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.”

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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

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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!

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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.

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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

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John Morrison – 8 October 2017

It’s good to be back with you after 7 weeks in the UK. Even though we attended many church services while we were away (3 each day during our week on Lindisfarne Island!), there was something very special about worshiping with you again at Canberra Baps last Sunday.

The very familiar words of one of the hymns resonated with new significance in view of the walks we did in Scotland, England and Wales.

We are pilgrims on a journey
    and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
    walk the mile and bear the load…
I will weep when you are weeping;
    when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
    till we’ve seen this journey through.

As I sang those words, they reminded me not just of our recent walks but also of our life-long commitments to each other. But the words were written, of course, with a much broader context in mind – our relationships with one another in the family of God. What a beautiful, and challenging, expression of those relationships.

Kristine and I witnessed an incident during our time in London which, it occurred to me, was an allegory of the opposite. On the day of the match, I managed to get two of the last of the 60,000 tickets to see Arsenal and West Bromich Albion play at Emirates Stadium. Towards the end of the game, which Arsenal won 2-0, a heated argument broke out right in front of us between two men who were both West Brom fans. It began when one man took exception to the other’s negative comments about a poor passage of play from their team. The best I could tell from their heavily-accented shouting over the top of each other, the first man went on to claim that the team would never get anywhere with their current coach and style of play while the other accused him of being a traitor (and other derogatory terms I won’t repeat here).

It seemed strange to me that they were both fanatical supporters of the same team and yet were so vehemently attacking one another. As an observer, I thought if they just listened to each other they would probably find there was much more on which they agreed than differed.

Allegorical? Unfortunately, it can be like that in churches sometimes. Equally devoted supporters with different views on some aspects can become bitter opponents if they fail to listen with grace. I hasten to add, and I’m glad to say, that it’s not an allegory of what I’ve witnessed at our church. In fact, quite the opposite.

I was disappointed to miss the Ears to Hear Reflection Weekend and Signpost Sunday due to our trip. I’ve been delighted, however, to hear very positive reports of those times of sharing and reflection. I’m impressed with the draft document that has resulted from the process so far and look forward to the refining and adoption of our goals towards the end of this year.

Remember: “Companions on the road”.

John

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Belinda Groves – 1 October 2017

Dear Friends

As I was reflecting on our reading from Matthew this week I was thinking about how sensitive and politically charged two simple words – ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ – have become. For instance, if I was to preach this morning about the son who says ‘No’, but then does the will of his father, or the son who says ‘Yes’, but doesn’t, would too much be read into it? Or if we were to read The Message version of the Lord’s Prayer which ends with “You’re ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes” would people object? And then I started to think about Matthew 5:37, “Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one…” which seems to be saying that clear and reliable communication is the mark of a Christian (and that, irrespective of how we vote, marking both boxes on the postal survey is not!)

But today’s reading is less about what we say and more about the testimony of our lives. Are we just saying ‘Yes’ to God or are we living a ‘Yes’ (and all that that might entail)? And, the gospel dares to suggest, even some who say ‘No’ to God might end up living the truth of ‘Yes’.

So, in that spirit, in the spirit of living a ‘Yes’ to God’s kingdom and the way of righteousness, can I share with you this poem by Edwina Gateley.

Called to Say Yes

We are called to say yes.
That the kingdom might break through
To renew and to transform
Our dark and groping world.

We stutter and we stammer
To the lone God who calls
And pleads a New Jerusalem
In the bloodied Sinai Straights.

We are called to say yes
That honeysuckle may twine
And twist its smelling leaves
Over the graves of nuclear arms.

We are called to say yes
That children might play
On the soil of Vietnam where the tanks
Belched blood and death.

We are called to say yes
That black may sing with white
And pledge peace and healing
For the hatred of the past.

We are called to say yes
So that nations might gather
And dance one great movement
For the joy of humankind.

We are called to say yes
So that rich and poor embrace
And become equal in their poverty
Through the silent tears that fall.

We are called to say yes
That the whisper of our God
Might be heard through our sirens
And the screams of our bombs.

We are called to say yes
To a God who still holds fast
To the vision of the Kingdom
For a trembling world of pain.

We are called to say yes
To this God who reaches out
And asks us to share
His crazy dream of love.

 

   Belinda

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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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