Ordinary Sunday 30B (24-10-2021)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on October 24th at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use while public worship is not available in the church buildings   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 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-

Notice outside a North London church:
“Wanted:  Workers for God. Plenty of  Overtime.”


CALL TO CELEBRATION

Morning has come, night is away.
Rise with the sun and welcome the day.
Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

OPENING SENTENCES  (Ps.34:1-3)

L: I will bless the Lord at all times;

R: His praise shall continually be in my mouth.

L: My soul makes its boast in the Lord;

R: Let the afflicted hear and be glad.

L: O magnify the Lord with me,

R: And let us exalt God’s name together.

ACT OF AWARENESS

Marvel at life!  Strive to know its ways!  Seek wisdom and truth, the gateways to life’s mysteries!  Wondrous indeed is life! 

HYMN 90 – “I’ll Praise My Maker” (click here to listen) 

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Reflection  “When Life is Messy” By  Richard S Gilbert

It is easy to pray when the sun shines
and we are grateful for another glorious day of being.
It is hard to pray when wind and rain and thunder
plague our every step and spoil our every plan.

It is easy to be virtuous when life goes well
and our existence is a journey from bliss to beauty and back.
It is hard to be virtuous when life assaults us
and our very being is a pilgrimage from bad to worse to worst.

It is easy to be cheerful when health bursts in us
so that we can feel the very pulse of life.
It is hard to be happy when pain and fatigue beset us
and we wonder if we can go on.

God of order and neatness, we give thanks for all that is good.
We are grateful for manifold blessings bestowed upon us.
God of chaos and disorder, be with us also when life is messy.
Bless our coming in and our going out from this day forth.

     Centring Silence

In these quieter moments, may optimism’s glow creep in and pervade our spirits. May hope and new possibilities begin to grow. 

Spring flourishes with abundance and warmth. The litany of flowers take centre stage, blooming, as nature continues to emerge from Winter sleep. May we, too, celebrate the now and who we are. And whom we are yet becoming.  

In honour of life itself and with this people we gather together in this sacred place        (30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

Lord, so often we come to you out of selfish concern for our own lives.  Our limited horizons in time and space prevent us seeing our place in the concerns of the world.  We fritter away your gifts to us in self-indulgence, and ignore the possibilities for positive change for your creation.  Our time and energy is consumed in either meeting, or worrying about, our own problems. And when you answer our prayers we say thank you and go our own way. But you are the source of love and life, and we ask your forgiveness and your help in opening our eyes to who we are and are meant to be.   (A period of silent reflection)

THE ASSURANCE   (Psalm 34:22)

L: “The Lord redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in God will be condemned.” And so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us;

R: Thanks be to God!  

HYMN 598 -“Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” (click here to listen)

FROM THE PSALMS – Ps.34, paraphrased by Rev. Dr. Francis Macnab

(The psalmist’s psychology is starkly stated: What we believe about life makes a huge difference to us.  He highlights the importance of having a meaning and purpose. Above all, he says, keep looking for signs of God’s presence.)

We all want to embrace the great delights of life. We all want to have a long life and enjoy all good things. But we are constantly aware of how easily our best endeavours can be undermined, and our spirits can be swept into misery. My experience has shown me there are ways to survive things and get through our anxieties and find a worthwhile joy.

What we believe about life makes a huge difference to us.  We know that if we believe in a presence that is good and supportive, in a God who leads us to be positive, then we can be in touch with a strength that helps us through our misfortunes and gives us hope despite the inevitabilities of our mortality.

We know that life can leave many people feeling there is no meaning and there is no purpose in it all, but we are able to find meaning and purpose as we seek peace and pursue it; as we consider how we will speak to each other, and how we will put controls on our destructiveness.

I commend this to you: Find the freedom to turn your thoughts to searching for signs of God’s presence. When you see those signs, be glad. Look to that eternal goodness and let it permeate your whole being, your whole life.

Yes, ‘Taste and see the goodness of God’. You will be much happier as you learn what these words can mean. Though we cannot fully understand the mystery of life and the mystery of God, just a taste will show us the high value of goodness which is at the heart of everything.

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Job 42:1-7;10-17 (NKJV)

Job, the man who has questioned God’s goodness, responds in repentant faith to God, and God restores Job’s fortunes.  In this case Job’s new “sight” (v.5) leads him to see reality: that he is but dust, and so he puts himself totally in God’s hands in repentance.  The result is a full life.

42 Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that You can do everything,
And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.

You asked, ‘Who is this who hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

Listen, please, and let me speak;
You said, ‘I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’

5  “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear,
But now my eye sees You.

Therefore I abhor myself,
And repent in dust and ashes.”

And so it was, after the Lord had spoken these words to Job, that the Lord said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends, for you have not spoken of Me what is right, as My servant Job has.

10 And the Lord restored Job’s losses when he prayed for his friends. Indeed the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then all his brothers, all his sisters, and all those who had been his acquaintances before, came to him and ate food with him in his house; and they consoled him and comforted him for all the adversity that the Lord had brought upon him. Each one gave him a piece of silver and each a ring of gold.

12 Now the Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; for he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand female donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14  And he called the name of the first Jemimah, the name of the second Keziah, and the name of the third Keren-Happuch. 15  In all the land were found no women so beautiful as the daughters of Job; and their father gave them an inheritance among their brothers.

16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children and grandchildren for four generations. 17 So Job died, old and full of days.

FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 10:46-52  (The Message version)

This is the last of many healing miracle stories in the gospel of Mark.  The writer has made much of Jesus’ healing powers.  Here is a Messiah who clearly has power over the mysterious forces in the natural world; yet his powers are limited when it comes to making his disciples understand  what he is  about.  Throughout the gospel, the disciples never get the point and, in the end, appear just as confused and befuddled as at the beginning. The healing of the blind beggar stands out because the restoration of sight is symbolic of the path to life through discipleship, a path which few find and fewer choose.  Though, time and again, the disciples demonstrate their blindness, we have in this story, one who does see –  and follows.

46-48 They spent some time in Jericho. As Jesus was leaving town, trailed by his disciples and a parade of people, a blind beggar by the name of Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting alongside the road. When he heard that Jesus the Nazarene was passing by, he began to cry out, “Son of David, Jesus! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Many tried to hush him up, but he yelled all the louder, “Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!”

49-50 Jesus stopped in his tracks. “Call him over.”

They called him. “It’s your lucky day! Get up! He’s calling you to come!” Throwing off his coat, he was on his feet at once and came to Jesus.

51  Jesus said, “What can I do for you?”

The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

52  “On your way,” said Jesus. “Your faith has saved and healed you.”

In that very instant he recovered his sight and followed Jesus down the road.

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS   “Many Happy Returns”

     Part 1

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.  “Teacher,” the blind man answered, “I want to see again.” (Mk.10:51)

The Old Testament is filled with warnings of the dire fate about to befall God’s wayward people.  The judgment with which the prophets threatened their countrymen over the years was never simply the vengeance of God.  It was the discipline of a God whose purpose was the reconciliation and healing of his people.  So even though Israel continued its unfaithfulness, people such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel could still look beyond the inevitable undoing of the nation to its ultimate future – a time of healing and hope – a homecoming.

This is the theme of the whole drama of the Bible:  though human existence is broken and beyond all hope, in breaks the mercy of God, and the gracious promise and persistence of this God who will not quit until what is broken is made whole again. “Behold, I will gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame…”

With that promise as a kind of overture, we come to the story of blind Bartimaeus.  There is to this story more than meets the eye. (I would be lying if I said there was no pun intended.)  It will take some sharpening of our vision to see the whole picture.

Behind every miracle story is a question much more important than: how did it happen?  The question is: why did the writer include this story and why did he include it here?

As the short commentary I gave explains, this story of the healing of Bartimaeus is not just another miracle story.  The healing of this blind man is symbolic of awareness of the path to the kingdom and the nature of discipleship – a path which few choose.  One thing which Mark emphasises throughout his gospel is the blindness of people, especially those who travel with him.  His disciples, above all, should understand Jesus’ message, but time and again they demonstrate their blindness.  They just cannot see.

Bartimaeus may have been a real person, but for the purposes of this story he is Adam, the universal person.  In John Steinbeck’s short story, “The Wayward Bus,” a dilapidated old bus travelling from Rebel Corners to Los Angeles gets mired to the axles in mud on a short cut some distance from the main road.  While the driver goes for help, the passengers take refuge in a cave.  

They form a curious company, its members representing the variety of fallen humanity.  They are a group of lost characters, lost in a manner far surpassing their immediate predicament.  As the story progresses, we discover that over the cave in which they shelter, in a place of difficult access, someone has printed in large black letters the word, “Repent.” 

However, only one person, a businessman takes note of it, and his concern is simply to wonder who financed the venture. The others are all oblivious of it.  For them it is part of a dead language.  They go on blindly acting out their drama of frustration and despair, neither recognising the promise of homecoming inherent in the word nor desperate enough to call out to God to restore their sight.

In respect of human blindness we are all alike.  The truth is all around us, but we cannot see it.  Where Bartimaeus differs from others is in his recognition of his blindness and his insistent calling out to Jesus to let him see.  The implication of Bartimaeus’ plea, “I want to see AGAIN,” is that at one time in his life he could see, but subsequently became blind.”  Is our blindness like his?  Is it something that befell us at some point in life?

The obvious question is when did the blindness occur?  The answer is: probably before you can remember.  But we all had sight once!  We could see God’s kingdom and knew what it was like.  Nevertheless, we turned away – everyone of us – as every young child will.  Now it is a long road back, and we are too blind to find the way.

     Part 2

What happened?  I’m reminded of the reading we had recently in which Jesus says, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” As babes we were all so trusting, so confident in the warm, loving environment which our parents provided.  We were absolutely and totally dependent on others for everything: food, touch, a fresh nappy… everything.  We knew what it was to live by faith alone, for we had no alternative.

Your first impression of the world was probably as a friendly place, with you as its centre.  Every need was met, where no hate existed, no sorrow.  Then somewhere along the line you realised that this caring world was not the real world.  The real world was a much tougher, and harder to understand, place.  A person could get hurt out there. Help!! Whence cometh my help?

You realised, with great fear and dismay, that your parents weren’t infallible and all powerful.  They weren’t God.  They couldn’t protect you from every hurt.  The childlike trust in the goodness of creation and its creator – that sense of hope in which nothing is impossible – gave way to distrust and fear of the dangers that the future could bring.

You came to the conclusion, albeit unconsciously,  that if you were to survive in this world, you would have to take care of yourself.  In building your defences against the world you also shut out God; you made yourself blind.  Here you are today, hopefully trying to get your sight back.

I would like you now to close your eyes and spend some time in silence thinking about how you are blind.  You will get some clues from the things which really worry you or upset you – things that you try to avoid.  Do you consider yourself pretty self-sufficient?  Why?  Where do you put your time and energy?  In what areas of life do you have a hard time adjusting to change? Are you so intensely loyal to any organisation, political party, or religious doctrine that you won’t question it?  Do you find it hard to take criticism?  Do you avoid, or not find time for, prayer?  Do you find what we are doing now a waste of time?

Now imagine that Jesus is passing nearby.  You call out to him.  Note how you do it, and the words you use.  Some people around you make fun of you.  Others get angry and tell you to shut up.  How do you feel?  Now call out again.  Did you do it differently this time?  Jesus stops and comes over to you.  How do you feel now?  “What do you want me to do for you,” he asks.  You answer.  How does he respond?  What happens?  How do you feel?

We have carved out a little private space  for you to spend time with God – to listen, to respond, to sit at Jesus’ feet like a helpless, trusting child.  You have been encouraged to let go of your preconceptions, your control, your protection and dare to let God touch you.

Perhaps you may consider this letting go is worth enough to give more than an hour a week to it. Perhaps you may consider making time during the week to make space for yourself, in which you can step back from your well-ordered and controlled routines; to stop thinking and doing long enough to create an open space to listen to God, look for God and hear again the promise of a homecoming and a rest.  It would be a time to give the rational mind a break and take time for beauty, for art, for music, for poetry, for prayer, for nature and for people.  Trust more, control less.  Fear less, and risk more.  It is a time to seek again that open childlike state and allow God to bring sight to your blindness that you may find your way home.

LITANY: Spirit of Life

L: Out of the ordinariness of the bare earth,
you brought the extra ordinariness of human life

R: Your spirit lives within us, O God.

L: In the ordinariness of the bare earth plant grain from last year’s harvest

R: Your spirit lives within us, O God.

L: Out of the ordinariness of water comes the life of the seed

R: Your spirit lives within the water, O God.

L: In human life and in the life of the seed lies the life of this community

R: Your spirit lives within this community, O God.

L: From the life of God comes creation and recreation

R: Your spirit lives within creation, O God.

L: Out of the heart of God comes peace and hope

R: Your spirit lives within us, O God.

HYMN 385 – “Now is Eternal Life” (click here to listen)         

WE OFFER OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD

Loving God, while we gather at this time, there are others who gather at the site of road accidents, around hospital beds, in funeral parlours, and at scenes of violence and murder. Please comfort your distressed children, and assist them to create something good out of their pain and grief.

Loving God, while we have comfortable homes to live in, there are others whose homes are destroyed by flood, fire, earthquake, terrorism, or war. Please help your homeless children to triumph over such disasters, and direct the efforts of those emergency personnel who rush to give assistance.

Loving God, while we have a wide range of foods to enjoy, there are millions who barely exist, and millions more who are literally starving today. Please strengthen those agencies that are attempting to bring food to the hungry, and guide programmes designed to improve methods of food production and distribution.

Loving God, while we have a choice of which church to go to, and practice our faith without hindrance, we know there some in other lands who continue to worship under the threat of social ostracism or physical persecution. Please be in the midst of your persecuted children, and hasten the day when no one who loves you need fear for their freedom or life.

Loving God, while most of us have family and friends to share our laughter and tears, there may be some among us today who feel alone and neglected. Please God, be the close Friend of your lonely children, and make the rest of us more sensitive and  responsive to the needs of those who lack loving support.

God of the nations, Lover of each individual soul, we long for that day when human deprivation, abuse and pain will be no more. Keep your church both faithful and loving, so that although that wonderful day may seem a long way off, we may gladly use our ordinary lives to hasten its arrival.

To the praise of your name we pray: your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Through Christ Jesus our joy and hope. Amen !

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 and the power and glory are yours now and forever. Amen

HYMN 547 – “Be Thou My Vision” (click here to listen)

PARTING WORDS

L: Flame-dancing spirit, come

R: sweep us off our feet and dance us through our days.

L: Surprise us with your rhythms,

R: dare us to try new steps, explore new patterns and new adventures.

L: And in the intervals, rest us

R: in your still centre.  

BENEDICTION

May the love that gives to life its beauty,
the reverence that gives to life its sacredness
and the purposes that give to life its deep significance,
be strong within each of us and lead us into ever deepening relationships with all of life.

An open, virtual door to the world