Ordinary Sunday 28 (11-10-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on October 11th 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-

“The only way that God can be with us now and through the ages is for each of us to allow God to live and love through us, through our humanity.”      (Bishop John Spong)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Hope brings us here: hope of inspiration, hope of comfort, hope of enlightenment, hope of love. Then let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life.

HYMN 545 “Shout for Joy! The Lord has Let Us Feast”
(click here to listen)  

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Whatever things are true,

R: whatever things are noble,

L: whatever things are just,

R: whatever things are pure,

L: whatever things are beautiful,

R: whatever things make good news:

L: if you find things worthy of praise

R: then fix your minds on these virtues.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Loving God, Joy of the universe, we cannot bring you even one tiny item of perfect praise. Your love is too great for words or deeds, your holiness is beyond all music and song. But we can bring you our sincere love, the very cream of our heart. You have made us for love, and we yearn to love you more and more until earth and heaven become one complete circle of joy. Through Christ Jesus, our Brother and Lord.  Amen!

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

How did the rose ever open its heart and give to this world all its beauty? It felt the encouragement of light against its Being. Otherwise, we all remain too frightened.

Let there now be a silence between us for a time in which we might feel the encouragement of light. May that which is the continual longing of the spirit find strength in the secret places of our hearts

(at least 30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

Introduction: Poet, Chris Freebairn, has written:

If only I could meet a friend
who at a glance sees through me,
who without frown or threat,
comes unconditionally to me.
No more forced laughter, no more pretence or hiding,
no telling but half the truth or anxiously confiding.
Then I’d give a great sigh of monumental release.
I could let go of all conceit and find myself at peace.
If such a friend could find me, I’d leave the past behind me.

We have such a friend in Christ Jesus, the divine friend of sinners. Let our confession be a great sigh of release. Let us pray:

Loving Lord, we are flawed creatures who need a Healer; foolish and lost children who need someone to follow. We trust ourselves to your penetrating glance; we relax our anxieties and discard our excuses.

We are what we are, and there is not or word on our tongue or a thought in our mind, but you know it all together. Have mercy on us, all-seeing Lord. Have mercy on us, all-saving Lord. Have mercy on us. all-conquering Lord.

As we breathe out all that is stagnant, infected and shameful, we breathe in your Holy Breath until it flushes through every part of our body, mind and soul. For your name’s sake. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: “If such a friend could find me I’d leave the past behind me.” People of God, for us there is no more ‘if’.  ‘If’ has been replaced with God’s overwhelming ‘Yes!’ We are found and recovered by the grace of the Christ. Lift up your hearts with peace and joy, for you no longer have anything to be ashamed of.  We are a totally forgiven people! So I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

INTRODUCTION TO READINGS 

First we will hear something contemporary from the book, Celebrating Women; something nice. 

Then in Matthew we have two parables that the gospel author has put together to make a point to his audience that is not so nice.  This story is told in our broad biblical traditions in three different versions, but here the voice and different layering of Matthew is very evident!  The original story appears lost. It really was a secular story about the use and misuse of power, which Matthew reshapes into something ‘religious’ he can use against the Jewish leaders. ‘They had their chance and blew it’, Matthew seems to say, so God looks elsewhere for a righteous community; hence, his church community. But we don’t really care about what Matthew is wanting to say; we want to know what Jesus is saying.

As you listen to the story, be careful you don’t fall into the trap, as has a large part of the church through the centuries, of treating it as an allegory; that is, where each element represents something else: e.g. the rich ruler = God, the son = Jesus, etc.  This is not the way of Jesus’ parables, which typically are very secular stories designed to turn ordinary expectations and perceptions on their heads.  Quoting from Daniel Berrigan’s sermon on this story, “A parable for today, if not tomorrow…”, it tells of the “domestic misbehaviour of the powerful and the victimising of the powerless, of war and retaliation.” And it is set within the then culture of shame and honour. Whatever the Rich Ruler’s strategy, the feast he ends up with is very different from the one he planned.  It is now a feast of the dishonourable, and he is shamed.”

FROM THE WORLD AROUND US“O Taste and See”

Now is the time for the good wine,
pressed from the fruit of the tree
Now is the time for rejoicing in the place where the feast will be.
O taste and see, and refresh us with love.
Leave all the cares of the growing, just let the mystery sing
Magic of ripening and pruning
and the fullness that time will bring
O taste and see, and refresh us with love.
Sweet-tasting cup of our loving, promise of pleasure and pain;
Take it and drink of it deeply, for the new life it will contain
O taste and see, and refresh us with love.

FROM THE GOSPELSMatthew 22:1-14 (The Message version)

     The Story of the Wedding Banquet

1-3 Jesus responded by telling still more stories. “God’s Kingdom,” he said, “is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn’t come!

“He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, ‘Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!’

5-7 “They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.

8-10 “Then he told his servants, ‘We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren’t up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.’ The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.

11-13 “When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn’t properly dressed. He said to him, ‘Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!’ The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, ‘Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn’t get back in.’

14 “That’s what I mean when I say, ‘Many get invited; only a few make it.’”

HYMN 474 “Here in This Place” (Click here to listen) 

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Put On Your Party Clothes”

     Part 1

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”  (Mt. 22:14)

Just when you think you know what is going on in the Bible, just when you think you’ve grasped it and gotten the point, there invariably comes a story like this one today about the Great Banquet.

I like the way it begins: with a party.  And who doesn’t like a party?  Well, apparently lots of people didn’t, for when the invitations were sent to come to the king’s big bash for his son, those who were invited began to make excuses.

New invitations were sent forth.  This time it was even worse.  Those invited not only refused the invitation, they killed the messengers.  This is considerably more than a social snub; this is murder!

The king tried one more time.  This time all the preparations for the party had been made, and he invited total strangers: “all whom they found, both good and bad” (v.10).  And they came.  Is not this typical of God’s Kingdom?  It’s inclusive, embracing, gracious.  God’s love is open and available to all, if we will only come.  It’s the good news we are used to hearing about here on Sunday morning.

But then comes the snag:  in this case, more than just showing up for the party seems to be required.  The story goes on to tell of one of the guests who gets into the worst sort of fix because he is not dressed properly. Now where would this man, just dragged in off the street get a tux?  Why does this once gracious and inclusive king get so mad about the poor fellow’s improper dress, telling his servants to “Tie him up and ship him to hell.” (Or in the RSV, “bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness?”)

It seems more than a wee bit unfair doesn’t it?  Yet somehow all the other guests managed to get appropriately attired.  They found wedding garments.  There is only one man who had not bothered changing, perhaps with the attitude, “If he wants me there, he can take me as I am.” Not to have put on the black tie must have been an intentional decision.  

Rather than good news, the story ends with the harsh treatment of the man in order to make a point.  Is this the gospel we have come to know and love?

Look at the context of the story: Jesus is talking about the coming Kingdom of God, and the people hearing his preaching are debating the matter as though the Kingdom is some small matter like whether or not the Reserve Bank will raise interest rates.  So at least one aim of this story is to remind us that the Kingdom of God is the central issue of our lives, not some little side-bet matter that we keep going for the fun of it, like the running score of a 500 game on holiday. This Kingdom business is the essential deciding issue for all us.

Although all of us are called to the party, it still is true that we are supposed to come dressed for the occasion, and we had darn well better take it seriously.  The failure to take it seriously is what so angers ‘Number One’ when the man is found without wedding garments. And the master’s anger is not so strange when one considers the custom of the day.  When a nobleman invited someone to his house for a special occasion, his messenger would deliver a special garment to be worn by the guest; i.e. the guest did not have to worry about finding the right outfit for the occasion, did not have to spend any money to buy one.  This garment was both a badge of honour and a badge of protection as the person travelled. To arrive without the garment was the height of carelessness and bad manners; it was an affront to the host.

        Part 2

We are not only invited, but to each of us has been given the right garment for us.  The new outfit required is definitely an inner garment: an attitude, a power, a talent, a spiritual direction, a degree of faith.   We are not merely invited to the party; we are challenged to wear what we have been given.  

Sometimes this change of clothes may feel uncomfortable or inconvenient or challenging.  It involves forsaking the old and putting on the new; trusting in a future about which we know nothing. Like the man in the story, we are tempted to stay with an outfit that is more comfortable, but the story tells us that this is the moment of judgment, which in Greek of the New Testament is krino, from which our word crisis comes.  Crisis literally means a point of intersection or decision. You’re at the crossroads; which road do you take?  The man in the story came to that point of decision and chose unwisely.  He did not make the commitment to the host which was required, and he suffered the consequences. But note, and this is important, that the consequences are self-chosen. This is always the nature of God’s judgment; the consequences are self-chosen.

The verse with which I began, “Many are called, but few are chosen,” seems to be a bleak watering down of the Good News.  But the ones who are not chosen are the ones who have not taken the invitation seriously.  In fact, it is wrong to even say that they have not been chosen; rather they have excluded themselves because they are not able to leave the past and their old comfortable life behind. Judgment is not God choosing against us; judgment is us choosing against God.

We all are invited to the party of the Kingdom of God, and that invitation is the most important invitation we will ever receive: a life or death decision, a central question.  If we come, we have to come prepared to participate: to dress, to behave appropriately for the occasion.  It is not some wild, happy, senseless party where everyone just drinks until they vomit or pass out.  It is no casual come and go affair.  It is a life or death party.  And even if this story looks and sounds like one of Clint Eastwood’s western films, maybe Jesus wanted us to realise that this Kingdom of God is an awesome event where a bit of fear is not out of place, and where we are invited to come prepared to share the dignity and the work of the Kingdom of God.

One of the tensions in the church today is the tension between inclusiveness -welcoming all kinds of people – and exclusiveness; i.e. not bending the law of God in order to broaden our appeal.  Some people think that church has gone too far by loosening its standards so as to accommodate worldly views.  I don’t agree with these critics. 

There would be few more inclusive and progressive clergy than I am; however, it is very plain even to me that, though I believe that there can be no limit to the invitation’s inclusiveness, neither can there be any softening of the responsibility that comes with accepting the invitation; namely, a change of outfit is required.  

Indeed, it is absolutely essential.  Once we have accepted the invitation of the Christ to join him at the feast, then a change in both our attitudes and our actions is expected. A new life style must follow. Becoming a citizen of the realm of God must signal a radical change in one’s whole way of living, and if we choose not to change, then at the same time we choose to be not included.

If claiming to know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ does not produce a change in values and actions, then something phoney is going on. We in the church community are called to display in our deeds a different set of values and goals than those of the greedy, self-indulgent world. When Christ calls a man or a woman, repentance – change – is a necessary consequence.  This is the point of crisis, of judgment.

        Part 3

To be sure, the point of crisis is personal.  You have to make the decision for yourself; no one can do it for you.  You are given a garment and it fits only you.  Nevertheless, though the decision is personal, salvation is most certainly not personal; the Kingdom is corporate.  

This is particularly pertinent to a congregation currently making decisions about what kind of church it is to be as part of the process of calling a new minister. The church has a role to prepare people for the work of the Kingdom, to issue the invitations, to guide people’s responses; in short, to make the community, the nation and world of which it is a part, reflect the characteristics of God’s Kingdom.  In the process, the church, too, encounters crisis points: moments of decision in which God offers the church new clothes more fitting for the Kingdom which is being built.  These moments bring tension, anxiety.   

We often get distracted by different ideas about what kind of church we should be, what kind of worship and music, the relationship with other congregations, the best stewardship of property and resources, but these are peripheral issues. Real opportunities to build the Kingdom will be opened up by God and we will face moments of decision, not only individually, but collectively, whether to put on the new clothes and accept the invitation or to miss out on the party. 

The Kingdom of God does not refer to some ‘pie in the sky when you die’, but the very down-to-earth characteristics of the human society of which we are a part: its economics, politics, legal structure, and the way the its weakest and least members are treated. We make Kingdom decisions each time we vote and even each time we spend our money, and you certainly are making Kingdom decisions as the work of preparing a profile proceeds. 

So how might Jesus’ original story (as distinct from Matthew’s version of it) have concluded? Reimagine this if you can, he says. The Reign of God is not about a feast where only the rich and the powerful are invited, so the host or his heir can be ‘honoured’. Rather, the reign of God will strike you as being as nonsensical as a feast thrown by a powerful ruler, at which all his powerful friends are absent and only strangers are present. 

And what might be the typical human response? ‘Come on Jesus, you’ve got to be joking! The real world of power and politics and global warming and terrorists and law and order, is not like that!  Where those who are in, are out, and those who are out, are in!?’

Jesus did not come to make us religious, righteous, moral, or orthodox. He came to offer a re-imagined view of the world, this world, where every person can live life to the full; where every person can love wastefully; where every person can be all they can possibly be, and as Bishop Spong continues to say, to be the “God-bearers to the world.” “The only way that God can be with us now and through the ages is for each of us to allow God to live and love through us, through our humanity.”

In a world where many of the world’s politicians can expect ‘overwhelming support’ to anti-terrorism measures, with scarcely a glance in the direction of civil liberties, and little recognition of the irony involved in abandoning some of the legal safeguards that define the very way of life we are supposed to be defending, the surprise of a (divine) feast where only powerless strangers rather than the rich and powerful ‘movers and shakers’ are present, is not out of the equation!

Mmm.  Sometimes it is difficult to work out whether you are being ‘threatened’ or ‘saved’ by those who, like Jesus, suggest your life should be turned upside down!   But do not fear.  Each crisis is a moment of opportunity; opportunity for life.  The invitations are in the post.  What clothes will you be wearing?

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH

L: In response to the word reflected on, let us share an affirmation of faith. May we be aware of our weaknesses, and strengthened by that awareness.

R: May we be conscious of our shortcomings and, alerted by that consciousness, may we know our limitations, and be humbled by that knowledge.

L: Thus may we come to pay less attention to our weaknesses, shortcomings, limitations,

R: and to give greater attention to possible areas of continuing growth:awareness, consciousness, knowledge.

HYMN 503 “Robe Yourself, My Soul, in Gladness”
(Click here to listen)  

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS

L: Holy Friend please give us a measure of the Spirit of Christ, that we may exhibit more of his courage and compassion for all who share this planet with us.  May your new world come, 

R: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: We pray for the church: our own denomination, and the many others spread across the world.   Strengthen those that are tested by persecution, embolden those who are tolerated but ignored, humble those that wield considerable power, shake up those that have become apathetic, and encourage those that retain the optimism of the Spirit even though their numbers are few.  May your new world come, 

R: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: We pray for our nation, for its internal well being and its international relations. Bless our parliaments, Premiers and Prime Minister. Give them insight, wisdom, courage and compassion, that is much larger than their natural capacity, so that guided and overruled by your Spirit, this land may become a place of justice, mercy and peace. May your new world come, 

R: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: We pray for the many places and people around the world where there is disaster and suffering. We long for the end of injustice and false imprisonment, terrorism and torture, hatred and warfare, hunger and homelessness, disease and despair. May the U.N. be revitalised, and the aid programmes be applied to those who need them most.  May your new world come, 

R: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: We pray for friends, neighbours and fellows church members who are going through hard times. For the unemployed and their families, the sick and their nurses, the handicapped and their helpers, the bereaved and their comforters, the terminally ill and their loved ones, the renegades and the parents who pray each day for their recovery. May your new world come, 

R: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: God our merciful Friend, please encircle us all with your saving grace, that no person may be seen as useless and no situation irredeemable. Fill us with the quiet optimism of Christ Jesus, that in all things and at all times we may trust your providence and play our small part in supplying the signs of your love to those whose fears outweigh their hope.  May your new world come, 

R: your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

L: Through Christ Jesus, 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 658  “I, the Lord of Sea and Sky” (Click here to listen)

PARTING WORDS

L: Go into the world; dance, laugh, sing and create.

R: We go with the encouragement of God.

L: Go into the world; risk, explore, discover and love.

R: We go with the empowerment of God.

L: Go into the world; believe, hope, struggle and remember.

R: We go with the assurance of the love of God.

BENEDICTION

May the Spirit which flows through all creation,
that speaks through the prophets and the poets,
and which acts through those who care,
be with us here today,
and awaken us to the unconquerable power of life.

An open, virtual door to the world