Had I the power
To cast a bell that should from some grand tower,
At the first Christmas hour,
A jubilant message wide,
The forged metals should be thus allied:-
No iron Pride,
But soft Humility, and rich-veined Hope
Cleft from a sunny slope;
And there should be
And silvery Love, that knows not Doubt nor Fear,
To make the peal more clear;
And then to firmly fix the fine alloy,
There should be Joy!
For many unmarried women who find themselves pregnant,
Mary’s rejoicing would seem almost bizarre. They do not feel that it is a
blessing. Fortunately society does not condemn them as much as they did fifty
years ago but it still looks down on single mothers. It may take many of them
time to adjust to the new circumstances. It would be better for them and ultimately
for their child and our communities if we were friendly faces they could turn
to as Mary did to Elizabeth; if we were the ones who could give them space to
contemplate the situation in which they find themselves.
We may think of the glory of God as being what is shining in
God’s face. Moses asked if he could see the glory of God and was shown the
goodness of God. God is far beyond what we can know and God’s ways are not our
ways but God blesses us too, with glimpses to encourage us.
In the Hebrew tradition, the person pronouncing a blessing
is making a commitment to carry through the promise embedded in the blessing.
This is the tradition Jesus came from and that Christianity follows. Every time
we sing the Aaronic blessing, such as at a baptism, we have a responsibility to
help the person to whom we are singing it, understand and experience God’s face
shining upon them. We are committed to lives which shine and reflect God’s
love, acceptance and encouragement.
This is the week in Advent when we contemplate and celebrate
love and the God of Love whose love was most apparent in the life of Jesus the
Christ. What can we learn about the shining, smiling face of God’s love as we
turn our faces towards the new born child this Christmas? Can we dare to take
time out as Elizabeth and Mary did to contemplate the nature and purpose of the
blessings of God? Can we face the God who faces us and say, “I delight to
follow your way”?
May those of us who know the blessing of God’s face shining
on us live in that blessing and pass it on in smiles of love given freely to
those who need to see a friendly face this Christmas and for all of our lives.
Rev Julianne Parker (for full sermon see sermons page)
Enjoying God is about spending time
together, listening to and honouring God and all God has for us! It’s about not
taking ourselves too seriously. The writer of the piece of music we call “Jesus
Joy of Man’s Desiring” must have known about enjoying God. I heard on the radio
that a better translation of the title of this music would be “Jesus Remains My
Joy”. What a delightful thing to be able to say! When we are enjoying God, it
changes our life. We are more relaxed in other relationships and we are likely
to read the Bible quite differently. Joy is about connecting with the things
that really matter in life. It is a spiritual experience that helps us to be
both gentle and generous.
Most of us will have known from an early age of the call for
those who have two coats to give one to someone who has none and to share our
food. We may have thought these were the words of Jesus, not realising that
these words are attributed to John. Many of us have endeavoured to be generous
in our sharing. We may have heard that we should not only tithe our money but
our time and talents as well. Paul, in writing to the Philippians, urged them
to be generous in their thanks, enjoyment and gentleness so that all people
could see and experience it. [Philippians 4:5]
... Someone else
had told of how once a year she sat down and worked out how much she had that
she could give to charities like the Christmas Bowl appeal and Uniting World.
We may, at times like our immanent retirement, spend some time contemplating
our gifts and how we can use them productively for as long as we are able. A
couple of times, Spiritual Mentors have spoken of the beneficial effects of
choosing five things to give thanks to God for at the end of each day but I
have never before heard of a near daily check on how generously and affectively
we are using the gifts with which we have been blessed.
Perhaps when we are taking stock of things as New Year
approaches, we might reassess our lives and the way we are using them,
realising that it is a blessing to be alive. And of course, we are all familiar
with the idea that if we have two coats we can give one to someone who has
none, but we don’t often get around to doing this even when our wardrobes are
Rev Julianne Parker (for full sermon see sermons page)
The blessing that we heard that Zechariah gave his son “You,
child will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the
Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the
forgiveness of their sins.” [Luke 1:76,77] is one that God the Father has given
to each of us. We have tended to think that the role of prophets was to
fore-tell the future. The role of Jewish prophets was to call people back to
God and God’s Way. It was to help people have a realistic understanding of
themselves as sinners and also to have a realistic understanding of God’s love
and forgiveness. The prophets warned the people that if they continued to
behave in certain ways, the inevitable consequences would be disastrous, often
in the form of wars.
Prophets all around the world have been warning for years
that unless we take our responsibility to reduce carbon emissions and curb our
materialism much more seriously, there will be more war as less privileged
people fight for access to dwindling supplies of food and resources.
Today, unusually we had a second Gospel reading that gave us
a glimpse of the man John, who had grown from the child whose birth and
blessing we first heard about. He was living a simple life in the Jordan Valley
as an example of the blessing. He taught about the need for people to be
realistic about the things that they did wrong and to see they were on the
wrong path; that the way they were doing thing was leading to “no win”
situations. It was important that they realise this and that they alter the way
they were going, their life style and turn to a different way to avoid
disaster. John offered them baptism as a sign to show their commitment to this
new way of life.
May we bless our children and grandchildren with our
commitment to their future by rejecting the values of capitalism and committing
to a simpler life-style. May we bless all children so that they know the peace
in their hearts and lives which comes from close relationship with the God of
love and peace.
Rev Julianne Parker (for full sermon see sermons page)
Barbara Kingsolver has a new
book of essays called "Small Wonder," and it is a poetic proclamation
of the power of hope. It is also a stinging criticism against a self-centered society.
Taking a sharp look at the wars, the natural disasters, the political violence
of the 21st century, she writes a modern translation of Luke's little
apocalypse. By the end of the book, we know more than we need to know about the
wastefulness of our beef consumption, the natural disasters caused by genetic
crop engineering, the distortion of patriotism that blind flag-waving can
produce, the barbarity of war and capital punishment. But she ends with soaring
words of hope--a call to self-discipline and compassion and tolerance and moral
living--a vision that matches the energy of Jesus' words to us today.
Rather than feeling hopeless,
like a screen door banging in a hurricane, Kingsolver suggests that we should
be the ones to bang and bang on the door of hope and refuse to let anyone
suggest that no one is home. She writes, "What
I can find is this and so it has to be: conquering my own despair by doing what
little I can. Stealing thunder, tucking it in my pocket to save for the long
drought. Dreaming in the color green, tasting the end of anger." She
concludes: "Small changes, small
wonders. These are the currency of my endurance and my life. It is a workable
Today we Christians around the
world light the first candle in a four-week journey through the darkness of
Advent. Rather than hiding inside the secular sentimentality of a Christmas
cocoon, we are called to open our eyes to see the chaos of the cosmos. We are
called to recognize with a God's-eye view both the beauty and the terror of
this world. And then with eyes looking up, we are called to wait for God's
promise to be fulfilled, rejoicing in the small wonders and the simple graces
of these danger-filled days.
"I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope For hope would be
hope of the wrong thing; wait without love For love would be love of the wrong
thing; there is yet faith But the faith and the love and the hope are all in
the waiting. Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought: So the
darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing." T. S. Eliot: (from the four Quartets)
As we study history and geography, we
know that fighting and wars have been occurring as long as there have been
people and earthquakes, floods and droughts and meteors smashing into our
planet have been happening since creation. So what was Jesus on about in the
reading we heard from Luke? This story is similar to the one we heard a couple
of weeks ago from Mark’s Gospel. It begins in the previous chapter with Jesus
condemning the scribes for devouring widow’s houses and continues with his
comment on the widow’s contribution to the upkeep of the Temple at her own
expense. Again the disciples are more interested in the grandeur of the Temple
that Jesus says is to be torn down and they ask him when will this take place?
Jesus told them that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies and destruction, a
dire prediction, ending with…
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and
the stars and on earth distress between the nations, confused by the roaring of
the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and terror.” [Luke
We know that the Temple had been
destroyed before the Gospel of Luke was written.
Following all this terrible news,
Jesus gave them hope by encouraging them to look for a sign in among all the
horror that God was near. Some think a clearer translation of the word usually
put in English as “near”, is “here”.
We tend to read “near” as “almost”, a time thing, rather than as a geographic
indication as in “close by” Jesus
suggested that as when they notice the sprouting of leaves on trees they knew
that summer was near so when they saw all these terrible things they would know
God was near. He went on to say that God was going to be with them in that
generation. It seems that Jesus was pointing out that the world is in chaos all
the time and that it is in the chaos that we can know God is near.
Where do you see God in all that is
going on in our generation? The word, “near” for God could have been a time
thing when Jesus said it. But for all generations since it has been a
geographic reality. Christ has been with us even though the emphasis with
Christianity has been on Christ enthroned in some distant heaven, we have the
assurance from Matthew’s Gospel [Matthew 28:20] that Jesus will be with us till
the end of time and from John’s Gospel [John 20:17-19] that Jesus ascended to
the Father and returned to be with us on the day of resurrection. So even when
it feels or seems that God isn’t with you, you can hold on to hope, knowing
that others have felt like this before and have come to know that our feelings
are not always logical even though they are valid.
Your desire to help your friends and
neighbours at this time and in their distress, are the buds of the fruit of the
Spirit growing within you. They are the indications that God is so near as to
be within you. They are the signs of hope and encouragement that are so needed
in your communities. May you be blest with the assurance of God’s Presence and
unfailing care in the weeks and months to come.
Constantine was the
first Christian Emperor and a significant change took place in the church when
Constantine was converted. Before this, the Christian Church opposed of most of
the Empire’s law and government.
This is what Jesus modeled for us. This is what we read about in the gospel
stories. Jesus criticized the elite, the self -righteous and the proud. He
reminded all that they would be called to account for their behaviour and
The word ‘Christ’ is
the Greek word for ‘Messiah’ which means ‘the anointed one’ and the same word
in Latin is ‘Lord’. There are three ways in which Christians see Christ.
Through the centuries the most commonly used image has been that of Christ the
King in both the Eastern and Western Churches. This has led to a very
hierarchical structure to the Church and the building of huge, opulent places
for worship requiring exploitation of poor people to complete them.
The second way of
seeing Christ is as a man who was adopted by God as his son either at his
baptism as Mark’s Gospel says or at his conception as Matthew and Luke have it.
The third way of
seeing Jesus is to see him as part of the embodiment of the Eternal Christ in
the way that the writer of the Gospel we call John did when he spoke of Jesus
as the embodiment of the Word of God present at Creation and therefore eternal
with God. Paul also saw Christ as the Word and Wisdom of God. [1Corinthians
1:24] He also saw each believer as part of the body of Christ so part of this
Eternal Creator One. The more we learn about the complexity of creation and
such things as its age and size, the more we can see how inappropriate the
image of Christ seated on a throne is, how inconsistent it is with the call, as
part of the body, to take care of all creatures and all creation.
So as we celebrate the
reign of Christ this day, lets examine how we reflect this to the world today,
how the world sees us, for the good news is that we have been called to
be Christ like by following the example Jesus set for us.
“So what I am telling you is exactly the same as what I am telling everybody else: there is only one game plan, love, love and more love. Forgive, forgive and more love. Keep yourselves on the ready at all times, lest you be lured back into the ways of suspicion, division and retaliation. Hold on tight to the hope that you’ve put your hands up to. None of this on-again off-again stuff! Think about how to stir one another up to greater and greater love and more and more ways to put it into action. Some people will quit gathering together as a congregation altogether. It’s understandable when the Church has failed so spectacularly, but don’t go down that path. Gather often, support and encourage one another. The closer we get to that final day the more you’ll need one another. The Church is coming crashing down, and the earth is being shaken to its foundations, and everything by which the powers that be maintained their delusions of peace is crumbling to dust in their deceitful grasping fingers. Stand up and rejoice, for when all the bullshit has fallen away, just one thing will remain, love in all its glory, for God is love.” The Girl with the Dove Tattoo, Brian McLarren
For many years we have been looking for strategies that will get people to “come to church” without much success. Many different schemes have been tried and plans offered, Messy Church being one of the latest. There have been after school and holiday programmes for children, contemporary services with bands instead of organs and café services where all sit around tables and sip coffee. People may come for a while but then move on. Like Hannah, many in our congregations are weeping because we have no children or young ones to follow us. We sometimes blame ourselves or our ministers and are taunted by the sight of young ones at mega Churches, even though we do not see God as they do. Like Hannah we have become distressed and wept bitterly to the Lord, pleading for new life to come to us. We have promised God all sorts of things if only our congregation does not die.
Some members of the body of Christ have heard the promise that new life is coming and are preparing for it. They are developing fresh expressions of Church outside of and away from the traditional buildings. Instead of fruitlessly trying to get people “into the Church,” they are going to where the people are and meeting Christ there. They are showing God’s love in trying to bring justice for people of other faiths and for refugees. By facilitating rallies and candlelight vigils in public spaces, they have engaged with young people who do not normally come ‘to Church’. These events, at the same time have made meeting ecumenically easier than going to your Church or mine provides.
We are challenged by the God who dwells within us to decide what it is that our hearts are leading us to and how we may work towards fresh expressions of Church away from our buildings and understanding worship as far more than a Sunday Hymn Sandwich. Jesus said that he came to bring us life in all its fullness and so it is reasonable to think that in these fresh expressions will be opportunities to develop and use all our skills and talents in encouraging others. We do need to meet together as the reading from Hebrews points out, to show our concern for one another and stir and encourage each other to respond in love and good works. [Hebrews 10:24 paraphrased from New Jerusalem Bible]
In answer to the disciples’ enquiry about the end of the Temple, Jesus spoke of war, earthquake and famine indicating the very beginning of new birth. There is a way still to go, and the way may be painful, but no woman who has ever given birth would consider giving up at the first signs of pain because it will be worth all the pain in the end; so with new birth for the Church. May your pain be eased by hope for the outcome.
Rev Julianne Parker (for full sermon see sermon's page)
From childhood most of us have known this passage, “Listen,
Israel; the Lord our God is the one, only Lord and you must love the Lord your
God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all
your strength. The second is this, “You must love your neighbour as yourself’”.
[Mark 12:29-31 New Jerusalem Bible]
As with many of the texts that we have been taught, we have
focused on some words and ignored others. The part in this passage where the
scribe says that these commands are more important than all offerings and
sacrifices has not been part of the learning of many Christians. Sacrificial
offering often in the form of obedience, has been drummed into many as what God
requires from us. We have seen this attitude reflected in the way people have
taught their children up until recent generations. A woman in her late
seventies spoke recently of how her father’s idea had been that there was only
one thing for a child to learn and that was unquestioning obedience.
Love had not come into her childhood and she was still
struggling with relationships with other people. She was taught that love said
God expected her to offer herself and sacrifice herself completely for others.
It was only recently that she had realised that Jesus had been saying that love
for God, others and yourself was the most important thing and such sacrifice as
she had lived left her resentful and often wasn’t showing love for self.
So we get to the story of Ruth, one of the best known from
the Hebrew Scripture. Ruth has been held up to women and girls of countless
generations as a saint, modelling the sacrificial behaviour required of women
in Christian context. We were taught to see her as a paragon of virtue in her
Could Christ be telling us, “You do not know the
Scriptures?”Could it be that Ruth was a
feisty lass who knew her rights and was sticking with her mother-in-law in
order to ensure that her children inherited what was due to them under the
Jewish system? Or it might have been that Ruth clung to Naomi because she
understood Ruth’s grief better than others because of their shared loss?
What are we to make of the bitterness of Naomi’s grief? It
is of utmost importance for us to learn if we want to be reasonable pastoral
carers that statements people make when distressed may not be facts and
questions they ask may not reflect reality. When Jesus asked from the cross,
“My God, why have you abandoned me?” he was not saying that God had abandoned
him but that that was what it felt
like. Naomi was expressing a similar thing when she named feeling bitter
because “the hand of the Lord” had turned against her. [Ruth 1:13]
Most of us do not have the loss in our entire life times
that Naomi has suffered. In all his loss, Job did not lose his wife. We knew
someone whose wife and four children were killed coming home from school, in
the Ash Wednesday fires. Can one ever recover from such devastation? And yet
one must if one is to go on living. It takes many years to recover from
Rev Julianne Parker
(for full sermon see sermons page)
"...Our ideas about God are like this. To engage to the best
possible extent with God, it is necessary for us to try new and different
understandings that lead to new and different relationships with the Divine.
Many Christians were not introduced to a variety of images and understandings
early in their lives and so will only accept what they were fed as pre-school
Well, the truth is, whether we recognise it or not, to be
fully engaged with God, others and ourselves, depends on us being willing to
try out for ourselves how good the Lord is. We simply can’t rely on what others
tell us to come to life in all its fullness. If we are willing to dare to grow
in our understandings, God will introduce us to new things. Sometimes this may
happen slowly, like an acquired taste. Sometimes it will be something we like
and instantly respond to and then wonder why we never tried this before.
Job was forced by the circumstances surrounding the loss of
all his family except his wife, and the loss of all his belongings to take a
look at how he saw God. In the reading we heard, Job is acknowledging that God
is far greater than he had understood prior to his losses. He said that before,
he was relying on what he had heard about God but now he could see with his own
eyes whom God is. He had found out something new about the greatness of God.
Many of us go our whole lives relying on we have heard from
others about the Divine One. It sometimes doesn’t even occur to us that we can
ask for an encounter with a member of the Holy Trinity, that we can experience
God with us. Of course, that makes it sound a whole lot simpler than it is, but
God is not inclined to intrude into our lives unless invited even though,
paradoxically God is always present.
The blind man in today’s Gospel reading dared to find out
for himself how compassionate Jesus was. Jesus not only healed him but also
praised him for his faith. Each time Jesus praises someone for their faith,
they have dared to step out, to do something others weren’t game to do, to try,
to test, Jesus’ willingness to help. They were in effect, willing to “taste,”
to see if Jesus would and could help them. ..."
If Job was repaid twice over, why aren’t all people who suffer given the same recompense? And what of Job’s wife; was she just collateral damage in it all?
It is perhaps not surprising that we have come to believe to Bible more than our own convictions. If the Bible says it is this way and we see it differently, we think we must be wrong, that we are evil even to contemplate that God is other than some stories depict. This leads us to constantly judge our thoughts and behaviour and that of others, rather than becoming aware of God’s presence at all times, everywhere, in everything.
These stories have truth within them, but the framework for that truth is very difficult for people of the 21st Century to see past. It hampers their understanding. Recently Barb tried to read Henri Nouwen’s book, “The Wounded Healer”, which was written in the 1970’s. She found it difficult even though she had lived through this era. The wording was so dated and the culture quite different to what we are living through today. How much more difficult it is to grasp what is being said in writing thousands of years old. Most people today find it too difficult to even begin to try. When what they read doesn’t go with what they feel, think and experience, they give up.
In Mark 10 we are told that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples things as profound as that he was to be betrayed, condemned to death, handed to the Gentiles, in other words, defiled, mocked, flogged and killed. They didn’t want to hear what he was saying. Instead they were arguing about getting the most important places in his kingdom. They hadn’t been listening and they totally missed the point about what it means to serve. When we are sure of whom we are in God’s love, we don’t need to seek positions of power to bolster our image. We are free to serve others rather than seeking favoured positions.
The God we are called to follow, with whom our hearts long to have a close relationship is inviting, encouraging, full of joy, peace and patience and does not demand absolute obedience. Part of the invitation is to live with unanswered and sometimes unanswerable questions without judgement.
Jesus said that he came to bring us life in all its fullness. It will include hard times and easy, good times and bad, highs and lows all within the depth and length and height and strength of God’s everlasting love. May you be blessed with knowing that you are loved by God and that all else is secondary to that.
Rev Julianne Parker (for full sermon see sermons page)
In the Gospel reading we hear of someone else being tested. A man asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life. He did not have his possessions taken from him in the way that Job did. He was given the opportunity of giving them up himself and some people are given a choice in this way in the tests they face. It would be debatable as to whether it was more painful or less to make the choice yourself, though many given a choice would take the road with less pain even if it meant less gain. Some don’t seem to face much testing. Some come through the testing to a fuller, richer though not necessarily wealthier life. Why? We don’t know. We try guessing but that is often a futile exercise as Job was to find.
We speak of God as Mystery. We mere humans cannot ever comprehend God’s ways. We can come to a greater place of awe in our relationship with the Eternal Creator. We can come to say we Job, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God and not receive the bad?” We can wonder, each for ourselves, about our classification of “good” and “bad”. It doesn’t help us if someone else does this for us. In Ephesians, we are told to give thanks for all things” [Ephesians 5:20] and that “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to God’s purpose.” [Romans 8:28] In the middle of our pain, this can be hard to hang on to.
What of the woman who dared to speak in such a way to God? Her troubles didn’t end. She left her home and fields and become a minister of the Word. When she was in her ninth home, she was complaining to her daughter who said, “Doesn’t it say somewhere that when you leave your home you will get a hundred more? [Mark 10:29,30] I figure that means you have 91 still to go.” Now she is up to either 47 or 49. She lost count somewhere and as for mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers well, the count must be well in the hundreds. While this has brought untold blessing it too has had its pain. Many times all that has kept her going was the assurance that God IS and memories of God’s faithfulness in the past have given hope for the future.
Rev Julianne Parker (for full sermon see sermon's page)
One of the puzzling things about the testing of Job is the
lack of a clear purpose. One could maybe think that there was a point to it if
he was being considered for a major role such as Moses had in leading the
people from Egypt t the Promised Land.
Ultimately, the major test for us seems to be, can we sit
with the questions? Can we have faith and trust God in areas we can never
understand? In my personal struggle with this, there have been times when all I
could say was, “I believe God is, that God exists. What is happening in my life
is such that I am unable to see God as Love or as caring, merciful and
compassionate.” It has sometimes felt as though God was playing with me as a
cat plays with a mouse. One of my sisters said when my daughter-in-law died
suddenly, “How many more experiences do you need to have to identify with the
pain of others?” Perhaps there is some truth in this question.
Mystics call the ability to live with the questions one of
the greatest blessings. They strive to live in the moment, trusting that God is
and that ultimately all is well. Should we take the bad things from God as well
as the good and give thanks for all things? Well, I would say it is worth
giving it a try and may you receive many blessings in it as I have.
Rev Julianne Parker (for full sermon see sermons page)