Year C, SUNDAY 27  

2-8 October

 

Luke 17: 5-10                                                                                      (Sermon 1: “Where are the Clowns?”)

2 Timothy 1: 1-14

Lamentations 1: 1-6

Psalm 137

or Lamentations 3: 19-26                    (Sermon 2: “Sweet sour Songs of Faith”)

 

PREPARATION

 

We are here togther

in the name of Christ Jesus,

in the Presence of an awesome, Holy Love.

 

A person without God is like a feather in a perpetual wind, blown all over the place without any control or choice in where to rest.

O come, let us return to the  living God,

Let us bow before the One who is our Maker.

 

            OR –

 

Good news. God is always great news!

We are never cut off from the love of God,

God’s mercies never come to an end.

They are renewed every morning

for great is God’s faithfulness.

 

Each day I call miracle this into the centre of my mind

and therefore I am full of hope and happiness.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

Holy God, you are the hope of all who seek you, and the joy of all who are found by you. Find us, we pray. Wherever we have been, whatever we have done, find us, reclaim us, and gather us back into your love and certainty. Grounded in you, let us love, enjoy and adore you. Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

There is only one Person who knows every thing about us and understands it all.

We come to God without excuse or fear and make our confession of sin.

Let us pray.

 

Merciful God, we admit to each other and confess to you, our shallowness and wilfulness, our folly and our selfishness.

 

We confess the careless, cruel word,

the negative, cynical thought,

the irresponsible deed,

and the dithering inaction.

 

We regret the kindness withheld,

the opportunity not taken,

the high ideal betrayed,

and the faith fudged or denied.

 

Please forgive us, cleanse us, amend us,

and restore to us that zest for abundant life

which we have witnessed in Jesus.

 

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

My friends, “Christ Jesus came preaching peace to those who are near,

and peace to those far off.”

Trust, and let the mercy and peace of God embrace you.

Trust, put the past behind you and face the future with quiet confidence. 

Trust, God is faithful and can be absolutely relied on.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Planting Seeds of Love

 

Teach us, Lord Jesus,

to be like gardener

who sows seeds of kindness and hope

in the rough soil of every day.

 

Wherever the weeds of greed and jealousy grow,

and when people pay back wrong with wrong,

help us to grow lots of generous love.

 

Teach us your way, please Lord Jesus.

 

Amen!

 

PSALM: LAMENTATIONS 3: 19-26

 

God, in my distress I go round in circles,

and my mouth feels bitter with bile.

            I can’t get my worries out of my head,

            my soul seems as heavy as lead.

 

Now is the time for me to focus on you,

to have hope and be positive.

            For your love is never in debit

            and your grace knows no limit.

 

Your mercies are new each morning,

so wonderful is your faithfulness.

            “God is my fortune,” is my song,

            therefore my hope is forever young.

 

God is good to those who wait patiently,

and blesses the soul who seeks sincerely.

            There is nothing better than to wait quietly

            and bask in the salvation of God, faithfully.

                                                                                                            ©  B.D. Prewer 2003 & 2012

 

 

TREES IN THE SEA

 

I said to the man from Galilee:

‘How many sycamores grow in the sea?’

He answered with a winsome smile:

‘As many as travel the second mile.’

 

I said to the man who wrote in the sand:

‘Don’t sycamores grow much better on land?’

He answered me with eyes bright and alert:

‘It depends on whether you give your shirt.’

 

I said to the man with thorns on his head:

‘They’re easier to grow in a garden bed.’

He said as he wiped the blood from his face:

‘Not if you hope to reap saving grace.’

 

                                                                                    ©  B.D. Prewer 2000 & 2012

 

COLLECT

 

Loving God, eternally reliable, please increase our faith. Coax us beyond mere assent to commitment, and beyond commitment to enthusiasm, and beyond enthusiasm to the utter pleasure of giving unmeasured love in situations where only Christ’s fools dare to tread.. Through your Son, Jesus our Brother and Saviour.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: WHERE ARE THE CLOWNS?

 

Luke 17:6

 

If you had faith, even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree: “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea. And it would do it.”

 

Planting trees in the sea sounds a clownish exercise. It even outdoes ludicrous!

 

I reckon that is exactly how Jesus meant it to sound.

 

We miss the point of this mini-parable if we look at it with solemn eyes

 

It is cartoon he is creating. Think of it in cartoon terms. Unfetter your imagination.

 

Imagine a bloke standing up to his waist in the sea at Cable Beach, or Coolangatta, or Coles Bay, trying to plant a tree. Crazy, huh?

 

Like any clever cartoon, behind this picture there is a serious point. In this cartoon Jesus is challenging those who would follow him to start attempting the hard and clownish things.. Such teaching of Christ is for many, impractical nonsense. But not for the disciple; for the disciple it is the way to go.

 

FOUR COMMENTS

 

Four comments about what Jesus said ¾

 

1. The sycamine tree. To get literal, the tree Jesus mentions is not what in English we call a sycamore tree, but a variety of mulberry tree that grew in the Middle east. It is a fruit tree. Also, maybe it is significant that here Jesus speaks of a tree which happens to have a large and deep root system.

 

2. ‘Be planted’.  He actually says planted. Not dumped into the sea, but planted. The Greek word  phuteuo is used. It’s the common word for planting flowers, trees or vegetables. It’s the kind of thing you do when expecting things to grow and produce food.

 

3. ‘The sea.’   In Jewish thought the sea represents a primitive, untameable, alien force. Jews feared the sea. The sea separated people. To be lost at sea was most feared because it was thought to cut you off from any hope of resurrection. No wonder the Jews made poor sailors.

 

4. ‘If you had faith.”  For Jesus faith is not a passive, fatalistic acceptance of things, but an active, disruptive force. It is not resignation to whatever the stars decree. Jesus’ faith is prepared to roll up its sleeves and get working at changing the world with God and for God.

Faith is not have a lever to get God to do what we want, but the readiness to do what God wants.  Even a little faith, Jesus says; even faith a small as a mustard seed will have surprising results.

 

PLANT THE IMPROBABLE

 

Christians are called by Jesus to plant fruitful possibilities in alien situations..

 

In the eyes of a cynical world, faith is an exercise in improbalitity.

 

To the worldly schemer what we are on about will seem impractical; a waste of time and effort.  We will always be seen by some as the clowns of God.  They say: “ There is nothing we can do.” We say: “Let’s give it a try!”

 

Christians should be the people who dream up exciting ideas that to the cynics around us seem clownish nonsense in their calculating view. We are called to put ourselves at risk. We should be asking the awkward questions, making the unpopular stand, trying to win the unwinnable contest with evil. We are called to give it a try, and if we fail, to fail gloriously.

 

It would not be a bad thing if we took as our motto: “Clowns of faith, by appointment to his humble majesty, Jesus of Nazareth.”

 

Planting trees in the sea is our true business. The clowns of God should be ready to go where the wise and sophisticated disdain to tread.

 

MY GRATITUDE

 

I thank God for those who take up the challenge.

 

Those who are prepared to take a risk for the sake of Christ Jesus, inspire the rest of us.

 

A 29 year old convert, with no Christian upbringing, who within three months of becoming a person of faith accepted office in his trade union; “To be Christ’s man there.”  How is that for planting trees in the sea?

 

A 7 year old child, after hearing about starving people in Africa in Sunday School, drew a picture and made a donation box. This she installed at the front door and made sure any visitors saw it. She could not cure the ills of Africa but she could plant her small tree in the sea of general apathy.

 

One young man who decided to study both economics and social work so that he might be able to offer some skills to the long term unemployed. Fellow students who found out his game plan, derided him as a crank.

 

The mother in her forties who went back to study and completed teacher training so that she could specialise in helping children with learning difficulties. In a large school, she worked with a class of what others (off the record, of course!) used to call the “dumbos”. Because she actually asked for this difficult class, some teachers treated her like a nutter. Planting trees in the sea?

 

A priest in Africa who faked a crime and got himself imprisoned so that he could minister without any status to those who needed him most. Now that is planting in a deep sea! What a clown of a thing to do!

 

COMMON GARDENING STUFF

 

 

Not all tree planting has to be as dramatic as these examples.

 

Much is common stuff. Some happens very quietly and unobtrusively.

 

I am keenly aware of some of you in this congregation who have done your share of planting fruit trees in the sea. In your own way, you tackle the difficult and attempt that which seems improbable. Sometimes you appear to succeed, at other times you may appear to fail.

 

Common plantings do matter.

 

I am convinced that in the kingdom of God, what appears like a waste of time is always a success. The act of attempting the difficult for Christ is itself a glorious success. No brave act of faith is wasted in God’s regime.  That which may not appear to bear fruit, will fruit in ways we cannot discern. Nothing done for Christ Jesus is a write off. No brave risk of faith and love is a pathetic defeat.

 

GET CLOWNISH

 

So, how about it?  

 

Some more clownish impudence, please! Get out there in the seas with a spade in your hand.  In those places where others are negative and defeatist, and stand around bemoaning the state of the world, or the church, let us get on with Christ’s tree planting programme.

 

There is much more fun in being a clown of God that in “sitting in the seat of the scornful.”

 

If you had faith, even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree: “Be uprooted and be planted in the sea.’ And it would do it.                               Luke 17:6

 

 

SERMON 2: SWEET-SOUR SONGS OF FAITH

 

Texts: Excerpts from  Lamentations 1 and 3.

 

Do you want some inspiration to keep you going in living your faith? My thouyghst today are inspired by the poems known as the BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS. Sad songs indeed.

 

It takes a very sad person to sing such very sad songs.

Such was the prophet Jeremiah. And such are the poignant poems in the Book of Lamentations which were attributed to Jeremiah. We cannot be sure he wrote these poems, but they certainly are in tune with his soul. And they provide a fitting postscript to his life.

 

The first chapter is a song or poem that is exquisitely painful in its beauty.

It is an outpouring of unrelieved sorrow for the kingdom of Judah and for Jerusalem its holy capital on Mt Zion.

 

You and I may think we have our grey days,

shadowed times when no light seems to break through to relieve our clouded situation.. Maybe a few have been thrust down much deeper into the gloom than others of us.

 

Yet the worst that most of us have experienced is like a Sunday school picnic

compared to the desolation of the prophet Jeremiah and those who were close to his heart. His own sufferings, plus his additional grief for his crushed and scattered nation, plunged him down as far as any soul can go.

 

The writer of Lamentations captures this.

Listen once more to the doleful, yet haunting song of the first lamentation over the destroyed city of Jerusalem:

 

            How lonely sits the city that was filled with people;

            once great among nations, she is now a desolate widow.

            She who was a princess among many cities,

            has now become a humiliated slave girl.

 

            She weeps bitterly through the night, tears on her cheeks;

            of the lovers she once had, none stay to comfort her.

            Those she thought were allies have proved treacherous,

            friends of the good times have become enemies.

           

            All the roads to Mt Zion are in mourning,

            no pilgrims come to the great feast days.

            Her gates hang desolate and ragged priests moan,

            young girls are abused and the city suffers bitterly.

 

The sad man also must have loved deeply.

Only a deep love could create such a broken-hearted poem.  Someone like Jeremiah. Jeremiah loved the city of Zion deeply. He loved his people dearly. The love and faithfulness of Jeremiah was such, that he foreshadows the love of another Jew who appeared on the scene 700 years later, a mightier prophet from Nazareth.

 

THE LONELINESS OF THE PROPHET.

 

Jeremiah was a sorrowful, lonely, yet renowned national figure.

 

For over three decades Jeremiah had been almost a solitary voice. He warned his nation that the course on which their faithless leaders were set was destined for total calamity. For over thirty years he saw them go from bad to worse.

 

Jeremiah started young.

He was only a lad (maybe 16 yrs old ) in about the year 627 BC when he first became God’s spokesman. After watching a promising reform programme under king Josiah,  Jeremiah witnessed his own people slip away from God. They turned from worshipping the wonderful God of heaven and earth, whose ways were justice, truth and mercy. They embraced popular pagan gods. He watched the people of the kingdom of Judah slither into the low morals and the superstitious customs of idol worshippers.

 

Jeremiah was also alarmed that Judah had lost its national integrity.

It became a political lap dog to super-powers like Assyria, Egypt and Babylon. (Does that remind you of anyone?) He watched in disgust as “popular” preachers and priests toadied to both rulers and people by preaching whatever false lies they wanted to hear. Jeremiah insisted on the truth. As a result he was ostracised by most of the priests and prophets.

 

This lonely prophet, month after month, year after year, called for repentance,

for a change of heart, a return to God. Otherwise his country would be weighed and found wanting. Dire judgement would fall upon it.

 

As time went by, and Judah appeared to be getting away with it, more or less.

Of course people scorned Jeremiah as a religious nut. His freedom was curtailed, his rights infringed. He did suffer.  But no dire harm came to him.

 

He exchanged hard words with the head priest of the Temple (a chap called Pasher) and for his faithfulness found himself first beaten up, and then clamped into stocks near the gate of the temple. There all who passed by could mock him and throw rubbish at him.

 

The poor fellow seems to have been given a nickname.

Ironically, it was the nickname Jeremiah first gave to the priest Pasher. That name was turned back on Jeremiah by his enemies. He heard them whispering “Magor-missabib. Magor-missabib!”  Literally it meant “terror all around” Maybe it was like our phrase “Old Misery Guts”.

 

Flogging and the stocks were bad news.

It did not end there. On one occasion his enemies thrust him down into a dry well, and left him there in the darkness. Even some folk from his home village of Anathoth plotted to assassinate him.

 

That should keep old “Misery Guts” quiet!

 

GOD SEEMED UNSUPPORTIVE

 

And do you know what? God appeared hesitant to assist his prophet.

God just seemed to stand by and let Jeremiah cop the abuse without redress.

 

What is more, the disasters Jerry predicted were slow to materialise.

This apparent lack of support from God really got at Jeremiah. One day he cried out in frustration: “Lord you have fooled  me and made me your fool.” He complained that he had taken enough! He would not be a prophet any more. Why should he put himself in this situation of ridicule and abuse.!

 

Yet this remarkable person, this true man of God, did not actually resign.

The fire of the word of God still burnt on in his soul. He returned repeatedly with yet another message from God, calling the people to repentance. In return, they mocked old Misery Guts.

 

Finally, the day of reckoning did come.

The Babylonians came and crushed the troublesome kingdom of Judah without mercy. In 587 the walls of Jerusalem were breached, and before long the city was in complete ruins. King Zedekiah saw his own sons butchered in front of him, and then they put his eyes out and marched him off as a war trophy to Babylon..

 

Some of the leading citizens escaped into Egypt.

They dragged Jeremiah off, along with his faithful scribe Baruch, to a town called Tahpanhes. There he continued to preach the word of God without fear or favour. And there, at the age of 57,  he disappears from sight. But not, praise God, from history.

 

A PROPHET OF HOPE.

 

It takes a sad man of deeply compassionate  soul, to sing a sad song for Jerusalem,

now sacked and destroyed and her people scattered as refugees among the nations.

            The Lord has made her suffer for her multitude of sins;

            her children have gone, captives of the enemy.

            All the magic has departed from the daughter of Zion,

            Her princes are as bucks with no grass to eat,

            weakened, they flee from their pursuers.

           

Yet here is a remarkable thing about this man Jeremiah.

When his prophecies of destruction began to be fulfilled, he turned increasingly to messages of hope. Jerusalem was flattened, the temple a ruin, but Jeremiah’s faith was neither flattened nor in ruin. Out of the catastrophe of defeat, destruction, and exile,  God would bring a new day for his people.

 

Isn’t that remarkable! Don’t you love this guy!

 

Jeremiah is often remembered as a prophet of doom. That’s unfair.

He should be celebrated as a prophet of hope. Even among the Lamentations there are glorious passages of faith. In that reading we had today, from Lamentations 3: 19-26, hope and faith breaks through like the dawn sunshine after a long, starless, stormy night.

 

First let us hear some of the storm:

           

            Arrows from his quiver have pierced me,

            driven into my heart.

            I have become a laughing stock for all people,

            that sing their scorn all day long.

 

            He has made my teeth grind on gravel,

            made me cower among the ashes.

            My soul is bereft of peace,

            I have forgotten what happiness is.

 

Then comes the mighty upsurge of hope and faith:

 

            But this I call to mind

            and therefore have hope:

            The steadfast love of God never ceases,

            God’s mercies never come to an end.

            They are new every morning:

            Great is your faithfulness!

 

Don’t you love this man’s faith? The nation ruined, the holy city derelict, Jeremiah himself kidnapped and hauled off to Egypt, and yet here is one who still believes in God and trusts God.

            But this I call to mind

            and therefore have hope:

            The steadfast love of God never ceases,

            God’s mercies never come to an end.

            They are new every morning:

            Great is your faithfulness!

 

SING THIS THEME TODAY

 

No wonder these powerful words of faith and hope have been made into a well loved hymn within many Christian churches. More than 2,600 years after this Jewish prophet, his kind of faith still gives us strength in our difficult times.

 

Thank you, noble, lonely Jeremiah. Thank you, those few believers and poets, whose names are unknown to us, who stood up with Jeremiah and kept the faith.

 

Most of all, thank YOU most faithful, wonderful God! Thank you for not giving us up to evil. Great is your faithfulness!

 

GIVING THANKS

 

My friends in Christ Jesus, I invite you to enter into the spirit of thanksgiving.

Let us pray.

 

Wonderful  Creator, it is good to be alive in your creation;

to know beauty and seek understanding, to experience wonder and feel love. It is good to know that all things are a part of a complex purpose too intricate for us to understand, but not too difficult for us to participate in.

 

Wonderful  Redeemer, it is good to be alive in a world where Jesus lived,

taught, healed, laughed, wept, suffered, died and rose again. It is good to be among the people he has called to be your agents through all the common events of life, and through the times of daunting challenges.

Thank you for giving us a Divine Brother.

 

Wonderful  Enlivener, it is good to be alive in a church

where, in spite of our blatant faults, there flows a Spirit who can invigorate the tired, embolden the timid, enhance the gifted, restore the defeated, inflame the slack, and create a surge of love which is much stronger than the total of our small, individual loves.

Thank you for giving us the fellowship of the Holy Spirit..

 

Encourage us to turn our gratitude into firmer faith, and our faith into deeper compassion, and our compassion into doing good to those around us.

Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!

 

PRAYING FOR OTHERS

 

 God loves, God listens, God answers . The answers may not be the ones we expect, but no prayer for our sisters and brothers is ever wasted.

Let us pray.

 

Loving God, because the world’s problems and miseries are so vast and complex, and because we are neither wise enough, nor resourceful and strong enough to put things to right, we pray for your divine assistance in every sphere.

 

Please assist those who are struggling for justice and peace among nations and communities.

 

Please assist those who through research or hands-on care are fighting disease and suffering.

 

Please assist those who are trying to govern wisely, and those who administer justice.

 

Please assist those who care for the dignity of the unemployed, handicapped and the homeless.

 

Please assist those who give schooling to our children and advanced skills to young adults.

 

Please assist those who are pastors in churches, hospitals, industry and aged care facilities.

 

Please assist all those who in spite of the help that is offered are still finding it hard to cope and find themselves at their wits end.

 

Loving God, Friend of all who turn to you, and Friend also of those who in anger turn away from you, in your love embrace this world with your almighty tenderness, and lead us from all that is hurtful and destructive to grace, mercy and peace.  In the name of Christ Jesus.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Go well. There is nothing that can happen this week that God has not anticipated,,

 nothing that is outside God’s providence. Go faithfully, go lovingly, go hopefully.

 

We are ready for all things, through Christ who strengthens us.

 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,

will be with you

today and forever more

Amen!