Year C, SUNDAY 21  

Aug 21-27

 

Luke 13: 10-17                                                (Sermon 1: “Compassion not Kudos”)

Hebrews 12: 18-29

Jeremiah 1: 4-10                                  (Sermon 2: “To be Called”)

Psalm 71: 1-6

 

PREPARATION

 

If you come in here today knowing that you are a flawed creature, sometimes smart yet often foolish, especially in hindsight, then you are in the right place.

 

If you come feeling insignificant and inadequate in the presence of an awesome God who deserves the highest and most perfect praise, then you are in the right place.

 

If you have come wanting to rest your weariness or shabbiness in the arms of an unconditional Love, then you are in the right place.

 

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

And also with you.

 

OR

 

In you, loving God, we seek and find refuge,

please never let us be ashamed.

Be to us a rock under our feet

and like a fortress of salvation.

For you alone, loving God are our hope,

from our childhood you have been here for us.

 

Let everyone praise the Lord!

The Lord’s name be praised.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Majestic, Awesome God, our great Friend, save each of us from taking part in public worship yet not worshipping. Awaken the love and wonder within us, until our cup is running over with a praise which flows deeper, and rises higher, than anything else we experience. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Let us throw ourselves on the abundant mercy of God.

Let us pray.

 

On the timid who will not dare to be strong, and on the strong who refuse to acknowledge their many weaknesses: have mercy, saving God..

With you, loving God we seek refuge,

let us never be put to shame.

 

On the foolish who cling to their ignorance, and on the clever who act with arrogance and despise the slow witted: have mercy saving God.

With you, loving God we seek refuge,

let us never be put to shame.

 

On the half-hearted who ignore new opportunities, and on the impatient who rush in where angels fear to tread; have mercy: saving God.

With you, loving God we seek refuge,

let us never be put to shame.

 

On the people with few gifts who waste what they have, and on the very gifted who over-stretch themselves with trying to do too much: have mercy, saving God.

With you, loving God we seek refuge,

let us never be put to shame.

 

On the wilful who cling to their favourite sins, and on the over zealous who try to be more religious than Jesus was: have mercy, saving God.

With you, loving God we seek refuge,

let us never be put to shame.

 

Holy and loving God, we know that it is not your will that anyone should destroy themselves, but that all should turn to you and be saved. Have mercy on us and your erring children everywhere. Bring us to a genuine repentance and restore us to your good health. Through Jesus Christ our Redeemer.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

“God did not send his Son to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.” My Friends, now is the time to put the past behind you. The word of Christ can be trusted to forgive and reclaim you. Take up your salvation and live with the peace and joy which nothing can take from you.

Amen!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Kids That Look Different

 

Loving God,

            we know that you love everybody.

Whenever other children at school

            look different,

            speak with a funny accent,

            wear unusual clothes

and are called hurtful names

            by kids who are cruel,

please help us to stick up for them.

 

For your name’s sake.

Amen!

 

PSALM 71:1-6

 

I stake my life on you, God;

            don’t let me ever be ashamed of it.

With the unique justice of grace, deliver me;

            turn my way and heal me.

 

Be like a rock shelter in a storm,

            to which I come for relief.

You really are my rock shelter,

            the fortress of my being.

 

My God, save me from the hands of rogues,

            from the grip of the cruel and unjust.

You are the only hope I have,

            my safety from teenage years.

 

I’ve leaned on you since my birth,

            when you were my soul’s midwife.

You drew me from my mother’s womb;

            your praise is my constant theme song.

                                                                                                 © B.D.Prewer 2000

 

POEM:  UNBENDING

 

That she was bent for eighteen years,

not many cared.

Some wondered what her sin had been

and others sneered.

Face to the ground she came to church

all on her own.

No one shook hands and steadied her,

she stood alone.

 

That she was bent for eighteen years,

He really cared.

He did a thing that ‘was not done’,

this man they feared.

With gentle strength he straightened her,

with a wide smile.

He shamed the men who never went

the second mile.

 

Some enemies were made that day

by what he dared.

There were a few who wept with joy;

some women cheered.

His work was done yet not complete

in that small town;

There was an hour that must be faced

with a thorn crown.

 

                                                            ©  B.D. Prewer 1998

 

COLLECT

           

Loving God, you are more ready to hold out your hand to us than we are ready to grasp it. By the encouragement of your Spirit, help us to overcome reticence or fear, and step forward to receive blessings appropriate to our true need. Then, made whole by your grace, may we become a blessing to those who lives impinge on ours. Through Christ Jesus our healer and liberator.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: COMPASSION NOT KUDOS

 

Luke 13: 10-17

 

When Jesus was teaching in a synagogue, there was a woman who had been afflicted for 15 years with a curved spine; bent over so that she could not straighten up at all.

 

Jesus noticed her, called her and said: “Dear woman, you are now liberated from your affliction.”

 

He laid his hands upon her and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

 

But the ruler of the synagogue was indignant because Jesus had dare to heal on the Sabbath day. He said: “There are six days on which all work should be done. Come of those days to be healed, not on the Sabbath day.”

 

Doing the right thing will not always bring you kudos.

 

But that is the way Jesus went. The right thing was the most loving thing, and the most loving thing would prove to be the most dangerous thing.

 

Luke sets the story of a handicapped woman in the context of Jesus resolutely making his way towards Jerusalem. He is on his way to a fateful confrontation that will end with his execution.

 

It would be tempting for Jesus to go softly at this stage, to not upset his angry critics. But as always with Jesus, the call on his compassion overrode everything else. Here in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, was a woman with extreme curvature of the spine; bent towards the ground, unable to look directly into the eyes of anyone except maybe, the eyes of little children.

 

A JEWISH VERSION OF KARMA

 

You have seen such unfortunate people. You have looked on them as Jesus did. But you most likely do not share the harsh attitude which was common in Jesus time: Such affliction was thought to be the result of sin; either hers or her parents. She had it coming to her. It was divine judgement. A Jewish version of the Indian “karma.”

 

Stuck fast in the minds of many was the notion that God always rewards the good and punishes the wicked in obvious ways. If misfortune comes to you, it is your own fault. If you are repentant the punishment will stop. If you stay unrepentant the punishment remains.

 

It was this same doctrine against which the magnificent Old Testament book of Job rebels. In his day, good health and prosperity were seen as the valid reward for righteousness; poverty and suffering are the punishment for evil. Job fiercely contested this view of things. This way of thinking also accounts for the bewilderment in some of the heart-rending cries that we read in the Psalms, were good people lament their condition.

 

By this version of karma, victims of disaster were made victims twice over: They bore the affliction plus the distaste and scorn of those who were living comfortable lives. (It has echoes in those who blame the unemployed for being unemployed, or the deserted spouse for being deserted, or the refugee for being refugee.)

 

It was (and in some quarters still is) a cruel doctrine.

 

STRIKE ONE

 

Jesus, the person of supreme compassion, at every opportunity challenged this way of thinking and acting.

 

As he does in the synagogue on this occasion. He refers to the woman not a s a sinner but as a daughter of Abraham; which means a faithful Jew.  He sees the affliction not as a judgement of God but as an evil: “this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for eighteen years.”   Daughter of Abraham? Affirmation for a Jew does not get much better than that.

 

These words and actions are enough to annoy the Head Man of the synagogue. He is typical of those for whom rules are more important than love. It also offended some of the other pious men who were present and watching his every move, so that they could report it to headquarters in Jerusalem.

 

In their judgement, his attitude was dangerous. It was a case of strike one.

 

STRIKE TWO

 

But wait, there is second offence. The healing deed was done on the Sabbath day.

 

Work, even the most simple task,  was forbidden on the Sabbath. As little as lighting a lamp or a fire, or cooking a meal, was seen as forbidden work. Lawyers could not deal with clients, doctors could not treat patients on the Sabbath. By their understanding, Jesus was certainly breaking the Sabbath when he healed the handicapped woman.

            There are six days on which work should be done. Come for healing on those days, not on the Sabbath.

 

Jesus must have expected this reaction. He knew what he was doing. He knew his critics were following him. I suppose he could have been discreet and asked the woman to see him privately after church, or maybe in that evening after sunset, when the Sabbath would have expired. (I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have tried something like that. To be more, shall we say, discreet.)

 

But Jesus? No way.  He cared too much to be silent. As far as he was concerned, this woman had already suffered too long. Now was the time for compassion. Now was the opportune moment. Now was the hour of liberation.

 

He knew that one more strike and he would be out. Yet none of the retribution that would befall him mattered as much as this person’s immediate need. If it meant one more nail ready for the cross, so be it. Love came first, now.

 

His critics were ready: There are six days on which work should be done. Come for healing on those days, not on the Sabbath.

 

There is frustration and anger in Jesus’ retort: You hypocrites! Each of you on the Sabbath will untie his ox or his ass and lead it to the water. Should not this women, a daughter of Abraham, who has been bound by Satan for eighteen years, be loosed from her bondage on this Sabbath day?

 

These words arise out of burning love. There are appropriate occasions for such anger.  The New Testament tells us to be angry and sin not.  Jesus managed it. With Jesus, anger and compassion came from the same source; love. We are not so good at picking the right situation or the right moment for anger. Our anger is not always the flipside of compassion.

 

Of course such burning love proves costly. This good anger of Christ was no doubt like ordering a couple more nails for his own cross; but for Jesus one suffering woman was worth it.

 

THE COMMON PEOPLE WERE THRILLED

 

We read :  By saying this, his critics were publicly shamed; but all the common people were thrilled with the wonderful things Jesus had done.

 

The impressed people, those who became excited, were the ordinary folk; those whom the righteous men of Jerusalem despised as the amme ha aretz, the people of the land.

 

It is significant that the despised people recognise the hand of God at work. Their despisers, the godfearing men, do not. It is rather like what is predicted in Mary’s song of joy, the “Magnificat”: those who are hungry are satisfied with good things; the rich go empty away.

 

(Do you ever feel bit uneasy wondering whether this is still the case today? Do the common people recognise the hand of God where the more sophisticated among us only see something that might threaten or annoy us?)

 

OUR OPPORTUNITY

 

Now let’s focus on ourselves for a couple of minutes.

 

Here we are in church, our version of the synagogue. Here with us is by his Spirit is Christ Jesus, unseen but intimately present as he promised. Now is the opportune moment when he wants to share his compassion.

 

He calls to us. Do we come forward to him?

 

I don’t know what are your deep needs. You do. I don’t know what fears or shame may hold you back. He does.  I don’t think our Lord wants to put off helping you until there is a more discreet time. Now his compassion flows. Now his hands want to rest on you. But you must, in your mind and heart,  come forward to him. 

 

God does grant us opportune moments.

 

As you try to picture Jesus dealing with this unfortunate woman, what is his posture? I’ll tell you my vision of him: As the woman timidly comes forward, I picture him bending, looking up into her eyes, and reaching his hand up to her.

 

You see, he comes not as an overpowering authority from above, but as one of us, looking into our eyes. He hand does not come down with a patronising gesture for above, but it moves towards us on our level. It rests gently but firmly on us, at the very spot where we most need loving.

 

But only if you wish it.

 

 

SERMON 2: TO BE CALLED

 

Jeremiah 1: 4-6,9 :

 

Now the word of the Lord God came to me saying: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before your were born I consecrated you. I appointed you to be a prophet to the nations.”

 

Then I said: “ O no, Lord God! Look at me, I am not a public speaker, for I am only a youth.”

 

Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth, and said to me: “Look, I have put my words in your mouth.”

 

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet.

 

To be called by God comes as a shock.

It is one of the most surprising and awesome things than can happen to a mere earthling. A sense of divine vocation is remarkable. To be selected and asked to do a task for the Creator of the immense yet intricate universe, is the highest honour, deepest privilege, and at times the heaviest responsibility. It may seems preposterous. At first when others mock the idea, there is a tiny voice inside ourselves that joins the mirth.

 

“O no, Lord God. You must be joking. Look at me, I am just another human being!”

 

These days, far fewer people claim to have a sense of vocation.

That is especially so in the Protestant churches. When we speak of being called, many suppose it only applies to being called to be a minister, priest, or deacon. Or maybe a missionary nurse, evangelist, teacher or agriculturalist. Or perhaps to work as administrators or secretaries in the administration of the church.

 

But what about other vocations?

It is rare in this twenty first century to encounter men and women who say they are called by God to work in the secular world as a doctor, engineer, teacher, hairdresser, carpenter, lawyer, nurse, police officer, social worker, farmer. The lay folk who still express this sense of call, seem to be found mainly (although not exclusively) in the Roman Catholic Church. Even there, not as many express themselves this way as they did fifty years ago. The sense of vocation appears to be missing, and the community is poorer because of it.

 

Jeremiah, as a mere youth, as he describes it, experienced the call.

God named him to be a prophet. It happened in 626 BC, when a young reformist king, named Josiah, was on the throne. This was a unwelcome calling that came to young Jeremiah. A difficult and lonely calling. To be one who spoke out for the justice and truth of the living God. (It may come as a surprise to us to read that God had designated him for this prophetic task from the beginning of his formation in his mother’s womb?)

 

SPECIAL CALLINGS AND OUR EXCUSES

 

It is no surprise to read that Jeremiah was not impressed.

 “Why me, God? Look, I’m too young. And I’ve had no training in public speaking. You must have the wrong person.”

 

Many a woman and many a man have responded to God’s call in that way.

To feel oneself called by God to a special responsibility within the church or community is usually scary. To be called from a comfortable secular occupation to a more risky or demanding one, is not always welcome. Most at first plead that God has got the wrong person. Some refuse for months and years to hear this call of God to them.

 

In my own case, I kicked like the proverbial mule.

The thought of being called to be an ordained minister was outlandish. God had to pick me up (metaphorically speaking, let me add!) and hold me upside down until all the fears, excuses, and plausible reasons fell out of the pockets of my soul.

 

Special callings can catch the “callee” off guard, and leave them gasping with incredulity.

 

By special, I don’t mean “more important” tasks.

By special I mean that God calls some to particular tasks. Happy is the man or woman who hears that call to a particular service, and comes to the point of saying “yes” to it.

 

THE MOST IMPORTANT CALLING

 

I do not want to diminish the importance of such “special” callings.

However, I remind you that all Christians are called people. It is just not missionaries, or ministers and priests, or nuns and monks.

 

Each of us who share the name and grace of Christ Jesus, are called.

Called to the most special mission. We are called to be Christ ‘s person wherever we go and whatever we do. There is no such thing as a Christian without vocation.

 

No Christian is exempt from this foundational calling.

The young and the old, the 5 talent person and the 1 talent person, the person of high IQ or of moderate IQ. We are all called by Jesus of Nazareth to spread his love in the world. This calling is not, I repeat not,  less important than the special calling that a missionary or a priest has received.  In fact this is the most special call, the most important vocation of all.

 

LOSS OF THE SENSE OF VOCATION?

 

Some people in the church who worry about the shortage of priests and ministers.

They lament the declining numbers of men and women who are offering themselves for ordained ministry. Some assert it is a sign of spiritual poverty in the church, and the hedonism of the young people of this era.

 

I am not so anxious on this score.

As I suggested at the outset what concerns me far more is the apparent loss, or doubting, among many Christians of their sense of sacred vocation while going about their weekday responsibilities. Now that does discomfort me.

 

You may or may not be one of those who feels personally called by God to a specific job.

Like being  a surgeon, school teacher, primary home carer, plumber, plane pilot, nurse, jockey, accountant, computer programmer, secretary, politician, business manager, bus driver, pastoralist, country G.P., wheat grower, or trade union officer. Some do have, and some do not have, a sense of particular call in their particular daily work.

 

There is something more important.

Namely that those of us who are Christians are called to be Christ’s person wherever they work. Whether it be as surgeon, school teacher, home carer, plumber, nurse, jockey, country GP, union officer and so on. We are called to honour Christ to the best of our ability whatever our work or profession.

 

A SCANDAL

 

There is one scandal which sometimes afflicts the church.

It is this: Among those who say they believe in Christ (including a few who make a big “song and dance” about it) are some who do not give their best to their work as do many non-Christians.

 

It is a scandal when a Christian surgeon

exhibits much less concern for a patient than does an agnostic surgeon.

 

It is an offence if a Christian police officer

does not work as conscientiously as does a fellow officer of no religious belief.

 

It is a shame if Christian school teacher

is known among her colleagues as one who skimps through on the least preparation as possible, and dodges as many other campus responsibilities as she can.

 

It is a disgrace if a Christian mechanic

is less honest when billing a customer for the cost labour and spare parts than his secular counterpart.

 

It is a tragedy when a priest or minister,

in counselling situations, betrays trust placed in them by exacting sexual favours, while an atheist counsellor exhibits a high degree of respect and care for the client.

 

It is a scandal when Christian lawyer or accountant shows

less integrity, or respect for their client’s blest interests, than do those who have no pretensions of faith.

 

It is an offence when a Christian plumber

is far less reliable than a rough-cut plumber who has never been inside a church.

 

We Christians are a called people. All of us.

No exemptions.  We are no less called than was Jeremiah. No less called than the New Treatment apostles. No less called than missionaries and archbishops. We are called by Christ Jesus to honour God through every task we do, and in the way we treat every person with whom we have dealings. This in our irrevocable and calling and our lofty privilege.

 

Never sell your calling short by your daily behaviour.

 

CONCLUSION

 

II will conclude by mentioning the conclusion to a sermon I experienced long ago. 

I heard that famous 20th century preacher of London’s City Temple, Dr Leslie Weatherhead, when he was on a visit to Australia. It was in what is now St Michael’s Uniting Church, in Collins Street, Melbourne, and I was what other university students called a “log .” That is, a theological student.

 

Weatherhead told of a cleaning women at the end of a long night shift;

bone tired from cleaning city offices in central Melbourne. He spoke of her leaving the last premises on her duty list, at about 7 00 am , and heading off along Flinders Street to catch a train home. Although weary, she walked with a perky step, for she was one of those special people who believed she was called to Christ’s cleaner in those offices where she spent the long hours of night.

 

She knew herself as called by Jesus and she hoped she had done him proud. As she encountered hordes of people disgorging from the station to start work, many of them impatient, sour and grumbling, she held her head high with a dignity only the God of Jesus Christ could bestow. She cherished her vocation..

 

 

PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING

 

Let us give thanks for Jesus the Christ.

Let us pray.

 

Most remarkable God,

we give you thanks for all that Jesus was and all that he is.

 

Precious the fingers that anointed blind eyes,

            than hands that touched the diseased,

            the arms that embraced little ones.

 

Precious the smile that welcomed outcastes,

            the frown that rebuked the arrogant,

            the voice that told parables.

 

Precious the courage that led to Jerusalem,

            the faith that agonised in Gethsemene,

            the love that suffered at Golgotha.

 

Precious the lips that gave the Easter greeting,

            the mercy which restored ashamed disciples,

            the Spirit let loose on the world.

 

Our gratitude wells up, our praise we attempt to express,

and our complete lives we offer in a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

We are commanded to love both our neighbours and our enemies. Let us accept again  that commission, by taking the first step of prayer.

 

Let us pray.

 

Today, Divine Healer,

we pray for all the fearful and sick people

who live around us in this community and wider world.

 

The mentally unstable who each day must struggle against

wild fears and cruel voices.

The accident victims or war casualties who must endure

months of pain and hard therapy.

The diseased or the grief stricken for whom each day

is now a struggle for light and lief and peace.

 

Today, Divine Healer,

we also dare to pray for the ugly or ruthless folk whom we would prefer to ignore.

Those whose crude speech, habits and actions disgust us.

The greedy and the powerful who make the lives of others a misery.

The cruel who bash, rob, rape or kill without any sign of remorse.

Our personal enemies whose dislike of us is relentless.

Our national enemies who would like to see us obliterated from the face of the earth.

 

God of Christ Jesus, be today with every kind of person,

be they family, neighbour, stranger or foe.

May your tough grace be among them

in all misfortune,

or in bad situations they may have wilfully created.

 

In every critical need of the human race,

may each soul know both the fire and the healing

of your Holy Spirit.

 

For your love’s sake.

Amen!

 

OR -

 

God of grace, Friend and Counsellor, we pray for our sisters and brothers both near and far, named and unnamed, friend or foe.

 

For the diseased who have no medical care, for the suffering who fear the long dark night, for the hungry who have no bread to share, for the guilty who fear the coming light, for the abused who don’t know where to turn, for the oppressed for whom all hope has fled, for the trapped who have no more bridges to burn, for the homeless with no place to lay their head, for the stubborn who don’t know how to bend, for the poor who cannot escape their lot, for the weary whose toil seems without end, for the addicts who live for one more shot, and for loners who know not the Heavenly Friend.

 

God of grace, Friend and Counsellor, touch all these people with the ministry of your Spirit, we pray, and where it is appropriate , use us to be your angels of light and love. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.

Amen!

 

 

SENDING OUT

 

Leave this house of prayer and get ready to serve the world that God loves.

 

Enjoy doing the things you are good at,

cheerfully undertake those things that your find boring,

and courageously tackle those difficult things you have been avoiding.

Amen!!

 

The strong arm of the living God be yours,

The strong arm of the living Christ be yours,

The strong arm of the living Spirit be yours,

            To lead and to shield you,

            to undergird and enfold you,

            this day and ever more.

Amen!