Ordinary Sunday 15B (11-07-2021)

The following service was streamed live via Zoom  on July 11th 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-

“How frightened I am to behold my shadow lying large amid the frost of  the wintry night.”

(Gen. Hidiki Tojo, written as he awaited execution as a war criminal)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Come into this place. Together we make it a holy place with our every act of worship.

LIGHTING THE CANDLE

L: The light waits –
Who will keep the light burning in our day?
Who will take the light into the world?
Who will carry the light into another year?

R: Who will carry the light if we do not?

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Through this celebration and worship, we leave for a time the daily sequence of events, to examine life in its eternal dimensions and consequences:

R: asking questions about our values, our directions, our goals and our relationships.

L: Let us spend this time in the presentness of the Sacred One.

R: Praise be for this gathered community in this sacred place.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

God, may we listen to our inner spirit; to the inner yearning to belong to something greater than ourselves.  May we listen to our inner spirits and find there the presence  of your good encouraging spirit. Amen. 

HYMN 103  – “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation     “Meeting One’s Own Shadow” by Carl Jung

The man who looks into the mirror of the waters does, indeed, see his own face first of all.  Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself.  The mirror does not flatter; it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor.  But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face.

This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner path, a test sufficient to frighten off most people, for the meeting with ourselves belongs to the more unpleasant things that may be avoided as long as we possess living symbol-figures onto which all that is inner and unknown may be projected…

A man needs a steady stance and a developed faith to undergird the meeting with his own shadow.

     Silence

Let us now commit ourselves to pause in silence, to rest for a moment, to enter a time of peaceful reflection. Let us allow this space, this place, to offer its care to us, restful in its quiet, away from the busyness of our everyday life.
(Keep a silence  of at least 30 seconds)

FACING OUR INADEQUACY & GOD’S SUFFICIENCY 

Most holy God, we are grateful that you love us and call us to a life of boundless opportunities and unmeasured joys. Yet around us in this world, we see a desperate search for happiness in all the wrong places.

We humbly acknowledge that we have allowed ourselves to become caught up in the world’s busy futility, exchanging love for selfishness, encouragement for criticism,
peace for conflict and alienation,
wholeness for brokenness,
contentment for dissatisfaction,
and joy for brief splashes of superficial pleasure.

Loving God, we return to you for the spiritual blessing that is in short supply everywhere else in this age of arrogance and manifold disappointments.  We are:
the lost who need a rescuer,
the sick who need a physician,
the offenders who need forgiveness,
and the weak who need some exercise.

 HYMN – “O Lord, Hear My Prayer” (as part of prayer)
(click here to listen)

Most gracious God, please have mercy on us, and upon this wide world for whom Christ Jesus died. In his name we pray. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: It is written: “ Those who are in Christ are a new creation: the old has passed away, behold the new has come.” Now that really is good news! Believe it, trust it, and be free of shame and anxiety. I declare to you the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE GOSPELSMt.7:1-6; 15:16-20

7 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.

“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

15 16 Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? 17 Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18 But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19 For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20 These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS
 “When God’s Word Gets Thorny,”
(2nd chapter, following last week)

     Part 1  

“But what comes out of the mouth has its origins in the heart; and that is what defiles a man.” (Mt.15:18)

I have departed from the lectionary this morning to continue on the theme from last week in which we  were reminded that being a good Christian is not simply living a good life: loving God and neighbour.  Simply put, it is not enough to do good, but we must avoid doing bad; that is, we must deal constructively with the pain that comes our way and we must love ourselves as God loves us, because if we don’t – if we hate parts of ourselves, or if we avoid our pain, unconscious we will cast this hate and pain into the world where it will turn to evil, running rampant through God’s creation.

This is not an easy concept to grasp, but one which is intrinsic to an understanding of human psychology and sociology.  We can point to particularly evil individuals like Hitler, Josef Stalin, Big Daddy Amin, Sadam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, et al, and see the damage which emerges from their distorted personalities, but particularly evil individuals and grossly distorted personalities are not the world’s major problem.  They can be dealt with because they stand out, and so they inevitably come to a bitter end. They may attract a lot of notice, cause heaps of visible pain, and get big headlines but, relatively speaking, there are not that many of them, and they account for only a tiny part of the evil which has afflicted the world over its lifetime.  The real worry is people like you and me; basically good, church people, people with no axe to grind- the great silent majority.  It may come as something of a shock to learn that we, average good citizens, are the greatest source of evil in the world.

In the reading from Matthew 15, Jesus names the human heart as the source of that which defiles.  So more specifically, our hearts – our hearts – are the source of evil in the world. Our hearts, each one not quite pure and perfect, each capable of being toxic, polluting the world with our fears, prejudices, insecurities and apathy.

This happens in many ways; innumerable ways.  One of the obvious ways we release evil into the world is in our complicity with the powers and principalities of the world, sometimes intentionally, but most often naively, unthinkingly, in which we trade our allegiance to the Good for a reduction in the personal discomfort; discomfort that is rightfully ours to deal with.    This reality was behind the statement by Martin Luther King, Jr: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Who is really to blame for the holocaust?   Adolf Hitler or average God-fearing Germans who brought Hitler to power and followed him?  Without them, people just like you and me, Hitler would have ended his days painting houses. 

Hitler is an extreme example to be sure, and perhaps you can’t imagine yourself ever supporting such a man.  Let us reflect on a hypothetical situation in order to make this concept a bit more concrete and personal. Imagine that there is a government that enacts a policy of indefinitely imprisoning innocent people, including children, without trial; a government which chooses to go to war for false, manufactured reasons, a government that modifies the tax and welfare systems so as to shift wealth from the poor to the already rich, a government which chooses to contribute to untold future suffering of the poor of the world by its refusal to act responsibly on environmental problems.   (Any similarity between this hypothetical government and actual Australian governments, either current or past, is entirely coincidental, of course.)   

All of these actions that I’ve mentioned are clearly morally indefensible, so one might expect that, at the first available opportunity, the electorate, because it is made up of essentially good people who naturally will have found the actions of their leaders ethically repugnant, will vote the government out of office. But they don’t. In fact, they may give it even more power by giving it control of both houses in the legislature. Why? Why would good people do this? Because they perceive the incumbent party as the best choice to avoid a certain amount of personal discomfort; that is, to help them feel more safe and secure, or have more esteem, or add to their wealth – not everyone, of course, but a hair over 50% is all that is needed.

     Part 2

This is exactly what happened in the 2004 U.S. election, when a morally-stained administration was re-elected. And it is hard to imagine a more morally bankrupt regime than the one that came to power in the U.S., a result fuelled in large part by people who wore the label “Christian.” Whilst I point the finger at Americans here, I dare say there are more similarities to the Australian electorate than you would choose to admit.  It is a good example of how great evil flows from the failure of good individuals to constructively address their own fears, anxieties, insecurities and discomforts.  It happened in Germany in the 1930’s, it happened in the U.S. in in 2016 and, despite the warnings of history, it happens still and it happens here.

Take our society: gather the hate and fear of non-Europeans, especially Muslims, from the followers of people like Pauline Hanson; add that to the hate and fear of homosexuals which has filled the letters-to-the-editor column of Crosslight, as well as the secular media in recent years; throw in a few radio talk shows where ignorance, hatred and prejudice are placed on a pedestal, mix in a bit of self-righteousness indignation about welfare cheats, dole bludgers, drug users, people who drink too much, bad drivers and pedophiles, then top it off with religious fundamentalism of whatever faith, and you’ve got enough evil to propel the worst of human atrocities; all from upstanding people like you and me.

Herein lies the explanation for the excessive ravages of pain in the world.  It is what Hanna Arendt, in her book about the Adolf Eichmann trial, called “the banality of evil”: the cowardice of ordinary human beings like us to name evil for what it is, and their propensity to avoid their own legitimate, natural pain, and to pass it off, or project it, on others, which then multiplies that pain so as to rain destruction upon those least able to handle it.  

It is a cowardly avoidance of pain that all people share in some measure; an avoidance that guarantees that there will be more suffering in the world than God intended. Ah, if only we each faced up to, and took responsibility for, the problems which trouble our souls as they arise, instead of dumping them, through crisis after crisis, onto a world already prostrate with need. The example of how we vote is perhaps too obvious and simplistic. It only comes up every few years, so to focus on it may obscure how we fail to constructively deal with our own every-day issues.  There are many examples – too many examples, in fact – in which we choose to avoid a bit of discomfort and put it on to others. Each small and apparently harmless on its own, but when added to the small choices of billions, they are sufficient to turn the light to darkness. 

Despite the multitude of questionable conscious choices that good people make every day that shifts their pain upon others, they pale into insignificance when compared to the unconscious choices that power the evil in the world.  You see, being essentially good people, we may not always make the best conscious choices, but we try, and we try to atone for our mistakes and minimise the damage when we recognise them; however, unconscious choices not only are beyond our control, we don’t even recognise them when we see their effects.

I don’t think for a moment that Germans in the 1930s and 40s, people no different to you and me, consciously chose to stand by when Hitler began exterminating Jews, communists, disabled people, retarded people, homosexuals:  all of them innocent people, whose only crime was to be good targets for the projected fear and hate of good people.  If pre-World War II seems too far away, consider the moral blindness of the majority of otherwise good Australians who, in this 21st century, have watched, and even condoned, the indefinite incarceration of innocent men, women and children in concentration camps. There was, and is, a mechanism at work that allows the general populace to rationalise these horrors; that make them seem like appropriate, even necessary, actions.  

     Part 3

I hope that you have had the experience of love at first sight, not only because it feels good, but because is an example of an unconscious choice to see an part of ourselves in another human being. Psychologists call it projection.  Like a movie projector casts the tiny, hard-to-see image on the film onto a screen where it can be seen from many metres away, we unconsciously see aspects of ourselves, unknown to our conscious minds, in others.   Love at first sight is unconsciously seeing an unknown, but attractive and loveable aspect of ourselves in another, resulting in a strong emotional response.  Essentially, when this happens, we are falling in love with ourselves.

The same things happens with negative aspects.  Have you ever met anyone to whom you took an immediate dislike, even though you knew nothing about them?   This is what Jesus described as seeing the speck in your neighbours eye, but ignoring the log in your own; hating some aspect of ourselves unconsciously, but hating it consciously when seen in others.

There are traits or qualities that we long ago repressed into our unconscious because, for some reason, we believed them to be bad.  We feared them, we hated them so much, that we filed them away where we no longer had to face them; where we even were able to forget that they existed at all.  BUT we still see these traits when they appear in others, and so we put all of our stored hatred for them onto these poor people; people who have done nothing to hurt us except remind us who we are.  

A common example is the way some people get very emotionally engaged, in a very negative way, over homosexuality.  Their response seems irrational, even when they try to create rational arguments against it.  Why does so much hate spew forth?  Why do people seem so threatened by something that poses no actual threat to them at all?  One plausible explanation offered by psychologists is that these people repressed their own, quite normal, homosexual tendencies long ago because, for any number of reasons, they were feared and hated, so that this part of their sexuality now lies completely hidden and unknown to them.  Rather than having dealt constructively with their own sexual tendencies when still part of their consciousness, they repressed them, and now only see them when projected upon others where they are then hated.  I stress that this process is totally unconscious, i.e. one has no control over it, and no blame is attached to it.  The first inkling that one has is the sudden, surprising dislike for someone whom they do not know.  However, once we act on this emotional response, it does become a moral issue, and we are most certainly responsible for our actions.

God knows there is no shortage of hate in our world. When you add up all of these apparently small choices, conscious and unconscious, over the billions of good people in the world, it becomes easy to understand why the “creation groans in travail,” as St, Paul said.  Psychologist Eric Neumann once wrote that “It is more important in today’s world to be non-infectious than creative.”  He agreed with Jesus that the human heart was the source of evil, which when not dealt with by the individual, spread into the world, infecting it, defiling both the individual and all creation. The real solution to the world’s evil is not so much the elimination of the bad people, but the repentance of the good people.  

I don’t say all this to make anyone feel guilty; rather to illustrate how close we are to a solution to the world’s evil, which otherwise often seems to us to be beyond any solution.  It is as close as the repentance – the metanoia, or new outlook -to which we are all called; as close as opening ourselves – every part of ourselves – to the loving acceptance that is always on offer by God even to the parts of ourselves that we consider unloveable, that we may indeed love God with our whole heart.

The gospel makes this possible in a way that the law never could, for the message of Jesus is that all are loved and accepted by God; that all of the all is love and accepted.  We don’t have to change in order to be acceptable to God; rather, the fact that we are loved as we are allows us to face whom we are, even the darkest parts.  In embracing the shadowy parts of our being, in accepting and loving all of ourselves, we are able to offer even these to God, so that God can make us – and our hearts – whole.  The person thus saved is no longer infectious and the world becomes a step closer to being healed.

HYMN 584 – “Just As I Am” (click here to listen)

ENCIRCLING OTHERS WITH PRAYER

Let us pray to the One whose faithfulness is forever sure. We pray for the rich and powerful, that they may discover the joy of giving and forgiving, of loving justice and mercy, and walking humbly with their Maker.

Let us pray for those with hard hearts and closed minds, that they may encounter the grace of Christ which opens doors and softens even the most obdurate spirit.

Let us pray for bitter and the vengeful, that they may strike free from the chains of their anger and find the wonderful liberty of the children of God.

Let us pray for our weaker sisters and brothers, those whom we push aside in our rush to get what we want, that they may learn to stand up for themselves and rebuke us.

Let us pray for the bedraggled souls who have been robbed of their self respect, that they may be cherished by folk who see Christ in very human face.

Let us pray for those whose lives are at the mercy of guns and bombs, that all lovers of justice and peace may find sure ways towards reconciliation and peace.

Let us pray for those whose eternal spirits have been plundered and corrupted by the gross materialism of this age, that they make wake up to their plight.

Let us pray for the sick and the dying, the fearful and the sorrowing, that the encouragement of the Holy Spirit may be theirs through long days and dark nights.

Let us pray for the holy, universal church, that we may remember whose sacred name we bear and whose loving service to the world we are called to share.

God of Christ Jesus and our God, as you gather up our prayers into your immense wisdom and love, use every bit of faith and love within us to honour you as we respect and love one another. In the name of Christ, by whom we were taught 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 561 – “Who Would True Valour See?” (click here to listen)

SENDING OUT

In the name of Christ Jesus, I recommission you for loving service to God and humanity. 
Take authority over diseases of the body 
and the ills of mind and spirit.
Take authority over closed minds and sour prejudice.
Take authority over anxiety, fear and discontent.
Take authority over bitterness of spirit and lust for revenge.
Take authority over negative thoughts and cynical words.
Take authority over pain and handicaps, loss and grief.
Take authority over all those things
which mock the faith of Jesus.
The grace of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with you now and always. Amen.  Go in Peace

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