Service for Ashgrove West Uniting Church
Sunday 9 October, 2011
Call to worship Psalm 106:1
Praise the Lord!
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Hymn Together in Song 474 Here in this place new light is streaming.
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
we thank you for your promise to be our God
for being faithful to your promise always,
for being with humanity right from the beginning of our existence,
for being with our ancestors, and guiding and caring for them and caring for them.
For being with us, from before the time when we were born,
for always loving us,
for always providing the things we need: day and night, sun and rain, people to love and care for us.
We thank you for each new day, for the possibilities each brings,
for new beginnings, as you sustain us and carry us into the future.
We confess that we are not as faithful to you as you are to us.
We sometimes forget that we have promised to be your people;
we think and speak and act in ways which do not glorify you;
we accept the things you give us, as if they were for ourselves alone
forgetting that you call us to love and that to love means to share what we have been given.
We repent and are sorry for all of our sins: and ask that you help us to begin again;
teach us how to keep our promises to you.
We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Hymn All Together Again, 138 The Wedding Banquet
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God!
Sermon: But you promised!
What do you get when a politician promises to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth? Three different stories.
How much value has a promise to tell the truth? Or how much value has any promise for that matter? Only as much as we can trust the person who makes the promise.
A person who has proven themselves reliable and trustworthy can be expected to do their best to keep a promise. He or she may not always be able to do so, but we know they will try. A person who has been proven repeatedly to be unreliable, and untrustworthy, is likely to not be trusted when they make a promise.
Sometimes we will try out utmost to keep our promises, and fail because circumstances make keeping our promise impossible. It's like promising to take the kids to be beach at the weekend – but the weekend comes and cyclonic weather unexpectedly arrives.
Sometimes we will intend to keep our promises, but our priorities change. For ministers that usually means that whatever we had planned we can't do because a funeral has come up – most professions have the one thing that everything else is dropped for. When we make a promise to be somewhere or do something, it's always on the proviso that a serious crisis doesn't intervene.
Mostly, we are judged on our ability to keep a promise. When the cyclonic weather arrives and the beach is cancelled – the winds are reaching 100kph outside and the garage flies past the window – the kids stand in the lounge room with their buckets and spades and indignantly whine “but you promised!” And we feel like monsters, because we did promise. We judge ourselves on our ability to keep our promises. And we want to set an example of integrity for our kids – and integrity means doing what you say you'll do.
We also judge our politicians on their keeping their promises. Do the words “carbon tax” mean anything to anyone? What's the big issue? It's not the debate over whether or not a carbon tax will in fact have a positive impact on our planet. It's but the prime minister promised!
In the Exodus reading, a nation of people went back on their promise. They'd been offered a covenant with God – the God who had rescued them from slavery. All they had to do was follow the law that God had given Moses; a law that said basically to respect God and respect each other.
But Moses was gone. He was up the mountain with God, and they were on their own.
They became frightened: what if Moses didn't come back? What if God wasn't going to lead them out of the desert? What if God broke his promise?
Who or what could they believe in? Afraid that God would break his promise to them, they broke their promise to God. They made an alternative god. They built a golden calf and worshipped it.
God judged these people on their lack of ability to keep their promises – their lack of integrity, and planned to destroy them. And Moses stood up, challenging God. They broke their promise, but are you going to break yours? Are you going to have the Egyptians saying you took all these people into the desert just to kill them? Wouldn't the Egyptians have a great laugh at that? Who in the world would ever believe God could be trusted again? Even God's integrity is judged by his keeping his promises. And God didn't destroy the nation, because, as Moses rightly pointed out, God really is trustworthy. Having made a promise to the people, God would keep that promise.
The Gospel story is about promises, too. Invitations to weddings and other major events went out in two parts. Well ahead of time, people were invited to the wedding. Then, when the feast was ready, the servants were sent out with the reminder – everything's
But the King won't let it go to waste. If the people he intended all of this fabulous feast for don't want it, he will find someone who does. And the king sends the servants out to the streets: to pick up the beggars, the disabled, the deranged, the derelicts, the alcoholics, drug addicts and prostitutes. All the people our society tries to pretend don't exist. And these are the people who come. It's not that they others were invited: they were, indeed they'd apparently indicated a willingness to come until the last minute.
And this is the kingdom of heaven: it's not necessarily full of the people you'd expect. It's not necessarily full of the people you'd like to find yourself sitting next to on a long bus trip. But it's full of the people who will come: not those who make empty promises, but those who are actually willing to come. It's full of people who have heard God's call, in whatever circumstances, and decided to accept that call. It's the people who said, “Whatever good stuff God's giving away we'll take it.” Mostly it's the people who know they have nothing – and are surprised that God's invitation included them.
The parable also has what seems to us a strange story of someone who the bouncers throw out of the banquet. Someone who didn't get dressed for the occasion. In the early church, people would have immediately known what this was about. Very early in the history of the church, when someone was newly-baptised, they were given a new white garment to put on, symbolising putting on Christ. (It's the same symbolism of a minister putting on an alb over our own normal clothes – we are putting on Christ, representing him not ourselves.)
All sorts of people are invited into the kingdom of heaven, but only those who are willing to be a part of it, who are willing to be a part of Jesus Christ can enter. Many are called but not all are chosen. Being chosen is about being prepared, having a relationship with God in Jesus. (Effectively, it's a self-selection process. We are chosen or not on the basis of our own choice.)
So what do we have with two stories about promises. God keeps his promises – even when disappointed with us. We, sometimes, choose not to keep ours, and we could miss out because of that.
God has promised to be our God. We have promised to be God's people. We can rely absolutely on one. The other, is entirely our choice.
- Could everyone who is, or would like to be involved in the Harvest Thanksgiving Service next week please stay behind after the benediction for five minutes?
- Community Care is putting together a small recipe book of favourite morning teas. If you have one you would like to add, please give (preferably email) to Iris.
- Sunday 23 October is our dedication of our new elders Marella and Julie. It's also lay ministry Sunday, and we will celebrate the many ways our congregation members minister to each other and to the wider community.
Prayers of the People
We pray for your world,
a world in which promises are so often not kept
and people are often let down.
We think of the human failings,
and the human treachery,
which have led to wars in so much of our world.
And we pray for all of those who,
often at great personal risk,
seek to right the wrongs.
We think of the broken promises in families
where abuse and violence are a part of life;
and the promise to love has been forgotten.
And we pray for all of those seeking to
escape domestic violence
and find a place of safety.
We pray for all of the leaders of our world
who are constantly making promises to their people -
that they may promise good things
and be able to keep their promises.
Newsletter prayer points
We pray these things, in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hymn Together in Song 537 Let us talents and tongues employ
Service of Holy Communion (Uniting in Worship II p162 ff)
Hymn Together in Song 530 Now let us from this table rise