, and based on our draft vision statement:

Living the mission of God as disciples of Jesus united in the Spirit

We’ve spelled things out a bit more in an expansion of the vision statement:

Living the mission of God… 

God is a missionary God, and invites us to join in the mission. Mission is part of God’s heart; the Father sends the Son into the world, and gives the Spirit as the ongoing presence of Christ. The Basis of Union says (para. 3): 

The Church as the fellowship of the Holy Spirit confesses Jesus as Lord over its own life; it also confesses that Jesus is Head over all things, the beginning of a new creation, of a new humanity. God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Churchʼs call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself. 

The love, compassion, justice of God fill us with hope for the mission. We are to live this out; just as mission is deep in the heart of God, so it is to live deep in our hearts also. As the Church, we are called to be a place where God’s will is done ‘on earth as in heaven’, and to invite others into this relationship with God, a relationship which brings us eternal life. 

 

…as disciples of Jesus… 

Jesus Christ provides the pattern and the way for us to do the will of God. Jesus rescues us from our slavery to sin, and shows us what true humanity looks like. 

As disciples of Jesus, we engage in spiritual practices such as worship, receiving the sacraments of the Church, reading the scriptures, prayer and contemplation, forgiving others and simplicity of life. 

In the congregation, the Becoming Disciples process gives us a framework for walking with people in their journey of discipleship, from seeking Jesus, to wanting to know more, to a commitment of faith expressed in baptism or confirmation and the ongoing life of a disciple. 

Our discipleship extends to the whole of life; Jesus leads us daily in home and family life, at work and leisure. 


…united in the Spirit 

We are in the Spirit; the Spirit is the air we breathe. As we grow in faith and engage in spiritual practices, the Spirit produces fruit in us, the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Spirit gives gifts to God’s people as parts of the body of Christ. Every person is essential; everyone has a unique purpose, to be directed towards the mission of God. 

The Spirit keeps us united on the way forward together. As the Basis of Union says (para. 18), 

The Uniting Church affirms that it belongs to the people of God on the way to the promised end. The Uniting Church prays that, through the gift of the Spirit, God will constantly correct that which is erroneous in its life, will bring it into deeper unity with other Churches, and will use its worship, witness and service to God’s eternal glory through Jesus Christ the Lord. Amen.

 

 

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