St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

Spirituality in a Godless country

image003Newington College Center for Ethics are hosting a free lecture by Dr. David Tracey, author of a number of works on Religion, Health, and Society, on the twin phenomena of decreasing religious observance and increasing spirituality (especially in the arts) in modern Australia. The lecture is at 7pm on Wednesday 6th March – click on the image to see a full size version of the flyer with all the details!

Messy Church is back!

mc_logo_l_transback-160Messy Church is back for 2013! We’ll be kicking off on Sunday April 7th at 4pm with “The Great Mystery of Easter” – get the date in your diary! As always, Messy Church will finish with supper for everyone, and wrap up around 6pm.

And while you’ve got your diary out, put these dates in as well: May 26th, August 11th and October 27th!

Big God, Small God?

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Psalm 27 | Luke 13:31-35
The Pharisees, generally speaking, get a pretty bad press in the gospels. They get portrayed as rule-bound, hypocritical, and blind to the needs of the people and deaf to the message of Jesus. But in our gospel reading today, we see them in a rather different role. A group of Pharisees came to Jesus to warn him that Herod was planning to kill him.

Now the Pharisees and Herod had had a pretty rocky relationship over the years. Around the time of Jesus’ birth, with the marriage of Herod the Great into a Sadducee family, and the appointment of that family to the High Priesthood, religious and political power in Jerusalem had moved decisively away from the Pharisees, who now found their greatest support in the rural areas outside the city – the very places where Jesus spent most of his ministry life.

Which perhaps explains the ambiguous relationship between Jesus and his followers and the Pharisees: they were allies, in the sense that both were implacably opposed to the corruption of the spiritual life of the nation by Rome and those who collaborated with Rome – the Pharisees would surely have applauded Jesus’ description of Jerusalem as the city that kills the prophets – but at the same time they were drawing their support from the same base, and as such they threats to each other.
Indeed, Jesus clearly divided the Pharisees, with some, like Nicodemus, becoming his earliest followers, and others becoming his fiercest critics.

Be that as it may, on this occasion at least, they seem to have been concerned for Jesus’ safety. Which is more than can be said for Jesus himself. The fact that Herod is wanting to kill him doesn’t seem to come as a surprise to Jesus, and it certainly doesn’t seem to put him off his plans. Continue reading

Water-Walk

IMG_7566Inspired by UnitingWorld‘s Lent Event, The Growing Place community did a Water-Walk on Sunday 17th February. We did this walk to remind ourselves how lucky we are to have copious access to clean drinking water and as an act of solidarity with all our brothers and sisters who walk incredible distances to get water in situations of extreme poverty.

We talked about what it would mean to live without clean water, and about the people who have to do this every single day. We discussed the projects that our partner churches are running in Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea to help bring clean water to people. We then carried our buckets and bottles and walked across Wahroonga Park to fetch water back. The total distance was only about 1km (we had some very little people), but it really brought home how heavy a bucket of water really is when you have to carry it for any distance. We discussed how much time it took to do the walk, and how you wouldn’t have much time for going to school or playing if you had to walk for miles to just get water.IMG_7564

At the end of our walk, we gathered together and thanked God for all the abundant blessings we enjoy, and reminded ourselves that God is counting on us to make sure that everyone in the world gets to share in these blessings. We agreed to put aside this week’s giving to go towards clean-water projects and prayed for the people doing the work.

Deep Blue Sea

blueseasliceForestville Uniting Church are holding a community event entitled “Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” on Saturday 9th March 2013. It is a 52 minute documentary looking at the circumstances and decisions that lead someone to become a ‘boat person’. Come at 6:00 pm mix and mingle, film at 7:00 pm, and then at 8:15 pm a Q&A with guest speakers followed by supper. Tickets are also available at the door. $10.

Caring

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Deuteronomy 26:1-11 | Luke 4:1-13
Our Old Testament reading today is very popular with preachers who want to encourage the members of the Church to think more about their giving – or, to be a little more candid, to think about giving more. And indeed, it does have a lot to teach us about that subject; about the way that giving arises out of our gratitude to God for the things that we have been given, and about giving as an act of faith – for it is the first fruits that the people are called upon to give, the first of the harverst, that can only be given in faith that the rest of the harness will also deliver.

These are important lessons, and giving is an important part of our walk of Christian discipleship. But giving isn’t where I want our focus to be today. At least, not material giving.

And of course our New Testament reading is commonly used, as we enter into Lent, around the theme of giving something up, the adoption of a lenten fast, echoing, for the fourty days of Lent, Jesus’ fourty days of fasting in the desert.

And again, as I mentioned briefly last week, the tradition of giving something up has played an important part in the lives of many Christian believers over the years. But that’s not where I want to go today either.

I want instead to focus in on the last few words of the Old Testament reading. In that reading we have a liturgy of remembrance and thanks, a ritual of words with which the wealth of the land is brought in worship “You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God”. And then the command finishes like this:

Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

It’s an oft overlooked aspect of the tradition and commands on giving in the Old Testament – that it is centered on, built around, a celebration, an act of community solidarity: a party. Continue reading

Lent Studies – The Lion’s World

Tuesday evenings during Lent we’ll be having a series of studies based around Rowan William’s “The Lion’s World”, a set of reflections on Christian themes in the Narnia stories. Everyone is welcome! You can get a paper copy of (extracts from) the book from Chris, or download them here. Each week we’ll watch a short video by Rowan Williams, then discuss the book and a related Bible passage.

Down from the mountain

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Exodus 34:29-35 | Luke 9:28-36
There’s something about mountaintops. Of course, in the Biblical narrative there are a number of key moments that happen on a mountain – Moses receiving the law, Abraham and his will he/won’t he sacrifice of Isaac. Elijah encountering God’s still small voice. And in Jesus’ life goes to the hills to pray, for the transfiguration, that we read of today, and eventually, to die.

There’s something about mountains. And it’s not just in the Christian faith. People of different faiths or of no faith at all will speak of the sense of wonder, of grandeur, of the beyond, that they experience looking out over the broad sweep of creation from the heights of the mountain top. Even those who would not name the experience as spiritual recognise it: it is for good reason that Psalm 121 – “I lift my eyes up to the mountains, where does my help come from” – rings true even for those who would not find the faith to continue “My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”.

Something about mountains. The phrase has even entered the language – a mountaintop experience. I typed “mountaintop experience” into google, and the first thirty or forty results were dominated by holiday companies – four-wheel drive adventures, for the most part – promising this sort of off the beaten track, out of the ordinary, away from the rat race, trip of a lifetime.

The phrase mountaintop experience has come to represent something that is usually short, unrepeatable, impossible to hold onto, but which stays with you for the rest of your life. An experience which has a meaning far beyond itself, that takes you out of the humdrum of day-to-day life and gives you a glimpse of the transcendent.

An experience that something deep inside of us, something we might not be able to give word to, cries out for. And that cry, whether we know it or not, is a cry for a connection with God. Continue reading

Wet family fun: Cowan – Jerusalem Bay, Saturday 16th February, 2013

Jerusalem BayIt’s a new record!  Fifteen Cartophiles undertook the lovely walk down the Great North Walk from Cowan Station to Jerusalem Bay, despite threatening rain.  In fairness, only 14 of them walked — Kit’s grandson William travelled on his grandfather’s back the whole way.

Staunch Cartophiles James, Sue and Kit were joined by the even more staunch Tertius and Rachel, who drove up from Canberra to join in.  New Cartophile David joined us after finding the Cartophiles on the web, and added a real touch of tone by arriving in his 1964 Daimler saloon.  The crowd filled out with Kit & Sue’s daughter Penny, their son Gareth and daughter-in-law Julie and their grandchildren Ethan, Angelina, Zoe, Nicolah and William.  Also on her first Cartophiles jaunt was Virginia, who was immediately seized upon as a new friend by the little girls.

Under threatening skies we gathered in the station car park.  Most of the crew set off at about 10.45 while Kit waited behind for Gareth, Julie, Zoe & William to arrive from buying last minute raincoats.  The delay proved significant when the storm finally hit: the large group were at the lunch point with no shelter while Kit, with the rain shelter in his pack, was caught on the move.  Fortunately Virginia had an umbrella, so not all comfort was lost.

An umbrella could not keep off the leeches and we spent much time explaining that they’re unpleasant but harmless.  By the end of the walk picking leeches off was so routine that even the little girls were sanguine when confronted with a new bloodsucker.

It was a lovely day despite the conditions, as we all agreed at the debrief meeting in the Railway Hotel in Hornsby.  We’re less sure about the publican’s view of the replete leech Tertius left behind on the carpet …

The next Cartophiles day walk is Meadowbank to Cabarita on Saturday 16th March, 2013.  For more information see 2013 Walk 3 (Parramatta River Circuit 1) flyer.

Young at Heart

A new social group for everyone, but especially for the more mature members of the St. John’s Community! Kick off meeting is at the Manse on Saturday February 23rd, 7:30pm, for coffee and desert. Talk to Cecile or Mary for more information! [Update – at the launch meeting we agreed to the name “Saturday Nighters”!]

In strange places

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Jeremiah 1:4-10 | Luke 4:21-30

The story so far… John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus have been born, a few months apart, and after a childhood about which we know next to nothing, they have reached adulthood, most likely around the age of thirty. Then, in the wilderness, the word of God came to John, and he began to preach repentance in the style of an old time prophet. Something about John’s message caught the public imagination – he was the son of a Priest, so perhaps it was in his blood – and people flocked to hear him, and to be baptised in the river Jordon.
And amongst them went John’s unknown cousin, Jesus. With the rest he was baptised, and then, probably unlike most of the rest, he went walkabout. He went out into the wilderness, where John had encountered God, perhaps looking for the same inspiration.

Perhaps while Jesus was in the wilderness, John’s forthright and uncompromising preaching landed him in trouble. Herod, the king, was a frequent target of John’s criticisms, and when he decided to marry Herodias, his brother’s wife, John spoke out against him, and ended up in prison for his trouble.

And then Jesus returned from the wilderness, to Galilee, and started to teach. Word went around that John’s cousin had taken up the mantle. But unlike John, Jesus didn’t ask the people to come out to the river – he went to them. He went to the synagogues and spoke, and everyone praised him.

And finally he has come back to his home town, to Nazareth, and read from the prophet Isaiah, and made his famous declaration – ‘today these words have been fulfilled in your hearing’. Continue reading