Year C, SUNDAY 22  

Aug 28- Sept 3

 

Luke 14: 1 & 7-14                                                                   (Sermon 1: “Uncosted Hospitality”)

Hebrews 13: 1-6 & 15-16

Jeremiah 2: 4-13                                                                                              (Sermon 2: “God’s that are No-Gods”)

Psalm 81: 1, 10-16

 

 

PREPARATION

 

We are here

to worship a remarkable God.

The love of God welcomes us,

the grace of Christ awaits us,

the joy of the Spirit enfolds us.

 

Don’t come as slaves, come as the truly free.

Don’t come as petitioners, come as those who are already heard.

Don’t come as interlopers, come as invited guests.

Don’t come as the outsiders, come as much-wanted children.

The love of God emboldens us. .

The grace of Christ redeems us.

The joy of the Spirit uplifts us

 

Come as the joyful, come as the eager, come as the thankful,

come as the recipients of amazing grace.

The love of God overflows our hearts,.

The grace of Christ liberates our spirits,

The joy of the Spirit sings in our minds.

 

            OR—

 

This is the house of God,

and we are, by Christ’s invitation the guests.

Yes, this is the house of God,

and we are, by saving grace, the guests.

 

Sing to God who is our strength!

Shout and cheer the God of deepest joys!

Lift up our songs, make joy with keyboard,

strum the guitar and let the drums roll!

 

This is the house of God

and we are, by grace, the guests.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Wonderful are you, God of Christ Jesus! By your Spirit, lead us in this opportune time of worship, that we may stretched beyond our knowledge and lifted much higher than the inadequate words of our prayers.

Set us free to indulge ourselves in your hospitality and to enjoy you with uninhibited delight. Wonderful are you; glorious are you, most awesome Friend, today, yesterday and forever!

Amen!

 

THANKSGIVING

 

We awake each day, loving God, to a world which is packed with good and beautiful things.

 

We are grateful for this morning’s early sunlight, slanting our way with cheerful warmth;

                        the aromas and tastes of our food and drink at breakfast,

                        and the sensual rituals of bathing and dressing in clean clothes.

 

We are grateful for the things that gave us pleasure on the way to church;

                        the young translucent leaves on trees and the glory of spring blossom.

                        the busyness of birds building nests and sipping nectar from flowers.

 

We are grateful for the people arriving at other churches that we passed on the way;

                        for the pleasing sight of our own church coming in to view,

                        and the privilege of gathering among friends intent on worship.

 

We are grateful for the music and singing which gets us involved and lifts out spirits,

                        the voices of fellow believers who lead prayers and read lessons,

                        and the Gospel of Christ as fresh as when it was first proclaimed.

 

Most generous God, we have awoken again on this Lord’s Day to a world which speaks volumes about your providence and grace. Please accept the thanks we give you, and the lives we offer to you in gratitude. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Love and mercy always awaits those who turn to God.

Let us pray.

 

God of the weak willed and God of  the strong, of the clever and the foolish, the humble and the powerful, please continue to have mercy on your people.

 

Forgive the weak for giving in too easily when the pressures of work, family or community wear them down until they become irritable.

 

Forgive the strong for pushing ahead with scant regard for those in their way, and for despising those who can’t push back.

 

Forgive the foolish for rushing into poor decisions, and then berating others when things go drastically wrong.

 

Forgive the clever for using their skills and knowledge to overwhelm lesser intellects in order to get their own way.

 

Forgive the humble for using their lowly status as an excuse for the evasion of responsibility when challenged by your Holy Spirit.

 

Forgive the powerful for becoming arrogant, and insensitive to the needs and troubles of those who are effected by their decisions.

 

Lord have mercy. Lord have mercy.

Christ have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.

 

Most loving God, bring to bear on our lives the saving grace of Christ Jesus. Give us the desire and the courage to repent, and help us not to be too proud to accept a mercy which asks nothing but our acceptance of it. Enable us to put right whatever we can, and to let go of the remainder, leaving it in your hands. Through Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

GOD DOES FORGIVE US

 

The Bible declares:: “As far as the east is from the west, so far has God removed our sins from us”. Jesus came “preaching peace to those who are near, and peace to those who are a long way off.”

 

My friends you are set free: to be a forgiven people, and to become a forgiving people in all your dealings with those who sin against you.

Thanks be to God.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Come As You Are

 

Dear God, you know what?

I reckon coming to church

is like a “come as you are party.”

 

You do not invite us

because we are good looking,

or well dressed or have clean hands,

or because we are extra nice people.

 

You invite us to come as just we are,

with all our faults poking out

like elbows through a worn jacket.

Thanks you for loving us

with such an accepting love.

Amen!

 

PSALM 81: 1, & 10-16

 

Sing to God who is our strength and happiness!

Shout and applaud the God of joy and pur holiness!

 

I am the unique God, your God.

who brought you into liberty.

You only have to open up your mouth

and I will fill it with the beard of certainty.

 

M own people would not listen to me;

I came to my own folk and was rejected.

So I let them get lost in their own stubbornness,

to wander among their vain ideas, neglected

 

How I wish my people would listen to me,

that they would walk on my narrow road.

Then I would soon tame their adversaries,

and turn the tables on all who mock and goad.

 

Those who hate me should come and bow down,

and escape the disaster on which they are set;

I would nourish you on the finest bread

and sweeten you with the purest honey yet.

 

Sing out to God who is our strength and happiness!

Shout and applaud the God of joy and holiness!

 

                                                                                                ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

POEM: THE CRITICS

 

He teaches humility,

            this Galilean crank,

the stuff of slaves and clowns,

            not citizens of rank.

 

This peasant prattles on

            about the lowest seat,

asking the unwashed mob

            to come inside and eat.

 

He has not got a clue,

            this charismatic fool,

about the real world

            and what its costs to rule.

 

It takes a clear head

            to keep them in their place;

you cannot run a world

            on parables and grace.

                                                ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

God our holy Friend, you invite us to participate in a hospitality which is something else! Help us not only to accept it with thanksgiving, but to freely share it with those whose lives are restricted or crushed by the meanness of this rapacious world. Make us not only receivers but generous and unostentatious givers. to the glory of your name, through Christ Jesus our Divine Brother.  Amen!

 

SERMON 1: UNCOSTED HOSPITALITY

 

Luke 14: 12-14

 

When you have a dinner party, don’t invite your friends, relatives and best neighbours, who can return the compliment and repay you. When you throw a party, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. Then you will find real happiness, for they cannot repay you.

 

Jesus launched a new phase in human relationships. I call it uncosted hospitality. It was, in that era. a revolutionary approach.

 

It still is.

 

If fact it is so revolutionary that most of us (yes, that includes Christians!) have barely tried it. Although we may not openly advertise our uneasiness about Jesus’ revolutionary approach, the truth is that there are plenty of church folk think it is too idealistic for our tough, rough old world.

 

Nevertheless, whenever Christ’s revolution is actually practised, instead of the old methods, a bit of heaven is let loose on earth; a new dynamic; a new beauty and rare kind of happiness flowers.

 

The old methods? These are the pre-Jesus models. I will try to describe them under the headings of  the Traders, the Exploiters, and the Robbers.

 

WHAT A CLANGER!

 

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

 

First, look again at the unsettling thing (some would say the discourteous thing) that Jesus actually said at a dinner party.

 

Jesus, himself a guest, looked around and noted the well washed, well dressed, well fed guests around him. He turned to the host and said something that no person of good etiquette should ever say to a host. (But of course Jesus was not a person to be ruled by etiquette, tradition, or polite sweet conversation)

When you have a dinner party, don’t invite your friends, relatives and best neighbours, who can return the compliment and repay you. When you throw a party, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. Then you will find real happiness, for they cannot repay you.

 

What a clanger! If that’s not a conversation stopper, I have never heard one.  Can’t you picture the stunned silence for a few seconds, before the more confident and well polished among them would take over, and resume conversation about ‘sweet nothings’ as though Jesus had not spoken.

 

One thing is for sure: it would be a long time before Jesus was invited back to that house. His name would be scrubbed for their guest list.

 

What they did not realise was that Jesus’ guest list would remain open to them. For he too is a host. He too has a table spread with far less food than you would normally find on a dinner table, yet which is immeasurably more wonderful than that found on any other table in the world.

 

This statement about inviting the nobodies, the ‘great unwashed’, came from the lips of one whose whole life was a banquet of uncalculated giving. His was truly a divine way to go.

 

Jesus  was not talking just about dinner parties. The dinner party is a mini parable for the whole of life. It was about how we use our time, our abilities, our possessions, our very life energy.

 

I now return to the lesser creeds which dominate the community around us. These are the ways of the Trader, the Exploiter and the Robber.

 

THE TRADER.

 

The Trader says: ‘I will invite you to my party if you invite me to yours.’ In a one sense, there is nothing wrong with this attitude. Most of our lives are based on trading: our time, our energy, our abilities, our possessions. It is an honest and socially acceptable way. It certainly helps us live with some security in a tough, rough world.

 

But it has its down side. It favours those who start with an advantage either in wealth, position or cleverness. It allows the advantaged people to feast together on the biggest cake, and leaves the disadvantaged to share together the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s  table.

 

In relationships it is a failure; it stunts the growth. A friendship based on trading can hardly be called friendship. A marriage based only on trading is a travesty of committed love. A church that attempts to live that way falls tragically short of the New Testament  koinonia where the gifts of each are offered for the good of all.

 

THE EXPLOITER

 

The exploiter says: ‘You invite me to your party, and maybe, one day (no promises mind you!) I may be in a position to invite you to a really big one I am planning.’

 

The exploiters shamelessly use other people. They butter others up, they issue vague promises, they employ manipulative methods, they may even offer vague threats. They want 12 of your hours to 2 of theirs, all of your abilities for a snippet of one of theirs; they want your time, your talents, your possession, your life.

 

The may even try the old trick: “If you were a true Christian you would surely  do this..........for me.”

 

Whenever they ring us on the phone, we do well to caution ourselves with: “Now what do they really want?”

 

Modern society is riddled with exploiters. Even some churches get in on the act.   I have known both laity and clergy whose modus operandi is to exploit fears, guilt, hopes, and ideals. In fact there are sectarian groups that are utterly stuck in the exploiter mode.

 

THE ROBBERS

 

They simply say: “Like it or not, were are here.”

They gate-crash our party help themselves to the drink and food.

 

These are clearly defined. The best thing one can say about the robbers is that at least they are out in the open. There is no doubt about their game.

 

They do not want friends, they want lackeys not equals. You even find these types in marriages. What is more, their children are only there to please them, too.

 

These ruthless types will laugh in our face should you talk about mutual caring and sharing. As far as they are concerned, Christ’s way is a joke. You are there for their use. There is no pretence in this. I suppose we could say that they are honest.  Indeed some of them will boast: ‘At least I am not a hypocrite!” True. But I find that small comfort.

 

Maybe they are not as insidious as the exploiters. Except when they do get hold of power; then they cause immense chaos and suffering.

 

UNCOSTED GIVING

 

Into the world of traders, exploiters and robbers, Jesus arrives with his radical way: that of uncosted giving. We are to be his kind of people. Not asking what is in it for us, not counting the cost, but responding to needs with generous hearts.

 

We care because there are those who need caring for, we fight for justice because others are suffering injustice, we give support in crises just because that person needs support, we reach out to those who are less fortunate without looking for even gratitude.

 

We preach the Gospel, we engage in evangelism, not to bolster our church membership or increase our financial support base, but because Jesus Christ is good news and others deserve to have the opportunity to hear the real thing.

 

I am delighted to be able to say that in my experience I have witnessed much of this uncosted giving among people of the church. Sometimes one can get frustrated with the weaknesses of the church, with its fear of taking risks for Christ’s sake. There is some bad news about the church. Yet after I have made a small catalogue of its sins, I need a much larger catalogue for all the quiet, altruistic, unmeasured goodness that flows from its people. I find that remarkable and beautiful.

 

Its source is the impact of Christ on our lives. From the uncalculated giving of himself for us, we find the freedom to give of ourselves to others.  His revolution has not been in vain. The seeds of heaven on earth that he left here have continue to bear fruit.

 

Jesus stepped out of the traders’ circle, rejected the exploiters’ network, and scorned the robbers way. He had no truck with anything that treated other people as things there for our use. What he gave he gave freely, and those who followed did so freely .

 

SOME EXAMPLES

 

The church as an organisation displays uncalculated giving in the way it reaches out to assist others, not to make converts but simply to show them love. I am grateful that I happen to belong to a denomination that is the largest supplier of non-government social welfare services in  Australia. Only Jesus of Nazareth could have inspired that kind of voluntary giving from a mixed bag of sinners like us!

 

Individually, the members of the church also do much. I think of all the uncalculated goodness of ordinary Christians who in small ways brighten the lives of others, without any blowing of trumpets. Some examples from my experience are—

 

A shy man who for years regularly visited his local hospital, spending time with those who never seemed to have visitors.

 

A woman whose casseroles unpretentiously found their way to families where the usual       carer was ill.

 

The keen gardener who often left fresh vegetables with me to pass on (anonymously) to       families who were finding it hard to make ends meet.

 

The inarticulate factory worker, and a bachelor, who for 15 years financially assisted a widow and her five children and not once asked for the tiniest thing in return.

 

A woman who for nearly two decades wrote letters lobbying our Federal Government to take a more pro-active role in backing the rights of the people of East Timor.

 

 

A female QC who for years included in her already heavy work load, the defence (without fee) of young people whom she believed were being unjustly treated by the authorities.

 

And I could go on and on. These are just a few, and by no means the most spectacular, examples of the uncalculated giving that has been set loose by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

When you have a dinner party, don’t invite your friends, relatives and best neighbours, who can return the compliment and repay you. When you throw a party, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind. Then you will find real happiness, for they cannot repay you.

 

 

SERMON 2: GODS THAT ARE NO GODS

 

Jeremiah 2: 11-13

 

Has a nation ever changed its gods for nothing,

even though their old gods had been empty?

Yet my people have given away their glory

for that which is utterly useless.

O heavens, be appalled at this shame!

Be shocked and desolate, says the Lord God

For my people have made two evil choices,

they have deserted me, the spring of living waters,

and hewed out rock cisterns, to hold stagnant water,

cracked cisterns which can never hold the water anyway.

                                                                                                       Jeremiah 2: 11-13

 

It was not a bundle of fun to be a prophet of God.

 

To be closely allied with God inevitably means to share a little of his long-suffering love.

 

To get close enough to participate in God’s redemption of stupid, wilful humanity, can be a devastating experience. The true prophet endures times of dark loneliness, vicarious shame and desolation. Times when the evil of the world presses in upon the mind and spirit, with crushing power. There are moments of bliss for those who are very close to God, but there are also hours and days of grim anguish.

 

So it was with Jeremiah.

 

He was called by God to start his prophetic ministry while still a youth, at a time when the faith of the Jews was in decline, and they were running after many false gods. Later, he endured seeing his homeland land overrun by the Babylonians and its leading citizens sent into exile. Much of the frustration and pain and sorrow of God flows through the prophet Jeremiah.

 

It comes out vividly in many of his words as written down by his faithful scribe, Baruch.

There is a lot of soul-anguish in passage we read today, from Chapter 2. Through his servant Jeremiah God cries out:

 

            What fault did your forebears find in me,

            that they turned so far away from me?

 

            Why did they go chasing after worthlessness

            to become themselves utterly worthless?

 

Jeremiah lost faith in his own beloved, Jewish people.

They had abominably forsaken their God. He felt like an alien among his own kith and kin. What is more, as a spokesman for God, he had to take a public stand against them. To become as it were their enemy, even though in truth he was their dearest patriot.

 

A PATRIOT’S DISQUIET

 

Have you sometimes felt a measure of that kind of disquiet in your heart?

When you look around at our nation and see the greed, corruption, prejudice, entrenched injustices, and the rampage after many trivial “gods” that is widespread today? Don’t you feel the judgment of the living God upon much that is accepted in what is called “our Australian way of life?”

 

As a true patriot of this ancient continent, I become distressed.

I can sing along with all my heart the sentiment in that song written by the late entertainer Peter Allen: “I’ll still call Australia home.”  Also, I find myself deeply moved when a choir of children from diverse ethnic backgrounds sing. “We are one, but we are many, and from all the lands on earth we come. We share a song, and sing with one voice I am, you are, we are Australian.”

 

Like most of you, I dearly love this aged continent.

As you know, I have spent much of my life trying to express this patriotism in the language of worship for the people of this very ancient continent. However, I am deeply troubled about the soul of this nation. I experience a measure of that grief which I find in Jeremiah and his God over the dissolute ways of Israel.

 

AUSSIES ARE AN IRRELIGIOUS PEOPLE

 

Of course, one cannot simply equate Israel with our own nation.

They were a nation with a special calling and covenant with God. They had an exceedingly rich religious history, from those first adventurers in faith, Sarah and Abraham, to Joseph, Miriam, Moses, Ruth, Samuel and the remarkable, yet flawed poet-king, David.

 

In the sharpest contrast, this multicultural Australian nation has never been religious.

Only in the most superficial way could previous generations call this a Christian country. We have never been a godly people.

 

Our foundation was as a penal colony.

Convicts, soldiers, sailors, and the most opportunistic of restless men and women, formed our earliest society. Among those who joined them were rogues from England who got out before the law caught up with them. Also, in the ranks the so called “free settlers” were the delinquent sons of English gentry who were sent far away from home so that the good name of the family would not be disgraced.

 

From the very beginning, the Christian faith had only a tenuous toe-hold .

To be sure, a little later, among the flood of “lower class  immigrants who were fleeing the desperate economic times in the 19th century, there were devout Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of England, Baptist, Congregationalist and Roman Catholic people. Likewise with the 19th C gold rushes there were numerous Welsh and Cornish evangelicals, and Irish Catholics, who came among those who flocked to places like Ballarat and Bendigo. Many prospered and with optimistic faith, built their lofty houses of worship.

 

Nevertheless, generally speaking, the church has always been a minority. Australians have largely been an irreligious people. This has become more marked since the late 1960’s, when the move away from Christian ideals to blatant hedonism has emptied the churches even more.

 

Australia is very different from Europe and the USA.

Europe has been moving away from mainline Christianity over the last 100 years, but it was steeped in it for well over a thousand years. The USA was founded by deeply Christian people, and even today the churches have a large following.  In contrast, since the “coming of the white man” to Australia, faith has never held sway here.

 

There is one major irony in all this.

Before Europeans set foot in this land, 100% of the population here was deeply religious. For Native Australians, the whole of life was a spiritual event. There are sacred sites in this ancient land with a history of 40,000 years and more. They make Westminster Abbey or St Peters in Rome seem just like yesterday’s innovation. These first Australians had much to teach the new arrivals, but we were too arrogant or to prejudiced to see it.

 

RECENT DECLINE IN VISIBLE CHRISTIANITY

 

Recently the church here has been in a recession.

oth publicly and privately the influence of Christianity seems to have been in sharp decline. Even though in earlier days organised religion in Australia was never dominant in our culture, at least some of its values permeated widely through the community. Not so now.

 

The great grandchildren of those fervent Welsh and Cornish Methodists,

those dedicated Scottish Presbyterian, devout Irish (and more recently Italian) Catholics, and devoted English Anglicans, have exchanged the Bible God for other gods that are no gods. They have left the ever flowing waters of God ‘s grace for the cracked cisterns of society. They have thrown away faith in the Creator and Redeemer of all things, for the no-gods of pop culture.

 

It is this situation which makes some of us feel an affinity with Jeremiah.

 

Has a nation ever changed its gods for nothing,

even though their gods had been empty?

 

Yet my people have given away their glory

for that which is utterly useless.

 

O heavens, be appalled at this shame!

Be shocked and desolate, says the Lord God

For my people have made two evil choices,

they have deserted me, the spring of living waters,

and hewed out rock cisterns, to store stagnant water,

cracked cisterns which can never hold the water anyway.

 

OUR MISSION AND CURRENT DISILLUSIONMENT

 

Of course we are not “chosen” like Israel.

We cannot see ourselves in the same light as that special people Israel. They had a particular call from God and a unique service to render God. A mission for the blessing of the whole world. We cannot make a straight comparison between them and us. That is not possible.

 

Yet there is some common ground.

I have this deep hunch that God does have a particular mission for Australia. A special task to do in this part of the world; situated as we are in South East Asia. Our multicultural nation has a unique opportunity.. But I fear that we will not discover our mission until we regain the indigenous Australian insight that the whole of life is a spiritual event.

 

How long will it take before we get disillusioned with the gods of hedonism?

For some the disillusionment has already arrived. But they fear there is nothing with which to replace it. The high rate of youth suicide in this country is a testament to the sense of futility that has been festering among sensitive souls.

 

Even the churches are implicated.

At the moment the disillusioned folk of the church are disturbed by what’s going on. They see how, even in the church we have, to some degree, been seduced by the tawdry gods of the world. Too often we take our cue from social pressures and expectations, not from Christ and his God.

 

 

WHERE ARE WE IN ALL THIS?

 

Do you know what scares me most?

I don’t really know for sure how much my own faith and values have been gradually undermined and eroded by the invasive influence of our hedonistic society. White-anted by the gods that are no-gods?

 

No matter how hard I try, I cannot make an objective audit of myself.

I can preach to you about the need to keep our hearts lovingly and tenaciously fixed on Christ Jesus. Yet how free am I, the preacher, from the insidious contamination of other gods?

 

I do not know for sure. That is what I find so scary! But I hear Jeremiah’s cry —

 

My  people have given away their glory


for that which is utterly useless.

I hear Jeremiah and I throw myself on the mercy of God.

With all my heart I  pray that by the fiery furnace of the Holy Spirit

I may be purged from any alloy or slag that

links me to the empty idols of the present world..

 

And what I pray for myself I most earnestly pray for you,

the kindly people to whom God has sent me,

as a very minor prophet, 

this day.

 

 

GENERAL INTERCESSIONS

 

 

FOR PEACE

 

Reconciling God, please strengthen the will of all peacemakers. Pilot negotiators through the reefs of fear, pride, and hoary prejudice. Build up courage, truth, trust, and mutual respect.

 

FOR INDIGENOUS PEOPLE

 

God of resurrection, please restore to dignity the lives of our aboriginal citizens, from  Cooktown to Flinders Island, Redfern to Broome.  May the Risen Christ be among them with enabling love, sharing their frustration and their prayers, and giving them the will to inherit that better future which is your will for all people.

 

FOR OUR POLITICAL SYSTEM

 

Source of good government, please give our leaders the vision to see beyond party jockeying to the real needs of this nation. Show the them best way to develop the full potential of our people and to foster opportunities for the weak, the neglected and the inept.

 

FOR THE SICK

 

Loving God, embrace your suffering children with almighty tenderness. Where the natural healing forces are weak, or where the agents of decay are strong, grant an infusion of your healing love, penetrating every tissue and cell, and recreating health and vigour.

 

FOR THE SORROWING

 

Comforter of those who mourn, if you are still ready to turn water in wine, please take the burning and salty tears of human grief, and turn them into the wine of faith, hope and a large love.

 

Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

It’s time to go.

Time to re-engage with the secular world.

 

Time to put the faith into deeds .

Time to practice uncalculating love.

 

Time to meet the Christ who waits for you.

Time to share his boundless hope.

 

You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

 

With the blessing of God, in your mind and heart, let

            each morning be a joy to you,

            each path be a joy to you,

            each neighbour be a joy to you.

Now and always..

Amen!