Lent 2B (28-02-2021)

The following service was streamed live via Zoom  on February 28th at 10:30am.

The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day.   Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions.  If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church. 

There  are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon .  [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip]   When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of  your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.

-oOo-

“Faith means battles. If there are no contests, it is because there are none who desire to contend.” (St.Ambrose)

A CALL TO  CELEBRATION

We gather here to celebrate life’s beauty and find healing for its pain; to honour our kinship with each other and with the earth; and to create a more compassionate world, beginning with ourselves.

LIGHTING THE LENTEN CANDLES    (If you are using lenten candles at home, light 5 of the 6 lenten candles plus the Christ candle)

May the light of these candles remind us of the possibility for everyone to achieve truth and goodness in our lives, if we only seek it.  

HYMN 684 – “Love Will be Our Lenten Calling” (click here to listen)

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Jesus invites us to a way of celebration, meeting and feasting with the humble and poor.

R: Let us walk his way with joy.

L: Jesus beckons us to a way of risk, letting go of our security.

R: Let us walk his way with joy.

L: Jesus challenges us to listen to the voices of those who have nothing to lose.

R: Let us walk his way with joy.

L: Jesus points us to a way of self-giving, where power and status are overturned.

R: Let us walk his way with joy.

L: Jesus calls us to follow the way of the cross, where despair is transformed by the promise of new life.

R: Let us walk his way with joy. 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Spirit of Life and Love, we have gathered in this sacred place again. May we create here a circle of love, ever expanding, ever growing; a place of wisdom, a place of connection, a place of hope. May it be so.

A JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation

We come together from our separate lives, each of us bringing our concerns, our preoccupations, our hopes, and our dreams. We are not yet fully present. The traffic, the last-minute cooking, the final details still cling to us. Our bodies hold the rush of the past few hours. It is now time to let go of these pressures and really arrive…

     Silence

When you are ready, repeat silently to yourself: ‘Hineini’ or ‘Here I am’. Hineini is used in the Torah to signify being present in body, mind, and spirit. It means settling into where we are and simply being “here”.           (30 seconds silence)

CONFESSION

Let us pray.Holy Friend, our God and Saviour, we have talked much about faith yet have been slow to take its risk, we have lauded forgiveness yet have been miserly in giving it, we have praised truth yet have fudged our own integrity, we have extolled love yet have placed conditions on our loving, we have urged hope for others yet have ourselves lived like cynics, we have honoured Christ’s Cross yet have avoided our own

Most faithful God, please deal with each according to our individual betrayals of the Gospel we espouse. By your Spirit enter the secret corners of the soul and there expose, judge, counsel, cleanse and reform us. Forgive us repeatedly, we pray, until forgiveness is such a part of us that it may become a way of life as we deal with those around us. In the name of Christ our Redeemer.  Amen!

ASSURANCE 

Friends of God, in Christ your sins are forgiven and your future is open. It is time to leave old sins behind and look ahead with confidence, for the door to life has been opened to us./ Thanks be to God.

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Genesis 22:1-18     (NKJV)

For the Christian, the interest of this story lies not so much in its primitive origins, connected with the abandonment of human sacrifice, nor with its meaning as it stands in the Jewish scriptures, as a statement of how Israel was born out of the faith of Abraham.  It lies rather with its later development in Judaism which emphasised Isaac’s voluntary surrender of his life, to which was attributed an atoning significance.  Hence, the early church found here one of its models for the death of Christ.

22 Now it came to pass after these things that God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!”

And he said, “Here I am.”

Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.”

So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. Then on the third day Abraham lifted his eyes and saw the place afar off. And Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; the lad and I will go yonder and worship, and we will come back to you.”

So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together.

Then they came to the place of which God had told him. And Abraham built an altar there and placed the wood in order; and he bound Isaac his son and laid him on the altar, upon the wood. 10 And Abraham stretched out his hand and took the knife to slay his son.

11 But the Angel of the Lord called to him from heaven and said, “Abraham, Abraham!”

So he said, “Here I am.”

12 And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

13 Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. 14 And Abraham called the name of the place, The-Lord-Will-Provide; as it is said to this day, “In the Mount of the Lord it shall be provided.”

15 Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, 16 and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— 17 blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. 18 In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.”

FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 8:31-38    (the Message version)

30-32 Jesus warned them to keep it quiet, not to breathe a word of it to anyone. He then began explaining things to them: “It is necessary that the Son of Man proceed to an ordeal of suffering, be tried and found guilty by the elders, high priests, and religion scholars, be killed, and after three days rise up alive.” He said this simply and clearly so they couldn’t miss it.

32-33 But Peter grabbed him in protest. Turning and seeing his disciples wavering, wondering what to believe, Jesus confronted Peter. “Peter, get out of my way! Satan, get lost! You have no idea how God works.”

34-37 Calling the crowd to join his disciples, he said, “Anyone who intends to come with me has to let me lead. You’re not in the driver’s seat; I am. Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self. What good would it do to get everything you want and lose you, the real you? What could you ever trade your soul for?

38 “If any of you are embarrassed over me and the way I’m leading you when you get around your fickle and unfocused friends, know that you’ll be an even greater embarrassment to the Son of Man when he arrives in all the splendour of God, his Father, with an army of the holy angels.”

HYMN 691 – “Faith Will Not Grow from Words Alone”
(click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS

                         “Where is the Lamb for the Sacrifice”  

     Part 1

“I see you have the coals and the wood, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” (Gen.22:7b)

How did you feel when you listened to the story of Abraham about to sacrifice his only son, Isaac.  What is your emotional response?

My response, when I was given this passage to meditate on at a retreat, was anger – outrage – to the point that I wanted to cry as an infant does when it is angry.  Now such anger is not the sort of feeling I’ve come to expect while praying, but it is hardly a surprising one.

In the first place, there was every reason to outraged at God.  What kind of God would ask a person to kill his only son, a child that he and his wife Sarah had wanted for 80 years before his rather miraculous birth?  And why pick on a man like Abraham, who had already demonstrated his faith when he packed up and left his homeland without question and without knowing why or where he was going, except that God had commanded him?  God doesn’t need to test people anyway, right?.  God knows who is faithful and who is not.

In the second place, I was angry with Abraham for blindly doing what he was told without question.  He even made Isaac carry the firewood for his own funeral pyre.

Thirdly, I was angry with Isaac for allowing himself to naively be led to the slaughter.

And the last straw was God’s reward to Abraham for his obedience; a great promise to be sure, but same one that he had already made to him twice before, back in chapters 15 & 17.

Frankly, I think this story stinks.  Here we have in this story a picture of human religion – the church – at its worst.  There is this masculine hierarchy; and I say masculine, because could you imagine a feminine God asking a mother to kill her child?  Could you imagine any feminine response which would go along with such a command?  So there is this masculine hierarchy in which the top dog commands his servant to do a dirty deed, and the obedient, fearful servant does as he is commanded without thinking, and who suffers?  As usual it is the powerless one, the child.  Think about big business, about politics.  It works the same way.  The powerful issue the orders, the gutless middle men do the dirty work, and the powerless – the children, the women, the poor, the disadvantaged – pay the price while the powerful reap the benefit.

When the church, works this way, as it often does, it makes possible the worst atrocities in human history:  crusades, inquisitions,  genocide.  And even when we avoid the worst of the excesses of this model, we still suffer in small ways.   What happens when you compare yourself with Abraham, the biblical model of faith?  In his position either you agree to kill your child or you don’t measure up.  I dare say it would be a rare person who would be able to measure up (if that’s the correct phrase), so probably, without exception, we would fall short of the expected level of faith.  We would leave wearing the label, in capital letters,  “INADEQUATE.”  If Abraham is the model of faith then I fail the test.

Of course, being inadequate is not so bad in itself.  I am very inadequate on the cricket pitch, for example, but I don’t have any trouble living with my inadequacy because nobody, especially me, expects me to be a good cricketer.  If, however, someone points out to me today that I performed inadequately on the baseball field with the youth, then I might react.  I might make excuses, or get defensive, or even get angry.

Inadequacy may prompt feelings of anger when one is inadequate in some aspect of life that one should be adequate in.  The key word is “should”, a nasty little word that crops up from time to time in the realm of religion.  The word “should” turns inadequacy into feelings of guilt.

I’d be surprised if you haven’t experienced the feeling.  We all have soft spots that, when touched, give rise to surprisingly violent reactions. Too often people leave church feeling guilty or inadequate. I am partially responsible for this, because when I find the gospel challenging, I pass it on to you; it’s part of my job. But is evoking guilt and inadequacy the ‘good news’ of Jesus?

     Part 2

Furthermore, the church uses those feelings to control people. Given the fact that, throughout our church-going life we are told that the one thing, above all, that we should have is faith, it is no surprise that we may feel inadequate, guilty and even angry when we are brought face to face with a model of that faith that most normal people could not hope to live up to.

It is also the unfortunate reaction of those whom I visit who do not attend church very often. Even though I am not particularly concerned about church attendance, and I never raise the issue, my presence, no matter what I try to do to put people at ease, evokes guilt and defensiveness. This self-imposed guilt is the reason why people often feel unworthy to go to church in the first place: they don’t think they measure up to churchgoers, whom they perceive as goody-goodies. 

So here we have this man Abraham with his ridiculously blind faith, with his son, who has a similarly blind faith, and we are given the impression that this is the proper model for us.  We are given this picture of what we should be like.  When Isaac asks “…but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?”, we see the bone pointed squarely at us.  We hear a voice saying, “You must give up your children, your wealth, your home, yourselves.”  We hear again Jesus saying, “If any man is to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  And when we look in the mirror, we don’t like what we see, because we do not measure up. We don’t much like the idea of sacrificing lives, especially our children’s and our own, just because of some voice in the night.

If we take Abraham seriously as an outer world model, we have two alternatives, neither of which is very good. We can choose to ignore the model, or rationalise it away:  Abraham really didn’t hear God; he was schizophrenic.  That leaves us without a model of faith at all, which is bad.  Or we can go along with this masculine hierarchical model, and either feel guilty and inadequate because we can’t measure up, or else end up committing all sorts of atrocities in God’s name, and that’s worse.  As I said before, this story stinks.

However, if we understand the story as symbolic of an inner process, then it takes on a different character. If we understand God as that loving force wanting us all to experience life in all its fullness, then this God is not going to want to take life away from anyone, especially a child. Rather this God is going to want us to remove the barriers that we all have to experiencing that life. Typically those barriers are the things that are nearest and dearest to us; after all what could have been dearer to Abraham than Isaac? So this story takes place inside. God speaks to me about my inner life, and says, “Bob, your soul is tied too much to your wife, your kids, your grandchildren. You have put them in my place, and so you must sacrifice them in your heart if you are to live.”  This same thing applies to everything that I truly value.

If I can do that, I still have my family in the outer world, but now I have much more:  I have a new freedom to live. God does not ask for impossible acts of faith in the outer world, but for the sort of risk taking in the inner world that allows us to defy fear and yield ourselves to the Divine within us. That’s what Jesus meant when he spoke of taking up your cross; it is a letting go of self so that we can experience the full potential of life.  Far from obedience to a hierarchical superior, it is acceptance of a gift of love and life.  The covenant which God made with Abraham is, therefore, not a reward for obedience, but a product of faith.

The good news of this passage follows from Isaac’s question: “…where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” Abraham speaks the good news even though he doesn’t know it at the time: “God will provide the lamb, my son.” And so it is: God provides all that is needed.  It matters not what you have and what you lack; God provides what is necessary.  Faith is not a quality to be judged upon to determine how godly you are, but is simply that which allows you to accept the gift of life. 

IN AN AUSTRALIAN ACCENT    “Like a Plover” by Bruce Prewer

God, tender and strong,
as the plover defends her young
against their enemies,
so defend me
against those anxieties and nameless fears
which are my enemies.

Save me in the hour of trial,
and deliver me from evil.

Under your wings
let me shelter until faith and courage return.

THE DESCENDING DARKNESS

As we will do each Sunday of Lent, we will extinguish a candle to represent the ways in which we avoid the light. LENT IS A TIME FOR THE WILDERNESS……but the wilderness is dry and there is waste and I could get lost.  Lord, it would be lonely.  People die there!  And I don’t have time.  

(A candle is extinguished, followed by a silent period)

HYMN 643 – “I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light”
(click here to listen)

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

L: God our Friend, and resourceful Helper, as we call to mind other people in their numerous needs, we pray that you will encompass them with your loving Spirit, and enable your church to find practical ways of ministering to them.

Somewhere at this moment there are thoughtful, kindly men and women who are staring at prison walls because they dared speak out for truth and justice.Loving God, give your people the faith to counterbalance despair,

R: and the love to outweigh self interest and neglect.

L: Somewhere today children are whimpering after days of hunger, and their parents can only look on with the pain of a love that feels impotent. Loving God, give us the faith to counterbalance despair,

R: and the love to outweigh self interest and neglect.

L: Somewhere right now oppressed people are working like slaves for scant rewards while their exploiters are living is luxurious leisure. Loving God, give us the faith to counterbalance despair,

R: and the love to outweigh self interest and neglect.

L: Somewhere at this hour persecuted Christians are meeting for worship in hiding, knowing that sooner or later some one might betray them. Loving God, give us the faith to counterbalance despair,

R: and the love to outweigh self interest and neglect.

L: Somewhere this morning people are facing major surgery, while others are being told that they have a disease for which there is no remedy. Loving God, give us the faith to counterbalance despair,

R: and the love to outweigh self interest and neglect.

L: Somewhere this day innocent people are suffering the chaos and brutality of war, homes are ravaged, bodies mutilated, hatreds enlarged. Loving God, give us the faith to counterbalance despair,

R: and the love to outweigh self interest and neglect.

L: Somewhere at this hour of prayer quiet members of this congregation, and of other churches in our community, may be secretly facing crises which threaten to overwhelm them. Loving God, give us the faith to counterbalance despair,

R: and the love to outweigh self interest and neglect.

L: Somewhere, near or far away, there are folk caught up in the raw grief of a recent death, so distressed that they wonder how they will ever be able to go on living. Loving God, give us the faith to counterbalance despair

R: and the love to outweigh self interest and neglect.

L: We thank you loving God, that your mercies are never confined to the range of our prayers, nor your servants limited to the ranks of the churches. Please bless the mighty host of those, who in many races, classes and creeds, are endeavouring to serve others without thought for their own comfort, profit or safety. Through Christ Jesus our reconciler and healer, who taught us to pray, “Our Father….”

THE LORD’S PRAYER

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name; your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.  Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.  For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen. 

HYMN  478 “I Bind Unto Myself Today” (click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION

L: The time has now come for us to leave this sacred place.  As we do, may we embrace the challenges of our lives and our world…(The candle is extinguished)…Go out from this place to your daily journey through life.

R: As we do, may we fashion relationships of inclusion and reconciliation, and a life-style that loves and treats people and the earth gently, as God does. And may the Holy One surprise us all on the way.

BENEDICTION

Walk softly. Speak truthfully. Love gently. Breathe deeply. Live wisely. Go in peace. Amen! 

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