Epiphany 7C (20-02-2022)

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 20th 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-

“Let a man overcome anger with love,…evil by good,
the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth.”
(Gautama Buddha) 

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Come to this time.  Together we make it a holy time with our every act of worship.  Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

OPENING SENTENCES 

L: The God who created the universe and sustains it in love

R: Calls us here.

L: The Christ who came and lived a life like us, was crucified, rose and reigns with the Creator

R: Calls us here.

L: The Spirit in whom God’s truth and power still comes to us.

R: Calls us here.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Calling God, you have gathered us in your community.  You have made a place for us.  Let what we say and do in this time be real for us and honest to you, and prepare us for the life of the world. Amen..

HYMN 152 – “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore You” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY  INTO SILENCE

     Meditation “Not Knowing Anyone” by  Marjorie Dobson.

Alone, and just inside that crowded room, I stood,
the Babel-babble conversation roaring round me.

But I was edgy and bewildered, unconnected.
Until, across the room I heard my name – not called,
but spoken of with knowledge – and there was one, at least,
who recognised my being, not my face.

It was enough.
Existing in her mind, she had enlivened me.
Now I could be part of those around.
I wonder – did that woman ever know
how she had spoken me to life?
Let there be a quiet time among us.

     Silence   

May the silence remind us of the best hours we have known, and strengthen our resolve to live in that spirit which gives the better meaning to our lives.     (silence  for at least 30 seconds)

REFLECTING ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD 

L: In some ways Christianity may seem like bad news. In the life of Christ Jesus, the bar has been raised to unprecedented heights, and that sees most of us falling a long way short.  Yet there is also very good news, for through Christ God has also shown us “plenteous grace to cover all our sins.”  As we embrace the fullness of the good news, let us with quiet confidence confess our sin, saying together:

R: God of unutterable holiness, we confess to you and to each other that we have fallen far     short of the complete and generous love of Jesus. Through our foolishness, our very own foolishness, we have not only stumbled but caused those around us to also fall.

Through our wilfulness, our very own wilfulness, we have not only been corrupted but   have aided the corruption of others.   Here and now, holy God, through our repentance, our very own repentance, we acknowledge our sins, turn with dismay from them, and pray for your saving grace to once more forgive and rehabilitate our lives.

L: We continue our prayer with Hymn 564

HYMN 564O God of Bethel, by Whose Hand”  (click here to listen)

L: May the Spirit of Christ so continue to work in and through us, that we may forgive those who have sinned against us, and sincerely seek their rehabilitation. Through Christ Jesus our steadfast friend, amen.

WORD OF ASSURANCE  

L: For this church in Ocean Grove/Barwon Heads, Victoria, Australia, it is written: “Grace to you and peace from God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of God our Father,…” and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God! 

FROM THE GOSPELS  Luke 6:27-35

Today’s readings deal with one of the most crucial lessons of Jesus that we have yet to learn.  That we haven’t learned this lesson is responsible for the vast majority of evil in the world.  If the followers of Jesus cannot learn this lesson, what hope is there for the world.  So let us take Jesus words into our Lenten time, which begins in only ten days, and let them judge us, our community, our nation, that we may choose life.

27 “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. 35 But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.

PSALM 37: 1-11, 39-40

Don’t you fret because of the wicked,
nor be envious of those who do bad things.
They will dry up like grass, wither like cut green foliage.

Don’t be jealous when scum bags seem to win.
Don’t be spooked; God is not fooled.

Trust in your God and do what good you can,
take your place in the land and be secure,
Find your delight in knowing God,
and your deepest longings will be met.

True riches are found in unseen things,
‘Get high’ on God and you will not fall.

Commit all your ways to God, trust, for God is always at work.
Your vindication will be sure as sunrise,
your justification as bright as high noon.

 Don’t expect God to jump when you speak,
trust and obey and you will never be let down.

Rest in God’s stillness,  and be patient.
Do not fret when evil seems to prosper.
The wicked will find themselves cut off,
but those who wait will possess the land.

Make space for the gift of grace,
the busiest saints always have time.

In a short time the wicked will be no more,
their mansions will stand empty.
But the meek will inherit the earth and delight in the shalom of God.

For those who have the guts to be gentle,
all manner of things will be well.

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS“Jesus Really Does Love Osama”

     Part 1

After Martin Luther King’s house was burned down by white supremacists, a crowd of angry Afro-Americans gathered with the intent to avenge their leader by burning down the houses of the white folk.  Among other things which King said to the crowd that night to disperse them peacefully was, “When you live by the rule ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’, you end up with a nation of blind and toothless people,”  the truth of which is probably one of the reasons Jesus modified this law with the commandment to love one’s enemies.

The first decade of this millennium was International Decade to Overcome Violence and here at the beginning of the third decade, there is more violence now than ever.  Perhaps humanity had better set itself the same task for the next decade and the decades after that until we start making some progress. Many of you will see the pervasive violence of our world as intractable, beyond solution; however, it seems fairly evident to me that the solution to the problem was given to us 2000 years ago, but few have been willing to take the hint.

The sign above generated a considerable amount of controversy and media coverage in the U.S. a few years ago, but there is no doubt about the answer to the question.

Jesus taught, ”Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you;” even Osama bin Laden; even Adolf Hitler, or Joseph Stalin or any among the worst people you can think of. What is so complicated about that?  

Though many, including political leaders, showed an inclination to argue with the notion that Osama bin Laden was loveable, they clearly didn’t know Jesus.  If they did, the sign would have created nary a ripple.  

The logic of Jesus’ proposal is really quite simple: if we fail to love our enemies, we will guarantee a continuing cycle of hate and violence.   Unlike some of Jesus’ teaching, this one is neither obscure or counter-intuitive; rather, it is the only common sense step to take.  Someone has to break the cycle of hate, retribution and violence and that someone is everyone.   

Never has the solution to violence and hate been more clear, and never has the solution been harder to implement.  There’s the rub.  Do we say to the woman or child suffering at the hands of a violently abusive man at home, “Go home and just keep loving him”?  Do we say, “Bless those who screwed up your life so badly that you have never been able to have a relationship since?”   

I have heard preachers who have said to such questions, “No, of course you don’t keep loving him”, wanting to exempt certain classes of evil or of victims from Jesus’ commandment.  But as soon as one starts creating exemptions, then a line is being drawn arbitrarily, the position of which becomes debatable.  Jesus is not saying, “Love some of your enemies,” nor is he addressing only some of the people, exempting others.   He is saying, unequivocally to everyone, “Love your enemies.”

But note: neither is Jesus telling us to be doormats, and merely accept whatever is thrown at us.  Indeed, he is telling us not to just take it, but to act in response, to do something positive; namely, to love. John Donahue, a Catholic New Testament scholar says: “A true meaning of the love command is not acquiescence to evil and violence, but the imitation of God’s love by freeing enemies of their hatred and violent destructiveness…” 

Personally, I would not say to the abused wife as, unfortunately, some misguided church people do, “Go home and just keep loving him.”   I would tell her to get as far away from him as possible for her own safety, but I would tell her, for her own good, and the good of the world, to keep loving him.

If there is one moderating factor to be noted, it is that the responsibility to love one’s enemies increases with one’s power to harm one’s enemy, but no one is exempt. Anyway, when it comes to the powerful, collectively we are right up there, so we are most definitely among those to whom Jesus delivers his message. 

And with regard to our enemies?  We are to love them, welcome them, and though we fear them, our faith will overcome our fear.

Remember, others do not choose to be our enemies; we label them as such.  Enemies exist in our hearts and minds, and we project this quality on others whom we consider as threats. Each of us has the power to create enemies or not.  No matter what evil you might do to me, you are not my enemy unless I say that you are.

I can hear the objections:  “Get real! It’s not practical. In our world, trying to love my enemy would be like offering myself up for slaughter.”  But this objection usually arises from a concern about what one might lose.   It is the kind of self-seeking, self-concerned position that Jesus, recorded in all four gospels, said would guarantee your destruction.  In saying that we must love our enemies, Jesus is being entirely consistent.  Not only will following his command break the cycle of violence in the wider world, it will help bring new life in yourself.  

Mahatma Ghandi gave some perspective to Jesus’ teaching when he said:

      • to refuse to struggle against the evil of the world
         is to surrender your humanity;
      • to struggle against evil with the weapons of the evil-doer
         is to enter your humanity;
      • to struggle against the evil of the world with the weapons of God is to enter your divinity.

     Part 2

Terrorism is a  very appropriate example.  In today’s world, in which the fear of terrorists is always close to our national awareness, Jesus’ words and Ghandi’s words are even more important. The one common ingredient to terrorism everywhere is that it springs from a sense of powerlessness. Why do they feel powerless? Because those in power, particularly in the United States, have not loved them, indeed have done violence upon them, economically, socially and politically, so they strike back in the only way they can

The response of the world to terrorism, particularly by the Americans, British and Australian governments, has been exactly the opposite of the one that Jesus called for and, therefore, exactly the opposite of the one that is necessary to bring peace. The strategy of meeting violence with violence has never ever stopped the violence; indeed, it has perpetuated the cycle, but violence nevertheless continues to be the response of choice by people in power who really should know better by now.

Emilio Castro, former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches said, “Faced with the madness of a world that is capable of self-destruction, let us affirm the madness of the cross, of non-violence, of the outstretched hand, of faith that God does still reign.”

If you are inclined to argue with Jesus’ uncompromising position on this issue, I am happy to give you the floor, but first a true story:

The scene is a courtroom in South Africa several years ago, after apartheid had ended and government by the black majority had begun.  Imagine this courtroom scene unfolding before you:

A frail black woman stands slowly to her feet.  She is something over 70 years of age.  Facing her across the room are several white ex-security police officers, one of whom, Mr. Van der Broek, has just been tried and found guilty in the murders of both the woman’s son and her husband during the white apartheid regime some years before.

It was indeed Mr. Van der Broek, it had been established, who had come into the woman’s home, taken her son, shot him at point-blank range and burned the man’s body while he and his fellow officers partied.

A few years after this incident, van der Broek and his cohorts returned to take away her husband.  For many months she heard nothing of his whereabouts.  Then, almost two years after husband’s disappearance, van der Broek came back to fetch the woman herself.  

How vividly she remembers that evening, going to a place beside a river where she was shown her husband, bound and badly beaten, but still strong in spirit, lying on a pile of wood.  The last words she heard from his lips as the officers poured petrol over his body and set him aflame were, “Father, forgive them.”

Now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confession offered by Mr. Van der Broek.  A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks, “So, what do you want?  How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?”

“I want three things,” begins the woman, calmly, but not confidently. “I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust and give his remains a decent burial.”

She paused, then continues, “My husband and son were my only family.  I want, secondly, therefore, for Mr. Van der Broek to become my son.  I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me so that I can pour out on him whatever love I still have remaining within me.”

“And finally,” she says, “I want a third thing: I would like to Mr. van der Broek to accept my forgiveness, because Jesus died to forgive.  This was also the dying wish of my husband.  And so I would ask someone to kindly come to my side and lead me across the courtroom so that I can take Mr. van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.

As the court assistants come to lead the elderly woman across the room, Mr. van der Broek, overwhelmed by what he has just heard, faints.  And those in the courtroom, friends, family, neighbours – all victims of decades of oppression and injustice – begin to sing, softly but assuredly, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”

Perhaps the words of Isaiah 6 from a couple weeks ago come to mind: “Woe is me, for I am a man of unclean lips.”  

HYMN 699   “A New Commandment”  (click here to listen)

AN AFFIRMATION TO OUR HUMANITY

Leader: In response to the word reflected on let us share together an affirmation of our humanity.  May we be aware of our weaknesses and strengthened by that awareness. 

Women: May we be conscious of our shortcomings and alerted by that consciousness. 

Men: May we know our limitations and be humbled by that knowledge. 

Leader: Thus may we come to pay less attention to our weaknesses, shortcomings, limitations – 

ALL: And to give greater attention to possible areas of continuing growth: awareness, consciousness, knowledge!

OFFERING OUR CONCERNS AND JOYS TO GOD

For the many who stand in queues at Centrelink, feeling demeaned like beggars, we pray to the God of hope. Loving Spirit, reinforce our prayers with appropriate actions.

For those on the long waiting list for surgery, or other therapy, in public hospitals, we pray to the God of hope.

For children who go to school hungry because parents gamble their family benefits, we pray to the God of hope.

For refugees who are locked in detention camps, waiting for their cases to be processed, we pray to the God of hope.

 For the job seekers who long for interviews, as they compete for too few vacancies, we pray to the God of hope.

For the mentally ill who, denied adequate medical care, have become homeless derelicts, we pray to the God of hope.

For those who against their will, or at first willingly, are shamefully abused in the sex trade, we pray to the God of hope.

For the bewildered among young aborigines who are sniffing petrol or vandalising property, we pray to the God of hope.

For frail folk who live alone, without neighbours who care whether they are alive or dead, we pray to the God of hope.

For bruised souls once hurt by religion, and who now do not know where to turn for succour, we pray to the God of hope.

For the host of ordinary citizens, who give their best without ever being noticed or thanked,  we pray to the God of hope.

God hope, God of justice, God of mercy, disturb the peace of those comfortable people whose labour is small and whose burden is light. May each do whatever we can to bring others in from the edges of life, that all may find healing for body, mind and spirit. Through Christ Jesus, the Prince of hope. 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 648 “Help Us Accept Each Other”  (click here to listen)

WORDS OF MISSION

L: And now we take our leave. 

R: Before we gather here again: may each of us bring happiness into another’s life; may we each be surprised by the gifts that surround us; may each of us be enlivened by constant curiosity. 

L: And may we remain together in spirit ‘til the hour we meet again.

BENEDICTION

Go boldly into the future which has been claimed by God.
Know that the God who holds all things will be there,
that Christ who calls us friend will walk beside us,
and the Spirit who makes all things new
will mark our way with light and hope.

 

An open, virtual door to the world