YEAR C, EPIPHANY 6  

Sunday 6: Feb 11-17

 

Luke 6: 17-26              (Sermon 1: “God’s Shocking Partnership”)

                                                            (Sermon 2: “Disreputable Godliness”)

1 Corinthians 15: 12-20

Jeremiah 17: 5-10

Psalm 1.

 

PREPARATION

 

The rugged yet tender love of Christ Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

When you come to worship God, stretch up your thanks and praise to the utmost limit, for you will never be able to do justice to the wonder of your Holy Friend.

Glory be to God:

Loveliness beyond all beauty! Quiet strength beyond all power!

Love beyond all kindness! Light outshining all the lights of the universe!

Hallelujah!

 

OR—

 

Those whose roots are in God

are like a tree planted beside a flowing stream,

whose leaves do not wilt or wither

and which in season yields sweet fruit.

 

Put down your roots, friends of Christ;

deeply put down you roots and drink deeply.

Amen.

God help us to do so!

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Most wonderful God, please encourage us to love our true selves. To cherish that deep soul which is poor, meek, hungry, sorrowful often persecuted, and which yearns for communion with you. Set us free to reach for you with a joyful worship which overflows with wonderment and love. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Let us draw near in faith and seek God’s mercy; let us pray.

 

God our Holy Friend, we know that we are greatly loved, and invited by Christ into a holy and holistic way of life..

 

But in the world around us, and within our own being, there is displayed a plethora of fractured relationships, hopes, promises and creeds.

 

The dislocations of sin have turned what was meant to be paradise into a jungle where the survival of the strongest, greediest, most arrogant and ruthless, becomes the law by which most people live.

 

Great physician of souls and healer of communities, have mercy upon your fractured world, and upon each of us, as we come seeking  the sanity of forgiveness and renovation. By the searching grace of Christ Jesus, expose and heal us all.

-----Silent prayer-----

 

ASSURANCE

 

My Friends, believe the Gospel.  Allow it to embrace you, fill you, and release you.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be healed and liberated.

 

Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            It’s Not Easy

 

Dear God,

it’s not always easy being a kid,

ya know?

 

We are very curious

and ask lots of questions

which so annoy some grown-ups

that some try to make us look stupid.

 

Please put the love of Jesus

in my heart,

that when others make me feel small,

you can make me feel big.

 

Thanks a lot.

Amen.

                                                            Ó B D Prewer 2003

 

PSALM 1

 

The good life belongs to those who can say ‘no,’

            who are not sucked in by sarcasm and sin,

but get their kicks from the Lord’s law of love,

            practising it by day and night.

 

Such people are like the vigorous vineyards

            planted along the Riverland*,

immune to seasons of heat and drought

            and yielding a rich vintage.

 

The godless don’t have it so good;

            they are like bulldust in the wind.

They cannot stand up to testing times,

            nor find peace among loving friends.

 

Truly good people have their roots in God,

            but the scoffers are rootless.

The Lord smiles on the good person’s path,

            but all the evil will come to ruin.

                        * Riverland: a verdant irrigation area along the Murray River.

                                                                                                                                                ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

SUNDAY DINNER?

 

Should Christ be incarnate today,

            where would he feast?

At lunch with premier or bishop,

            professor or priest?

 

Maybe we should investigate

            more likely places,

like sharing a pie with street kids

            or deadbeat cases?

 

Perhaps having a cheap pub lunch

            with a tanker crew,

or with some tattooed wharfie

            at a barbecue?

 

I don’t think the Friend of rogues,

            call girls and sinners,

will be dining at the Hilton

            with well dressed winners.

                        Adapted from ‘Beyond Words”

                        ©  JBCE & B. D Prewer

 

COLLECT

 

Most loving God, please teach us the upside-down values of your kingdom, that we may find happiness where others fear loss, and fulfilment where others fear being diminished. Let the Spirit of your true Son pervade us, that we may see through his eyes and serve through his hands. For your name’s sake.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: GOD’S SHOCKING PARTNERSHIP

 

My topic is : “God’s shocking Partnership.” But……. but you will have to wait for my final sentence before you hear that phrase again.

 

Luke 6: 17-26

 

Blessings on the poor

                        the hungry 

                        the sorrowful

                        and the persecuted.

 

Woes for the rich

                        the well fed

                        the laughing

                        and the popular

 

Unsettling stuff!

 

Note two things: 

 

1. — Luke sets the “sermon on the plain” as happening directly after healing people of all kinds of disease and casting out unclean spirits..  The teaching takes place in the context of healing and liberation.

            Therefore¾: the Word is visible as well as audible.

 

How do we as a church rate on that scale?

Both audible and visible?

How do we as individuals rate?

            Remember that “the medium is the message” stuff from the 1970’s ?

            It had a valid point (overstated maybe) but it still cannot be ignored.

 

2. — Luke’s version of the beatitudes is earthy stuff; more rugged and uncompromising than Matthew’s

            Here the blessing of God is on those who are quite literally the poor, hungry, sad, and persecuted. (compare Matthew’s poor in spirit, and hunger and thirst for righteousness’)  Along with this, Luke adds the awesome list of ‘woes” on the rich, the overfed, those who can afford to laugh, and the popular.

 

WE PREFER THE COMFORTABLE APPROACH

 

The church in our era has been (here comes a dicey generalisation!) more comfortable with Matthew’s spiritualising of the beatitudes than in Luke’s rugged earthiness.

 

We join society in eulogising the prosperous and rich ( Note: Who wants to be a millionaire?  And the billions spent on lotteries around Australia)

 

We are reluctant to admit it, but our beatitudes would suggest:

            “Blessed are the rich for theirs is the kingdom of happiness.”

 

The same applies to other of the beatitudes.

 

We give adulation to the popular heroes of film, TV and sport and fashion super-models.

             “Blessed are the popular, when everyone speaks well of you”

 

             (If one of these worldly stars condescends to read a lesson in our church, we are rapt!

              Note too the way we idolise Oscars, Logies, the Brownlow Medal,

              and Olympic “gold! gold! gold!)

 

I claim that we in the church have been deeply corrupted by the goals and values of the world. We have strayed far from the early brand of Christianity where the audible and visible word always went about together. We play it safer, and place more emphasis on the audible Word than the visible Word. 

 

 TWO GATHERINGS

 

I want you to picture two scenes:

  

Standing around outside the doors of a lofty sandstone church, is a group of well off, well fed, well respected, comfortable church members who are able to joke and laugh light heartedly together about sport or their recent overseas trip. They are joined by their pastor who 15 minutes before had preached the kind of uncontentious sermon they enjoy.

 

In an hall nearby are some unemployed factory workers, single parents, grubby looking aborigines, street kids, some boat people from the SE Asia, and an old couple whose house has been acquired by the government for the widening of a freeway. They are not a very hopeful looking bunch. They are gathered together from their misery by an old priest with a crew cut; a bloke who some Christians label a trouble maker and whose photo is in ASIO files.

 

Who is Jesus speaking to? Is it just one group, or is it both? And where will the blessings and the woes fall?

 

And by the way, which group do you think are most aware of the need of the grace of God?

 

One outstanding New Testament scholar (Eduard Schweizer) referred to God’s shocking partnership on the side of those who suffer.”

 

Get that? “God’s shocking partnership on the side of those who suffer.”

 

 

SERMON 2:  DISREPUTABLE GODLINESS

 

Luke 6:20-26

 

Recently we purchased a new timber cabinet to hold some more CD’s. In deciding where to place it in our family room, I tried turning it upside down. It worked much better that way. And looked fine too..

 

Jesus turned values upside down  and claimed they worked much better that way.

 

Jesus looked around at his disciples and said:

            Happy are the poor, the kingdom of God belongs to you.

            Happy are you who are now hungry, you shall be satisfied.

            Happy are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

            Happy are you when others hate you, exclude you, abused you, and throw you out as         trouble makers because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be glad and dance for joy, for your profit is very great in heaven.

 

Exhilarating, upside down stuff!

 

Jesus, in the public address which is usually called “The Sermon on the Mount,” (although in Luke the site is on level ground) gives us his teaching full on. It is a very happy message! An upside down message. Good news. Except of course for those who have much to lose. There is that dark flip side.

            Misery for you who are wealthy now, you have already used up your comfort.

            Misery for you who are overfed now, you’ll find out what it is to be really hungry..

            Misery for  you who think life is a laugh, you shall end up mourning and weeping.

            Misery for you when others sing your praises, that’s what they did to the false          prophets.

 

Blessings on the nobodies of this world.

Woes on the self satisfied and arrogant.

 

In this teaching, the disreputable godliness of Jesus in on full display. I choose the word “disreputable” with care. Disrepute indicates someone whose respectability is under attack, or at least under a cloud. That was, and is, Jesus of Nazareth

.

ONE FELLOW PASTOR

 

I remember the occasion when I first combined those words “disreputable” and “godliness.”

 

It was in a letter to the widow of a minister.

On the other side of the continent, whose husband  had died from a heart attack. This deceased friend was an excellent scholar, a witty companion, a loyal friend, a concise preacher, a wise pastor, and with a profound simplicity was utterly devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ. He never tried to act righteous. He put on no holy airs. In fact, if he were dealing with someone who was putting on religious airs, he usually would go out of his way to shock them. He enjoyed getting up the noses of overtly pious people.

 

He was so approachable.

This is what struck me most when I sought to convey my appreciation of his character to his widow: he was so approachable. All sorts of troubled and guilty souls could, and did,  go to him and pour out their hearts. They went to him because he was a sinner like them yet who lived with a keen and unshakeable awareness of God’s grace. As I thought of this, the words “disreputable godliness” flowed off my pen.

 

Later, I came to see how those words pre-eminently applied to Jesus and his God.

What I had recognised in my late friend was the Spirit of Christ at work. What Jesus had to say was usually offensive to the self-assertive, well-off, power-wielding, money-grubbing, people who were very pleased with themselves– and who were extra pleased with the god whom they were sure was made in their own likeness. They saw themselves as the reputable people. Jesus was disreputable.

 

Jesus attracted a different kind of people.

The down trodden and the poor, the lame and the sick, the servants and the slaves, the social outcastes, prostitutes and pagans, flocked to Jesus. They were drawn by his disreputable godliness. He was approachable. And he was truly good, truly Godly. He renewed in them the gift of true laughter.

 

A WAY OF LIBERTY AND JOY

 

The common people took the sermon on the mount as a message of joy.

 

The really happy people are the poor -

            not the rich who are never satisfied; always wanting more,

            or anxious about losing what they have in the next crash on Wall Street.

 

The really happy people are those who can grieve over either sin or death -not

those folk whose feelings are suppressed, or are uptight with self righteousness, or who, when they are feeling down, can rush out an buy a new BMW or yacht.

 

The really happy people are get into trouble for sticking to their values & beliefs -

not like the “pliable” people, who make so many compromises that they end up as empty cynics.

 

Jesus pushed his message even further.

He went on to speak about turning the other cheek and going the second mile.

He said that we should love our enemies and bless those who curse us.

He asked us to be cheerful givers, and lenders who don’t expect reward.

He turned the idea of ‘the good life’ upside down.

 

Such was his disreputable Godliness.

 

Once more I insist: his teaching is a message of happiness.

It is the way of liberty of spirit. Not a burden of heavy handed law, more onerous than even Moses. It is the kind of life practised by those who have been set free from the twisted, soul-destroying values of common secular communities and of many religions. It is the freedom of those who know who they really are in the presence of God of grace who carefully treasures them. Happy are they who hear this word and trust it!

 

DREAM OF SCIPIO

 

Recently I read “the Dream of Scipio”

 

A brilliant novel by Ian Pears. It focuses on three characters, each inhabiting the region of Avignon, but far apart in history. Manlius lived in the 5th century as the Roman civilisation was crumbling, Olivier in the 14th at the time of the Black death, and Julien in the 20th, including the German occupation of France.

 

Each were kindly men.

Each at some stage in their lives truly wanted to do the right thing. Yet which of the three found happiness?

 

Well, the most successful and prosperous was Bishop Manlius.

He lived in the fifth century when the Roman civilization was crumbling.. He made numerous political bargains to successfully save a little of Roman civilisation in his region of Provence.

 

But to do it, he had to sacrifice many of his values, and even some of his friends. Yet he always justified his actions. He spent the latter part of his life very rich and powerful, writing books on philosophy and praised by many. But not by his key philosopher/teacher whom he had most admired. She now loathed him for what he has become.

 

His story ends with a comfortable, but pathetic, whimper.

 

The scholar Julien is set in the 1940’s.

He also gave ground; compromised, bit by bit under German occupation, holding an official post in the puppet Vichy government.. Seduced by the idea that if he did not do what the Germans asked, someone more ruthless would be appointed, he allowed books to be burned, liberties to be curtailed, and Jews to be sacked from employment and later arrested.

 

But finally he sees what he has become. It shakes him. At the end, he gives his life to

save a friend who had misused him and betrayed his trust. 

 

His story ends, maybe not with happiness, but certainly with high dignity..

 

Olivier is the poet who lives in the 14th century.

He starts out quite comfortable about compromising his ethics in his work as the servant of a scheming bishop. But slowly he grows in integrity and asserts his values as a Christian, over against his master. 

When Pope Clement VI is about to order a massacre of all Jews, blaming them for the Black Death, Olivier intervenes at large risk. He ends up stabbed and beaten, his poet’s hands crushed and his tongue cut out. Maimed and weak he lives out the remainder of his life in a monastery, attended by Rebecca, the one woman he ever truly loved.

 

Of the three characters, Olivier is the only one who knew in large measure the blessedness of which Jesus spoke. He discovered the happiness of personal integrity, the wealth of an inner, spiritual kingdom. From the world’s view point, his last months seemed awful. Yet he lived and died a happy person.

 

SUMMARY

 

Happiness? Disreputable godliness?

 

Not by wealth, not by power, not by fame, not by comfort, not by popularity!

 

What Jesus offers is the hard but happy path, the disreputable way of glory.

 

The powerful and the rich will never follow his way, and even the ordinary battlers will frequently be seduced by the crooked values of those above them on the acquisitive ladder. But for those who throw in their lot with Christ, there is a happiness which this boasting world cannot give. Many of you, maybe most, have sometimes tasted a little of that happiness. O that our hunger for it will increase until all is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God!

 

Jesus looked around at his disciples and said:

            Happy are the poor, the kingdom of God belongs to you.

            Happy are you who are now hungry, you shall be satisfied.

            Happy are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.

            Happy are you when others hate you, exclude you, abused you, and throw you out

            as trouble makers because you follow the Son of Man.

            When that happens, be glad and dance for joy, for your profit is very great in heaven.

 

Joyful upside down stuff!

The marvellous disreputable godliness of Christ Jesus!

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Holy Friend, Saviour of all who turn to you in trust, we thank you that everyone is valuable in your sight.

 

We thank for the mission of your people Israel, and for their lawgivers, poets and seers who have taught us to live justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

 

We thank you for your lovely Son, Jesus, who himself lived the Gospel that he preached to the poor, the hungry, the meek, and the sad, and when the darkest day came, he was willing to suffer and die for it.

 

We thank you that by his rising from the grave you placed the seal of eternal approval on all that he did and taught, and that by his Spirit we are able to carry on his ministry to the end of the world.

 

Holy Friend, Saviour of the weak and the strong, the meek and the brave, the imprisoned and the free, we can never thank your enough. We ask that thanksgiving will become a way of life for us all. To your honour and praise. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!.

 

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

God of all the forgotten, neglected, and abused people, please enlarge our love that we may more effectively pray and work more efficiently for their well being.

 

For the many whom the present world economic system condemns to a lifetime of grinding poverty, we pray.

Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

 

For those communities in severe famine, and who this day can do nothing but wait in hope for aid agencies to fly in emergency food, we pray.

Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

 

For all who are unjustly imprisoned, and those who are emotionally or physically persecuted, we pray.

Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

 

For the host of those around the world who are dying today, and the many who weep for the dear and holy dead, we pray.

Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

 

For extra-sensitive people who wear themselves out in the cause of others, and for those thick skinned characters who need to be jolted out of their indifference, we pray.

Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

 

For church congregations who are already reaching out with unconditional compassion, and for self-centred churches who have become piously irrelevant to the casualties around them, we pray.

Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

 

For ourselves, that the word of Christ may not fall on our ears in vain, we pray.

Deliver and heal your people, loving God.

In the name of Christ Jesus our Saviour.

 Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Go out from this church in peace.

Be humbly assertive, compassionately tough, prayerfully active,

and if others should scorn your faith,

go on your way rejoicing that you share the fortune of Jesus.

Amen!

 

The unwearying fellowship of the Creator, Redeemer and Counsellor,

will be with you now and always.

Amen!