December 3, 2021 November 26, 2021 November 19, 2021 November 12, 2021 November 5, 2021

An adventure beyond the ordinary

Category From the Minister

This week, as we move a step closer towards Christmas, we hear the story of Mary receiving some most unexpected news. She is to have a son who will be named Jesus, who will rule on the throne of David and be called the Son of the Most High God. Mary asks how this will be since she isn’t even married. The somewhat mysterious response is that the power of God’s Spirit will come upon her.

We are probably too familiar with this story that we miss how scandalous it is at so many levels. Mary is young and as yet unmarried, so to become pregnant is a social scandal that will lead to innuendo, disgrace and possibly worse. What will she say to her parents and to her fiancé Joseph? Mary is also a nobody in the wider scheme of things. She comes from an ordinary family and from a very ordinary small village. She has no status, no connections.

But therein lies the beauty and mystery of this story – that God chooses to work through ordinary people like Mary living ordinary lives. God may well have seen qualities in Mary to suit her for this rather extraordinary role – a deep faith perhaps, courage and a sense of calm. Perhaps God sees these or other qualities in our lives. The most important characteristic though is that Mary says ‘yes’ to God’s invitation. She doesn’t know where this will lead or about the joys and challenges and griefs it will bring her but she says yes anyway. May we be inspired by Mary’s adventure beyond the ordinary.

Posted: Friday, December 3, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Luke 1:26-38

An adventure beyond religion

Category From the Minister

Advent is here, which marks the beginning on a new year in the church Lectionary cycle as we move to the year of Luke. Although there is often good wisdom and discipline in following the Lectionary readings week by week, the selection of Advent readings has always left me a bit puzzled. Even more so in the year of Luke which has its own insightful portrayal of the origin story of Jesus as Luke intertwines the prediction, arrival and celebration of two special babies – John (later to be known as the Baptist) and Jesus (later to be given any number of names and titles).

The story begins with Zechariah, an elderly and faithful priest descended from the line of Aaron. Zechariah serves at the temple in Jerusalem, the heart of Jewish worship. Both he and his wife Elizabeth are described as righteous and blameless – people who are careful to follow the laws and guiding ways of the Jewish torah. But they are both old and in one significant way, their lives remain unfulfilled as they have no children.

But God has a plan to bless Zechariah, which is conveyed to him in an angelic message. Zechariah struggles to comprehend that his wife in her old age should now have a son. This child, to be named John, will also be a blessing to the wider nation of Israel as he will become a powerful prophet a little like Elijah. All this will take Zechariah, Elizabeth and John well beyond their comfort zone, well beyond the safe sanctuary of the temple and its organised religion. It will be an adventure – that will bring blessing and pain, joy and sorrow. As we emerge from two long years of Covid disruption, I wonder whether we are ready to embark on a fresh adventure with God?

Posted: Friday, November 26, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Luke 1:5-25

Living with integrity

Category From the Minister

Integrity and trust are essential for any relationship whether friendship, marriage or in public life. Both seem to be under a cloud at the moment among our political leaders, whether Prime Minister Scott Morrison or Premiers Daniel Andrews and Gladys Berejiklian. The word integrity comes from the Latin integer meaning whole or undivided. So in mathematics, an integer is a whole number without any fraction. If a person lives with integrity there is a wholeness – their words and actions match – they do what they say. We might call them authentic or honest. The Bible uses words like straight and upright to describe such people. I wonder if you know people who live like this? Or were influenced by people who lived like this?

In the story of Ruth, Boaz is a person of integrity. When challenged by Ruth to act as next-of-kin for herself and Naomi, Boaz promises that he will act to ‘redeem’ them and will do so that very day. He is as good as his word and gathers the necessary witnesses to fulfil his promise. He buys the land belonging to Elimelech, Naomi’s now dead husband, and takes responsibility of providing for Naomi and Ruth. Boaz also marries Ruth and they have a son Obed, who has a son Jesse, whose youngest son, David, later becomes the most famous king of Israel. Integrity leads to unexpected blessing.

In a culture where so much seems to depend on appearance and spin, the biblical emphasis on integrity is helpful reminder that a person’s character matters just as much if not more than their words or their social media presence. Sometimes we may make promises we later regret or that are costly to fulfil. A person of integrity will either make good on their promise, despite the cost, or will explain openly why they can no longer do so (e.g. how the circumstances have changed). If politicians would act in this way then perhaps they would regain the trust they have lost.

Posted: Friday, November 19, 2021 by Peter Mallen

Living with courage and vulnerability

Category From the Minister

Living with vulnerability is a fact of life for many people in our world. This may be due to illness, disability, age or gender. It may be due to our social situation as a single parent, or a widow, or a refugee or an indigenous person. For people involved in creative pursuits, vulnerability comes with the territory. But for some people, especially males, vulnerability is often seen as weakness. Hence we may be reticent to share what we are really feeling. By following the cultural expectation that we need to appear strong and in control, we avoid making ourselves vulnerable and may as a result end up lonely and disconnected from others.

As widows, Ruth and Naomi are very vulnerable. They are limited in what work they can do and their hence finances are precarious. The Hebrew word for widow literally means one who is silenced or bound. So in many ways they are unseen and unheard. To survive in such a male dominated world they must be both shrewd and courageous. So in the middle chapters of the story we see Ruth doing what she can to scratch a living by gleaning (picking up grain that has been left behind or dropped by the harvesters). Later she and Naomi hatch a plan to persuade Boaz, a close male relative of Naomi, to act on their behalf. This plan is daring and requires great courage to pull off. You can read the details in Ruth chapter 3.

The thing about choosing to make ourselves vulnerable is that it always involves risk. We may be rejected or mocked. We may be misunderstood. We may be regarded as weak. We may suffer pain or violence. But the surprising part is that being vulnerable with each other is essential if we want real or deep connection with one another. It’s also the gateway to creativity and innovation, since any artistic or creative venture requires vulnerability. The question for us is whether we are prepared to take the risk of being vulnerable in order to build connections or to be creative.

Posted: Friday, November 12, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Ruth 2:1-3:13

Slowing down with Ruth

Category From the Minister

Often we get caught up in the headline news of the day, which can affect our whole outlook and mood. For months we’ve waited grimly for the daily announcement of Covid infection numbers or the roadmap out of lockdown. This week we may have tuned in the various messages coming from the world’s leaders and activists at the CoP26 climate conference in Glasgow that will affect the planet in important ways. But perhaps the biggest and brightest headline this week was the finding of missing 4 year old Cleo in Western Australia that brought a smile to many faces and hearts.

I’m sure that God is somehow involved in all these headline grabbing stories. But it’s important to remember that God is also involved in our ordinary everyday lives, if we have the eyes of faith to see it. Perhaps in the joy of children playing together, in the quiet catch-ups with friends or even in the routine of working in the garden or going for our daily stroll.

Amidst the headline grabbing OT books that speak of the exploits of towering figures like Moses, Samuel and David, there is the short story about Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi. It’s unusual in the patriarchal biblical culture to have such a focus on the relationship between two women and their struggles and joys. But it’s refreshing that such a story was deemed important enough to include in our Bibles. It shows that God is concerned and involved with our everyday life and simple tasks like putting food on the table. God has no speaking lines in this story yet is present in nearly every scene. May this story encourage us to slow down and look out for where God is at work in our lives.

Posted: Friday, November 5, 2021 by Peter Mallen
Tags: Ruth 1

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