Ordinary Sunday 32B (07-11-2021)

Welcome to worship with the
Barwon Heads & Ocean Grove congregations

This service was streamed live via Zoom on November 7th at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use. Even though public worship is once again available in the church buildings,   the service continues to be streamed live for people who cannot be at church. 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-

“Too many people have decided to do without generosity in order to practise charity. 
(Albert Camus)

 

CALL TO CELEBRATION

As we gather together on this spring day may we recognise and affirm: the pieces of possibility, the bits of good we bring,
allowing our individual gifts to weave a patchwork of peace.
Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life.

OPENING SENTENCES

L: We live at mystery’s edge, watching for a startling luminescence or a word to guide us.

R: In fragile occurrence the Holy One is present, and we must pause…

L: Daily, there are glimmers, reflections of a seamless mercy
revealed in common intricacies.

R: These circles of grace spill out around us
and announce that we are part of this mystery.

ACT OF AWARENESS

We come together in this time in a wider search for truth and purpose. In this quest, may we greet one another with open hearts and minds; inspire each other to consider new questions and seek deeper meaning; and cultivate both wisdom and compassion. Let all who enter this sacred time find comfort in our virtual community.

HYMN 474 – “Gather Us In” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Reflection – “A Springtime Prayer” By George A. Tyger

O power of springtime,
Spirit of green grasses
and warm breezes;
Goddess of creativity, of birth,
of life renewed.
You sing all about us at this time.
The birds call your sacred name.
Buds burst forth
with your vestment.
The sun reaches higher into the sky
 shining the light of this new day
through the windows of your cathedral, this world.
O power of springtime forgive us our speediness
and our racing before your eternal grace
that we do not see the myriad miracle world we share.
Open our eyes with your warmth and our hearts with your beauty, slow our minds with awe and wonder.
Dear Spirit of green grasses and warm breezes;
let us find here in these moments of quiet the grace of your breath as we breathe into our bodies the spirit of spring.

     Silence

At this time, let us be embraced by the silence in these sacred moments.  We know so well our own needs. We know that we, ourselves need understanding, affection and recognition. May we this day, increase our resolve to give more generously of ourselves, to risk more of ourselves,  and where necessary, stand ready to forgive and begin anew.    (30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: God of Christ Jesus and our God, we confess to you and to one another that as individuals and as a community we have fallen short of the glory that you want for us.

R: It is easy for us to become so self-satisfied with the way things are going for us that we become oblivious to those whose lives have become a misery.

 It is easy for us to get so absorbed in our own worries and hurts that we cut ourselves off from friends who have good things they would like to celebrate with us.

It is easy for us to get bogged down in our sins, or the bad things that happen, and to forget the readiness of  Divine Love to suffer our sorrows, share our pain and to bear our sins.

L: God of almighty grace, we thank you that our ignorance, sin, pride, stubbornness, or guilt, never place us outside your reach. You never shrug your shoulders and turn your back on us, but seek and save everyone who gets lost. We open our hearts and minds to your searching, insistent mercy which wipes away our disgrace and renovates our human dignity. Through Jesus our Saviour. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: Jesus said: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” “Come unto me all you who labour and are heaven laden, and I will give you rest.”  Sisters and brothers, I as a steward of the gospel of Christ, proclaim to you: Your sins are forgiven, all is made new, and the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17  (NKJV)

3:1 Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? Now Boaz, whose young women you were with, is he not our relative? In fact, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. Therefore wash yourself and anoint yourself, put on your best garment and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. Then it shall be, when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies; and you shall go in, uncover his feet, and lie down; and he will tell you what you should do.”

And she said to her, “All that you say to me I will do.”

-oOo-

4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and when he went in to her, the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a close relative; and may his name be famous in Israel! 15 And may he be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you, who is better to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her bosom, and became a nurse to him. 17 Also the neighbour women gave him a name, saying, “There is a son born to Naomi.” And they called his name Obed. He is the father of Jesse, the father of David.

FROM THE GOSPELSMark 12:38-44   (The Message version)

38-40 He continued teaching. “Watch out for the religion scholars. They love to walk around in academic gowns, preening in the radiance of public flattery, basking in prominent positions, sitting at the head table at every church function. And all the time they are exploiting the weak and helpless. The longer their prayers, the worse they get. But they’ll pay for it in the end.”

41-44 Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.”

HYMN 665 -“Jesus Christ is Waiting” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS

     Part 1

It’s not  often we hear about even one woman in scripture, but this morning we hear about two.  Whilst I may have been tempted to choose it this way, in fact, I didn’t.  These are the lectionary readings for this morning.  And they are fitting.

Three Sundays from today begins Advent, the beginning of a new cycle in our church year and leading us to Christmas.  It is fitting then,  as we approach the end of this church year, we have this reading in Mark, which marks the end of Jesus’ public ministry.  From here the gospel of Mark moves into Jesus’ passion and death, where Jesus gives his all.  In this final public scene of Jesus, we have the widow giving her all, a foreshadowing of what is to come.

And it is here, also, that Jesus makes a final break with the traditional teachers of the law.  We need to be careful here, because Jesus is not breaking with the Jewish people, and he is not even breaking with all of the scribes and pharisees, who have received a very bad and unfair press over the centuries.  Jesus is breaking with those too caught up in the letter of the law, the ones in power at the time, those with a rigid and close-minded understanding, and points to one who is hurt by their misunderstanding: this widow.

Widows had no rights in this society.  They were not counted (“There were 4000, PLUS women and children…”)  Women were literally owned, first by their fathers and then by their husbands.  In fact, the father paid the husband-to-be a dowry to take his daughter. The commandment against adultery was not about sex so much as  ownership of property.  A widow was an item of property without an owner and which no one wanted; a bit like a clapped out car in the wreckers yard. She had no one to be responsible for her and care for her.  She was disadvantaged by poverty and vulnerability.  She was invisible to the legal, religious, political, and social eyes of her society.  She was the object of abuse at worst and pity at best.  

For one whose only protection from complete destitution was the little money she had, to give all that she had, tiny though it was, showed tremendous courage and faith; some would say foolishness.  There is a real sense, however, that when you are that poor and that vulnerable, there is nothing else in which to have faith except God.

Ruth and Naomi are also widows, also vulnerable and poor, and theirs is an interesting story that raises many questions.  Like the widow in Mark’s gospel, Ruth, too, has given all she has.  She has left her family and friends, her country, her culture, her religion, all that was familiar behind to go with, and care for, her mother-in-law in a foreign land.

And these two women are crafty, as the poor and vulnerable often are, because they have to be to survive.  When Ruth goes to the fields to collect the leftover grain for food, as beggars were allowed to do, she makes sure she works hard and looks good, and gets noticed by Boaz, so that he gives her a special part of the field for herself.

When Naomi conceives of her plan to get herself and Ruth long-term security, she tells Ruth to make sure Boaz is in good humour – that he is well fed and well drunk – before she makes her offer.  Women in scripture are often portrayed as being scheming and underhanded.  Remember that Miriam saves her little brother Moses by arranging to have the Pharaoh’s daughter discover him, and organising Moses’ own mother to be his wet nurse.  Rebecca, too, plots against her husband so that Jacob, and not Esau, gets the birthright.  Be it through feminine wiles or intuition or whatever, these women do the ‘will of God’, and they do it through the only means open to them in a society in which they are oppressed.

Ruth lays at the foot of Boaz’ bed and (we read) ‘uncovers his feet’, which is actually a euphemism for uncovering a lot more than his feet!  So in the end, Ruth gives up even her body.  She prostitutes herself to Boaz to secure food and shelter for her mother-in-law, and to give birth to a son, who in turn begets a son, who eventually, begets Jesus.  

The final irony is, that after Ruth does all this, and even though it is written that she is better than seven sons, which in Hebrew numerology, is to say ALL the sons in the world, she is erased from the text.  It is Naomi and Boaz who are named in the genealogy, and it is Naomi who nurses the child.  Ruth is still a foreigner, unfit and unclean.

     Part 2

So, we have before us the stories of three widows.  Held up as exemplars of the faith, two at least are there by questionable means.  What can we say about it all?  Firstly, it reminds us that God’s ways and means are not always what we expect, nor are they through whom we expect.  Here, it is not through the church leaders or the upstanding members of society to which we are directed as examples of faith and courage, but to three widows; three nobodies, really.  Scripture tells us it is not by the strong, but by the weak and vulnerable that we are to be guided.  It is to the oppressed, the hungry, the unemployed, to those who prostitute themselves to survive, that we must listen and receive wisdom. 

Second, then, these readings challenge us who are comparatively well-off, to seriously question our values and our ethics.  Theologian Barbara Brown Taylor notes that nowhere in our Gospel passage does Jesus praise the widow for what she does.  Jesus simply calls his disciples over to notice her, and to compare what she does with what everyone else is doing.  Jesus does not dismiss the gifts of the rich.  He simply points out that the minor characters like the poor widows turn out to be those who give their all: their money, their bodies, their souls.

And Jesus asks the disciples – and us – to sit and contemplate; to contemplate the disparity between abundance and poverty, between apparent sacrifice and the real thing, and to reflect upon the society that allows such disparity, that even reduces a woman to prostitution to support her family.

In the 21st century the lot of women in Australia has improved very significantly, but not enough. Girls born into our society today have tremendous opportunities for success and a good life, but… there is still more change required before she has all the advantages of boys her age.  

Bella Abzug, a former U.S. congresswoman said:  “The world is suffering a  nervous breakdown.  The people who created the conditions are not the ones who are going to change them.  It needs an infusion of new and hopeful people, and women are essential to creating any change on the planet. It is not a matter of contraception, but of development, which means taking women out of poverty and making sure they get an education.”

Nations of the world must put women, women’s health, women’s education, women’s rights, and the employment of women at the centre of the international agenda in order to give expression to their determination to build just and successful societies.  We need to care for women so women can care for the planet. We can expect to see more women taking these decisions, and we’ll see better decisions as a result.

It may seem odd that I, a man, am up here as an advocate for women, speaking to a congregation of the majority of whom are women.  However, I have too often noted that, in the church at least, the staunchest opponents of changes which will empower women, are, in fact, women.

While today’s Scripture focusses our attention on women, it also speaks to us of all who are oppressed.  The book and film, The Power of One, showed very vividly how the black people in apartheid South Africa had to bow and scrape to their white oppressors, and how they often did it tongue-in-cheek, exposing how foolish those white men were, but they also did it with great fear.   Trying to maintain their own sense of dignity cost them greatly.

The film Priscilla outrageously, and yet sensitively, looked at the plight of homosexual and transgender people in our society.  My Place, a novel by Sally Morgan, examined the experiences of one aboriginal family growing up in Australia this century, in which the children were told they were Indian to protect them from discrimination.

I think that Jesus and the Old Testament prophets would approve of my message to you this morning, because at this time in history, women, along with black people, homosexual people, the unemployed and children, are the oppressed in our society and in our world.  And the oppressed will always tell a different story – a more honest story – than those in power.

So this morning, I invite you to take time to observe our society and contemplate the ways of power, and to listen to those who have the most to teach us.  May God grant us the wisdom and courage so to do.

HYMN 599 – “Take My Life” (click here to listen)

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: God of all living, we have seen your presence in the rhythm and surprises of our years.

R: You have accompanied us through all that is past. So we give thanks.

L: We recognise your closeness in this day.

R: You challenge and encourage us in each act and decision. So we offer our praise.

L: Now we look to you in the promises which stretch before us.

R: You meet us with hope and call us to freedom
to live as your new people. So we commit ourselves again, to live as committed people of faith. 

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

God of love, have mercy on the world of human affairs where the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged seems to be ever widening.

We pray for all victims of this injustice: For the sick and the maimed who cannot afford the latest in medical technology.

For the hungry millions who have been denied the benefits of genetically improved grains, fruits and meats.

For indigenous minorities whose health  and education prospects lag far behind the general population.

For the unemployed who have been cast aside by the electronic revolution in industry and commerce.

For the second and third generation of refugees who are still living in camps that we set up in the previous century.

For small nations who are being exploited or shut out of markets by the strong and aggressive.

For the common people who cannot afford to pay the cost of obtaining justice in courts of law.

For the poor who cannot afford to pay the cost for the best medical and surgical help.

God of justice and mercy, keep your church faithful and compassionate. Do not permit us to become so concerned with our own weaknesses that we neglect to love our neighbour even as Christ Jesus has loved us. In his name we pray as he taught, “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 and the power and glory are yours now and forever. Amen

HYMN 687 – “God Gives Us A Future” (click here to listen) 

PARTING WORDS

L: For the blessings we each bestow on one another with our energy, compassion, and prayer, we give thanks.

R: For the blessings we become to others in need, we give thanks and remember that we are not alone.

BENEDICTION

As the kookaburra gently settles on the tree, receive the gift of peace.
As the flame rises with light and warmth, receive the gift of life.
As the wind moves
and dances round the earth,
receive the gracious gift of the Spirit.

An open, virtual door to the world