Epiphany 6C (13-02-2022)

Welcome to worship with the Ocean Grove
and Barwon Heads congregations.

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on February 13th at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not ready to return to public gatherings.   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-

”Affliction is a treasure,
and scarce any man hath enough of it.”
(John Donne)

 

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Come to this time where the ordinary is sanctified, the human is celebrated, the compassionate is expected.   Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

OPENING SENTENCES     (based on Jer.17:7-8) 

L: Let us praise God, who gives living water, through whom the faithful flourish.

R: Like trees planted by the water, God, are those who trust in you.

L: Like trees with deep roots are those who place their faith in you.

R: Like green trees in winter are those who receive their life from you.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Creativity God, in all times and seasons, and of all the seasons of our lives, we gather in this sacred place, thankful for the days that have been, and hopeful for the days that shall be.  May we become one with ourselves and you in all the seasons to come. Amen.

HYMN 180 “God of Many Names” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY  INTO SILENCE

     Meditation  “Let Me Be Like Bach” by Beatrice Hill

Let me be like Bach, creating fugues,
till suddenly the pen will move no more.

Let all my themes within – of ancient light, of origins, and change, and human worth – let all their melodies still intertwine, evolve and merge with ever growing unity, ever without fading, ever without a final chord…till suddenly my mind can hear no more.

     Silence

As we gather let us claim some stillness, some silence.

May we become conscious in this moment and in every moment of our gathering, that the Holy One, Creator God, is the life giving energy pulsing through us; the energy which connects us, and us to all of creation.     (Silence  for at least 30 seconds)

REFLECTING ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD 

L: God our Holy Friend, we know that we are greatly loved, and invited by Christ into a holy and holistic way of life..

R: But in the world around us, and within our own being, there is displayed a plethora of fractured relationships, hopes, promises and creeds.

L: Our species has turned what was meant to be paradise into a jungle where the survival of the strongest, greediest, most arrogant and ruthless, becomes the law by which most people live.

R: Great physician of souls and healer of communities, have mercy upon your fractured world, and upon each of us, as we come seeking  the sanity of forgiveness and renovation. By the searching grace of Christ Jesus, expose and heal us all.  

WORD OF ASSURANCE  

L: The faithfulness of God is greater than our doubt.  The innocence of Christ is stronger than our guilt.  The Spirit of love surrounds us here and now to make us whole. And so I declare to you, the door to life has  been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God! 

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Jeremiah 17:5-10

The reading from Jeremiah sets before us a theme, continued in the Gospel, of contrasts between those who are blessed and those who are cursed.  It is not Jeremiah’s style to write wisdom literature, so it may not be the prophet speaking here; nevertheless, it corresponds with the essence of his message.  We each have a choice in life: to follow the ways of the world and our own devices, or to trust in God and follow God’s ways. Depending on our choice, we find woe or blessings.

Thus says the Lord:

“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord.

For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,

And whose hope is the Lord.

For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit.

9  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;
Who can know it?

10  I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind,
Even to give every man according to his ways,
According to the fruit of his doings.

GOSPEL READING – Luke 6:17-26

In this radical sermon by Jesus, those whom the world curses are blessed, and woe is predicted for those whom the world blesses.  But note that there are no imperatives here, i.e. the beatitudes are not exhortations to do better.  They simply state what is.  They proclaim the nature of the kingdom of God.  This is the way the world is as God’s world.  Note also that the sermon is directed at the disciples, not the rest of the crowd.  This is the way the world is for those who have chosen to follow.  Herein is a basis for hope for those who often believe they have little in which  to hope.  As Walter Brueggemann wrote in Hope Within History,  “Who hopes?  Those who enter this grief, suffering and oppression, who bring it to speech, who publicly process it and move through it and beyond.  They are the ones who are surprised to find, again and again, that hope and new possibility come in the midst of such grief.” 

17  He came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea, Jerusalem, and the coast of Tyre and Sidon. 18 They had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19 And all in the crowd were trying to touch him, for power came out from him and healed all of them.

20  Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

21  “Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.

22  “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. 23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets.

24  “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

25  “Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
“Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.

26 “Woe to you when all speak well of you,
for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.

HYMN 160 – “Father All-Loving and Ruler in Majesty”
(click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS         “Blessings and Curses“                   

     Part 1

”Happy are you when people hate you, reject you, insult you, and say that you are evil….How terrible when people speak well of you.”  

Jesus comes down and stands amid his disciples and the crowds on a level place.  He comes down so that he may speak to them ‘at their level,’ so to speak. Luke says that they clamoured after him “to be healed of their diseases” (v. 18). Jesus did heal many, but then he began to teach them, perhaps thinking that they needed good teaching even more than they needed good health care.

When he taught them, note that his sermon consisted of two parts.  Part one is a series of blessings or ‘beatitudes’ as we’ve come to know them.  “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (v.20)  Jesus blesses those whom the world often curses; people like the poor, the unemployed, the dispossessed and the oppressed. Blessed are you hungry people; you will be filled.  Blessed are you who weep, the mourning. Blessed are you who are hated by others because of your loyalty to Jesus.

In the kingdom where we live, such people are often cursed, or at least pushed down to the bottom. What is so blessed about being unemployed or poor? – The curse of poverty, we sometimes say.  Yet Jesus tells these people on the bottom that they shall be blessed in God’s kingdom.

Now if that were all there was to Jesus’s words that day, then we might remember it dearly as one of the sweetest sermons Jesus ever preached. However, note that Jesus goes on from blessings to a series of curses.

Curses?  We don’t usually remember Jesus as one who curses people.  He is, after all, the one who taught, and offered, God’s infinite forgiveness. But Jesus is known to us, as anybody is known, not only on the basis of that which he blesses, but also on that which he curses.  After blessing the ones whom the world curses – the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful – Jesus curses those whom we usually bless: the rich, the content, the happy.

While I was in the U.S. a few years ago, a noted and respected journalist, Barbara Walters, hosted a TV special on which she introduced her “Ten Most Influential People of the Year.” It was her way of honouring those who meant the most in American culture. I can tell you, there wasn’t a poor, sorrowful, hungry one among them. They were all people of vast wealth, power and prestige; people who, in Ms. Walter’s words, “made a big impact on the U.S.”

Jesus has some choice words for people like that; he curses them!

For those of you who are rich, curse you! You have already “received your consolation.”(v.24) You have already had the best that this world has to offer. If this sounds a bit harsh, and I might add, ominous for us who are rich in the context of the world, realise that God has very little to give the person who already has everything. So Jesus is merely stating the obvious; you, who have had so much, get nothing. You were good at working the kingdoms of this world to your advantage, at the expense of the poor;  now, in God’s Kingdom, you shall be cursed.

For those of you who are full now, curse you! You are already full, stuffed with all that can be consumed in this world, taking more than your share while the poorest starve, God has nothing more to feed you.  Having found so many ways to satisfy your gnawing hunger, what more can God do for you? No, in God’s kingdom, you shall be cursed.

For those of you are laughing, curse you! You mockingly laugh at those who suffer, at those simple, primitive people who have an uncomplicated faith.  You think of yourselves as so sophisticated, so smart. Life, having been rather easy for you, has afforded you many occasions to laugh and to smile, but no longer. In God’s kingdom you shall weep

For those of you who enjoy public acclaim and praise, damn you! You long to be on the cover of People magazine. You carefully weigh your words, being sure not ever to offend anyone with the truth, so you don’t speak too much truth. You sugar coat your speech. Having polished so perfectly your exterior lives, you have neglected your interior life. Curse you, you popular people! This is the way the world has acclaimed false prophets.

     Part 2

By the end of the sermon on the plain you are left wondering if it is good news or bad. I suppose it all depends on where you are seated when you hear it. If you are rich, content, happy, then this sermon has some tough things to say about your future. It is not that God punishes those who are rich, content and well-fixed.  God doesn’t punish. Rather, it is that God’s kingdom values certain life styles and not others. More to the point, certain people, notably the rich, the happy, the popular, have moved themselves far away from the narrow gate to the Kingdom.

The result is that God’s Kingdom appears to be prejudiced, constitutionally disposed to certain sorts of people and not others. Jesus doesn’t tell anyone in the sermon to go out and do anything.  As I said in the introduction to this reading, there are no imperative words such as “should,” “ought” or “must” here; rather everything is in the indicative mood, i.e. at statement about what is rather than what ought to be. Jesus simply announces the way things are in the kingdom of God, which also is saying something about who our God is.

Although Jesus’ is simply stating what is, nevertheless his words have implications for how we should live. Indeed, given the curses Jesus has pronounced, it would be a very unwise person who ignored those implications.

Those implications flow on to how we vote, how we spend our time and money, and how we treat others, particularly those whom God seems to favour. We need to address the question continually, how can we, as individuals, as a church, a community, a nation, bless those whom God blesses?  We might also well ask, how can we curse those whom Jesus curses, for a church that believes in justice can affirm justice only by condemning injustice. A church that cares about the poor, as God cares, can do so only by, at some point, expressing concern about the nature of a society that allows some to get rich at the expense of the others. A church that cares about future generations can only exercise this care by cursing those who threaten their well-being. To those who say that church should not be involved in politics, I’m sure Jesus would add another curse.

To be this kind of church, and this kind of Christian is to be a radical activist for the overthrow of the current social, political and economic order – nothing less. It would put us at odds with every person and every institution that benefits from the status quo. The antagonism that will be heaped upon you will be immense, but it is no more than the treatment handed out to the prophets and to Jesus. “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, defame you on account of the Son of Man.” (v.22)  If we are not this kind of church and not this kind of people – and I’m afraid there’s a chance we might fall outside its guidelines – it lines us up on the curses side of Jesus’s sermon.

Even though there are some tough words, some curses for those on top, and some hard choices that flow from them, the sermon begins, and is perhaps its most strong, in its blessings for those on the bottom. If Sunday finds you hungry, hurting, mourning or on the bottom of the pack, then this is your good news.

SONG – “The Hour that the Ship Comes In”  (click here to listen)

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH    (All say together)

We believe in the gift of sorrow which carries us back to humanness and reminds us of the way we dreamed life ought to be, which marks truly our love for people and stills us to find new paths through the blurred landscape of our tears. 

We believe that, despite betrayal and deception, in a way that we do not always understand, we are not left alone.

We believe that we will not stay sorrowing forever, but that our spirits will as surely lift as the day follows night.

Despite our doubts, we believe that it is always better to hope than to despair, to build anew rather than to destroy, and to accept that life will not confirm our worst fears, but will surprise us with unforeseen revelations.

God is above us, God is below us, God is between us, God is within us.  We will not be afraid.

OFFERING OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GO

God of all the forgotten, neglected, and abused people, please enlarge our love that we may more effectively pray and work for their well being. 

For the many whom the present world economic system condemns to a lifetime of grinding poverty, Lord we pray.  Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

For those communities in severe famine, and who this day can do nothing but wait in hope for aid agencies to fly in emergency food, Lord we pray.

For all who are unjustly imprisoned, and those who are emotionally or physically persecuted, Lord we pray.

For the host of those around the world who are dying today, and the greater host of those who weep for the dear and holy dead, Lord we pray.

For extra sensitive people who wear themselves out in the cause of others, and for those thick skinned characters who need to be jolted out of their indifference, Lord we pray.

For church congregations who are already reaching out with unconditional compassion, and for self-centred churches who have become piously irrelevant to the casualties around them, Lord we pray.

For ourselves, that the word of Christ may not fall on our ears in vain, Lord we pray. Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

In the name of Jesus our brother, 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.

HYMN 647 –  “Comfort, Comfort, All My People”(click here to listen)

WORDS OF MISSION 

L: If, here, you have found freedom,

R: take it with you into the world.

L:If you have found comfort,

R: go and share it with others.

L: If you have dreamed dreams,             

R:help one another, that they may come true.

L: If you have known love and unity,    

R:give some back to a bruised and hurting world. 

BENEDICTION

Now may the blessings of life be upon us,
and upon this gathered people.
May the memories we gather here give us hope for the future.
May the love that we share bring strength and joy to our hearts,
and the peace of this community be with us until we meet again.

An open, virtual door to the world