Belinda – 21 May 2017

It is good to be back! It is good to be back among friends. It is good to be worshipping again with all of you. And it is good to be working with you, especially during this exciting time as we are thinking and praying about who we are as a church and what God is calling us to be and do.

I am facing the dilemma of all returned travellers, however: how to relate the amazing things we saw and experienced without boring you all senseless. So, I have decided, each week when I am writing in the bulletin, to share one short story from each section of our itinerary. (So rather than boring you all at once I can do it slowly!)

We started in London and after loading our Oyster cards and finding our accommodation, we headed for Westminster. The plan was to walk from there up to Trafalgar Square, across to Buckingham Palace and back – staying in the open air the whole way – to deal with any jet lag.

We were expecting to encounter a strong police presence in London as we had arrived just one week after the Westminster Bridge attack where British man, Khalid Masood, drove his car deliberately into pedestrians on the south side of the bridge and Bridge Street, injuring more than 50 people, four of them fatally, before leaving his vehicle to fatally stab a police man.

And there were police everywhere; officers carrying serious military hardware and the streets blocked by armoured personnel carriers.

But the streets were also full of people, a large proportion of whom were wearing Islamic dress. We discovered, as unwitting tourists, that we had arrived in time for a silent vigil by police and children and faith groups, one week after the attack, under the banner “love for all, hatred for none.” It was a moving moment and a reminder that there are many many people – of all faiths and none, of all walks of life – who, as the prophet Jeremiah says, seek the welfare of their city, praying and working for good.

The comments of one man there, Brenden O’Connor, had an echo of Martin Luther King Jr’s statement that light drives out darkness. “There’s love here,” the 59-year-old said, surveying the people holding hands and walking together across the bridge. “You can’t kill love with hate. Love always conquers.”

As we continue to pray and work and love – in our community here and through agencies such as Baptist World Aid in communities in Bangladesh – let us radiate that light and love to others.

Grace and peace,

Belinda Groves

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John – 14 May 2017

Today is a special day. We could say that about every Sunday, of course, because we have the opportunity to gather together and unite in praising and worshiping God. But this Sunday is extra special.

For a start, It’s Mother’s Day – a dedicated day to remember mothers and to thank and bless those who are still with us. When I went on-line to work out whether it is Mother’s Day or Mothers’ Day, I learnt that the original campaigner for the day, Anna Jarvis, explicitly wanted the apostrophe to go before the “s”. She wanted the singular possessive, and for each family to personally honour their mother, not the plural possessive commemorating all mothers of the world. Nonetheless, have a happy day, especially all mothers.

Today we also welcome back Belinda, Aron, Grace and Zac after their travels in Europe. Miriam returns in 2 weeks after some further touring. They no doubt have plenty of stories (and photos?) to share with us, and we look forward to those and to reconnecting.

Today is also special, as are all Sundays in May, because of the focus on cross-cultural mission. May Mission Month is promoted by Global Interaction, our Australian Baptist mission agency, and is celebrated by Baptist churches throughout the nation.

GIA’s mission is: “empowering communities to develop their own distinctive ways of following Jesus”. GIA says: “Our mission flows from the radical commitment to God’s mission to fulfil his redemptive purposes for his creation. God calls his people to be participants and it is the church’s privilege and responsibility to live out God’s love for the world.”

On it’s website, GIA has a laudable theology of mission statement which is worth reflecting on. The main points are that mission:

* flows from the heart of God;
* is centred in Christ;
* is directed and empowered by the Spirit;
* is by people to people;
* is contextual and corporate; and
* involves all areas of life.

One further thing that is special about today is having Bonny and Avo Resu and their friends Nibu and Apheu Nagi with us. Welcome! Bonny is the General Secretary of the Asia Pacific Baptist Fellowship and will bring a very appropriate mission emphasis to this 2nd Sunday of May Mission Month.

The ABPF is a regional organisation of the Baptist World Alliance and represents over 33,000 local churches in 21 countries with over 5 million baptised members across the Asia Pacific region. Its next congress, held every 5 years, is in September in Indonesia. The theme, based on Acts 1:8, is “Never-ending Good News”.

We celebrate that Good News today – yet another reason why gathering together today is special. Welcome to worship on this special day.

John Morrison

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John – 7 May 2017

At this time of year, I quite often have flashbacks.  It’s not related to the change of season, but to the beginning of May. Having grown up in a Baptist Church, May for me has been associated with “May Mission Month” for as long as I can remember.  The flashbacks involve memories of pot-luck fellowship teas, missionary deputationists from around the world and fundraising for Australian Baptist Missionary Society (now Global Interaction.)

Another flashback is: “Good morning Mr. Phelps. Your mission, should you decide to accept it, is to…”  The connection between these words and May is the theme of mission.  The words always introduced the TV show “Mission Impossible”, one of my favourites growing up.  It originally screened from the mid 60’s to the early 70’s and was revived for a couple of new series in 1988.  There have been several movie spin-offs since then for a new generation.

At the beginning of the shows I watched as a youth, Jim Phelps, played by Peter Graves, would listen to a taped message which would outline his mission.  Five seconds later the reel-to-reel tape (that’s how long ago it was!) would self-destruct in flames.  Jim would then gather together a team of other undercover agents to tackle the covert mission.

As disciples of Jesus, we too have been given a mission, though it’s hardly a covert one.  Jesus gave it in person to his original disciples following his resurrection and before his ascension, and it has been passed on to all disciples since.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” (Mt. 28:19,20a)

The mission Jim Phelps would receive would never be easy.  It always involved risk and danger.  There would inevitably be difficulties on the way no matter how careful the planning.  So it is with our mission.  He would always undertake the mission with a team of other dedicated people, and that is how we are to undertake ours.

Each taped message would say: “should you decide to accept it”.  Of course, Jim always did.  There’s a good example for us to follow when it comes to our God-given mission.

There’s a big difference when we undertake our mission however.  The taped messages would tell Jim: “As always, should you or any member of your IM Force be caught or killed, the secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.”  In contrast, we are told: “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt. 28:20b)

With Jim and the other agents, their gifts, planning and commitment would always lead to the eventual success of the mission.  Those elements are also vital for us, but ultimately the success of our mission is assured because Christ is with us and it is his mission.  That’s why our mission is not “Mission Impossible”.

John Morrison

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John – 30 April 2017

What a privilege was theirs! As they retraced their steps back to Emmaus after their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for Passover, Jesus joined them and journeyed with them. As they walked together, he taught them and their hearts burned within them. As they ate together, he revealed his identity to them and they rushed back to Jerusalem to tell their friends the joyous news.

Their experience of the risen Christ was unique. Nevertheless, we too are privileged in related ways. Jesus joins us on the road and journeys with us. Jesus teaches us. And as we enjoy fellowship with Jesus, we come to understand more about him. The difference for us is that Jesus relates to us through his Spirit rather than bodily.

The metaphors of pilgrimage and journey are familiar ones for us. They are very Biblical. For centuries prior to Jesus, Jewish pilgrims would sing pilgrimage songs on their way to Jerusalem. Psalms 120-134 comprise a collection of such songs known as the Psalms of Ascent. I particularly like Psalm 128:1-2.

“Blessed is everyone who fears the LORD, who walks in his ways! You shall eat the fruit of the labour of your hands; you shall be happy, and it shall go well with you.”

A more recent song that expresses similar ideas is “Trust and Obey” (hymn 548), especially verse 1 and the chorus.

In her book “Christianity for the Rest of Us”, Diana Butler Bass refers to M. Night Shyamalan’s film “The Village” in which a group of people escapes the contemporary world’s chaos by constructing an alternative community completely separated from the rest of society. It is protected by strict and unvarying rules and customs based on the model of a 19th Century pioneer town. In a moment of crisis, the town elders realise they must send someone out of the village in order to save what they most value. They choose a blind girl, so that she might not see and be contaminated by the world. Her journey is terrifying, but she eventually discovers that love, salvation and redemption lay only outside the walls and in risking the unknown.

Bass writes: “What if the story is not just the journey of a single blind girl?… What if the whole village went on a journey to see? On my journey, I travelled with those who are more comfortable in the wilderness, people who are willing to explore the new terrain around them. Yet they did not travel alone. I found that in the breakdown of old villages, Christians are forming a different sort of village in congregations around the country. Not spiritual gated communities or protected rural villages. Rather, their new kind of village is a pilgrim community embarked on a journey of rediscovering Christianity, where people can forge new faith ties in a frightening and fragmented world. For those I met, change was not always easy, and their churches were not perfect. But they embodied courage, creativity, and imagination. And risk.”

Blessings on your journey, pilgrims. Remember the risen Lord walks with you.

John Morrison

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John – 23 April 2017

Early this week I texted Belinda. Before she left I said I wouldn’t disturb her holiday by contacting her. She indicated, however, that she wanted me to let her know if anyone died. So I told her about Ian’s passing and she replied expressing sadness at the news.

She also mentioned that they had just visited Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  “Just beautiful!” she said. This amazing church, begun in 1882, is now 70% complete and is expected to be finished by around 2030.

Although I haven’t been there, I’ve visited many other grand cathedrals and basilicas in Europe. I must admit to mixed feelings about them. On one hand, I find them fascinating and awe-inspiring, especially the history and architecture. On the other hand, however, the expense and grandeur, bordering at times on ostentation, makes me uneasy. Couldn’t simpler and less costly buildings have sufficed making more funds available for the real mission of the church? Yet the beauty and magnificence of such buildings can lift our thoughts and spirits towards the Divine. And when we spend so much on other public buildings and on our own houses, doesn’t God also deserve worship centres that are a tribute to God’s magnificence and our commitment? As you can see, mixed feelings.

I had similar reactions at the recent Versailles exhibition. Versailles was such an incredible vision and project and yet it entailed the extravagance and decadence that eventually contributed to the fall of the monarchy. I have wondered at times whether such a fate could befall the institutional church. The difference of course is that the church, in essence, is spiritual and part of God’s plan, despite its human imperfections.

My sermon today includes a quick description of the Jewish Tabernacle, which was superseded by Solomon’s Temple and then Zerubbabel’s post-exilic Temple, which was extensively renovated and expanded from around 20AD by Herod and his successors. The Holy of Holies was God’s designated dwelling place. With the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple in 70AD, Jews were forced to re-vision worship without their centralised sacrificial system. Christian worship had already diverged remarkably with believers meeting together in homes. Their number grew rapidly, even without dedicated church buildings.

Easter reminds us of Jesus’ declaration “Destroy this Temple and in three days I will raise it up” referring to his own body. (John 2:19-21) In Scripture, the term church refers to Christians, not buildings, and is described as the body of Christ. God dwells not in a building, but within God’s people through the Spirit. So wherever we worship, and in whatever sort of building, we worship the risen Lord Jesus who is God with us through the Spirit. Welcome to worship

John Morrison

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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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