Ordinary Sunday 17 (26-07-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on July 26th 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.

-oOo-

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Come into the joy of your divinity, that the body-mind-spirit may be of one accord in the fullness of life and of faith.  Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

HYMN 597 – “Master, Speak, They Servant Heareth”
                                               (click here to listen)
 

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Life rises in our midst

R: Sometimes hard-won life.

L: It surprises us when it blossoms forth at unexpected times

R: And in unexpected places.

L: It comes with power stronger than death

R: Life born of faithfulness, life born of courage, life born of God 

PRAYER OF PREPARATION

Though Winter covers our earth and cold frost stunts much growth, yet the hope of Spring is awakening us.  For we all are the saplings God has planted, watered and nurtured. We and all creation are God’s handiwork, a design of beauty. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

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

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

L: Loving God, we know we don’t have to make ourselves wallow in remorse before seeking your healing grace. You understand our human nature, you know how unproductive and wasteful it is for us to get hooked on binges of guilt.  Here and now we place before you the story of our successes and failures, our virtues and our sins, without trying to hide anything.

R: Please give us thankful hearts for all that has been beautiful and good, and give us the grace to repent for that which has been ugly and evil. Help us to turn sharply away from all that is twisted and wrong, from all that neglects others and all that hurts others. Help us to turn away from all that harms our own souls, from everything that mars the inner divine image which is our truest nature and priceless treasure. Help us to turn completely towards you and move towards the beauty of your holiness.

L: By faith, we accept from you the saving grace that forgives, restores and recommissions us for the business of glorifying you by loving service through all the common scenes of life. This is our need, and this is our prayer. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.  Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: Our God is the one who speaks through Christ Jesus and says: Woman, man, your sins are forgiven you. Hear the very word of the Lord. It is spoken for the likes of us, and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God.

FROM THE GOSPELS  – Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Short, but unforgettable. That is how I would sum up these brief parables. It’s a pity sermons could not be more like that 🙂

31-32 Another story. “God’s kingdom is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it.”

33 Another story. “God’s kingdom is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises.”

44 “God’s kingdom is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.

45-46 “Or, God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.

47-50 “Or, God’s kingdom is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That’s how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining, but it won’t do any good.”

Note: The last of these parables is vintage Matthew – separate, purge and purify. The judgmentalism evident here is very, very unlikely to have come from Jesus, who believed God’s forgiveness was unlimited, i.e. there are no “bad fish” beyond the reach of God’s saving grace.

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

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS 

You will need a Bible handy, because I will pose some questions to which you should respond before you read on. There is added benefit in writing your answer, for the act of using a pen actually stimulates parts of the brain we do not usually use while just thinking.  My own responses are written at the end of the service.

What do you understand by the phrase, ‘Kingdom of God’?

The phrase does not appear in other writings and so it seems it was not used by Jews at all, even though God was referred to as king.  It appears 91 times on the lips of Jesus in the synoptic gospels and 13 more later, but then the use of the phrase seems to die out.  What do you make of this?

Here are some modern thoughts on the Kingdom:

Paul Tillich, 20th century theologian: 

      • The Kingdom of God can only be understood after one has delved most deeply into life and gone to the edges of reality.
      • It is the complete transparency of everything, such that the Divine shines through.
      • It embraces the destiny of  the life of the universe.

Gospel of Thomas:

      • The Kingdom of God is internal and external. If you know yourself, you will be known.
      • When you make the two as one – inner/outer, male/female, above/below – then you shall enter the Kingdom of God.

Elizabeth Howes: “All characteristics of the Kingdom of God in the outer world have counterparts in the individual psyche.”

Try to get into the shoes of a 1st century Jew. 

What do you imagine they expect from the Kingdom?  

What are their questions?

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, the phrase, “He who has ears, let him hear,” is repeated throughout the telling of these kingdom parables. What does this repeated theme imply?

How does this help you judge the content?

Looking at Mt. 13 “The Kingdom… is like…

What is a parable? 

In Mt.13: 10-17, why does Jesus say he speaks in parables?

Why might Jesus not want people to understand?

If Jesus does not want understanding, do you think he would go on to explain a parable as in vv. 19-23, 37-43 & 49-50?

In vv. 31-32, what is the main point within its own imagery?

What point is Jesus making about the Kingdom?

How does this contrast with Jewish expectations?

Now  answer the above 3 questions with regard to v. 33.

What does this mean socially? 

What does this mean personally?

What would it mean for your growth if you knew this ‘leaven’ was in you?

What is the common source of all three parables?

Taken overall, what is Jesus saying to the people? Note: none of these parables is in the future tense. 

Are there any references to who or what will initiate the Kingdom?

With what colours would you describe this kingdom?

Close your eyes now and make a gesture that describes it.

According to these parables, does the Kingdom grow in us or do we enter it?

What do the parables say about the nature of God?

In vv. 44-46, what is the central point Jesus is trying to make? 

What is the most radical thing for the Jews of the day?

How are these two parables similar? How are they different?

What does “in his joy” add to the quality of the treasure in v. 44? Rephrase it in your own words and write it down.

Is selling ‘all’ a sacrifice?

What is Jesus bringing to the understanding of the Kingdom using the treasure motif?

Where are these treasures found? What does this add?

What does one have to do to get the treasure?

What is ‘all’? 

What does it mean to ‘sell’?

To whom does one sell it?

What does this process imply about the nature of God?

Is ‘selling all’ a one time transaction?

If you ‘sell all’, what is your relationship to it?

Write: Rephrase ‘sell all’ in a way that you can understand what is required of you.

Has anything new emerged for you from this exercise? 

A LITANY – ‘Here in this Ordinary Place’

L: May we awaken to the presence of God,

R: here in the ordinary place.

L: May we awaken to the power of love,

R: here in the ordinary crowd.

L: May we build a neighbourhood of justice for all,

R: now in this ordinary time.

L: May we daily work to build a world at peace,

R: now with these ordinary hands.

HYMN 745 – “Seek Ye First” (click here to listen)  

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS

L: To the God of Christ Jesus and our God, we bring our concern for our sisters and brothers in all the world. Let us pray.
To you who seek justice and mercy, we pray for all who are wronged and neglected, and for those who work and suffer to right wrongs, champion the oppressed, and rescue the lost.  Merciful God, work through our prayers,

R: Just God, work through our deeds.

L: To you who foster health of body and mind, we pray for the diseased, badly injured, deranged or spiritually dying, and also for all your human agents of healing and comfort. Merciful God, work through our prayers.  

R: Just God, work through our deeds

L: To you who want the church to be at one in prayer and mission, we pray for the church in its divided and scattered condition, and also for those who work tirelessly for reconciliation.  Merciful God, work through our prayers.

R: Just God, work through our deeds

L: To you who seek the salvation of the world from evil and alienation, we pray for those without faith and hope, and for your servants who humbly and lovingly spread the Gospel of Jesus.  Merciful God, work through our prayers.

R: Just God, work through our deeds

L: To you who want each of us here to live with freedom and confidence, we pray for any among us who are feeling crushed by circumstances over which they seem to have no control, and we also pray for those of us who unobtrusively minister to each other like angels of mercy.  Merciful God, work through our prayers.

R: Just God, work through our deeds

L: Most loving God, we pray with faith and with thanksgiving, knowing that you are already doing things far beyond our capacity to understand or imagine. Through Christ Jesus our persistent 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.

HYMN  599 “Take My Life” (click here to listen)  

THE SENDING OUT

L: The presentness of God reaches beyond this place and time .May the flame that has brightened our time together warm our hearts, light our paths,

R: and inspire our vision, as we once again go our separate ways.

L: Walk well your journey in peace and in justice.  May you be wrapped in the shawl of God’s loving.  May you be cherished.  May you be blessed. Amen.

-oOo-

REV. BOB’S RESPONSES TO THE QUESTIONS:

     Part 1

What do you make of this?  Jesus understood the proclamation of the Kingdom of God as his core role, presumably arising from the experience he had at his baptism and the understanding gained in the wilderness. The Kingdom of God was a concept he formulated to communicate this insight, but failed in his attempt.  People, for the most part, did not understand, and so the idea was not picked up by those who followed.  Instead, they fell back into old patterns and wishful thinking.  In Christian theology, Jesus’ core message of the Kingdom was overtaken by the cross and resurrection, and in popular religion the understanding of the Kingdom was trivialised in terms of that which would come after an apocalyptic end to the world or, alternatively, notions of heaven after death.

Try to get into the shoes of a 1st century Jew. 

What do you imagine they expect from the Kingdom?  a change of the nation’s fortunes, returning to the glory days of David and Solomon, and bringing prosperity and independence; freedom from the yoke of Roman rule.

What are their questions?  When? How? Who will be God’s messiah? 

“He who has ears, let him hear,” is repeated throughout the telling of these kingdom parables. What does this repeated theme imply? You are about to hear something that you don’t expect, and may miss it if you don’t pay close attention.

How does this help you judge the content?  We should look for the surprising, the unexpected.

What is a parable?  a word symbol, a many-layered story with a single point 

In Mt.13: 10-17, why does Jesus say he speaks in parables? so that people do not understand

Why might Jesus not want people to understand?  The Kingdom is not something available to rational understanding; rather, the experience of the Kingdom comes from the seeking that accompanies the attempt to understand. The Kingdom is not something grasped by the mind, but experienced as one gives oneself to it;  ‘understanding’ a parable may lead to a simplistic understanding of something that is far more than can be grasped by the mind, and this simplistic understanding may convey a false confidence that leads to a cessation of the necessary seeking and thus it prevents participation in the Kingdom.

If Jesus does not want understanding, do you think he would go on to explain a parable as in vv. 19-23, 37-43 & 49-50?  of course not, but it is understandable for gospel writers to try to offer an explanation.  Indeed, people tend to demand an explanation.

In vv. 31-32, what is the main point within its own imagery?   the size contrast between the seed and bush that comes from it.

What point is Jesus making about the Kingdom? it has the smallest of beginnings

How does this contrast with Jewish expectations?  The Jews expected ‘shock and awe’.

Now  answer the above 3 questions with regard to v. 33.  

a. The yeast has the power to expand the dough out of all comparison with its size.

b. The Kingdom is hidden, working way until the the task is done.

c. The venue of the Kingdom for the Jews is history, and that which initiates it is God’s ‘Chosen One’; it comes with fire in a ‘blaze of glory’

What does this mean socially? We won’t see the Kingdom in the world, for it is hidden, waiting for it to manifest in individuals. 

What does this mean personally? We each are the dough, and when we are filled with the Kingdom, i.e. when we are God’s, then, and only then, will our society reflect the values of the Kingdom.

What would it mean for your growth if you knew this ‘leaven’ was in you? I would be able to risk that which is needed, because I would know I have the potential of God in me.

     Part 2

What is the common source of all three parables? everyday events of life 

Taken overall, what is Jesus saying to the people? Note: none of these parables is in the future tense. The Kingdom is a process, not an event; going on right now, unseen. 

Are there any references to who or what will initiate the Kingdom? God already has sown the seeds, hidden the yeast, but the result hinges on our faith and willingness to ‘do the will.’

With what colours would you describe this kingdom?  There is no response to this question any better or worse than any other response.  It is meant to stimulate a different kind of thinking.

Close your eyes now and make a gesture that describes it. As the question above

According to these parables, does the Kingdom grow in us or do we enter it? The parables suggest it grows in us, but Jesus’ teachings also indicate we need to choose to make it happen, so in this sense, we enter it in terms of entering into the process.

What do the parables say about the nature of God? God has created the potential for life in the Kingdom; it is available right now, but it is up to each individual to be part of it.  God cannot do this for us.  In this sense, God is the ‘backdrop’ and the ‘stage’ through which the drama of human lives unfold.

In vv. 44-46, what is the central point Jesus is trying to make?  The Kingdom is precious, costly and hidden.

What is the most radical thing for the Jews of the day? The Kingdom is already present, hidden and ready to be found; there is a cost to the individual

How are these two parables similar? Both have hidden value, both have willingness to pay anything for it. 

How are they different? In the first, the Kingdom is like the treasure, which is found accidentally; in the second it is like the man who is searching, and the discovery is no accident.

What does “in his joy” add to the quality of the treasure in v. 44? Rephrase it in your own words and write it down.  The ecstasy resulting from his discovery made any price for it a bargain he just could not refuse.

Is selling ‘all’ a sacrifice? “in his joy” suggests it is no sacrifice at all.

What is Jesus bringing to the understanding of the Kingdom using the treasure motif? 

The value of the Kingdom is beyond any human concept of value.

Where are these treasures found? under ground and under water 

What does this add? These often symbolise the unconscious mind, so perhaps we must look there for the treasure. 

What does one have to do to get the treasure? Seek it or recognise it when one stumbles on it, and then be prepared to give whatever is required to possess it.

What is ‘all’?   all of that which is makes me who I am: all I have, all that makes up my personality, the people I love, my talents, my interests, my passions, et al.

What does it mean to ‘sell’?  an exchange in order to acquire 

To whom does one sell it?  God 

What does this process imply about the nature of God? God needs something; God is not complete without my ‘all’, and I am not complete with it, either

Is ‘selling all’ a one time transaction?  Given I will continue to acquire new aspects of myself as I learn and experience, new relationships as I meet people, new interests, etc, I will have to turn these over to God, perhaps daily, hourly or every minute.

If you ‘sell all’, what is your relationship to it? In practice, I don’t lose contact with any of the ‘all’; rather, I no longer can claim ownership of it.  I can use it, but it can’t use me, and none of it can get in the way of doing the will of God.

Write: Rephrase ‘sell all’ in a way that you can understand what is required of you. I must  divest myself of all self-concern, and my concern must be totally directed to God’s will and well-being of others. In order to do this I must become totally self-aware so that all choices are conscious ones.

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