Monday, 21 March 2011

20th March 2011

Service for 20th March 2011
Ashgrove West Uniting Church

Year A Lent 2
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17.

Call to Worship
Psalm 121 (Uniting in Worship)

Hymn Together in Song 164 The Great Love of God

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

Loving God
We thank you that you do watch over our lives.
That you are with us in the worst of times,
as well as in the best of times.
We thank you that even when we forget you
you always remember us
you never leave us
and you never give up on us.

We confess our lack of faith.
There are times, when we despair
when we doubt that you are with us
when we doubt your love for us , and for this world of yours
there are times, when because we can't understand why you allow things to happen, we fear that you may not love us after all.

God be with us in our fears
forgive us our lack of faith
and help us to grow in faith and love,

In Jesus' name. Amen

Declaration of Forgiveness

Kids' time - Bec

Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
John 3:1-17

This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God!

For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life.”

We've all heard this so many times.

When we look at the world we live in, there's a discord between this being the world God loves, and this being a world full of wars, disasters, tragedy in all forms.

But here it is: God loved the world.

God loved the world – and those of us who dwell in it – not by taking us away from the traumas of our lives – but by sharing those traumas.

God loved the world – experiencing it as one of us in Jesus.

Does God care about the plight of people who've had to flee their homes because of war – or those who have lost their homes? The answer is yes. We know that because: that is part of the life that God shared with us. As an infant Jesus had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod's plan to kill him. People fleeing from Libya to Egypt to escape the violence and the punishment Colonel Gadafi is imposing on those who opposed him; people who have lost their homes in floods, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis – they are not alone in their trauma, their loss, their doubtful future. God is with them. Through Jesus, God has been a refugee, homeless, with a doubtful future, in a strange country.

Does God care about the plight of those who are afraid for their loved ones, or are grieving over the loss of people they love? Because of Jesus, God knows what it is to worry about a loved one, to grieve over their death. Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb – sharing our human experience of grief and loss.

Does God care about those who are afraid? In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew fear, the agony of knowing that things were going to get much, much worse, knowing where his journey would lead him.

Does God care about people who feel, lost, lonely, isolated? All of Jesus' friends abandoned him – and he went to his trial with even his closest friend denying even knowing him.

Does God care about people who are hungry? In the desert, Jesus was tempted to turn stones to bread – but refused, choosing instead to be hungry, to share even that experience of human life.

Does God care about people who are suffering at the hands of oppressive regimes? Jesus was passed back and forth between Herod and Pilate, tortured, spat on, vilified.

Does God care about people who are dying in horrible circumstances? You don't get much more horrible than crucifixion.

So the point? God's love does not take us away from the pain and suffering of this life. We don't stop being human, and living the life of human beings – which involves disasters, wars, all kinds of crises. It always has done.

God's love does something far more profound than any quick or easy fix. Jesus takes all of these experiences of human life – the negative as well as the positive – and takes them back into the life of God. In Jesus, God knows humanity, not just from the outside as our creator, but from the inside as one of us.

Last week's readings talked about sin – about our turning our back on God, creating a rift in that relationship we were created to be a part of. In Jesus, God bridges the rift – not by having us come back to where we were before humans turned our back on God – but by coming to our side; joining us where we are; standing in solidarity with us in the brokenness in which we live.

And then, having done that, God, in Jesus, does one more thing. From that point – we are offered new life beyond this – life in which God does take us back across to the other side of the divide. Having come to this place to get us, God will, in time, take us home.

God so loved the world – us – as to become one of us, one with us – to share this messy life with us. Jesus is God with us: God sifting through the rubbish dumps in Mumbai looking for a meal; God sealing windows and doors and hoping that radiation can't come in; God digging through rubble and looking for bodies; God hiding from schoolyard bullies; God sleeping in a city doorway and hoping not to get woken and moved on; God scrubbing mud from floors and walls; God wailing over the body of a loved one. Jesus is God, in the face of our friend, or our enemy, in the face of the stranger, in the face of the person most in need. Jesus is God with us.

Where is God when all of these horrible things are happening? Right there in the midst of it. Right here with us as we watch the news and are horrified. Right there with the rescue workers. Going into a nuclear power plant and try to hose down an overheating a reactor, knowing the result will most likely be death, but hoping others will live. God is right there in the international relief efforts, in the compassion people everywhere feel for those who are suffering.

Jesus is God with us. Right here in our midst; in Japan, in New Zealand, in Queensland, in Libya and Egypt and Yemen.

So what difference does that make? That God is with us?

It ought to make all the difference in the world.

Let's have a quick look at Abraham. Abraham trusted God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness – so Paul tells us. Abraham's father Terah had actually started the journey, and then settled part way. When Abraham heard God's call, he'd spent a fair bit of his life comfortable where his father had settled. Then, he packed his family and moved on, not knowing for sure where he was going, not knowing how God was going to keep the promise about descendants, but going anyway because that was where God was leading.

That's how we're meant to respond. We don't always know the future. We don't always have a plan for dealing with every possibility. We don't even always have a sense of where we're going. But we are meant to trust that God is with us – and trust that - that is enough.

Where we are able to act, where God gives us opportunities to act, then we need to do so – whether that's in terms of social justice, listening to the prophetic call to provide for the widows and orphans – whether that's in terms of our mission, listening to the call to go and make disciples – whether that's in terms of providing money or goods or time to help those who are in particular need right now, listening to the call to love our neighbour – whether that's in terms of praying for the needs of this world, listening to the call to pray without ceasing. Like Abraham, if we are following God's call, we can trust we are not alone, and whatever God will lead us where we are meant to go.

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



Prayers of the People

Holy God
We feel helpless...
We see horror, destruction, danger, and death on a massive scale
When we watch or read or hear the news it seems to only get worse and worse
And there seems to be no end to it.

God, we don't know what to do or where to turn
It seems that nothing we can do is enough to make any difference

Help us, we pray
to be able to trust in you
no matter what is happening in the world around us.

Help us, we pray
to hear your voice, your call to us
so that we may know what it is we can do, however small.

Remind us that while we may be powerless
you are powerful

we may feel alone – but we are not
those on the ground in the disaster areas may seem alone – but they are not

We pray that everyone who is suffering will feel your presence with them.
We pray for those who are injured
we pray for those who have suffered loss
we pray for those who have lost their homes and possessions
and we pray for the recovery workers
for search and rescue workers – who have gone from one international disaster to another – who must be exhausted, but will still give the best work they can
for those who provide logistical support – food and water and transport to the recovery efforts
for those who work to rebuild buildings and roads, and power and water services
for those who are trying to cool radioactive fuel, and know they will die as a result of the work they are doing to save other lives,
for those who report and keep us informed of what is happening – sometimes at great personal risk.

God be with them all – guide them through this time –
and help them to know your love, even in all that is going wrong.

And we pray for our own church here
be with us, guide us,
call us to where you want us to be – and strengthen us to follow your call

In Jesus name. Amen

The Lord's Prayer

Hymn Together in Song 491 Father Welcomes

Baptism Uniting in Worship P70

Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten Calling


Threefold Amen.

Monday, 14 March 2011

13th March 2011

Sunday 13 March 2011

Ashgrove West Uniting Church

Year A Lent 1
Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-7; Psalm 32; Romans 5:12-19; Matthew 4:1-11

Call to Worship
Psalm 13:1-5, 11 Responsive, from Uniting in Worship

Hymn Together in Song 658 Here I am, Lord.

Prayers of Adoration and Confession

Loving God
as we once more begin the journey to Jerusalem and the cross
we remember that this journey was not for your benefit but ours
and we are awed that this should be so
that you should give so much
even your own son
for us.

We confess:
It's easier to give up coffee than it is to give up complaining
It's easier to give up lollies than it is to love our enemies
It's easier to give money than it is to give ourselves
It's easier to give up some small external thing than it is to look at ourselves clearly and make the changes that would show true repentance.

As we look at our lives in this season of Lent
help us to not take the easy path
to not make a sacrifice that costs us nothing
because something that costs nothing
is worthless to us and to you.

Help us to make the sacrifice that will be of value to you
help us to give up our pettiness, our complaining,
help us to give up our selfishness, our wanting more and more,
help us to give up our prejudices, our preconceived ideas,
help us to give up our defensiveness, our shifting the blame elsewhere,
help us to give up all that takes us away from you.

Give us a clean heart O God,
put a new and right spirit within us.

In Jesus' name. Amen.

Declaration of Forgiveness

Kid's time - Bec

Hymn Together in Song 229 Jesus Loves Me

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7
Matthew 4:1-11

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

On Wednesday, Lent began with Ash Wednesday. In Lent, more than any other time in the church year, we are confronted with our own sinfulness. With our failing to live up to the way human beings are created to be.

Our readings today give us a picture of the nature of human temptation and sin. I want to take a closer look at these two stories.

In the Bible, stories about the beginning of things are often really stories about how things have always been and still are. So the story of Adam and Eve isn't in the Bible just to tell us an interesting story about our ancestors – its real importance is to tell us about ourselves.

Adam and Eve had “everything”. They'd been placed in a garden where everything they needed was provided. The story makes it clear they had access to the tree of life – that it was not necessary that they would die. They had face to face contact with God. And they had only one limitation placed on them: they were not to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. One rule, one limitation; no more – it makes the ten commandments look tough, huh? Surely if we only had one rule to live by we could handle it, right?

There's a bit of a sneaky trick here, actually. At this point there really was no evil to know. God had created all things good. Everything in the world Adam and Eve lived in was good – no evil existed. The only way there would be some evil to know would be if someone did something stupid like, say, disobeying the only rule God had given them. As long as they didn't eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil – there would be no evil for them to know.

Then, they had a theological conversation with a snake. I don't know about that. If a talking snake approaches you what do you do? Scream and run away, very fast? Grab a camera and record it all for youtube or the news? Ask your doctor to change your medication? Decide you really shouldn't have eaten that chilli last night? Catch the snake and call a theatrical agent?

Would you really engage it in a conversation, and trust its advice? It must have been a very convincing snake.

Apparently, the snake addressed both Adam and Eve, we know this because the word “you” in Hebrew is plural. (We have to note this, because so many people do exactly what Adam would do later, and dump all the blame on Eve - the original text of the Bible tells us Adam was there. He mightn't have said anything, but he knew what was going on, and didn't argue against it.) When the snake starts asking questions about what they can and cannot eat, Eve acts as spokesperson for the couple, explaining the prohibition about the one tree, embellishing it to the point of not even being able to touch the tree. (She hadn't been present for God's instruction to Adam, and we don't know if she embellished it or Adam did in passing the instruction on: word of mouth has been known to do that.)

The snake added some information, that they did not already have; that they would gain wisdom by eating the fruit; they would know the difference between good and evil. The snake didn't point out that until the fruit was eaten – until God had been disobeyed, there would be no evil to know.

The knowledge of good and evil they gained by eating the fruit was the guilty knowledge of their own conscience. Suddenly, they felt exposed. They had been naked before this, and not worried about it; they had not needed clothing. Now, they tried to cover themselves. But it wasn't their bare bodies which needed covering – it was their action in defying God which they were really trying to hid. They were trying to cover up for the shame they felt when they realised they had disobeyed their creator. In trying to cover-
up, they actually created more, very obvious evidence of their guilt.

God hadn't made the puppets, but had given them the freedom to choose what they would do with their lives. Suddenly, they were facing the logical consequences of their actions; having disobeyed God, they were being alienated from God. As they went on to blame each other and the snake, they would become more alienated from each other, and from the other elements of creation. Cut off from the tree of life – they would no longer live forever, but humanity would need to procreate, would be born and would die.

As I said, this is as at least as much a story about us as it is about our ancestors. We too are faced with choices about how we will act, what we will do. God has given us exactly the same freedom of choice. We too, hear voices other than God's: the voices of our peers, of our culture, of advertising, of politicians, of pop stars. Sometimes these voices suggest to us things we might not have thought of for ourselves. Sometimes these voices give us extra information, and things to think about. We may listen to all of these things. But we are responsible for the decisions we make, and how we act on the information we receive from any source.

Sometimes,we find ourselves in situations in which we feel self-conscious, caught out. Sometimes, we are suddenly aware of our own guilt and feel exposed, as if everyone can see what we have done, and we want to hide, to cover-up, to try to make things appear right. And when we do try to cover-up, we often make things worse.

This could be described as the human condition. Human beings do make bad choices, do get caught out and have to face the consequences of our choices, and do blame others and try to cover-up. We all make wrong choices. We are all shamed. We all feel guilt. That's part of who we are; and it would take a remarkable person to be any different.

But then we come to our story from the Gospel. Jesus comes face to face with the same situation. He's not offered knowledge, but something far more basic: bread. For most of us, to turn stones into bread is not temptation: it's not in the realm of possibility, But if we were hungry and did have the power, what then? After all it wouldn't hurt anyone. We know from the feeding of the 5000 that Jesus did have the power to produce food when it was needed. Yet Jesus saw beyond the offer of meeting his immediate needs. He recognised the suggestion as being opposed to God's will. It was not in God's plan for him to use his power in this way. He wasn't going to “buy” people's faith with food, and he wasn't going to avoid the discomforts of being fully human. If a human goes into the wilderness to fast, that person gets hungry.

Similarly, the other temptations were about the way Jesus would be who he is Should he attract attention with strange stunts? Should he give definite proof of who he was and leave no-one with any doubt. Should he do things which would gain him power quickly?

Jesus listened to each suggestion, weighed it up, and countered it with words of Scripture. This is where Jesus' story is different from Adam and Eve's. They listened, Eve gave God's instruction on the matter, and then went against it. Jesus listened, weighed up the matter, gave the Scriptural instruction and stuck by it.

For us, it is important that Jesus really faced these temptations, that he gave them serious consideration. If he hadn't he wouldn't have been fully human: he never would have understood our lives from the “inside”. If he had succumbed to the temptation, however, he would have shared our problem and not been able to provide a solution.

In Jesus something remarkable happened. Jesus is the one person who didn't make the wrong choices; in technical terms, the one person who hasn't sinned. Yet Jesus suffered our human death – the ultimate consequence for our sinfulness. He carried the penalty for our actions, on our behalf, and he overcame it: a thing we couldn't do for yourselves. That we all die is not the end of our story now – we all die because like Adam and Eve, we do the wrong thing – we can all have eternal life, because Jesus did the right thing for us.

Today, as the first Sunday of Lent, we are left to ponder our response to temptation, the choices we make; and on Jesus' response and the promise that in him, our wrongs have been forgiven, and we are able to change.

Hymn Together in Song 538 Feed us now, Bread of Life

(Including what's happening with Lent Event this week?)


Prayers of the People
For the world

Loving God, this world you created has suffered so much
the ravages of nature
the ravages of human violence
So many people have lost so much
and are trying to rebuild families, cities, even countries.

God be with the recovery work
in Australia, in New Zealand
in the Arab states when the fighting ends.
Help everyone who must start over
Give them hope
give them confidence and courage
help them to help themselves
and show the rest of us how we might help.

For our church
We look at our church today and pray for those of our number who aren't here
You know them all
You know who is away for family celebrations or times of joy
you know who is away because of sickness or other pain
Be with each person who is away from us
keep them safe,
let them know your presence with them.

We look at our church today, and pray for those of our number who are here
You know us all
You know who here is happy
You know who is hurting
You know our dreams and aspirations
You know our secret guilt and shame
You know us better than we know ourselves
Be with each person who is here today
keep us safe
let us know your presence with us
and help us day by day
week by week
to grow as your people, as a sign of your love in this place.

Service of Holy Communion (Uniting in Worship P162 &ff)

Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten calling.