The following service was streamed live via Zoom on April 18th 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.
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-oOo-“The test of a preacher is that the congregation goes away saying, not ‘What a lovely sermon!’, but ‘I will do something!’” (St. Francis de Sales)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God
R:The red energy of creativity;
L:the white heat of convictions;
R: The risky, fragile green of new growth;
L:The golden flashes of gratitude;
R:the warm rose of love.
L: Together, in our gathered diversity,
R:we form the whole. So be it.
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
God of light and colour, we offer our gratitude for the glories of red and yellow, brown and green: all the shades of this autumn season. May our lives be lived in appreciation of all that life offers us. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
“God is Conceived in Good Will” by Michael Benedikt.
God is conceived in good will. God is nurtured by understandings of virtue, but God is brought to life and flourishes only in actual good doings. These are God’s body, God’s life. His hands guide the good surgeon’s hands; His voice sounds as the good teacher’s voice. God arrives just on time, and every time a person has a choice and sees that it is good, makes it good, and can rest because it remains so.
Let us again listen to the silence of your space; a space made ready by willing hands. May we give thanks for all the silences in our lives: the silence of sunrise, the silence of midst on the lake, the silence at the end of a story, the silence between notes of music, the silence between us here…
(30 seconds silence)
L: God our most holy Friend, although we have tried to serve Christ well, and on occasions have accomplished some loving and beautiful things, much remains undone Around us in the world we see gross evil that appals us,
R: and within our mind and heart we recognise the incipient seeds of it all.
L: We cannot atone for our sins and those of our fellow human beings,
R: the debt it is far to great and the cause too deep for us.
L: We are unable to redress our personal follies and correct all our mistakes,
R: the consequences have permeated far away from us.
L: We are incapable of properly recognising, cleansing and forgiving ourselves,
R: for our own hands are too soiled and our store of grace is too mean.
L: You alone, God, by your universal Presence, can discern the cause and effect within the tangled skein of our existence, and deal with it for our salvation. With your priceless grace, forgive us our sins and deliver us from evil. Through Christ Jesus, whom you have appointed our Saviour and Lord. Amen!
L: My friends, the good news is for the likes of you and me. Christ came to show us the path to God’s realm. Trust in him and you shall be free, more free than the wind and rain, the moon and stars, more free than anything else in all creation, for you are now the very children of God.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE PSALMS Psalm 1 (A transliteration by Francis Macnab)
L: There are many pathways in front of us. We see some people take pathways that turn-out to be destructive and unhealthy.
L: Look carefully at the tree that flourishes beside the river – its leaves are healthy and it bears fruit in season. We can be like the tree.
R: But we can forget all that and become
like chaff blown in all directions by the wind.
L: God of all life has created in us a desire to be the best we can be. When we follow that desire, our whole being is strongly affirmed.
R: But when we become indifferent to that desire, we lose our connection with the best purposes and the best spirit.
FROM THE EARLY CHURCH – Acts 3:12-19
This sermon of Peter’s has its setting near the temple at Jerusalem just after the healing of a lame man. It is an example of Christian preaching to Jews, and includes many typically Lucan ideas, .e.g. the Jews’ responsibility for the death of Jesus (tempered by ignorance); the theme of prophetic promise and fulfilment; repentance and forgiveness of sins; and the indefinite expectation of a future coming of Jesus. Today we will be concerned with the self-designation of Peter and John as “witnesses” to God’s judgment of the Jews’ case against Jesus; that is, the Jews killed him, but God reversed their judgment.
12-16 When Peter saw he had a congregation, he addressed the people:
“Oh, Israelites, why does this take you by such complete surprise, and why stare at us as if our power or piety made him walk? The God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, the God of our ancestors, has glorified his Son Jesus. The very One that Pilate called innocent, you repudiated. You repudiated the Holy One, the Just One, and asked for a murderer in his place. You no sooner killed the Author of Life than God raised him from the dead—and we’re the witnesses. Faith in Jesus’ name put this man, whose condition you know so well, on his feet—yes, faith and nothing but faith put this man healed and whole right before your eyes.
17-18 “And now, friends, I know you had no idea what you were doing when you killed Jesus, and neither did your leaders. But God, who through the preaching of all the prophets had said all along that his Messiah would be killed, knew exactly what you were doing and used it to fulfill his plans.
19-23 “Now it’s time to change your ways! Turn to face God so he can wipe away your sins, pour out showers of blessing to refresh you, and send you the Messiah he prepared for you, namely, Jesus. For the time being he must remain out of sight in heaven until everything is restored to order again just the way God, through the preaching of his holy prophets of old, said it would be. Moses, for instance, said, ‘Your God will raise up for you a prophet just like me from your family. Listen to every word he speaks to you. Every last living soul who refuses to listen to that prophet will be wiped out from the people.’
FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 24:36b-48
This passage establishes the special ministry of the Twelve as those who “saw” the resurrection in some unusually immediate, if unimaginable, way. Luke is at much greater pains than the other New Testament writers to emphasise the physical reality of the risen Jesus. Like many Old Testament writers, Luke creates the atmosphere of a law court where he attempts to prove his case, and hence submits detailed “evidence” such as Jesus╒ invitation to his disciples to touch him and the eating of a meal by Jesus. For Luke, the disciples are “witnesses” supporting his case (v.48), and that is their role in the world. The closing words of Jesus are actually a statement of the agenda in Luke’s second volume, the Book of Acts.
36-41 While they were saying all this, Jesus appeared to them and said, “Peace be with you.” They thought they were seeing a ghost and were scared half to death. He continued with them, “Don’t be upset, and don’t let all these doubting questions take over. Look at my hands; look at my feet—it’s really me. Touch me. Look me over from head to toe. A ghost doesn’t have muscle and bone like this.” As he said this, he showed them his hands and feet. They still couldn’t believe what they were seeing. It was too much; it seemed too good to be true.
41-43 He asked, “Do you have any food here?” They gave him a piece of leftover fish they had cooked. He took it and ate it right before their eyes.
44 Then he said, “Everything I told you while I was with you comes to this: All the things written about me in the Law of Moses, in the Prophets, and in the Psalms have to be fulfilled.”
45-49 He went on to open their understanding of the Word of God, showing them how to read their Bibles this way. He said, “You can see now how it is written that the Messiah suffers, rises from the dead on the third day, and then a total life-change through the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed in his name to all nations—starting from here, from Jerusalem! You’re the first to hear and see it. You’re the witnesses. What comes next is very important: I am sending what my Father promised to you, so stay here in the city until he arrives, until you’re equipped with power from on high.”
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “The ‘I’ Witness”
“You are my witnesses of these things.” (Lk.24:48)
I read about an Eskimo hunter who asked the local missionary priest, “If I did not know about God and sin, would I go to hell?” “No,” said the priest, “not if you did not know.” The Eskimo then asked earnestly, “Then why did you tell me?”
If we go beyond the humour, there is a serious answer to the Eskimo’s question: as Luke writes, “in his name the message about repentance and the forgiveness of sins must be preached to all nations. You are my witnesses of these things.”
Anyone who has spent time with the Bible will readily note that much of the language of scripture has been borrowed from the law court: witness, covenant, judge, etc. The atmosphere is often that of a trial, a lawsuit between God and the world, in which people are witnesses in the world for God.
In the New Testament, no writer employs this concept more than Luke, the author of both the Gospel for this week and the book of Acts. Luke begins his Gospel as one presenting a case, with special emphasis upon the eye-witnesses. He begins, “Many people have done their best to write a report of the things that have taken place among us. They wrote what we have been told by those who saw these things from the beginning and who proclaimed the message…Because I have carefully studied all these matters from the beginning, I thought it would be good to write an orderly account for you…that you will know the full truth about everything which you have been taught.” And so he begins his case.
The eye-witnesses to whom Luke refers are plainly the disciples who have been with Jesus from the beginning. In this week’s passage, Luke wraps up his Gospel, and the final speech of Jesus to his disciples begins with the words: “You are my witnesses…”
Luke continues to stress the role of the apostles as eye-witnesses in the book of Acts. He begins by explaining that the apostles are qualified to bear witness to all that Jesus did and taught, “for they have been eye-witnesses of his mighty deeds.” This gives the apostles a special place. As eye-witnesses, their testimony carries great weight in the case of God vs. the world.
In the book of Acts, Luke’s first witness is Peter. It is not surprising to observe his constantly repeated appeal to the fact that he was an eye-witness of what he preached. Why this continual reference to the eye-witness? Simply because, then as now, there is no more powerful or more convincing proof in the court room than that of an eye-witness.
As an example of just how powerful the eye-witness is, consider the famous – or infamous – case of Sacco and Vanzetti, two men charged with a murder and robbery in 1920 in a place called Braintree, Massachusetts. There were three eye-witnesses, but they were some distance away and none could give precise descriptions of the gunmen. One said that one was very dark, while another said he had light hair and looked to be a Scandanavian. A third witness said one had a moustache, but later decided that both men were clean shaven.
While no agreement could be reached about the description of the offenders, a few weeks later two men were arrested: Niccolo Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, a fish peddler. The prosecution had its eye-witnesses, confused as they were, and the defence had airtight alibis. On the day of murders, Sacco had been in the Italian consulate in Boston applying for a passport and the clerk remembered him. Vanzetti had been in Plymouth, some distance away from Braintree, selling fish, and this was verified by a merchant who remembered him. Nonetheless, on the basis of the eye-witness accounts, the jury convicted them both and they were duly executed.
God’s cause in this world is still dependant upon witnesses. One noted churchman said, “To practical people like Americans (and I suspect Australians are no different) there is no oral or written evidence of the true religion so valid as the spectacle of its power to change bad men into good ones. Such people will not accept arguments from history or from scripture, but those of a moral kind they demand; they must see theories at work.”
Another commentator writes of witness, “The idea of witness as related to Christ and his gospel plays an essential and highly important part in the New Testament writings, in the Christian faith and in life universally. Not only in primitive preaching, but also in all effectual preaching throughout the history of the Church, the gospel is conceived not as a speculative system, but as a witness.
I don’t know about you, but I fall into the curious category of one who hears the call to go into the world as one of God’s witnesses – indeed, as followers of Jesus, we are all called to be witnesses – and yet as one who is one of those practical persons, of whom was just spoken, who must see the theories at work. I still have doubts. I need to see the reality of the gospel alive in other people who take the stand as witnesses to that in which they profess belief. Like ‘doubting’ Thomas, I need to see.
I’m one of those ‘show me’ people. Don’t tell me, show me. You want me to believe the good news? Show me. Show me how it has made your life more full. Show me how it has made life better for those around you. Show me how it has traded good for evil in the world. Show me how it has made a difference in the way you spend your money or how you vote. I will believe what I see.
One can no longer be an eye-witness to the revelation of God in Jesus, but it is still possible to be an ‘I’ witness. In fact you cannot escape your role as an ‘I’ witness; you are a witness whether you like it or not. As people who call yourselves Christian, your lives are a witness to the power of the gospel. So the question is not, ‘Are you a witness?’, but ‘What does your witness say?’
You’d better believe that your witness will be believed, and the fact that it will be believed does not depend upon whether or not it is accurate. Like the jurors in the Sacco-Vanzetti case, you will be believed because you are ‘I’ witnesses. Who you are and how you live, how you care and how you give, will testify for good or for ill in God’s case with the world.
If you are not worried, or even a little concerned by what I’ve just said, then you probably haven’t been listening or else you don’t take your mission as a disciple at all seriously. The fact that there are more people outside church buildings than in them this morning is itself a witness to dubious quality of God’s witnesses. We should be more than a bit concerned.
However, the Jesus of Luke’s gospel, after reminding the disciples of their mission and role as witnesses, finishes his final speech with a reminder of God’s promise of the power to enable them to bear this responsibility.
Yes, our role as witness is one that we need to take seriously, but we can approach that task knowing that we have been provided with what we need to carry out the task. Paganini, the great violinist, came out before his audience one day and made the discovery that there was something wrong with his violin. He looked at and recognised that it was not his famous and valuable one. He felt paralysed for a moment, then turned to his audience and told them that there had been a mistake, and he did not have his own violin. He stepped back behind the curtain, thinking it was still where he had left it, but discovered that someone had stolen his and left an old-second rate instrument in its place. He remained back of the curtain a moment, then came out before his audience and said,
“Ladies and gentlemen: I will show you that the music is not in the instrument, but in the soul.” And he played as he had never played before; and out of that second-rate instrument, the music poured forth until the audience was enraptured with enthusiasm, and the applause almost lifted the roof of the building because the man had revealed to them the music that was in his soul.”
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
L: God is hearing what we hear; God is seeing what we see,
L: God is crying when we cry; God is laughing when we laugh.
R: We are known in community with believers, in ministry with the marginalised.
L: Encouragement and support are the gifts we exchange.
R: in our places of rest, work and play, in our speaking of dreams and visions.
L: in our physical, emotional and spiritual relating –
R: being loved, empowers all women and men, to, in turn, minister in love.
TAKING OUR CONCERNS TO GOD
Loving God, Friend of the earth, you are forever immortal wisdom and compassion; we pray for a larger measure of these qualities among people of all races and beliefs. In your mercy, loving God,/ use our prayers and deeds to your glory.
No matter what politics people hold, keep all leaders alert to injustices wherever they happen, and increase their wisdom so that governments may be able to redress wrongs without adding more injustice through knee jerk reactions. In your mercy, loving God./ use our prayers and deeds to your glory.
No matter how inept people may seem, or whatever their social status, may each person have a fair access to community compassion through the welfare agencies of government and charities, and may these agencies be wise stewards of their resources. In your mercy, loving God,/ use our prayers and deeds to your glory.
No matter how elderly some are, or how handicapped in body or mind others might be, may every citizen be treated with respect and compassion, and given the same, wise medical and personal care as would be afforded the young and the beautiful and the rich. In your mercy, loving God, /use our prayers and deeds to your glory.
No matter what the cynics say, no matter how immense the needs of suffering humanity around the world, give us the wisdom to choose the most effective way of helping at least some others, and the compassion to keep at it no matter what the odds. In your mercy, loving God,/ use our prayers and deeds to your glory.
No matter how peculiar the culture of recent immigrants may seem, or what their language or dress codes may be, give us the wisdom to learn from them, and grant them the grace to learn only from what is best in our Australian way of life. In your mercy, loving God,/ use our prayers and deeds to your glory.
No matter what faith our neighbours may belong to, or how odd some of their religious observances may appear to us, give us the wisdom to see beyond outward form to the inner reality and the compassion to overlook faults, just as you, loving God, overlook ours. In your mercy, loving God,/ use our prayers and deeds to your glory.
No matter how ineffective ministers may sometimes seem to their congregations, or whatever weaknesses ministers think they discern in the lay leadership, give each the compassion and wisdom to affirm each others strengths and to make up for each others deficiencies. In your mercy, loving God,/ use our prayers and deeds to your glory.
Most loving God, as we ask you to use each of us for your purposes, we pray for a renewal of our own resources. When some are sad- bring comfort, where there is illness- bring healing, if there are anxious souls- bring serenity, should there be hard decisions to made- bring guidance, where some may feel afraid- bring courage, and if any among us feel beset with doubts, strengthen the core of faith within them. Then may we, fortified by your love and guided by your wisdom, express something of your Spirit in all the interweaving activities of this new week. Through Christ Jesus our Lord, 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.
WORD OF MISSION
R: Not Spring nor Summer, not even Autumn is gone. Each will be what it becomes, as Winter will be Spring.
L: The seasons play their walk-on parts,
R: and we can hardly hear the lines, much less know the plot, except the final line: “Life abides”.