St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

A weekend in the Blue Mountains, Queen’s Birthday Weekend, 10th – 12th June, 2017

 

Following the success of last year’s long weekend on the south coast, this year the Cartophiles bushwalking club will spend the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in the Blue Mountains to take on three fun, moderate-rated day walks.

If you don’t feel up to all three walks, drive up or catch the train for just one or two.  If you want to stay overnight, book your accommodation NOW!

Saturday, 10th June, Mount York Walking Trail

Right on the western edge of the Blue Mountains, this 13km walk explores the historic and natural features the first road across the Blue Mountains (Cox’s Road, 1813) and its replacement (Lawsons Long Alley Road, 1822-1823).

Meet in the car park of the New Ivanhoe Hotel, Blackheath, at 10.00 am for the 15 minute drive to the start of the walk. The walk will take about 5 hours, followed by a debrief at the New Ivanhoe. Bring your lunch, or we can try the food at the Comet Inn, Hartley Vale.

 

 

Sunday, 11th June, Grand Canyon Track

This 6.3km adventurous track has been trodden by walkers since 1907. The intimate and awesome Grand Canyon track will take us into the heart of the Blue Mountains’ World Heritage-listed landscape with great sandstone walls, ever-present waterfalls and abundant native plants.

Meet at the Evans Head lookout, Blackheath, at 10.00am.  The walk will take about 4 hours, after which we’ll take time to fossick through the Blackheath shops and galleries.  You definitely need to carry your lunch!

We’ll organise a dinner that night at one of the excellent local restaurants.

 

 

 

Monday, 12th June, Fortress Ridge Trail

This fantastic 7.4km return walk follows the Fortress Ridge out to the cliffs above the Grose Valley. The views from the lookout and along the trail are superb, with the sheer cliffs and a deep valley to put it all in perspective.

Meet in the car park of the New Ivanhoe Hotel, Blackheath, at 9.30 am for the 10 minute drive to the start of the walk.

This walk will take about 3 hours, after which we’ll drive to the Lawson Hotel for a late lunch and debrief before braving the traffic back to Sydney.

 

 

 

 

Travel and Accommodation

You’ll need to seek your own accommodation, but luckily, there are lots of accommodation choices in the Blue Mountains from B&Bs to the 3½ star old world charm of The Hotel Imperial, Mount Victoria; the 5 star luxury of Lilianfels in Katoomba or the not a lot of stars but 1930’s architecture at the New Ivanhoe Hotel, Blackheath.

What to Wear and Carry

Kit will carry a first aid kit and personal locator beacon. You will need to carry at least a litre of drinking water, your lunch, something warm to put on during stops and wet weather gear. The tracks are all well-defined and often are fire trails or roads, but you should wear boots or stout walking shoes – the Grand Canyon particularly can be very slippery.

Bring a camera to preserve the memories, some nice clothes for the non-walking times and money for the debriefs!

Click here for a copy of the 2017 Walk 4 (Blue Mountains weekend) flyer

To register for the walk, or to get more information, contact Kit Craig at cartophiles@stjohnswahroonga.org or on 0411 507 422.

The Bundian Way, Kosciuszko National Park, 14-17 April, 2016

– Patrica Daly’s Facebook post –

Something new for the Cartophiles: the Wobbly Old Blokes sub-branch.  This was inadvertently launched by Patricia Daly in her Facebook post that showed five Cartophiles wading across the Snowy River at the start of out walk along stage 2 of The Bundian Way.

The Wobbly Old Blokes are Pierre, Ray, Kit and two new Cartophiles, Grant and Bill.  In addition to their many walked kilometres, Bill is a senior member of the SES based in Jindabyne and Grant was a farmer and RFS Captain in the Monaro for many years before he retired to Merimbula.

The Bundian Way is a 365km shared history pathway that follows an ancient Aboriginal walking route from the high country around Kosciuszko to the Eden coast at Fisheries Beach.  The pathway is at least 10,000 thousand years old; far older than the Silk Road or any of the great pilgrimages.

Stage 1 is  from Dead Horse Gap to the junction of the Pinch River and the Snowy; Bill, Grant and Ray walked it in spring last year, but I was in hospital and missed out.  Pierre has previously ridden it on his mountain bike.  Stage 2 is from the Pinch River junction to the town of Delegate, but we chose to end our walk on top of Mt Tingaringy rather than walk through miles of farmland.  We knew the 48km would be a tough enough challenge.

The walk was all along fire trails, which was a little disappointing.  However, this section is not without challenges.  It’s along ridge tops in a rain shadow area, so there’s no water along the way.  To cover the first couple of days we were all carrying 5-6 litres of water, which made our packs very heavy.  Ray had gone out a couple of weeks earlier in his Landrover and left two water drops, one at about 32km and one at about 42km.  We were going to need them for replenishment.  It’s also, as we were to experience, very steep.

We gathered in Jindabyne and, after coffee in the CBD Café, drove south for about an hour to our start point on the Snowy River.  This is wild, uncompromising country, too steep for extensive grazing and too remote for timber.  It was a daunting prospect even to drive through it.

– Our start point is in the bottom of the valley –

Wading across the Snowy wasn’t as cold as I’d expected, although the current was strong enough to make me concentrate.  We spent some time cleaning all the sand off our feet on the other bank before heading off along the fire trail.  We started with flat, easy walking, but we were soon climbing the first of what would prove to be many, many hills for the day.  The top of the first big climb was a saddle where Sheepstation Creek rises.  It’s pretty obvious that the old pathway climbs the creek line, and we promised to come back one day and follow that route.

Then we climbed again.  And climbed.  And climbed.  On many sections the gradient was much more than 10%, described by one cycling site as, “A painful gradient, especially if maintained for any length of time.”

After 4-5km (and climbing 300-400 vertical metres) we stopped for a rest and some photographs down to our start point.  I’d dropped my pack and gone forward 50m or so to get a photo when a bay brumby stallion strode up onto the track in front of me. Sadly, I didn’t have the presence of mind to get a photo as it shied away and cantered off into the bush again.

– Sandy Creek Hut, L-R Ray, Grant, Kit –

The rest of the day was spent descending from one knoll before climbing the next, higher, knoll.  In the early afternoon we stopped to explore Sandy Creek Hut, built in the 1950’s by the Walker family for brumby running.  There is no water tank at the hut and the creek was dry.  We left the hut, and climbed.

We made camp on top the hill at the intersection of the Sandy Creek and Byadbo Trails.  In total we’d covered 16km and climbed a net 1000m vertically.  With the descents we probably actually climbed about 1,500m, making the day a category 3-4 walk.  We were pooped.

Dinner, a fire, quiet conversation, a spectacular sunset before the darkness of the Byadbo wilderness.  Ray shared his whisky around the group while we looked at the amazing display of stars unpolluted by artificial light.  We were in bed by 8.00.  My Fitbit tells me I slept for just over 9 hours that night!

The next morning was misty.  The first water drop was 16km away and, prompted by how hard the first day had been, we wanted to reach it and push on further so the last day wouldn’t be too long.

– Sunset over our first campsite –

The first part of the walk was a long descent  ̶  a lot of yesterday’s gains were quickly walked away.  By 9.30 the mist had burned away and the scenery was fantastic.  All the while we could see Mt Tingaringy looming in the distance, easily identifiable by its large cliff face. Today we would walk in a long curve, heading east initially before swinging southeast towards the Victorian border.

It was another day of steep climbs and steep descents.  We saw several kangaroos along the track, but sadly there was much more evidence of feral infestation.  There was lots of brumby sign, especially where the stallions mark their territory with piles of dung.  Occasionally we’d see wild dog scats, and several times we walked past rabbit warren middens.  At one stage I dropped behind the group to adjust my pack, and had to wait while a family of wild pigs ran across the road in front of me.

We made the water drop by lunch time and between the five of us emptied the 20 litre collapsible water container Ray had left there.  We were lucky the weather wasn’t warmer, or water could have been a real problem.  In his book On Track, John Blay, Bundian Way Project Officer with Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council, describes walking this route in about 2005.  After finding his water drop chewed open and drained by wildlife he wrote, “This is serious … my sips have been getting sparser as the afternoon draws on.  Even so, I don’t have enough moisture to urinate … It’s more than a day’s walk to the next place where I know I’ll find water.”

We pushed on and made camp at the intersection of the Link and Tingaringy Trails, about 22km for the day.  We were happy with that given the steepness of the country and the extra weight of carrying our water.  Pierre and Bill were there well ahead of the rest of us; about a kilometre from camp I hit the wall and had to stop for a rest.  Ray and Grant generously stopped with me while I recovered.

Another fire, another gloriously starry night, more companionship, except with Bill’s whisky this time.

– Mt Tingaringy –

The third morning was foggy again, but once again the sun burned it off by about 9.30 to give a clear views from our ridge top trail.  The walking was much easier today and we made good time.  The forest was wetter and more open, with beautifully twisted mountain gums.  Grant told me that they’re also known as monkey gum, because they’re a favourite food of koalas.

We were now walking almost due south towards the Victorian border and Mt Tingaringy.  We had about six kilometres to get to the next water drop at the junction of the Karachi and Tingaringy Trails.

There were a few short, steep hills, but nothing like the monsters we had confronted on day one.  We passed a track going down to the old Merambego  homestead, then climbed a steep hill to top of the ridgeline and the track junction at about 11.00am.  We’d arrived but … no water!

Ray admitted that, when he dropped the water, it was getting dark and he was in a bit of a rush.  He was also worried because he’d had a flat tyre and couldn’t afford another.  We all searched, but the water container was not to be found.  Now we were in a dilemma.

Bill and I each had about three litres of water left, but the other three were almost dry.  Our support crew, Ray’s wife Patricia, Grant’s wife Mandy and Pierre’s wife Clare, would get to us in around five hours.  We could wait at the junction for them, or climb to the top of Mt Tingaringy, a walk of about 5km that climbs about 450m, or we could walk out along the relatively flat Karachi Trail.  We chose the climb.

We redistributed the water and headed uphill.

This was a long, slow climb interspersed with short, savage inclines.  The trees became more stunted the higher we went and the views opened up accordingly.  We had lunch in a clearing at the top of one particularly nasty pitch, with views northwest over the Byadbo Wilderness towards the main range.  The wild country looks much the same as it must have to those ancient native travellers who stopped here for a rest.

We kept climbing.  Ray and I stopped at the Victorian border to get photographs, confident that, as native Victorians, we didn’t need a visa to cross.

We were nearly there, but there were still surprises.  Someone had shot three wild dogs and hung then from a tree near the summit.

We reached the top of the mountain at about 2.00pm.  The sky had misted a bit, but the views were still stunning.  We could see south into the Victorian Alps, north into the Monaro, and west/northwest into the Kosciuszko National Park.  Two wedge-tailed eagles soared above us as we rested, prompting lots of jokes about making sure we moved to prove we weren’t dead.

The girls in the support crew joined us at about 3.30pm, and by then there was a cold wind blowing across the mountain top.  We decided that a night around the fire on top of Tingaringy was not as attractive as a night in the Delegate Hotel, so we jumped into the two 4WDs for the tough descent of the fire trail, often in low range.  A pretty-faced wallaby stood by the side of the track and watched us leave.

The Wobbly Old Blokes on top of Tingaringy; L-R Ray, Kit, Grant, Bill, Pierre

The Support Crew

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A shower, a beer or two in the bar and a barbecue dinner were a great reward for completing a challenging walk. This is not a walk I plan to repeat, but it has really whet my appetite to complete the Bundian Way.

Kit Craig, April, 2016

 

 

 

 

Fruit

Listen!
John 15:1-17 | Ephesians 3:14-20

Just over seven years ago, I got up into this pulpit for the first time, and preached the first of the three hundred or so sermons (give or take a few repeats) that I’ve prepared and delivered over my years here.

It was transfiguration Sunday, and I spoke from a text in 2 Corinthians: “all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another”, about the way that we are transformed by the things that we look at, the things we pay attention to, the things that we allow to occupy our minds, our time, our hearts.

It was a time when we, as a community, were experiencing a change – the departure of Arthur, the arrival of a new family in the manse, complete with two small children.

And now, seven years on, those children are rather bigger than they were; and we’ve all seen other changes as well. We’re all older, and some of us have rather less hair; some of our dearly beloved friends have died, others have moved away; and new friends have joined us.

These are the obvious changes, the physical, observable, measurable signs of time passing.

But much more important than those are the changes that God has worked in each of us, and in us together as a community: as we have looked, week by week, into the things of God; as we have worshipped and prayed and shared together in communion; as we have read the scriptures and pondered their meaning; as we have shared in meals and art and knitting and walking and countless cups of coffee (black) and glasses of wine (red); as we have been the people of God together, seeing the glory of the Lord in each other and in our community of faith and in the world around us; we have been transformed, from one degree of glory to another.

And as we have been transformed, so too we have born fruit. For through those who are in the vine that is Jesus Christ, fruit grows. It’s not always obvious, the fruit that is being produced; until you stop and reflect, and look back.

Over these past years, how many homeless or otherwise needy people have found, at the Dish, a hot meal, and far more importantly, friends to share it with?

How many children have heard the stories of the gospel in our Kids Church – and how many more in scripture classes, or Christmas kMotion?
How many members of our community, in their time of need, have received a welcome visit, an appreciated phone call, a casserole left on the front step?

How many have found an outlet for their creativity and a chance to talk in the art group?

How many mornings have been brightened up by gathering for coffee and chat?

How many people have deepened their love of God’s creation walking and sharing the experience with one another?

How many families have joined together to explore their faith in Messy Church, or the Growing Place?

How many have found support in the early years of parenting through Playjays?

How many tins of food and packets of pasta have found their way through us to Exodus, and been used in support of the great work that they do?

How much have the children of Vanuatu, and before that, East Timor, benefited from education that we have supported?

How many of us have been carried through tough times; times of sickness, bereavement, of struggle, by others in this place?

“Those who abide in me,” Jesus said, “bear much fruit”. And all those different fruits have the same root, the same vine: that we abide in Jesus’ love, and in doing so, love one another.

For that is the origin of all these varied missions and services and gifts that we give to one another and the world; the love of God in which we live and move; the love of Jesus in which we abide; the community of love that we have for one another.

Over the past years – as over the years since people first gathered to worship God in this place – generations have learned what it means to be God’s people, to abide in and share the love of God, and in doing so, much fruit has been born.

And now once again we come to a time of change. For us, the Goringe family, a move to Roseville and a new Church community; for St. John’s a time of discernment, leading to the call of a new minister to walk the next stage of the journey. An opportunity for each of us to bear more fruit; perhaps more of the same, perhaps something new, most likely a bit of both. But most certainly bearing fruit; for as Jesus said, he chose us, and he has appointed us to that end – to go and bear fruit as we abide in his love and as we love one another.

And so as I come to the end of my time as minister and preacher here at St. John’s, I wanted to finish with my favourite prayer from the Bible; the words that Paul wrote to the Church in Ephesus – one of his favourite Churches.

For all the things that he might ask for them, what he prays for is that they may be grounded in love; and that they may come to grasp just how big God’s love is, and in so grasping may be filled with the fullness of God – for to truly know God’s love is to be possessed by it. To know God’s love is to love.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Amen

From Law to Love

Sermon preached by Rob Ferguson

Now Leviticus is not one of those books that you find at the top of the best seller lists. Not one that you are likely to choose to read on the train or to curl up with in front of the fire on a cold night.

It is the third book of the Pentateuch, the five books making up the Hebrew Torah, and it was probably put into written form during the Babylonian exile about 600BC. We know that it is a book of laws but we have become so used to the idea that Jesus made the law redundant that we tend to overlook it. And it’s all too easy for us to take a somewhat supercilious attitude to the Law and say that’s all Old Testament stuff, we live in New Testament times. But we also do tend to forget that Jesus said that he had come not to abolish the law but to fulfil it. And what does that mean, how does he do that? He seems to be saying that the Law is important but he also seems to be giving freedom from the Law.

There are a lot of ways to interpret this but the other day an idea came to me that I found helpful.

I was trying to learn a new piece of music and I was finding it very difficult. It wasn’t written in ordinary 4/4 time or 3/4 waltz time. It was written in 3+3+2 over 8 time, and it required all my powers of concentration to play all the notes at their proper length exactly as written which was not the way I instinctively felt they should go. So it all seemed a bit mechanical and unmusical. I then watched a video of the composer playing the music and I was immediately impressed by the beauty and flow of the piece. He wasn’t looking at the score of course, it was all in his head, but it was more than that, from the way he was playing it was coming from the heart and that gave him a freedom of expression that I just couldn’t have while I was mechanically following the score.

You can see where this is all leading of course.

We all need the Law while we are on trainer wheels, we need to be taught “Thou shalt not steal”
or “always put aside some of your harvest for the hungry”, things that perhaps don’t come instinctively to our selfish self. But what Jesus was doing was living from the heart, from the constant flow of divine Love. And he was demonstrating that this inner love that flowed into him from the eternal source of love and out of him through his life, the dynamic of the Trinity, was the true source of the Law.

Whilst we are still mechanically reading the score, following the letter of the Law, being a slave to our own favourite code of ethics, that we like to think is “the will of God”, we will never know the freedom that Jesus revealed as he lived from the heart.

What I would like to draw our attention to this morning is the recurring refrain at the end of each verse: “I am the LORD”. In fact it is repeated 49 times in the book of Leviticus. The Law is inseparable from human relationships and by linking these words here is God saying I am intimately involved in human relationships.

The words “the LORD” are spelt out in capitals and whenever we see this in the Hebrew Scriptures we know that it stands for the four letters YHWH, the name of God, a word considered so sacred it is never spoken
although we have come to pronounce it Yahweh.

Do you remember when Moses asks God What is your name? And God answers “I AM who I AM…Say to the people I AM has sent you…YHWH has sent you.”

In many cultures one’s name is sacred because it is linked so intimately with one’s being and here we have God’s name and God himself shown to be one and the same.

One of the things I find significant about this is that I AM is a verb form, I AM is not a noun.
In the popular media-understanding of religion and indeed at the beginning of our own faith journey God isthought of as a noun but nouns imply borders and boundaries, limitations and definitions, all the things that God is not, whereas the verb I AM is dynamic, it has no beginning, no end, it is eternal being.

When we try to define God we are attempting the impossible. And those who argue against the existence of God are usually arguing at the noun level, arguing against what they think we believe, against the existence of some heavenly entity which they imagine to be like one of the old Graeco-Roman gods who could masquerade as a human being whenever it pleased them and interfere in our lives at will, or like Aztec gods that needed blood sacrifices to keep them onside. That is why debates with television atheists are often so unsatisfactory. We are arguing from two completely different concepts of God.

Every week we pray in the LORD’s Prayer “Hallowed be thy name”. In its original sense “hallowed” or holy means separate or different So in praying “hallowed be thy name” we are praying that we don’t fall into the trap of trying to bring our concept of God down to our limited human level of understanding, something that we do tend to slip into simply because we use language and God is beyond language. In the Lord’s prayer we are acknowledging that God is of a nature, of a category, entirely separate from our human understanding.

So we shouldn’t waste time and energy trying to argue about the existence of God. God’s existence cannot be proved, or disproved, but it can be lived out in our lives.

In Leviticus we hear God telling Moses to say to his people “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy.” Well, as his people today, we are likewise called to be holy, to be different, – not to think of ourselves as special or privileged – but to have the courage to be different, when everyone else is travelling down a comfortable path of “she’ll be right mate”.

Well, she won’t be right mate if we don’t speak out, and act, against injustices perpetrated in our name; to be a light in political darkness. Or to come closer to home, when friends gossip unkindly about another and we get caught up in the tantalising attraction to participate in that gossip we need the courage to be different, to go against the flow, to be channels of grace, to be a little light in these petty darknesses

That is the holiness that we are called to, a holiness that requires courage. A courage that the early church father made abundantly clear by placing The Feast of St Stephen on the day immediately after Christmas Day. We so often overlook that on that very day after we have enjoyed the festivities celebrating the birth of Jesus we have Boxing Day, The Feast of St Stephen, when we should be remembering, but probably don’t,
the fatal stoning of Stephen, the first recorded Christian martyr, who was killed for having the courage to speak out, just exactly as we are called to do. Those early church calendar compilers are saying loud and clear that being a Christian is not taking the easy option. It is a call to become holy, hallowed, separate, different.
And how do we do that?

Well if we look at what Paul is saying in our reading from I Corinthians we hear Paul stating that Jesus Christ is the Foundation of our faith, and that word Foundation is absolutely essential to my understanding of what it is to be a Christian. One of the earliest foundational Christian statements was “Jesus is Lord”. On one level this is displacing Caesar as Lord – and this was a threat to the Roman occupying forces – but to his fellow Jews this was shocking blasphemy. This is proclaiming that Jesus is I AM, the despised Jesus, the servant Jesus, the companion of tax cheats and asylum seekers Jesus. And Jesus himself leaves us without any doubt when he says “I and the Father are one. I am in the father and the father is in me – and here is the crunch for us – and you are in me and I am in you”

This is not supernatural magic. This is part and parcel of human possibility. This is what the incarnation is all about. Well Paul here in his letter to the Corinthians reiterates that it is not just in Jesus that God is incarnate
when he says “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you…God’s temple is holy and you are that temple”

When we as Christians become aware that we are in the Father and the Father is in us we shift our foundation from our selfish self to the lowly Risen Christ, the eternal compassionate I AM, to the place where incarnation and resurrection meet deep in the silent heart of our human being. This still sounds blasphemous to many Christians – that the incarnation can be realised in us – but it shouldn’t, because we are familiar with Paul’s words that he will labour on until Christ be formed in us. And as we sang time and again just a few weeks ago “O holy child of Bethlehem Be born in us today” As Jesus said, we must be born anew. And that is what is meant by the contemplative life that we have been talking about in our discussion on prayer.

When we become conscious of this transformation from an ego-centred foundation to a Christ-centred foundation, a one-with-all-eternity foundation, where the Christ-centre is everywhere and the boundaries are nowhere, a limitless kingdom shared by all, we see the world differently, we engage in relationships differently, we sense the environment differently, and we live out the Law, not as commandments, but from the divine depths of our heart. Amen

Shrove Friday

Everyone is warmly invited to join us at the Manse on Friday 3rd March for dessert, coffee and wine; a chance to mark the beginning of Lent, and for Chris and Sureka to say “thank you” to the St. John’s community for a wonderful seven years…

Christmas Weekend

Everyone is warmly invited to join us at 6:30pm on Christmas Eve for a family friendly, music filled service of celebration, and to our short service for Christmas Morning, at 8am.

Blue Christmas

Christmas is a time of celebration, but it can also be a time of painful memories, especially for those who have lost loved ones. You are invited to share in a more reflective service of worship for Christmas, on December 18th, at 6:30pm.

In the year that King Uzziah died

Listen!
Isaiah 6:1-8 | Luke 5:8-10
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord

The year, in our accounting, was around 740BC. The Kingdom of Israel had divided into two separate nations some two hundred years before, on the death of Solomon, and there had little peace or prosperity ever since.

But the time of King Uzziah had been somewhat stable; he reigned for over fifty years, and thanks (at least in part) to his development of military technology, the Southern Kingdom, Judah, had known a time of relative peace.

But the last few years of his life foreshadowed the chaos that was to come; confined to his home for the last ten years of his life with a skin disease, he reigned in name, while his son Jotham ruled in practice.

Still, the respect in which Uzziah was held by the people kept the peace as long as he lived.

But this was the year that he died.

Jotham would reign for another four years, but they would be years of struggle and conflict, years in which the worship of God would be forgotten, the sanctity of the Temple defiled. The Northern Kingdom had fallen to the invading Assyrian army, and there were those within Judah who would welcome the embrace of the might of the Assyrians; happy to trade their freedom for the security of a powerful force that promised to keep them safe, give them security in an uncertain world.

And the pro-Assyrian movement within Judah finally overthrew Jotham, installing his son, Ahaz, as their puppet ruler.

It was a time of upheaval, a time of change, a time of uncertainty, of nations divided, of fear.

That was the year that Isaiah saw the Lord.

The message that Isaiah was given by God to deliver to the people was depressingly familiar. The second half of Isaiah chapter six describes a people floundering and thrashing about but never finding the answer.

Keep looking, but not understanding
Keep listening, but making no sense
Their minds are dull, their eyes blind, their ears stopped
For if they looked and listened and understood,
they would turn and be healed.
But they will not do so until the cities lie waste
and the land desolate.

It’s a pretty sad but terribly realistic description of humankind, really, isn’t it. The people would refuse to see what was right before their eyes; refuse to take notice of the evidence of their ears; refuse to think about what they were doing and where their decisions might lead them.

In fear, or uncertainty, or perhaps out of resentment towards a ruling elite who had forgotten them, they would choose to hand power to a despot, despite what they had seen and heard of his past actions.

If you’ve started to suspect by now that I’m drawing some parallels between this time in history and the affairs of the past week, you aren’t imagining it. When a very large number of fundamentally decent people can choose to elect as their leader a man who openly mocked the disabled, vilified entire nations and races, repeatedly committed adultery, and boasted of and defended sexually assault, it’s hard to read Isaiah’s prophecy and not feel at least a twinge of recognition.

But please don’t hear these words as words of contempt for, or condemnation of, those who so voted. For if you read the prophecies in the early chapters of Isaiah you do not find in God’s words a contemptuous condemnation of the people of God; even those who have turned their back on God. For their leaders, for those who lead them astray, who manipulate them to secure their own privilege, wealth and power, yes. But for the nation, for the people, the words of God spoken through the prophet are words of judgement, yes, and foretellings of tragedy (tragedy that they will bring upon themselves by the disastrous choices they are making), but tinged throughout with sadness, not with anger.

And when Isaiah sees the Lord? Well, that’s telling. He doesn’t say “At last! Now you will vindicate me! Now everyone will know that I was right!”. No, Isaiah’s first reaction was to identify himself with his people, and with their sinfulness. “I am a man of unclean lips,” he says, first; and only then “and I live amongst a people of unclean lips.”. Isaiah recognises the failings of the nation; but he does not claim himself to be any better. Instead, his first reaction when he has a vision of God is to know his own failures.

Just as Simon would, hundreds of years later, when he first realised who Jesus was: “Go from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man”.

It almost seems to be a prerequisite for those who God will choose to call; that they start off by being first and foremost aware of their own shortcomings, not confident in their own power and righteousness.

So Isaiah, and Simon, begin in a recognition that they were part of the problem; that they, like everyone around them, had not lived according to the way of God; had not loved, listened, worshipped, given, forgiven, loved again.

But God called them, and sent them to be messengers.

Because while God’s words through Isaiah in the opening chapters seem so dark and depressing and all but without hope, remember this is the same book that gives us the promise of a messiah, the great words of “comfort, comfort”, the expectation that beyond the darkness of the present and the even greater darkness that is to come, there is light; there is hope; there will be new growth, spring after winter, life after death.

Isaiah chapters 6, 7 and 8 are full of woe; full of the collapse of nation and society, full of war and hardship; but then, those words we hear often in advent, in our carol services, by candlelight if we possibly can:

The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.

For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace

Anne Frank, as a young girl facing the increasing power of Hitler throughout Europe wrote in her diaries

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart”

I believe the prophet would encourage in us the same spirit; for though we all seem so often to fit Isaiah’s description of not listening, not seeing, not understanding, we are all also made in the image of God. And perhaps the greatest thing we can do is to keep those ideals to which Christ calls us: to love even when all is hate; to forgive when the world demands revenge; to be reconciled when the voices of despots on all sides call us to arms; and to have faith in God, even when everything seems so dark.

Amen

Reluctant Prophet

Listen!
Jonah 1:1-17, 3:1-10
So, Jonah. My favourite prophet.

Not, let me stress, because of the giant fish. Honestly, I so wish that bit of the story wasn’t there. Because, of course, it immediately captures the attention. Ask anyone who’s grown up in Sunday School about Jonah, and I will bet anything that the first thing they remember is that he was swallowed by a whale.

The whole Jonah/whale thing is so deeply ingrained that even on a Facebook group for ministers following the narrative lectionary (a great group, because unlike most online forums, it’s very theologically diverse; united only by the text that we are preaching on) I saw people asking “why would we spend a whole week preaching on a Jewish fairytale about whale”.

And I just want to take people by the shoulders and shake them and say “that’s not the point of Jonah! It’s not about the fish!”. The story of Jonah is really not about a strange form of aquatic transportation.

The story of Jonah is about international conflict. It’s about the attitude of the people of the one true God to foreigners who worship other gods. It’s about hope and faith and repentance and forgiveness.

But most of all, it’s about Jonah.

And that might seem obvious, I mean, it’s the book of Jonah, right? But most of the books of the prophets aren’t really about the prophet. They’re about the prophecy, about the world events, about the judgement of God, the call for justice, the rebuke to the wicked. In most of the books of prophecy the actual character of the prophet is really not very important. We don’t even know much about them. Jeremiah, maybe, we get a bit of a sense of the man behind the words, but most of them are portrayed as simply conduits for the word of God.

Not Jonah.

The book of Jonah is really about Jonah.

Because Jonah was a bit different from the other prophets of God.

Lots of God’s prophets were reluctant to do the things that God sent them to do. Hardly surprising, since for the most part their job was to tell people that they were in the wrong, that they had offended God, that they needed to change. It wasn’t a safe or comfortable job, to be God’s prophet, to speak the truth to the powerful. They were often ostracised, frequently killed, almost never recognised.

And Jonah, called to preach repentance to the people of Ninevah – the enemies of God and of Israel – might have had good reason to fear that this was not a safe assignment. To head off in the opposite direction, as Jonah did, might be considered an entirely reasonable thing to do.

But one thing Jonah wasn’t, was a coward. When the storm arose and he was faced with the consequences of his choice to flee from God, he offered himself up to be thrown overboard. He didn’t flee from the comand of God because he was afraid of what the Ninevites would do to him. His reluctance, it seems, stemmed from an entirely different concern.

For when, finally, (post-whale), Jonah preached to the Ninevites, they accept his message, they repented, and God had mercy on them.
And that was Jonah really feared.

Jonah, was the reluctant prophet, not because he feared what might happen to him, but because he knew that God would forgive, and didn’t want him to. Didn’t want this foreign city to be given another chance. Didn’t want God’s grace to extend to the enemy.

Didn’t want the sort of God that he had.

Jonah wanted to serve a God who was powerful, but tribal. He wanted to serve a God who would be for us, and against them. He wanted to serve a God whose response to atrocities committed against the people was one of anger and judgement. The sort of God who would go to war to punish anyone who threatened us, threatened our way of life. The sort of God that the stories of his history spoke of; the God of Moses, drowning the Egyptian army when they were in retreat, the God of Joshua, committing genocide against the people of Jericho.

But that wasn’t the sort of God he had. And he knew it. And he didn’t like it.

He got the God he didn’t want.

Jonah wanted a God who would play by the rules of the story he lived in: the story of tribes and nations at war with one another, in which the role of our God is to deliver us victory over our enemies. The story in which our role is to keep ourselves, our culture, our nation, from being infiltrated; to keep out those who would be different, who would worship other Gods, or worship Gods by other names; to fight against those whose way of living didn’t mesh with what we know as Godly.

But he knew – and this is really the incredible part of the story of Jonah – he knew that God was bigger than he wanted God to be.

He knew that the God he served was not just a God like all the other nations worshiped writ large; that his God was somehow bigger; not just stronger, but qualitatively more. That others worshipped tribal or national gods, but he served the one true God, the God of all nations, all tribes, all peoples.

And somehow Jonah had understood that this God he served did not look on the Ninevites as enemies – though they were – or as wicked evildoers – though they were – but as people who could be good. People who were able to hear God’s word, and to change.

And that was the last thing that Jonah wanted. He wanted a God who would make sure his people won; not one who would muddy the waters by inviting the enemy into the fold.
Which is why I so like Jonah. Because he is so much like one of us. He’s not one of those prophets who just seems to be completely in line with what God wants, totally committed to the things that God values. Jonah has this deep understanding of God, and he actually doesn’t like it. He doesn’t like that God is forgiving. He doesn’t like that his enemies; the people who have hurt him, hurt his family, hurt his nation; the people who have struck terror into his heart and into his culture, his context; he doesn’t like the fact that God cares for those people, those infidels, those pagans, those terrorists, those enemy combatants.

Jonah doesn’t want God to love Jonah’s enemies. But at the same time, he knows that God does.

Which is why I believe that Jonah is really a prophet for our times. Because we live in such a divided time. Whether it be pro or anti same sex marriage; whether it be brexit or remain; whether it be Trump or Clinton; we live in an age that seems defined by our polarities. And each one of us; at least, each of us who is a person of faith, would seek to find God on our side, fighting in our corner, agreeing with our concerns.

Abraham Lincoln is said to have said (it’s probably apocryphal, the best quotes always are) when asked if God was the side of the Union “Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side”.

And that’s a pretty good attitude. But it’s not enough.

The challenge that Jonah faced; the challenge, I believe, that we face in the modern world; was that even though God was clearly on Jonah’s side, God was also for the Ninevites. Not for them, in the sense of siding with them, hoping that they would win; but for them, recognising them as people; loving them as God’s creation; caring about what would happen to them; longing for them to repent, to change, to be reconciled to God.

And Jonah had the honesty to admit that he didn’t want that to happen. He wanted some good smiting, some destruction of the enemy.

He wanted a God who was on his side. But he served a God who cared for both sides.

I wonder if we can find what it means to serve such a God.

Amen

Brettwina

A number of people have asked if I would post the reflection from Brett and Edwina’s wedding…

We have gathered here to celebrate love; to celebrate the love in which Edwina and Brett have chosen to gives their lives to one another; the love in which, in just a few moments, they will make momentous, life changing, life shaping promises to one another.

And in doing so, they will commit themselves to walking the road that lies ahead of them together. Partners, willingly bound by the promises that they make to one another.
And so we hear once more the ancient words of the apostle: “Let love be genuine.”

The book of Romans, that our first reading was taken from, is perhaps the most complete and systematic descriptions of what it means to be a person of God. And as it draws to it’s conclusion, as it summarises the message of God, this is what it has to say:

Let love be genuine. Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. Words that any couple, whether on their wedding day or celebrating their golden wedding anniversary, might hear.

Contribute to the needs of the saints, it goes on; look out for those who are your people, your family, your friends; be the ones who step up to help when a friend is sick or struggling; don’t wait to be asked when you know someone needs a hand; be a friend, not just a Facebook friend.

And extend hospitality to strangers. Don’t limit your concern to those who are close to you. Open your eyes, your hands, your hearts, your lives, to those who are not your people, your tribe.

For this is the nature of love. It begins with those who are close; It begins with parent and child; but it grows to include those close to us, family, friends, and, most of all, the life partner we freely choose to give ourselves to. But it doesn’t end there. For the more we know love, the more we are able to love; the stronger and more secure the relationships we have with those who are closest to us, the more we are free to give, to share love, to practice hospitality, to live, as the reading goes on, in harmony; to live in peace.

For there is a sad truth we see far too often in our world today; that hate breeds hate; fear breeds fear; distrust breeds distrust; violence breeds violence. That is the way the world is.

But today we celebrate something counter cultural. In a world that values what you can get for yourself, today we celebrate what one can give to another. In a world that celebrates dominance, today we celebrate partnership. In a world that celebrates what you have, today we celebrate who you are.

For today we celebrate the love that we have because God first loved us; the love that empowers us to live not just for ourselves, but for another.

Today we celebrate love.

Amen.

Christmas Special

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On Sunday December 11th we will be holding our Christmas Special Messy Church! This will be at 10am, starting in the Hall for all sorts of Messy Church experience, moving on to our traditional unrehearsed pageant service, and finishing with a celebration lunch for the whole family.

Young or old, this is an event not to be missed! And if you feel you can help out – please let Chris, Sureka or Dayan know! We can certainly find a job for you…

Hummy Mummies

The Hummy Mummies are back! If you missed the Hummy Mummies choir last time they came to St. John’s you won’t want to make the same mistake again… December 4th, at 2pm, followed by afternoon tea. The concert will be raising funds for the Hornsby Women’s Shelter, which is just one more good reason to be there!

Tickets are $15 (or $10 concession), and can be bought from Mandy (mandyspollard@gmail.com)

Carols in the Park

Pu the date in your diary – from 6pm Saturday December 10th – Ku-ring-gai Carols in the Park will be held in Ku-ring-gai Bicentennial Park. This is a huge event, with many thousands attending, organised by Ku-ring-gai churches of all denominations. This year the performers include Andrew Chinn, the acclaimed Australian Waratah Girls Choir, a Vivid light show, The Golden Kangaroos Concert Band, a community choir, and choirs from the Bush School and Prouille.

Volunteers are needed both before and on the day – talk to Chris if you’d like to help out.