Archives for September 2017

Belinda Groves – 24 September 2017

One of the places I turn to for insight and devotional reflection is the website of Suzanne Guthrie, an American Episcopal priest, and she had this to say about this story in Matthew 20:1-16.

I love this hopeful story, although I understand the complaint of the workers bearing the burden of the day in the scorching heat. On the one hand, I can feel resentful of God’s generosity from the point of view of my long and difficult service to the church (I am like the older brother of the prodigal son.) But because my love is always wanting, and because I feel like a perpetual beginner in faith, and because I’ve messed up so many times, the wages of grace collected by those hired at the setting of the sun is good news indeed.

And Suzanne goes on to describe a funeral she did for a man called Peter.

“Peter was a low-down, goddamn, selfish son-of-a-bitch,” I said from the pulpit. The congregation sucked all the air out the church. Then, slowly, a titter. Then an out-breath of relief. Then laughter. I was telling the truth.

“Peter had said, ‘You’ll get me into that church over my dead body!’ Well, [here we are.] Thus began the funeral homily for Peter.

 …When I first met Peter, he was smashing a low brick wall in front of the cottage he shared with his wife Sheila. “Oh, he knocks it down and then he builds it up. It’s how he deals with his anger,” said Sheila.

Peter and Sheila had AIDS.  One of the times we thought he was dying, Peter rallied enough to chase away the priest Sheila had summoned. But I often came to sit with him, although I knew enough not to pray with him… 

Peter and Sheila fought often. But Sheila counted out his pills, never-mind that Peter often stole and abused them behind her back. He was a drug addict, after-all. He was angry with the world. Angry that he was dying. Angry with everyone. He was a genius at anger. And swearing.

But Peter got to see heaven. One day, the space beyond the television, beyond the wall and ceiling, opened into a billowing heaven. He saw dead relatives. He saw angels. Peter described in detail to his family what he was seeing. In the next death crises, Peter allowed the priest he’d previously thrown out to hear his confession. And Peter died in peace, having seen heaven in the eleventh hour.

Some of us, who’ve worked in the vineyard of the Lord all our lives, have never seen heaven. Not once.

Sheila and I chose the parable of the workers in the vineyard for Peter’s funeral. And whenever I hear it I think of mean, goddamn, difficult, selfish, son-of-a-bitch Peter, seeing heaven at the eleventh hour.

‘Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last. – Matthew 20:16

Belinda

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Belinda Groves – 17 September 2017

Dear Friends

“Lord, teach us how to pray.”

This was the request, in Luke, that led to Jesus teaching his disciples ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ and in our preaching series we have tried to reveal some of the riches of this prayer; that God has many children, that we together belong to a holy God, that our holy and wonderful God is re-creating our world, and that we are invited to share in this creative work by feeding the hungry, making forgiveness the mark of all our relationships and avoiding behaviour not directed or inspired by love.

We have learnt a lot about prayer, and yet there is always more to learn! Perhaps some of the most significant things I have been reminded of over the last few weeks are:

If prayer is dialogue between myself and God, then, like any relationship, I must spend time on this relationship and work out how to talk about things that matter. It is good to experiment with times and places that work best for you.

Mark Barrett writes, “A friend always prayers on the seashore…Another friend has a ‘safe’ place she goes to in the woods when times are difficult…A third person I know loves to walk the city streets, finding that the combination of company and aloneness that the street provides is perfect for prayer…”

But once you have found a place, commit yourself to meeting God there regularly.

Secondly prayer is less about reciting a list of needs (though God wants us to share our needs with him) and more about listening to God, spending time in God’s presence.

Kate Compston writes, “Increasingly, prayer seems to be a waiting – and often, a goal-less waiting; it is simply an end in itself. If some resolution, insight or peace comes, it comes as a gift, not as something I have angled for. I was at a loss to explain this to anyone until I remembered that the French for ‘to wait’ is ‘attendre’. Then it became clear that waiting is giving one’s complete and undivided attention…”

The most significant thing I have learnt, however, when I have struggled with prayer is that God only asks me to be myself! That the best prayers are the ones where I have been as honest as I can about who I am and what I really need. There is a wonderful story told about a tumbler who would come to a cathedral and did not know how to pray, all he could so was tumble; so he stood on his hands with his feet in the air before the altar. Each of us prays as best we can!

The Men’s Book group read an article on prayer this week and Aron and I were very struck by the C.S. Lewis quote that headed the article, “The prayer preceding all prayers is, ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou I speak to.’” Amen.

Grace and peace from one disciple among others, still learning to pray.

Belinda

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Belinda Groves – 10 September 2017

Dear Friends

Psalm 127:1-2 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved.”

I have been reminded of that verse this week – when I’ve woken during the night – and thought, “Oh my goodness! Is this Sunday really ‘Signpost Sunday’ when we will be articulating who God is calling us to be as a church?” But I have also been reminded of the vital role of prayer – time spent intentionally in seeking God’s face and through that, God’s direction. Unless the Lord is part of the thinking and planning and discussions, those who think and plan and discuss do so in vain.

As we gather today there will be an opportunity – for those who would like to do so – to gather in the Fellowship Room and pray – from 10am to 12pm.

Then, at 12pm, we will enjoy a meal, beautifully coordinated by Kelli Hughes and prepared by many of you. And following that, Aron Downey will facilitate our discussion, as we seek to hear God in our thinking and the thinking of others, and as we articulate together who God is calling us to be as a church.

This review, as many of you know, started with the deacons who felt there was a need to increase ownership of the church’s strategy; to better know who we are and our purpose as a church; and to think in new ways to continue to make the church relevant.

The process began in earnest in June, when we began hearing stories in church from people about how this place had nurtured their faith and how it might continue to in the future. Next, Keith Blackburn and John Clark helped us understand our results in the National Church Life Survey. Following this, we invited Anne and Richard Mallaby to speak to us about deepening our spirituality as a church and we re-visited the ten signposts from Spirituality for the Rest of Us. The two most mentioned were hospitality (perhaps no surprise) and testimony (some surprise there!) as was our second emphasis; discernment/contemplation. Then Scott Higgins opened up the idea of being a graceful presence in a changing society. And last weekend Alan Marr invited us to consider mission as:

  1. The gifts of the people gathered here
  2. The picture of God/God’s love they have come to know together
  3. The context of this church.

Our Reflection Weekend, 12-13th August, was an opportunity gather together these threads of story and statistics, faith and challenge and discover where they connect in call and mission for us as a community.

And today we are seeking to put this into words! Can I urge you to come! I believe this will be a very significant moment for us as a church. But if you cannot be there, please continue to hold us up in prayer!

Grace and peace

Belinda

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Belinda Groves – 3 September 2017

Dear Friends      

From 12 September voting forms for the same sex marriage plebiscite will start arriving in our letterboxes, and we will have roughly two months before the poll closes on 7 November. This is not going to be an easy time, and I fear for how divisive and destructive it may be within Australian society and particularly within Australian churches.

How do we navigate our way when some in our churches sincerely believe that faithful and biblical living cannot include same sex marriage and others sincerely believe that it can? How are we to live and work and worship together when – as this sign from Scots College in Adelaide spells out – we hold different views?

I have been in Adelaide this week, at a retreat for the ‘city’ church pastors (e.g. Central Baptist in Sydney and Collins Street in Melbourne and Canberra Baptist!) and Simon Carey Holt, from Collins Street, and I were talking about the Scots Church sign “Not all Christians oppose marriage equality”. Many of you follow Simon and know he supports voting ‘yes’ (www.theage.com.au/comment/im-a-baptist-minister-and-ill-be-voting-yes-for-samesex-marriage-20170819-gxzzik.html) but, while we were discussing whether this sign was even-handed or not, he mentioned that although he was outspoken about his own views, he had resisted ‘badging’ the church in any way, putting up rainbow flags for example. The church, he said, must leave its doors open to anyone and everyone. Perhaps clinging to this idea of the open hospitality of God – that God welcomes all people – is the first step on the difficult path ahead of us.

The second step is to admit the sign is right. We do disagree, but we must not stop there, but have the courage to speak what is on our hearts and minds to each other, and the grace to listen. This is scary stuff! We are all afraid of rejection. All anxious not to disrupt the peace. But even if we ultimately cannot share the same view, I believe that courageous sharing and graceful listening will result in coming closer together – not being driven further apart.

What does such sharing and listening require of us, however? It requires us to recognise another truth in this sign’s message; that we are all – regardless of our different views – brothers and sisters in Christ. This is also a hard truth to embrace. It is much easier to retreat into separate camps, to deny the faith of others; but it was not said of the first Christians ‘see, how alike they are!’ but ‘see, how they love each other’!

We are called to walk the path of peace; welcoming all people, speaking our convictions with courage, and loving those who agree with us and those who don’t.

Belinda

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