Saturday, 30 March 2019

Year C Lent 4
Sunday 31 March, 2019
Ipswich Central Uniting Church

Lighting the Christ Candle

In the past couple of weeks, 
we’ve seen the darkness
we’ve seen evil wear an Australian face
we’ve seen what people like us can do 
if we allow the darkness of hate to engulf us.

Here’s the good news. 
We don’t have to live in the dark.
We don’t have to allow hate a place in our lives.
Jesus is the light of the world,
His light can dispel the darkness.

We light the Christ candle
as a reminder of the light of Christ with us.

Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten calling

Call to Worship  (Psalm 32 Responsive)

Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven,
and whose sin is put away!

Happy are they to whom the Lord imputes no guilt,
and in whose spirit there is no guile!

While I held my tongue, my bones withered away,
because of my groaning all day long.

For your hand was heavy upon me day and night;
my moisture was dried up as in the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and did not conceal my guilt

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”.
Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.

Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in time of trouble;
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

You are my hiding-place; yu preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

“I will instruct you and teach you =in the way that you should go;
I will guide you with my eye.

Do not be like horse or mule, which have no understanding; 
who must be fitted with bit and bridle or else they will not stay near you.”

Great are the tribulations of the wicked. 
But mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord.

Be glad, you righteous, and rejoice in the Lord;
shout for joy, all who are true of heart.

Hymn: Together in Song 155 O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder…

Prayer of Adoration and confession

Gracious God, we thank you for this new morning,
for our time together, as a church family,
as your family.
We thank you that Sunday by Sunday,
you call us to celebrate
your new creation in Christ.
This is a day for new beginnings,
and we thank you for the many times 
you allow us, out of your love, 
to begin anew.

We confess that we have sometimes turned away from your love

We confess the times we have gone our own way,
trying to live our lives apart from you.

We confess the times we have compared ourselves with others,
and believed we were “better” or more deserving than others.

Holy God, we know that whenever we turn back to you,
you run to greet us with open arms.
You welcome us home and invite us into your family once more.

Help us when we are on the wrong path, 
show us of our need of your love
and help us to turn back to you.

Help us to know when we have become self-righteous
and think we deserve all the love you give us.  
Give us the humility to know the undeserved gift of your love.

In Jesus’ name, we pray.


Declaration of Forgiveness:
… our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!

Passing the Peace
The peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Hymn Together in Song 129 Amazing Grace


2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Luke 15:11-32

This is the Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God


We’ve all heard this story before.  So let’s look at it a little differently, put it in a modern context, in case it tells us something new when we hear it in a new way.

As you listen, you might realise that you in some way relate to one character in the story or another.  Certainly, the people who Jesus told the story to originally ought to have seen themselves somewhere in it.

Once, there was a family with a Dad and two sons.

Dad was a businessman, who employed a lot of people, and had pretty much all the trappings of wealth.  He really loved his family, and dreamed of a future in which his sons would share the business he’d worked so hard to build up.

The older son we’ll call John, for the sake of something to call him. John was a hard worker. He’d earned his business degree studying nights, while working full-time for his Dad during the day. On weekends he did overtime, or did extra study, rarely taking out time for himself.

The younger son, who we’ll call Bob, had dropped out of school at the end of grade 10 and made the most of being a rich kid - endless parties, drinking and drugs.

John was a high achiever, and a workaholic. If asked why he would only have been able to say he wanted to do a good job. Perhaps if pressed, he would have said he wanted to make his Dad proud of him.

Bob was lazy, wasteful and lived a self-destructive lifestyle. If ever asked why he would probably have said something about enjoying life- about not wanting to be as boring as his brother.  Perhaps, in a more thoughtful mood, if indeed he had one, he might have complained about not being able to measure up to the expectations of Dad, or the example of John.  Since he could not be perfect, he would not try at all.

But really the question “why” has no answer. People are too complicated, their lives too confused, for there ever to be a conclusive reason why.

So there was no reason given when Bob, on his 18th birthday, announced he didn’t want to go into the family business. Since he was supposed to inherit a share when the Old Man died - he’d rather take the cash value now instead.

Dad gave no sign his heart was breaking as he cashed in some investments, and borrowed money against the business, and gave a large sum of money to Bob.

John resented Bob who always seemed to get everything his own way.  He couldn’t understand how Dad could give in to Bob .

When Bob announced he was leaving home, and didn’t plan to return, John was relieved. It may have been at great cost, but the business had been freed of a major liability. John and Dad could get on with business together, without the problems Bob caused.

Dad worried about Bob. He didn’t try to stop him. But he waited every day for news of his youngest son.

Bob went as far from home as humanly possible. He set up home in a city in a foreign country. It soon got about that he had plenty of money, and he quickly found that he had plenty of new friends. He could buy anything it occurred to him to want, and his want s were great - and his friends were always there to help him out.

Nothing much lasts for ever, and the money ran out, very shortly followed by Bob’s friends.

He found himself alone and on the street. To make money to survive he did what it took to make money on the streets. Neither law, nor morality, nor personal dignity figured in his understanding of life any more. He lived outside of them, and he could not count on them to protect him.

Then one day, as his spiral into self destruction had dragged him lower than ever in the past, he awoke in a laneway with injuries he couldn’t account for- and the most astounding realisation. Even the cleaners who worked nights in his father’s office building had a better life than he had.  They could always afford food and a roof over their heads.

For the first time in his life he developed a definite goal.  He would go home.  He knew he couldn’t expect his father to accept him back after the way he’d behaved, but perhaps his father would still care enough to give him a low-level job, maybe as a night cleaner. That way the family wouldn’t have to see him, and he could avoid the shame of facing them each day.

In a while, Dad heard the news he’d been waiting for. Bob had been seen hitching rides in their direction. He was coming home. Dad called the caterers to organise a party with no expenses spared. He organised fresh clothes, and had Bob’s old room repainted. He even set out along the road himself, driving out along the highway to pick up the hitch hiker.

As Bob got in his father’s car, he tried to explain his plan to work as a night cleaner.  He couldn’t get a word in , however , as his father exploded in joy at seeing him, and told him all about the party planned at home.

The dazed Bob went into the party as John arrived home from the office, and wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  Hearing that Bob was home, he was furious. Dad went out to calm him down.  John finally said all the things he had thought and felt for years, how hard he’d worked, how little he’d got - how Bob had wasted everything and always seemed to get so much.

Dad listened quietly to the outburst, then said quietly, “I know you work hard. You’re always here with me, and I’m glad of that. You share everything I’ve got, and one day it will all belong to you.  We’re always together.  But your brother, was lost and we’ve found him again.  It is as if he’d come back from the dead. That’s something to celebrate.”

Dad went back into the party and left John to decide what he would do.

Jesus never told a story just for the sake of telling a story, so what is this one about?  

Some pharisees had accused Jesus of eating with sinners and tax collectors.  Jesus didn’t deny it, because the accusation was completely true.  

He had been associating with sinners, tax collectors, foreigners and even women.  He’d been seen with such people in public, and he’d even gone into their homes to eat with them and talk with them.  Jesus was a very odd character for a holy man of his era.  

These people Jesus had been spending his time with were like Bob, like the Jewish boy who’d been reduced to feeding a gentile’s pigs.  They were the outsiders - the people who didn’t seem to measure up, who weren’t good enough, who were unacceptable. The unacceptable people came to Jesus had he accepted them with joy.

He didn’t question them about how they lived their lives.  He loved them.

When their lives changed it was in response to Jesus’ love.

The scribes and pharisees who were criticising Jesus for his choice of associates, might have seen themselves in John, in the older son who’d done everything right.

They weren’t bad people.  In fact, they were especially good people. Their entire lives were about being good.  They went to great extremes to be good.  It must have stung that Jesus, who was being called a prophet, kept choosing to be with unacceptable people instead of them.

Now here’s the thing, the reason I asked you to consider whether you might relate to one character or another in the story.

John in the story, the pharisees who accused Jesus, were working so very very hard to be perfect, in hopes that would make them right with the Dad, with God. 

The trouble is, being good doesn’t earn God’s love.  You can’t be that good - because God is perfect, and humans just can’t be perfect. You can’t achieve that. We all fall short. It doesn’t mean they weren’t loved - just that they were tying themselves in knots trying to achieve the impossible.

Bob in the story, the unacceptable people who came to Jesus and found acceptance, knew they weren’t good enough.  They knew they weren’t in a position to judge anyone. What they discovered was grace - that God loved them completely even though they had utterly failed to deserve it.  It was the discovery of grace that enabled people to respond and to change their lives for the better, to put God first, and show love for others.

Jesus left the pharisees with the same decision as the older brother in the story had.  Would they celebrate that these outcasts had come to Jesus and discovered God’s love for them?  Would they keep being resentful?

And what about us?  Do we try to earn God’s love?  Do we see seek to follow rules and think we can be deserving of some favour from God by being better than others?

Or, do we know we will never measure up, and simply accept God’s love in Jesus as a free gift? Then out of gratitude for that, do we seek simply to respond with love for God and others?  

Hymn and offering  All Together Now   4 Father Welcomes All his Children


Prayers of the People

Holy God, we pray for the lost in our society,
Those who have tried to gain rights and freedoms, only to find the freedom they sought cost too much
Those who separated themselves from home and family, only to find that separation often includes isolation
Those who tried to show they could survive on their onw, nonly to find a vast gulf between living and merely surviving 
Those who had no choice, but were cast out of home and away from safety, and cope in whatever way the can.
Those who have become victims of the world in which we live, and have no power to find a safe place for themselves.
Those who thought they found a safe haven, but proved to have found a false sense of safety

We pray for those who have never been lost
Those who take home, friends, family, food and even church for granted, and those who treat them as a right, not appreciating the gifts of your grace.

Help us, as your people, to be the path that guides your lost children home to you, and not a barricade to keep them away.

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 697  All the sleepy should have a place…

Sending forth of the people of God

Filled with the light of Christ,
you are the light of the world.
Go out into the world, to show love and light
and help to dispel the darkness wherever you go.


And may grace, mercy and peace
from God the Father, God the Son
and God the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.

Repeat refrain of TIS 697 - Make love happen…

Monday, 11 February 2019

A Very Basic Introduction to the Old Testament

The Old Testament

The Hebrew Scriptures forms our Old Testament.  In Hebrew it’s called Tanakah - which is an abbreviation of the terms used for the three sets of books included: Torah (Law), Navi-im (Prophets) and Katov-im (Writings.)

Writings include such things as the Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Songs (some translations call it Song of Solomon), Ecclesiastes. Psalms were hymns used in Temple worship - in the church we also use them in worship - sometimes as the words to our modern hymns, and sometimes as prayers. Proverbs are small snippets of wisdom intended for personal enlightenment. Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is space for lament in the life of faith.

Prophets include elements of the history of the Jewish nation, as it went into exile and returned home, as well as the stories of the life and teachings of the prophets.  Unlike the popular stereotype, prophets rarely predicted the future.  Rather than foretelling, much of their work was forthtelling - describing what was happening in the world around them and saying what God thought of that; from there they frequently laid out what the consequences would be if the behaviour continued. The prophets denounced injustice, and called for leaders to be fair in their treatment of the poor.  The lesson of the prophets could be summed up in the words of Micah 6:8 “He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, To love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?”

As you read through the prophets you will find constant parallels between their teaching, and Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels.

Law is the first five books of the Bible. It includes elements of prehistory, such as the hymn of praise to God as creator of all things that the Bible begins with.  It goes on to the history of the Hebrew people, from their beginnings with Abraham, through slavery in Egypt, and return to the land of Israel.  

It also includes the laws given to Moses to help a group of escaped slaves become a nation.  This was to be an extraordinary nation - a theocracy - ruled by God, rather than human rulers. (Although a few generations later, the people would demand, and be given, a king such as other nations had.)  The law code includes the things you would expect - property law, laws concerning slaves, and laws of restitution, are all similar to other law codes of the ancient world.  But there are also the things that set Israel apart as a holy nation - ceremonies, such as circumcision, feasts and fasts, rules for holiness, rules for food, rules for conduct of worship, sacrifices, the rule of the Sabbath.

It was the law that the Pharisees used in their attempts to accuse Jesus of being a sinner - he broke the law of the Sabbath by healing people (Matthew 12:10, John 9:14), his followers picked grain to eat on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1).

When the message of Christ was being spread to Gentiles (non-Jewish people), who had not been living according to the law, the early church had to face the question of whether people had to become Jews (be subject to to the law) to become Christian.  

The early church gathered for worship, not on the Sabbath as dictated in the law (the day God rested after the work of creation), but instead on the first day of the week (Sunday) (Acts 20:7) the day of Jesus resurrection, and the first day of a new creation where Christ had overcome death. Offerings to help spread the Good News were also taken on the Sunday (1 Corinthians 6:12).

In Acts chapter 10, Peter was challenged by God to leave behind his attachment to the law, to go to the Centurion Cornelius, with the message of Christ.  In a vision God offered Peter foods that were not permitted under the law, with the message that God had now declared these unclean things clean. This led Peter to understand that the message of Jesus was for people who were outside the law, as well as for the Jews. 

Paul started out persecuting Christians, because of his understanding of the law.  His conversion, led him to a new understanding. In Galatians 5:2 Paul went so far to tell Gentiles that if they submitted to circumcision, Christ would be of no benefit to them.  Paul said in the letter to the Romans 8:2 “For the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus, has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

Today, there are churches, such as the Seventh-day Adventists, who try to live the Old Testament law in combination with the Christian faith.  They worship on Saturday, and get around all of the intricacies of the food laws by being vegetarian.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

3 June 2018

Service for Sunday 3 June, 2018

Year B Pentecost 2  Sunday 9

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)
Psalms 139:1-6, 13-18
2 Corinthians 4:5-12
Mark 2:23-3:6


Call to Worship Psalm 139: 1-6, 13-18 Responsive (From Uniting in Worship)
Light Christ Candle

Hymn Together in Song 542 Far beyond our mind’s grasp

Passing the Peace
The peace of the Lord be with you.
And also with you.

Prayer of Adoration and Confession

Loving God,
We thank you that you have never left this world of yours, or these people of yours alone.
Thank you that you show yourself to your world, in ways that we can recognise.
Thank you that in Jesus you revealed your own character, and invited us to come to know you, and to love you.
We thank you that the character you have shown us is one of love, love that is patient and forgiving enough to deal with all of our failings.

We confess
We sometimes act as if this world, and the people in it, did not belong to you –
As if we could do what we liked without consequence –
As if our failure to love you,
Our failure to respect your creation
Our failure to love our neighbour
Was of no consequence whatsoever
We recognise once more, that these things matter deeply to you, and we ask your help to turn back from this sin. To try again, to be your people, as you are always our God.
Declaration of forgiveness

… Our sins are forgiven
Thanks be to God!

Hymn Together in Song 690 Beauty for Brokenness

1 Samuel 3:1-20
Mark 2:23 - 3:6
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.

Sermon: God’s Priorities

I have a confession to make.  I once, technically, misappropriated some things members of another congregation somewhere had donated for a specific purpose.

Gifts of food had been given to the church, to go to a community organisation that distributed it to people in need.  

But before church one Sunday, a very distressed mother came to the church, she had been going to tough things out, not get help for a dire financial situation, but it had come to Sunday morning, and she had no food for her children’s breakfast.  I took her to the table with all of the food on it and asked what her kids’ favourites were. I sent her home with enough food to get the family through until the community organisation would be open during the week.

Of course, I told my congregation what I’d done with their gifts, and while I might not have had permission beforehand, with that particular congregation getting forgiveness was pretty much guaranteed. (Any other member of that congregation, in the same situation would have done the same.)

There’s a saying that “rules are meant to be broken.”

That can actually be true, but there’s an art to knowing when it’s appropriate to break a rule - and the art involves knowing the reason for the rule in the first place.

When we look at the Samuel reading, we see God is about to punish the priest Eli and his family for their rule breaking.  The previous chapter spelled out that they were corrupting the worship at Shiloh, by taking for themselves the best of the sacrifices.  The sacrificial system allowed for the priests and their families to have a part of the sacrifices brought for worship, as a means to support them in return for the work they did.  But Eli’s family were selfish, and were taking more than their share. Put in a modern perspective, a part of our offering pays our minister’s stipend, but we would have a problem if we ever had a minister who took extra money from the offering for their own use.

So Eli’s family were breaking the rules, for their own selfish gain.  And God was not impressed. That priestly family would lose their role, and Samuel would take over their role speaking for God in the community.

Fast forward to our Gospel reading.  Jesus and his disciples were breaking the rule.  

Again, it was a rule about the right worship of God.

Just like the Old Testament sacrificial system, the Old Testament law to do no work on a Sabbath, was about honouring God above everything else.

Here in Mark, we see Jesus breaking the rule of the Sabbath, and allowing his followers to do so as well.

But let’s look at what they’re doing.

The disciples are gathering a little bit of food to eat.  They’re not out harvesting the field, or taking more than they need. They’re just doing the basic things to get by for the day.  

Then we have Jesus healing a man. It doesn’t sound like the man’s affliction was life-threatening, but it was a problem that could affect his ability to earn a living, and to do many of the functions of normal life.

Jesus tells his critics that the Sabbath rule was to benefit human beings. God didn’t need a day to be worshipped. God doesn’t really need anything from us. Humans, however, need to take time out from our normal activities, to rest, and to reflect.  We need a relationship with something bigger than ourselves, and to know we’re not alone in the universe. We are invited to worship God, because it’s good for us, and because God loves us.

To take time away from daily activity, to worship, to rest and reflect is important.  It’s about turning our attention away from our own wants.  Seeing the needs of others, offering what help, care and compassion we can, is also a part of turning our attention away from ourselves. 

Jesus ultimately told us all of the rules can be broken down to two: love God absolutely, and love other human beings.

Doing those two things is far more important than rules, regulations, or routines. To love God and love our neighbour - not simply in words, but in actions, supersedes everything.

Hymn & Offering Together In Song 697 All the sleepy should have a place to sleep

What’s God doing among us.

Prayers of the People

Creator God,
We pray for this world of your creation.
We pray for the future of our planet, with all of its fragility, and with all of the harm that has been caused to it.

We pray for people in need – for refugees, who flee the intolerable, risking everything to go into the unknown.

We pray for people in need – for people who have no safe and healthy place to live, who have no security and no comfort.

We pray for people in need – for people who are lost or alone, who need understanding and love.

We pray for people in need – for those who are sick or in pain, physically or mentally, who need to be healed.

We pray for the leaders of your church, the Uniting Church, and the whole Christian church throughout the world. May they discern what you are doing in the world, so that they may help all Christians to follow your lead.

We pray for all of the world’s political leaders, may you inspire them to love, compassion, justice and peace.

We pray all these things, in and through your Son Jesus, who came and showed us your face. Amen.

Hymn Together in Song 538 Feed us now bread of life

Service of Holy Communion


Hymn Together in Song 599 Take my life and let it be