It's such a common word, isn’t it?
It adorns floor mats outside all sorts of entryways.
It's often on road signs as one enters a new state, or a new town.
There are places where people offer "welcome" as a greeting as you enter: "Welcome to K-Mart!" or "Good evening and welcome to our restaurant. Table for two?" or "Welcome to the greatest show on earth!"
Such conventional uses hide the loveliness of this word – “Welcome”.
In English, the word finds its roots in a compounding of the words "well" and "come," though with slightly different connotations to those we tend to use today. The root of "well" could go in two directions: it could mean something close to our current understanding of "well-ness" or "well-being," but it could be stronger than that, implying desire or pleasure."Come" finds its roots in an Old English word "comer," that is, one who arrives or, perhaps closer to the Greek, one who is received.
Thus, "welcome" can offer in its earliest sense, an invitation to come and be well, or to be well in coming.
Either way, it’s an invitation to be received into the goodness of this new place, where you’ve just arrived.
While we use the word casually and commercially, making one welcome is not as simple as offering a word, though it often starts there.
The art of making one welcome is rooted in the ancient practices of hospitality.
Preparing to welcome someone takes thought, intention and discipline.
Some practitioners of hospitality are masters of the art; they're always ready with the accoutrements of welcome: an appropriate beverage, some food, a comfortable chair and a few thoughtful and respectful questions of the "comer".
Their very presence seems to wipe away the strangeness or awkwardness of the social greeting and make the “comer” feel as if they are home. If you've ever been the recipient of such hospitality, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
If you are such a master practitioner of hospitality, please know that those of us who have received it have enjoyed it and we thank you.
So, perhaps the measure of a true welcome is the ability of the host to make the guest feel at home.
There are some places where one can go and always feel at home. It may look different. It may smell different.
It may be full of strangers, but somehow, it just feels like home, and it’s good to be there.
For Jews and Christians, such hospitality has always been a part of who we are.
The call to welcome the stranger is anchored in the ancient Jewish book, the Torah, and was a part of the measure of the Hebrew community's faithfulness to God.
When a traveller came to town, they waited by the well, and it was incumbent upon the townspeople to welcome, house and feed the visitor for the night.
Of course, these travellers were not family or even locals. These were folk unknown to the community.
They were aliens, often foreigners, people who had different foods, clothes, languages and often, gods.
But such hospitality was central to the Hebrew identity.
The risk of opening one's home didn’t deter these people, for they knew such hospitality was central to the character of their God.
The same was true in the early Christian communities. Paul, in the book of Romans, reminded them to offer hospitality to the alien, and, in the letter to the Hebrews, the people were reminded to show hospitality to all - for in so doing some of them entertained angels, though they were unaware of who they were greeting.
In Acts, the early deacons practiced hospitality throughout the community, bringing welcome to those in need.
And in Matthew's community, hospitality still measured the faithfulness of the people.
Welcoming prophets, righteous ones and disciples was a disciplined practice of the young churches.
But we know that welcoming, as a practice of hospitality, doesn't just happen.
It has to be learned and such lessons don't come easy to our society.It's a matter of hospitality, and it's a matter of attention.
Attention to removing those barriers, impediments, biases, and obstacles that we construct - sometimes intentionally, though often unintentionally.
Barriers to the Gospel, the good news, to participation in the church, to abundant life in Jesus Christ. It’s noteworthy that in the Greek, the word for stranger is “xenos” and it’s also the word for guest and host.
In this age of contemporary warfare, terrorism and even gated communities, most of us are all too aware of the term "xenophobia," the fear of strangers. Such a fear leads to nationalism, racism and even genocide.
However, as many scholars have noted, the call to welcome another, as offered by Jesus, is a call to xenophilia, or the love of a stranger.
Hospitality should be the central practice of the Christian church today. It’s been said that hospitality is the practice by which the church stands or falls.
Thus, hospitality is the central practice that should receive attention by everyone in our congregation.
So how do we teach hospitality?
Well, it all begins with practice.
To offer hospitality, we simply bring who we are and what we have, to where we are.
At times it may be grand; at times it may be very little. In every case, it’s the gesture itself that shapes the character of the encounter, of the participants and of the story of grace that’s the essence of the moment.
About 40 years ago, when Lynne & I were looking for a new church in Turramurra, we were disappointed with the cool reception we got at the first one we tried.
We had a young baby and felt that everyone turned around to “tut-tut” at us when she made any noises.
After the service, no-one even looked at us, let alone approached us to say “Hello”.
Luckily, our neighbours invited us to accompany them to the other Uniting Church in the area.
If they hadn’t done so, I might not be the minister here at Lane Cove today.
So, instead of just being “welcoming”, they were “invitational” and that’s a concept that we’ll be exploring more, once we’re allowed to meet together again in our church building.
We’ll be looking at how we can “invite” people to join our church family, whether that’s on a Sunday morning for the worship service, or at some other church event.Some of us will find it difficult to invite others, for a variety of reasons, but together, as the family of God in Lane Cove, we’ll work towards ironing out those bumps in the path, so that we can grow in his name.
Loving and gracious God, you give us life, you call each of us into faithful service, into discipleship through Jesus Christ.
Open our hearts in ways that we might reach out to people - especially those who are different from ourselves, and in so doing, may the world be transformed through your love and enlivened through our lives.
In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Saviour, we pray.
Reflection: Coming Out
Of course, I’m talking here about “coming out of isolation”,
not the modern context of “coming out of the closet”.
The State and Federal governments have, in the past few weeks set us a roadmap for coming out of our period of COVID-19 lockdown.
Whilst a return to “normality” isn’t going to happen overnight, we do have hope that God has protected us from the worst that this pandemic can throw at us.
A very quick and effective response by our leaders in early March saw Australia in a much better position than most of the rest of the world.
"For the foresight and fast reactions by our medical experts and politicians", we give thanks to God.
Yes, many of us have found this time away from our usual friends and family very hard and tiring,
but has this time in relative isolation been all bad?
For example, how many books have you managed to read over the last few months?
Have your computer skills increased, or at least you feel more comfortable using the equipment now?
I know that many of us have learned new skills during this time and plan to keep them going once we’re allowed more freedoms to congregate safely.
Our Church Council and Presbytery are looking at the activities that we’ve been doing (pre-COVID-19) but may not wish to continue into the future, or – more excitingly – things that we HAVEN’T been doing but would like to commence.
Now, whilst acknowledging that your Church Council is made up of some very wise and dedicated people, we realise that there is EVEN MORE wisdom out there in congregation-land, so we’re going to be circulating a questionnaire in the near future, asking your thoughts on where we should be focussing our efforts once we get back to a time of worshipping together, and meeting together, in person.
Will our services of worship look and feel exactly the same as they did before the lockdown?
I don’t believe that they will.
There are sure to be ways that we can make them a more meaningful experience.Some of you may have had the time to be exposed to varying forms of televised worship during the time you haven’t able to attend our regular service in person.
Chances are that there were parts of those services that were particularly meaningful or moving for you.
Would you like us to further explore these elements of worship so we may be able to do things differently at Lane Cove in the future?
Many of the services from other churches have been videotaped, or even videoed and streamed live onto computers, but the resources required to achieve that level of sophistication at Lane Cove are not currently available.
We should pray that, if that is the direction we are destining to go, that God will make the resources, both human and equipment, available to us.
Prayer can achieve many things and we should not just sit back and tell ourselves that it is beyond our capabilities.
It probably is, with our current levels of expertise. but if God wants us to do it, all things are possible.
Some of us have been participating in a bible study on prayer over the last few months. It has opened up questions of what led certain characters of the bible to pray and what forms their prayers took?
We’ll be continuing these bible studies in the future, using the power of the computer to meet together without even having to leave our homes on these cold, dark and wet nights.
Our next topic is going to be “Miracles: and some might even say that it’s a modern-day miracle that we can meet this way.
But back to the main theme. Some of you may be asking “When will the church reopen?” and I guess the simple answer is “When we are able to provide a safe environment or all users.”
But that is not available now.
Whilst government health regulations are being eased week by week, the church still has an issue with the risk to our most valuable assets – our people.There is still a very real risk that viruses may be brought into our building – possibly unknowingly – and that our more vulnerable members may become infected.
That is not something that any caring, loving church would want to happen.We all long for the time when we can get back to some form of normality, but at the moment, a Sunday morning with limited numbers of participants, no singing, people sitting 1.5 metres apart, no physical greetings and no time of fellowship over morning tea, doesn’t sound too appealing to many of us.
We ask you to be patient for a little while longer and, when it’s the right time, we’ll come back together in joyous worship of our great Lord and Saviour.Until then, I’ll continue these written reflections and encourage you to look further afield for expressions of televised worship services.Take note of what you believe works well and, also, what doesn’t appeal to you and, when you get time to fill out our survey, you’ll be able to suggest where you’d like worship at Lane Cove Uniting Church to head to.
Holy God, who knows us by name,
who restores the troubled soul and keeps us firm in faith,
help us to be fully aware of your presence here with us now.
Grant us a clear vision of all we are called to be and all that you want us to do in your kingdom.
In the name of Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen.
I look forward to seeing you soon
I’m betting that most of you are looking forward to the time when we can all meet together again – in person.
And you’ve probably heard that places of worship can open for up to 50 people at a time.
So does this mean that Lane Cove can recommence our Sunday worship services, or even open our building up to meetings and community hirers?
Well, like all things in this world, at this time, it’s not that simple.
There are many issues to consider (and I won’t bore you with them now), but be comforted by the knowledge that your Church Council is working hard on this and when a safe and meaningful worship experience at the church is possible, we’ll advise you and we’ll be there to welcome you back. Until then:
This week, I’m focussing on our Epistle reading (Romans 5:1-8) and the Psalm (Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19).
I have to admit that my belief is, despite a world in turmoil, there are little islands of peace everywhere.
Of course, I’m referring to the people who have found peace with God.
A person justified by faith in Christ Jesus can rejoice because of what comes from believing in him.
Our relationship with God lets us rejoice in our spiritual understanding and in the knowledge that God is our Lord.
Because of these, we are justified through our faith.
The concepts "justified" and “faith" are probably best explained and illustrated by the life of Abram (later Abraham).
From the beginning of his story in the bible, he was declared to be God's friend and he entered into a close relationship with God because he believed that God would keep his promise.
Do you remember the story where God promised Abram and Sarai (later Sarah) that they would have children, even though they were old, and Sarai was said to be barren?
In fact, God promised them that they would start a great nation.This special relationship with God was given as a gift to Abram. There was no merit involved on his behalf.
It was by faith alone - believing that God would do as he had promised.And, so, we too can have a new spiritual position before God, because we have been justified by faith.
Paul restates the great truth when he says in Ch 5, v 1: "Therefore, having been justified by faith . . ."
Earlier in the book of Romans (Ch 3, v 23) the Bible makes it very clear that we are all sinners, when it says:
“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God”.
Most of us know that we’re still sinners and there’s no denying that fact, unless we’re completely naive and self-deceived.
We know from personal experience that we’ve failed God on many occasions.
Sometimes it is deliberate and sometimes accidental.
However, because we’ve been justified through our faith in him, we can be forgiven.
We celebrate the fact that we’ve been justified, or freed, because of Christ's death.
And that’s where we come to that other word: "peace", which, to me, refers to a relationship characterised by God's peace toward the sinner.
A divine kind of peace, that even King David felt, which allowed him to walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fearing the evil that was present there (Psalm 23).
Last week was Trinity Sunday and we heard about how the Trinity spoke of that kind of peace which is found in the persons of Creator (God), Redeemer (Jesus) and Sanctifier (Holy Spirit).
God the Father sees our faith in his son (Jesus) and forgives us for our sins against him.
The blood of Jesus cleanses us of every sin and therefore we now have a new relationship with a holy God.
We are justified by faith in what Christ did for us on the cross.
The Father is satisfied with his son, he’s also satisfied with those who believe in his death and resurrection.
God sees our faith and declares us right with him! Pardoned! Forgiven! Acquitted!
This is a once-and-for-all act by God, whereby he declares us righteous in his sight.
Keep in mind Paul's declarations on justification in Romans 3:28
"For we maintain that a man is justified by faith, apart from works of the Law"
Paul also mentions in Galatians 2:16 that we have salvation by grace through faith, as opposed to a salvation by works.
He writes, "a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified."
So how do we become a child of God and receive this justification?
In Galatians 3:26 Paul says: "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus".
It’s not through our good works, our baptism, church membership, or taking communion.
Our eternal life depends on our relationship to Christ.
“Am I a new creation?
Have I put my faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for a right relationship with God?”
What are you depending upon for being right with God?
I believe that only Christ will do. Our belief in, and relationship with, the risen Christ will be our salvation.
Through him, we are indeed justified and it’s our faith in him that gives it to us.
The bible verse that I have taken as my own personal philosophy of life, comes out of today’s Psalm reading, when, in v. 12 we ask the question:
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?”The obvious answer is “praise”.
He gives us so much and yet asks for so little in return. So, please, go out into your week, month, year, shouting loud praises to God.
Remember – it’s nothing you’ve done, but everything he’s done for us, that allows us to be free.
Prayer of Intercession:
God of all creation, what do you see when you regard the world?
What does the harvest look like to you?
And what would you ask of your people?
We ask you to send your servants, Lord, to where people live in ignorance and fear,
where people suffer because of drought, famine or disease,
where there is violence and hostility, so peace appears to be a forlorn hope,
where there is sickness, depression or despair.
We acknowledge that the mission is huge and seems beyond us, yet, we believe that in the power of the Spirit, in the power of your grace and love, and in the power of the Gospel of Christ, anything is possible.
Therefore, we beseech you to call us, equip us and send us, Lord, for we are ready to share in the miracles of your ministry wherever we are led.
In your holy name we pray. Amen.
Stay safe in his holy hands..............Pastor Rick
This week, we’re going to look at a rather tricky subject, one that has confounded preachers and parishioners alike over the last few millennia - and it is “the Trinity”.
Do you remember the well-known hymn “God in three persons, blessed Trinity”?
Now you may think preachers are always talking about God.
In my experience most preachers actually talk a lot about “what God wants of us”.
If they're good preachers, they’ll also talk about “what God’s done for us” and is still doing.
That, after all, is the Gospel.
But they don't talk very much about “who God is”.
Talking about God - by which I mean not just referring to God, but actually trying to say who God is - well that’s one of those points where language usually fails us.
Some of you may have had an experience of wanting to say something really significant - like telling someone how important they are to you, or how deeply sorry you are - and all your usual words come nowhere near to what you’re really wanting to say.
The only words you find seem terribly inadequate, but you have to use them, because not saying anything would be worse.
You say what you can and hope that the words point to what you really can't say.
We really DO need to talk about God, because we live in a society which has largely forgotten what the word 'God' actually means.
People tend to think of God as some mythical figure somewhere up in the sky.
We can’t depend on the word 'God' meaning anything remotely like the God we know through Jesus Christ.
So, we have to talk about who God is.
At the same time, we know that words can’t sum God up, or pin God down.
It's important to talk about God.
It's also important, when we talk about God, to realise that God is infinitely more than anything we can say.
There are several Christian ways of trying to say who God is.
The words that say the most about God are those we use in the creeds, when we say “We believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.”
God is all Three and the Three are one God - “Trinity”.
If that says the most about God, it’s also the most difficult concept to understand.
Another way to say it is the simple statement that “God is love”.
The statement comes from the New Testament and it's one of the most important things the Bible says.
You might think that this is really all we need to say about God – that he is love.
The trouble is: what does “love” mean? We can use that word in all kinds of ways.
For example “I love ice cream”, when we really just mean that we “like” it.
We say we “love” people, but love can be a destructive obsession, love can be self-indulgent sentimentality and love can be vaguely wishing someone well.
Love can be all kinds of things, or sometimes nothing at all.
That’s not the sort of love God is.
“God is love” is only going to mean something if we can spell out what God's love means.
We start to describe God by telling the story of his love for the world.
That's the way the Bible spells out what it means to say that God is love.
It tells us about God's love in the best way of talking about love: it tells us about God's love in practice.
The Bible tells us how God created the world out of love, and how he continues to love the world he created.
It tells how even when we reject God's love and spoil God's world with evil, God still keeps on loving us and doing all he can to rescue us from evil.
That's the Old Testament story of God's involvement with the people of Israel.
It's the story that comes to a climax with Jesus, when God, in his love for us, sent his Son to be one of us.
To live a human life with us and die for us.
It's the story that continues with God's loving presence with the Holy Spirit - in the church and in our lives.
The story of God's love for the world goes on - and we're part of it.
The story tells us who God is because we see what kind of “love” God is. God is selfless love.
He doesn't just sit up in heaven and wish us well.
He gets involved with us because of his love for us.
He gives himself for us in costly self-sacrifice - in the suffering that Jesus endured ending ultimately in his death on the cross - all this for us!
God gives himself to us when he gives us his Holy Spirit, as the gift of himself, present with us in our lives. “God is love” means that God gives himself - for us and to us.
That is God's nature.
There's also something else to notice about that story of God's love for the world.
We can only tell that story by talking about God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.When we see God's love in action, we see not only God as a Father who cares for us - like a parent loving his children.
He cares for us, nurtures us, watches over us, directs us in his love.
We also see God as a Son - who loves us by coming alongside us in the person of Jesus, as our human brother, one of us, living and dying for us, in loving solidarity with us.
And we also see God as a Spirit - who comes into our very being, who loves us, as it were, from the inside. It’s only because God IS Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that God can love us in the way he does.
So, we really need all these ways of talking about God when we say that God is love.
We need to tell the story of God's love for the world: what God's love is in practice.
Then we also need to say: God is Father, Son and Spirit.God loves us as a Father, as a brother, and as a comforter.
When we find the doctrine of the Trinity difficult and puzzling, we should ask ourselves: how could we tell the story differently?
We need to take one further step, which is the most difficult. I've been talking about God's love for us.
But if God is love, God's love must be more than his love for us.
God is love in his very being, quite apart from us.
Even before we existed, even before God created the world, he was already love.
God didn't start loving when he loved his creation.
God's love for us is the overflowing of the love that God is eternally.
And that can be so because, again, God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
God's being is the love between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
An illustration may help, though it's no more than an illustration.
Think of a very loving family, one in which people are devoted to each other.
Not the sort of family whose love is a closed circle, excluding other people, but rather the sort of family that is always befriending other people.
The family's own love is constantly being shared with others.
Other people are welcomed into the home and made to feel they're part of the family.
In conclusion, it seems to me that there are two mistakes people commonly make about the idea of the Trinity, which I hope you’ll now be able to see.
One is that the doctrine of the Trinity is some sort of rarefied theological speculation, the kind of thing theologians amuse themselves with in their studies, but nothing to do with real Christian life. On the contrary, the doctrine of the Trinity is what we must believe if we really grasp that amazing truth of the Gospel: that God himself, in his love, has really come into our world as Jesus Christ and that God himself, in his love, has really come into our own experience as the Holy Spirit.
It’s not enough to just accept God’s love for ourselves - we have to take God’s love out into the world and help others understand more about why we believe in this Trinitarian God.
It’s an ongoing process and not something we should selfishly keep close to us.
I encourage you go out there and share the love that God has for ALL his people.
For our benediction, please read 2 Cor 13:13
Stay warm this winter………….Pastor Rick