Feast of St. Francis A (04-10-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

If you wee unable join us for worship on Zoom, below is the entire text for a service of worship, albeit a little different from the one that was streamed. October 4th was the anniversary of the death of St. Francis, and coming as it does at the end of the Season of Creation, we remember St. Francis’ reverence for the natural world, especially the animals that populate it.  For this reason, many churches use the occasion for a blessing of animals, and people are invited to bring their pets to church.  The service below includes a short blessing that you might like to use with your pets at home.

Even though the service is streamed live, this material may be used at any time for 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-

“Start by doing what’s necessary; then do what’s possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”  (St. Francis of Assisi)

 

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life.

HYMN 156 “Morning has Broken” (click here to listen)  

OPENING SENTENCES

L: As the curtain of night is drawn back, and the golden robes of the day arrive over hill and sea,

R: may there be expelled from our minds all sour thoughts 

L: so we might greet this new day as a gift,

R: fresh from the rhythm of creation, and filled with hope.

ACT OF AWARENESS

From the earth we have come. By its fruits we live. This earth is our home. We celebrate the beauty of our days, and all their splendid avenues of love and hope 

A JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation – “Peace, Birds, Peace!’ from a sermon by St Francis

My brother and sister birds, you should greatly praise your Creator and love him always.
He gave you feathers to wear, and wings to fly, and whatever you need.
God made you noble among his creatures and gave you a home in the purity of the air,
so that, though you do not sow nor reap, he nevertheless protects and governs you without your least care.

     Silence

Gathering as we do in this sacred time, we pause again to reflect, to feel, and to commit to thoughtful and mindful intention. (pause)
We wonder again about the ebb and flow of this living, breathing, expanding universe and of this community. (pause)
We give our attention right now to each other, to new beginnings, to this time, to this season.
We celebrate this new early Spring day, and the new challenges and possibilities it brings.
The universe is beginning to bloom again. Amazing! (pause)
May this time spent in sacred silence, empower us to once again be open-eyed and open-sensed to the beauty and the oneness of all people and things. (at least 30 seconds in silence)

CONFESSION: A LITANY FOR DELIVERANCE

L: Save your people, God of truth and mercy, from the chaos of divided loyalties and the worship of many gods;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy.

L: From making God in our own likeness and the slavery of self-centredness;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy.

 L: From using God ‘s name trivially and claiming him for our prejudices;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy.

L: From neglecting sabbatical quiet times and being obsessed with busyness;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy. 

L: From ignoring or despising the elderly and overindulging the new generation;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy. 

L: From glorifying  armaments and war and wishing our enemies dead;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy. 

L: From watering-down love and marriage and the exploitation of sex;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy. 

L: From the legal robberies of the stock exchange, and the cunning thefts of tax evasion;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy.

 L: From TV programmes that twist the facts, and cruel gossip in supermarkets;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy.

L: From those  who preach greed as a virtue and possession-lust which is never satisfied;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy. 

L: O Jesus Christ, Saviour of all who lose their way, O Healing Spirit, Power who renews the world;

R: Save us, God of truth and mercy.

THE ASSURANCE

L: My sisters and brothers, it is truly written: “Every one who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be rescued and healed.” Humbly embrace the total forgiveness and the healing and liberating grace that is freely offered to you, and you will be made new and young in heart again. So I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

PSALM 19 A Modern Transliteration

The Southern Cross signals God ‘s glory;
the Milky Way gleams with holy handiwork.
Every new day tells a divine story;
at night-time God ‘s skills are displayed.
All nations and tongues know this language,
the message which saturates our planet.

FROM THE GOSPELS – Matthew 21: 33-46 (The Message Version)

     The Story of the Greedy Farmhands

33-34 “Here’s another story. Listen closely. There was once a man, a wealthy farmer, who planted a vineyard. He fenced it, dug a winepress, put up a watchtower, then turned it over to the farmhands and went off on a trip. When it was time to harvest the grapes, he sent his servants back to collect his profits.

35-37 “The farmhands grabbed the first servant and beat him up. The next one they murdered. They threw stones at the third but he got away. The owner tried again, sending more servants. They got the same treatment. The owner was at the end of his rope. He decided to send his son. ‘Surely,’ he thought, ‘they will respect my son.’

38-39 “But when the farmhands saw the son arrive, they rubbed their hands in greed. ‘This is the heir! Let’s kill him and have it all for ourselves.’ They grabbed him, threw him out, and killed him.

40 “Now, when the owner of the vineyard arrives home from his trip, what do you think he will do to the farmhands?”

41 “He’ll kill them—a rotten bunch, and good riddance,” they answered. “Then he’ll assign the vineyard to farmhands who will hand over the profits when it’s time.”

42-44 Jesus said, “Right—and you can read it for yourselves in your Bibles:

The stone the masons threw out
is now the cornerstone.
This is God’s work;
we rub our eyes, we can hardly believe it!

“This is the way it is with you. God’s kingdom will be taken back from you and handed over to a people who will live out a kingdom life. Whoever stumbles on this Stone gets shattered; whoever the Stone falls on gets smashed.”

45-46 When the religious leaders heard this story, they knew it was aimed at them. They wanted to arrest Jesus and put him in jail, but, intimidated by public opinion, they held back. Most people held him to be a prophet of God.

A COMMENT ON THE GOSPEL STORY – “Tenants and Stewards”

A besetting sin of stewards or trustees
is that they begin to think the place is theirs.
Most caretakers seem meek when they first take up the post,
but in a short time all humility is lost.
Likewise the trustees of a church or public hall or even land
soon start to put on airs and think they own it all.
Unhappy the house where tenants call the tune,
they soon resent the owner and treat it as their own.
They scheme and plot to retain tight their stranglehold.
Some would even kill God to keep their stolen world

HYMN 113 -“Now to the Lord a Noble Song” (click here to listen)  

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS   “The Delusion of Ownership”

     Part 1

“What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes?. . . he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”  (Isaiah 5:4 and 7b)

My aim in this sermon is to encourage you to recognise the delusion ownership. (Hence, I will print the word ‘delusion’ in bold italics to emphasise it.) Whether or not you find encouragement may well depend on how much a slave you have become to the delusion. Delusions, like the delusion of individualism that I have mentioned on previous occasions, don’t often yield easily to a dose of reality.

Let me offer this statement for you to chew on: This world and everything in it is meant to be one, glorious unity. When we know our own place within that unity, we are a blessing to the earth. When we refuse to accept our place, we become a curse on the earth.

In our Gospel reading today, you heard a parable about a vineyard, the tenants, the owner and his only son. I summarise:

A man planted a new vineyard. He planted a hedge around it to protect the vines form fierce winds. He constructed a wine press and a storage tower. Once it was established he put it in the care of agents (perhaps more like what we call  ‘share farmers ‘) to tend the vineyard, pick the crop, crush the grapes and bottle the wine. Then  they were to pay the agreed percentage of profit due to him.

It was all a perfectly reasonable expectation.  But the tenants became bigheaded, and they started to act as if they were the true owners. They fell into the delusion that it all belonged to them now. When the owner sent servants to collect his dues,  they beat them up, and stoned them. The owner tried again, with the same deplorable result.

So the owner had to take more drastic measures. He sent his only son, saying:  ‘Surely they will respectfully deal with my son.’   But those tenants, mad in their delusion of ownership, seized and killed the son.  The parable ends with the destruction of the deluded tenants, and the vineyard being handed into the care of other stewards.

In Matthew this parable of Jesus is aimed at the religious leaders in Jerusalem. They had become deluded about their own importance in the scheme of things. The reckoned they owned the religion of Abraham and Moses, not God. They would even kill God ‘s only Son. Therefore they would face destruction, which indeed they did in the fall and devastation of 70 AD, and the sacred mission for the healing of the world would be handed over to the followers of Jesus. They would be the new Israel, stewards of the light and love of God.

If this is only what it means to us today, then it is not too hard for us to accept. We know we have a mission to fulfil, and we know that we do not own either the church or the mission. God alone is the owner; we have to give account of our stewardship. Delusions of ownership will only lead us into new destructive schemes.

But maybe there is more to be said to us today, particularly as we have just celebrated the Season of Creation. Today is St Francis of Assisi Day, so given his concern for nature, it is appropriate to continue our Season of Creation one more week.

Parables have a way of speaking to different generations in different ways. In this age the parable can speak to us all about the issue of our place in the environment. The bottom line of the parable is clear: God is the owner who has built up this world from nothing. There is no other owner. It belongs solely to God. We are only like tenants, or share farmers, or stewards within this vulnerable creation. Note that I used the word  ‘within.’ We are not above the creation, or beyond it like gods. Ours is a lowly but most important position; a part of creation, serving within  this complex and beautiful scheme of things.

     Part 2

Whenever we forget our significant, yet lowly position, we are in trouble and so is the vineyard. If we puff ourselves up and get sucked in to the delusion that we are masters of this world, then we become a destructive force. No longer are we a blessing, but a blight on the earth.

Once deluded, we will exploit the vineyard without thought of God or the future. WE will despise God’s prophets who come as messengers to warn us, and if push came to shove, WE would do away with the very Son of God if he came among us today. In fact, we do get rid of him, not physically, but spiritually. Those with an ownership delusion do not want to have anything to do with the unsettling, confronting Son of God.

By rebelling against God’s claim on them, the tenants chose the way of destruction.  When they became murderers of God, they also destroyed themselves in the process. Similarly, should we reject or abuse the holy Source of all unity and fruitfulness, we bring disaster on ourselves and on those around us.

So you see, this parable becomes very much our story: the story of the world as we know it today. Wanting to possess, wanting to dominate, wanting to exploit for immediate and maximum profit, many of today’s human beings embrace the delusion of thinking they are gods, and that they have the right to do whatever they want with the Earth without fatal consequences.  As a result the curse of the parable falls upon us all.

I am not saying that, since we are not owners, we should therefore devolve ourselves of responsibility. We are not to throw up our hands in despair, and leave it all to God. All tenants or stewards continue to have the responsibility to make decisions, plan for the future, and to try and produce the best vintage that this earth can provide

I once saw one of those mini-sermons which some churches display on their notice boards. It read, “Divine power cannot work until human power stops working.”  I chewed that over and rejected it, because I regard it as faithless. We cannot throw down our tools and leave it all to God. We have unique opportunities as God ‘s stewards. We are chosen and called for this role. Kangaroos were not chosen, nor chimpanzees, nor the great whales. We were!

We are placed here as the tenants, privileged share farmers, the stewards of God, not to dominate the earth but to cherish and care for it. Therefore, we must use all the discipline and insight of modern science, all the appropriate technology that is at our disposal, in order to better understand, and more carefully care for, our precious environment and its fruits.

The world is not ours, but God’s. The delusion of  human ownership may only be dislodged by repentance. But a repentant radical about-turn is costly to human pride. Repentance hurts. One English preacher in middle of the last century, D.R. Davies, likened repentance to being skinned alive before healing could come.

Am I preaching  to the converted? Maybe, maybe not. All of us here (and I mean all), at the very least, have been partially brainwashed by the ownership lie. All too frequently we live by the delusion rather than by the reality as revealed by that Galilean Teller of Parables. Our conversion should and must be a continuous process. The more we let both the word and the spirit of Jesus into our thinking, feeling, planning and working, the more we will find ourselves on the path to healing and, at the same time, bring some healing to a torn and sorry creation.

This is a most beautiful, yet fragile, vineyard in which we live our days. And once we are free of the delusion that anything belongs to us, it is possible to see the remarkable owner who has come among us with amazing grace. This transforming grace is free for all who turn to this blessed and holy One in faith and love.

COLLECT

Gracious God, our Holy Friend, remind us each morning that we are trustees of everything we have. Remind us each evening of the grace that can both bless the day s achievements and forgive the misuse of your gifts. In success or failure, may we honour you by the cheerful way we accept your discipline and praise you by the loving way we trust your commandments. Through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

A SPRING REFLECTION

L: Spirit of life, bring to us beauty:

R: the beauty of magnolia and tulip.

L: Bring to us strength:

R: the strength of flowing Spring creeks and the quiet strength of roots pushing deep into the ground for nourishment.

L: Bring to us pleasure:

R: the pleasures of toffee apples sweet on our tongues and the wind grabbing a kite and taking it high. If only we could go too!

L: Bring to us wisdom:

R: the knowledge that new life springs up without help. In spite of everything we do or don’t, grass and weeds and dandelions will appear.

L: Bring to us love:

R: springtime love has magic in it. Let springtime love be a part of our lives.

L: Spirit of life, come to us that all the energy and power of Spring

R: will make us tall and smiling and expectant.

BLESSING OF ANIMALS

Place your hand on your pet’s head and say…

(NAME), the power of this blessing from Christ fill you with life, bind you to your human partners and lead you to praise your Creator.  Amen. 

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

Holy Friend, health of the sick, comfort of the sad, rebuke of the oppressor, judge of the greedy, hope of the repentant, friend of the downtrodden; in prayer we lift up to you this world with its outrageous injustices yet also its outpouring of human kindness from ordinary people.

Loving God, let your blessing be upon those who serve their neighbours without thought of reward, who forgive their enemies seventy times seven, who care for broken strangers as if they were dearest friends, who weep with the bereaved as if they were sisters, who heal the diseased not counting the risk to themselves.

Let your blessing encourage those who work for peace when the only result seems to be more abuse, who preach and live the Word of care for your creation, who feed the hungry although their efforts get misinterpreted, who stand up for the downtrodden in spite of public scorn, and who maintain the church when those around belittle it.

 Holy Friend, please reach out your hand over each of us gathered here now, that our faith may be enlarged and fortified, our vision enlightened and extended, and our compassion refreshed and widened.

Through Jesus of Nazareth, whose grace was good enough for the simple, too much for the proud and powerful, and absolutely amazing for all who shared his cup.  Amen!

IN THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD’S PRAYER 

In the Spirit of the prayer  taught within the church long ago, we pray:

Loving God, within and around us, we revere you.
We seek to live life as you would want us to do:
with love and respect for all people and all things in the universe.
May we find each day sufficient for our needs.
And find forgiveness when we do wrong,
just as we forgive those who do wrong to us.
In times of trouble, may we centre our lives in you.
For your being is love, which comes with strength and with beauty, throughout eternity. Amen.

HYMN 505 – “Jesus Invites His Saints”(click here to listen)  

CELEBRATING COMMUNITY AT THE LORD’S TABLE 

(During this time of Covid restrictions, the Uniting Church Assembly has granted lay people the authority to bless the elements for the Eucharist, so you act as the priest for this rite.)

L: God is the heart of life.

R: And we are the heartbeat.

L: May our hearts be filled with thanks and praise and songs of joy.

R: We rejoice in the miracle of life  and delight in our participation. 

L: We give thanks for the wonderful gift of reflective awareness that allows us to recognise and name the presence of a Creative Spirit beyond all imagining, in our universe.

R: We give thanks.

L: Most loving God, thank you for giving us life along with all the creatures that fly and swim and crawl and walk. You have elected humanity to rise even higher; you have shaped the human soul in your own likeness, and given us the responsibility of being your stewards on earth. You have entrusted us to care for the weak, bring order out of chaos, and create new possibilities.

When we became too full of ourselves and started to act with careless arrogance, you came after us. You called out to us through Moses and the prophets, and enlightened us through the seers and poets. Yet still we wandered.

You pursued us down the centuries and when time was ripe, you came among us in Christ Jesus your holy Child. In him we have received the costly treasure of the Gospel. By his grace we are born into the family of your church, and made heirs of eternal life.

By your Spirit you are with us always; the Friend sharing our happiness, the Comforter in our pain and grief, the Encourager when weary or depressed, and the agent of new birth when we become deadened by our trespasses and sin.

Through Jesus we have learned how our loving is a sharing in the life of this Spirit.

R: In him we see this Presence urging all of us  to make its creativity on earth more visible. Amen.

     Breaking of Bread

L: We remember our tradition: At a meal with friends, Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and said: ‘This bread is broken (break the bread) as my body will be.” He handed it to his friends, and invited them to eat, saying: “Remember all that I have been to you.’

Then Jesus poured a cup of wine (take cup), offered thanks for it (raise cup), gave it to his friends and said,  “This wine is poured out as my life will be. As you drink give thanks for all I have given.”

Come unsettling Spirit of God, be present among us, and in the breaking of the bread and the pouring of the wine. Strengthen us to be life-givers in the world.

R: Alleluia. Amen.

     Closing Prayer

As new growth breaks through the soil, and as blossoms burst forth from the trees, may we be nourished by this meal together so that we may know what it is to live new life. Bless us as a living community. Amen.

HYMN 155 – “How Great Thou Art” (click here to listen)

THE SENDING OUT

What does the Lord require of you, except to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

The worship of the gathered community is now ended.
Go in peace. Go in joy. Go in love.

Carry with you what is precious to us all: reverence for all life, beauty that displays itself in love, deep, abiding peace.
Grace mercy and peace, from God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you now and ever more. Amen!

-oOo-

“Preach the Gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.” (St. Francis of Assisi)

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