Ordinary Sunday 20 (16-08-2020)

 WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on August 16th 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-

“You can’t expect a person to see eye to eye with you when you are looking down at him.”   (anon)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

We enter this sacred time, conscious that we are called to both celebrate and protect our connectedness to the source and web of life and to each other. So let us celebrate the richness and diversity of this life in the presentness of God.

Hymn 477  “Jesus Calls Us Here to Meet Him” (click here to listen)    

OPENING SENTENCES  (based on Ps. 133)

L: We all need to belong. Christ has broken down all barriers;

R: How good it is and how lovely it feels when sisters and brothers can live together in unity.

L: God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself and has committed to us the ministry of reconciliation.

R: How good it is, and how lovely it feels when we come into the house  of God as one people.

ACT OF AWARENESS

May we sense the presentness of God among us, that we may recognise God in each other, and together know God’s healing and hope. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation  – “Revelation” by Ann Lewin. Celebrating Women/126.

God’s work of art.
That’s me?
Then beauty must lie
In the eye of the Beholder.
I feel more like
One of those statues
Michelangelo left
Half emerging
From the marble block;
Full of potential,
On the verge of life,
But prisoned still
By circumstance and fear.
Yet part of me is free.
And you are still creating,
Bringing to life the promise that is there.
Sometimes by hammer blows which jar my being,
Sometimes by tender strokes half felt, which waken me to life.
Go on, Lord.
Love me into wholeness.
Set me free to share with you in your creative joy;
To laugh with you at your delight in me, your work of art.

     Silence

In the silence of this moment may we give thanks for another day. Indeed may we give thanks for the gift of life itself.
Let us open ourselves to the process of becoming more whole: of living more fully; of giving and forgiving more freely; of understanding more completely the meaning of our lives here on this earth.                    (30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: Let us bring our fallen ways before the loving God,  the beauty that shows up the defects in us, the goodness which shames the evil in us, yet also the love that embraces us and the Christ-grace that welcomes common sinners and eats with them.  With confidence, we pray together:

R: Today we come again, some of us feeling guilty, some feeling frustrated with ourselves, some feeling despondent, and maybe some feeling apathetic. Enfold  us all, we pray, within your saving grace. Please deal with us in the way we most need; speak comfortable words  or rebuke us, tend our wounds or lance our infections, awaken our conscience or calm our nagging anxiety. 

L: Holy Friend, give to the timid the courage to accept your mercy, and give the proud the humility to seek your forgiveness. Please touch every person with the redeeming grace of Christ Jesus. In whose name we pray.

THE ASSURANCE

L: Family of God, your needs are known before you ask for help. There is enough love and mercy to cover all your faults and failures, and not yours only, but those of the whole world. Therefore put the past and its errors behind you. Live as forgiven people, for in Christ, such you truly are! So I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE EPISTLES – Romans 11:13-16,29-32

13-15 But I don’t want to go on about them. It’s you, the outsiders, that I’m concerned with now. Because my personal assignment is focused on the so-called outsiders, I make as much of this as I can when I’m among my Israelite kin, the so-called insiders, hoping they’ll realise what they’re missing and want to get in on what God is doing. If their falling out initiated this worldwide coming together, their recovery is going to set off something even better: mass homecoming! If the first thing the Jews did, even though it was wrong for them, turned out for your good, just think what’s going to happen when they get it right!

16 Behind and underneath all this there is a holy, God-planted, God-tended root. If the primary root of the tree is holy, there’s bound to be some holy fruit. 

29 Before it’s all over, there will be a complete Israel. As it is written:

A champion will stride down from the mountain of Zion; he’ll clean house in Jacob.
And this is my commitment to my people; removal of their sins.

From your point of view as you hear and embrace the good news of the Gospel, it looks like the Jews are God’s enemies. But looked at from the long-range perspective of God’s overall purpose, they remain God’s oldest friends. God’s gifts and God’s call are under full warranty—never canceled, never rescinded.

30-32 There was a time not so long ago when you were on the outs with God. But then the Jews slammed the door on him and things opened up for you. Now they are on the outs. But with the door held wide open for you, they have a way back in. In one way or another, God makes sure that we all experience what it means to be outside so that he can personally open the door and welcome us back in.

FROM THE GOSPELS  – Matthew 15:21-28

21-22 From there Jesus took a trip to Tyre and Sidon. They had hardly arrived when a Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, “Mercy, Master, Son of David! My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit.”

23 Jesus ignored her. The disciples came and complained, “Now she’s bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She’s driving us crazy.”

24 Jesus refused, telling them, “I’ve got my hands full dealing with the lost sheep of Israel.”

25 Then the woman came back to Jesus, went to her knees, and begged. “Master, help me.”

26 He said, “It’s not right to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.”

27 She was quick: “You’re right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table.”

28 Jesus gave in. “Oh, woman, your faith is something else. What you want is what you get!” Right then her daughter became well.

HYMN 474 – “Gather Us In” (Click here to listen) 

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  – “Inside Outside”

     Part 1

”If the dough offered as first fruits is holy, so is the whole lump” (Rom.11:16a – RSV)

In other words if one person is holy, so is everyone.  It is a lesson that, if the gospel reading today is historically correct, Jesus had to learn.  The gospel begins, “From there…” “There” is among his own people. We are told that Jesus leaves that place among his own people and meets a woman who is not of his people. Unlike the pharisees at the beginning of the chapter who had objected to Jesus, quoting the laws and tradition of the elders, she does not lay claim to such tradition nor does she quote scripture.  She is an outsider.  

Many of you will have been shocked to hear Jesus’ response to her, which amounts to calling her a dog, even today one of the most offensive insults to a person in the Middle East.  So he not only treats her as an outsider, he insults her as well.  

I don’t worry too much about Jesus being a bit off-colour in this story, for the story was meant as an argument and was shaped as such. If anything, I take heart from Jesus’ human frailness. The central figure is the ‘unclean’ Canaanite woman, and she is indeed a heroine.  Robert Luccock, in his book, Preaching Through Matthew, wrote: 

High on the list of things I would do if I had freedom and unlimited resources to act out my fantasies would be the placing of a statue, painting or icon of the Canaanite woman of Matthew 15 in every Christian church the world over!  I want her image where none who enter a church could ever miss the reminder of all the people ‘outside’ the church who cry for mercy and help.  As her cry shattered Jesus’ peace long ago in Phoenicia, so may she now shatter ours.  And as her cry overrode one of the venerable traditions of Israel, so she may remind us that not even our hallowed traditions ought ever to take precedence over a call for mercy.

This story, and also the reading from Romans today, is very much about ‘us’ and ‘them’.  It is a natural for humans to want to belong.  We are very much tribal animals, who, from the beginning, have gathered together for the security that comes from having someone else by one’s side, and for the help that belonging to a group provides for the formation of one’s identity.  Belonging is a positive and necessary thing, but like most positive things, it has a negative side.

The flip of side of the urge to belong is often the fear of those who are different.  At its worst, it expresses itself in racism and xenophobia, characteristics that are all too evident in the Australian psyche today.  One need look no further than the current  policy of putting refugees into concentration camps or the practice of taking aboriginal children away from their parents a few generations back or the so-called “white Australia” policy of the 50s & 60s. 

The problem has well and truly been in the news recently. The subject of the “Black Lives Matter” demonstrations around the world, Donald Trump’s polarising tweets, and Pauline Hanson’s routine racist outbursts in Parliament, all point to some of the worst aspects of humanity.  

     Part 2

It is perhaps helpful to note that Jesus, too, was subject to this natural human instinct.  It seems he could be a racist, also, so let’s not come down on ourselves too hard when we backslide into this instinctual behaviour that, though it has well and truly outlived its usefulness, was in the early days of our evolution important to human survival.  It comes so naturally, and it is so easy to identify someone who is different with a label. For a variety of reasons, it is convenient to note such differences: male/female, old/young, Catholic/protestant, black/white, gay/straight, rich/poor, citizen/non-citizen.  The human tendency to categorise is not the problem; the problem arises when we stop with the category, because, by ending our description of the Other with a set of labels, the Other is left as an object: a thing rather than a human being.  

‘Things’ don’t have emotions, they don’t have needs, we owe them no concern nor responsibility.  ‘Things’ don’t suffer pain; they don’t bleed when wounded.  ‘Things’ don’t even die; they simply become statistics.  This is how the good German people of the 30’s and 40’s could allow the extinction of Jews and Communists and retarded people and homosexuals.  They weren’t ‘real’ people who were dying; they were a collection of objects being eliminated from stock.

Putting people into categories is a first step to most acts of terrorism, an unfortunately topical subject in recent years.  An otherwise sane and compassionate person is able to drive a car through a crowd only because the throng does not really contain really men, women and children with names and families; there are only Jews or blacks or Shiites or infidels or whatever label has been attached to the ‘Other.’ How else could the decision have been made by a civilised society to go ahead with the most devastating terrorist act in history: dropping atom bombs on Japanese civilians. How else could supposedly-Christian people do it, but that there weren’t really people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki; there were only Japanese.  

In our own time, how else could the good people of the United States, Britain and Australia allow their leaders to start a war in Iraq which, like all wars, most affected the young, the innocent, the poor.  How else could your good neighbours approve of locking up refugees for the apparent crime of seeking a better life for their families, unless it was believed that no ‘real’ people are being hurt; they’re ‘boat people’, Asians, Muslims, or ‘queue jumpers’. How is it conceivable? A natural mistake; even Jesus apparently was sucked into it.

But it is also essential to note that Jesus, unlike the current American president, and unlike a succession of Australian governments elected by us and our good neighbours, quickly repented of this behaviour when he realised how inappropriate it was, and so it points us in the direction of similar repentance.  

When one dehumanises another with a label, one dehumanises oneself. Once Jesus realised that this Caananite before him was a real person with real human needs; a woman who loved and hated, feared and worried, just like he did; a unique individual with a name, who could not be filed away under a label, the love of God for every human being brought Jesus to his senses.

As one of the Anglo-Saxon majority – Australia’s ’in crowd’ – you probably have not experienced what it is like to be a cultural outsider, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you have experienced something of the feeling of being one of the ‘outsiders’ in the church.  We are all supposed to be insiders here in the church, members of the faithful, but the  church is one of the institutions most guilty of excluding the ‘Other.’ Watch this TV commercial made by the United Church of Christ for a national audience in the U.S.  

Click here to watch United Churches of Christ TV Ad

     Part 3

Great message, right?  “We accept everyone.”  Who would knock that? Well, two of the three major free-to-air networks and many regional networks refused to show that ad.  It was “too controversial” they said.  Why would have been too controversial?  Who would it have offended? The problem is that there is a significant proportion of the wider church which is not very inclusive, and so, apparently, would have felt offended. You need only to have listened to the voices of various religious groups in the current discussion on marriage equality to hear some distinctly un-Christ-like views on the subject.

Have you ever visited a ‘friendly’ church and found it anything but friendly?  We seem friendly to ourselves as we greet one another on Sunday. Indeed, my first impression was of a very friendly congregation, but I’m a minister and so it is hard for me to judge what it is like if one is new to the area or a visitor and doesn’t feel like a friend with anyone else?  On the most recent census form, 761 residents of Ocean Grove/Barwon Heads associated themselves with the UCA.  Of the 85% or so of them who are not here, how many of them, I wonder, feel like outsiders.

Have you ever listened to a sermon when the preacher said, “Of course, all of us know so-and-so to be true” and felt very much alone, very much excluded, because that was definitely not true for you; that you couldn’t believe what you thought everyone else did?  I’ve felt that way most of my life in the church, and it has a lot to do with why I’m in the pulpit and not sitting where you are.

Have you ever gone to church filled with dread because of the distinction it made between sinless and sinner – the sheep and the goats – because you know that you have been put into the latter category. I have homosexual friends, divorced friends, alcoholic friends and others who equate going to church as entering enemy territory, not because they view themselves as sinners, but know that there is a chance they will labelled that way by others.

Even when we have the best will in the world, others are excluded simply because we are not sensitive to the subtle ways in which we are putting them on the ‘outer.’  A few decades ago during the International Year for the Disabled (1981) many of us were surprised to learn how badly we had been excluding persons with disabilities from church, and so we started doing things like installing ramps for wheelchairs and toilets for the disabled (another label!) and induction loops for people with hearing aids.  Yet, despite our good attempts, people are still inadvertently excluded.  For example, most churches don’t have braille hymn books for the blind or heating good enough for those who have circulation problems.

And still there are those we exclude intentionally, simply because we don’t like them or are afraid of them or just don’t understand them.  I still vividly remember a morning when I was the new minister in the congregation; I started the church service dressed in well-ripened old clothes, looking (and smelling) like a vagrant.  I overheard one lady, who didn’t recognise me from my induction, whisper to her companion as she pulled her handbag closer to her: “Why doesn’t someone get him out of here.”  On second thought, maybe she did recognise me.

There are still Christians, many of whom are in places of influence and who should know better, who insist that Christianity is the only way to salvation, and who preach, subtly and not so subtly, the anti-semitism that has, unfortunately, been included in the New Testament, or who have adopted the more contemporary fashion of condemning Muslims. There are those who even insist that their particular brand of Christianity is the only way.  “Unless you are one of us you are destined for hell.”  

Think of whom you might want to exclude.  What sort of person, sitting down beside you would make you squirm, would make you want to shift seats or, if you could, call one of the stewards to have that person removed.   A black person, a smelly person, a drug addict or alcoholic, a homosexual person, a terrorist, a child molester, a rapist, parents who abuse their children?  Imagine that person with whom you would least want to associate sitting down beside you now.

     Part 4

Could you see yourself saying with Jesus’ disciples, “Send her or him away.”  Would you cheer when Jesus said,  “I wasn’t sent to the likes of you.  Go away.”  But what if this ‘outsider’ turned to you, just like the Caananite woman, and demanded the same salvation that had been promised to you?  What if this person turned to Jesus demanding to be healed.  What if this same person faced the congregation and said, “I think Jesus is healing me. I want to be baptised, to be part of you, to be an insider instead of an outsider, because I want to follow Jesus’ way.”  What would be your reaction?  I wonder if you might be more than a little annoyed that Jesus had reached out and touched the life of this person who was so unlike you.

Today’s reading from Romans should warn us ‘insiders’ against any smugness in our relationship to Jesus.  It reminds us that we Gentiles were once outsiders with no claim on the promises of God.  Thank God  for the pushy outsiders like the Canaanite woman, determined and desperate enough to cut through the protective throng of insiders and get close enough to Jesus to teach him a lesson about God’s love.

Let us pray. Loving God, you see beyond our diverse races and creeds to the value of each individual. Take from our minds and hearts the pride and prejudice that clouds our judgments and degrades our capacity to love others. Assist us to willingly and ably participate in the salvation which you have released through Christ Jesus for every creed, class and race on earth. Amen.

AN AFFIRMATION OF HOPE

L: Look up and see the patch of sky insisting on its place among the towers. Look down and find the fragile grass refusing to be contained beneath the barriers.

R: And we walk in community, free in the wonder of different faces, studying the life wrinkles, waiting for a stranger’s smile and the laugh of the child.

L: You love us here, O God of the sinners and publicans, pausing to visit the one for whom nobody stops, moving among crowds undaunted by their power, seeing the bleeding woman in the midst, and holding out your hand to be touched.

R: And we walk safely here, secure among the sounds of humming life, spacious in the small gaps which give us rest, finding the patterns of your holy feet on the hard asphalt.

Hymn 459 “In Christ There is No East or West” (click here to listen)   

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

L: Holy Friend, hear our prayers for the salvation of many. Where there are Christians whose faith has been shaken by suffering and tragedies, let there be light,
R: let there be trust,
L: let there be hope,
R: let there be peace.

Where there are cynics whose protective coating has been cracked by genuine love, let there be light,
R: let there be trust,
L: let there be hope,
R: let there be peace.

Where there are seekers who have come close to belief but hesitate on the brink, let there be light,
R: let there be trust,
L: let there be hope,
R: let there be peace.

Where there are the dying and the bereaved who face the darkness without hope, let there be light,
R: let there be trust,
L: let there be hope,
R: let there be peace.

Where there are political leaders who admit their fallibility and now look for guidance, let there be light,
R: let there be trust,
L: let there be hope,
R: let there be peace.

Where there are church leaders caught up in a web of details but forgetting their first love, let there be light,
R: let there be trust,
L: let there be hope,
R: let there be peace.

Where there are welfare agencies and overseas aid groups who have become self-serving, let there be light,
R: let there be trust,
L: let there be hope,
R: let there be peace.

Where there are members of this congregation who carry deep hurts, fears, guilt or anger, let there be light,
R: let there be trust,
L: let there be hope,
R: let there be peace.

God our Holy Friend, help us to do for one another all those deeds of love which are within our capacity, and where the issues are beyond us, fill up our emptiness with your eternal wisdom and strength. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour, who taught us to pray…

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 and the power and glory are yours now and forever. Amen

HYMN 648 – “Help Us Accept Each Other” (click here to listen)  

THE SENDING OUT

L: Let us go in faith to ponder in our hearts the mystery and the wonder of this season. We are called to join the adventure of living a passionate life.

R: So may we be carried past the boundaries and near horizons of our life’s small dreams.

L: Creativity God be with you on the smooth paths;
Companion Jesus be with you in the storms;
Awakening Spirit be with you at all times.

 

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