Luke 12: 32-40 (Sermon 1: “A Surprise Party”)
Hebrews 11: 1-3 & 8-16 (Sermon 2: “The Faith of the Hopeful”)
Isaiah 1: 1 & 10-20
Psalm 50: 1-8
ENTRY INTO WORSHIP
The unconditional grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
And also with you!
Worship is a coming to our senses in the presence of the Holy Lover.
Worship is catching our breath in the presence of Pure Beauty.
Worship is an awareness that our frailty does not matter.
Worship is realising that we are infinitely cherished.
Worship is our whole being alive with love and gratitude.
Worship is a pooling of our human love in a chorus of wonder and praise.
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Hly Spirit, be with you all.
And also with you.
We are here to put first things first,
to acknowledge there is only one God in heaven and earth.
The mighty One, the God who is the Lord of all things,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
PRAYER: OF PRAISE AND TRUST
Wonderful are you, God of creation, without whom nothing draws breath.
Wonderful are you, Christ Jesus, without whom our world stays in the dark.
Wonderful are you, Spirit-Friend, without whom our worship remains formal.
We trust you, we love you, we yearn for more of you; we praise you for your holiness,
beauty and inexhaustible love.
PRAYER: CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE
Most of us know we fail in doing that is the best. Our share in evil grieves us. Let us make a clean break by confessing our sin and welcoming the forgiving, healing mercy of God.
Let us pray.
Holy and beautiful God, something in my heart says I was made for you, but my doubts chatter and tell me to stop believing such nonsense. Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Something in my heart says we were all made for peace and joy, but my inner conflicts react with the world’s hostilities, and leave me a clumsy peacemaker. Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy
Something within my heart says that we were made for love, but my ego rebels and keeps me miserly in compassion and self- sacrifice. Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy.
Holy God, somewhere outside of me there is a holy Word which says: “Child, your sins are forgiven you. Get up from your fear and guilt and walk boldly towards your destiny.”
Blessed are you, living Word!
Blessed are you, Saviour of the lost!
Blessed are you, Maker of all things new!
PRAYER FOR CHILDREN
Like Wattle Blossom
Dear loving God,
your lovely Son Jesus
is like Australian wattle blossom
splashing the bushland with gold
in days of late winter.
When our hearts feel cold,
Jesus tells us that spring
and is never far away
and your Warmth is closer
than we think.
Thank you God.
adapted from “Prayers for Aussie Kids” Ó B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers
PSALM 50: 1-8
The Voice which speaks and confronts the whole world.
is that of the Holy One, the God of gods.
From the time the sun rises until after it sets,
the dazzling beauty of God shines out.
When God comes, it is not always in silence;
it may be like a consuming fire or fierce storm.
God’s call is heard among the distant stars,
and on earth we are summoned to give account.
God gathers together the true believers,
those who keep faith at much cost.
The whole universe shall announce justice,
for God who has the final word says:
“I will speak against you, my people.
I your God will be a prosecution witness.
It is not what you do at church that’s wrong,
your worship is a good attempt.
It is what you do outside that upsets me,
how you exploit the land and its creatures.
For every animal in the bush is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains
and everything that moves on the plains.
Get this, you who would limit me to pious thoughts:
I could put you through the shredder!
Let all you do each day be a thanksgiving;
get things right and you will see my salvation!”
© B.D. Prewer 2000 & 2012
A SERVANT SURPRISE
The palace hall is ready,
the servants wait inside,
the tables are a picture
fit for a smiling bride.
A voice orders the servants seated
and music fills the room,
and the One who now waits on tables
is the divine Bridegroom.
© B.D. Prewer 1994 & 2012
SERMON 1: A SURPRISE PARTY
Luke 12: 37
Happy are the servants who are ready when the master arrives. I tell you t
he truth: he will put on an apron and make them sit down at the table, and he will serve them himself. Luke 12:37.
All is ready for the surprise party. The house is decorated, sumptuous food is prepared, the best of wine purchased, the musicians are at the ready, and the servants are standing by waiting.
All they need is the guest of honour, who is the young Master of this house. There is a quirky difference about this surprise party to one in which you may have been involved. The custom in this particular culture is not for those who prepare the feast to surprise the guest of honour, but for the guest of honour to surprise the preparers. . You may think that is odd, but of course they would think our way is odd.
A WAITING GAME
I have neglected to tell you the reason for the party. The banquet is to welcome home the newly married Master.
However, according to the customs of this part of the world, his trick is to arrive at a time they do not expect. That is the first surprise. If possible, he wants to catch them unprepared, or dozing, or even maybe sneaking a bit of the food and wine before he arrives.
As observers, we may think this may be an acceptable game for the waiting guests. But not so for the servants; it is a game where they are most at risk. Having worked extra hard to prepare the banquet, they must stay alert and ready. To be caught dozing would mean at the best scorn and shame, and at the worst, dismissal.
Their task is to be ready, to give him an honourable welcome, and then rush around for hours and hours waiting on the tables. What is more they are supposed to perform their duties with dignified cordiality. No doubt they are even expected to apologise (as if it were their fault) should a clumsy guest spill some wine. There is not much pleasure lying in store for servants.
THE SECOND SURPRISE
Some of the guests sneak some wine and doze off. The laugh will be on them.
Suddenly it all begins to happen. With much singing and shouting the Master arrives at the front steps. The servants, very much awake and sober, begin rushing in all directions. The porter flings wide the doors, the head butler bows low, the musicians sound the trumpets, and the Master makes his grand entrance. He is delighted that he has surprised some drowsy guests, but that his servants are loyally and eagerly ready.
But the biggest surprise is yet to come. You see, this particular young Master has his own way of doing things. He knows the best traditions of the past, but he refuses to be bound by them. Since when he arrived to take over this estate, the unexpected has often happened; to the delight of some but the annoyance of the more proper among his neighbours.
The Master calls his servants to stand before him. They do so, with appropriate bowing. He tells them to remove their aprons. Then he beckons them to the tables and asks them to be seated. Taking an apron, and putting a napkins over his arm, he assumes the form of a waiter and commences to wait on them.
Such is the Master’s happiness, and such is his affection for his servants, that he can think of no better way of celebrating than to make them the guests of honour and himself the servant.
Maybe a few of the guests enter in the spirit, don an apron and start moving back and forth from the kitchen with the sumptuous food. However, most of the guests are scandalised. Most take the huff and leave. Some gather outside and discuss how might they get rid of the new young Master who is a danger to their established local traditions and certainly a threat to their privileged positions.
On the other hand, the servants are at first stunned, then a bit anxious, then pleased, then overjoyed. They realise how much they are loved by their young Master.
IN THE NEW AGE THINGS ARE RADICALLY CHANGED
Jesus said: “Happy are those servants who the Master finds awake when he comes. I tell you the truth: he will gird himself and have them sit at table, and he will come and serve them.”
That is how it is, Jesus is saying. In the new world that God is bringing in, the idea of servant and master, important and unimportant, are turned upside down. Be alert, be ready, be loyal, and you will be amazed at the blessings God has in store for you.
That amazement is ours, my friends. Yesterday, today and tomorrow. You are in the kingdom of grace, of abundant life, not one of rigid custom and law.
There is and will be grace upon grace. Bonus upon bonus. Forgiveness again and again. Love heaped upon love. Surprising coincidences become common. Such is the lavish hospitality of the kingdom of God.
In this story we are again in the territory of the Father who welcomes home his wastrel son by throwing a party. And the grape grower who pays labourers who are not employed until 5 0.0. pm the same wages those who were the first to be employed in the morning. Or the woman doing her shopping at the grain merchant, who receives far more corn than she is entitled to, as it is pressed down, shaken together and running over. This is definitely Jesus territory.
You and I are numbered among the most happy servants. By rights we should be just employed workers. Instead, life is a continual surprise party, where the guest of honour makes us the honoured guests; where the Master waits on us, washing our feet, tending our wounds, easing our worries, serving royal bread and wine to us. Grace upon grace. Love upon love. Our cup is full and running over.
“Happy are those servants who the Master finds awake
SERMON 2: THE FAITH OF THE HOPEFUL
Especially verse 1: “Faith gives substance to our hopes,
and makes us sure of those realities we cannot see.”
The 11th Chapter of the “Letter to the Hebrews” is a roll call of many of the memorable Old Testament people of faith.
Yet it is somewhat lopsided roll call of people of faith.
Like the impressive “Stockmen’s Hall of Fame” in the legendry Aussie outback town of Longreach, it is dominated by the names of men. In this “Letter to the Hebrews,” the only two women to make the roll call are Sarah the wife of Abraham, and Rahab of Jericho. The latter is a surprise because she had been a prostitute of the ancient, pagan city.
However, in spite of the emphasis on men, this roll call is an impressive one. For any Jew, this chapter should make the adrenalins flow. Even for a Gentile momgrel, like me, it is soul stirring stuff!
But then comes an unexpected phrase.
“All these persons died in faith.” What a way to ruin a good story! In spite of their mighty faith they perished like the rest of us. Death, that indiscriminate leveller, got all of them in the end.
But wait. In the N. T. we are dealing with a different way of seeing life and death.
A different view of time and eternity. From the Christian perspective faith is not shattered by death. In truth, death is shattered by hope and faith. To live by hope and faith and to die in hope and faith, is a grand thing!
THE DARING NATURE OF HOPE
What is this hope?
What is this hope which when taken up by faith reshapes remarkable persons and also shatters the gloom of death?
According to the letter to the Hebrews, faith is closely allied to hope.
“Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us sure of those realities that we cannot see.”
Christian hope is not a wistful longing.
No a pathetic wish-list for the improbable or the impossible. Hope is not building imaginary castles in the air. It is not trite, sentimental optimism. It is sharing God’s vision and plan. Hope is affirming the glorious future which God has for humanity. Hope is turning to the promises of God and saying “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
Hope for that childless couple, Abraham and Sarah
was daring to envision the Divine promise
that through their descendants “all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Hope for Moses was daring to picture and commit to,
the liberty of the promised land, “flowing with milk and honey,” at the time
when his people were in miserable slavery in Egypt.
Hope for Isaiah was a commitment to the vision,
It was daring to see and preach the new world that would one day surely come to be.
Then shall blind eyes be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing.
Men shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning blades.
Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor ever again be trained for war.
For the earth shall be filled with the glory of God as the waters cover the sea beds.
For the Christian person, hope takes on a special shape.
It dares to look at a new world order shaped in the likeness of Jesus of Nazareth.
He is the first born of the future race, the shape of the new humanity.
He is the new creation, the future surging into the present moment.
By hope we commit ourselves to doing things his way.
Hope is daring to look at this future, seeing it not as a mirage but as a certainty.
By hope an irrepressible longing, and a joyful commitment, enters in to the human soul, and becomes incarnate in our brains, our hands our feet.
Warning: Unless we dare to hope,
we are most likely to become mesmerised by the greed and violence and chaos of humanity, slowly surrender our ideals, slide into a pernicious pessimism, and join the “rat race.”
THE DYNAMIC OF FAITH
What about faith? The faith that the writer to Hebrews extols?
A clarification. The word faith in the Letter to the Hebrews is not “saving faith “ as in Paul’s letters to Romans and Galatians. It is more the results of having been “saved by faith”. It’s faith in gear, not just starting the motor. A launching out, implementing what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
Such faith is always activity, not passivity.
Faith is (in spite of our critics) not a barbiturate to calm people down and makes them docile. It is a trust in God which thrusts people into the ruck of life. Faith places us in a position of holy tension; puts us at odds with the folly and sin around us. Faith is not an escape but a new, profound, re-creative involvement.
Abraham and Sarah are worthy models of faith.
Faith meant leaving the comfortable existence of home, kindred and country, and setting out on a journey where the destination was somewhat cloudy. “He went out not knowing where he was to end up.” It meant a long, and at times risky, adventure. There were to be joys and hardships, nasty twists in events, frustration and danger, on their journey of faith.
Faith is actively implementing as much of the hope as possible
in our time and circumstance. It is giving substance to our hope. It is an active way of life.
ALWAYS A SOJOURNER?
Our status is that of pilgrims.
We should also notice that living by faith in the God of hope, makes us people who don’t totally belong in any town, city, or rural region. The faith heroes and heroines lived in many places, among many nations, settled amid many cultures, but they did not belong. They were not at home.
Abraham is called (in Hebrews 11) a “sojourner.”
I like that old English word. It is the translation of the Greek word PAROIKOS. This word meant a non-citizen; a resident alien. Then he and other faith heroes are called XENOI. That means a stranger, one who does not belong. Then again they are called PAREPIDOMOI, meaning temporary residents or passing travellers.
We have no final home here.
Home is the vision we have of the better future. Home is the promise from God. Here we are only sojourners. It cannot be otherwise for people who have been given the gift of hope.
Look around us at the culture in which we are set.
Is this really our home? I love my world and I dearly love my country. In fact the older I grow the more I love this ancient Australian continent and its people. But as long as I live I will also be profoundly discontented with it all.
Look at this myopic, selfish and often desperate world.
Look at our self indulgent and anxious society. Look at all the foppery of fashion and the silly pomposity of our politics? Look at the Narcissistic vainglory of our entertainment culture. Look at the injustices and grave abuses which occur from Darwin to Devonport and Broome to Burleigh Heads. Are any of us content to call this our real home? Our true soul place?
This is not the world as it should be! This is not our true home!
This is not the completed world which God promises. This is not our true home! No wonder that we who believe in God, and live by faith hope and love, find ourselves like aliens. Those who follow Christ Jesus cannot ever be anything else but alien PAROIKOI, outsider XENOI, and the temporary PAREPIDOMOI.
DYING DOES NOT MATTER, HOW WE DIE DOES.
We will all live and die in the faith with many of our God-given hopes not fully realised.
But it is far, far better to die with the restlessness of hope still upon us, than to die as those who are content with this world as it now is.
The fact of dying does not matter much.
In Christ, death is no calamity. It is how we live while we are alive in this world that matters, moment by moment. The important thing is whether we reach for the hope with all our faith and apply it with all the love we can muster. For this task, we have the Spirit of God with us, aiding and abetting every step we take towards the promised land, every act of love we show our neighbour, every tilt we make against injustice, every prayer we offer with thankful and compassionate hearts.
By our active faith we give solid content to our hopes.
The unseen world of the God who is around us, takes firm outlines in our midst.
“Faith gives substance to our hopes, and makes us sure
of those realities we cannot see.”
PRAYERS: THANKSGIVING and INTERCESSION
# for 2 voices.
Let us pray.
God of surprises, Saviour and Friend, we bless you for this world which is like a banquet of good things.
For the abundance of nature:
The minerals and trees, the vineyards and orchards, the cornfields and market gardens. For the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and the animals of plains, hills, rainforest and desert.
We pray that we may look after this abundance more carefully, and share earth’s prosperity more fairly among the communities of this world
We thank you for the abundance of people:
Asian and South American, Indian and British, Chinese and Australian Aborigine, Arab and Scandinavian, African and Polynesian, European and Latin American, Greek and Melanesian.
We pray that we may set free from all prejudice, fear, exploitation or hatred of one another. That each may be respected, treasured, given equal opportunities, and cared for in their hour of need.
We thank you for the unique abundance of the grace of Jesus:
For his compassion and mental toughness, his vision and teachings, his healing and his forgiving, his laughter and his tears, his dying and his rising.
We pray for all who love Christ, all who preach him, teach him, write about him, celebrate him, and all who this day are suffering in his cause.
We thank you for the abundance of the church; active in many lands and set in many cultures; with varying customs and rituals; serving in different ways, but cleaving to the one Lord
We pray for the many arms of your church, in its strength and weakness, its glory and its shame: let us follow the Christ who called us and gave us the Good News..
God of surprises, we pray that our thanksgiving may lead us into a better stewardship of all these your gifts to humanity. .
Please enlarge our faith, toughen our courage, enlighten our ambitions, forgive our errors, enliven our worship and every day deepen our love for your world.
Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.
THE WORD OF MISSION AND BLESSING
Be light-footed as you leave this house of prayer.
For you don’t go as fearful servants of a stern Master
but like favourites whom the King has humbly served.
We are no longer called servants, but friends.
The blessing of courage, compassion and common sense,
take you through this week without looking over your shoulder.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.