Pastoral Letter 117

Dear Members of St. Andrew’s Uniting Church, Friends and Adherents,

Grace and peace to you all.

I hope that last Sunday you were able to celebrate Mother’s Day with your families and gave thanks to God for the mothers, thanking them for their love, care and dedication to provide for and protect their families, facing all the challenges that come with motherhood.

As we head to the polls on Saturday to cast our votes for the Federal elections, I urge you all to pray before your vote and then continue to pray, because regardless which party wins and assumes the responsibility of governing our country, they will need wisdom to steer the ship and help Australia move forward.

If you will not be able to join us at our face-to-face service, you can worship with us at home. Please light a candle and follow the attached Order of Service.

Be safe and well, continue to pray, remembering those who need care, support and love and let us know if any member of the congregation that you know of needs our help and prayers.

Here are some more prayer points for this week:

  1. Pray for the Federal elections and the government elected.
  2. Pray for the poor, the sick, the vulnerable, the struggling and the stressed.
  3. Pray for world peace and ask for God’s blessings.
  4. Pray for the hope that God gives.

Please let me know if you or anyone else has prayer points.

Best Regards,



Breaking the Cultural Barriers

Acts 11:1-18

Since the formation and the establishment of the church in the first century, the church has developed and divided into different branches, taking different forms and denominations within cultures. History shows that from the beginning, there were and always will be groups of Christians with different understandings, doctrines, theology and ecclesiology. Though on one hand, these varieties of the churches are looked at as blossoms giving beauty to the garden, yet on the other hand it creates tensions, barriers and cultural differences.

Today the different denominations and each divided into different branches, have created differences among us. Church councils have been created on local, state, national and regional levels, as well as the world, but still different understandings and approaches have caused issues and more divisions and disagreements. Several Church Councils were held over the years, but it was not, and it will not be possible to have the ideal church, where all will agree and have the same theology and ecclesiology. Still, we have the Eastern and the Western churches within the same family of churches and the different denominations within the Reformed Evangelical Church, with the Presbyterian, Anglican, Lutheran, Methods, Baptist, Charismatic, Pentecostal, etc.

Back in Peter’s Day, when the church was born on Pentecost and started to spread from Jerusalem into the world, as Jesus had commanded them to do, they faced many challenges and differences of opinions. The believers were trying to figure out what this whole thing meant! And they did not agree about much.

A key struggle was the fact that most of the first believers grew up in the Jewish Faith.

They followed dietary laws.

They were circumcised and circumcised their sons.

They followed the Leviticus Commandments.

They did not associate with outsiders.

And somehow, they decided that this is what Jesus would want them to do. They understood that following Jesus was another way to practice their Judaism.

Paul had already felt the call to something more, but Paul was an outsider.

And so, we find the very respected Peter being the person God sent to hear this new message. It is he who carried the message first to the Gentiles God sends to his door, then to the believers who sent him.

And he didn’t have an easy job. He followed God’s calling and found himself faced with a whole group of people who were telling him that he was doing things all wrong.

This crowd that confronted Peter, angry and challenging, failed to get that message. As long as Peter didn’t see it their way, he was wrong.

And yet, Peter defended himself by telling them what God had said. His final defence: “Who was I to think that I could oppose God?

We, the church today, often act like that first century church. We believe that we are the insiders and everyone else is an outsider.

Us and them.

When we include some and exclude others, when we fail to cross barriers and invite others into our circle, we leave them on the outside.

When we decide that this friend or that neighbour shouldn’t be invited to church, we are excluding them from our circle even more.

There is much in the world today that separates people. Jesus called us to love one another as He loved us. Jesus did not discriminate; He opened His heart to everyone. If we are to follow His example, that is what he calls us to do as well.

When we open our hearts to possibility, we do discover that God made all things beautiful.

In our culture, the “us” has become a popular way to describe a person’s closest circle of friends. Those people whom we could call at any time day or night and they’d be there for us – that is our “group.”

What happens when our individual groups become more important than the common good?

What happens when one’s loyalty to his/her group takes priority over all else?

This kind of approach promotes an “us” vs. “them” mentality. It elevates one’s group above all other groups of people. Saying: “My group is right and everyone else is wrong.” Sound familiar?

After his time in Lydda, where he healed Aeneas’ paralysis, and after his time in Joppa, where he raised Tabitha from the dead, and after many hours spent preaching and teaching in these areas and beyond with many people coming into the faith, Peter returned to Jerusalem. But upon his return, his friends, the Jewish believers, were not happy. They didn’t seem to care that God had performed miracles through Peter. They didn’t seem to have joy in the number of people who came into the faith through Peter’s actions and words. What they cared about was that Peter had crossed boundaries.

Peter was a member of the “circumcised” meaning that he was a Jew. And what the Jews who believed in Christ expected from Peter was that no one would associate, let alone eat with, those who were Gentiles.

So, Peter came back to Jerusalem after this amazing and powerful, God-inspired missionary trip and he received no praises or congratulations, what Peter got was accusations of animosity for breaking the rules. “You went into the home of the uncircumcised and ate with them.”

In other words, they were saying to Peter: That’s not allowed. You can’t associate with “those people.” We don’t like “them” because they are not “us”. This approach was toxic in the early church. Toxic because they were seeking to withhold the gospel from God’s children. Toxic, because of the idea that you can’t associate with them.

But that’s not God’s message. God’s message is we are more alike than we are different.

God’s message is that there is no one individual, no one group of people, that is “unclean.”

God’s message is that we need to break down and break through those barriers that separate us so that we can be the body of Christ in the world.

Imagine yourself as Peter… imagine seeing a large linen sheet being lowered from the heavens…who or what do you see on that sheet? God is saying to us: “Break down this barrier, it’s all right.”

Maybe it’s a specific person – someone with whom you need to reconcile.

Maybe it’s a group of people – representative of our broken relationships in the world.

Maybe it’s a place where God wants you to proclaim the gospel.

Who or what do we see on that sheet lowered from heaven?

We, as God’s Church for the world – we, as Christ’s Body in the world – have to break down the barriers of separatism in God’s world. We have to have eyes like Peter’s to see God’s desire; we have to have ears like Peter’s to hear God speak the truth of unity and love; we have to have courage like Peter to break out of what is comfortable, to get out and to reach others for the glory of Christ.

Barriers, human barriers, of ideology and identity keep us from being the proclaimers of salvation that God calls us to be.

Believing that others who do not look like us, think like us, act like us, worship like us, talk like us, live where we live, or any other barriers that we have built, believing that those others are not worthy of receiving the gift of salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord is sinful. And it is against all the teachings of Christ our Lord.

Jesus said: “John baptised with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…and when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”. (Acts 1:5, 8)

Jesus didn’t say, be My witness to some.

Jesus didn’t say, once you receive the Holy Spirit, keep it only among the disciples.

Jesus did say – take the Spirit into all the world – Jerusalem, Judea, even Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

So where do we begin?

We begin by building relationships, taking time to talk to people who could be different from us. Taking time and taking interest in the humanity of others, realizing that they, like us, are beloved children of God with hopes and dreams, with struggles and failures. Christ died for all of us.

Our groups and churches are really more alike than they are different. But we’ll never truly realise it until, like the disciples in Jerusalem, we come to the conclusion: So, then God has enabled Gentiles to change their hearts and lives so that they might have a new life.

God has enabled us and God has enabled all the “them”s of this world to change our hearts and to turn them to the Lord.

People could and will criticise us, for the things we do, the way we live our lives and the manner in which we try to proclaim the good news. When Peter was criticised, he gave an explanation of exactly what happened. He explained everything in detail and tried to justify himself.

When people hear our explanation and see what we are doing in the name of Christ, they will not have further objections and praise God. The message of Christ should be clear and should invite people to praise God.

Let us be the messengers of this good news.