Year C , SUNDAY 31  

October 30 Nov 5

 

(SUNDAY BEFORE “ALL SAINTS”)

 

Luke 19:1-10.2                                                                                                (Sermon 1: “Become Yourself?”)

Thess. 1: 1-4 & 11-12

Habakkuk  1: 1-4 & 2:1-4                   (Sermon 2: “Do Not Lose Heart”)

Psalm 119: 137-144

           

ENTRY INTO WORSHIP

 

This week will bring us to November 1st: All Saints Day. Today therefore,  let us rejoice in  that ‘great cloud of witnesses that surround us, and make the hidden heavens a home to our hearts.’

We join with all who know the love Christ Jesus and delight in him. We believe in the holy, universal church, the communion of saints, and the life everlasting.

The glorious company of the Apostles praise You.

The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise You.

The noble army of the martyrs praise You.

The holy church throughout all the world acknowledges You.

 

            OR–

 

                        (based on 2 Timothy :1)

 

Grace be with you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

And also with you!

 

We cannot help giving thanks to God always for you, sisters and brothers,

which is only right, because your faith continues to flourish,

and the love you show one another is on the increase.

 

May God make us worthy of being called Christians,

and help us to fulfil our good resolutions and complete our faithful works by his own power in and through us.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

 

We want to keep thanking you, reconciling God, for the gift of Christ, and the power of your Spirit weaving into a community. As we come before you this day, may we forget our differences and set aside either envy or indifference, that with genuine love for one another we may, as with one mind,  worship and adore you as you alone deserve. This we pray in Jesus’ name.

Amen!

 

            OR –

 

God our holy Friend, everything in creation sings your praise, and all the children of eternity sing of your glory. We who have been found by the love of Christ Jesus shall not withhold our voices! Please set free the spirit of thanksgiving in us, that a current of joy may flood through our lives, washing away our weariness, sweeping away our hesitation, and cleansing us from all that is dark and stale and defeatist. Through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Amen!.

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

It is written:  “ Righteous are you. holy God, and right are all your decisions.

                                        What you call right stands forever, and your law of love endures.”

 

Regrettably, not all our human decisions are right, and our love is a patchy thing. Let us make our confession. Let us pray.

 

Loving God, here we are again, creatures who turn to you for help. Some of us are content, some discontented;\ some confident and some anxious;  some are light hearted and some low spirited; some find faith easy and some find faith difficult.

 

Into your waiting, open arms we come, please welcome us and save us from our sin and ignorance.

 

You are aware of the circumstances from which we come. From secure homes or from  temporary accommodation; from an environment of nuturing love or from isolated aloneness; from daily work that satisfies or from work that compromises us; from exciting days or from long boring hours.

 

In your warm embrace we come, please welcome us and save us from our sin and ignorance.

 

You know the true condition of our spirits. Some are  free and happy, some in bondage and shame;

some have few regrets, some have many;  some are repentant, some in denial;  some are thirsty for better things, some are apathetic.

 

In your warm, unconditional love we come, please welcome us and save us from our sin and ignorance.

 

Awesome Friend, all us have two things in common: we know that we have fallen short of the goal you have set us, and we know that you are a God of forgiveness and regeneration.  Please deal with each person as you see best. By your free grace in Christ Jesus, let us know the peace of being put right with you and one another.  For your love’s sake.

Amen!

 

ASSURANCE

 

My sisters and brothers in Christ Jesus, God gets no pleasure from seeing people who are ridden with guilt. He sent his Son not to carp and criticise, but to rescue and heal. In his name, please receive the mercy of God that is renewed every morning. Forgiveness is yours for the taking.

 

Thanks be to God.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

            Small is Beautiful

 

Please remind us, God,

that being small does not matter.

 

You notice little children as much as football heroes

and care about kids as much as prime ministers.

 

You even tell grown up to become more like us,

if they really want to know the happiness of heaven.

Thank you for sticking up for us.

Amen!

 

PSALM 119: 137-144

 

You, God, always get it right,

            you give the best possible outcomes.

Goodness will prove its own worth,

            it is totally reliable.

 

I become all steamed up

            when jerks don’t listen to you.

I have tried your promise and it works;

            this “battler” really loves you!

 

The world may think me a nobody,

            but I don’t forget your guidelines.

Your mercy-justice is forever right,

            your law of love holds true.

 

If troubles and pain come, so what?

            your teaching remains my delight!

Your way will stand true for ever,

            understanding it means life to me.

 

                                                ©  B.D. Prewer 1997

 

COLLECT

 

God of saints and martyrs, today look graciously upon your people who have been called out of darkness into light. Grant unto us not what we deserve but that which you have wondrously given in Christ Jesus, the friend of sinners. By his saving love, number us among those we serve you devotedly, covering up our shortcomings with the extensive work of your Holy Spirit. Then may others be blessed because we have passed by, and your name be honoured and loved as the God of prodigious grace. For your love’s sake.

Amen!

 

A ZACCHAEUS LIMERICK

 

A man is ancient Jericho

was up a tree yet very low,

till a Stranger in town

turned him upside down

 and re-positioned his ego.

 

SERMON 1: BECOME YOURSELF?

 

Luke 19: 9

 

Today salvation has come to this house, since he {Zacchaeus] is also a son of Abraham.

 

People may mean well when they advise us to “be yourself!” But who am I? What is my real self?

 

There are many definitions loitering around our society. Here are a few I have noted.

 

“Human beings are a collection of atoms temporally arranged in a complex plumbing system”

(Hail to thee, blithe collection of atoms!)

 

“Humanity is mobile pink scum which for a short time coats the surface of one little planet in one solar system, in one galaxy, in one of many possible universes.”

 (Greetings pink scum!)

 

“Man is what he eats.”

(Hail to thee , muesli, bacon, eggs, fruit, apple strudel and chocolate!)

 

“People are chance fragments of consciousness in an unconscious cosmos.”

(Greetings, chance fragments of consciousness!)

 

I wonder how these definitions grab you at 7.00 am on Monday morning when you peer at yourself in the bathroom mirror?  Or at 7.30 pm Friday evening when you sink gratefully into your recliner chair, or maybe steel yourself into going out to yet another committee meeting?

 

Who are you, what are you? Become what you are by all means, but first know who you are.

 

THE LIMITS OF INVESTIGATION

 

Our present world is sold on the technique of investigation. It assumes that knowledge is gained by careful observation and investigation of things. This method has indeed many trophies to exhibit, advances that we now take for granted in our daily lives. It is true that by painstaking investigation we can understand many things, and sometimes harness them for our benefit.

 

Therefore it is not at all surprising that our technological age should assume that through investigation we can also find an answer to the question: ‘What are human beings’.

 

For well over a hundred years an increasing horde of people have tried to investigate human nature.  There was psychology with its probing of the mind of individuals, then  anthropology and sociology which probed the nature of society, both historic and present. Along came neurology which dissects the human brain for clues, or with electrodes tries to measure every minute electrical impulses that the brain transmits.   More recently it’s genetics that fascinates the investigators.  The nature of human beings is sought in the remarkable genetic material which largely governs our existence.

 

Much of this has been very exciting stuff. I admit having my eye glued to reports of new findings as much as most of you have.  But I must ask: Have we come any closer to understanding what we really are?  It seems to me that through investigation  we are never going to arrive at some omega point where we shout: “Eureka! I have found what I am!”

 

THE VALUE OF REVELATION

 

There is another form of acquiring knowledge which is not in fashion at the moment. It is called revelation.

 

Revelation is the knowledge we gain about another person when that person chooses to reveal it.  It is personal knowledge.

 

Revelation is a gift from one being to another being.  It only happens when a person opens up in words and deeds.  We can remain closed books if we wish it. Revelation cannot be forced, cannot be prized open. Many frustrated parents have discovered this fact when trying to get a teenager to reveal their real thoughts and feelings. Revelation is person to person knowledge. It can be granted or withheld.

 

FAITH: A RESPONSE TO REVELATION

 

Christianity is a religion of revelation. It says there is a Primal Being, that Supra-Personal Entity which we call God. This loving Entity has brought us into being. And this God has chosen to reveal something of their own nature to humanity, and to reveal to humanity some of the foundational truths about ourselves. Revelation not investigation.

 

Faith is a response to revelation .

 

We believe that God in his wisdom chose a small nation to be a stewards of revelation. We know them as the Jews, and we treasure the stories of people like Rachel and Jacob, Joseph the Egyptian prime minister, Miriam sister of Moses,, Aaron, Joshua, Ruth from Moab and her great, great grandson David the shepherd king, Jonah the reluctant prophet, Daniel and those three wonder boys Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego, Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist and Mary and Joseph who made the most famous journey ever taken to Bethlehem.

 

Jesus is central to revelation. With Jesus we are at the point where we believe God has revealed as much as can ever be revealed; as much as can ever be revealed in one human life about God; and as much as can ever be revealed about what it means to be fully human. 

 

Revelation in the Old Testament gave us “made in the likeness of God”, Another way the Jews referred to the dignity of a person was by calling them a “child of Abraham.” Abraham was immortalised  as the supreme example of a man of faith. To call a Jews a true child of Abraham was to give the highest honour.

 

After the revelation of Jesus, in the Roman world the phrase “child of Abraham” did not carry much meaning. Christians started referring to people as “children of God’, ‘joint-heirs with Christ Jesus,’ or ‘the saints’ (all believers were the saints, the ‘holy ones,’ because they belonged to God).

 

ZACCHAEUS AND JESUS

 

Which brings me back to Zacchaeus. ( Some of you wondered if I was ever going to get back to the Gospel for today, didn’t you? )

 

When Zacchaeus came into a relationship with Jesus, something remarkable happened. Jesus set him free from the stunted, distorted self-image that had corrupted his life. Jesus set Zacchaeus free to be his true self as one made in the likeness of God; a creature made for loving; for giving; for sharing.

 

Jesus could have easily have seen in Zacchaeus what others did:  a greedy, ruthless, despicable traitor who collected taxes for the occupying power of Roman.  But Jesus saw more.

 

There was a child of Abraham locked away in Zacchaeus and Jesus wanted to release it.  We will never know the details of what went on between Jesus and the tax collector went Jesus invited himself to the man’s home.  But we do know the result. Zacchaeus started to recover his lost beauty and to bear fruits to prove it:

 

Half my possessions I give to the poor. And those whom I have cheated will receive a fourfold repayment.

 

To which Jesus replied:

 

This day has salvation come to this house. For Zacchaeus too is a child of Abraham.

 

Knowledge had happened. Revelation had taken place.  It is common today for people to tell us that “knowledge is power”.  Well, this personal kind of knowledge that Zacaheaus embraced was the ultimate power.  It is a power which Christ seems to still have: to reveal God to us and to show us our own true nature.

 

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

 

Back to you. What is it you see in the bathroom window on Monday morning?  A “Complex plumbing system?” “Pink scum?”  “Your last 500 meals?” “A chance fragment of consciousness in an unconscious universe?”

 

Or do you see that which God has revealed and redeemed in Christ Jesus: Child of Abraham, or better still a Child of God, sister or brother of Christ.

 

There is truly something divine about you; something infinitely precious and glorious. That is a part of the revelation of which we are stewards. The other part of the revelation is that God, the Awesome First Personal Entity, far more glorious than all the billions of suns in the universe, is tirelessly seeking your self rehabilitation. To God, you are so priceless that no trouble is too much for your reclamation.!

 

Here in this congregation there may well be someone who is thinking: “Preacher. You’ve got it wrong in my case. There is nothing precious about me.  If you only knew my ugly thoughts and feelings; if you knew about my broken promises and sullied ideals; if you knew my lack of prayer and lack of faith; if you knew about my simmering resentments and lusts; if you only knew the real me, preacher, you would not stand up there saying I am very precious.”

 

I don’t agree.  I don’t need to know. God knows, that is all that matters. The real you is not the sins and follies of your life. God knows and loves and treasures you.   My faith in your preciousness is not based on observation or investigation; it is based on revelation.  That is, your true identity flows from your God; from that immense, beautiful, throbbing Spirit who is within and behind all creation, and whom Jesus revealed in his life and death and resurrection.

 

There may come a time when you might want to seek me out and tell me a sad story about your failings. As a pastor I will listen and recognise the pain in  your heart. I will attempt to assist you.  But I will draw the line at one thing: I will never accept that you are just a ‘waste of space’.. You may have failed your Lord a million times but that does not alter God’s belief in you and his love for you.

 

Be yourself! Affirm what you are in God’s eyes. Lift up your heads. Reach forwards towards that day when Christ shall complete his work of grace in you and you shall have actually  become the glorious being you are in God’s eyes!

 

This day has salvation come to this house; for here also is a child of Abraham.

 

 

SERMON 2: DO NOT LOSE HEART

 

Habakkuk 1: 1-4 & 2: 1-4.    

 

“O God, how long will I cry for help but you will not hear?

Or cry to you about all the violence yet you will not save?”

 

Is God deaf to the cries of his afflicted people?

 

In the face of injustices,

and widespread suffering of the innocent, where is God?

 

Habakkuk dares to put into words what is the bitter experience of many.

From Texas to Sri Lanka, from Colombia to Zimbabwe, from New Guinea to North Korea, from Edinburgh to Wagga Wagga, people cry out to God for aid, yet they appear to be ignored by the mute heavens.

 

“O God, how long will I cry for help but you will not hear?”

 

By that miracle of providence which formed the Bible, this cry of human desolation is enshrined in Holy Scripture. It is a valid question: Where is God? In the face of such apparent absence of God, it is easy to become discouraged. Even strong believers like the prophet Habakkuk find it difficult not to lose heart.

 

A HYMN BY FABER: POETIC HONESTY

 

This reminds me of a hymn by Frederick Faber.

 

It commenced with these words:

                        Workman of God! O lose not heart,

                        But learn what God is like.”

 

Some of this hymn used to be included in denominational hymn books,

but it was omitted from “The Australian Hymn Book” and is rarely heard today.

 

Yet even when it was sung, some of the verses were already deleted.

These were verses which clearly expressed the discouragement which some Christians may feel. Among commonly avoided verses were these:

                        O, it is hard to work for God,

                        To rise and take his part

                        Upon this battlefield of earth,

                        And sometimes not lose heart.

 

                        Ill masters good; good seems to change

                        To ill with greatest ease;

                        And worst of all, the good with good

                        Is at cross purposes.

 

What a pity such lines were excluded!

For it expresses most succinctly how many believers do really feel at times. Things are like that. Our Christian journey is not all light and laughter, justice and peace. It is indeed very hard to work for God and sometimes not lose heart.

 

Another verse was also regrettably excised from some hymnals:

                        God hides himself so wondrously,

                        As if there were no God;

                        He is least seen when all the powers

                        Of ill are most abroad.

 

Now that is honesty! Honesty of Biblical quality. Thank you Frederick Faber!

 

 

HABAKKUK; HIS DOUBTING SIDE

 

Such honest faith goes back a long way.

We find it in some of the wonderful Psalms, and today we hear the human cry again in Habakkuk.

            “O God, how long will I cry for help but you will not hear?

              Or cry to you about all the violence yet you will not save?”

 

Only fragments of this prophet’s words have survived.

These fragments are preserved in the Bible. We are not sure when he actually lived. Some time in the period between 615 B.C. and 331 BC, this noble Jew wrestled with the question: “If God is just and can be trusted, why do we pray without apparent answer? Why is there so much violence without divine intervention? Why does God permit corruption in the legal system, whereby the powerful and wicked have the advantage over the weak and the good folk?”

 

            Why do you make me see wrongs and view so much trouble?

            I have to look on while strife, violence and ruin take place.

            The law is so slack that justice cannot stand.

            The wicked entrap the good by perverting the law.

 

No wonder the prophet feels frustrated.

Bewildered by God’s lack of action. It is not just in contemporary times that such doubts and questions arise. The people of the Bible were not pious nitwits! They clearly witnessed an apparent discrepancy between  the idea of a loving and just God and what was allowed to happen on earth. They experienced doubts like most of us do.

 

It is far better to be honest like Habbakkuk.

Better to bring things out in the open, than to pretend we have no doubts or questions. It is good to freely express such dark thoughts and feelings to God.

 

HABAKKUK: THE BELIEVING SIDE

 

This would not be such a problem if we did not already believe.

 

Habakkuk was a believer.

This is his other side. His doubts were counter weighed with his sturdy faith. Sturdy faith just tipped the balances towards ongoing trust and love. He continued to believe in the intrinsic goodness of goodness, and in the truth of God, in spite of all the evil things that were happening.

 

Habakkuk climbed up into a tower to pray.

Up there he felt God was speaking to him and assuring him that the vision which believers had of a better world of peace and justice was a true vision. What God had promised would one day be fulfilled. Evil would not get away with it. Wickedness and chaos will be overcome. Light and love will win.

 

And God answered me: Write this vision; inscribe it clearly on tablets so that those

who run may read it.

 

The vision it waiting for the right time; it is no lie, it is moving towards its fulfilment. Although it may seem slow to you, wait for it. It will certainly come, it will not be held back.

 

Look, those who are not upright are just puffed up with wind. But by faith the righteous shall truly live.        Habakkuk 2:2-4

 

God reassures the prophet. Faith is renewed as a gift from God.

 

Faith is not the result of rational argument.

Habakkuk does not regain his confidence by adding up the list of good things in the world around him, and then adding up the bad things, and seeing which total is the greater. From his fellowship with God, in prayer, the conviction that God is good and faithful was renewed.

 

Renewed confidence was a gift of faith, as it always is.

Faith is a gift which God offers us. Like any gift it can be accepted or rejected. Habakkuk accepted the precious gift and lived by it. When we accept the gift of faith we can become creative, caring people in spite of all the negativity around us. Should we reject the gift, in spite of our best efforts we will soon become one with the cynical, selfish herd which makes a ruin of God’s world.

 

Faith demands choice.

Choose to believe that light is better than darkness, sharing is better than hoarding, truth is better than deceit, mercy is better than revenge, love is better than indifference, God is stronger than chaos. Choose to have faith in a God who is all-loving, and your choice will verify itself on the road of life.

 

A SUMMARY

 

It is hard to work for God and sometimes not lose heart.

                        Ill masters good; good seems to change

                        To ill with greatest ease;

                        And worst of all, the good with good

                        Is at cross purposes.

 

                        God hides himself so wondrously,

                        As if there were no God;

                        He is least seen when all the powers

                        Of ill are most abroad.

 

God does seems hidden.

Evil seems stronger than goodness. Hate seem more enduring than love.  Yet the gift of faith enables us to take the plunge on the side of God, and to be the ultimate winner.

 

Habakkuk held to the hope, clung to the vision.

Let me remind you of how beautifully the little Book of Habakkuk concludes:

            Though the fig tree does not blossom,

            nor fruit be on the grape vines,

            though the olive crop fails

            and the fields yield no corn,

            though the flock be cut off from the safe fold,

            and there be no herd in the stalls,

 

            yet I will rejoice in the Lord,

            I will celebrate the God of my salvation!

 

            God, the Living Lord, is my strength.

            God makes me feet as nimble as the deer,

            and I tread upon my high places.

 

Magnificent!

Now that is the kind of faith that can move mountains and change this world!

 

In Christ’s name, get with it!

 

WE BELIEVE

 

Faith demands choice.

By the grace of Christ, we can choose.

 

We choose to believe

that light is better than darkness,

sharing is better than hoarding,

truth is better than deceit,

mercy is better than revenge,

love is better than indifference,

God is stronger than chaos.

 

We choose to have faith in the God who is love

and choice will verify itself

on the long and narrow road of life.

 

By grace, we choose to choose faith.

Thanks be to God!

 

THANKSGIVING

 

How good it is to know we are loved by a divine Provider and Saviour.

Let us pray.

 

Wonderful, ever wonderful, are you, awesome Friend of the earth!

 

We thank you for your creating and redeeming Presence, among all, and in all, and through all things seen and unseen.

 

We thank you that you are also far above all, beneath all and beyond all, not dictated to by any other power in time or space.

 

We give thanks that you call out to us with a loving word, asking us to reach beyond the shallow and the transient towards the remarkable glory of all that is yet to be.

 

Wonderful, ever wonderful, are you, awesome Friend of the earth!

Hallelujah!

 

Hallelujah!

Amen!

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

With heart and soul, mind and strength, together with our arms legs and our varied abilities, we come before God with our prayers of intercession.

 

Let us pray.

 

It is too easy, God, for us to say a few prayers for people in need, and then forget about them as we go blithely on our way.

 

By the heat of your Holy Spirit, forge together our prayers and our deeds,  so that what we do will be a prayer and what we pray will become our deed today.

 

With that prayer on our lips and in our hearts, we pray for the wonderful, yet often sorry world in which we live.

 

We pray for the end of rampant greed, injustice, terrorism and war. Bless all your brave peacemakers and keep us within their ranks.

 

We pray for the cessation of  bitterness and violence (be it verbal or physical violence) within the work places, school-grounds, streets and homes of our nation. Bless all those who are your ministers of mercy and good will, and number us among their agents.

 

We pray for the removal of poverty, hunger, homelessness, and untreated disease from the face of this planet. Bless all your “good Samaritans” wherever they serve you, and enlist us within their noble company.

 

We pray for an armistice between the minority of Moslems who are jihad fanatics, and fundamentalist Jewish and Christian zealots. Bless all your agents of reconciliation and employ to the full the gift of goodwill you have given each of us.

 

We pray for the constant reformation of your church. May every branch and each sectarian twig, remember the one True Vine to which we all belong, and without whom we are good for nothing.

 

Starting with us, please bless your servant people with the prime gift of love, that we may better cherish one another and heal the wounds that bleed away to waste the very vitality of your church.

 

True and merciful God, our Friend and our Saviour, again we humbly yet strongly beg you: by the fire of your Spirit weld our prayers to our deeds, and our deeds to our prayers. To the glory of your communal name, one God, blessed Trinity.

 Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Go gently my friends,

feel the good earth beneath your feet,

rejoice in the rising of the sun,

and hear the call of the peaceful dove. *

 

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit ,

will be with you all.

Amen!

 

* In the regions of tropical and subtropical Australia,

  there is a diminutive  dove named the ‘Peaceful Dove.’

  It has a gentle call which my wise wife insists

 is telling us; “Just walk the walk.” BDP.