SUNDAY 12    19-25 June

 

Mark 4: 35-41              

(Sermon 1” “Playing God”)

                                                             (Sermon 2: “What’s the Truth of It?”)

2 Corinthians. 6:1-13

1 Samuel 15:34 to 16:13

Psalm 9:9-20

 

ENTRY INTO WORSHIP

 

Great is our God, more glorious than telescope or microscope can ever disclose.

Great is our God, more beautiful than artist’s brush or poet’s pen can ever portray.

Great is our God, more loving than any love song or high anthem can ever extol.

 

The grace of our Saviour,

the love of our Maker,

and the fellowship of our Helper,

be with you all.

And also with you!

 

OR

 

Hear this: Now is the opportune time.

Hear this: Now is the day of salvation.

            The Lord is a safe-house for the oppressed,

.           a stronghold in times of trouble.

 

Why are you afraid, where is your faith

Peace, be still!

            Sing praises, you who dwell in God,

            Tell among all peoples what God can do.           

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Most glorious yet most humble God, although the universe cannot contain you, you choose to befriend little human beings.

By your Spirit you take up residence in our lives, turning our mortal bodies into temples of your Spirit.

O God, give us the grace to glorify you in these meagre temples, shedding your light and displaying your generous love. Through Christ Jesus, our divine Brother.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Let us ask for God’s ongoing saving grace in our contradictory lives.

 

Let us pray.

 

Loving God, your Christ creates a dilemma for us. The light of his words and deeds puts us to shame. Therefore we may sometimes try to evade his searching glance.

 

Yet his is the only complete love, with the capacity to rescue us from evil. Therefore we constantly need him and hunger for more of his strength in our lives.

 

Please give us the courage to welcome both the profound comfort and the considerable discomfort which Christ brings.

 

Help us to face squarely those sins which his light easily exposes, and to see deeply into our secretive souls where the rebel evils hide and scheme.

 

We do not ask for a superficial make-over, but for a radical repentance and the stringent activity Christ’s saving grace.

 

            Come, Spirit of the merciful Christ, open up all the dark places.

            Come Spirit of the merciful Christ, wash, purge and absolve us.

            Come Spirit of the merciful Christ, heal our disordered nature.

            Come Spirit of the merciful Christ, grant us your peace.

            In you we place our trust, today and to eternity.

            Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

Jesus, whose word outlasts all other words, said that he did not come to heal the healthy but the sick, not to find the righteous but to call sinners to repentance.

 

My friends, in his name I have the confidence to tell good news to the repentant: Through Christ Jesus you are utterly forgiven!

 

            Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

 

Loving God,

            we like the story of Jesus stilling the waves,

cos sometimes we feel like a small boat

            on a very big sea.

We kids know what it feels like to become scared,

            just as those disciples were.

 

When we do feel frightened,

            please sent the Spirit of Jesus to us,

            so that we may hear him say:

            Peace! Be still!

 

Then we know for sure

            we will be okay.

Amen!

 

 

*Note re the psalm below: As I worked through the following Psalm, I found I was identifying with all those women and children who have suffered so grievously because of war and terrorism, and often through workplace and domestic abuse.

 

 

PSALM 9: 9-20

 

For the abused, you God are like a safe house,

giving refuge when things go wrong.

            Those who know you put their trust in you,

            seekers will never be left forlorn.

 

Give thanks to the God who lives among us,

tell the people what God has done;

            how those with blood on their hands will suffer,

            God will never forget the cries of the oppressed.

 

Please God, let me have your grace,

for you see what I have to put up with.

You lift me up from the jaws of death,

to you I am able to sing praises.

            In the company of the daughters of faith

            I will celebrate your liberation.

 

Nations get bogged in the mud they have made,

caught in the very traps which they set.

God is revealed and delivers justice,

the wicked stew in their own juice.

            Evil men create their own dark hell,

            all perish who forget that you are God.

 

Act now, God! Don’t allow the arrogant to win,

let ruthless nations be brought to account!

Let the proud experience some fear, God!

Let them know that they are only human!

            But the victims of neglect shall not be forgotten,

            the poor are not going to miss out for ever.

                                                                                                                                    Ó B D Prewer 2002

 

WHO IS THIS JESUS?

 

To leave the safe sheltered quay;

to rest while strong men fear;

to doze through a storm at sea:

  who is this Jesus?

 

To display the might of the meek;

to sleep while threats are near;

to dream while fierce gales peak:

  who is this Jesus?

 

To know what keeps you afloat;

to let another hand steer;

to be safe in a foundering boat:

  who is this Jesus?

 

To be see when there’s no light;

to trust when nothing’s clear;

to confront the powers of night:

  who is this Jesus?

 

To speak the word that saves;

to know God is even here;

to command the wind and the waves:

  who is this Jesus?

                                                                                                         Ó B D Prewer 2000

 

PRAYER OF TRUST

 

Loving God, when we are inclined to worry or panic,

speak with authority to us.

Speak directly through Jesus so that fears may be confronted

and our faith reinstated.

Through him and in him let us spend our days and nights

with the courage and peace of those who know

they are being saved and sustained

by an imperturbable grace.

And to you be the glory and praise;

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: PLAYING GOD?

 

Mark 4:40-41

 

Jesus asked them,

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” They were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who is this then, that even the wind and sea obey him?” 

 

Today we visit Lake Galilee and a well known story: Jesus in a small boat at night. While his fisherman friends sail the vessel, Jesus lies asleep in the stern. When a gale hits the lake, and the boat is in jeopardy, Jesus continues to slumber. Wakened by his distraught disciples, Jesus commands the storm to cease. It does so. The disciples exclaim: “Who is this then, that the wind and sea obey him.”

 

ARE SCIENTISTS PLAYING GOD?

 

Now leave Galilee and come back home to this twenty first century. Question: What right have human beings to interfere with the ways of God’s creation?  Are we wrong in “playing God?”

 

There are many people today who are extremely anxious about what is being doing on the cutting edge of the science, especially the biological sciences. Test tube babies, surrogate mothers, tissue and organ transplants from pigs, Dolly the cloned sheep, a human ear grown on a mouse, the injection of growth hormone to (hopefully) combat aging? And new chemical compounds being tested that may offer the possibility of the average human life being extended to 150 years. Have we a right to be dabbling in these things?

 

More recent concerns (angst in some quarters!) are over the use of stem cells harvested from the human foetus, and the exploding possibilities of altering human genes, and even introducing genes from other creatures. Then there is the matter of human cloning, with plenty of egocentric people queuing up to be cloned if they get the chance. Why right have we to be interfering in God’s business? “Playing God” is the accusation being constantly levelled on talk-back shows.

 

Not for a second would I want to minimise the ethical dilemmas, and (for the Christian) also the theological questions. They are complex. They are extremely important. What is more, I share the concern that perhaps some of the people working in laboratories are rushing blindly and arrogantly ahead. They might be stretching the limits without the ethical and legal and social and spiritual consequences being considered and resolved by the community. Such indiscriminate, egocentric “playing God” is to be soundly condemned. There is reason for concern and for some restrictions.

 

SCIENCE AND STILLING STORMS

 

But, you may well ask me, what has this got to do with the story of Jesus stilling the storm on Lake Galilee?  Let’s pursue that question. Please travel with me, and steady me with a prayer should I wobble. You see, this is the first time I have explored the relationship between Jesus commanding the wind and waves, and the matter of contemporary ventures in “playing God.” I am tentatively feeling my way.

 

You may have noticed that in the story in Marks’ Gospel, Jesus does not pray to God to calm the storm. He does it himself. He plays God. Jesus said to the disciples, “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” And they were filled with awe, and said to one another, “Who is this then, that even the wind and sea obey him?”

 

Although Mark leaves it as a question, he and the young church had no doubt that Jesus had the right and the authority to play God. For those early Christians, Jesus had the right because he was the perfect earthly image of the invisible God; he was the true Child of God. His deeds were God’s deeds.

 

WE ARE GIVEN AUTHORITY?

 

Do you remember the earlier story in Mark about the healing of the paralysed young man? The fellow who was lowed down through the roof by his friends? How Jesus first forgave the sins of the young man. At which the super religious folk fairly foamed at the mouth in rage: “This is blasphemy. No one can forgive sins except God alone.”  

 

To which Jesus replied: “So that you may know that the son of man has power on earth to forgive sins, I say: Get up. Pick up your bed and walk.” And he stood up, picked up his mattress and walked out before them all.

 

I would suggest that Jesus intends us to perform the same spiritual ministry; to exercise the right to forgive sins; to be agents of mercy and reconciliation. I do not believe that this is only the right of ordained pastors and priests, but of all Christ’s followers. We have authority on earth to spread the mercy of God amongst fellow sinners. We are to emulate Christ and humbly “play God”.

 

Today I am wondering whether the same authority is given to each of us, to “the son of man”, to play God in the physical and biological universe? Are to accept responsibility for the well being of this world, not only spiritually but also physically?

 

I believe we do. Whenever we build roads and bridges, we are taking authority to alter God’s creation. When we build dams, and irrigate wastelands and turn them into vineyards and orchards, we are playing God. When my hard-toiling father, over a 100 years ago, cleared virgin forest in Tasmania and created a farm, he was playing God. When we apply fertilisers, and domesticate herds and flocks, we are altering creation. When we plant forests for selected timbers, we are exercise authority over nature.

 

The same thing has been happening in biology for a long time. People have selectively bred sheep and goats, to produce the best wool and mohair. We have selectively cultivated and propagated all kinds of plants and fruits trees, in order to make them more abundant and fruitful. We have carefully bred cattle and horses and dogs, to suit our needs. We have definitely exercised authority on earth, including changing the forms of living creatures.

 

What is more we have changed human beings. Sometimes people have arranged marriages with a certain kind of progeny in view. Often we have mixed races to the benefit of humanity. All forms of birth control, including the so called “rhythm method” advocated by some ecclesiastical authorities, is a way of “playing God.” When we immunise people against disease, we are “playing God.” When we transplant hearts we are playing God.

 

Fundamentally I believe we are expected to take up this authority as God’s stewards. Jesus did. He asks us to follow suit. Playing God is a task God has entrusted to us, for better or for worse.

 

THE USE AND MISUSE OF THIS AUTHORITY?

 

As I see it, the new questions facing us today are more complex aspects of the same authority given to humanity on this earth. We should now accept both the authority and the sacred responsibility of being the stiller of storms, the forgiver of sins; we are now to be those who take authority over the devils of the mind and diseases of the body.

 

The pertinent question is not whether we do it, but why and how and for whom?

 

Jesus exercised the authority of God on earth for the good of others. For love.

 

He did not still the wind and waves to flaunt his ego. He did not heal disease to get power over others. He did not restore sight to make extravagant monetary profits. The good of others was his primary goal and the guidelines by which he acted.

 

This meant that the good of all mattered, not just the happiness of a few Jews like himself. With astute wisdom and inclusive love he saw the consequences of his actions, on those near and those far away. He took responsibility for these actions. Jesus moved with utter humility, but he acted daringly for the good of others.

 

What disturbs me today is not that we are maybe playing God, but whether we are doing it for the wrong reasons? And whether our attitude has the requisite humility? Arrogance will only lead to trouble. The idea of patenting knowledge of genes to set up a monopoly and win vast financial gain, disgusts me. The thought that some are secretly pressing ahead with human cloning project with the aim of being famous, appals me. The thought of ever deliberately creating human embryos for the sole purpose of harvesting their stem cells, frightens me.

 

PLYING THE JESUS RULE

 

Questions. Where is the Jesus attitude in all this? Where is the love of others; the passion for good of all? Why, how, and for the benefit of whom? In our science, as in our religion, where is the ingredient of humility?

 

In our human story of the last few centuries, we have seen so much arrogant misuse of the authority that God has given us. The consequence has been the misery of many, and the damaging of the earth’s ecology. Ego, power, money, have driven us to the edge of world disaster. What is now driving the present phase of endeavour in biological science?

 

As we picture Jesus stilling the storm, we see a supremely loving person who has taken charge and played God for the benefit of others. Taking charge is what God asks of us, according to our abilities. We don’t have either the complete ability or the wisdom of Jesus. But we do have some ability and wisdom, and must use them or be damned. Both courage and humility and love are required of us.

 

I believe than in this 21st. century we will see amazing opportunities coming to humanity. Who knows, in time we may even gain some control over the weather!? Maybe by the end of this century people may live to the age of 150. (If that’s what you want! I’m not too keen.) But whether those opportunities are grasped for good or evil is the critical question. More than ever, we need more people imbued with the Spirit of Christ Jesus, starting with each of us.

 

We cannot shut our eyes and hope that the complex ethical issues raised by scientific discoveries will just go away. No dare we wring our hands and deny any direct responsibility.

 

But we can keep our hearts open to Christ, let our lives be ruled by Christ, and play our small part in building a world where his love inspires and shapes the new era that is emerging.

 

 

SERMON 2: WHAT’S THE TRUTH OF IT?

 

Mark 4: 35-41

 

The Gospel reading today told us the story about Jesus calming the waves. I don’t want to preach on that. If I had my way, I may not ever tackle this story.

 

Yet I am going to. Such is the unhappy lot of a preacher. There are stories and sayings in the Bible which most preachers would rather avoid. Yet sometimes these are the very texts about which the Holy Spirit leads them to preach. That was how it was for me as I prepared for this Sunday.

 

Why am I so reluctant? Simply because it is an awkward story for people of the twentieth first century. For some it is a faith stopper. For others it raises more questions than answers.

For many it reads more like a parable than a physical event; or maybe a parable that was later turned into a factual story.

 

What do we make of it? What’s the truth of it?

 

WHAT DOES MARK MAKE OF IT?

 

A smarter first question is: “What does Mark make of it?” Why has he included this story? What is his purpose, Why did he think it was important for the Christian’s finding their feet in that first century?

 

Mark included this story in his Gospel to underline the unique status of Jesus. He wants readers to keep asking the question: “Who is this? What do we have here?”

 

The answer is that in Jesus we have someone in such close alliance with the awesome Creator of creation, that he has authority over the natural world.

 

Mark has been tenaciously posing one question as his story unfolds: it is that of Jesus’ unique authority. Jesus teaches with authority, and his listeners ask, “Who is this whose words make such an impact?” He heals the sick, and they ask “Who is this whose hands heal?” He casts the demons out of tormented, minds, and the people ask: “Who is this that evil has authority over Satan’s world?

 

At this point Mark narrates the story of Jesus calming the storm. His disciples gasp: “Who is this, that even the wind and the waves obey him.”

 

Mark does not directly answer that question for his readers. He makes them face it, and invites them to make a decision about it. Some, on hearing this story of Jesus stilling the storm, would exclaim in awe: “This man was Divine.”

 

THE MODERN APPROACH

 

Maybe the story it is not so effective for us.

 

The minds of our contemporaries do not often work the way of those first century folk. On seeing a man who successfully ordered the sea and the wind to be still, most would be inclined to ask: “How did he do that? What’s his game?” Most of our fellow citizens are likely to look for a logical explanation.

 

It s not that all of them doubt the power of God. It is logical, after all, if there is an all-powerful God, that such a God could, if he/she/it wished, intervene and control the weather. 

 

The issue for many is that there is no hard evidence that God does, from time to time, interfere with the weather. God does not appear to work that way. All scientific observations conclude that there is always a natural cause for calm days and stormy ones, rain or sunshine, floods, or 10 year drought in parts of Australia.

 

Therefore, the story of Jesus stilling the storm on Lake Galilee does not convince the secular world that Christ was divine. Rather they ask:”What’s the truth of it?”

 

WE CAN SEE THEIR POINT

 

In a way, we can see their point. We look for explanations, and through finding causes have ourselves been able to take some control over potential calamities.

 

If we can predict cyclones, we could take effective measure to be ready for them. If we can predict drought, both our farmers and or those who control the water supply to our cities are thereby empowered to take action to counter the worse effects. If we can understand what causes sickness, then we may be able to counter it or even heal it. If we discover why some people are be-devilled with mental illness, we can either cure them or at least alleviate their distress.

 

What is more, most of us, who are Christians, believe that this is the right and godly thing to be doing. Understanding cause and effect has brought much blessing to this world.

 

THE CREDIBILITY ETHOS

 

However, there is one point where we Christians need to stay level-headed; More level-headed than the secular folk around us.

 

We dare not allow secular society to dictate what we can or cannot believe. When critics of the Gospels say: “This could not have happened. It is not credible, it’s a religious beat up,” then our red light should start flashing.

 

Every culture has its own credibility ethos. It is a kind of social brainwashing. We are moved by the currents of this era to see certain things as credible and others as not creditable. But some of this ethos will be in error. Without a shadow of doubt, we know that a number theories held by those working in universities, laboratories, and research institutes, will in the future either be seen as either erroneous, or only partially true. The credibility ethos of any era is not a sure guide to reality.

 

Therefore I am loathe to allow the credibility ethos of our secular world to tell us what can or cannot have happened in the days of Jesus. Nor permit any era to place a tick or a cross against our: Lord’s teaching.

 

Instead, should we not be assessing and judging our era by the Biblical ethos? Should we not be using the insights and values of the Bible to audit the kind of world our temporary opinion-makers are shaping?

 

I do not claim we should slavishly follow the Bible, line by line, word by word, letter by letter, like some new breed of dogmatic Pharisees who cling to every jot and tittle. I mean that we should allow the main sweep of the Bible witness, and especially that of the New Testament, with its unique enlightenment and values, to interpret what is happing around us.

 

For this Bible standpoint, no area of life is outside the active love of God. Not a storm on Lake Galilee or a blizzard over Mt Kosciusko. Not just one farmer in the Mallee wheat lands who suffering drought, or even one falling sparrow in Sydney’s Martin Place. From the Bible view point, God is in all and through all yet above all. Politics, economics, agriculture, industry, science, must all be judged in the light of the Gospel, not vice versa.

 

OPEN MINDS

 

Where does this leave us with the story of Jesus stilling the storm?  With open minds I hope.

What’s the truth of it?

 

I would rather listen to the witness of the Gospel of St Mark, and remain with some awkward,  unanswered questions, than to trust my head and heart to the changing theories and philosophies of even the brightest and most daring minds of this self-important twenty first century.

 

Anything less than a mind open to the Gospel, and soul open to the Holy Spirit, would be to allow the brain-washing of the secular world to dictate our belief. And if we are gullible enough to allow that to happen, then we are up sewer creek without a paddle!

 

This Jesus is unique. His whole life style, where love is the key driver, is revolutionary. His deeds and teaching break through old barriers. His authority was and still is, amazing. His way closely expresses the values and purposes of the Holy One who created and is still creating, the universe of which we are a tiny part.

 

What’s truth of it? I offer you only one life-time guarantee: Wager your whole being on this Jesus Christ whom Mark adored, and you will (even with a pack of unanswered questions in your baggage) ultimately come out a winner.

 

That is the truth of it!

 

THANKSGIVING.

 

Beautiful are you, Joy of the universe, from you flow every good and perfect gift.

 

For the positive people who surround us each day: family, friends, pastors, fellow church members, colleagues, co-workers in community projects and those who play sport beside us.

            We thank you, generous Provider.

            Beautiful are you, Joy of the universe, from you flow every good and perfect gift.

 

For your own Spirit fostering our curiosity; for minds that explore the hidden nature of the universe, for choice souls who know the depths of human nature, and for hearts that thirst for stronger faith and seek fellowship with their Creator.

            We thank you, generous Provider.

            Beautiful are you, Joy of the universe, from you flow every good and perfect gift.

 

For the capacity to grow and to change; for the absorbent minds of the young, the restless seeking and testing of adolescent, for the rich opportunities of the middle years, and for the time for reflection given to the elderly.

            We thank you, generous Provider.

            Beautiful are you, Joy of the universe, from flow every good and perfect gift.

 

For the peace of Christ in the storms of life; through set backs in employment, tensions in relationships, financial pressures, family and marriage crises, and through sickness, handicap, and during times of racking grief.

            We thank you, generous Provider.

            Beautiful are you, Joy of the universe, from you flow every good and perfect gift.

 

For the gift of the church, so flawed yet so remarkable; for the fellowship that enfolds us, the Word that confronts us, the outreach that stretches us, the sacraments that nurture us, the pastors who serve us, the especially gifted who enrich us, and the Holy Spirit who constantly reforms us.

            We thank you, generous Provider.

            Beautiful are you, Joy of the universe, from you flow every good and perfect gift.

 

PRAYER OF PETITION: DECISIONS!

 

Let us pray for God’s guidance.

 

Decisions, decisions, decisions! Creator God, help us, Spirit of Truth guide us, Jesus Christ save us!

 

Although we find ourselves excited by the brilliant achievements of this new age, we become exhausted by its ethical challenges and confusions. There are moments, Lord, when we hanker for the simpler days of our great-grandparents, for whom the path of morality was simply defined by church authority. But now it seems as if our technological cleverness constantly outruns our ideas of goodness and we cannot catch up.

 

Be with us, loving God, with all your compassion and wisdom. Be with us as we make decisions about genetic engineering or virtual reality, body transplants or brain enhancing drugs, space exploration or the adventures of cyberspace, the artificial maintenance of life or the quality of life and euthanasia. Through all the changing scenes of life, enable us to seek first your kingdom and its true-goodness.

 

Jesus Christ, make us clever as serpents and gentle as doves.

Spirit of Truth, keep us sharp witted and love-directed.

Father of all mercies, help us to so trust you that all things

may work together for good to those who love you.

For your love’s sake.

Amen!

                              From “Jesus our Future  page 10

                              Ó B D Prewer and Open Book Publishers.

 

SENDING OUT

 

Go out into the world in peace, and in Christ’s name be-

            the humble who make others proud,

            the poor who have riches to share,

            the weak who help others be strong,

            the empty who overflow with loving kindness.

 

And the largess of the love of God,

and the treasure of the grace of Christ Jesus,

and the buoyant health of the Holy Spirit

                        will be

with you now and for ever.

            Amen!