Third Sunday after Epiphany – 21st January 2018

How blessed we are to have been given such a wonderful farewell! Thank you for the beautiful farewell gift, already hung in our living room, for the cards and messages and the very kind words spoken to Maurie and to me as we concluded our time at St Paul’s. We were deeply moved by your expressions of affirmation, and thanks, for our ministry amongst you and with you.

Now on to the next chapter for us all!

As I said when I returned to work after Long Service Leave in October, you all managed more than adequately in my absence – however I confess to concerns over the stress/burdens falling on the shoulders of wardens, nominators, parish councillors and Elizabeth, who are already working long hours and trying to keep themselves and their families afloat. Please be gentle with one another – and remember that everyone is working hard and doing their best to follow God’s word and move forward in Mission.

I know that you will be well cared for, during this interregnum, by a “locum team”. Please make all involved welcome. And when you have your own Parish Priest again make him/her and family feel supported and welcome. It is hard to break into a ready-made community and find your own place and way of being. Please remember also St Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 3

“What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

Second Sunday after Epiphany – 14th January 2018

At our Parish Council Meeting on Tuesday evening the subject of Evangelism was raised. Now, according to the Etymology Dictionary, “Evangelism is the practice of trying
to persuade people to become Christians or revive their commitments to
Christianity. The word stems from the 12th century, with the term “evangelists” used
to describe the Bible’s New Testament apostles spreading the “good word” about
Christianity.” My own understanding is that it is more about sharing the good news
about Jesus Christ.

Anyway – one councillor (who shall remain nameless but who spoke as many were probably thinking) said something like “Evangelism is a great idea, as long as someone else does it!” Which begs the question, “Why do so many of us hesitate to share our faith with other people?”

If we believe the gospel is good news why don’t we share it with others? Or, if we believe Jesus is the greatest treasure the heart and soul can possess, why don’t we share our faith with others.

Our bible readings for this week are all about people sharing faith – sharing what they understand of God. And what is their motive? It is not about getting people into church to help raise funds – their motive is their desire to share something of what makes life meaningful, with others. Each has caught a glimpse of God and is so changed or moved by the experience that they want to share with others… “Come and see!” invites Phillip …

And we can do the same! Come and see the hungry and poor who receive help from Nils. Come and see the Rosie’s van distributing love, hope and hot food and drinks to the homeless. Come and see the welcome and fun offered by SAILS to refugees, youth at risk and so many others who may never enter into a church. Come and see the warm welcome and inclusion of all through baptism and in our various services at St Paul’s. And for each of us there is something intrinsically good, and wonderfully life giving, that keeps us coming back – not to a building but – to God in Christ

If you are asked why you bother with church and God is it so very hard to simply respond with an invitation to “Come and See?” There is love and hope and good news to share – so come and see!

The Baptism of Our Lord – 7th January 2018

I found this gem on Elizabeth Dolan’s face book post – It reminded me that words are simply symbols and sometimes they seem ridiculous if we don’t understand the background. Sometimes words are used as codes as Liz found out this week. Think about some of the nursery rhymes you grew up with – many, if not all, were coded references to events of the times. It would have been far too dangerous to speak openly of some of these events so codes were used.

Liz wrote
“There is one Christmas Carol that has always baffled me. What in the world do leaping lords, French hens, swimming swans, and especially the partridge who won’t come out of the pear tree have to do with Christmas? This week, I found out. From 1558 until 1829, Roman Catholics in England were not permitted to practice their faith openly. Someone during that era wrote this carol as a catechism song for young Catholics. It has two levels of meaning: the surface meaning plus a hidden meaning known only to members of their church. Each element in the carol has a code word for a religious reality which the children could remember.

  • The partridge in a pear tree was Jesus Christ.
  • Two turtle doves were the Old and New Testaments.
  • Three French hens stood for faith, hope and love.
  • The four calling birds were the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.
  • The five golden rings recalled the Torah or Law, the first five books of the Old Testament.
  • The six geese a-laying stood for the six days of creation.
  • Seven swans a-swimming represented the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit –Prophesy, Serving, Teaching, Exhortation, Contribution, Leadership, and Mercy.
  • The eight maids a-milking were the eight beatitudes.
  • Nine ladies dancing were the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit — Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self Control.
  • The ten lords a-leaping were the ten commandments.
  • The eleven pipers piping stood for the eleven faithful disciples.
  • The twelve drummers drumming symbolized the twelve points of belief in the Apostles’ Creed.

So there is your history for today. This knowledge was shared with me and I found it interesting and enlightening and now I know how that strange song became a Christmas Carol.”

The Epiphany of Our Lord – 31st December 2017

Today we celebrate the Feast of Epiphany – a little early I know but Easter is early in 2018 – Hence next Sunday we celebrate the Baptism of Our Lord.

Anyway, along with Epiphany being the celebration of the gift bearers from the East recognising the Messiah there are many stories or legends around Christmas, the arrival of the Christ child, and gift givers who missed the opportunity to worship at His birth.

Part of Italy’s traditional celebration is the story of a witch known as La Befana who arrives on her broomstick during the night of January 5 and fills the stockings with toys and sweets for the good children and lumps of coal for the bad ones.

According to the legend, the night before the Wise Men arrived at the manger they stopped at the shack of an old woman to ask directions. They invited her to come along but she replied that she was too busy. Then a shepherd asked her to join him but again she refused. Later that night, she saw a great light in the sky and decided to join the Wise Men and the shepherd bearing gifts that had belonged to her child who had died. She got lost and never found the manger.

Now La Befana flies around on her broomstick each year on the 11th night, bringing gifts to children in hopes that she might find the Baby Jesus. So in Italy, children hang their stockings on the evening of January 5 awaiting the visit of La Befana.

Legend or not, the story is a salutary reminder to us not to allow ourselves to get so caught up in the “busyness” of life and preparations for Christmas, that we miss the Christ child himself.

For me this means making a conscious effort to look for the Christ in the face of each person I meet… May you find Him in unexpected places and know the true joy of Christmas!

And as we close the door on 2017 and ring in 2018 may our eyes be ever open to see the unexpected manifestations of Christ who continues to journey with us.

Fourth Sunday of Advent – 24th December 2017

A candy maker in Indiana wanted to make a candy that would be a witness, so he made the Christmas Candy Cane. He incorporated several symbols for the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy: white to symbolize the Virgin Birth and the sinless nature of Jesus, and hard to symbolize the Solid Rock, the Foundation of the Church and firmness of the promises of God.

The candy maker made the candy in the form of a “J” to represent the precious name of Jesus, who came to earth as our Savior. It could also represent the staff of the Good Shepherd with which He reaches down into the ditches of the world to lift out the fallen lambs who like all sheep have gone astray. Thinking that the candy was somewhat plain, the candy maker stained it with red stripes. He used three small stripes for the blood shed by Christ on the cross. So that we could have the promise of eternal life.

Unfortunately, the candy became known as the Candy Cane. It became a meaningless
decoration seen at Christmas time. But meaning is still there for all those who “Have eyes to see and ears to hear.” We pray that this symbol will again be used to witness to the wonder of Jesus and His great love that came down at Christmas.

Third Sunday of Advent – 17th December 2017

As a child I remember that the most difficult part of Christmas was simply waiting for it to come. I really enjoyed the last few weeks of school, after exams had been completed and reports given out it was time for some serious fun at school, with concerts and parties and speech days or nights.

Then came the school holidays and the waiting became almost painful as mysterious packages were placed under the Christmas tree and preparations were made for our Christmas feasting.

Days felt like weeks and weeks felt like forever. Time truly stood still! Oh how I long for
those days now!

But seriously, waiting is foreign to our society. It seems unnatural. We hunger for immediate gratification. The idea of delayed satisfaction is a stranger to our thinking.

The symbols of our unwillingness to wait are all around us. Fast food outlets boom because we don’t have time to cook. We stand in crooked lines, then give our order, get it down in five minutes and then get back to the rat race. We haven’t got time to sit down and read a book anymore. In kitchens all over Australia there are gadgets to get the meal prepared quickly. When we become sick we want to be made well now, not later. Medicine, doctors, pastoral care and love are often rejected if they are not swift.

I, like you, accept most of our no — wait approach to life, with the exception of instant mashed potatoes, which are almost intolerable. But the truth is that, though we do not like waiting, waiting is a part of living. We must wait for payday, a break, home time, and the check out queue and the mailman. When you do your Christmas shopping, you had certainly better be prepared to wait in a line to get checked out, wait to get a parking place, and wait through at least four red lights on your way home.

But there are also very serious matters for which we wait. Some wait for health to return, some for marriage or remarriage. We pray for peace but must wait for its arrival. A scared child waits for the coming of morning, and a scared adult awaits death. And an expectant mother waits for delivery. Waiting can be pure agony. But over and over scripture tells us that God’s clock is wound in a different way… Let us pray that our impatience doesn’t blind us to the wonder of the present and the realisation that, however things might appear, God continues to hold the world in loving compassionate hands. And in the words of Julian of Norwich – All will be well and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.

Second Sunday of Advent – 10th December 2017

In the gospel reading for today we are reminded of a surprising (to the world) choice, by God, to deliver the call to repentance and preparation for the coming of the Messiah. His name was John. People knew him locally as the Baptist. Some would say of him that he was a religious eccentric. Others, less kind would dismiss him as being simply a flake, a religious fruit cake. He definitely did not seem to be the kind of “How to win friends and influence people” type of personality to usher in the news of the Messiah’s coming. He just doesn’t seem to fit in with shepherds and wise men and the other characters that we traditionally associate with the Christmas story. Yet, this was God’s unlikely servant chosen to herald the spectacular events that would soon follow. A most unlikely promotions man to be sure, but God’s man nevertheless.

From the very beginning everything about John was unique. His mother Elizabeth was related to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Elizabeth conceived six months before Mary. But Mary happened to be a very young girl, indeed almost a child. Most scholars put her probable age at thirteen. It was not unusual for a girl in that day and time to be of childbearing age at such a tender age. Indeed, it is not unheard of even in contemporary America.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, was a woman who was in the golden years of her life. She had never given birth to a child. You would think of her more in the category of grandmother than mother. Yet, she and her aging priest of a husband were the unlikely candidates.

And then comes John – vigorously opposed to the way of life of the religious and political leaders of the time and unafraid to raise his voice against them. A rough and wild looking man – yet chosen to prepare the way for the coming of the Christ. His call is to preparedness, and his call is to you and to me. We are to be prepared to recognize the presence of Christ in the world, and share the good news with others.

Yes, John might be an unexpected and surprising messenger, but perhaps no more surprising than you or me!

First Sunday of Advent – 3rd December 2017

This week I share with you a story from a sermon written by Pastor Brett Blair –

“It is hard for us to understand Jesus’ delay in his coming. God’s time clock is certainly out of sync with ours as Little Jimmy learned one day as he was laying on a hill in the middle of a meadow on a warm spring day. Puffy white clouds rolled by and he pondered their shape. Soon, he began to think about God.

“God? Are you really there?” Jimmy said out loud.

To his astonishment a voice came from the clouds. “Yes, Jimmy? What can I do for
you?”

Seizing the opportunity, Jimmy asked, “God? What is a million years like to you?”

Knowing that Jimmy could not understand the concept of infinity, God responded in a manner to which Jimmy could relate. “A million years to me, Jimmy, is like a minute.”

“Oh,” said Jimmy. “Well, then, what’s a million dollars like to you?” “A million dollars
to me, Jimmy, is like a penny.” 

“Wow!” remarked Jimmy, getting an idea. “You’re so generous… can I have one of
your pennies?”

God replied, “Sure thing, Jimmy! Just a minute.”

Little Jimmy wasn’t ready for that response was he? Our text this week seems an unlikely scripture for Advent. It has nothing to do with Mary and Joseph, the Wise Men, of shepherds watching their flock. Instead it is story about a wealthy landowner going on a trip. The servants left behind were given charge of the estate and when the master returned he would check on their stewardship. It is a story about being prepared, getting ready. In that sense then this is an Advent story, for this is the season of preparation… not just for our celebration of the birth of the Christ Child, but for the coming of Christ, who has given us stewardship of creation, and who will return at an unexpected hour!

Christ the King – 26th November 2017

I arrived at the hairdressers a bit early for an appointment just recently and had time for  a coffee and a read of some magazines and I came across an article, the likes of which appear every so often, speculating on a successor for queen Elizabeth 11. Should it be Charles, by right of his birth, or should it be the, seemingly more popular, 2nd in line William? Time will tell and in Australia, possibly the only difference the decision will make in Australia is that there may be more or less of a push towards Australia becoming a republic. Still it seems speculation (in some circles) is rife. Which one (together with wife and family) has the more appeal? Which one is able to connect with the everyday man or woman on the street?

And this brings me to the readings and celebrations in our worship this week.

This is the last week of the Christian Year, as next week we move into Advent. This is also Reign of Christ or Christ the King Sunday. The image of Christ on the throne of his glory and coming with all his angels and all nations gathered before him is a powerful image. But our gospel reading is about seeing and serving Christ in the ordinary, needy people around us.

It is a good time to look back on the past year and think of all the times Christ was present among us – in the face of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick person or the one in prison. Just as the disciples wondered, “What will  it be like when Christ returns again and the Reign of Christ on earth is a reality?” so we too wonder what it will be like.

Have you seen Christ in friend and stranger?
How does your community show God’s love to the friend and the stranger?

Perhaps our Prayer for this week might be “God, in those we meet, and those we teach, may we feel your presence and greet them as we would you. Amen.”

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost – 19th November 2017

It is Thursday morning and the news headlines are focused on two particular events of interest to Australians.

Last night, in Sydney, the Socceroos’ earned the right to compete in the world cup after a win of 3/1 against Honduras. Now I do not profess to being a soccer fan but I acknowledge the effort put in by the team and coach – and I’m proud of this Australian team. I’m proud to be Australian.

I am proud to be Australian also because in the recent plebiscite the majority of Australians chose to complete the non-compulsory survey – and make their voices heard.

On a personal note I am also glad that there was a decisive vote. Australians have made their sentiments heard and the majority said, “YES,” to marriage equality. This may not be the way you wanted the vote to go but I have a number of gay couples that are close friends, who have poured out their pain over the years. For me this was not about my faith so much as what is good and just and fair.

I was deeply saddened by the cruel attacks from people on both sides of the argument – but these were from vocal minorities. The majority of those people I have spoken with have been loving and respectful – giving their point of view without judgment.

For those who feel that this is not the way forward for the church let me reassure you that, at present our canon law will not allow even the Christian blessing of a Same Sex marriage, let alone an actual wedding. It is my understanding that, regardless of changes to Australian law, the various Synods within the Anglican Church will need to vote on the matter before Same Sex marriages will ever take place in our churches. Sadly this means that we face what may be years of vicious arguments and judgments between various stakeholders.

The “Gay” couples I know (some in other countries – are already married) are Christian. In fact two are Anglican Clergy. All are gentle and generous members of their churches and/or communities. I have wonderful Christian friends who oppose same Sex marriage. I love them all! My prayer is simply that discussion and decision-making  within the church can be undertaken without judgment or vilification and perhaps we might agree to disagree while respecting different viewpoints and the right for all to act according to their own conscience – after all, God is the final judge and knows the hearts of all.