Poem by Carol Penner – 25 March 2018

Coming to a City Near You 

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, 
the city nearest you.
Jesus comes to the gate,
to the synagogue,
to houses prepared for wedding parties,
to the pools where people wait to be healed,
to the temple where lambs are sold, to gardens, beautiful in the moonlight.
He comes to the governor’s palace. 

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, 
the city nearest you,
to new subdivisions and trailer parks,
to penthouses and basement apartments,
to the factory, the hospital and the cinema multiplex,
to the outlet centre and to churches,
with the same old same old message,
unchanged from the beginning of time. 

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, 
the city nearest you
with his Good News and…
Hope erupts! Joy springs forth!
The very stones cry out,
“Hosanna in the highest,
blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
The crowds jostle and push,
they can’t get close enough!
People running alongside flinging down their coats before him!
Jesus, the parade marshal,
waving, smiling.
The paparazzi elbow for room,
looking for that perfect picture for the headline,
“The Man Who Would Be King”. 

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, 
the city nearest you
and gets the red-carpet treatment.
Children waving real palm branches from the florist,
silk palm branches from Big W or Target,
palms of green construction paper.
Hosannas ringing in churches, chapels, cathedrals,
in monasteries, basilicas 
and tent-meetings.
King Jesus, honoured in a thousand hymns
in Canada, Cameroon, Calcutta and Canberra.
We LOVE this great big powerful capital
K King Jesus
coming in glory and splendour 
and majesty
and awe and power and might. 

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, 
the city nearest you.
Kingly, he takes a towel and washes feet.
With majesty, he serves bread and wine.
With honour, he prays all night.
With power, he puts on chains.
Jesus, King of all creation,
appears in state
in the eyes of the prisoner, 
the AIDS orphan, the crack addict,
asking for one cup of cold water,
one coat shared with someone who has none,
one heart, yours,
and a second mile. 

Jesus comes to Jerusalem, 
the city nearest you.
Can you see him? 

Nathan Lattimore – 18 March 2018

Dear Friends

To live is to grow. In fact, many dictionary definitions of ‘life’ mention the capacity for growth as a central characteristic; along with activity, reproduction, etc. It is striking, how well this principle also applies to our spiritual lives. Jesus Himself compares the spiritual life to that of a vine (John 15:1-7), and Scripture further urges believers to grow up in Christ, progressing from spiritual ‘milk’ to ‘solid food’ (Hebrews 5:12-14) – in context, this ‘meat’ refers to behavioural transformation; living the Gospel, instead of just ‘knowing’ it. These are just two of many passages on a similar theme.

The Gospel is not, as one friend of mine put it, simply a passport and fire insurance; the Gospel is a message of life that applies every moment of every day. As Jesus said, He came that we may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10). That is a promise that is for right now – and it is this very promise that we begin to live out, as we engage with spiritual and personal growth.

Growth can be an incredibly frustrating process for everyone though, can’t it. I remember a period of 18 months early on in my ministry, serving under the most intense mentor I have ever had. A highly strategic thinker, this mentor saw rhyme and reason behind every comment, every thought, every idea. Nothing was worth doing unless there was a very specific reason for it, which fit into a broader strategy or goal. “Why?” was his favourite retort to any new idea. Working with him was simultaneously frustrating and inspiring. The incredible part, for me, was that especially towards the end of our time in ministry together, he placed a lot of trust in me to take charge of what he had been overseeing. In other words, this hard task-master saw me arrive at a point at which in his eyes, I was capable of maintaining and growing the ministries he had led. It was a painful 18 months, to get there. Many of my assumptions about life, ministry and God were laid to rest, and replaced with new, foreign, but more effective concepts. That process was incredibly painful, and very draining. Still, this period is one I look back on now with incredible fond- ness. My mentor loved me, and he loved seeing me glow – even if it took a bit of fire and heat for me to do so.

To what extent are you engaged in the process of your own growth? In what ways has spiritual growth manifested in your life of late? In your behaviour? In your knowledge? In a deepening and enlivening of your relationships? Are you experiencing any of these signs of growth, or has it been a while since you really thought about what could be? Whether personal growth to you is an old friend, or a bit of a stranger, the good news is that God Himself is with us all – in fact, He is leading the process of our growth, every single day (Philippians 1:6).

Nathan

 

Belinda Groves – 11 March 2018

Dear Friends

At camp, as part of our evening worship service, we ate pretzels! Pretzels are associated with Lent and we used them to engage in a Lenten exercise, of eating slowly and deliberately, thinking about the taste and the texture as we ate, because the season of Lent is not just a time of fasting and giving things up, but it is also an invitation to slow down and go more deeply into our thoughts, feelings, relationship – with God and others.  

There are other exercises which help us – to go more deeply into our thoughts and feelings and relationships – during Lent. Perhaps we could have a ‘slow conversation’ with a friend – a time when you talk slowly and thoughtfully to each other; listen very intentionally and enjoy silences. Perhaps you breathe slowly as you reflect or pray. Perhaps you could deliberately move slowly (I don’t suggest trying this in the car!) when you find yourself in a rush. Perhaps Lent is a time to think – slowly and carefully. 

I got curious this week, however, about why pretzels are a Lenten symbol. It has a little to do with pretzels not containing dairy and eggs – foods traditionally avoided during Lent – and, in the material I read before camp, I was told that ‘pretzel’ means ‘little arms’, and that pretzels were created by monks to resemble arms folded in prayer. 

It turns out, however, that the real story is more complicated. That explanation comes from a legend that in 610 AD an Italian monk invented pretzel as a reward to children who learnt their prayers and called them ‘pretiola‘ (or ‘little rewards’) But almost all the pretzel origin stories – whether they came from French monasteries or traditional Greek communion ‘ring bread’ – associate them with Christian tradition. 

The meaning ‘little arms’ isn’t Italian, but it might come from the German name ‘brezel’ from the Latin ‘bracellus’ (a medieval term for bracelet) or ‘bracchiola’ which means ‘little arms’. 

And the shape of the pretzel has another religious meaning as well. The three holes within the pretzel represent the three persons of the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

In fact, pretzels have been associated with both Lent and Easter. So much so that they were once hidden on Easter morning just as eggs are hidden today. 

All of this has made me think a lot more about pretzels, but also encouraged me to find my own practices to reflect on Lent and on my relationship with God during this season. 

Belinda

Nathan Lattimore – 4 March 2018

Dear Friends

Retreat – “… the news about him spread all the more, so that crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” – Luke 5:15-16.

Talking about rest is often like speaking another language, in the world that we live in. As people, the workplace, and even work itself, become more and more accessible through technology, the expectations to always be ‘switched on’ seem only to grow. We check our emails, arrange appointments, delegate tasks, not only while we’re “at work” now, but even from our bed, as our eyes beg to finally shut at the end of what has already been a long day. It is becoming more and more common to just be perpetually tired.

For those of us living and functioning in such a society, there is good news; very good news, in fact… we were never supposed to live this way! Isn’t that liberating? Doesn’t that explain so much about the difficulty we have? To fight the human (and divine!) need to rest is literally to drive ourselves further and further into the grave – not just physically, but also socially, emotionally, mentally – and especially spiritually.

Resting takes effort, though, doesn’t it – what a paradox. Even Jesus fought very hard for His rest. There is no question about His compassion for people. It’s not that He didn’t want to help 100% of the time; it’s that He couldn’t. Jesus couldn’t. The fact that Jesus slept on a tiny boat in the middle of a heavy storm (Matthew 8:23-37) is one indication, of many, of how much He needed rest of every kind.

Today, much of Canberra Baptist Church is away resting; taking a moment out of our year to catch our breath, at our yearly church family camp at Lake Tabourie. ‘Retreating,’ as many call this practice of taking time out, is an incredibly wise and spiritual discipline that flies in the face of the world I described above. In my experience, it is often while ‘retreating’ that God is able to finally get through to us.

God, it is said, worked six days and rested on the seventh. In other words, it wasn’t enough for God just to work. He worked for a reason; so He could enjoy everything He had done on that seventh day. It parallels to the work of Christ Himself; “For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” – Hebrews 12:2.

It is not enough to go through life and just work. Perhaps you have been working hard lately; and maybe even for those you love dearly. Perhaps you have felt duty-bound to force your eyes to remain open, just thirty seconds longer… perhaps you have felt the pressure of assignments, and readings, and tasks, heaping up on you like a backpack full of stones. God’s message to you is not to work harder; but exactly the opposite… “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” – Matthew 11:28.

Nathan

Belinda Groves – 11 February 2018

The arrival of a new minister – even if it is only for a short time and as an interim – is always a joyful and exciting occasion. Today we are celebrating the arrival of Nathan Lattimore to serve as interim minister here at Canberra Baptist until the end of the year and his wife, Kaya.

Nathan comes to us from Hobart Baptist Church where he was the Youth and Young Adults Pastor. He started off as a volunteer ‘intern’ there, while completing his Bachelor of Ministry, and Hobart is also the church where he grew up.

Moving to Canberra for this year is an opportunity for him to stretch his wings, ‘to experience life on the mainland’ as he put it, to continue ministering to youth and young adults, but also to expand his range of ministry skills, and to further develop his recognised preaching skills.

While she is here, Kaya, will continue to work on her double degree, and they will be living in the manse for the year.

The office is now a team of four; myself (Ministry Team Leader), Nathan Lattimore (Interim Minister), Rebecca Hilton (Office Manager) and Tryphena Watson (Community Development Worker). However, Baptists believe that the ministry of the church is shared by all its members. While Nathan, Rebecca, Tryphena and I have specific roles within the church, we are set alongside the whole of the church in ministry: every member has a role in our common life of following Christ, creating inclusive and caring community, and sharing God’s love and justice in our words and actions.

This morning we also want to acknowledge those who are teaching Sunday School this term (and throughout the year), those who lead small groups and other activities and our new Pastoral Care Group (Merilyn Carey, Paul Falconer, Gary Hilton, Roz Namgyal and Nathan and myself).

This morning’s service – as we pray and acknowledge those who enhance our community life – is an opportunity for all of us to reflect on how we welcome new people and work to make this community more inclusive and more caring.

John Morrison – 19 November 2017

This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. A significant commemorative project called the Luthergarten is nearing completion in Wittenberg, where Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church. This involves the planting of 500 trees in three connected locations.

The main site has trees #1-292. In the centre is a Luther Rose pattern, representing Luther’s faith and theology. Seven paths symbolically lead out to the world. The trees have been sponsored and planted by churches and denominations from all over the world, including the Roman Catholic Church (tree #1).

Our history as Baptists is intertwined with that of the Reformation and early Anabaptist groups. It’s a fascinating story with some unexpected twists and ongoing implications for today. Thorwald will be sharing aspects of that story this afternoon at a special afternoon tea linked to the 500th Anniversary.

Following on from Belinda’s comments on prayer last week, I want to say a bit about Luther and prayer in this one.

A famous quote attributed to Luther is: “I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.” While it is uncertain that he actually said that, there is no doubt that he was an extraordinary man of prayer. Veit Dietrich, one of his friends, wrote: “There is not a day on which he does not devote at least three hours, the very ones most suitable for studying, to prayer. Once I was fortunate to overhear his prayer. Good God, what faith in his words!”

But that is not to say that Luther found praying easy. Like most of us, he often found it hard work. In a letter to his friend Melancthon, he said: “I sit like a fool and hardened in leisure, pray little, do not sigh for the church of God, yet burn in a big fire for my untamed body. In short, I should be ardent in spirit, but I am ardent in the flesh, in lust, in laziness, leisure, and sleepiness… Already eight days have passed in which I have written nothing, in which I have not prayed or studied.”

Nonetheless, he has provided much helpful instruction on prayer including a very long letter to his barber, Peter Beskendorf, entitled “A Simple Way to Pray”. Here Luther recommends using the Lord’s Prayer as a model and prayer prompted by meditation on Scripture, especially the Psalms.

Here is part of a prayer he wrote for the morning. “I thank you, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things… Amen.”

John Morrison – 5 November 2017

This week has been a momentous one with several significant events, including some unusual synchronicities.

On 2 November there were commemorations to mark the 75th anniversary of the re-occupation of the village of Kokoda by the allied forces. Local Papuans along the track courageously assisted them as carriers and scouts, helping to get supplies to the frontline and stretchering the sick and wounded. The Australians affectionately called them “fuzzy wuzzy angels” and held them in high esteem.

Our focus has also been on PNG this week for another reason. The Manus Detention Centre finally closed, 18 months after the PNG Supreme Court ruled it unconstitutional, illegal and a breach of human rights. At the time of writing, the 600 men are fearfully refusing to leave the centre even though supplies and services have been cut off. As well as the unconscionable treatment of detainees, the Australian Government has repeatedly treated the PNG government and people, especially Manusians, in an appalling manner. Acting like an overbearing colonial power, it has bullied, coerced and blamed PNG, souring previous goodwill.

Our 10-night prayer vigil in the church ended on Tuesday night, the day of the closure, but with an acknowledgement that we need to keep praying. Coincidentally, that was Halloween (“All Hallow Even”), the eve of All Saints’ Day. Hence the banner we erected next to our church sign.

The 31 October was also the 500th anniversary of the event that is credited with kick-starting the Reformation – Martin Luther nailing his “95 Theses” to the door of Wittenburg Castle Church. Of particular focus was the issue of “indulgences” whereby the abolition or reduction of penance for sins could be purchased. Luther, and the Reformation generally, emphasised salvation by grace through faith rather than works.

Luther translated the Bible from Latin into German to make it more accessible to the general population.

Based on their reading of the Bible, various Anabaptist groups (“re-baptisers”) in Switzerland, France, Holland and other parts of Europe believed that reformers like Luther didn’t go far enough. They rejected the institutional state-based Church, establishing intentional covenant communities comprising people who were baptised as believers.

That brings us to today and Miriam Downey’s baptism and welcome into membership. In being baptised, she is outwardly expressing her faith in Jesus, and in becoming a member she is committing herself to the body of believers here at Canberra Baptist. We celebrate and rejoice with her.

John

Belinda Groves – 29 October 2017

Well, it’s hard to evaluate last Sunday’s Longest Morning Tea Table. There were some there from our Community Centre and friends, but there were not as many as we had hoped. So, in a way, it was a failed experiment, and yet it was still a very wonderful morning!

It was good to have the time to sit and talk to people and to have several such conversations. I met some newcomers and saw many old friends catching up. It was lovely to see the older folk sitting and chatting while the younger ones tossed a frisbee under the pine trees. So, after some discussion on Monday amongst the pastoral team, we have decided to put last Sunday in the category of highly successful failed experiments!

If we were to do something like it again we might want to consider a different time or format, or more advertising, but perhaps the most powerful form of social media is always the personal invitation!

One of our results from the National Church Life Survey was that 75% of us agreed that Canberra Baptist is always ready to try something new, and perhaps we can take heart from the evidence of that last weekend too.

In my welcome last Sunday I quoted from Kathleen Norris’s book Amazing Grace where she describes a dream she once had of heaven: “I once had a dream of being seated at a long banquet table, so long that I could not see the end of it. I am a dedicated bread baker, and I recall noticing that the quality of the bread was excellent. I was also pleased to recognise some of the people in the crowd. Emily Dickinson seated next to St Therese of Lisieux, Soren Kierkegaard seated across from them. I longed to hear the conversation. My grandparents were there, my aunts and uncles, my mother and father. Family, friends and strangers. A whole raft of Dalai Lamas, including the current one, his immediate predecessors, and also several infant Lamas-to-be. There was much lovely conversation, but it all sounded like song and was profoundly joyful… I woke with a sense of wonder at the grace of it all.”

That was my hope for last Sunday; that we would experience something of heaven, of a table so long we cannot see the end of it, of a gathering of people, all different, but engaged in lively conversation that sounds like song. But it is not just my hope for last Sunday, but my hope for every Sunday at Canberra Baptist Church, for every week of ministry and every gathering, for our future as a place where justice and faith and hospitality thrive, where people sit and serve at a table extending to eternity.

But that requires us to take risks, to experiment, to be open to others, to love. Norris says her favourite definition of heaven came from a friend, a Benedictine sister, who when her mother was dying, tried to reassure her, saying, “In heaven, everyone we love is there.” And her mother had responded, “No, in heaven, I will love everyone who’s there.” Amen to that!

John Morrison – 22 October 2017

One of the activities Kristine and I were looking forward to during our recent UK trip was the Mary Jones walk.

In 1800, 15-year-old Mary Jones walked 42kms barefoot across the Welsh mountains to buy a Welsh Bible after saving for 6 years. She purchased it from Rev Thomas Charles, an influential preacher and pastor, who shared her story and the need for affordable Bibles for ordinary people in their own language.

This was part of the inspiration for the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society (now just called the Bible Society) in 1804 by Rev Charles and others, including William Wilberforce.

The walk is from Llanfihangel-y-Pennant, Mary’s remote home village, to Bala where there is now an excellent museum (“Mary Jones World”!) in a former church.

We attempted to do it over 2 days, but failed, due to a combination of relentless mud, rough terrain and getting lost. We have a newfound appreciation of Mary’s dedication and tenacity.

After hiking with full packs from 9am to 6pm on the second day, we were still considerably short of our destination. So we made our way to a nearby town where we asked an elderly local resident about the next bus to Bala. We had a 2 hour wait — except that the man cheerfully offered to drive us. “We’re all Christians”, he said. On the way he shared that he had been ordained in a lay Catholic order.

At the end, he refused payment. Instead, he suggested that we repay him by helping someone else with a similar kind deed sometime. We were touched by what we would call his hospitality. We said yes, of course. Beyond our agreement to indirectly repay him is our obligation as Christians to continually respond to God’s hospitality to us with hospitality to others.

We often think of hospitality as involving the sharing of premises and food but it is much more than that. Dictionary.com defines it as “the quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” It involves generosity of time and spirit whatever the location or occasion.

We have countless opportunities, big and small, to be hospitable. Today’s longest morning tea table is one such opportunity. As invited guests join us, our welcome, attention, sharing and conversation is what hospitality is all about. And we will also be the recipients of hospitality as they engage and share with us.

One of the draft church goals resulting from the review process so far is “inclusive community.” In elaborating on that, people have used such expressions as demonstrating Jesus’ hospitality, reaching out, embracing newcomers, open and accepts diversity of views.

On behalf of us all, welcome.

Belinda Groves – 15 October 2017

I am not entirely sure where the idea for next Sunday’s Longest Morning Tea Table came from. Perhaps – like a good morning tea with plates of scones and biscuits and slices and savouries – it was a combination of various things.

It was many months ago that I was driving down Limestone Avenue past the Church of Christ and saw on their noticeboard (there’s always some gold on their noticeboard), “Rather than building higher fences, let’s build longer tables.” The phrase could refer to several areas of our lives: To our refugee policy where all our energy seems directed towards deterrents rather than compassion and creative – life giving – solutions. To the promises at the time of the incoming US president! And to our sometimes Pharisaical approach as Christians to sharing the gospel.

How could we move, I wondered, to a place of graceful presence; where we could show real hospitality to others, and where we could share confidently the treasures of our faith because our listeners would know that we would listen to them with equal respect? In other words, how could we continue building real and deep friendships with others?

Then sometime after that drive down Limestone someone told me about a stay they’d had in a small country town, and how the local church had been hosting a morning tea to which everyone and anyone was invited.

And so I started thinking about the possibilities for us and, in the process, looking online for mentions of long tables and morning teas, and I discovered that it is ‘a thing’!

In some parts of the world it is simply about breaking records, but in others – including South Australia – long table events raise money for medical research. In Devon, in the UK, they hold a longest table in memory of a local restaurateur who had an enduring belief that sharing food and wine with family and friends – and new friends – is what makes life worthwhile. In the US, many cities hold longest table dinners to raise funds for community organisations or to build community. As the coordinators of The Longest Table Dayton, Ohio, write, their table was “packed with strangers who wanted to break bread with their neighbours and meet someone new…to re-think their assumptions about others….”

As we prepare for our Longest Morning Tea Table, can I ask you to bring a plate to share, but far more importantly, can I ask you to come wanting to break bread, wanting to share yourself and in so doing, find new companions.

Belinda