Lent 5C (03-04-2022)

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on April 3rd at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not able to attend 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-

“If I have seen further, 
it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” 
(Sir Isaac Newton)

 

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.

HYMN 121 – “God Himself is Present” (click here to listen)

OPENING SENTENCES

L: In hope, in longing       

R: We’re glad to come together.

L:In trust, in community

R: We’re glad to come together.

L:In many moods, in many shapes and sizes

R: We’re glad to come together.

L:In peace, in joy

R: We’re glad to come together.

L:In solidarity with those who struggle

R: We’re glad to come together.

L:In resistance to those who dominate

R: We’re glad to come together.

L: In memory of Jesus, who lived with compassion

R: We’re glad to come together in this Lenten season.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Remind us, O Spirit, that life is worth living.
Remind us, O Creator,
that the struggle for justice is worth undertaking.
Remind us, O Mercy, that love and action are one. Amen

JOURNEY  INTO SILENCE

     Meditation “The Gift” By Zam Walker.

God grant us the gift of dreaming:
The dream of a world enjoying
its extraordinary colour and beauty-
Not viewing life
through tunnel-visioned,
grey-tinted spectacles.
The dream of breadth and variety in glorious harmony –
Not definition through division, prejudice and ignorance.
The dream of acceptance and inclusion –
Not judgement and exclusion.
The dream of Your love and humour –
Not our idolatry and self-righteousness.
The dream of ‘we might’-Not ‘we cannot’.
God give us the vision and imagination to dream
and enable us to make the dream a reality.

     Silence

In this time of silence may we move from busy-ness to quietness. God of life, God of peace, God of wonders that will not cease, be present with us now.  (at least 30 seconds silence)

WE REFECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

The Scripture says:
Seek the Lord while he may be found,
Call upon him while he is near,
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts

Let us put a pause in the midst of our errant thoughts and unruly emotions, and make space for the God who comes to forgive and uplift. (Silent prayer)

Most perceptive and loving God, you know what is really the matter with us; why we fall so far short of your goal in Christ Jesus. Even when we are willing, we seem incapable of outwitting evil in our own wisdom and strength. Again and again old sins hassle and trip us, and our best intentions get run over in the thick traffic of daily affairs. We ask you, as we have so often, for forgiveness and repair. Leave nothing in our being untouched by the fingers of our Saviour. We need your touch to heal our distracted nature and reinforce our intentions.

Please be with us moment by moment, that silently yet irresistibly we may be carried forward in the flow of your commonwealth of grace, mercy and peace. Let us begin to enact your sanity in all the events of this next week.    Silent Prayer

THE ASSURANCE (Psalm 126:4-6)

L: “Bring back our captivity, O Lord, as the streams in the South. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy. He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him,and so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened for us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE GOSPELS – John 12:1-8

12 1-3 Six days before Passover, Jesus entered Bethany where Lazarus, so recently raised from the dead, was living. Lazarus and his sisters invited Jesus to dinner at their home. Martha served. Lazarus was one of those sitting at the table with them. Mary came in with a jar of very expensive aromatic oils, anointed and massaged Jesus’ feet, and then wiped them with her hair. The fragrance of the oils filled the house.

4-6 Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, even then getting ready to betray him, said, “Why wasn’t this oil sold and the money given to the poor? It would have easily brought three hundred silver pieces.” He said this not because he cared two cents about the poor but because he was a thief. He was in charge of their common funds, but also embezzled them.

7-8 Jesus said, “Let her alone. She’s anticipating and honouring the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you; you don’t always have me.”

HYMN 660 – “Myrrh-Bearing Mary”  (click here to listen)

AROMA THERAPY (ref. John 12:1-8) by Bruce Prewer

Blokes need fragrance too, the scent of flower or leaf;
or the fell of tears on cheeks in rifts of joy or grief.
Blokes too need lovely things, with colour, shape or song,
and flutes to knit the threads when the dark nights are long.
Blokes need the feel of touch, the love of soft fingers,
like Christ readied for death with scent that still lingers.

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS“Costly Love”

     Part 1

“Mary took half a kilogram of expensive, perfumed oil, massaged it into the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair.  Then the whole house was filled with the fragrance.” (John 12:3)

Each Sunday in Lent carries us closer to the horror and glory of Good Friday. Today the Gospel reading shows us Jesus having some respite in a kindly home at Bethany, not far from the Holy City, not long before his betrayal. The awareness of his impending suffering is constantly with him. In a sense his final passion is already upon him.

In this setting, one deeply sensitive woman, massages his feet with expensive oil, and in a wonderful outpouring of love, wipes his feet with her hair. It seems to me that, in any other situation, this would be seen as an act of sexual intimacy. The expensive oil, the massage, the unbound hair of Mary, would point to something erotic. But not here. This is the expression of profound agape; an outpouring of other-centred love.

At this point I wish to draw a distinction between the acute understanding of this woman and the ongoing confusion in the minds of the men who followed Jesus.

Men first. It seems to me that the male disciples were in stubborn denial of the coming arrest and death of Jesus. With a mind-set, which is unfortunately common among men, they did not want to think about disaster. They refused to face the probable demise of their leader. It as if by denying it, the unpleasant truth would go away.

It reminds me of a man (I’ll call him Peter) who built up from the ground his own business. Because of recession and the increasing competition by overseas companies, his business was facing collapse. But Peter could not face this. He flayed around looking for more bank loans, and when that failed, he put the hard word on friends. His wife could see what was happening; she knew that what he saw as his life’s work was irrevocably crumbling. She tried to gently, but firmly, help Peter face the facts. But he would not. To accept defeat was, in Peter’s eyes, the attitude of a weakling. Real men did not admit to the possibility.  Right to the end , Peter stayed in denial. His wife saw it, he did not.

The male disciples were like that. From the time at Philippi when Peter made his statement that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus had tried to make the men see that his rejection by the religious leaders was inevitable. From that time he began talking about his cross.  But they stayed in denial. They did not want to know.

The only trace of acceptance among the men (that I note in the Gospel accounts) comes from my favourite disciple, Thomas. On the road, Thomas openly expresses his belief that the journey to Jerusalem will end in death. “Come on,” he says to the others, “let us go and die with him”.

Here I underline a grave consequence of this denial by most of the men: Hiding from their own deep fears about the possible death of their Master meant that they could not give Jesus the emotional support he needed in those last weeks and days. They would not allow themselves to be in tune with his soul. When he needed them most to understand and to support him in his resolve to keep the faith in the face of death, the men were not there for him emotionally. Jesus must have been an extremely lonely man at that time.

Thank goodness for the women. We read about them also being followers of Jesus. Some of these were financially well off, and provided for Christ’s travelling mission out of their own pockets.

     Part 2

I wish more information had survived about his aspect of our Lord’s support group. I reckon there was a lot more going on than the scant references that survive in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  However, I rejoice that the story of this incident (that is, our Gospel focus for today) has survived. We cherish the record of that evening meal at the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus

Mary was unpretentiously empathetic; she was prepared to bear the pain of admitting to herself the tragedy that lay ahead. Jesus, the loveliest person she had ever known, was going to fall into the hands of cruel men and be butchered. This understanding would have been breaking her heart, but she faced it. Some social commentators claim that women are genuinely the stronger sex. In this situation, Mary certainly was.

Because she was not in denial, she was able to comfort Jesus as he rested in their house at Bethany. She did not care what the other men thought, she did not care whether Martha understood or not, she just did what her intuition told her to do.  She knelt at his feet, and with the most expensive of oils, she anointed and massaged them, then unbound her hair and wiped his feet with her long dark tresses. Jesus knew himself understood and remarkably comforted by a woman who dared to be true to what her heart was telling her.

I imagine there was stunned silence; silence until Judas, embarrassed about it all, blurted out that pious blabber about selling the ointment and helping the poor.

Jesus would have none of that. He and Mary knew that death was for real. “Leave her alone! Let her keep this for the day of my burial”.

It would be stupid of me to use this story to superficially categorise all men as not able to deal with the sensitive emotional issues. Likewise all women cannot be put into the category of the sensitive nurturers. It is more correct to draw a distinction between masculine and feminine characteristics, both of which we all have in varying degrees. No matter our gender, we each have a foot in both camps. However, it is no secret that social pressures tend toward shaping men to hide their feminine side, while allowing women to express theirs.

My main conclusion, therefore, does not lie in putting a finger on only men. I put it to you, both female and male, that we cannot truly support one another unless we stop the denial game; unless we take the risk and make ourselves sensitive to the feelings of others and to our own feelings in response to theirs. We must deal in emotions not just ideas, listening, not speaking platitudes to quickly cover our own discomfort.

One of goals of a lenten pilgrimage is to get to know oneself better.  Know yourself; knowing both your masculine and feminine sides, and you will be better able to know others, and stand with them at the point of their need with costly love, agape love, other-centred love. It is high risk love that allows both highest joy and deepest grief.

Allow lovely Mary to be your tutor:  while others were in denial, she was willing to identify with Jesus and give some of the comfort he desperately needed.

Mary took half a kilogram of expensive, perfumed oil, massaged it into the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair.  Then the whole house was filled with the fragrance.

HYMN 468 – “We are Your People” (click here to listen)

OFFERING OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD

God our motherly Father, our brotherly Saviour, our sisterly Spirit-Friend, we ask that in our prayers and in the ordinary affairs of each day, we may exhibit your generous spirit to other people.

We pray for the millions of homeless people whom we will never meet but whose predicament we see on the TV. Please bless those humanitarian agencies who attempt to care for them, and all who give generously to support their work.

We pray for unwanted or destitute people in our own country, from Darwin to Port Arthur and Port Headland to Byron Bay. Please give both wisdom and a generous spirit to Federal and State Governments, and strengthen the welfare ministry of churches.

We pray for any among us here today, who with dignity and courage are secretly enduring misfortunes or ongoing worries. Please give your peace and healing to them, and keep us sensitive, that we may recognise a cry for help if it comes our way and respond generously.

We pray for neighbours or workmates, and for those familiar but nameless faces we notice each day in train or bus, elevator, bank or supermarket. Please bless each according to their need, and without any prying or self importance on our part, make us ready to help in the hour of need.

We pray for all the bewildered, lost souls;  for young folk hitting out,  puzzled adults who find that neither career nor family satisfy their deepest need, sour elderly folk who are jealous of the faith and happiness of others. Please gather the lost into your loving arms, and help each of us to treat awkward, prickly people with the generous respect that you have for each. Loving Saviour, seeking the lost and the unlovely, we pray in the words you taught your disciples, “Our Father…”

THE LORD’S PRAYER 

HYMN 614 – “O God of Love”  (click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION

L: Go in faith, for there is God riding in the light on the water, singing in the songs of the birds, sitting in the midst of the feasts of life.

R:We go in faith to live in joyous freedom, to play in the creation, and to drink deeply of the gracious  cup of life.

BENEDICTION

Know yourself and you shall be able to know and love others.
Let that unique person Christ Jesus be your guiding light.
Attempt to love others, and when Christ calls you,
go tenderly but firmly even where angels fear to tread.
In the grace of God, you are much more than you think you are.

 

An open, virtual door to the world