Archives for March 2017

Belinda Groves – 27 March 2017

Well, this is my last Sunday for the next six weeks. We have been dreaming of this holiday (probably since the kids were born), but making real plans to travel this year (after Miriam finished college) since 2012. And now it has finally come! The kids and I fly out Tuesday and Aron joins us in Edinburgh on the 8th April.

As we are about to become tourists I re-read with interest Diana Butler Bass’s comments on tourists versus pilgrims in the conclusion of Christianity for the Rest of Us this week.

Being a tourist, she says, as we all know, is wonderful! Every year she looks forward to her family holiday at the beach. The purpose of this time is to withdraw to gain new perspectives on normal life, and to be strengthened and rested to return to normal life. The purpose is not to connect with the place they visit.

For the people who move through life, and through churches, seeking self-discovery and meaning, however, being a spiritual tourist is not so helpful. They need to connect with a community that faithfully practice being Christians. They need to move from being tourists to pilgrims. “Being a tourist,” Bass says, “means experiencing something new, but being a pilgrim means becoming some-one new. Pilgrimages go somewhere – to a transformed life”

Since January we have been looking at ten spiritual practices that Bass identified in the churches she studied, churches where new things appeared to be happening and where people were growing deeper and experiencing a new sense of identity by intentionally engaging with discernment, hospitality, healing, contemplation, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, beauty and theological reflection. Practices that make us pilgrims.

But there are also churches heavily populated by another category of traveller. People who come, perhaps, because they always have, who participate in the life of the church as consumers rather than as contributors. To give them a label (and I cast no aspersions because I have taken this kind of holiday myself!) they could be spiritual cruise goers; those who allow others to drive the boat, provide the entertainment and do the cooking!

And we all need to cruise at some points in our life, but to grow, spiritual practices must be practiced! We must set aside time for seeking God in discernment and contemplation and theological reflection. We must risk being vulnerable in offering hospitality, praying for healing, working for justice, wrestling with diversity and meeting God in worship. And we must celebrate the work of God in beauty and testimony!

We are going on holiday. The word comes, as you know, from the Old English hāligdæg (hālig ‘holy’ + dæg ‘day’) and originally referred to special religious days. We go intending to be holy tourists, to simply be refreshed and strengthened for our return, and on that return, we look forward to re-joining the pilgrimage that this church, this group of holy pilgrims that we love, is engaging on together with God.

Belinda Groves

John Morrison – 19 March 2017

Welcome to worship at CBC this morning. You are joining with scores of others in what must surely be the most fundamental and significant activity of any church – the worship of Almighty God.

In “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. Diana Butler Bass deals with ten “signposts of renewal” that were evident in the healthy and growing churches she researched. Worship stands out from the list as unique. All sorts of secular organisations could and often do engage in them all… except worship.

When I began pastoring my first church in 1982, I was quite daunted by the responsibility of leading worship. One of the books I found helpful was a short, down-to-earth one by Anne Ortlund titled “Up with Worship – How to Quit Playing Church”, published that year. This passage is one I’ve never forgotten.

“So the people all come together in rows in the church, and they face forward. So what?

Well, it’s the same physical set up as a stage play, and everybody knows about those. You plunk down in a seat. …At H hour the lights go up; the actors start performing, a prompter offstage whispers cues – and the spectators lean back and evaluate how they do.

But church? No. No. No. No. No. No. No!

Church is unique. Whether the people in the congregation ever discover it or not, they are the actors. The upfront people are the prompters, whispering cues as needed – and God is the audience, looking on to see how they do.

Many poor churches don’t even know who’s supposed to be doing it! What lousy, lousy plays they put on! The actors sit around lethargically while the prompters practically exhaust themselves trying to do all their lines for them so the play will still give a lively appearance. It doesn’t.”

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had used a similar analogy back in the 19th Century.

While I have found this analogy very useful over the years, I must admit to ongoing unease about likening worship to a performance. Authentic worship is much more intrinsic than that. Another shortcoming of the analogy is considering God as the audience. While this is true in one sense, it gives the impression that we are inviting God to come and watch our performance. In fact, God graciously invites us into his presence. Scripture sometimes describes that as approaching the throne of the Almighty, Holy King, which emphasises the humility and reverence that ought to characterise our worship. At other times, the analogy is joining in a feast at the Lord’s table. Either way, there is the amazing privilege of interaction and relationship with God.

The subtitle Bass gives her chapter on worship is “Experiencing God”. She talks about worship being an experience of God rather than just a reflection about God.

May you truly experience God in worship here this morning.


Belinda Groves – 12 March 2017

Dear Friends

If you have been following our current sermon series in the book, Christianity for the Rest of Us, you will know today’s chapter, Justice, contains the story of Rev Lillian Daniel, a pastor from Connecticut who was arrested at a protest in support of health care workers. She didn’t mind being arrested, she says, but did have, “a moment of self-indulgent bitterness…that the church of Jesus could produce so many ministers willing to fall on the swords over issues of sexuality, but unwilling to notice the demonic gap between the rich and the poor.” Her secondary concern was that she had not told the church where she was and it took some time to bail her out of jail!

There has been a running joke that John might go to similar lengths this week to have such a story to tell. Though, if he is not standing in front of you as you read this, be assured he promised to leave his sermon notes behind – just in case!

Getting arrested for a sermon illustration might be going to extremes, but I have appreciated the opportunities we have had as a church, during this series, to engage actively with each of the topics.

We started with Discernment on the day we were signing up for small groups and thinking consciously about how the Holy Spirit might be given more room in our lives to guide us and grow us!

Then we moved onto Hospitality and – along with the delicious biscuits that the kids cooked for us – there have been many opportunities, to welcome new people to our church and to invite each other deeper into our lives.

Next was Contemplation and John led us, that day, in a contemplative service! We followed that with Healing; thinking about healing in every area of our lives – and how our Community Centre might be a way of meeting physical, social, psychological and spiritual needs. Then it was Testimony and we heard testimonies from members of our church. And last week I preached on Diversity, continuing a conversation about how we as a church welcome people of different ages, races, socio-economic backgrounds and sexual identities.

Today we are seeking to let Justice flow and I have one suggestion (I’m sure you can think of others!)

Many in our church are concerned about off-shore detention and last Sunday, Kelli Hughes outlined a simple – but powerful – way of protesting. It involves:

1. Calling politicians directly (Mr Turnbull 6277 7700, Mr Joyce 6277 7520, Mr Dutton 6277 7860, Mr Shorten 6277 4022, Ms Plibersek 6277 4404, Mr Neumann 6277 4755) and speaking briefly (for probably 2 minutes) to a staffer.

2. Telling them your name and electorate and asking if you can speak to the politician (who is rarely available).
3. Then, asking if your concerns (i.e. that as offshore detention centres close the detainees be treated with respect and found safe and appropriate places to live) can be conveyed to them.

May justice flow like a creek that never runs dry at Canberra Baptist Church!


John Morrison -5 March 2017

Dear Friends

One of the popular spots in the under- cover meal shed at camp last weekend was the jigsaw table. One complicated 500-piece jigsaw was completed on the first night and a number of others were put together over the course of the weekend.

The first couple were colourful montages of different animals, birds and plants. As well as being quite beautiful pictures, they depicted the amazing diversity of the natural world. They reminded me of the awesome creativity of God who, in the beginning, “made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind” (Genesis 1:24) and “plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it.” (Genesis 1:12)

As I worked with others on the first puzzle, our diversity also struck me. The amazing creativity of God again! There were obvious differences in such characteristics as age, gender and personality, but more subtle variations as well. I noticed, for example, different methods – some tended to take a piece and try to find where it fitted; others would go looking for the next piece to add into their section; some focused on colour or pattern; some worked on shape.

As we all cooperated together, the picture took shape. At the end, however, there were three pieces missing. A diligent search under and around the table located them and with relief and celebration, the puzzle was completed.

It reminded me of an experience several years ago in my previous church. I had been preaching a series on the church as a body and, as an illustration, had distributed pieces of my favourite puzzle to people with instructions to bring them to our next gathering when we would assemble the picture.

Unfortunately, some didn’t attend or left their pieces behind, and the puzzle wasn’t complete. Not quite the illustration I had intended, but a powerful one nonetheless. I still grieve that there are pieces out there somewhere that are no longer part of the picture.

In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul has a masterful treatment of the importance of diversity and unity. He emphasises not only the variety of spiritual gifts, services and activities but their necessity. “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor. 12:8) So, like pieces of the jigsaw, we all have a place in the body and an important part to play. Diversity is not an unfortunate aspect to be minimised, but one to be fostered and celebrated. After all, it is the idea and method of the creative Creator.

As a member of one of the exemplary churches Diana Butler Bass researched told her: “It’s not just a matter of tolerating differences or accepting differences; it’s appreciating differences for the richness that they bring to our community”.

Vive la difference!