Waranga Uniting Churches have made all our Sunday gatherings online, following the closure of all church buildings in response to the Covid-19 Pandemic. The coronavirus has become a major global health issue, and we have been trying to determine the best response for us as a church family. With the help of technology, we hope to catch the Spirit and at the same time limit the risk of catching COVID-19. While we may have less opportunity to gather physically, we are committed to staying connected in care, prayer and worship.
These are not a slick productions, it is live and with open microphones. It is a real community meeting together for worship; we greet each other, we listen to the Scriptures, pray and sing. They can at times be chaotic, but we are always improving. They probably make poor viewing after the event, but as they say “You had to be there.” At our first online service, we had 57 people on Zoom and another 44 via YouTube streaming. Nice to see the church full! Since then it’s just got bigger and we’ve got better at using the technology to create a live online church experience.
What’s most important?
Streamed from Colbinabbin 25th October 2020
When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’
He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.”
This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ (Matthew 22:34-40)
When it all gets boiled down, it’s pretty simple. Love God and love your neighbour.
The harder parts are in the qualifiers to these commands:
- the complete dedication of heart and soul and mind
- and loving yourself. There’s a lot of self hate, shame and judgement that we heap on ourselves.
Join us as we explore what it is to love God, love our neighbour and love ourselves.
Focus on all that is good – Positive psychology from the first century.
Sunday 11th Oct 2020 Streamed from Colbinabbin
Focusing your attention on the good things in your life is one of the best ways I have found to appreciate what you have, to find joy in your surroundings, and value the little delights we might otherwise overlook. Appreciation for the good things that happen in life, is an essential part of building happiness. When you’re going through a tough time it can be hard to remember to be grateful for the good stuff.
Writing the young church in Philippi, the apostle Paul advised them to turn their attention to the things that build us up and bring joy, “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4: 8)
Paul’s advice to focus our mind on the good, the pure, the noble prefigures the development of ‘positive psychology”
Traditionally in psychology, the focus has been on identifying and treating mental health problems such as depression. This is critically important for those facing mental illness however, it provides an incomplete picture of mental health. Positive psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology that shifts the focus from what is clinically wrong, to the promotion of wellbeing and the creation of a satisfying life filled with meaning, pleasure, engagement, positive relationships and accomplishment.
Being a Christian is not about putting on a happy face all the time. Life can be hard and disappointments and challenges are inevitable. However, there are some strategies and skills that allow us to navigate the challenges of life more effectively and enjoy life despite the upsets.
Paul was writing this letter to the Philippians from prison, most likely from Rome, where the threat of death hung heavily over him. Yet he proclaimed that he had learned the secret of contentment. “I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (Phil 4:11-13)
Paul believed in a God who cared for him in his suffering. The answer to his prayers was not to be removed from prison or ultimately not to be put to death by the Romans, but to know peace and contentment in the knowledge that all circumstances can be redeemed, transformed by the things we focus on. We create meaning by how we respond to life’s circumstances.
“Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4: 6)
Watch the recorded service as we explore these ideas and express our gratitude to God for the blessings of love and life.
The Scandal of Forgiveness
Sunday 13th Sept 2020 Streamed from Colbinabbin
Throughout the New Testament, one of the most important themes is that of God’s forgiveness of our sins:
“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7–8, NRSV)
“He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13–14, NRSV)
“I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven on account of his name.” (1 John 2:12, NRSV)
Jesus reveals a God who truly does forgive sins. On several occasions during his ministry, Jesus drew the ire of the scribes and Pharisees by forgiving sins on God’s authority. (Luke 5:20, 7:48, 23:34, etc.).
In this Sunday’s gospel reading, Jesus teaches his disciples to always forgive those who sin against them, up to seventy-times-seven times (Matthew 18:21–22).
Jesus shows us that God truly forgives sins, which means that he does not demand payment for them. God forgives.
As last week’s Psalm put it:
“as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us..” (Psalm 103:12, NRSV)
As Paul puts it:
“God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting our sins against us.” (2 Cor. 5:19)
It is scandalous. We don’t have to earn it. He doesn’t put us on a “good behaviour bond” and he doesn’t give us a suspended sentence. We read that “love keeps no record of wrongs” in 1 Cor. 13.
Jesus commands us to forgive others when they sin against us. He does so on the basis that this is how God responds when we sin against Him. Because we have been forgiven, we should forgive.
So, how does God respond to sin? God forgives sin. Full Stop!.
We also are encouraged to forgive freely, because we have freely received this same forgiveness.
Jesus freely forgave sins all throughout his ministry on earth. He even forgave the worst possible sin imaginable – killing God – with these simple words: “Father forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
We are all forgiven. Christ has declared us forgiven. God does not count our sins against us. God keeps no record of wrongs.
We are free.
We are forgiven. Go and do likewise.
You can watch the service below.
Who do you say that I am? Recognition and identity in a world of shifting meanings.
Sunday 23rd August 2020 – Streamed from Colbinabbin UCA
The question “Who Jesus Christ is?”, is a basic question that every Christian has to wrestle with. The New Testament had dealt with this question in a direct way. It was Jesus Christ himself who raised with his disciples the question of his identity: “Who do you say I am?” [Mt. 16:15; Mk. 8:29; Lk. 9:20]. Simon Peter who was the more articulate among the disciples, had a classic answer. He said: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” This became Peter’s declaration about Jesus Christ. It became a classic declaration, remembered and repeated by every Christian for almost twenty centuries.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’
And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’
Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’
And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.
And I tell you, you are Peter,
and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it
Sometimes we get the words right, but the meaning wrong. Simon Peter had the right word, but what he meant by “Messiah” was poles apart from what Jesus meant by it. And yet it was a declaration that changed Simon Peter too. As he named Jesus “Messiah”, Jesus named him “Peter- the rock” giving him a new identity and future.
Identity is a tricky thing these days. Most of us have multiple identities.
When I was in hospital recently, whenever I had to fill in a form as I moved from one part of the system to another, I was asked “Do you identify as…” Usually this question related to identifying as “aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander”, but there was also a question asking what gender I was, which not only had the usual “Male and Female” options but also one or two others, “Other (please state)” or “Prefer not to say”
These days “I identify as …” has become a powerful and controversial phrase. It is an expression that has captured our attention, variously generating respect, alarm and frustration. What does it mean to identify oneself “as” something? To identify oneself is to claim a name for oneself, to claim that a certain description is deeply true of me. What does it mean to identify as a Christian, a follower of Jesus?
Watch Entire Service
(Sermon starts at the 35 minute mark)
“Here I am” – Heeding God’s call
Sunday 28th June 2020 – Streamed from Rushworth UCA
Responding to God’s call to love and serve can be scary. When we say “Here am I” we make ourselves vulnerable. This Sunday our service will be led by Rev Michele Lees, the minister at Echuca-Moama UCA. Michele will lead us in looking at two very different stories in which people felt called to action by God. The first story is from Genesis where Abraham feels called to sacrifice his son Isaac, and the second story is from Matthews gospel where Jesus calls the disciples to go out and proclaim the good news of the Kingdom of God to their culture.
We look at how willing we are to be vulnerable to what we believe God is asking us to do, how open we are to welcoming the stranger, and what is our reward. God has welcomed us in Jesus, and as we welcome the stranger and particularly the marginalised, we welcome Jesus into our lives and our community.
The God within
Sunday 17th May 2020 – Streamed from Murchison UCA
“ The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands.” Acts 17:24
As our church buildings have been closed, we have had to reaffirm, rediscover and renew the truth that the church is people, not buildings. As the the early church put it, “You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house” I Peter 2:5
God lives within us. It is a shocking truth that we can easily forget. Broken and as fallible and fault-ridden as we are, God lives within us.
Our meeting places are closed but we still meet together as the body of Christ and live and act as the church. We care for each other. We phone our neighbours to check on them. We pray alone and together. We seek and find faith, hope, meaning, grace and community. God is with us. God is in us.
In the second century, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, (130–202 A.D.) said that God “became what we are in order to make us what he is himself.”
God became human to make us divine!
Irenaeus also wrote, “If the Word became a man, It was so men may become gods.”
God in us transforms us to be like God.
To many modern Christians, words like “meditation,” “mystic,” and “mysticism” bring to mind Eastern religions, not Christianity. Consequently, most of us associate Eastern religions with mysticism but mysticism is a vital part of the Christian heritage as well. In fact, it is actually the core of Christian spirituality. Mysticism simply means the ‘spirituality of the direct experience of God.’
Direct experience of God is a kind of knowing that goes beyond intellectual understanding. It is not a about “belief.” It is not of the mind but of the heart. It is marked by love and joy but it is not just an “emotional experience. It is an experience of the divine that moves us to experience love and joy and consequently, a desire to give back to God.
Jesus proclaimed “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “ I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” (John 14:20)
These are mystical words to be enjoyed and celebrated. They remind us that, just as the “Farewell Discourses” in John’s Gospel, that is, the love letters Jesus wrote to the disciples, tell us that God and Jesus are one, they also tell us that we are part of that One. God, Jesus and the Spirit, the divine three, are in us. We are, and we increasingly become part of the divine. Thanks be to God.
Faith in a time of uncertainty
Sunday 19th April 2020 – Streamed from Colbinabbin UCA
We are currently living in a time of uncertainty. I am 67 years old, I grew up when the Cold War was at its height with the Soviet Union and the USA pursuing the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction, the Vietnam War raged, the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones voiced the disillusionment and anger of a generation that was alienated from the world my parents knew. We challenged authority. We broke the rules.
I’ve seen the Soviet Union collapse, the Berlin Wall fall down, the Apartheid system overthrown. I’ve learned to live with uncertainty. But I have never experienced or observed the sort of uncertainty that we are currently grappling with: a viral pandemic that is killing tens of thousands, destroying the economies of nations, disturbing our routine, challenging our expectations, and causing us to fear that “normal life” may never return.
We are in isolation. Fearful of every contact with the outside world. What can we depend on? Does anyone know the way out of the situation we are in? This Sunday’s Gospel reading (John 20:19-31) is set in the days immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion with stories circulating that he has risen from the grave. The remaining disciples are self-isolating in fear and Thomas is refusing to accept the reassurances of others. When everything is uncertain, how do we find the inner peace and confidence to move forward?
The Scandal of Grace – Workers in the Vineyard
Sunday 20th September 2020 Streamed from Colbinabbin
I’m surprised how popular the Buddhist idea of “karma” is these days. Even quite non-religious people, people who would have very little idea of the teachings of Buddhism will say “That’s karma” when something bad happens to someone they feel has been living the low life. Karma is the spiritual principle of cause and effect where intent and actions of an individual (cause) influence the future of that individual (effect). Or more simply “what goes around, comes around’. We like karma for other people, but we prefer grace for ourselves.
Throughout the New Testament, one of the most important themes is that of God’s grace. His unmerited love for us. We don’t get what we deserve. It’s a story that is told many times and in many ways throughout the Old and New Testaments.
Mostly we like it. We like grace, especially for ourselves.
In Matthew 20: 1-16 Jesus tells an elaborate parable about a vineyard owner and his workers at harvest. This is one of Jesus’ more provocative parables. It continues the subversive themes of the gospel:
- The least is the greatest
- The seemingly upright are degenerate
- What seems to be too little is more than enough
- The outsiders are really the insiders
- The first shall be last, the last first.
I like this parable not just because I have a vineyard and have at times, when there is a crop to be urgently picked, gone out at midday and knocked on the door of a couple of guys who were sleeping in their van by the side of the road, begging them to “come and work in my vineyard”.
But I love it because it exposes our ambivalent attitude to work. Is it a blessing or a curse?
It’s essentially a similarly constructed story as the “Prodigal Son”, which we like, because even if we have lived fairly conventional lives, most of us can twist ourselves into believing that we are the wayward child welcomed back by a loving father. But in the parable of the labourers in the vineyard most of us identify with the people that get criticised. We are the hard working, early risers, who have been in this for the long haul, we are the ones who deserve more.
I love this parable because it is confronting. It reveals our ambivalent attitudes to work, our harsh attitudes to other people, and alerts us again to the dangers of comparison.
But most of all, I love this story because it is a story about grace. We don’t get what we deserve. We get what we need. We are all 11th hour labourers, blessed abundantly by God’s grace, loved and called to transformation.
Join us this Sunday as we celebrate this great truth of our faith, even if it makes us squirm in our seats a bit.
You can watch the service below:
Flexibility and Focus – Staying on-track in a world of diversions
Sunday 16th August 2020 – Streamed from Colbinabbin UCA
As the Covid-19 crisis ebbs and flows, so many people are working from home. Working from home has some special challenges particularly if we do not have a separate office and end up working from the kitchen table. For parents of young who are now home schooling or unable to attend childcare it is incredibly difficult.
It has become difficult for working parents to juggle full-time with kids and working from home while trying to have as much efficiency as possible. During the initial days, many working parents approached the situation like a vacation, with little or no structure of schedule or timings. For obvious reasons this quickly turned into a very frustrating situation for everyone. Parents were not meeting the deadlines, they were constantly worried about their kids, their entertainment time, their meals, etc. All the time anxiously watching the daily reports of Coronavirus numbers and locations.
We need structure, we need boundaries and we need goals to survive in a world or distractions and diversions. I often hear people comment that “Coronavirus has just accentuated the problems that were there all along.”
In our Gospel reading this Sunday, Jesus finally draws the line between his sense of mission and the urgent and compassionate distractions to that mission; and then he gives in and acts with compassion anyway. I can almost hear him say, “But this is the last time!”
The Worth of Sparrows
Sunday 21st June 2020 – Streamed from Colbinabbin UCA
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
The set Gospel reading this Sunday, Matthew 10:24-39, is challenging. There are at least eight pithy sayings of Jesus that could be the basis of our reflection and study.
These include Jesus telling us:-
- -“Do not fear” (vs 26 and 31)
- Secrets are being shouted from the rooftops (vs 27)
- The Gospel is a source of division (vs 34-37)
- Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (vs 38-39)
- God has a special love for the small and insignificant. (vs29-30)We’ll start with the worth of sparrows.
I will try not to avoid the harder sayings.
We’ll see if we can knit the whole lot together and see what they say to us today.
In Victoria, we’ve had a week of secret things being proclaimed from the rooftops, with three Victorian Government ministers resigning as their secrets found their way into the light.
George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks were not powerful or rich, but they have not “fallen to the ground” unnoticed. The world continues to reverberate with the cries of the marginalised saying that “they matter!” Like the tax-collectors and sinners that Jesus spent his time with these “no-bodies” matter to God and through them justice and reform will come.
We have seen division and conflict in communities and in families as people take sides in divisive debates over systemic racism. This includes drawing attention to those who continue to suffer from decisions and events of the past.
There has been debate about statues of people, once considered heroes, who now find themselves on the wrong side of history.
And of course there is the ongoing impact of Covid-19 and how we should respond to it. Is it under control? How quickly should we ease the restrictions, etc.
We so easily think of our efforts as worthless, two a penny, but the Gospel assures us that God cares for and values the small and insignificant beyond our imagination.
“So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
WHAT DID I DO TO DESERVE THIS?
Reflections on suffering and grace.
Sunday 14th June 2020 – Streamed from Tatura UCA
“What did I do to deserve this?” It’s something of a reflex cry we make when bad things happen to good people (especially ourselves). Hidden within that cry is the irrational belief that God (Karma/The Universe) dishes out sickness, accidents and misfortune to those with whom he is displeased and somehow he has got us mixed up with somebody else or the punishment is not proportional to our misdeeds. Once we say it out loud it sounds crazy, and it is. The God revealed in Jesus doesn’t dish out unmerited suffering, but unmerited grace.
“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” -Romans 5:6-8
Grace is not natural, not normal. For those of us who grew up in the church, or who have been Christians for any length of time, grace starts to lose its astounding character. It seems more common, ordinary, and natural. We throw the word around without much thought. God’s grace is simply not amazing anymore. As “good” people we we neither deserve punishment nor need grace. But believe me there are many people who persecute themselves, feel they are being punished and desperately need grace and peace in their lives. Grace is still the “good news” we need to spread in our community.
A word of hope for the unsure, nervous and overwhelmed.
Sunday 10th May 2020 – Streamed from Colbinabbin UCA
A regular message on my TV screen starts by saying “We are unsure, nervous and overwhelmed…”
If we were writing that message, we might include other feelings: fearful, anxious, tense, full of doubt, despairing.
Or we might acknowledge that we are struggling to endure the pandemic, longing for the restraints to be lifted.
‘How much longer, O Lord?’ we may cry.
Joan McRae will be our guest worship leader this Sunday. Joan is a very experienced lay preacher who regularly takes services for the Waranga Uniting Churches. This week Joan responds to the question, ‘In the light of the current world crises, how can it be Easter?’
As Joan explains, “Easter isn’t over? We are only halfway through the Great Fifty Days of Easter – it’s a season, not a day!”
It is Easter, and the joys of Resurrection victory colour the life of the Church. But in Easter 2020, there are two current world crises, as we are overwhelmed by climate change as well as COVID-19. For Australians there is also the crisis of the bushfires aftermath. And so we come to the readings for Easter 5. Perhaps John 14 leaps out, because we know the comforting words so well: ‘Do not let your heart be troubled!’ But, like the Rev’d Dr Jane Hunt, we may well be wondering ‘How can our heart not be troubled in these very troubling times?’
It’s a very good question, needing an answer.
As we consider the readings, we will see that all four are written by or to people in extreme distress, people desperately needing a refuge, needing help now!
So we will explore the readings together, to see how our faith interacts with the crises in our world. We will find Good News!
Join us as we as we explore what it is to embrace an abundance mentality as we seek to follow Jesus.
Does it have a happy ending?
Sunday 26th April 2020 – Streamed from Tatura UCA
My wife hates it if I tell her how a movie ends before she has seen it. She even hates watching the promos for an upcoming TV episode.
Why is it we don’t want to know? How is it that we enjoy the suspense, the uncertainty and fear we experience when watching a movie, when in real life we hate uncertainty? If I am driving, I like to know for sure that the route I have taken will lead me there. If I am buying a house or second-hand car I want to check it out thoroughly to remove the uncertainty and fear we feel about making such purchases. If I have had medical tests because the doctor has said “something’s there”, the uncertainty and anxiety caused by waiting and not knowing can be unbearable.
For millennia clairvoyants, prophets, shamans and now futurists have tapped into our desire to predict what is going to come. To remove the uncertainty that causes fear.
Soren Kierkegaard the Danish philosopher and theologian said, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” That is we can only make sense of the events, joys, misfortunes and struggles of our lives as we look back sometimes many years later. In the meantime we must live our lives as best we can.
The resurrection stories of Jesus appearing to his disciples are very much about him helping them “understand it backwards” as they come to terms with very unexpected endings (and new beginnings).
Join us as we as we explore what it is to embrace the uncertainties of life with faith.
Living the abundant life.
Sunday 3rd May 2020 – Streamed from
The set bible readings for this coming Sunday (Easter 4) each have something to say about abundance and scarcity. These readings take on new meaning and ask us new questions in the light of our recent experiences of panic buying in response to the spread of Covid-19.
“My cup runneth over” Psalm 23
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” John 10
“All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.” Acts 2
Abundance mentality says that there is enough for everyone, so someone else’s gain is not your loss. Some people may have everything but they still feel poor. Some other may have less but they feel abundant.
Join us as we as we explore what it is to embrace an abundance mentality as we seek to follow Jesus.
Palm Sunday Service
Our Palm Sunday service started with high hopes. Lots of preparation, but were not prepared for the NBN to drop out just as the service proper began. Lots of patience needed as temporary work-arounds kept us going. Still so much to learn. But we meet. More than the previous week. It’s live. It’s real. It is the church meeting together to pray, sing and share together in this time of the Covid-19 Pandemic.