Monday, 25 November 2019

Year A Advent 2

Year A Advent 2
Sunday 8 December, 2019
Ipswich Central Uniting Church

Call to Worship
A voice cries out in the wilderness:
Prepare the way of the Lord!”

The voice calls out to us
across the centuries, without fading:
Prepare the way of the Lord!”

When we're busy with work
and home and all of life
Do we have the time to
Prepare the way of the Lord!”

When the Lord comes, will we have room?
Or will we offer a bed in the hay as the best we have?
Will we
Prepare the way of the Lord!”

Let us make our preparations now
Let us make the space for Christ to enter
Let us worship God

Advent Candles – (? To check if we are having an Advent Candle liturgy/ or lighting Christ Candle)

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

Hymn: Together in Song  270 “On Jordan's bank the Baptist's cry”

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

God of all times and seasons,
in this season of Advent
we gather to worship
and to prepare the way of the Lord -

The world around us prepares
with the excitement of children
with the music of carols
with snow-covered Christmas cards
with remembering friends
with buying gifts
with preparing food
and we take part in all of those things.

As we take part – help us to remember
that our preparation needs to be more
we need to prepare our hearts and minds
and we need to do what we can to prepare our world
not merely for the mystery that you could
reach out to your world through a helpless, homeless child
but for the promise that child would return
as our judge, and as the source of all our hopes for real peace
for the fulfilling of all that creation could be.

We confess that sometimes we take part in the preparations
as if we were simply going through the motions
as if the preparation were just for a party
or just for one day -
and not a preparation for the possibilities and hopes for eternity.

We confess that in the tinsel and the wrapping paper
we sometimes forget, that the call to prepare the way of the Lord
applies to us just as much as as it applied beside the Jordan river 2000 years ago.

This Advent Season,
and this Christmas, as it approaches,
turn us around
help us to see the vision for eternity,
not just for this month,
help us to truly prepare the way of the Lord.
In his name we pray. Amen.

Declaration of forgiveness
        ... Our sins are forgiven
       Thanks be to God!

Hymn Together in Song 272 Come, thou long-expected Jesus

Isaiah 11:1-10
Matthew 3:1-12
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God


We all have our own ways of getting ready for Christmas. In our family the Christmas tree is put up and decorated on the first Sunday of Advent. Over the next weeks, presents are wrapped and put under the tree – for the cat to tear open and spread all over the house, so we can rewrap and put them under the tree. We start cooking special treats for Christmas, and eating them, and cooking more to replace what we've eaten so we'll have some for Christmas. We send cards, and if we're really energetic, letters, to family and friends.

Different families have their own traditions. Most have developed over time to suit the people involved, and change as the family grows and changes.

This week's readings look at preparation in a different way. So what are we preparing for? And how are we preparing?

Let's start with Isaiah. What are we preparing for? Our passage from Isaiah is one of the traditional readings for Advent. It shows the ancient Israelite people looking forward to the coming of the Messiah. This follows on well from last week's reading from Isaiah – the swords being turned into ploughshares passage. Today we continue the image of radical peace.

Peace is something that comes as a result of judgement and justice. With righteousness he shall judge the poor – not by what they can afford to pay for. With equity he will judge the meek – even if they don't stand up for themselves.

The result of this just judgement is the radical peace which makes natural enemies into friends. The image here of predators lying down beside their prey, living in peace is a beautiful one, the kind of thing we expect to find in poetry or whimsical artwork.

If we reinterpreted this image into the world we know we would see politicians of all breeds sorting their differences out and searching together for the best solution to problems. We would see wars end, and nations work together to feed and clothe the poorest people in the world. We would see a world in which weapons and even the thought of violence were distant memories moulding in the basements of museums. We would see a world in which children never suffered from hunger, homelessness or abuse. We would see a world in which we just got on with dealing with things like climate change - because we'd all just choose what was right for God's creation and for each other. This is Isaiah's vision of radical peace, of the lion laying down with the lamb.

Such a world, according to Isaiah, begins with justice – with a righteous judgement on what is – and a vision of what could be. True peace never comes without justice. Justice, at its heart, is the movement to make things right and fair. In Isaiah's vision, the coming of the Messiah is the catalyst for this justice – for the peace that grows from it.

Living between the coming of the Messiah, and his return to fulfil all that he has begun, we have the opportunity to be a part of that movement for justice – of promoting justice, which ultimately promotes peace in the world.

Justice can be an important part in our understanding of life. For example, if justice affects the way we watch the television news – we will watch refugees arriving from other countries, not as huge numbers of people and a big problem to be dealt with – but as many individuals with individual personalities and individual needs, many who have been through terrible ordeals, who need to be encouraged, accepted, and above all, shown love. If justice affects the way we watch the television news, we will see war in other countries, not as some distant event, but as a tragic example of humankind's capacity to commit evil – and we will feel the pain as each new battle makes humanity less than what we are created to be, and shows up once more our failure to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. If justice affects the way we relate to other people, we will be listening to their opinions, caring about their feelings, trying to be fair and just in all of our actions.

If justice affects how we shop,  we will try to be aware of where our goods come from, and be concerned about the working conditions of the people who produce those goods.  If justice affects how we live in God's creation, we will seek to care for the world around us, and limit our impact on the planet.

The Matthew reading is also about Justice and Judgement. John leaves his listeners in no doubt about how he feels the Pharisees and Sadducees will be judged. I've sometimes imagined what the response would be like if a modern minister preached this particular sermon. Greeting the congregation with something like: “You brood of vipers!” might be what it takes to get people talking with their friends, neighbours and workmates about what was said in church on Sunday – but I doubt it would make the minister in question very popular!

John doesn't leave them with that, though – he tells them what to do to prepare for Judgement. They need, as much as anyone else, to repent.

Repentance isn't an empty word. It doesn't just mean saying something like “I'm sorry.”

In the New Testament, the word we translate as “repentance” (metanoia) means to turn around. It's the opposite of the New Testament term for sin which means to turn away from God. To repent means to turn back – it's not an empty word, it's a complete change of one's life's direction.

The way to prepare for God's judgement, is to look at our lives, and see ourselves as God sees us – being aware of all that we like to notice, and all that we'd rather not notice – and acting to change – to align ourselves more and more with God's will.

John called out to people to prepare the way, to repent.

Christmas is coming – more importantly, in this Advent Season, we recall that Jesus will return – and John's voice still calls to us through the ages for us to prepare the way.

So this Advent – as we each go through our family's traditions; address cards, wrap presents, spend far too much time and money at the shops and eat too much, let's all take some time out to remember: what we are preparing for, and how we are to prepare.

Hymn Together in Song 697 All the sleepy should have a place to sleep
        with Offering

Dedication of offering


Prayers of the People
God of Justice and Peace
Isaiah showed us a vision of real justice
of your justice
he showed us how a peace we can barely imagine
would grow out of your justice alive in the world.

We pray for a world which knows neither -
in which justice can be more about revenge than making things right;
in which peace is just a temporary cease-fire
while we find more reasons to resume the insanity.

We hand over to you the injustices
The people who go without food or homes or medicine
while others have more than they can ever use;
the people who live with abuse and fear
while others seem able to get away with anything.
We pray for your justice and your peace.

We pray for healing for your world –
especially in this community and in our own lives.
You know the hurts of each person -
you know our deepest needs -
We pray that you reach into all our lives-
and heal those things which are wrong.

The Lord's Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 279 The King of Glory comes


Hymn Together in Song 276 There's a light upon the mountains

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…