John – 16 April 2017

On Friday, Jesus was crucified and buried in a sealed tomb. But on Sunday morning, there was good news that quickly spread – “He has risen!” The gloom and grief of Friday and Saturday turned to rejoicing and celebration.

Good Friday services are very different from Easter Sunday services. There is always a sombre note to Good Friday as we remember Jesus’ crucifixion, even though we know what happened next. Easter Sunday bursts with joy as we celebrate the triumph of life over death.

We rejoice because we have hope through Jesus. The Anglican Primate, Rev Dr Philip Freier, alludes to this in his Easter message this year. He points out that a great cloud of darkness covered the earth at the time of Jesus’ death and that dark clouds still threaten in various places today. But, he says, “Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Day, and changed everything. His resurrection was the proof of his definitive victory over sin and death. For Christians, hope can never again be utterly distinguished. Easter speaks throughout the ages to the condition of human despair. Christian faith shows us the way in which we can share in Jesus’ victory over all that pushes us to despair.”

We also rejoice because of the new life in Jesus. In his recent Easter message, Neville Callam, the General Secretary of the Baptist World Alliance, said: “The one who was crucified and then laid in a borrowed tomb was not only the creator and giver of life, but is life itself. The One who self-identifies as ‘the way, the truth and the life,’ breathes the fresh air of new life into our old life, leading us to experience new birth. The Lord who is ‘the life’ speaks life into our deaths and brings the breath of newness where old ways and old imprisonments could continue to cramp or immobilize travelers on life’s journey… At Easter, we celebrate the gift of eternal life that is made possible through the death and resurrection of God’s Son! Hallelujah!”

Many Easter customs, such as those involving eggs and rabbits, point symbolically to this new life in Christ. So does baptism.

As Paul tells us in Romans 6:14: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

That’s why it’s such a delight and joy to have the baptism of Lydia Williams in our 10.30am service on this Easter Sunday. Her baptism is not only a testimony to her faith, but a proclamation of Jesus’ death and resurrection and new life in him.

“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 119:24)

John Morrison

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John – 9 April 2017

It’s Palm Sunday and Lent is almost over. Next weekend it’s Easter. Are you ready? We often think of Lent as a time of preparation for Easter. Are you prepared? I don’t mean have you finalised your travel plans for the weekend, or your menus or your shopping for Easter eggs. I’m thinking more in terms of spiritual preparation. Are you prepared to celebrate God’s great act of redemption through the death and resurrection of Jesus and to affirm again your commitment to the Saviour? Are you all set to do that in unfractured connection with others, living out the new life?

Our sermons and reflections during Lent this year had a somewhat different focus than usual. Instead of concentrating mainly on the events of Jesus’ fateful journey to Jerusalem, we have considered a range of practices to enhance the life we have in Jesus. One church member told me his approach to Lent was not to give up something but to add something. Our aim this Lent has been exactly along those lines – to encourage the addition of some tried and true spiritual practices that can revitalise not just our observance of Lent but the whole of our lives and our life together. We hope you have found it helpful in an ongoing way.

We covered 10 practices identified as significant through research by Diana Butler Bass and reported in “Christianity for the Rest of Us”. In the book’s Epilogue, she describes the final church visit of her 3 year research study. It was the start of Lent, and the bulletin contained the following note.

“Lent is the season that invites us to ponder those things that keep us feeling separate from God. Inwardly, we may suffer from fear and guilt; outwardly we may remain silent in the face of injustice against our neighbors. The Lenten journey of six weeks gives us time to take these things to God, trusting in God’s wide mercy. At Trinity this year, we are focusing on spiritual practices that bring us closer to God, our neighbours, and our deepest selves.” (p. 280)

The preacher explained that Lent is not about being sad or doing some sort of spiritual penance, but is about change – the change that God can make in our selves, our faith communities, and the larger world. She talked about Lent being a time that opens our hearts to transformation, to becoming God’s people and doing what God calls us to do. This resonated with Bass, who felt it summed up her research and wrote: “Christianity for the rest of us is the promise of transformation – that by God’s mercy, we can be different, our congregations can be different, and our world can be different.” (p.281)

Today, as we celebrate Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, we do so knowing that that is where Jesus met his death. But it was also where death was miraculously transformed into life, opening the way for our transformation. Things are different because of Jesus. Hosanna! Blessed is the Son of David. Blessed is the King who came in the name of the LORD!

John Morrison

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John – 2 April 2017

Today we conclude the ten-week series of messages on spiritual practices for renewal. Diana Butler Bass calls them “signposts for renewal” in her book “Christianity for the Rest of us”. Ten practices that characterised the vital, healthy churches that she researched – discernment, hospitality, contemplation, healing, testimony, diversity, justice, worship, beauty and reflection.

In an appendix on her research methodology and findings, she says: “The congregations studied have found new vitality (viability, spiritual depth, renewed identity and mission, and, often, numerical growth) through an intentional and reflective engagement with Christian tradition as embodied in the practices of faith, with the goal of knowing God…

 These congregations emphasize contemplation in action, faith in daily life, finding God in all things, the reign of God in the here and now, and creating better communities; by joining spirituality to social concerns, they are constructing a theological alternative to both conservative evangelicalism and classic Protestant liberalism.” (p. 305)

The churches she writes about remind me very much of Canberra Baptist in many ways, even though none of them were Baptist.

Pilgrimage is a unifying metaphor used throughout her book, and one used by many of the people and churches she interviewed. In several places she contrasts being a pilgrim with being a tourist. “Unlike being a tourist, we embark on a pilgrimage, not to escape life, but to embrace it more deeply, to be transformed wholly as a person with new ways of being in community and new hopes for the world. Being a tourist means experiencing something new; being a pilgrim means becoming someone new. Pilgrimages go somewhere – to a transformed life”. (p. 216)

Psalm 84:5 (NIV) says: “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage”.

We explored this theme a couple of Thursday nights ago in one of Kristine’s Introduction to Spirituality sessions. We concluded that while going on an actual pilgrimage walk might be insightful, we can all embark on a spiritual pilgrimage and live out a pilgrim mindset even while settled in one geographic place for a long time, as many at our church have been.

Transformation is a related theme that Bass often addresses, as in the previous quote. There are in fact three lengthy additional chapters on transforming lives, transforming congregations and transforming the world. They testify to the positive transformations that can result at all three levels through engaging in these ten spiritual practices.

May positive transformations be the ongoing commitment and experience of us all. After all, transformation lies at the heart of Easter and the Gospel.

John Morrison

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Belinda – 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

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John – 19 March

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.

John

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Belinda – 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!

Belinda

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John – 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!

John

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