Messages of Hope

Month: January 2022

God coming to us . . .

Published / by Peter

by Laura Jean Truman

We can waste a whole lifetime believing that only one way of experiencing God is true. We can waste a whole lifetime ignoring the longings of our heart, because we’ve been taught that God doesn’t speak through those longings…….

But God doesn’t demand we learn a new soul language before God will speak to us. God comes to us in ways we understand.
God is longing to sing us home in our native language.

Epiphany, the story of the Magi, is about a God who sings us all home, in the language we speak, as the people we are.

Epiphany is not a story of the Magi coming to God. Epiphany is a story of God coming to the Magi, speaking to them in a spiritual language they understood, before they took one step towards God. Epiphany, like all the best stories, is a story about Grace.
The word magos (Magi) is sometimes translated “wise men” and sometimes “kings.” These are theologically safe translations, but not entirely accurate (and the number three only comes from the three gifts they brought – Scripturally, we have no record of how many showed up). While we can’t be entirely sure of the Magi’s story, the most common use of the Greek word magos in the New Testament and in later non-Biblical Greek sources is simply magicians.

Oh dear. This makes us uncomfortable. We’d prefer the Magi to be “wise men,” gentlemen scholars engrossed in scholarly pursuits. Gentiles, yes, but safe, tidied up Gentiles. We like the poetry of “God coming for the outsiders” but only for less messy outsiders. And if they must be so heretical to be magicians (or, as Acts 13:6 translates the word, “sorcerers”), at least let’s see a repentance scene when they come to worship Jesus!

Surprisingly, though, the magicians see the star, are “overjoyed,” bring Jesus gifts, worship Him – then return home. They come as they are – weird witchy astrologers – and leave as they are, weird witchy astrologers. There can be exegetical knots tied over whether the Magi are a good example or not, but Matthew is straightforward in his telling – the Magi follow the star, worship Jesus, and when warned about Herod’s intentions in a dream, dutifully go home a different way. For Matthew, these Magi saw God. For Matthew, God came and found these Magi exactly as they were.

If we dig deep enough into what we love, we will always find God waiting for us, like the funky astrologers buried in their star charts while God planted a star in the sky.

It can be hard to believe the things we love can bring us to God, or that we don’t have to sacrifice our deepest self in order to be found by God. The church has certainly spent a lot of time and energy telling us to distrust ourselves for the sake of “sanctification.” (being made holy).

This is not to say that we aren’t in the process growth and development, or that our religious practice can stretch us into new shapes in a healthy way! We are always growing, and sometimes that’s a bit uncomfortable as we learn new skills or practice the fruits of the Spirit we’re a bit weaker in. There is a time, especially, to sacrifice a bit of what makes us comfy to honor the native language of our neighbor. We can sacrifice our preferences for the sake of our neighbor, as act of worship. These are all ways God sings us home.

The process, though, is like pruning a bush, branch by branch – it grows stronger and better and more resourcefully, but the bush doesn’t change into a rabbit. Its essence is the same bush. We’re growing into our best self, not growing into another self entirely. Our extraneous fluff is being trimmed, but we aren’t shaped into a new self altogether.

And when you finally let yourself hear God sing to you in your heart’s first language, it is such a beautiful gift. Coming home to ourselves and finding God there waiting is delightful, like being permitted to be a kid again in the presence of the Divine, opening Christmas presents given to you by someone who really knows you, playing without being worried about being watched. It is so holy to speak the language we spoke before we knew anyone was listening, when we were “naked and unashamed,” and to believe that God not only talks that language back to us, but that it gives Her joy to do so.

Epiphany, at its core, is a story about the primacy of Grace – God coming to us, however God can, wherever God can, in any language God can use, just to make sure we hear Her clearly. We never make a single step on the journey towards God before God has taken so many steps towards us first.

This is the Gospel, beginning to end.

This is an edited version of “Epiphany: When God speaks our language”
by Laura Jean Truman from CHURCH ANEW churchanew.org

For the full version see . . .
https://churchanew.org/blog/posts/laura-jean-truman-epiphany-when-god-speaks-our-language

 

The content of Messages of Hope is to inspire and kindle imagination
and provide new insights and hope for the pilgrim’s journey.

Being A Multi-cultural Church

Published / by Peter

by the Rev Cyrus Kung

As I pushed my way forward into the obnoxiously large pergola that covered one of China’s most treasured historical sites. I found myself captured by the vastness of empire, power and a history that I had only ever loosely connected myself with. Before us, laid the tomb of Qin Shi Huang and his army of 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots and 520 horses. This terracotta army was silently drawing me in to my own lust for power and ‘the magnificent’, it was drawing me into its 5000 year old story.

Why is it that we are so drawn to the big, the powerful and the jaw dropping things that are beyond ourselves?

There is no doubt that our human civilisations of the past 2000 years have had an infatuation with empires and those organisms that can inspire, move and sometimes control hundreds and thousands of people to move in a singular direction. The late 20th and early 21st century holds no distinction here, however our empires of today are no longer made up of our young men but are more commonly recognised through dollar signs, lit up buildings and brand marketing.

It is in this context of the power of institutional organisms that I see the multicultural documents of the UCA emerge. It is the gentle caress of a well meaning body of Christians hoping to influence and change the hearts of those in our local congregations and institutions. But as relevant as this approach was in the late 20th century western context of law, institution and policy, I am challenged whether this position is effective for the majority of Christians living in the global world of the 21st century. Do aspirational documents coming out of our little corner of the world really spur the Church of the 21st century to live out its multicultural mandate? Is this how the Church will participate in the call to see the kingdom of God here on earth, now as it is in heaven?

35 years on from the original statement released by the UCA stating that we are a multicultural church, we still find ourselves squabbling over how we are to engage with power dynamics and inequalities of Church politics and building occupancies. These documents have set out to address inequality in our local contexts, however anyone that is engaged with any of the “multicultural UCA congregations’ around Australia will see we are still a long way away from living out the cultural mandate of revelation 7 as a local body, let alone a national one.

BUT…God is still faithful and the spirit is continually at work in all of our lives. So before I offer anymore critiques, it is here that I want to acknowledge that in the midst of this overarching struggle of the ‘multicultural church’, we have seen the small wins of local congregations and neighbourly interactions come to fruition. These interactions have formed many strong kingdom orientated relationships within our midst. Friendships, cross cultural learnings and hospitality has been a mark of many local UCA congregations that many would recognise over the turn of the 20th and 21st century.

However… When looking at the wins from these fruitful communities, my questions is… “how much of it can be attributed to nicely formed documents? Or is it that these communities arise out of some other movement, some other means of seeing the multicultural mandate of revelation 7, a movement more grass roots and less, statement and policy driven…..

It is in this conflicting context that I want to ask controversially but also sincerely; “Is placing our resources in crafting well formed statements and well articulated policies adding to the call for diversity in the kingdom? OR is it simply adding to the power of our own western empire building uniformity?” The golden age of the Church institution is long gone and the statements provided are significantly less potent in the political arena now than it was 50 years ago. In addition, in our own local context I doubt many of these well crafted documents are embodied by local congregations and ministers let alone even read by our neighbouring institutions and fellow policy makers in the secular world. These are the harsh realities of a declining Church institution here in the west. These documents rely on the power of our institution in the world and in reality its effectiveness is quickly declining as the institution is growing weaker.

So what does this mean? Should we abandon the institution of the Church and move out into an organic and free spirited inspired movement like the free nature of John the Baptist? Should we be seeking a new world order where christians live in communes?

Who knows…

My reflections here are that as we craft these idealistic and hopeful statements we must not forget the power of christians growing out of grass roots contexts, christians without the anal perfectionism of well crafted statements and policies. I wonder as our policy making institution dwindles, if an effective movement of young leaders and people that are emerging from the grass roots of the majority world are going to be taken seriously and given opportunities to see the 21st century christian Church grow. Who are those that like Christ is holding the polarised corners of the Church together? Policies have traditionally done this in the UCA BUT are there also people who are emerging that can do this with different and creative means? Is this where we might see the Spirit emerge in the 21st century?

People are natural border crossers, we do it all the time, institutions however find border crossing much more difficult, in fact it could be argued that institutions are the ones that create the borders in the first place. In our increasingly divided world, we will need border crosses to show us the unity that can be found in the diversity of the Spirit working in the world. Christ is a person who crosses borders. Christ is relational in nature, It is in His relational border crossing nature that we find unity.

How do we embody this in the 21st century?

How much does the institutional policy making part of the Church add or detract away from this mission?

How do we reimagine the Church of the 21st century in a way that is relational whilst being good stewards of the institution of the UCA we have all inherited?

Maybe the grass roots church of the majority world has something more to teach us…

Maybe this is the kingdom arriving on our doorstep…

Maybe the Kingdom is not the empire of institutional powers we have built…

Maybe the Church of the 21st century needs to shift its focus from policy to people.

By Rev Cyrus Kung

https://pale-gemini-67d.notion.site/From-Policy-to-People-Reflections-and-Opinions-on-the-Multicultural-Documents-of-the-UCA-8ba863b58e4b4b27bbe8c2ff38504713

Rev Cyrus Kung, from CityView Uniting Church in the Synod of SA, shares some of his thoughts about the future of our commitment to be a multicultural church. Cyrus was one of the participants in our Act2 Circle consultations. Through the Act2 project, we want to hear from you about how we can nurture and grow vibrant local communities of faith into the future.

Find out more about Act2 here……
https://uniting.church/consideringafresh/

A personal prayer for 2022

Published / by Peter

God of all times and seasons,
On this threshold of a new year, I turn and return again to you.
The year spreads before us with possibilities and challenges, joys and concerns.
There is beauty all around: in the smiles of children, in the love offered between friends, in the beauty of the earth.
But there are also challenges already surfacing.
In the closing days of last year we have seen the images of war torn countries,
terrorist attacks, hunger, poverty and despair.
Your heart grieves when your children anywhere are hurting.
My heart grieves too.
Then again, I know that even in the midst of winter there is hope for spring,
and even in the midst of grief there are signs of hope:
children embraced, lives touched by grace, heroes who surface in times of trial.
In the midst of the good and the bad, hear my prayer for this New Year.
May you help me to love a bit more deeply,
See the beauty around me more clearly,
Listen more earnestly,
Speak more honestly.
May I be troubled by injustice and be moved to act.
May I be led by compassion and be moved to serve.
May I walk softly upon this earth and be gentle towards your creation.
May I be a courageous and bold witness for you.
May I be a living example of your gracious love, not only in word but in deed.
And may I daily give thanks for the others in my life and in the world that do the same and more, every day, in innumerable ways.
For the promise in this New Year, I give you thanks.
Help me to live it wisely and well.

(Source: Sandy Messick, Worship Words)