Lent 2C (13-03-2022)

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on March 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-

DISCOVERY

“Help us to find God.”
“No one can help you there.”
“Why not?”
“For the same reason that no one can help the fish find the ocean.”
                                       

 (Anthony de Mellow, S.J.)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Blessed is our God always, now and for ever and to the ages of ages. Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

OPENING SENTENCES

L: We gather this day to worship God, whose words and ways challenge us.

R: God invites us to lose our selfishness to find ourselves

L: God calls us to be fools in the world to show forth the divine wisdom.

R: God urges us to empty ourselves to discover life’s fullness.

L: God bids us to be obedient to a divine will so we might know true freedom.

R: We come to worship our Creator, seeking to have our faith challenged into growth.

A GATHERING PRAYER (All pray together)

Creator God, maker of the universe, the stars you showed to Abraham are as numberless as your blessings: steadfast, enduring, as the promise to your servant. You promise, and call us to believe. You promise, and call us to live in that promise. Faithful and ever-caring God, we come with expectancy and purpose. God of Abraham, God of this people gathered, we come in faith to worship you.

HYMN 693 – “Come As You Are” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation“Our True Home” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Our true home is in the present moment.
To live in the present moment is a miracle.

The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.
Peace is all around us – in the world and in nature –
and within us – in our bodies and our spirits.
Once we learn to touch this peace,
we will be healed and transformed.
It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice.

     Silence

Let us take a moment to settle into the silence. (Pause) In these brief moments of silence and meditation may we find strength. May our lives be rich in affection, deep in understanding and sympathy for each other. May the blessings of life be known to all.            (Maintain silence for at least 30 seconds)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: Please hear us, loving God, when we cry to you, be gracious to us and answer our prayer. If we have slid away from new opportunities, or failed to give our best effort to long familiar duties, forgive us and restore us merciful Friend.

R: Christ Jesus is our light and salvation, of whom shall we be afraid?

L: If we have become weary, and slipped into mirroring the prejudices and dissatisfactions of a greedy and unjust world, forgive us and heal us merciful Friend.

R: Christ Jesus is our light and salvation, of whom shall we be afraid?

L: If we have performed well in public, smoothly keeping up appearances, while our personal faith has grown shabby and weak, forgive us and rehabilitate us, merciful Friend.

R: Christ Jesus is our light and salvation, of whom shall we be afraid?

L: Wait for the Lord. Be strong and allow your heart to take courage.

R: Wait; yes my soul, wait on the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

THE ASSURANCE

L: Loving God, you are not impatient and tight fisted like us, your generosity flows freely to all your creatures. We praise you that our sins are forgiven, and that the future has again become an open door, and that door has been opened to us

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Gen.15:1-12:17-18

In the reading from the Hebrew Scriptures we hear of the coming of Yahweh to Abram, who is childless and landless: a particularly desperate situation for a person of that era and culture. The coming of God is not to terrify the man into obeying commandments and doing the divine will, but to offer love and gracious care. God offers a covenant, an unconditional agreement, binding Godself to Abram and promising that he will be the father of many peoples and will possess the land that God will give him. There is no demand or requirement placed upon Abram, but even this paragon of faith cannot accept the gift at face value. He simply cannot believe the promise, and so he breaches that old axiom about looking a gift horse in the mouth, and asks for proof that God will keep the divine word.

15 After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward.”

2 But Abram said, “Lord God, what will You give me, seeing I go childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 Then Abram said, “Look, You have given me no offspring; indeed one born in my house is my heir!”

4 And behold, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “This one shall not be your heir, but one who will come from your own body shall be your heir.” 5 Then He brought him outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.”

6 And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

7 Then He said to him, “I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to inherit it.”

8 And he said, “Lord God, how shall I know that I will inherit it?”

9 So He said to him, “Bring Me a three-year-old heifer, a three-year-old female goat, a three-year-old ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon.” 10 Then he brought all these to Him and cut them in two, down the middle, and placed each piece opposite the other; but he did not cut the birds in two. 11 And when the vultures came down on the carcasses, Abram drove them away.

12 Now when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and behold, horror and great darkness fell upon him. 13 Then He said to Abram: “Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them four hundred years. 14 And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions. 15 Now as for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried at a good old age. 16 But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.”

17 And it came to pass, when the sun went down and it was dark, that behold, there appeared a smoking oven and a burning torch that passed between those pieces. 18 On the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying:
“To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates

FROM THE GOSPELS – Lk.13:31-35

In the gospel reading, Luke continues the story, begun back in chapter 9, of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem which, we all know, ends on a cross. Through Jesus, God again extends an invitation into the kingdom; all are invited to sit and eat at God’s table with all humanity. Today’s reading portrays the rejection of so many people to whom God has come. And so we read of Herod’s desire to kill Jesus, another in a long line of God’s representatives who have been killed by the people of Jerusalem.

31 Just then some Pharisees came up and said, “Run for your life! Herod’s got your number. He’s out to kill you!”

32-35 Jesus said, “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick; the third day I’m wrapping things up. Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside Jerusalem.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets,
abuser of the messengers of God!
How often I’ve longed to gather your children,
    gather your children like a hen,
Her brood safe under her wings—
    but you refused and turned away!
And now it’s too late: You won’t see me again
    until the day you say,
      ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of God.’”

HYMN  – “I Need Thee Every Hour” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “R.S.V.P.”

     Part 1

“How many times have I wanted to put my arms around all your people, just as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not let me!” (Lk.13:34b)

So much of life calls for a response. A farmer sows his seed, and his livelihood depends upon a response. A party invitation is sent out, and the hostess expects a response. A teacher asks a question in the classroom, and awaits a response. A minister issues a call for volunteers, and waits in hope for a response. You take medicine for an illness, and hope for a response.

The arena of science is built upon response. Apply a stimulus to metals and you get a molecular response. Apply a stimulus to a plant and you get a cellular response. The whole field of physics involves the description of cause and effect, stimulus and response. Chemical reactions are measured in terms of response.

God, too, calls for a response, and this response is critical to our well being. One of the pacifist plays of the 60’s was entitled, “What If They Gave A War And Nobody Came?” The implication was, of course, that if there was no response, there could be no war. The same holds true for the opposite, and the Bible has several stories about that: What if God offered a kingdom and nobody came? One such story involves a banquet where people had all sorts of excuses for not attending.

The gospel is an invitation, and the entire history of human religion – indeed the entire history of humanity – can be described in terms of the extent to which that invitation is accepted or rejected.

The thread which runs through todays’ readings is described by that half-verse with which I began: “How many times have I wanted to put my arms around all your people, … but you would not let me!” Here is pictured the unrelenting God constantly coming to humankind with an invitation, and the equally unrelenting rejection of God and opposition to God’s presence by those to whom the invitation comes, even – or even especially – those who call themselves people of God.

It seems that when the world is addressed by God, it reacts with rejection and even hostility. If you and I are typical of humanity, and I think we are, we will be more inclined to turn down the invitation than respond positively to it, even though that invitation is to have a life more full than any we could provide for ourselves. The readings suggest two possible reasons for this failure to respond.

First, Abram’s reaction is pretty typical of the human response to a gift which is thought to be undeserved. Haven’t you ever felt a bit awkward when presented with a gift that was given to you for no good reason that you could see or that was far too expensive? There may have been a couple of thoughts going through your mind simultaneously: “I don’t deserve this!” and “I could never afford to give an equal gift in return.” Perhaps, if you are a wary sort of person, you might wonder what the catch is, or what is going to be asked of you.”

I think that we have heard too much of two axioms: 1) “It is more blessed to give than to receive,” and 2), “You don’t get something for nothing.” It is not that they lack truth, but that sometimes they get taken to the extreme that it is neither right nor possible to receive without giving. And so receiving has become something which has become difficult for most people.

When I prepare couples for marriage, I often will warn them about the difficulty of receiving love. At that stage they have no problem giving love; it pours out of them like water from a sieve, but to allow someone to love them unconditionally is a beast of a different colour. Sometimes relationships bog down, not because people are not loving, but because people cannot accept that they are loveable, and so they are unable to receive love and the peace and security that goes with it. I guess it makes one too vulnerable. If I believe that I deserve to be loved and open myself to being loved, what if I find out that I am not really loved. Better to not expect love in the first place.

     Part 2

The gospel suggests another reason for the failure of people to respond to God’s invitation. Like the people of Jerusalem, we are likely to reject God’s overtures, because God’s coming always sets in motion currents which run counter to the prevailing ones in society. God will not – God cannot – fit into our status quo. Salvation always involves a radical rearrangement of the way things are. And because we have so much at stake in established patterns, we strike out at anything which threatens to alter them. You see, these established patterns have become our security in lieu of the security of being loved, which we have not allowed ourselves. And again we cannot take the risk of accepting what we are given.

There was once a bright young woman who decided that she wanted to dedicate her life to helping people, especially those who were in trouble. So she attended a first aid course run by the Red Cross, and thought she would use this new knowledge she’d been given in an emergency centre in a ghetto area in her city. She completed the course with distinction and went out to share her skills. She hadn’t been at the centre more than two hours when there was a terrible car crash just a block away. She ran down the street and found two cars smashed together. All around was broken glass and twisted metal and badly injured people.

The next day at morning tea she was telling her friends about it. “Girls,” she said “it was simply awful; just ghastly. I saw all those people with arms broken, legs twisted, cut and bruised and blood everywhere. For an instant I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly I remembered what they taught me in the first aid course, so I sat right down on the curb, put my head between my knees, and I never fainted.”

It’s a silly little story perhaps, but there it is again, the failure to respond to God’s call to take a risk to become more than we are, to taste the fruits of the kingdom. God comes to each of us in our own way, starting where we each are, and invites us to grow. And time and again we shy away, perhaps not believing we can do it, not believing we are worthy, or just too comfortable where we are.

But there is a third aspect in these lessons that needs mentioning: that of the accepting response by some people to God. God does win some people over. In the end God does overcome Abram’s questioning skepticism and brings him into a divine relationship. Jesus himself exemplifies the human potential in each of us to respond in faithful and obedient acceptance. And if someone has actually accepted God’s invitation, then it is possible for me to do it, also.

One of the more heart-warming films I’ve seen is “Places in the Heart.” It is the story of a gutsy young widow, struggling through the great depression to provide for her family against the odds of a power structure which conspires to keep her down. But the story is told within the brackets of another reality. 

The film opens and closes with a shot of the town worshipping in a small church. At first it seems to have no connection with the story. Yet, upon reflection, it seems to me that the film maker is making a statement: the world’s powers and the sins and weaknesses of the townspeople are not ultimately defeating because of the transcending power of God. Whatever happens in the human story, that story is bracketed – enclosed – in God’s story.

The passionate seeking of God for the people, and their equally passionate rejection is a recurring story. The good news is that God does not give up in the face of repeated rejection, but rather God comes, and keeps coming, to us. God is the faithful one who has bound Godself to us, and the promise is that God will ultimately wear us down and win us over one way or another.

LITANY FOR LENT

L: In response to the word reflected on let us share together a litany celebrating Lent. O Sustainer and giver of life, free your people from the temptations of power, from the urge to control rather than enable.

R: Come, Spirit, liberate us from the forces of domination.

L: O Loving Empowerer, help us to challenge abuse of authority wherever it is to be found, including in ourselves.

R: Come, Spirit, give us strength not to walk by on the other side.

L: O Still Small Voice, help the People of God to learn to listen to each other, and those in authority to understand the strength that comes from true consultation.

R: Come, Spirit of Understanding, deepen our insights.

L: O Loving Creator, help us to affirm ourselves and others, understanding that we are all uniquely created and have a voice that needs to be heard.

R: Come, Creator of Diversity, and help us see the value of difference.

L: O God who made both women and men in your image, help your church not to deface its image by treating women as inferior beings. Help us to recognise and challenge discrimination based on gender, race, sexual orientation, clericalism and other excuses for exclusion.

R: Come, Spirit of Equality, and imbue us with the values of interconnectedness with all created nature, human and non-human.

HYMN 211 – “Jesus, Lover of My Soul” (click here to listen)

OFFERING OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD

Most loving God, according to our true needs, please confront and save your earth children. Discipline or soothe, break down or build up, discomfort or comfort us. May all nations, communities, friends, family and church, know both the pain and joy of being in the hands of cathartic Love.

Though father and mother forsake us, God will take us up.

Please receive our concern for family or neighbours who are doing it hard today: the confused,   depressed,   suffering,   sad,   heartbroken,   weary,   ashamed,   anxious,   or lonely.

Though father and mother forsake us, God will take us up.

Please receive our concern for the Australian nation,   our State,   city, ..community,    and neighbourhood; that the values of Christ may be embraced, and the love of Christ begin to shape even the doubters and the antagonistic.

Though father and mother forsake us, God will take us up.

Please receive our concern for countries overseas:   island neighbours,   prosperous continents,   overcrowded Asian lands,   small struggling countries,   people in poverty, people at war,   free nations,   nations in bondage.

Though father and mother forsake us, God will take us up.

Please receive our concern for your church throughout the earth; where it is influential or ignored,   thriving or struggling,   in city or in the outback,    divided or united,   persecuted or at peace,   enthusiastic or dispirited.

Though father and mother forsake us, God will take us up.

Loving Friend and Saviour, we rejoice in your liberal resourcefulness and your endless faithfulness. May your name be praised and your will be done.

By us, through us, and with all who adore you.  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, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

HYMN 232 – “O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”(click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION

With faith to face our challenges,
With love that casts out fear,
With hope to trust tomorrow,
We accept this day as the gift it is: a reason for rejoicing.

BENEDICTION

Go in courage and celebration!
And may all the faces of the Holy God
be turned towards you in love,
the earth itself speak to you of its creativity,
and who we are, each and all,
be honoured in our authentic journeys.

An open, virtual door to the world