St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

“Thar She Blows!” — Kamay Botany Bay National Park Walk, Saturday 21st June, 2014

Whales, sea cliffs, sand dunes, lighthouse, historical monuments, sunshine … our last day walk had it all!  This may become one of those walks we repeat year to year, provided we can all put up with the 1½ hour drive to the start point at Kurnell.

The Cartophiles at Captain Cook's Landing. L-R: Janet, David, Gabriel, Sue, Virginia, Annie, Paul

The Cartophiles at Captain Cook’s Landing. L-R: Janet, David, Gabriel, Sue, Virginia, Annie, Paul

The travel distance and the relative obscurity of the visitors’ centre meant that gathering us all together was a challenge.  As we slowly came together the need for coffee became a problem; there was only one person on duty in the visitors’ centre to take the $7 per vehicle parking fee, answer questions and run the kiosk.  It was a very slow start for our eight Cartophiles: Annie, David, Gabriel, Kit, Janet (for her first Cartophiles experience), Paul, Sue and Virginia.

Botany Bay National Park was created in 1984, although the land around Captain Cooks Landing Place was first dedicated for public recreation in 1899. The dual name Kamay Botany Bay National Park was adopted in 2002 to affirm Aboriginal links with the land, acknowledging the significance of the area for both the local Dharawal people and European settlers. Kamay is the Dharawal name for the area.

Our visit consisted of two walks.  The Burrawang Walk is an easy 1.1km circuit that passes several historical memorials, including Captain Cook’s landing place.  We spent a lot of time reading the information plaques and trying to work out which buoy marked the place where the Endeavour was anchored.

From there we drove to the end of Solander Drive to the start of the Cape Baily walk, a moderate-rated 8km circuit to the Cape Baily lighthouse.  This started with a visit to the Cape Solander viewing platform where a team of NPWS volunteers was counting migrating whales.  The generously lent us some binoculars so that we could see the pod of five or six humpback whales just offshore.  In fact, for the remainder of the walk we could easily see individual and small groups of whales swimming north up the coast in their annual migration between their Antarctic feeding grounds and the warmer tropical waters off north-eastern Australia where they breed.

The Cartophiles on the cliff tops

The Cartophiles on the cliff tops

The weather was a delightful blend of gentle breeze and bright sunshine that was perfect for walking.  We started off with a wonderfully flat walk along the cliff tops with the sea a startling blue to our left before meeting the one steep climb up a sand dune. There was a lot of water on the sandstone so we were constantly walking around pools and puddles.

We also passed several hanging swamps including the Blue Hole swamp, which looked for all the word like an English crop circle.

We stopped for lunch just below the lighthouse so we could enjoy the view of small boats out whale watching and teams of scuba divers exploring the waters below the cliffs.  David even managed a brief snooze in the sun before we climbed the hill to look at the Cape Baily lighthouse.

This purely functional structure is an uninspiring block that does nothing to conjure up the magic of lonely lighthouse keepers.  From the hill on which it stands you can see all the way to the city of Sydney to the north and to Bundeena to the south.  In the clear air the city buildings looked like a model.

We made our way back to the car park and bought ice creams from the van there before departing separately.  For the first time in a long time we didn’t gather for the traditional Cartophiles debrief possibly because so many of us were keen to listen to the Australia-France rugby test match.

Annie near a cliff top pond

Annie near a cliff top pond

The uninspiring Cape Baily lighthouse

The uninspiring Cape Baily lighthouse

The next Cartophiles walk is the overnight hike along the Old Great Northern Road on the weekend 28/29 June.

 

 

Sydney Welsh Choir

Last Saturday afternoon the church was filled close to capacity for a marvellous afternoon of music by the Sydney Welsh Choir. A great thank you to all those who were involved in putting the day on; planning, preparing, catering, ushering, serving, and, of course, singing. As well as being a great musical event, we raised around $4000 towards the restoration and maintenance of the church buildings.

Pentecost

Listen!
Acts 2:1-21 | John 20:19-23
They gathered together, and they prayed.

Last week I ended by talking about the way that the disciples responded to Jesus leaving them; leaving them with a promise, but at the same time, leaving them alone.

They gathered together – they got all the followers of Jesus, men, women and children, together, and they prayed together.

And I have to wonder – just what it was that they prayed? Were they praying for Jesus to return? For at the ascension they had heard the words: “he will come back in the same way that you saw him leave”. Or were they praying for a new leader? Or for wisdom, or courage?

Perhaps, inspired by the vision of Jesus’ departure, they were reminded of the promise Elijah made to Elisha, before he was taken into heaven in a very similar way: that the one who saw the prophet depart would receive a double portion of his power.

Most likely, I would guess, they didn’t know what to pray. Perhaps they fell back on the prayers Jesus had taught them, or the psalms, or other prayers they had grown up with in the synagogue.

I think it’s probably a fairly safe bet that they weren’t praying for what happened next. But it’s also a pretty safe bet that whenever God does something worldchanging it takes God’s people as much by surprise as it takes everyone else.

But what they weren’t doing, was – well, anything else. Because if they had only learned one thing in three years with Jesus it was this:

They weren’t going to achieve anything without him.

Experience with Jesus had shown them that when they were with him, anything was possible. The blind could see and the lame walk, those held captive by evil could be free, the thief, the terrorist, the collaborator, the prostitute – all could change, all could find a new way of life, a new purpose, a new sense of who they were. With Jesus they could face down opposition, deal with criticism, speak the truth to weak and powerful alike. With Jesus, they knew they were a force to be reckoned with.

But without him? Without him they were a rabble; confused, cowardly, jealous, competitive; about as dysfunctional as any group of people picked more or at random and thrown together. They wanted to do the work of God, the work of the Kingdom, but it just didn’t work.

It just didn’t work without God.

And Jesus had made them a promise. It’s a promise we remember every time we light the Christ candle in Church; the promise that he would be with them, even to the end of the age. That whenever they gathered in his name, he would be there. That his people would never walk in darkness, never walk alone.

And when Jesus had been taken from them, at the crucifiction, those words must have rung in their memories like a mockery of all their hopes and dreams, all their expectations of a king and a kingdom.

And then he had come back, returned to them – and then left again. And if anything, that second departure must have been even more confusing than the first. For him to be taken from them made sense – devestating sense, for sure – but for him to choose to leave? To have their hopes and expectations dashed once more, just as hope had been rekindled?

But he had left them with a command – wait in Jerusalem – and a promise – you will receive power. And they clung onto these words, through the fear and confusion that surely gripped them.

And now, at Pentecost, the time had come for Jesus’ promise to be kept.

Perhaps, with hindsight, they might have seen that there was a difficulty with the promises he’d made them. To always be with them, whenever they gathered together. And not just with them, but with all those who came to believe through them.
And they were to be his witnesses; not just in Jerusalem, but in Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

How could one man; even Jesus; keep these promises? If the good news of his Kingdom was to spread, to be preached in every corner of the world; if small groups of believers were going to spring up in villages and towns and cities across the Roman world and beyond, and gather together in his name and for the work of his Kingdom; if they were to meet in Synagogues and city squares and private houses and by the sides of rivers; how would he be with them? How would he keep his promise?

Pentecost was the answer to that riddle.

The power, the presence of God; the power, the presence of Jesus; would be with them all. Everywhere. All the time.
And not just in the sense that God was always everywhere. For of course part of the Jewish and Christian – understanding of the Spirit of God was that there was nowhere in all creation that God was absent. The psalmist wrote:

Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,

But alongside this sense of the everywhereness of God, there was also an understanding of God’s special presence in some places – the burning bush, the holy of holies – and with some people – the prophets, the judges. And it is this understanding of God’s presence that Joel took and expanded in his prophecy, and Peter claimed as the meaning of Pentecost:

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh”

The Old testament prophecy – that a day would come when the special presence of God would not be restricted to a chosen few, but given as a gift to all God’s people, young and old, slave and free, male and female – and Jesus’ promise that he would be with his people always, even to the end of the age, come together in the mystery of Pentecost.

I’ve never met a world leader – a Prime Minister, or a President, or a King or Queen. To be honest, I’ve never really wanted to. But a King who promised to be personally there for every one of his citizens would be doomed to rule over a very small kingdom.

A faith which gathered around a single candle would be a very small faith.

The great miracle, the mystery of Pentecost is that just as we can light this candle today, and celebrate Jesus’ presence with us, so the same flame burns in St. Ives, in Woolongong, in Perth, in Denpasar, in Port Vila, in Jaipur, in Bucharest, in London, in Buenos Aires, in Toronto, in Bejing, in Yokohama, in Pretoria.

Just as Jesus promised, just as Joel prophecied; pentecost took the kingdom of God – the presence of Christ – global.

Amen

Uniting Artists

Are you an artist, or interested in art? Olive McCredie is putting together “Uniting Artists”, groups of interested people (not just artists) across the Uniting Church to raise funds for the churches’ ministries such as UnitingWorld and the Exodus Foundation.

There’ll be a meeting for those who are interested at 7:30pm on Thursday June 12th and Olive and John’s home. Talk to Olive to find out more!

Ascended

Listen!
Acts 1:6-14 | John 17:1-11
If you’re ever going to murder someone – and let me just make it absolutely clear that I am not recommending this course of action – but if you ever did, one of the problems that you would have to deal with is what to do with the body.

In a strange way, the life of Jesus has the same problem. After the death and resurrection, what happens next? Jesus has appeared, multiple times, to his friends, in ways that stress the real, physical nature of the resurrection – eating, drinking, touching and being touched – this was no ghost, no mirage, no trick of the eye – and yet at the same time, hint at there being something different – entering the room when the doors were locked, appearing incognito on the road to Emmaus, and then vanishing from site – in the resurrection Jesus is portrayed as real and physical, and yet somehow more than that; more real than reality; somehow merging the physical and spiritual lives.

And for a highly symbolic period of forty day, Jesus, in this resurrection body, has met with his friends, taught them, reassured them. But now the time has come for him to leave. To complete the final act of what C.S. Lewis calls the one great miracle of the Christian story:

that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him.

This is the place of the ascension in Christian theology; the completion of the miracle begun in the incarnation. At Christmas, God enters into creation; in the ascension, creation is taken up into God. The work of reconciliation, creator with creation, is done.

But that’s all very well with hindsight. It must have looked very different to the disciples at the time…

So they came together, and the disciples asked him: is it now? Are you now going to restore the Kingdom to Israel? Perhaps in those words we have a hint at the reason Jesus had to leave them. Throughout his life, throughout his teaching, people had been asking this question, making this assumption; that this Kingdom he spoke of, the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of Heaven, was an immediate, real, political reality; that as the Messiah, the Prophet, the King, Jesus had come to restore to the people the Kingdom that they had enjoyed under David and Solomon; but this time forever, as a kingdom that would never fail.

And plenty in Jesus’ teaching gave encouragement to this belief. For he did speak of the Kingdom as a present concern and eternal reality. So they were looking for the restoration of the Kingdom of Israel – perhaps they had noticed that Jesus had called twelve especially to follow him, and, seeing in this an echo of the twelve tribes, concluded that they would be the new patriarchs in the new order.

So Jesus gives them a very gentle slap down – it isn’t for you to know the times that the Father has set. Gentle, but firm; you are not as important as you think you are. This Kingdom that I have been teaching you about, all these days and months, this is not your kingdom. It belongs to the Father.

But… and what an important word that is. Jesus tells them: you are not going to get the Kingdom you are thinking of, it’s not happening now, it’s not even your place to know when – or even if – it will ever happen.

But… you will receive power, when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses. It’s not the kingdom you expected, not the power you expected, not the role you expected.

But it is a Kingdom, you will receive power, for you still have a role. In fact, your real job is just about to start.

You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem – now that’s a scary place to start. Jerusalem had just seen the rejection of Jesus, his persecution and crucifixion. The followers of Jesus still had a lot to fear in the Holy city, a lot of reasons to go elsewhere with whatever message they had to bear.

…and in all Judea… was more like it. That was home for the disciples; the towns and villages, the fishing fleets and farmers and herdsmen. All of Judea – that was the Kingdom they knew, the Kingdom David ruled. That made sense.

But, of course, Jesus hadn’t finished. For the kingdom their history taught them of, the Kingdom of David and Solomon, was a kingdom too small for the one they had followed.

…and Samaria… do not just set your eyes on your people; do not limit your witness to those who are like you. Don’t you remember when I said “love your enemy”? Were you listening to the parable of the good Samaritan? Do you remember the story of Jonah? Go to them, too. Be my witnesses there. This Kingdom is for them.

…and to the ends of the earth. And once you’ve left your comfort zone, once you’ve stepped out from the familiar territory where you know the rules, know the people, know the lay of the land; once you’ve gone beyond there, don’t stop. A Kingdom of Judea and Samaria is what Joshua was promised, but it’s too small. Too small for God.

You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth. And then he was taken up, hidden from their sight.

No wonder they just stood there, staring into the sky, mouths, I imagine, hanging open with a slightly stunned, dumb look on their faces.

What just happened? What has he just done to us? Five minutes ago we were talking about how we thought now was the time, how Jesus was alive again, with us again, ready now, at last, to claim the kingdom, to set us free, to make God’s people, once again, the glory of the world.

And then, with one sentence, he’s gone and changed everything. What we thought was the end of the story has just turned into a beginning. The kingdom we thought we were working for has expanded beyond boundaries.

And then, just to cap it all, he’s gone. We thought we’d lost him before, when he was taken from us, but this is different. This, somehow, was even more final than crucifixion. This was him, saying goodbye. Leaving.

Giving us a new job, a new role, a new calling, and then leaving.

And surely, the cry on their lips was “Come back! We aren’t ready to do this without you! We don’t know enough, we aren’t brave enough, we aren’t wise enough, there aren’t enough of us, we don’t have what it takes!”

But such cries were futile. For God has done what God so often seems to do – taken those who heard and responded to the call to follow, and thrown them in at the deep end.

So what did they do?

The exhilaration and excitement of the resurrection replaced by the let down, even abandonment of the ascension.

The expectation of the immediacy of a Kingdom restored turned into the reality of a new role, a new understanding that the work was only just beginning.

The reality sinking in that now the job was theirs, the ball was in their court – Jesus had handed on the baton and departed.

What did they do?

They went back to Jerusalem.

They found the other believers, the men and women who had been with Jesus, who knew him, followed him, loved him.

And they prayed, and waited.

If there is just one lesson from the ascension that I wish I could truly take to heart, one lesson that we in St. John’s would do well to learn; this is it:

Out of their depths, with an uncertain future, almost non-existent resources, and a task laid before them that was far, far too big, they gathered together, and they prayed.

Those are the words that set the scene for next Sunday, for Pentecost.

They are the words written over every great movement of God in history.

They gathered together, and prayed.

And then the Spirit came.

But that’s next week’s story.

Amen