Service for Sunday 13 February, 2011
Ashgrove West Uniting Church
Year A Epiphany 6 Green
Deut 30:15-20, Ps 119:1-8, 1 Cor 3:1-9, Mt 5:21-37.
Call to Worship
In the hard times of our lives, we cry out to God.
When the flood waters are rising; are we alone?
When the cyclonic winds are howling; are we alone?
When the food growing in the paddocks is flattened; are we alone?
When buildings are damaged or destroyed; are we alone?
When we clean up the mess and start again; are we alone?
When we watch, unable to help, as others suffer; are we alone?
Even in these times, we are the field God has planted and God tends; we are not alone.
Even in these times, we are the building God has built as his own home; we are not alone.
We are the people of God.
We are not alone.
Hymn Together in Song 474 Gather us in
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
we thank you that you have not left us alone.
We thank you that in all of the turmoil of life
in all the uncertainties we face, you are with us.
We thank you for Jesus, who shared the problems and pain of human life – and brought us the promise of new life in you.
We confess that in times of trouble we sometimes forget that you are with us. We rely on our own strength, when we need to rely on yours.
We confess that in times of trouble we sometimes think of our own needs and neglect the others you have placed around us.
Forgive us our sins, we pray.
Give us eyes to see the world as you would have us see it.
Give us the will to serve each other and the world as you would have us serve them.
In Jesus' name, we pray.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Kids' time – Bec
Hymn Together in Song 467 I am the church! You are the church!
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
What a year it's been! We've left behind one of the driest decades in Queensland history, and started 2011 with floods and cyclones, and the possibility of more of both before cyclone season ends. And we're only a month and a half into the year! We went from desperately saving water, to pouring it out of the dam to try to slow flooding.
In the Corinthians reading, Paul refers to the church of Corinth as God's field, planted by Paul and watered by Apollos. “You are God's field, God's building” he says.
In the aftermath of floods and cyclones, we've been reminded that fields and buildings are vulnerable – they sometimes withstand the traumas of the world around, but not always.
How do we become strong enough to withstand the storms of life? The natural disasters which have been going on around us one after the other; the personal emotional storms of loss, grief; the interpersonal storms of that happen between people.
When I was in hospital chaplaincy, I did some training in disaster recovery. Quite by coincidence, about a week later massive storms hit The Gap and Keperra and surrounding suburbs and I found myself living in a disaster area, watching the process I'd just studied kick into gear around me.
Disaster recovery works on the principal that people and communities are resilient – that they have the strength to keep going. The role of support people isn't to do everything for the victims of the disaster, but to help them find the resources to help themselves, to get everything back to normal as soon as possible. Getting schools functioning is urgent because it allows kids to feel like their life is normal, and allows parents to be free to clean up, repair, get back to work. It's important to set up support centres where people can go for all of the information they need, and for resources if supplies of food, water and other necessities become difficult to access.
After a disaster, people in communities tend support each other in ways they don't normally. The shared need leads to sharing the solutions to meet the need. Those who are stronger tend to help those who are weaker. Community building activities, helping people to meet and link in with each other become important.
Everything is geared at getting people to help themselves as much as possible. This is partly because with disasters on the scale we've had lately, if the victims weren't involved in the recovery there just wouldn't be enough human resources; it's partly because it's been found that people suffer less from depression, or post traumatic stress, or other mental health issues from the disaster, if they've felt they've had some power in putting things right again.
So resilience, that ability to hang in there, to keep going when things are tough, to take care of ourselves and each other, is important.
We develop resilience through all sorts of things.
The first is experience of knowing that we've got through tough times before. Every time you successfully deal with one crisis in your life, you build up that knowledge and confidence that you can deal with crises.
The other thing people need is information. If they are told in advance how to prepare; if they are told what help is available and where to find it, people will make it through most disasters very well.
And people need to actually be given the resources that just aren't available to use to help themselves. They need to be given sandbags, or clean water or extra garbage collections.
And for people of faith, the knowledge that God is with us, that we are not facing the crisis alone, helps to give us strength, to build resilience, to give us what we need to get over the things that go wrong.
That's natural disasters.
Let's take a look at the storm going on in the church at Corinth. Paul was writing to give them the information they needed to build resilience, so they could weather their own storm.
As Paul identifies it, the Corinthian church is being subject to some serious damage because of the disunity within the congregation. It's not to say he opposes people being different – later in the letter he celebrates the differences in gifts as God's provision for the church's needs.
The problem isn't that they're different from each other, it's that they refuse to accept each other and get on.
There is some dispute going on about who they're all following – and Paul's response is that it's time they “grew up”. He tells them that even if they think they're experts on spiritual matters, they're actions show they're still very immature.
They're fighting, and they're divisive, and they look like any group of people outside the church instead of like the people of God.
Paul says to them, well, I'd have liked to be giving you solid food right now, but we're back to the baby bottle. Here it is, in the easiest way to digest it possible – you're not meant to be like that anymore. You're meant to see yourselves not as a group of competing individuals – but as a unified whole, like a field or a building. Instead of fighting over whether you follow Paul or Apollos, you should realise they're both working for the same thing and get on the same page. (If you wanted a contemporary analogy – Brian was minister here until last month, and I'm here now. If the congregation were to split over who liked Brian best and who liked me best – not only would Brian and I both feel like failures – the church would self-destruct.)
Resilience, for the community of the church in Corinth, would require growing in spiritual maturity – in gaining the skills and resources to keep going through the trauma they were in, and to face whatever changes or challenges were facing them in the future.
Actually, that's what resilience for any Christian church requires the same thing – a growth in spiritual maturity. In Paul's terms, the way to recognise such maturity would be to see a distinct difference between the church and the world outside. Within the church people would accept each other, despite their differences. They'd seek ways to agree, to support each other, to see what was good in each other. This kind of unity was, for Paul, a sign of the Holy Spirit at work within the community. It didn't mean everyone tried to be the same; it meant everyone worked together to serve the same God. This is what it takes for the community to be less vulnerable, to be able to withstand whatever kinds of storm will attack it.
Paul's idea of community is the opposite of the popular idea of “the weakest link” - in a community where everyone is working together for good – the weakest person is made stronger by being a part of the whole. There is a unified vision, everyone works for the same goals, even though they work towards them in different ways and using different gifts.
For some time, this church has been looking at its life and its future. We've seen other congregations in the area closed down, and there must have been times when pretty much everyone has wondered if we would be next. That is one big storm for any congregation!
We're going to have to set some concrete goals, and work together to achieve them, if we believe what we have here is worth continuing. I believe it is – this is one of the most caring, supportive, and accepting Christian communities I have ever known. I believe it is very precious and worth working to protect and to share with other people – and I believe that care, acceptance and support for each other is the sign of the same spiritual maturity Paul was talking about – which is what will give us the resilience to deal with whatever storms are ahead of us.
We need to look at mission in our area. That may conjure up images of going to third world countries, bringing a Bible wrapped in western culture. Our mission field is outside our front door, and we have to meet people in the cultural world they live in. The concrete manner in which that will happen hasn't been decided yet – we need to decide who we plan to be in the future – then we need to do what it will take to get us there. That can be scary, because at some time in the process, someone will start to raise the terrible “c” word - “change”. When change appears people become fearful and defensive. There is a grief process, because to change means to give something up in order to have something new. The future is always a difficult journey, filled with unknowns – like the Corinthian church, we need to decide upfront that we will share the journey together – support each other – and help each other through the tough times.
That way each member of the church grows in resilience, and in spiritual maturity, and the church as a whole is resilient enough to cope with all of the ups and downs of trying to follow God's calling to us where we are now.
Hymn Together in Song 511 Let us break bread together with the Lord
XXXXXXXXXX funeral 10am Wednesday
XXXXXXX had a birthday
Prayers of the People
we pray for your world.
We pray for people who are recovering from floods, cyclones and fires.
Those who have seen the raw power of nature, and suffered as a result.
Be with each person, give them strength, guide them through the task of rebuilding their lives – bring them people to support them, and provide them with the resources they need.
Guide all of the politicians and service providers, everyone who will have a part in helping people to return to normal life.
We pray for the people of Egypt and other countries which suffer from political turmoil.
We pray for your guidance, and for peace, for the safety of protesters, and for the safety of the forces of law and order.
We pray for the needs of our own church community:
XXXXX and her family – in their grief, the preparations for XXXXX's funeral
XXXXXX recovering from lumpectomy
XXXXXXX awaiting surgery
Service of Holy Communion Uniting In Worship 2, page 162 ff
Note – today using all gluten free bread, so we can share the same loaf.
Hymn Together in Song 531 Sent forth by God's blessing