August 5, 2022 July 22, 2022 July 14, 2022 July 8, 2022 June 30, 2022

Living with faith

Category From the Minister

When I was a young adult I admired people of faith. I wondered how they could be so certain about the big questions of life when to me everything seemed quite uncertain. I think I made the common mistake of contrasting faith with doubt, assuming that a person with faith must have no doubts.

These days I would call myself a person of faith – but that doesn’t mean that I have everything figured out. Rather, it seems to me that faith is having the courage to trust what you can’t fully grasp, despite the uncertainty, as suggested by the above quote from Brene Brown. The book of Hebrews states it this way: faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Heb 11:1).

So when I look at the world I see plenty of reasons for doom and gloom and many situations that seem impossible to resolve, such as the ongoing war in Ukraine or the climate emergency that we seem no closer to solving. But faith is trusting in God and God’s promises in spite of the difficulties and struggles that surround us every day. It is having the courage to trust that following the way of Jesus will make a positive contribution to the world and the people around us.

Posted: Friday, August 5, 2022 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Hebrews 11: 8-16, Hebrews 11:1-3

Learning to pray

Category From the Minister

Prayer is a deeply spiritual practice that crosses many religions. People pray for all sorts of reasons – for protection and security from evil, for the healing of a loved one, for rain or for it to stop raining, to connect with one’s god. Even non-religious people pray in times of extreme anguish. People like the slave trader John Newton, who – afraid that he was about to drown during a fierce Atlantic storm – cried out to God to save him – promising to turn his whole life around. Newton survived the storm, gave up slave trading and became a Minister and hymn writer, whose best known hymn is the classic Amazing grace.

In this week’s gospel reading from Luke, the disciples observe Jesus at prayer and ask him to teach them how to pray. As faithful Jews they would have prayed at least three times every day, so the request is more about how to pray like Jesus. The prayer Jesus teaches them – known to us as the Lord’s Prayer – is short and memorable, less than 60 words, which one can recite from memory in under a minute.

Why then do we so often find prayer difficult? Perhaps it’s because we have a transactional view of God – that if we do this (e.g. pray) then God will do that (e.g. grant our requests). This seems to miss the point of prayer which is about building relationship and trust. We don’t pray to try and twist God’s arm to give us what we want, but rather so that we will be changed through the practice of prayer and will come to understand more of God’s character and God’s perspective on the world. We also tend to fill our prayer times with our words and find it much harder to be still and to listen to what God may be saying to us.

A disciple is a learner – and when it comes to prayer we are all learners. There is no one right way to pray or right place to pray – just read through the book of Psalms, which is the Bible’s prayer book. If you struggle with prayer this is a good place to start. If we listen to Jesus we will learn that prayer can be very simple, but whose daily practice helps connect us with God.

Posted: Friday, July 22, 2022 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Luke 11:1-13

Getting the balance right

Category From the Minister

We often hear these days about the need for people to get their work/life balance right. This dilemma has been highlighted by the trend of working from home that was encouraged during covid lockdowns. The home became the place of paid work as well as the place of learning for many students. The home is of course also the place one lives one’s personal life. So where does work (or study) begin and end and how does this impact the rest of life?

A similar issue lies behind this week’s Gospel reading about two sisters, Martha and Mary. It appears that Martha is in charge of running the house and expects her sister Mary to help out as required when Jesus and his band of travelling disciples arrive for a meal. Providing hospitality to guests was both an honour and an expectation in Eastern culture. And the role of women was to organize the hospitality. This was considered to be women’s rightful ‘work’.

The problem is that Mary decides that she will sit and listen to Jesus’ teaching – alongside the other male disciples – while Martha prepares the meal. Martha is unimpressed and interrupts Jesus to demand that he persuade Mary to get back into the kitchen to help out. Instead, Jesus commends Mary and suggests that she has chosen what is the ‘better part’.

What’s at stake is more than a feminist rebellion against imposed gender roles. The situation asks us to consider how to balance the demands of discipleship (learning to follow Jesus) with other demands in life (e.g. work, home schooling, running a house). Jesus often invites people to follow his example which cultivates the inner life of relating to God (e.g. through prayer, worship, stillness) but is also fully involved in life in the world (e.g. work, community building, helping others). The challenge – as with the question of contemporary work/life balance – is how to balance these distinct yet overlapping spheres of our lives.

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2022 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Luke 10:38-42

NAIDOC invitation

Category From the Minister

This week is NAIDOC Week that provides us all with the opportunity to remember and celebrate the culture, history and many achievements of indigenous people in this country now called Australia. The week-long celebration grew from the Aboriginal Sunday promoted by William Cooper back in 1938 to mark the Sunday before Australia Day each year as a day of mourning for indigenous people. Under the promotion of the National Aborigines and Islander Day Observance Committee, NAIDOC has been extended from a day to a whole week and has moved from January to July.

The theme this year is Get up! Stand up! Show up! It’s a reminder of how indigenous people have indeed got up, stood up and shown up in defence of their lands and culture against the invading colonisers and in the long fight for recognition, rights and treaty that continues today.

It’s also an invitation for the Second Peoples of this country to get up, stand up and show up as allies and advocates for the First Peoples. This is more than offering an acknowledgement of country at the start of a meeting or event. It’s an attitude and aspiration of being willing to do more in this space and to walk with the First Peoples in their struggle for justice.

The OT prophet Amos rails against the complacency of the people of his day towards injustice and urges them to instead make justice roll down like a river and righteousness like a never failing stream (Amos 5:24). In our day, justice for indigenous people includes closing the gap on so many basic issues such as housing, health and rates of imprisonment. It also means having the courage and active will to implement the Uluru Statement from the heart to give indigenous people a voice to Parliament, to establish a makarrata truth-telling commission and to work towards a treaty.

While these are grand visions on a national scale, we can also work at a local level. The Assembly of the Uniting Church encourages each local congregation to reach out and connect with their local indigenous mob … not to solve problems but to develop a relationship. And then to listen, to listen deeply and then listen some more to the stories and history and lived experience of our local indigenous brothers and sisters.

Posted: Friday, July 8, 2022 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Amos 5:21-24

Do good to all

Category From the Minister

The data from the latest 2021 Australian Census published this week shows a continuing decline in the number of people who identify as Christian and a corresponding increase in the number who identify as no religion. In some ways this simply continues the trend that began in the 1970s and is therefore hardly surprising. On the other hand, the data suggests that people who may identify themselves as ‘spiritual’ do not want to become involved with institutional Christianity.

Why is this? It may be due to past appalling conduct perpetrated by the church (e.g. child sexual abuse) but may also reflect the declining levels of trust in all institutions by younger generations, whether the church, the scouting movement, community groups such as Rotary or various levels of government. It may also be due to a perception that Christian beliefs are illogical and irrelevant to contemporary life.

But perhaps we shouldn’t be too perturbed by the Census data. Back in the day when the New Testament was written, the Christian proportion of the population was quite small and was competing against many other faiths and belief systems. When we read the writings of people like the apostle Paul he was certainly keen to get the church’s theology right, but he was also passionate about the followers of Jesus living in such a way that their faith practices were noticed and made a difference to the people around them.

So in this week’s reading from Galatians 6 for instance, Paul implores the people of God to do good to all and to never tire of doing good. Paul hoped that the consistent loving actions of Christians would establish their reputation as good citizens who helped the most needy in society and who looked after their own with compassion. John Wesley expressed this same idea in the memorable way as above. May we indeed do all the good we can … to all the people we can … for as long as ever we can.

Posted: Thursday, June 30, 2022 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Galatians 6:1-10

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