The following service was streamed live via Zoom on October 3rd at 10:30am.
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.
“and the people bowed and prayed
to the neon God they made,”
WELCOME TO OLDER PERSONS SUNDAY
Today, the day the Uniting Church has set aside as Older Persons Sunday, we reflect upon what it means to be a faith community of people who are continually ageing. We are all together in this ageing transition process; we are all slightly older than we were at breakfast time this morning.
Some of us are experiencing faster ageing transitions than others, which can be uncomfortable, disorienting and hard to accept. This has implications in our church community for education, planning and pastoral care. As the people of Jesus Christ, we need to consider and prepare as a church community for the life-long transition called ageing.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
At this time, and in this place, and with those around us, let us worship God. Through our lives, we celebrate life. Let us praise God for the gift of life.
L: Like wind swaying through the trees on the Brindabellas
or surging through thickets of wattle,
R: so, is God’s presentness with us.
L: We rejoice in this presence
R: Creative Spirit, Life-giving Spirit, Nurturing Spirit.
PRAYER OF PREPARATION
God our Creator, our thoughts cannot contain you;
our words fall short of your vastness;
yet you are our God. God of all ages.
Your breath gives us life. Your hands shape our being.
Your artistry in creation leaves us gasping in wonder;
longing to experience that which is of you.
In each person, there you are, if we could but discern you.
Accept us again, O ancient yet youthful God,
as we gather to worship and adore you. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Theologian, Matthew Fox writes:
“Say what you will, whether religion or spirituality acknowledge it or not, all human experiences – including spiritual experiences – are set in the matrix of Creation itself.
“Our existence is totally interdependent with the existence of stars, planets, the sun, rocks, water, plants and trees, flowers, birds, supernovas, galaxies, atoms, the fireball that was the origin of this universe”
Such is reflected in our meditation, “Love all Creation”
by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, from The Brothers Karamazov
Love all Creation.
The whole and every grain of sand in it.
Love every leaf,
and every ray of light.
Love the plants.
Love the animals.
If you love everything you will perceive
the Divine Mystery in all things.
Once you perceive it, you will comprehend it better every day.
And you will come, at last,
to love the whole world with an all embracing love.
Now away from the busyness of life, and in the silence of this time, let us give thanks for the gift of one another!
Let us centre our minds and our hearts. We are one with the universe. We are one with the sun and the stars. We are one with the earth. We are one with the One who is mystery…
(30 seconds silence)
WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS
L: Gracious God, we know that there is a time to be born,
a time to grow old and a time to die. We know that ageing is a part of life, yet sometimes we forget. Sometimes we fail to embrace the life of our older people. We confess that we sometimes do not hear the voices of our older people; their needs and concerns. In our busy daily life, sometimes we just don’t stop and listen.
R: Forgive us when we close our ears to our older people.
L: We confess that we sometimes become reluctant to share precious resources of life with our older people. In this competitive world, too often our priorities go to where we readily see new life, youth and the promise of worldly success.
R: Forgive us when we participate in the unjust allocation of resources.
L: We confess that many Indigenous Australians never know old age, or become old before their time, through the struggles in their lives.
R: Forgive us when we fail to notice and act.
L: Loving God, the Lord of Life, bring to us the awareness that our life depends on each other. We are called to uphold each other, especially those who are weak, frail and vulnerable.
Fill us with your compassion, love and grace,
the grace that walks with us, embracing even our death.
In the name of Christ, Amen.
L: God is love. Through Christ, God reaches out to us, embracing the young and the old, the strong and the weak, the living and the dying. In Christ we are one.
Hear then Christ’s words of grace to us: “Your sins are forgiven.” And so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God.
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Job 1:1; 2:1-10
2:1 Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?”
Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.”
3 Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.”
4 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. 5 But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”
6 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!”
10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 10:2-16
2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”
5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.
14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Here is an interesting contrast: the man, Job, who does what is right in God’s eyes no matter what the circumstances vs. the Pharisees, men who want to do right, but always are looking for a way to do right on their own terms.
Some of the Pharisees came to Jesus and asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” Of course, they were well aware that divorce was lawful under the Law of Moses, but divorce is used here as an example of the game played by the Pharisees as, over and over, they try to justify themselves.
Remember the story of the Pharisee who asks how to gain eternal life? Jesus asked him in return, “What do the Scriptures say?” The Pharisee replied, correctly, that one must love God and one’s neighbour as oneself. So the Pharisee knew the answer, but this was not enough for him. He wanted to know who qualified as “neighbour” so that he could love only those whom he must. Jesus then told the story of the Good Samaritan, indicating that everyone, even the most despised was a “neighbour.” You see, the Pharisee wanted a way around the hard part, so that it would be a less arduous task to define himself as righteous.
I should remind you at this point that the Pharisees were genuinely good people. They wanted to obey the law – to the letter – and they did a better job than most. In our churches today, they would probably be elders, leading the people in the way of righteousness; yet, they often come in for stinging rebuke from Jesus in the gospels.
Job, too, was a righteous man; however, unlike the Pharisees, he did not question or look for shortcuts; he simply did what was right in the eyes of God. In today’s gospel, the Pharisees want to discuss their right to divorce under the Law of Moses, but Jesus takes away that right by taking them back to the beginning, to Genesis, to God’s intention: there shall be no divorce. As far as Jesus is concerned, this is the only valid starting point. So what we see here, and in many places in our society, is the great gulf between what is right and what people – good people – want to rationalise as right.
The Pharisees wanted to be able to divorce their wives and feel okay about it. The same applied to every other moral and religious issue: well-intentioned, religious people want to do right, but when doing right is uncomfortable, they want to find suitable mitigating circumstances. Jesus says that there are none.
Now you might think Jesus is being very hard, but this is the only way he can be if he is a man of God, a man of love. All this talk of rights and mitigating circumstances is a self-deception that prevents us from being self-honest and dealing with our own failings humbly, with an attitude of repentance. What Jesus is doing in today’s reading is not banning divorce, but banning self-righteousness, and the arrogance that lies behind it; the arrogance that people use to put themselves above the law. Any you know what? We all do it.
The same principal applies whatever the moral issue. Take lying. For example: it is 10 pm and a young man arrives at my door. It is the former boyfriend of my son’s new girl friend. He has a bulge under his jacket that could be a gun. He has been drinking. He asks to see my son. Though my son is in his room, I say, no, Sean is not here; he is down at the gym. I have clearly lied, but I’ve done so for the good of my son and also for the young man at my door. Most people would call it a ‘white’ lie, and entirely appropriate in the circumstance, but let us not confuse the issue, or feed our appetite for self-righteousness by decorating this lie or any lie, no matter how ‘white’, with the word ‘right’. A lie might be the best choice in the circumstances, but a lie can never be called gloriously ‘right.’ Jesus, by taking away my ability for self-righteousness, opens me to self-honesty and repentance that continuously seeks God’s grace and renewal in all my affairs.
Or stealing: There has been a natural disaster and many people are without food or water. It is discovered that some of the rich people in town have a stockpile of both which they are hoarding, so I lead a group of men and steal this hoard, dividing it among the people according to their need. In the minds of most people I will have made the best choice, but it is stealing nevertheless, and cannot be labeled as ‘right.’ There is no way I can flaunt my righteousness here. No matter how justified the action may be, it is an adulteration of the plan of God.
At this point you may begin to understand why the teaching about divorce is immediately followed by the teaching, “… whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” For a child, and also our example of Job, life is uncomplicated. One simply lives out God’s intention, not questioning or analysing. There is no splitting of hairs: right is right, wrong is wrong and, if it isn’t right, it is wrong. One cannot justify behaviour that is not according to God’s plan, so one doesn’t even try. Simply ask God’s forgiveness and do better the next time.
In my last sermon, I had few unkind words to say about those who are charged with leadership. It was unfortunate, not because the anger behind the statement was unjustified, but because I was neither as precise nor as eloquent as I would have liked. Today’s readings give me opportunity to revisit the issue.
Leaders, whether leaders of the church, business or leaders of the nation, have a special responsibility for their actions, for they do them on behalf of many others. This is why, I think, the Pharisees copped so much stick from Jesus. It wasn’t that they were bad people; on the contrary, they were well-meaning. Nevertheless, they were in a position of leadership, and hence had a special responsibility with regard to their moral choices. Our political leaders and our business leaders have, with few exceptions, let us down. Instead of moral leadership, politicians act according to what will keep them in office and business leaders act according to what will please their major shareholders. So along with their special responsibilities, they deserve special censure when they take an arrogant, self-righteous attitude.
Our Prime Minister, being almost as keen a Christian as the Pharisees were keen Jews, might today ask Jesus, and knowing in his heart what is right, but trying to justify an immoral policy; “When is it okay to destroy God’s creation in order to mine coal? Perhaps in order to secure jobs or stimulate the economy?” Jesus would drag him back to the Book of Genesis, back to the verse that declares the very purpose of human kind is to serve and protect the Earth.
Then, hoping to resurrect his damaged self-righteousness, Mr. Morrison might ask, “Well, when is it okay to imprison those who seek refuge on our shores? Perhaps in light of security issues or to deter people smugglers? Again Jesus will trot out his scrolls of Scripture and indicate that providing food and a bed for the stranger is the most common issue in the whole of Scripture, and there is no way around God’s call for hospitality.
Last week I supported Bishop Spong’s view of certain leaders as ‘spiritually myopic.’ This doesn’t mean they are stupid, of course; in fact, they are quite intelligent, but the capacity of the intellect does not necessarily translate into moral intelligence and spiritual wisdom. Political savvy and academic credentials does not guarantee vision, and spiritual vision is the most obvious deficiency of today’s leaders.
Of course, it is easy for me to stand here and cast aspersions on our leaders. Sometimes they act so obviously and arrogantly immoral, they make an easy target, but why are they so? I have never met these people, but I imagine, if I got to know them, they would seem to be, like the Pharisees, well-meaning and basically good people. I might wonder then, are they really so evil, or do they merely reflect the morality of those who elect them? Are they just doing the dirty work of the electorate?
It is a question that we all might dwell on. In our attempts to justify ourselves, our question to Jesus might be, “When is it right to vote for a person who has presided over immoral decisions such as choosing to start a war, refusing to participate in international efforts to combat global warming, imprisoning innocent people and denying them the basic right to a trial, redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich?” “When is it right?” replies Jesus in disbelief that anyone would dare even ask the question. “When is it right?!” Then he sighs and walks away, head down, muttering under his breath.
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
L: Although I may spend all my days with disjointed relationships around and conflicts within me, I believe in ultimate reconciliation.
L: Personal relationships shall not remain locked in alienation forever.
R: Misunderstanding and suspicion shall not always subvert openness.
L: Resentment and revenge shall not prevail over forgiveness.
R: Tyranny and exploitation, shall not perpetually trample on justice
L: Violence, terrorism and war, shall not always outgun peace.
R: Carelessness and apathy shall not forever diffuse compassion.
L: Personal and political deceits shall not overwhelm integrity.
R: Prejudice and discrimination and shall never strangle goodwill.
L: Graft and corruption shall not put paid to honour and trust.
R: Ignorance and blind dogmatism shall not finally divide and rule over truth.
L: Because I believe in Christ, I believe that love will have the last word.
R: I believe in reconciliation. I believe in grace. I believe in love. I believe in God.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We hold before you the older people of the world.
We thank you for the blessings which have come to us through those who have gained knowledge and wisdom through the experiences of life.
We are grateful for their guidance, counsel, and leadership.
We pray that you will continue to bless the ill in our Uniting Agewell communities and everywhere.
May Australia be a community of mutual respect and tolerance, compassion and patience. May we dare to dream of community where youth and age work and live side by side with a mutuality which embraces life in its entirety.
In gratitude we bring before you all community services and agencies and their staff involved in caring for us as we grow older. We ask that they will know their kindness renewed and find fulfilment in their work.
We especially pray for our Church’s Uniting AgeWell services;
for senior staff, managers, care staff, chaplains and volunteers,
as they seek to give excellence of care for all older people in their living and their dying.
Lord of all ages
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.
THE SENDING OUT
If your days seem short and the tasks too many,
learn quietness from the unhurried Christ.
If opponents should harry you
and friends unintentionally hinder you,
learn from his grace.
If fresh challenges frighten you and disciplines pain you,
learn from his courage.
If success comes to you and others thank or applaud you,
learn from his humility.
If you should hit rock bottom and feel hopeless,
learn from his cross and resurrection.
May the Lord of all generations, whose love spans our years,
keep us ever mindful of the wonderful gift of life;
childhood to fulfilment of age, that we so rejoice in each other, that we live our days with respect, compassion and mutual responsibility; to the glory of Christ.