Ordinary Sunday 15 (12-07-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on July 12th at 10am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use while public worship is not available in the church buildings   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 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.

“Man is the revelation of the Infinite, and it does not become finite in him.  It remains the Infinite.”       (Mark Rutherford)

“The essential truth…is that man is under an absolute mandate to express divinity in his own life and his whole nature.”
                                                                               (F. Ernest Johnson)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

‘Today is a day the Lord has made’, says an old religious writer, ‘let us therefore rejoice and be glad in it’.  It is indeed!  For it is a sacred time, this.  And a sacred place, this.  So let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.


OPENING SENTENCES

L: Sisters and brothers, open your hearts, for faith has come, and in faith you are set free.

Women: Free, not to mind your words, but to speak the truth in love.

Men: Free, not to look up to some, and down to others, but to look kindly eye-to-eye.

L: So clothe yourself in Christ, and praise God.  

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Spirit of life, present in this hour… may we sense your presentness as we gather in this sacred place. Let all who enter here find comfort and wisdom in this community. Amen.

HYMN 636   “God Has Spoken to His People” (click here to listen)  

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

Let silence be placed around us now, like a mantle. Let us enter into it, as through a small secret door; to emerge into an acre of peace, where stillness reigns and God is present. May this mantle of silence become a cloak of understanding to warm our hearts this day.  (30 Seconds of Silence)

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

L: As we make our confessions, know for sure that we do not have to talk God into forgiving us. God knows our need before we ask, and has provided in the message of Jesus a saving grace that can never be exhausted. In confession we get honest with ourselves, and ask the Spirit God to come in and put things right.

R: Loving God, Sower and Reaper of grace, we admit to you that we are like stony fields, capable of growing goodness and sharing it around, but also prone to allow goodness to wither and weeds to flourish. We are not half as smart as we pretend we are, we are not anywhere near as loving as we want to be. Your mercy has taken root in us but we do not share enough of it, your justice has inspired us but we have inadequately implemented it, your truth has shone on us but we have hidden it under a false modesty,  your inclusive love has brought us together but we indulge the things that separate.

L: Most loving God, please open the furrows of our lives to receive again the seeds of your Gospel. Rain your mercy upon us, shine your warmth and light into every dark place, and bring forth in us not the harvest we deserve but the harvest that in your glorious love you have purposed for us. Through Christ our brother.   Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: It is written: “Where sin abounds grace much more abounds”. Receive it and give thanks. You, my sisters and brothers, are among the richest people in the world. You have the wealth of Christ with you always, even to the end of time. And so I declare to you, the do÷or to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God.

SCRIPTURE READINGS

     From the Hebrew Scriptures – Isaiah 55:10-11

10 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,

11  So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

     From the Gospels – Matthew 13:1-9

This parable begins a series of parables about the kingdom of God.  This concept was the central religious teaching of Jesus, but one which was difficult to convey in the face of the expectations which the people already had about the kingdom.  In the whole discourse of seven parables about the kingdom, we see repeated several times the words, “He who has ears, let him hear.”  People filter the communications from others through their own preconceptions of what they think they will hear or what they want to hear.  To actually hear is an art, particularly when it is something for which one has not been prepared.  Such is the concept of the kingdom of God.

The central point of this parable has to do with the relationship between seed and ground.  The seed all has the same potential, but the state and condition of the ground determines the result.  As we begin this discourse on the kingdom of God, Jesus is putting the responsibility on his listeners to hear – to be ready for something new, radical, and fresh – be the kind of soil in which the kingdom will grow and flourish.

Whilst the parable is certainly from Jesus, the interpretation which follows this parable (vv.18-23) is not, so I have left it out.  It is highly unlikely, given Jesus’ reasons for talking in parables, (vv.10-17), that he would then turn around and explain this one.  Most scholars attribute the interpretation to a later editor, especially since the Gospel of Thomas includes only the parable and not the interpretation.

13 1-3 At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.

3-8 “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.

“Are you listening to this? Really listening?”.

HYMN 621   “O God of Every Nation” (click here to listen)  

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Soils Ain’t Soils”   

     Part 1

“He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt.13:9)

THE central teaching of Jesus, the main point of his preaching, was the kingdom of God; so I was astounded when, in process of looking for illustrations in my copy of the Minister’s Manual, there was not one single reference to the Kingdom of God.  Then I looked in the index of the hymn book; again, no listings for the kingdom of God. Then I realised that there was nothing strange in that, because virtually every reference is to the Kingdom.  So central is it that it is not named; it does not have to be named.

Nevertheless, as in Jesus’ day, there is uncertainty about its meaning, and naturally so, for how does one describe that which goes beyond the ability of human words to describe.

In Sunday School I was taught a simple formula:  the kingdom of God is where God is king, i.e. where God rules.  However true this may be, it doesn’t describe much.  The Seraphim of Sarov writes, “See, this kingdom of God is now found within us.  The grace of the Holy Spirit shines forth and warms us, and , overflowing with many varied scents into the air around us, regales our sense with heavenly delight, as it fills our hearts with joy inexpressible.”

Paul talks about the fruits of the Spirit, or being one with Christ.  Whatever the kingdom is, it is manifest in the joy, peace, happiness, and love, etc. in the lives of those who participate in it.

Jesus taught about the kingdom in parables.  Recognising that the kingdom was within each person, it was not sufficient to describe it, so he told stories, such the one we heard today, which would help evoke the reality of it in his listeners.

He also told parables in order to avoid an intellectual struggle with the preconceptions of the kingdom which were in the minds of his hearers.  His stories were a way around ∆rational descriptions;  they were a direct line to the soul.

Today we focus on the first of a series of seven parables on the kingdom in Matthew.  In this chapter we read repeatedly the words:  “He that has ears, let him hear.”  Why would Jesus keep saying that?  Jesus is warning people to pay attention and listen closely because he is going to teach them something of great importance, but something which they are in danger of misunderstanding because it is so new, radical and in contrast to what they think they already know about the subject. It may be something which they don’t want to hear and are in danger of filtering it out.  And if he was telling his Jewish listeners to clean out their ears and be rid of what they want to hear, he probably would be warning today’s Christian listeners to clean out THEIR ears so that they can listen without 2000 years of accumulated Christian dogma.

Some of the misconceptions held by people in Jesus’ day are still around, so let’s try to put them aside.   The kingdom, as Jesus understood it, is not a physical place, nor is it the destination of the dead or a reference to an afterlife.  It is not something that will be brought or begun from the outside which one must enter, neither is it characterised by earthly notions of triumph, success or wealth.   Finally, participation in the kingdom is not conditional upon how good or evil one has been in the past.

As to what it is… well…do I dare try to describe it, if Jesus didn’t?

A fellow named George Appleton wrote: “The kingdom is something within you which has the power of growth like a seed; something that you are searching for, and of whose values you become more confident and excited as the search proceeds and you discover truer, lovelier things which are constantly being surpassed; something for which you have to give everything you have, no less yet no more, including the earlier finds with which you were once so completely delighted.”

His reference to the kingdom growing like a seed takes us to today’s parable.  If we are going to get Jesus’ message, we have to allow his parables to speak to us; to evoke the Truth which is already sown in each of us.

Read the parable again – ‘listen’ carefully.   (Read 13:3b-8)

     Part 2

      • What does the seed represent to you?
      • What is the main point which Jesus is trying to make with this parable?
      • What are the four places the seed falls?  What happens in each?
      • What might each one represent in your life?
      • Which of the first three is most dangerous to you personally?
      • What does this parable suggest to you about the nature of God?

Christian mystic, Meister Eckhardt wrote:

“The seed of God is in us. Given an intelligent farmer and a diligent field hand, it will thrive and grow up to God, whose seed it is and, accordingly, its fruit will be God-nature.  Pear seeds grow into pear trees; nut seeds into nut trees, and God-seed into God.” 

God has planted a seed in each of us, as suggested by this quote from the writings of Meister Eckhardt.  To what extent that seed grows, if it grows at all, is a function of the soil and its cultivation, as today’s parable suggests.  The responsibility for the growth of that seed belongs to each one of us.  We each have a choice.  We can choose to ignore the needs of that seed and it will die.  Or we can cultivate it and reap the stupendous harvest of life which Jesus promises, or as Meister Eckhardt suggests, reap the harvest of God-nature.

Furthermore, the choice must be an ongoing one requiring persistence and patience.  As the old saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is the Kingdom of God.  As one sage said, “The kingdom will not come in a day; it will not be left with the morning milk.” 

We are on a long journey.  Let us walk it together in prayer and in study.  You are never too old to start and you are never so old that you are ever finished. 

HYMN 450  “Spread, O Spread, Almighty Word” (click here to listen) 

A RESPONSE TO THE WORD – “Spirit of life” by Pam Wyley. 

L: Out of the ordinariness of the bare earth, you brought the extra ordinariness of human life

R: Your spirit lives within us, O God.

L: In the ordinariness of the bare earth we plant grain from last year’s harvest

R: Your spirit lives within us, O God.

L: Out of the ordinariness of water comes the life of the seed

R: Your spirit lives within the water, O God.

L: In human life and in the life of the seed lies the life of this community

R: Your spirit lives within this community, O God.

L; From the life of God comes creation and recreation

R: Your spirit lives within creation, O God.

L: Out of the heart of God comes peace and hope

R: Your spirit lives within us, O God.

PRAYERS FOR OTHERS

Today like every day there are people who are desperately hungry for a slice of bread or a handful of rice, and there are churches and agencies trying to bring them nourishment./ Loving God, please hear the cry of human need and bless those who attempting to answer it.

Today like everyday there are people falsely accused and wrong convicted, or imprisoned for religious and political conviction, and there are churches and agencies trying to set them free./ Loving God, please hear the cry of human need and bless those who attempting to answer it.

Today like every day there are serious injustices perpetuated in our Australian cities and rural communities, and there are churches and agencies trying to bring about changes./ Loving God, please hear the cry of human need and bless those who attempting to answer it.

Today like every day there are people accidentally killed and injured, or diseased and dying, shocked and weeping, and there are churches and agencies trying to ease their distress./ Loving God, please hear the cry of human need and bless those who attempting to answer it.

Today like every day there are many unemployed and unwanted, or addicted to alcohol and drugs, or in prostitution and cTrime, and there are churches and agencies trying to help them./ Loving God, please hear the cry of human need and bless those who attempting to answer it.

Today like every day there is hidden frustration and sorrow, loneliness and fear, mental torment and self hatred, and there are churches and agencies trying to bring relief./ Loving God, please hear the cry of human need and bless those who attempting to answer it.

O God our help in ages past, nothing in space or time can come between you and us; nor can we ever be lost, not even in the immensities of eternity. In all and above all and through all, keep us close to and aware of the heartbeat of your almighty love. Through Jesus our  friend and brother, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”

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)    

WORDS OF MISSION

The God we worship is never confined to this holy place.  So go and travel with the God who is found in ordinary and surprising places…The candle is extinguished…Worship need not cease. It can echo in our lives, in our words, in our deeds, in our moods, in our dreams. Carry worship with you wherever you may go. Be a blessing in your going out and your coming in.  

BENEDICTION

May God be the light on your path, the breeze on your back, the music in your ears, the song on your lips, the curiosity  in  your mind, the happiness in your heart, and the peace in your spirit.

HYMN 755 – “You Shall Go Out with Joy” (click here to listen)  

-oOo-

Let the seed be exhaustless
let it never get exhausted,
let it bring forth seed next year.

The wonderful thing about seed is
that if you have even one,
you have the potential of millions.

An open, virtual door to the world