For years, a pair of magpies have included my house and garden in their domain. They stalk about, finding food; their offspring, incessantly squawking, trail along behind them. They wake me at dawn with their glorious carolling, and call from the trees during the day.
If I am outside, I call back. ‘Loodle-loodle-loodle loo,’ I call, over and over. They never seem to take much notice. The neighbours must think I am crazy.
One sunny day last week, I was walking back from the shops and there on the nature strip, not two metres away, was the male magpie. I stopped.
’Loodle-loodle-loodle-loo,’ I said softly.
He looked up from his foraging, and in a moment, started to sing. His song was very soft, with little trills and calls I had not heard before. I tried to imitate him with poor little whistles, not up to standard. He kept looking directly at me, continuing his lilting warble. Fortunately, no-one else was around!
I decided it was time to move on. I started to stroll the fifty metres to my place, and to my astonishment he kept pace with me, stalking along the grass beside me, a metre and a half away, continuing his gentle calls. I talked, whistled and loodled softly as we proceeded. When we reached my driveway, I told him I had to go. We had another brief exchange, and parted, me so elated at the privilege of participating in a conversation with a magpie!
What had we said? I don’t know, but it was joyous, appreciative, the result of a long friendship. Sweet nothings? Maybe …
A beautiful, unexpected gift.
We all receive so many gifts directly from the natural world around us, whether it is fresh new growth on the trees, the springing into life of our gardens, reflections on the lake, the tweeting of canaries or the love of pets that have accompanied us through these Covid times, giving us warmth, comfort and friendship.
God provides the natural world, from which we are all derived, to continue to be a blessing for us. We in turn are to bless it, to guard it, and praise God’s name for its riches.
This Sunday is St Francis of Assisi Day, when we would normally have the Blessing of the Animals at Little River, an event that normally attracts many from the local district. Sadly, it not possible this year. However, that does not stop us from appreciation and care of the creatures around us, and praising God for them.
Psalm 145 reflects some of this.
Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no-one can fathom.
The Lord is faithful to all his promises and loving toward all he has made.
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time.
You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.
My mouth will speak in praise of the Lord.
Let every creature praise his holy name for ever and ever.
Perhaps the magpie and I were singing God’s praises together?
This morning we are freer! We can gather in small groups! We can go to have a coffee – outside - with our friends! We are permitted to travel across regional Victoria!
I am sure we will all want to spend our money at local cafes, do things we had long put off, be with our families in small celebrations, visit those in distress. We all want to love and support one another, including local businesses.
This is good and right. How wonderful that our reason for being is not limited to pleasure-seeking! We follow Jesus, who came to serve.
I was reading in Isaiah this morning, chapters 41 and 42. It speaks of the Lord’s Servant who will perfectly fulfill God’s love: Jesus himself. Matthew quotes 42:1-4 in chapter 12. In Matthew, chapter 20 Jesus tells that ‘… the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’
All of life, including pandemics, is to be interpreted through this. Jesus knows suffering, Jesus endured suffering, experienced injustice and betrayal, for us. He overcame it, triumphed, conquered death, through this ultimate service and self-giving. For YOU! For me.
Therefore, God’s promises apply.
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you, and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41: 10
I will guide you along unfamiliar paths, turn darkness into light before you, and make the rough places smooth. Isaiah 42: 16
Do not be afraid: the Lord is with us. The joy of the Lord is our strength. Let us follow Jesus in service.
This applies to our own lives, to the way we see our role in the wider world, to our life as a church, to the search for a new vicar, to our vision for our church in the future.
Pray that we may increasingly know this reality in our lives and in the life of the church.
I went for a walk along the Barwon River this morning with a friend. We seemed to spend all the time
exclaiming at how beautiful everything was: the majestic trees, the wattles glowing with gold, the river,
racing and roaring after recent rain, Wood Duck looking for a nesting place, a kayaker using all his skills
against the torrent, the skill of those who had built the precipitous steps down from the Falls.
C. S. Lewis was talking about Psalm 98 when he wrote: ‘I had never noticed that all enjoyment
spontaneously overflows into praise: people praising their favourite game, food, their children, travels,
flowers … I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise completes the enjoyment …
delight is incomplete until it is expressed.’
This psalm is full of noise as people are asked to celebrate God’s goodness in many different ways: sing,
shout, play instruments, applaud! The creation itself is called to join in!
Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music!
Let the sea resound and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.
Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy.
Giving thanks and praise to God for the many ordinary things around us lifts our spirits. But they are all
extraordinary, really. As we look to the One who made them, he wants to meet us in blessing. ‘Rejoice in
the Lord always. Again, I say, Rejoice!’ Paul tells us. ‘The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything,
but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace
of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.’
Philippians 4, verses 4-7.
Let’s rejoice in God’s blessings, even though things are especially hard these days. Let’s put aside anxiety
and trust in God’s provision. Even in the midst of trouble, we are supported by God’s sustaining hand.
Have I told you about my friend Polly? She lives in Lara and is a bird-watcher, like me.
One day, about three years ago, I met her on a bird walk.
‘Hello Polly. How are you?’ I said, as you do.
‘I’m just fine, thank you,’ she replied. ‘Much better than when I was eighty.’
I stared, flabbergasted.
‘How old are you now, Polly?’
‘What made the difference, Polly? I asked, when I recovered.
‘Exercise. I go to the gym three times a week. I do step-ups and I do weights, and I’ve got my strength
back and my balance back.’
I knew that I didn’t want to get to eighty and have lost my strength and my balance, so I decided to go to
the gym too. I never thought of myself as a gym-junkie! But until the Covid shutdown, I was going to the
gym three times a week and was stronger and livelier as a result.
I try to keep up with my exercise at home, or on walks, but it is not the same, without the group of
friends I have made, and the accountability I had with them. I am fortunate to have three steps inside
my house so I go up and down them until I am breathless. I do my garden, and a few other things, but I
know I am not as fit as I was. My level of self-discipline is too low!
What about you? How are you keeping fit in these restricted times? Perhaps we could share our
experiences and ideas and encourage one another in this area. After all, God made us to move, and lack
of movement can lead to all sorts of other issues with our health and welfare.
All things being equal, age makes no difference and is no excuse not to exercise, as Polly shows us.
In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul used the example of physical exercise as a synonym for the
spiritual disciplines too. Corinth is not far from Olympia, where the games were regularly held. The
wider Greek culture was pervaded with knowledge of the benefits of physical activity. They knew that if
you don’t maintain physical exercise, you will suffer for it. Fitness needs to be worked at.
Paul tells us that it is the same with our spiritual life. Let’s work hard in these Covid times, not only to be
physically fit, but spiritually, too, to remain close to God, to get to know Jesus better, to grow in the Holy
Let’s be reading Matthew’s Gospel over and over, dip into the Psalms, pore over the letter to the
Romans. Let’s all be more and more people of prayer, bringing our adorations, heart’s concerns and
issues, along with our questions and our doubts to the One who loves and knows more than can be
It takes self-discipline! We make the decision and we do it. Perhaps we even have a bit more time in our
lives at present. Starting the day this way is good practice: to set our hearts and lives on the best and
most productive course for our days. Then we can get our physical exercise ... if we are disciplined …
Psalm 116 is so good! Some bits -
I love the Lord, for he heard my voice, he heard my cry for mercy. Verse 1
For you, O Lord have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before the Lord in the land of the living. Verse 8-9. Read the whole!
In lockdown again! Not as bad as Melbourne, but it still affects us greatly in the City of Greater
Geelong. We in Lara are especially feeling for our friends in Little River, Wyndham, so near and yet so
In Stage Three, we are back to a maximum of five people at church in Lara, as we were earlier. This will
be the leader and preacher, generally me, the Zoom host and assistant. This leaves a couple of spaces,
and I am planning to invite one or two non-Zoomers to attend on a rotating basis.
Because we have all the procedures in place, the Op Shop may remain open, depending on our
wonderful volunteers. If we are directed otherwise, we will close, of course. So far, this has not
My visiting of people in their homes is curtailed again, but I hope to see some, perhaps outside if the
weather is appropriate.
How blessed we are in our homes! I was thinking about mine: a secure roof and walls that keep out the
rain and cold, excellent water in the taps, reliable gas and electricity, the means of cooking, a deliciously
warm bed, access to a world-class sanitation system. I also have internet and phone which keep me in
touch, in spite of occasional wavering. Compared to most of the rest of the world, I am rich beyond
dreams of avarice.
Being at home is restricting compared to our former lives, and places strains on many. Pray for each
other. But it is by no means all bad! I have heard of two studies, one from the University of Canberra,
and one from the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, who surveyed people in response to the first
lockdown, and found that the vast majority, over 60% in one and 75% in the other, reported improved
And have you heard about the premmie babies? A Danish paediatrician reported that in normal times in
his hospital they would have an average of thirty babies a month born prematurely. Since the lockdown,
three a month. This pattern has been repeated in many other hospitals across the world. Now they
have to work out just what it was about our old ways that was so detrimental to life. Long, frenetic
drives to work? Eating on the run? Not enough emotional support? Greater infection rates? Perhaps all
of these and more.
Homes have always been intended as places of refuge and blessing and form a picture of our life with
God. Psalms 90 and 91 are very helpful with this. They do not avoid life’s traumas but give us direction.
It is helpful to read them in their entirety, but I include a few quotes:
Lord you have ben our dwelling place throughout all generations. Psalm 90, verse 1
The one who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, he is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust. Psalm 91, verses 1 and 2.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Ps 90: 12 and
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days, 14.
Homes become a picture of our relationship with Jesus, where we are most intimately known, and
where we can be our true selves.
John 1: 14 says: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
In chapter 14 verse 23 Jesus says: If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him,
and we will come to him and make our home with him.
This is my prayer for you: I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power
through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. Ephesians 3:
16-17. Let’s pray it for one another.
I’ve just heard that the numbers for Victoria are 723 today. Seven hundred and twenty-three people have tested positive to the Coronavirus in the last twenty-four hours. 255 are in regional Victoria. My heart sinks. What will the future hold for us? We must all be feeing deflated, frustrated, disappointed.
Here in the City of Greater Geelong we can no longer have visitors to our homes, and from Sunday must all wear a mask or face covering as soon as we step out of our homes. These seem simple and perfectly reasonable measures to lower the spread of the virus. Let’s get the masks on today!
Of course, people who are sick must not go to work, and if we are tested we must stay at home until our results are available. And let’s not forget to wash our hands! These things we can do. They will all help
But the overall effect is frustration. This wretched virus! How it has disrupted our lives, and puts so much in jeopardy. Plans must change. Jen, our hard-working Parish Administrator, has postponed her wedding which was to have taken place in September and now is planned for next June. So many other things are affected, too. I’m sure you know of plenty. Living through this is wearing. Some are becoming angry.
So many of the psalms are written through difficult times, asking questions of God, complaining to God, lamenting what is happening. When everything in my life is going fine, they are a surprise, sometimes an embarrassment. When things are difficult, I have found that they help amazingly. Others have been here before me and have expressed what I feel in very explicit, tough language. Sometimes I can even feel with the most repellent expressions, though I don’t want to! But it is so good to know it is OK to complain to God, even to get angry with him. It is godly to lament the tragedies of the world.
In fact, there is a whole book of laments in the Bible, called, not so surprisingly, Lamentations. Have you read it? I’m not surprised if you haven’t! It is depressing reading.
In our English translations, it can look like a whole lot of dark thoughts and experiences jumbled together. But notice the chapter lengths. It is structured around the Hebrew alphabet of 22 letters, indicating that all of what can be said about the subject is attempted here, and does so in a carefully structured way. The third, longest, and central chapter has as its heart an amazing change of tone. One of your and my most favourite and comforting verses in the Bible comes from this very context:
I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
I will say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
It is good to wait patiently for the salvation of the Lord. Lamentations 3: 19 – 26.
So, complain to God, be real with God, get close to God. God is with us in our lamenting. Praise God. Sing, ‘Great is your faithfulness.’
With love and blessings to you,
Locum minister, Holy Trinity Lara with Christ Church Little River.
Recently, the Geelong Field Naturalists Club, of which I am a member, asked Dr David Boyle, also a member, to run a webinar (like a seminar, but on the internet) about viruses.
David has 50 yeas experience working with viruses and epidemic diseases, especially with the CSIRO at AAHL in Geelong. He is a Virologist.
I found David’s talk fascinating. I thought you might enjoy some details.
Viruses are not just small, but very, very small. The polio virus is 1/10.000th the size of a grain of salt. They are very, very abundant, with hundreds of thousands of types. End to end it is estimated they would stretch for 100 million light years! They make copies of themselves very, very quickly. They can enter a cell, replicate between 100 and 1000 new copies, and exit the cell, all in 20 minutes.
There are viruses in every living organism on earth. They are a natural part of natural processes, living in the cells of their hosts.
We have our own. It is estimated that there are 200 virus particles for every square centimetre of every person on the planet. 8% of our genetic makeup is viruses or virus-like elements inserted into the human genome!
Without them, we would not exist. There are viruses in the womb of every placental mammal, which suppress the immune response of the mother to the ‘foreign’ embryo, permitting it to develop. Without them, we never could have had children.
They are fundamental to life, emerging from its very beginnings.
They do not ‘think’ of course, but mutate and adapt very rapidly, fitting the conditions they find.
Factors such as increasing human population, intensification of food production encroaching onto the natural world, degradation of the environment, and global movement of peoples facilitate this.
‘Don’t blame the bats!’ David said. ‘It’s what viruses do.’
We are learning to understand viruses. There is even room for virus appreciation! Do we really want to praise God for viruses? Well, of course not, but yes! We must learn to live with their more unpleasant aspects, even or especially when they have potential to disrupt or destroy our lives so disastrously.
Maybe it is a bit like the Parable of the Weeds, from Matthew chapter 13, that Philip told us about last Sunday. Only the final harvest will differentiate. In the meantime, we adjust. We pray, we cry out to God for his mercy and help, we hope, we have faith in the Lord of all, whatever our circumstances. We do what we see needs doing. In a pandemic, we continue to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love our neighbour as ourselves.
Lynne Clarke, Locum minister at Holy Trinity Lara and Christ Church Little River.
Helen sent me an email a couple of weeks ago, telling me that there were goslings by the lake! She knows I am keen on birds, and that I had counted the Cape Barren Geese on the Lara Lakes a few months ago. I had found twenty that day. A few weeks ago, I mooched around there in the car again and was a bit surprised to notice that numbers were down. Now I know why! Even though it is early in the season, half the birds are sitting on eggs!
I mentioned the goslings to Joan and Esther, as I know they like birds too. Soon after, Esther sent me some beautiful pics she had just taken of the proud parents and their five beautiful little black-and-white striped chicks on the grass near the lake. I look forward to seeing them, and many others, when I return to Lara in a couple of weeks.
A female magpie has just completed her nest in the big tree behind my house. The pair of Red Wattlebirds which regularly nest in the trees at the front, are getting restive. What delightful signs of on-going life are all these. God provides for his creatures even, maybe especially, through the cold and wet.
Jesus tells us: ‘Look at the birds of the air: they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.’ Matthew’s gospel again, 6:26. Their food is abundantly present, but they must do their own foraging, of course!
Last week I heard from some friends who work as missionaries in Indonesia. They are concerned for themselves, their students, and their families in the pandemic, as numbers of infected people are growing rapidly there. They are praying for wisdom for all, especially themselves. They commented on the attitude of Indonesian friends:
‘… the fact that they are used to living one day at a time, depending on God to provide for their daily needs, has better equipped them to face this crisis than we are. We are so thankful for their example, and pray that we might learn greater day-by-day dependence on God.’
Jesus says, in verse 27, ‘Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?’ God knows the length of our days, and in all of them we are his treasures. He cares for us. ‘Look to him, and be radiant,’ as Leon reminded us last Sunday. Greater dependence on God.
Our times are in His hands. With the change in the situation in Victoria this week, it would be easy for us to have an increased burden of worry, even panic. But pandemics are not new: they had them in Jesus’ day and he tells us to cast off the burden of anxiety. Of course, we are to be realistic, to take every sensible precaution, doing our own ‘foraging’, but in the midst of that to trust ourselves and our lives to Him.
In faith, we bring our needs to God, the needs of those we love, our community, and our leaders in the midst of the Covid19 pandemic, and those who have asked for our prayers.
Day by day dependence on God is a lesson we all must continually learn.
A friend has moved to Hume Court, Costa House. This is a loved and familiar place to her, as she volunteered here for more than sixty years. It is a bit different living here, of course, and she would rather be in her own home, but after a couple of falls she knows that now she is no longer a worry to her family.
‘This is my last home,’ she tells me. ‘From here I go to meet my Maker.’ She smiles as she says it. ‘I’m not afraid. I’m comfortable with that. I’d just like to go one night in my sleep, like my mother did.’ She indicates a picture above her bed. ’Isn’t she lovely?’
Her tone changes.
‘There are people here who are afraid though. Some of them tell me they are frightened.’ She wonders at this. ‘If only they knew Him, like I do. I try to tell them, but they look at me as though I am crazy.’
She is far from crazy. Her faith is deep and has been integral to her for so long. She has a peace that keeps her balanced and whole, in the face of sadness, old age and death.
With the increase in Coronavirus cases and our concern about the lockdown in Melbourne, especially the residential towers, a heightened sense of unease is inevitable amongst us and our community. We seem to be suddenly more aware than previously of the dangers of cross infection. We are all concerned for people’s welfare, and I expect and hope that we are all regularly praying about this, bringing the concerns of our hearts to the One who knows and feels with us. When we come to the end of our resources, or are overwhelmed by sorrows, sometimes to such an extent that we can’t even pray, it is wonderful to know that it is then in particular that the Spirit intercedes for us, with sighs too deep for words.
Paul’s letter to the Romans is a wonderful book and chapter 8 is its centre. He says in verse 19 that the whole of creation is waiting for God’s children to be revealed. God has always wanted to rule his world through human beings, part of what it means to be made in God’s image. ‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning … right up to the present time … we ourselves groan inwardly …’ Verse 22. I think we can all recognise that picture. It is true of us now. The world is groaning, and so are we: we are caught up in it as God’s people. That is as it should be, but it is not easy.
Romans 8, verse 26 explains: ‘… the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.’
In this difficult time, we are called to be a people of prayer at the place where the world is in pain. Sometimes we can only groan, but it is then that we are caught up into the very life of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, sharing in God’s deep, deep love for us and the world
Please read Romans chapter 8. Read verses 15 to 27 over and over, so that it seeps into your very being. Then read the whole chapter, 1 to 39. You will love it.
I have been thinking especially of our political leaders lately. They always face many challenges, but they are much deeper and more serious than usual these days. I think our prayers for them, both personally and in the work they do on our behalf, are more important than ever just now.
Lynne Clarke, Locum minister at Holy Trinity Lara and Christ Church Little River.
HOLY TRINITY & CHRIST CHURCH WEEKLY REFLECTION
Welcome to our weekly reflection!