Christ the King Sunday (22-11-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service will be streamed live via Zoom on November 22nd 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.

There are questions to ponder at the end, which may help God to speak to you personally.

-oOo-

“Some people decide to be saved at the 11th hour, and die at 10:30.” (anon)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Come in bringing all of who you are. Calm your hurried pace. For this hour, let the cares, the fretfulness and worry, be set aside. Know that you are not alone.  There is strength and caring support for you here. So let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

HYMN 12 – “Ye Gates, Lift Up Your Heads on High
 (Click here to listen)    or  Click here for a male choir.

OPENING SENTENCES

L: As we gather to remember and share stories of faith, let us also rejoice in the presentness of Creativity God.

R: Before our stories began, there was God; through all our days, God’s presentness is there, energising us.

L: Indeed, God’s spirit is moving among us, about to do a new thing in our midst.

R: We will sing praises and offer thanks. We seek to grow in faith and in love for one another.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Christ be with me, Christ before me, Christ be after me,
Christ within me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ at my right, Christ at my left. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation  “When my mind is still and alone…” (Paul H Beattie)

When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart,
I remember many things
too easily forgotten:
the purity of early love;
the maturity of unselfish love that seeks nothing but another’s good;
the idealism that has persisted through all the tempest of life.
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart,
I can sense my basic humanity,
 and then I know all men and women are my brothers & sisters.
Nothing but my own fear and distrust
can separate me from the love of friends.
When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart,
I know how much life has given me:
the history of the race, friends and family,
the opportunity to work, the chance to build myself.
Then wells within me the urge to live more abundantly,
with greater trust and joy,
with more profound seriousness and earnest striving,
and yet more calmly at the heart of life. 

     Silence

In the safety of this sacred time, I invite you now to be still. God of the cosmos, attune our ears to hear you today in the great symphony of the universe and in the solo of another’s face.            (Please keep at least 30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: Lord, is this life; this dark, anxious existence hidden within the shell we have created for ourselves?

R: We are trapped by our fear.  We are afraid to break out into the world of relationships where we will be vulnerable to hurt.

L: We have gathered so much to help us through life. You protect us from want, from attack, from loss of control, but still we hide, pre-born.

R: We are imprisoned by our greed.  It has neither satisfied our needs nor empowered us to risk loving; rather it has made us soft.

L: We have built monuments to our genius.  We have created structures to order our lives so that we may be free from the threat of chaos, yet chaos swirls around us: broken lives, broken families, broken community, a broken world.

R: We are bound by the structures to which we gave birth, and now cannot give birth to ourselves.

L: Lord, help us to recognise your kingship over human creations, human greed and human fear.  Rule in our hearts and minds so that the life in us may break through its shell and be a fearless force for love and goodness, peace and justice.

R: Free us to be servants of your kingdom.

THE ASSURANCE

L: Sisters and brothers, our King is unlike any other; one who comes not to be served, but to serve. You are the beneficiaries, for the King shares his gift with you, and with confidence, I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

HYMN 136 – “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”
(Click here to listen)
 
  or Click here for a boys’ choir

FROM THE GOSPELS  – Matthew 25:31-46

The Sheep and the Goats

31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’

45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’

46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”

HYMN 629 – “When I Needed a Neighbour Were You There?”
(Click here to listen)
 
  or Click here for another option

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS

“Awaken to What Already Is Around Us”

     Part 1

After hundreds of millennia of growing slowly, the human population has accelerated in the last hundred years and will soon reach 8 billion souls. To give some idea of the speed of this acceleration: When I was born I was the 2,438,350,021st person alive on Earth, so we’re talking of growth from 2.5 billion when I was born to about 7.8 billion now – more than a 3-fold increase in about 74 years.  Imagine, it took a couple hundred thousand years for homo sapiens to get to 2.5 billion, but just over 70 years to triple it.

For the record, I was the 75,328,054,691st individual of our species to have lived since history began. And while you have been listening for the minute it has taken to tell you these statistics another 256 people have been born, but not all of them have been born into the good life that you and I share.

Today as I speak, and before midnight strikes, thousands of children will die from measles, tetanus, and diphtheria because they have not been immunised with a vaccine that costs $1 per person.

Likewise, thousands of children will die today of respiratory infection because they can’t afford a dollar’s worth of antibiotics. And still more thousands of children will die today from diarrhoea and dehydration because their parents don’t know how to treat them with a simple remedy of sugar, salt and water costing only a few cents.

When media-cum-casino magnate James Packer was married (the first time), amid the twinkling of 250,000 fairy lights, the “party to end all parties” was reported to have cost around $12 million. And that was only a month or so after father Kerry had lost millions one weekend in an overseas casino.

You may recall an Australian bank chief executive, on completion of his term of appointment, walking away with a $35 million package. (His successor was not as fortunate. When he completed his term, his termination package was reduced to just $8.6 million due to “customer dissatisfaction”!)

And, too, you may recall when Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, received a 71% salary rise, then immediately shut down the airline, locking out workers asking for a fairer wage, and stranding passengers all over the world.

The population problem is not that there are too many people, although we do live on a planet with limited resources. The real population problem is there are too many rich people! Take these contrasts and suddenly you appreciate how radical today’s gospel story could be.

It’s a gospel story that says a culture that supports billionaire media and business tycoons, but cannot come up with a dollar’s worth of sugar and salt, is in for one heck of a shock. The ‘goat’ population is going to have some high-profile notables among it.

C.S.Lewis, of Narnia fame, has made this anthropological, but none-the-less interesting comment: When we get to heaven, there will be three surprises:

* First, we will be surprised by the people we find there, many of whom we surely had not expected to see.

* Second, we will be surprised by the people who are absent. The ones we did expect to see but who are not there.

* And the third surprise, of course, will be that we’re there.

The most radical shock of today’s Gospel story is the presence of the divine  hidden in the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the imprisoned. And Matthew says this presentness in basic human need goes unrecognised; unrecognised by both groups of people. Neither the ‘righteous ones’ nor the ‘unrighteous ones’ recognised this reality. Both were looking for the divine in other places and events. And both were shocked.

The message seems to be: if we are to recognise the presentness of the divine in basic human need, we need to foster a compassionate consciousness.

It is evident Jesus taught love of God and neighbour, and lived compassion. It also seems evident that when Jesus was speaking about God’s reign, he was saying that the kingdom of God equals compassion; that the realm of God means the coming of compassion.  If you go away from here with nothing else, remember this: this kingdom of God equals compassion.

Do not confuse the godly realm of compassion, Jesus seems to be saying, with a place or rungs on a ladder. God’s kingdom is not a place or an object; it is not a noun of any sort. It is not something reserved for some sort of afterlife. It is a verb… ‘among you, in your midst,’ Jesus says.  It is right now, right here.

“Among-ness, not within-ness, is the key to the kingdom”, suggests Catholic theologian Matthew Fox.  “And the messianic age, the age of salvation for all, is now here.  Compassion is at hand”. 

Part 2

Likewise, Bishop John Shelby Spong is well-known for his questioning of a conservative, doctrine-based Christianity. In one of his books he says we need a new God-definition that resonates with the humanity of Jesus.

Spong writes:

“What I see is a new portrait of Jesus…  I see him pointing to something he calls the realm (or kingdom) of God, where new possibilities demand to be considered…  I see him inviting his followers to join with him, to walk without fear beyond those security boundaries that always prohibit, block, or deny our access to a deeper humanity”.

Professor Joe Bessler-Northcutt, from Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa, visited Australia about ten years ago, and preached a sermon on this story that includes these comments:

• “From a theological perspective, this is the most radical text in the New Testament. Viewed as a test of faith, one has to notice there is no dogmatic text here, no inquiry about the catechism or right belief.  In fact, one doesn’t even need to recognise the King, or believe in the King, so this is remarkable.”

• “We good church folk get this story wrong every time.   I frequently hear during the ‘announcements: “we’re taking dinner to the homeless shelter this Thursday night; why don’t you join us as we bring Christ into their lives.” But that’s not what this story says. The king isn’t present in the one giving the water or the clothing. The king is present in the one in need. We go to them to be changed not to change them.”

• “This story doesn’t ‘predict’ a literal final judgment. It’s a wisdom story, about what ‘finally’ matters.  And as I thought about this text in light of coming to Australia, I’ve found thinking of this story as a text of desire, and asking myself: ‘what does this text long for; what is this text dreaming about?'”

Joe then went on to say:

“Matthew’s story dreams of a deep bond of God and humanity: For every need an adequate response.  That beautiful back and forth movement between I and you;  I was hungry and you gave me to eat;  I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was naked and you clothed me… a rhythm of need and response; an economy of abundance, or at least enough.  God in the midst of humanity, not lording it over everyone with the powerful, but hidden, as a dream would have it…

“But as the nightmare is the flip side of the dream, those who failed to respond to human need cannot, by definition, enter the intimacy of the common good… Instead of the former harmony we hear this discordant, out of balance ‘no’ response to every need…

“This ‘dream’ is Matthew’s attempt to convince his own community of hearers and readers of a common dream… If those hearing the story can learn from it, then we can ALL get it right; it is in our power, says Matthew, to create a community that attends to the common good.”

I invite you to ponder this story some more. Matthew’s story or perhaps better termed, Matthew’s ‘dream’, is about what finally matters. Christine Fry, I think, had the same thing in mind when she wrote this poem back in 2004:

You’ve asked me to tell you of The Great Turning,
of how we saved the world from disaster.
The answer is both simple and complex.
We turned.
For hundreds of years we had turned away
as life on earth grew more precarious.
We turned away from the homeless men on the streets,
the stench from the river,
the children orphaned in Iraq,
the mothers dying of AIDS in Africa.
We turned away because that is what we had been taught.
To turn away from our pain,
from the hurt in another’s eyes,
from the drunken father
or the friend betrayed.
Always we were told, in actions louder than words,
to turn away, turn away.
And so we became a lonely people
caught up in a world moving too quickly,
too mindlessly toward its own demise.
Until it seemed as if there was no safe place to turn.
No place, inside or out, that did not remind us
of fear or terror, despair and loss, anger and grief.
Yet on one of those days someone did turn.
Turned to face the pain.
Turned to face the stranger.
Turned to look at the smouldering world
and the hatred seething in too many eyes.
Turned to face himself, herself.
And then another turned.
And another.
And another.
And as they wept,
they took each other’s hands.
Until whole groups of people were turning.
Young and old, gay and straight.
People of all colours, all nations, all religions.
Turning not only to the pain and hurt
but to beauty, gratitude and love.
Turning to one another with forgiveness
 and a longing for peace in their hearts…

HYMN 216  – “Rejoice the Lord is King” (Click here to listen)  

A LITANY – “Call to be Church”

L: Our God, you call us to be Church:

R: enable us to create, across cultural, age and class boundaries, a laboratory of peace, testing out your vision of community and love as we struggle to live with our differences.

L: Our God, you call us to be Church:

R: enable us to be a parable of the Kingdom,
allowing the upside-down values of your commonwealth to nudge us away from the acquisitive 

L: Our God, you call us to be Church:

R: enable us to be a sign of contradiction among the nations, pointing to hope in the midst of disillusion,
offering non-violent resistance when evil threatens,
accepting loss of prestige or wealth in the cause of justice.

L: Our God, you call us to be Church:

R: enable us to be a place of welcome and warmth,
where what is ignored elsewhere may be heard and honoured, where sorrows may be shared and stories told,
where hard questions may be asked
and new ideas greeted with joy.

L: Our God, you call us to be Church:

R: enable us to be a community of praise,
cracking open the dry husks of cynicism and despair,
being clowns and jesters for Christ,
celebrating the mystery of faith in stillness and song.

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

L: Holy Friend, help us to get real!

R: To get real with our faith and hope and love.

L: We bring our prayers to you for the hungry and the thirsty; and for those aid agencies, both Christian and secular, who seek to relieve the suffering and implement preventive programmes in the years that are to come. Holy Friend, help us to get real.

R: To get real with our faith and hope and love.

L: We bring our prayers to you for those who are strangers and outsiders; new people in town, new students in school, new employees at our workplace, newcomers to our church. May they find the nurturing power of respect and acceptance.Holy Friend, help us to get real!

R: To get real with our faith and hope and love.

L: We bring our prayers to you for the homeless and ill clad people of the world; boat people, street kids, dispirited aboriginal communities, and the deprived children of alcoholics and gambling addicts. May we find the most ennobling way to assist them to a better life. Holy Friend, help us to get real!

R: To get real with our faith and hope and love.

L: We bring our prayers to you for all who are sick and suffering, and for the care being given at home or in our hospitals, or in the makeshift medical facilities in situations of warfare, or in extremely poor countries. Help us to share surgical skills and medications across all countries and communities. Holy Friend, help us to get real!

R: To get real with our faith and hope and love.

L; We bring to you our prayers for those in prison. We think of the murderers and the embezzlers, the rapists and the drug pushers, the thieves and the con-men;  But also those mistakenly convicted and those thousands who are prisoners of conscience. We pray too for the prison officers, social workers, chaplains, and for the work of Amnesty International. Holy Friend, help us to get real!

R: To get real with our faith and hope and love.

L: Holy Friend, without you we can do nothing. With you we can achieve much more than we can ever see or measure. So give us the grace to thoughtfully and compassionately play our small part in relieving the sufferings of the world. Through Christ Jesus our Friend and Brother, 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, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

HYMN 228 – “Crown Him with Many Crowns” 

WORDS OF MISSION

L: The presentness of God reaches beyond this time and place. May we open ourselves ever more fully to that Eternal Mystery that lures us onward toward life and creativity.

R: May we find the courage to live our faith, to speak our truth, and to strive together for a world where freedom abounds and justice truly does roll down like water.

L: May we know the fullness of love without fear, and the serenity of peace without turmoil.

R: May we hold one another in the deep and tender places with compassion, and may we grace one another by sharing our own vulnerabilities, being ever mindful of the divinity within that makes soulmates of us all.

BENEDICTION 

As the kookaburra gently settles on the tree,
receive the gift of peace.
As the flame rises with light and warmth,
receive the gift of life.
As the wind moves & dances round the earth,
 receive the gracious gift of the Spirit.

-oOo-

QUESTIONS TO PONDER

How do you feel about the notion that the Kingdom of God is not some future event, but is here and now?
Does it challenge your existing beliefs?
Are you missing out on it?
Have you experienced it in your life?
When and what were the circumstances?
What would you have to do to live in the Kingdom all the time?

An open, virtual door to the world