Ordinary Sunday 16 (19-07-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on July 19th 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.

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CALL TO CELEBRATION

Come in.  Come to this time which we make special by our presence. When the ordinary is sanctified, the human is celebrated, the compassionate is expected. 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.

HYMN “Bringing in the Sheaves” (click here to listen) 

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Let there be joy in our coming together this morning.

R: Let there be compassion heard in the words we speak, and love in the songs we sing.

L: Let ˝there be silence for the voice within us and beyond us.

R: Let there be joy in our coming together.

GATHERING PRAYER

Spirit of life, present in this hour, may we always sense our presentness when we gather in this sacred time together.  May all who enter here find comfort and wisdom in this community. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation: “To Be of the Earth” by John Soos

To be of the Earth is to know
the restlessness of being a seed, the darkness of being planted,
the struggle toward the light, the pain of growth into the light,
the joy of bursting and bearing fruit,
the love of being food for someone,
the scattering of your seeds, the decay of the seasons,
the mystery of death, and the miracle of birth.

     Silence

In a moment of silence together, may we be renewed in hope, refreshed in courage, raised in spirit and restored in faith. 
(30 seconds of silence)

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

L: Holy Spirit, we thank you for the patience you show us, caught up as we are in an ignorance that we do not always recognise, and in a complicity with evil that we do not readily face. Thank you for the saving grace of Jesus who embraces us no matter what happens.

R: There are many occasions when we are foolish and impetuous, but you do not leave us, we are rebellious and stubborn, but you don’t leave us, we are selfish and arrogant, but you do not leave us, we are anxious and faithless, but you do not leave us, we are indifferent and prayerless, but you do not leave us. 

L: We thank you gracious God that though in this world we are often forced to compete with each other for many things, it is never so with your inclusive, redeeming love. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: God’s forgiveness is never withheld from any soul that turns in repentant faith, and so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God

FROM THE EPISTLES – Romans 8:18-25  (The Message version)

18-21 That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

FROM THE GOSPELS – Matthew 13: 24-30 (The Message version)

Note that we are not including the whole of the Gospel reading set for today in the lectionary; we are omitting the interpretation of the parable.  Having just explained why he speaks in parables in vv. 10-16, it is highly unlikely that Jesus would then turn around and give an interpretation. This is an addition by the gospel writers or early editors.

24-26 He told another story. “God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.

27 “The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’

28 “He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’

“The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’

29-30 “He said, ‘No, if you weed the thistles, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’”

HYMN  “Bring Forth the Kingdom” (click here to listen)

For a longer version of this song, but without words, click here


     Part 1

“The kingdom of heaven is like…” (Mt.13:24)

A Chinese-Australian and a Jewish-Australian, total strangers, approach each other on a Darwin street.  The Jew stops the Chinese man and, without warning, socks him in the jaw, sending him sprawling on the footpath.  Astonished beyond belief, the Chinese fellow shakes the stars out of his eyes and asks, “What did you do that for?”

And the answer comes back, “For the bombing of Darwin!”

“Darwin?” the astonished Chinese man exclaims, “I didn’t have anything to do with the bombing of Darwin.  It was the Japanese who did that.  I’m Chinese.

The Jew is unmoved: “Japanese, Taiwanese,Chinese; they’re all the same to me.”

The Chinese man slowly gets up, massaging his jaw.  When he is standing, he hauls off and sends the Jew flying with a hard punch to jaw.  Then it’s the Jew’s turn to be surprised and yell out, “What’s that for?”

And the answer comes back, “The Titanic!”

“Titanic?  Why I didn’t have anything to do with the sinking of the Titanic; that happened back in 1924, before I was even born when the ship hit an iceberg.”

There upon the Chinese man replies, “Goldberg, Steinberg, iceberg; they’re all the same to me.”

“Comparisons are slippery,” Plato said a very long time ago, yet we live by them.  

The repeated phrase in this chapter of Matthew, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like…” tells us there is a comparison coming.  The Kingdom of heaven is like what?  Making comparisons involves the use of discernment, that wonderfully human gift that the garden of Eden story was built around.  We tend to think that the result of the events in Garden of Eden was the fall of humanity into sin and its expulsion from paradise.  But if you recall, the central act around which everything turned was the eating of the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and the result was the opening of the eyes of Adam and Eve.  It is really a story of the coming to consciousness of the animal, the new self-awareness of the human of its god-like-ness.  It can only be deemed a fall in the sense that we humans lost our rose-colored glasses and now see the world as it really is instead of some fool’s paradise.

So this ability to discern good and evil is a central human quality; the primary means by which we have survived and grown.  It is natural then that we rely on it so heavily by continually making comparisons to discern the good from the evil.  Like everything else, some comparisons are good, and some, like the ones in the story of the Chinaman and the Jew, leave a bit to be desired, e.g. like the petrol station which had a sign that read: “If you think petrol is expensive, go buy a litre of coffee.”  The sign indeed refers to a real difference, but it is not a proper comparison.  It is a misuse of comparison.

We learn early to use and misuse comparisons:  “My dad can lick your dad,”  “The teacher likes her better than me.”  By our teenage years we are very proficient:  “Well, Mary has HER ears pierced” or “Jim’s parents allow HIM to stay out later than that.” It continues into marriage: “Why can’t you bake pies like my mother,” or “I could have married someone who had money, like Bill.”

Businesses feed on comparisons, especially in their advertising: “Our car will return 15% better fuel economy than any other car in its class.”  And politicians thrive on comparisons, what with all the polls and the very process of elections.

Jesus, too, did comparisons with his parables. ‘Para’, a word that is part of both parable and comparison, means “side-by-side.”  It carries the connotation of throwing one against the other.Today’s parable of the wheat and the weeds (or the wheat and the tares or thistles) is one which requires a fair amount of discernment in the first instance in order to discover it amongst the layers of additions and interpretations which have grown with it;  just of like weeds among the wheat.  Throughout chapter 13 in Matthew we read the words, “He who has ears, let him listen”.  In other words. “Listen up!  This is important and new, and if you are not careful you will misunderstand.”

The very nature of a parable – that is, its tendency to throw one thing against another – makes it subversive.  It tries to disrupt our present situation or viewpoint in order to bring growth or change.  What happens when an agent of change comes into a conservative environment?  (And there are not many environments more conservative than church.)  Immediately someone tries to tame it, to domesticate it, to relate the peculiarities of the parable to the present situation rather than allow it to create a new situation.

That is what the author of Matthew’s gospel and the tradition that passed this story on to him have done.  We want this morning to encounter the original parable, and allow it to speak to us.   I will read to you the parable again as it is written, this time using a more conventional version, and then I will read the parable after removing the layers of interpretation that have grown around it, as hypothesised by New Testament scholar Eduard Schweizer and others. 

Mt.13:24-30 as written:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

“The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

     Part 2

Now read Mt.13:24-30 with the ancient editor’s comments removed:

The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field.  When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, the weeds also appeared. The owner’s servants came to him and said, “Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?”  “No,” he answered, “because while you are pulling the weeds you may uproot the wheat with them.  Let both grow together until the harvest.

Notice what is missing?  First, that which explains the presence of the weeds, and second, references to judgment. (The missing verses are shown below in red)Without the red bits, the parable is very dissatisfying, particularly to someone like the writer of Matthew who likes judgment and separation; of sheep and goats, of good trees and bad, of house built on rock and on sand.  Each of the gospel writers has his own theological agenda, and Matthew’s motto is, ‘separate, purify and purge.’   But the basic parable is also dissatisfying to most of us.  We want to know why the weeds are there: why there is evil in the world. Furthermore, we want something to be done about it.  The parable as scholars believed Jesus told it, is far too messy.

Because we try to be good people, we naturally use our discernment to identify the evil among the good and cast it out; i.e. to compare everything against some standard of good and get rid of all that does not measure up.  Jesus is not saying we shouldn’t try to discern good and evil – of course, we should – but he is saying that we should not try to separate them.  And this part is not easy to take.

The Yin-Yang symbol, dating back to ancient Chinese taoism, represents the belief that everything in the universe consists of two forces that are opposing but complementary; indeed inseparable.  This opposites include life/death, heaven/earth, night/day and good/evil. It is the subversive action of the parable, throwing up something new with which to compare (and judge) the old.

 In this case, instead of the usual religious tendency to holiness, that is, separation from anything that would contaminate, Jesus is speaking of the necessity that good and evil live side by side; and not only good and evil, but sacred and secular, wanted and unwanted, pure and impure, and perhaps any opposites that you may want to name.

This is messy and dissatisfying to a world which is weary of struggling with evil, and it is frustrating to those who are working so hard for the cause of good.  

One expert on clergy burnout who had spent 20 years counselling clergy said,

“I have discovered in many years of listening to pastors, that somebody ought never to go into ministry if that person has been a professional photographer.” 

Why?  What does photography have to do with it?  Well, if you are the sort of person who has a great need to get everyone in focus, to have everybody stand still, like in a photograph, you’re going to be miserable because people just won’t stay in place.  Things are messy.  People are always getting out of focus.  The church is a lousy place for people who like things to be definite, neat, because people are hardly ever neat.The parable seems to affirm that life is not neat; that in order for the apparent good to survive and bear fruit, the apparent evil must be allowed to co-exist until harvest time.  And even more than saying that this is the nature of our existence, the parable says this is what the kingdom of God is like.

It reminds us again of the Jacob/Esau story; of God’s will being worked out through the struggle of opposites.  It seems our only choice is to face the struggle and reap the harvest or to remain barren.  There is no easy way.

Therefore, we must be very wary of acting upon our natural tendency to compare, to judge what is good and what is not good, for by trying to destroy the not-good, we may well destroy the good, also.  

Worse yet, good and evil in this world commonly inhabit not only the same field, but the same individual.  In The Gulag Archipelago, Alexander Solzhenitsyn writes:

“If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them.  But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” 

If he is right, and I am pretty sure he is, then the only result of a truly dedicated campaign to get rid of evil will be the extermination of literally everyone in the world.

The parable not only warns us against acting too hastily upon comparisons, but it in the end, forces us to fall back upon our faith.  This is not so easy for us today, but I suspect the average middle eastern peasant of Jesus’ day would have understood.  You see, darnel, a poisonous weed, regularly grew with the wheat.  Its roots were stronger and deeper, and pulling out the darnel really did endanger the young wheat.  However, if one waited until harvest time, not only would the farmer reap his wheat, the darnel could be gathered and used to supplement scarce firewood.  So in fact, at harvest there would no longer be a distinction between good and bad, for it would be a comparison of ‘apples and oranges’; neither would be bad.

God’s farming techniques may not be acceptable to impatient and fearful humans, but the responsibility for the harvest is God’s.  Paul tells us in Romans that the sufferings of this world cannot compare with what is waiting for us.  Faith offers us a sense of trust that is willing to submit to what is for the sake of what is being created.

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: We celebrate that where people are gathered together in love

R: God is present and good things happen and life is full.

L: We celebrate that we are immersed in mystery, that our lives are more than they seem

R: that we belong to each other and to a universe of great creative energies, whose source and destiny is God.

L: We celebrate that the spirit of God beat in the heart of Jesus of Nazareth

R: and God’s good news was heard by the broken and wounded.

L: We are glad that the spirit of peace is present with us, the church,

R: as we gather to celebrate our common existence, and the fidelity of God.

L: And most deeply we believe that in our struggle to love,

R: we incarnate God in the world.

L: And so aware of mystery and wonder, caught in friendship and laughter,

R: we become speechless before the joy in our hearts as we celebrate the sacredness of life. 

HYMN 382  “Now the Green Blade Riseth” (click here to listen) 

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS

For our nation.
Author of the universe, at night the sign of the Cross rises and sets over our land. Grant that the hour may come when the Man of the Cross will be welcomed into every heart, and into every street, office, school, court and parliament. May the love of Christ flourish and his values transform our land.

For the homeless.
God the of “Son of Man who had nowhere to lay his head,” please be with all  who will sleep outdoors tonight in the cold. Bless the efforts of those agencies who try to help them. Please make us more determined to build a society and world where everyone who wants shelter can obtain it.

For aboriginal communities.
We pray, Holy Friend, that you will help our nation to deal wisely and justly and compassionately with the indigenous people of this land. We pray with deep yearning for that wonderful tomorrow when aboriginal citizens will be largely numbered among our pastors and theologians,  our scientists, prime ministers, high court judges, and among our teachers, guides and dearest counsellors.

For those who suffer.
Immortal Love, rest your suffering children on pillows of Divine compassion, and with fingers of supreme tenderness dislodge the seeds of disease. In daylight hours encircle them with human kindness, and in the long night hours surround them with that holy warmth of your Spirit which nothing can deny.

For our own witness.
God of both our neighbours and our enemies, assist us to be a help, not a hindrance, to them. May our quiet faith steady the wavering, our sturdy hope encourage the faint-hearted, and our sincere compassion soften those who appear heartless. Through Jesus Christ our brother and friend, 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.

HYMN130 “We Plow the Fields and Scatter”(click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION

L: Let us take on this week’s life with renewed hope and imagination. For all that God can do within us, for all that God can do without us,

R: Thanks be to God.

L: For all in whom Christ lived before us, for all in whom Christ lives beside us,

R: Thanks be to God.

L: For all the Spirit wants to bring us, for where the Spirit wants to send us,

R: Thanks be to God.

BENEDICTION

The calling of a magpie greets the gentle sunrise on an Winter morning. May there be awakened in us long held hopes and a keening of our longing for you, Gracious God.  And we are blessed.  Amen.

Read more about the Kingdom of God under “Words of the Word” on this site.

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