Year C, SUNDAY 9  

 May 29 - June 4

 

Luke 7: 1-10                            (Sermon: “The Faith of an Outsider”)

Galations 1: 1-12

Psalm 96

I Kings 18: 20-39

 

GETTING WITH IT (Call to worship)

 

Always there is a choice:

            The God of Christ Jesus

            or those material things

            for which this world will sell its soul?

We cannot have it both ways.

 

As the prophet Elijah

declared long ago:

            “How long does it take to make up your mind?

            If the Lord is God, then follow him.

            If idols are your gods, then get real and admit you serve them.”

 

is our God and greatly to be praised

to be honoured above all worldly gods.

We will declare God’s glory among the nations

and celebrate God’s love among all races on earth.

 

.OR

 

It is time to sing the new song of our God,

to surround the planet with songs of joy.

            We will sing to you, loving Lord, and bless your name,

            day by day we will celebrate your salvation.

 

Declare God’s glory among the nations,

tell what God has done for you among all peoples.

            For great are you, loving God,

             and greatly be to be praised

            Honour and majesty surround you,

            energy and beauty fill your sanctuary.

 

LATCHING ON (Prayer of Approach)

 

God of the earth and of all other worlds that are or ever will be,

by your Spirit assist this day to worship gladly!

Help us to be familiar with you but never trite,

to relish your love but never take it for granted,

to be in awe of you yet not be afraid,

to worship you

yet realise we have only touched the edges of your majesty.

 

Tincture our lives with your beauty

and fill our potential beauty with your abundant life.

Through Jesus of Nazareth,

our way, our truth, our life.

Amen!

 

COMING CLEAN (Prayer of confession)

 

Let us repent of the sin that has contaminated our lives and those around us.

Let us pray.

 

God, we pretend much more than is good for us. We disguise aspects of our real selves from public scrutiny. We hide ugly things from our friends and dearest loved ones. We even deceive ourselves. Those among us who pride themselves on being up-front and frank, still have dark aspects of character which are hidden.

 

But not here in your presence, God. With gratitude we say: “Thank God we don’t have to hide from you.”

 

You know us thoroughly. With a 100% accuracy you read our thoughts and our feelings. You discern our strength and our weakness, our anxiety and our hunger, our goodness and our evil. You can distinguish between our healthy pride in ourselves and sick arrogance, between honest intentions and our excuses, true repentance and our empty apologies.

 

Wise and loving God, it is a relief to bow before you. It is so good to be able to let go and let you take over. To allow your saving grace to work quiet miracles within us: the miracle of your judgement and mercy, the miracle of your cleansing and your healing, the miracle of your new life, the promise of a new start and the rebirth of sincerity and truth..

 

God our Saviour, thank you for encouraging us to come clean. Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!

 

ACCEPTING LIBERATION (Word of forgiveness)

 

Hear the Gospel: “Christ Jesus came into the world to rescue and heal sinners.”

If you truly want forgiveness, you can have it. Liberation is offered unconditionally to those who unconditionally “seek the Lord while he may be found, and call upon him while he is near.”

 

The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.

And also with you.

 

ENJOYING CHILDHOOD

             (prayer with children)

 

Thank you, dear God, for letting us be children.

 

Thank you allowing us time to play,

            to learn from everything around us;

for letting us make mistakes

            and then helping us to do better next time,.

 

Thank you for the word “why?”

            For our itchy curiosity

            and all the big questions we ask.

 

Thank you God for our sense of humour;

            for the sudden laughter that bubbles up

            whenever funny things happen.

 

Dear God, thanks most of all for being our best Friend,

giggling with us when we are happy,

and crying with us when we are sad.

 

Help us to thoroughly enjoy being kids

in your family.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen!

 

SHARING ANCIENT SONGS: Psalm 96

 

If you have any music in you, then sing a new song.

Come on, all you lot, sing to our God.

Don’t hold back, sing your best  praises,

day by day, chorus the message of salvation.

Among  all nations, publish God’s glory!

among common folk, tell what God has done for you.

 

For this God of ours is the greatest,

beyond all other objects of worship..

The idols that people admire are empties,

it is our Creator who is reflected in the Milky Way.

Like a bow-wave, radiance goes ahead of God,

and new strength and beauty follow in his wake.

 

Recognise your Maker, all families on earth,

dedicate to God all your energy and wonder.

Gladly give the glory that is due,

offer yourself as you come into sacred courts.

Worship your God like a liberation army,

tremble with adoration, all the earth!

 

Tell the nations: “This is God’s realm.

Not yours to plunder but God’s own place.

Some things will never shake or move,

immoveable Love underlies all created things.

Justice is to be administered with generosity,

and judgement is for our own healing.

 

Let the stars celebrate and the earth rejoice,

let the sea roar its praise and every creature in it.

Then the trees of our forests shall sing for joy

to the Lord who comes to put all things right.

God will judge the world with sheer goodness,

and assess each person with the living truth.

                                                                                                Ó B D Prewer 2006

 

PUTTING IT IN A NUTSHELL:

 

1 Kings 18:21

 

Why do you try to have it both ways,

why hop on one foot and then the other?

If you reckon it’s money that matters most,

then come out and admit it.

 

Why do you to look both ways,

why do you try to sit on the fence?

If you want glitter and glitz, that’s your fate,

but come clean and admit it.

 

Why do you try to ride two horses,

why do you tear yourself apart?

If clout and privilege is your faith,

then come down and admit it.

 

Why do you seek to serve two masters,

why think divided loyalties okay?

If you do want God above all else,

then come home and enjoy it.

                                                                                    Ó B D Prewer 2006

 

GETTING OUR HEAD TOGETHER: A Collect

 

Let us ask God for love to match our faith. Let us pray.

 

Loving God, when outsiders of scant faith outmatch our performance, bring us back to the basics. Then may we, re-grounded in faith and renewed in love, begin to demonstrate that gracious tenacity which can make hope become reality and bring love into situations where even strong men fear.

Through Jesus your true Son, whose hope beguiles us, whose love sustains us, and whose faith underwrites us, day by day.

Amen!

 

LISTENING TO THE WORD WITHIN THE WORDS.

 

            Sermon: The Faith of an Outsider

 

Luke 7:1-10

“ I tell you this: Not even in Israel have I found faith like this [centurion].”

 

INTRODUCING “BALL BEARING”

 

Let’s start this sermon with an outsider. His chosen name is Ball Bearing. Yep! You heard it right. Ball Bearing. At one time he was leader of the Victorian division of the notorious bikies “Hell’s Angels.”

 

During that time there was a rock festival held in the town of Broadford, in the State of Victoria. Ball Bearing was there, along with many members of ‘Hell’s Angels.” Also present was a group of Christians manning  a Gospel outreach buss. It had its tyres slashed.

 

When Ball bearing heard of this, he strode to the stage, stalled the concert, seized a microphone and roared at the very large crowd:” Those people in the church bus are good...... they are here to help us......Leave them alone. If I find the guy who slashed their tyres he’ll be history.”

 

On hearing this surprising announcement, a minister who was present came up with the crazy idea that maybe Ball Bearing might  sometimes be one of  “heaven’s angels” in a most effective disguise. Perhaps he would do a tour of secondary schools in his suburb in conjunction with the renowned John Smith of the “God Squad.” Maybe a word of commendation from this outsider might help some of the kids to listen to the Gospel when John spoke to them. Maybe he would agree. After consulting John Smith a letter was sent to Ball Bearing at the headquarters of “Hell’s Angels.”

 

Having posted the letter, the minister asked himself: “What have I done? Will this tough guy just use the occasion to promote the bikies’ doctrine? Let’s face it; he has nothing to do with the church. He is an outsider.”

 

INTRODUCING A ROMAN CENTURION

 

I will return to that story in a few minutes. Now I want to introduce another outsider: A Roman army officer, a centurion stationed at the garrison at the town of Capurnaum, on the shores of Lake Galilee. Not a Jew. Some other nationality.

 

Capurnaum was on a busy commercial, Roman road which came from Damascus in Syria, joining up with the famous road which led to Rome itself, We can see why Roman troops would be placed there. Evidently the Centurion had been there long enough to become a valued part of the community. We read that “He loves our people and has built us t he synagogue.” Now that is what I call an outsider who is both open minded and big hearted. The Jews were not accustomed to being impressed by their invaders. They were of course notoriously scathing of all foreigners. Against big odds, this centurion had won their loyalty and affection.

 

Stop and think about it. In this story we have some upright Jewish elders, the public face of Jewish faith in Capurnaum, actually coming to Jesus and begging for his help. Not for themselves, but for this big hearted pagan, that Roman officer in charge of the military occupation force in their area.

 

We read; “Now this centurion had a slave who was precious to him, This person was, now gravely ill and near death. When he heard that Jesus was in town, he asked elders to go and plead with Jesus to come and heal his dying slave.’

 

When they came to Jesus,. they pleaded earnestly , saying: “He is worthy of your help. For he loves our people and has built us the synagogue.”

 

We are told that Jesus responded immediately. Yet as they neared the house, friends of the centurion came up with a message from the army officer: “Please sir, I don't want to make trouble. I know I am not worthy to have you come inside under my roof. That’s why I did not presume to come to you myself. You just say the word and I know my slave will be healed.”

 

Have you noticed how sensitive this centurion is to Jewish customs? he is a remarkable guy! He knows a rabbi was not supposed to defile himself by giving a handshake to a pagan, nor was good Jew permitted to enter  the “contaminated” house of a Roman soldier. He does not wish to either offend Jesus or induce him to do something that will make other Jews reject Jesus.

            Please sir, I don't want to make trouble. I know I am not worthy to have you

            come inside under my roof.

 

This outsider is really something else. Jesus responded to the  faith and love in this mind and soul of this centurion.

            “ I tell you this: Not even in Israel have I found faith like this [centurion].”

 

When the messengers returned to the house, they found the slave had been remarkably healed. Jesus did not have to physically come to the house and touch the ailing servant. The centurion’s faith had been sufficient.

 

THE  CENTURION AND US

 

This Gospel incident brings us face to face with a truth the church might rather evade: There are some people outside Christian ranks who have a faith which is greater than that of many of us within the church. This Roman soldier, a outsider, had a faith which was as strong, or stronger than that found in the ranks of God’s special, Jewish people. Today there are non-church folk through whom God does Christ’s thing, achieving healing, reconciliation, and winning social justice for others. Their faith can be an indictment on ours.

 

Maybe we do not consciously intend to be pretentious, maybe we have a spiritual blind spot, but we are inclined speak and act as though we have a copyright on faith. Some go further and imagine they have exclusive rights to God, as if the Almighty is their private chaplain . In the wake of this misconception, there is a tendency to delude ourselves that if the church does not do the works of faith, nobody else on earth will. Untrue.

 

I hear the Master saying: “ I tell you this: Not even in my holy church have I found faith like this outsider.”

 

The Gospel is not  God so loved the church” but “God so loved the world.” The Holy Spirit is constantly at work in the world, creating faith and optimism in unexpected quarters. Some of these outsiders are cooperating with God even though they do not express it in our religious language. Other outsiders believe in, and cooperate with, God although they have nor formal Christian affiliation.  This is God’s world, where some outsiders are in spirit  more truly insiders than we might care to acknowledge.

 

This becomes a stumbling block to some church members. Some attempt to get over this block by arguing: “Well they are of course good folk, but not believers. Their’s is not a faith but just that they were born with a generous nature.” This sounds to me like the elders who came to Jesus with those patronising words: “He deserves your time, Jesus. He likes our people and has built the synagogue for us. We owe him one.”

 

But Jesus went much further: “ I tell you this: Not even in my holy church have I found faith like this centurion.” Faith, you will notice. Not just some inherent generosity.

 

I reckon that if Jesus came among us in flesh today, he might say a similar thing about some non-church teacher, truck driver, tomato grower, fruitier, fire fighter, flight attendant, unionist, publican, politician, plumber, secretary, psychiatrist or street sweeper. He might comment: “I tell you this. Not in any congregation of Baptists, Anglicans, Uniting, Roman Catholic or mega-church, have I found faith like this.”

 

... note: the following  2 paragraphs may be omitted for a shorter sermon............

[I realise this is a dangerous  thing for a pastor to be saying to a congregation. Some person might want to retort: “Then what’s the use of being a member of the church?” My reply would be along the lines that we have a “special treasure in clay pots”. That is, we have stewardship of the specific good news of Jesus. Our task is not to patronise non-church people of faith,  but to make sure our own is both audible and visible in our community. Moreover, to a large degree that is (thank God) happening. For example, for many years the Uniting Church has been the biggest, non-government spender on social service facilities to the non-church people of Australia.

 

However , to be inspired by Jesus to exercise a faith hope and love that is not our sole prerogative. Outsiders have significant roles within the wide and intricate tapestry of God’s purposes. They play their part. We have our part. Let us get on with exercising our faith.]

 

BACK TO BALL BEARING

 

We return to the story of Ball Bearing. He accepted the invitation to speak in schools alongside John Smith of the God Squad. Let it be said that the minister was anxious the first time  he spoke to a school.

 

It is true the big biker did not pretend to be a Christian. He made no claim to be one of heaven’s angels! Nor did he hand out stickers extolling the Hell’s Angels. )Though is t is true than in talk back time he did push John  Smith very hard on some issues.)

 

What he said at the was this: “ Listen, you fellas, listen to this guy John. He’s on the level. He’s been praying for me for years. I don’t know if it’s done any good. But he’s worthwhile. Why is he worthwhile? Because I respect him. He won’t let you down.”

 

After this opening commendation by the tattooed biker, the students were intent as they listened to John Smith.  At the end of the first assembly, when John  had finished preaching and question time had ceased, Ball bearing went to John on the platform, publicly embraced him and said “I love you.”

 

Outsiders? God loves the world, not just the church. We do not have exclusive rights to spiritual truth. Hell’s angels may sometimes be heavenly angels. Observe what happens around you, observe the healing (physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually) which does happen, and listen carefully. If you are attentive you may hear a voice of supreme Love saying: ““ I tell you this: Not even in my holy church have I found faith greater than this outsider.”

 

 

BELIEF AND LIVING IT: A Creed

 

By God, I believe!

Through Christ I believe!

In Spirit and Truth, I believe!

 

In spite of myself, I do believe

            and seek to employ faith in the healing of a broken world.

 

In spite of many unanswered questions,

            faith persists and propels me forwards.

In spite of dull-wittedness I can still pray:

             “Just say the word, Lord, and healing will follow.”

In spite of my self interest,

            God continues to carve a space in my soul for true loving.

In spite of enemies who taunt or friends who undermine,

            I find myself taking risks for God.

In spite of being drenched by the negativity of the mass media,

            I reach for the future in hope.

In spite of anxieties cultivated by politicians and by prophets of doom,

            I rest my being in a core of calm.

 

I spite of myself, I do believe

            and long for that faith which dares to move mountains.

 

By God, I believe!

By Christ I believe!

In Spirit and Truth, I believe!

 

SEND IN THE ANGELS: Prayers of Intercession

 

The word angel originally meant “messenger.” For God’s angels on this earth,

let us now pray.

 

We thank you, loving God, that you do not leave us without helpers. We thank for your special agents, those guardian angels- both human and heavenly- who never cease to care.

 

Wherever there are situations of confusion, where doubts proliferate and anxieties spawn,  please send in your angels of light.

 

Wherever people are crippled by guilt, or deeply regret damage to others which they can never rectify, send in your angels of mercy.

 

Wherever there is arrogance and deceit, corruption and rapacious greed, send in your fiery angels of judgement.

 

Wherever ignorance reigns or superstition cripples individuals or communities, please send in your angels of truth.

 

Wherever persons or nations become obsessed with aggression, or resort to terrorism and warfare, send in your agents of peace and goodwill.

 

Wherever families are at loggerheads, or in the workplace folk feel alienated from one another, send in your angels of reconciliation.

 

Wherever people see their future as bleak or dangerous, and fall into the trap of inertia or despair, please send in your angels of hope.

 

Wherever the church becomes exclusive, or gets caught up in its own regulations, traditions, or inflexible dogma, send in your angels of reformation.

 

Wherever ministers lose their passion for the Gospel, or congregations become self satisfied or apathetic, please send in your angels of rebuke.

 

Wherever there are people who are afflicted by disease or injured in accidents, struggle against mental ills or suffer from criminal violence, send in your angels of healing.

 

Wherever the dying endure fears or pain, and the bereaved either shed the hot tears of a fresh grief or endure the long-term loss of a partner or friend, send in your angels of comfort.

 

Loving God, Lord of all the messengers of grace on earth and in heaven, hear our prayers and

enlist us, please God,  within the ranks of your caring angels. Through Jesus Christ your only True Son, our Saviour and our inspiration.

Amen!

 

READY FOR ACTION: Dismissal and Benediction

 

This day, choices have been put before us as we have listened for the Word of the Lord.

Faith or infidelity, trust or anxiety, healing or hurt.

 

Remember that “not to decide” is to already have made a decision against the way of Christ. Light or darkness, truth or delusion, love or apathy.

 

Great is our God and greatly to be praised

to be honoured above all worldly gods.

We will declare God’s glory among the nations

and celebrate God’s love among all races on earth.

 

The costly, healing grace of the Lord Jesus Christ will always be available to you,

The immovable love of God will undergird your going out and your coming in.

The unshakeable optimism of the Holy Spirit will always be there for you to embrace.

Amen!