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Marsden Road Uniting Worship - Pentecost 21 - 25 October 2020

 Marsden Road Uniting Church

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                Do You Love?

Pentecost 21- year of Matthew  

Gathering God’s People  

Acknowledgement of First Peoples  

We acknowledge the first people who have cared for this Land, where we worship, the Wallumedgal. 

May our worship join with the voices of the First Peoples of this Land. 

Call to Worship

(Abingdon Worship Annual 2011)       

God welcomes us this day with steadfast love to satisfy our deepest longings.

Praise God who has been our dwelling place in every generation.  

Before the mountains were formed and we were still dust, God loved us into being.

Praise God who created us and renews us still.

May God's favour and grace guide us on paths of love and peace.

We rejoice with gladness this day! 

 

Hymn 047: Our God, our help in ages past

                  (Tune – St Anne)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SVy77bGE9Ho  

1.  God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home!

 

2.  Under the shadow of Thy throne

Thy saints have dwelt secure;

Sufficient is Thine arm alone,

And our defence is sure.

 

3.  Before the hills in order stood,

Or earth received her frame,

From everlasting Thou art God,

To endless years the same.

 

4.  A thousand ages in Thy sight

Are like an evening gone;

Short as the watch that ends the night

Before the rising sun.

 

5.  Time, like an ever-rolling stream,

Bears all its sons away;

They fly, forgotten, as a dream

Dies at the opening day.

 

6.  God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Be Thou our guard while life shall last,

And our eternal home. 

Text: Isaac Watts | Tune: St. Anne 

Opening prayer

 

God of ages past and days to come, be with us this day. Shower us with your love and truth. Open our hearts and minds to truly love as you love us and as you call us to love. Grant us the courage to ask the questions that frighten us, that we may courageously live and grow as your disciples on this earth. With the confidence of Christ's grace in our lives, we pray. Amen. 

A Prayer of Confession 

God of steadfast love,

turn away your anger and frustration:

when we fall short in your eyes,

when we forget to love,

when we are afraid to love,

when we neglect to love.

Forgive us and transform us with your amazing grace. Fill us with your love so completely that our lives may overflow with love— in heart, mind, and soul. Amen. 

Declaration of Forgiveness      

God's compassion is sufficient for all our needs. In the name of Christ, you are forgiven!

Thanks, be to God! 

The Peace 

Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. Love your neighbour as yourself. Simple words. Profound challenges. Let us acknowledge love and peace with one another.

Peace be with you.    And also, with you!  

A Word with the Children/Young People 

Theme: Love God -- Love Others

Object: A song book with some love songs.

I don't know for sure, but I think that there have probably been more songs written about love than about anything else in the world. Here is a list of some of the favourites: "Love Makes the World Go Round," "Love and Marriage," and "When I Fall in Love," I have thought about.

Oh, I almost forgot one the best love songs ever written. I am sure all of you know this song! It goes like this:

Jesus loves me, this I know,
For the Bible tells me so.
Little ones to him belong;
They are weak but he is strong.

Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
Yes, Jesus loves me!
The Bible tells me so.

What a wonderful song about Jesus' for love us. In today's Bible story, Jesus teaches another very important lesson about love.

People were always amazed at the teachings of Jesus. One day a crowd was gathered around Jesus when a man who was an expert in religious law tried to trap him with this question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment?"

Jesus answered, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,' this is the greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."  In other words, Jesus was saying that if we could keep these two commandments, we would not have any trouble keeping the others.

You know, that reminds me of another love song, "All You Need Is Love." Let's pray and ask God to help us to love as we ought.

Loving God, help us to love you with all of our heart and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen. 

Offering Prayer 

God of abundant love multiply these gifts to become gifts of abundant love for a world in need. In the name of Christ who first loved us, we pray.  

Hymn 526: Lord Jesus Christ

                  (Tune – Living Lord)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OH4-e__BJM0 

1.
Lord Jesus Christ you have come to us
You are one with us, Mary’s Son.
Cleansing our souls from all their sin
pouring Your love and goodness in
Jesus our love for you we sing,
living Lord.
2.
Lord Jesus Christ now and every day
Teach us how to pray, Son of God.
You have commanded us to do
this in remembrance Lord of you
Into our lives your power breaks through,
living Lord.
3.
Lord Jesus Christ, you have come to us
Born as one with us, Mary’s Son.
Led out to die on Calvary,
risen from death to set us free,
living Lord Jesus help us see
You are Lord.
4.
Lord Jesus Christ I would come to you
live my life for you, Son of God.
All your commands I know are true,
your many gifts will make me new,
into my life your power breaks through,
living Lord. 

Patrick Appleford
© 1960 Josef Weinberger Ltd.

             The Service of the Word

 Readings:  

The First Reading:            1 Thessalonians 2:1-8                        

The Gospel Reading:       Matthew 22:34-46

Readings: NRSV Translation  

1 Thessalonians 2:1-8

1 You yourselves know, brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, 2 but though we had already suffered and been shamefully maltreated at Philippi, as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. 3 For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. 5 As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; 6 nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, 7 though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. 8 So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.  

Matthew 22:34-46

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, 35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ 37 He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” 38 This is the greatest and first commandment.
39 And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question:
42 ‘What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son, is he?’ They said to him, ‘The son of David.’43 He said to them, ‘How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,44 “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet’ ”?
45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?’
46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Preaching of the Word – Do You Love?

Do you love God with your whole heart and all of your soul and mind?  Do you love your neighbour in the same way?  These are the tough questions of today’s readings.  Loving God is not measured simply by being baptized, going to church, praying regularly, or by professing to be a Christian.  Loving God completely, wholly, is born out of loving God through our love of all that is God in all of creation.

Loving God just as God loved Moses and the Israelites proved to be a challenge.  God’s love delivered them from oppression.  God made it clear that God never intended any of creation to oppress or to be oppressed.  That is why God gave them so many opportunities to get it right. Moses led the people and saw God in a unique way.  God followed through with the promise made to the Israelites and at the end of Moses’ life they stood together looking out over the summit into the “promised land.” Moses died knowing that they had arrived, and that God had provided them with Torah the first five books of the Bible so that they could continue to live the way God intended.  Moses had spent his life doing God’s work and learning what it meant to love God and everything of God.  

God’s love is also evident in Paul’s earliest record of his ministry.  In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul acknowledges that it takes courage to declare the Gospel in the face of opposition.  Paul does not simply accept his ordination to share the Gospel but to do it with the gentleness of a nursemaid.  How might we respond if someone would tell us that they care for us so deeply that they are determined to share not only the Gospel of God but all of themselves, because you have become very dear to them?

The officials in the Gospel of Matthew are thinking very narrowly when they ask Jesus to identify one of the more than 700 commandments as more important than the others. Their perception of what Torah meant did not include the perspective Jesus gave them.  When they asked Jesus to tell them which commandment most important Jesus was answered with what seems like the broader meaning.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Jesus knit together a pattern for us.  He makes it clear that we must love God with every part of us, and every part of us must love all that loves God.  Jesus modelled that for us in his life.  He loved God even when it meant that he would know suffering and death.  Jesus loved even those persons we might be inclined to judge.  We have to ask ourselves if we could do the same.  We have to ask ourselves if the readings seem unrelated to our lives or if we could see our own lives in them, as we might expect it to be in the people we baptise today. 

The world we live in might, at first glance, seem to be different from the Old or New Testament worlds—but are they really?  We cannot deny the context of the Old Testament story.  We read about the oppression of the Israelites and their journey to freedom, but do we consider who is being oppressed today?  Even more difficult is asking ourselves if we are ourselves oppressors or, more importantly, if we treat every person justly.  How do we love God when we are not acting justly? 

These are difficult questions. And we have to ask ourselves if we are living justly and loving God with our whole heart and soul and mind.  But what does it mean to love God with all our heart, all our soul, and our entire mind?  Since all relationships touch our hearts, soul, or mind, we would have to say that this means that every part of us needs to love God.  And if the second commandment is like the first, we are expected to love all relationships as we love God. 

Jesus is not qualifying these relationships to mean only people or only the people we want to love.  Jesus is describing all things in all of creation.  And, it goes one step further, because Jesus also tells us that we cannot love God if we do not love all that God made in creation.  This is what he meant by “the second is like the first,” and what is most difficult about the Gospel reading today because of the nature of the world in which we live. 

This is the world that is being destroyed by consumerism and greed.  The same world that turns its head as the rainforests burn away and glaciers melt away.  The world where we would rather drive bigger cars, SUV’s and such like (all those 4-wheel drives), that are consuming more of our world’s oil faster than we can produce.  This is the same world that answers the needs for more fuel by destroying more and more of God’s creation.  How do we reconcile our love for God with our whole hearts, souls, and minds with these facts?

How also do we reconcile ourselves to loving God with all that we are when we so willingly go to church and then partake in drinking coffee at our “coffee hours” in Styrofoam cups?  I know it’s convenient and cost efficient but what does it do to the environment. Maybe someone can give me an answer. I don’t know. How does it make sense for us to be more interested in loving the things that we buy with our money while looking away as we pass the person on the street who is asking for help?  How are we loving God with all that we are when we choose to separate ourselves from others using God’s own words as our defence?

Every day God gives us many opportunities to “get right with God”.  Every day when the sun rise’s we can either take it for granted or thank God for another day, acknowledging the miracle of each new day? Every day of our life we are interacting with the world around us.  Do we love our entire world with all that we are—our hearts, our minds, and our souls? 

It is not about proving that we get it and love God.  It is about showing that we love God and get it with all of our hearts, souls, and minds. 

Hymn 201: King of glory, King of peace

                   (Tune – Gwalchmai)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oB3rPt0ZqFc  

King of glory, King of peace,

I will love Thee;

and that love may never cease,

I will move Thee.

Thou hast granted my request,

Thou hast heard me;

Thou didst note my working breast,

Thou hast spared me.

 

Wherefore with my utmost art

I will sing Thee,

and the cream of all my heart

I will bring Thee.

Though my sins against me cried,

Thou alone didst clear me;

and alone, when they replied,

Thou didst hear me.

 

Seven whole days, not one in seven,

I will praise Thee;

in my heart, though not in heaven,

I can raise Thee.

Small it is, in this poor sort

to enrol Thee:

Even eternity’s too short

to extol Thee.  

Text by: George Herbert 1593-1632 Tune: Gwalchmai by: John David Jones 1827-1870

 Intercessory Prayers  

Glorious Creator, Your Sacred Fire sanctifies our faith, transforms our souls, and guides us to find our footing on holy ground in this earthly life. Help us to continually seek Your Strength and Your Face, that we may not be consumed by human things, but set our minds on all that is divine. Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Glorious Creator, enflame Your Spirit within us to persist and prevail upon the leaders of this Country, this Community, and this World, to reject repaying evil with evil, to hold fast to what is good, legislating only for the honour, dignity, and humanity for all Your people everywhere. We pray especially for: ……………………….. 

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Glorious Creator grant us wisdom as listening ears and helping hands to care for those with physical or mental illness or desperate life circumstance, and for those who struggle to meet those needs.  We now join our hearts together to pray for those in need…

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Glorious Creator may our hearts know the joy that celebrates all who have now risen into the Splendour of Eternity, free of misery and tears. We pray especially for: …………………. Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Glorious Creator, we pause in this moment to offer You our other heartfelt thanksgivings, intercessions, petitions, and memorials… Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

Glorious Creator, enhance and extend your enduring grace and faith-filled energy for those among us who are anointed to take on Your mantle of ministry on our behalf. We pray especially for:………………………..

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer

O God of Yesterday, Today, and Forever, release us from desire for the superficial milk and honey of this life, the spiritual stumbling blocks of faith. Ignite our passion to Follow, not obstruct, the Way of Christ toward our Salvation. We ask in the name of Jesus, Son of Man, and the Holy Spirit, our Divine Fervour, who reign together with You as One, Living, and Eternal God. 

Lord in your mercy: hear our prayer  

THE LORD'S PRAYER  

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.  

Hymn 452: God of Mercy, God of Grace

                   (Tune – Heathlands)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3PIRShdR8s  

God of mercy, God of grace,

show the brightness of your face.

Shine upon us, Saviour, shine;

fill your world with light divine;

all your saving health extend

unto earth's remotest end. 

 

Let the people praise you, Lord;

be by all that live adored.

Let the nations shout and sing

glory to their gracious King;

at your feet their tribute pay,

and your holy will obey.

 

Let the people praise you, Lord;

earth shall then its fruits afford.

Unto us your blessing give;

we to you devoted live,

all below and all above,

one in joy and light and love.                                   

                             Author: Henry Francis Lyte (1793-1847)

                               Tune: Heathlands – Henry Thomas Smart (1813-79)

Benediction

        Go forth in the knowledge and love of God.

        We go, confident in God's steadfast love.

        Go into the world, loving without limits, caring without boundaries.

         We journey forth to fulfill God's law of love.

        Go forth in the name of the living Word, the One whose words bring forth the fruit of the kingdom in your own lives! Amen.

  Hymn TIS 778: Shalom to you now

                 (Tune – Somos Del Señor)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-u-WxpmOpN4  

Shalom to you now, shalom, my friends.

May God’s full mercies bless you, my friends.

In all your living and through your loving,

Christ be your shalom, Christ be your shalom

Author: Elise S. Eslinger (1980)

Tune: Somos Del Señor

 



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Truth-Tellers Are...

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 22, 2020 - 11:39pm

The story of fake news and the difficulty of knowing what is true is certainly a subject agonising many in our communities. But let me tell you, truth-tellers are uncomfortable people to be around. We proudly show Uncle John and Aunt Pat our church building. We do so with a certain amount of trepidation and particularly because they claim some sort of superior knowledge about church architecture. To make matters worse the Minister bumps into us as we are going into the "worship space" and is very proud of the new Holy Table and rearranged sanctuary. "O dear," groans Uncle John. "Frightful," says Aunt Pat. We pray that the floor will open and swallow us up.

Truth-tellers are uncomfortable people to be around. They comment on our hair, our clothes, our height, our books, our furniture, and delight in making us feel small. There are always a few in every congregation or area of mission and we avoid them like the plague! To them nothing is ever right, except themselves and their opinions.

This week we hear in our lectionary readings from St. Paul in the first letter of Thessalonians. You know St Paul seems to get such bad press nowadays that we are not at all surprised to find him boasting that he just tells the unvarnished truth. In this scripture we find him saying that you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.

We've heard that before. "I just tell it as it is. I don't care what other people think, and after all I am older than you."

But wait a moment. St Paul is full of surprises. He goes on to say to the Christians in Thessalonica (it's a place in much of what we now call Greece): But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us. 

St. Paul has remarked that he had a terrible time when he was in Philippi. If he is referring to the incident recorded in Acts, Paul is remembering being beaten and thrown into jail. He might well have allowed his indignation towards his Jewish compatriots and the gentile authorities to harden and embitter him. Yet in all gentleness he brings the Good News to all the believers.

Sometimes it's difficult to think of Paul as gentle as it is for us to think of Jesus being tough. We have become so used to thinking that Jesus went around thinking, "I am God and I am meek and mild," that we can't see Jesus as being as human as we are, or should we say, Jesus as being as human as we ought to be?

The Gospel writer in our reading from Matthew this week has been recording how those with power and authority sought to trick Jesus into saying something that would get him in trouble. Just as in contemporary society, people love to label themselves, or submit to being labelled, so it was during the ministry of Jesus. Today in the church and the nation we have all types and genders with different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. Then, when Jesus lived, people identified with this or that and even belonged to groups labelled Pharisee and Sadducee and Herodian, "publican and sinner." The extraordinary thing is that even though they had grave differences, they were united in wanting to get rid of the Truth-Teller, Jesus.

We've all watched news conferences in which reporters seem as keen on tripping someone up as they are to discover truth. So, it was then. Question after question is hurled at Jesus. He avoids each and then a Pharisee, rulebook in hand, asks Jesus which rule is the best. Jesus tells them that the most important rule is not a rule at all, but rather a way of life.

"Love God and love one another," Jesus replies, quoting their own Hebrew Scriptures. And then he counters their claims to authority by stating that it is God's Chosen One, Messiah, Christ, whose authority is established by, with, and in LOVE.

We sometimes sing a song that contains these words: "You will know they are Christians by their love, by their love." Neither Jesus nor St. Paul confuses love with sentimentality-that love that avoids truth-telling. The love of the Gospel is a love that demands that each of us confront the truth about God and the truth about ourselves. And that's the sort of love we avoid.

It's interesting that Jesus avoids all the "nit-picking" questions thrown at him but confronts and silences his accusers by being a truth-teller about God and the purpose for which human beings have been created. The question for us is, how do we treat people who are different?

We find ourselves saying quite dreadful things about those who belong to another " group." There's still a good deal of snobbery among us. We still harbour racial hatred. We dislike foreigners.

Yet the Gospel, the truth to be told, tells us that there is a new kingdom among us, a very earthy kind of God-community, in which there is neither "Jew nor Greek, male nor female, slave nor free person." There are no outcasts, no second-class people; and even those who are caught up in evil are to be those whom we are to love gently as we tell the Gospel truth.

This is a very "earthy" message because it is not about our belonging to any particular group. "  It is all about a society whose purpose is to transform the world, most of all by the witness it gives to and in the world. When we divide, use power and authority to subject and push down, think that we are superior, we inevitably dehumanize people, and de-sanctify everything that God made. When we practice sacrificial love, we give back to God that which God has given us in Jesus, and that is the Gospel truth.

Paul and Jesus experienced how risky it is to tell people to live in accepting love, rather than in denouncing authority. When we truth-tell about love, we challenge those who find security in their own righteousness and pretended "control." Yet thousands of years after Jesus and his follower Paul, we meet to celebrate and own a better way, whatever the cost of this discipleship. At worship we Christians will turn and reach out either physically or emotionally to each other and start the "love way." God keep us in that way.



Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Render Unto Caesar.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 16, 2020 - 12:39am

“Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.” These words of Jesus from this week’s lectionary readings in Matthew 25:15-23, have become a sort of proverb both in the secular and religious worlds, and those who know little of scripture may still have heard “Render unto Caesar.” Yet, digging beneath the surface of this short encounter helps uncover some of the deeper currents in the exchange.

For me it’s an interesting combination of people that approach Jesus and Matthew tells us that the Pharisees come together with the Herodians. The Pharisees did not want to give money to their pagan oppressors and so were opposed to paying taxes to Rome. On the other hand, King Herod’s position of power came courtesy of the Romans, so even though the taxes were widely considered to be oppressive, the Herodians had a vested interest in keeping the Roman taxes paid. Therefore, the Pharisees and the Herodians each reflected one of the horns of the dilemma in the trap which the question to Jesus set out enmesh him in.


So, we have then the question, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor or not?” The reference is to Jewish Law, which is also called the Law of Moses. Clearly, it was lawful to pay the tax by Rome’s standards; the question was whether it was proper for the Hebrew people to do so.


On the surface it would seem that Jesus has been presented with a question with no way out. He can’t speak against the tax, for that would anger the Herodians and lead to a charge of treason against Rome. He could not speak in favour of the tax without alienating most of the crowds that followed him. So, what did he do? Well, Jesus asks for one of the coins used in paying the tax. And as he does this, he begins to set up his own trap that will prove at least one of the questioners to be a hypocrite. The coin used for the tax was a silver Denarius with the image of Caesar on one side, and the image of a woman named Pax or personified peace on the other. Now such coins were against Jewish Law, which prohibited graven images being used or touched.


When Jesus asks for a Denarius, one is quickly located and handed to him. Jesus then asks the question that everyone in Israel could have answered without a coin in hand. In our reading for this week the New Revised Standard Version, translation states, “Whose head is this and whose title?” However, it is probably better to use the translation “likeness,” instead of title. When they answer Jesus’ question, saying that the image and likeness are “Caesar’s,” Jesus replies that they are to give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. Give Caesar back those things that are Caesar’s. It is his coin anyway, who cares if you give Caesar back his coin for the tax?


Then Jesus gives the most amazing line of this short encounter when he continues by saying that we are to “give back to God the things that are God’s.” It leaves everyone calculating what exactly is God’s that we are supposed to give back. And in case you were wondering, the clue was the word “icon” or “image” and the word “likeness.”


The principle really is this: Just as the coin has Caesar’s icon on it, so it is Caesar’s, we who believe in  the one God believe we are made in the image and likeness of God, so we are God’s. Jesus affirmed the tax while making it all but irrelevant. He then implies that, though we do owe the state, there are limits to what we owe. Yet, Jesus places no limits regarding what we owe to God. Jesus is very clear that everything you have and everything you are is God’s already.


While this would certainly apply to the money you make, the formula is not that you give 100 percent of your income to God, for God knows you need the money for the necessities of life. The teaching is that once you have given God some of the money you earn, don’t feel that you have bought off an obligation. God wants to share in some of your time and energy, so the 100 percent formula relates to your calendar as well as your wallet.


The point is that you have been made in the image and likeness of God. God loves you. God keeps your picture in the divine wallet and on the heavenly refrigerator. Jesus did not care about the tax, for his real concern was that you live into the image and likeness of the God who lovingly created you.


You begin to live into the image and likeness of God by conforming your life to be more like Jesus’ life.


To live more fully into that image and likeness of God that is in you, give back your heart to God – for it is God’s anyway. In answer to the question, “What are the things that are God’s which we are to give back to God?” the answer is, “You.”

 


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Sunday 4th October 2020 “At that time Jesus said …”

Margaret's Sunday Reflections - October 9, 2020 - 6:44am

 

The First Reading: Galatians 6: 14-18     The Gospel Reading & Preaching of the Word: At That Time, Jesus Said..., - Matthew 11: 15-20

At that time Jesus said, "Father, Lord of heaven and earth! I thank you because you have revealed to the unlearned what you have hidden from the wise and learned."



On the closest Sunday to the anniversary of the death of St. Francis of Assisi, the Rev. John’s Reflection/Sermon was focused on him and his life.  But for me - a good quote to begin our own personal review - comes from the summing up at the end of the Sunday Sermon.

“So what are we to make of this famous saint? He has been called "the Other Jesus" by some. He is revered and loved universally, by Christians and non- Christians alike. And yet, he didn't seem to Get it Right.

Perhaps this is what Jesus is talking about when he suggests that the foolish and unlearned may know something that the wise and learned don't know. Perhaps certainty and Being Right are not what Jesus wants from our lives.

Maybe Saint Francis shows us something completely different, something that looks more like perseverance in the face of uncertainty. Maybe the lesson I can learn from Saint Francis is the lesson that faithfulness is more valuable than Being Right; that humility and unknowing are a more appropriate response to God than certainty and knowledge. Perhaps abandoning the pride of self may be the way to begin to understand God. Or, in the words of Saint Francis' famous prayer, that it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

It is interesting to consider that perhaps the most famous prayer often attributed to one of the most famous saints is not included in the official “Prayers of St. Francis” of the Franciscan Order, although the prayer has been recommended by members of the order.  The lavish use of the personal pronouns "I" and "me" and the complete absence of the words "God" and "Jesus" are often used as “proof” of a different author.

It is widely thought to be more like the writing of Giles of Assisi (c.1180 – 1262), one of the close companions of St. Francis and has similarities to his “Golden Sayings of Blessed Giles of Assisi.”

Blessed is he who loves and does not therefore desire to be loved;
Blessed is he who fears and does not therefore desire to be feared;
Blessed is he who serves and does not therefore desire to be served;
Blessed is he who behaves well toward others and does not desire that others behave well toward him;
And because these are great things, the foolish do not rise to them.

St. Francis has been recognised and loved by much of the civilised world going back for many centuries.  He is not just a Roman Catholic saint, but a person with many of the human traits that we can recognise in ordinary people.  His early life was privileged because his father Pietro di Bernardone, was a wealthy and successful cloth merchant who travelled extensively and was in France when Francis was born in 1181/1182.  His was christened Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone, but his father called him Francis and gave him every opportunity to enjoy a carefree “entitled” life with his friends. It seems that young Francis was very popular and seen by his friends to be a happy and carefree person who loved parties.  His first biographer, Thomas of Celano wrote that friends called Francis the “King of Revels”.  He was a great favourite among the young nobles of Assisi and had dreams of becoming a Knight, although he was being encouraged by his father to follow him as a merchant, which was not something he enjoyed.  It is recorded that even as a young man Francis had began to develop an intuitive sympathy with the poor people.

When he was 19 or 20 Francis went off to fight the Perugians in a petty skirmish, but he was taken prisoner and held in captivity more than a year.  After suffering from a fever while captive, he began to turn his thoughts to the emptiness of his life but on recovery he again wanted to have a splendid military career.  So Francis arranged to go with a Knight of Assisi who had agreed to accompany Walter of Brienne, who was known as the “gentle count”, who was supporting the Neapolitan States against the Emperor. The biographers of Francis tell us that the night before he set forth he had a strange dream and heard what he believed to be the voice of God.  In good spirits, Francis started the next day on his journey, but a second illness caused him to stop at Spoleto in Umbria, and in another dream where he said that he heard the same voice tell him to return to Assisi he immediately returned to his home city.

It seems clear that at this point in his life he was touched by the Spirit of God and after a short period of uncertainty, Francis the fun loving “would be” knight turned to serious prayer and sought solitude as he answered his call by giving up his fancy clothes and wasteful ways.  In the reading I have done, a recurring theme developed and Francis began to literally embrace and welcome and even kiss lepers and beggars and give away his clothing and his money.  About this time, he made a pilgrimage to Rome where the horde of beggars at the door of the Basilica caused him to exchange his clothing and stand at the door with the beggars and fast. 

Not long after Francis returned to Assisi, the incident described by the Rev. John in his sermon, when Francis was praying before an ancient crucifix at the forsaken wayside chapel of St. Damien’s below the town of Assisi, took place.  Francis heard God’s voice again and he said; “Go Francis and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin”.  This event was responsible for panic reactions which resulted in a permanent rift between Francis and his father, who did not forgive his son for rushing off to his shop, and, impetuously taking a load of his materials and also his horse which he rode to a market at Foligno and sold to get the money needed to restore the church.  However, the priest refused to accept the money because of the way it was obtained and Francis hid for a month in a cave near the church to avoid his father’s great wrath, which was not abated at all - even when he got back his money which Francis had thrown down at the feet of the priest.

The stories about the total surrender of all comfort and worldly goods are long and amazing, and soon St Francis who was equally kind to people and animals, was no longer considered to be mad as he wandered the countryside preaching God’s word.  Soon he was being joined by some impressive adherents who joined him and followed his way of life - and the Franciscan order began to spread throughout many countries and his selfless love and service to the poor and the sick people of the world is still reflected in this modern age.



I found this summary about Saint Francis and thought I should share it with you; 

St. Francis of Assisi was a unique spiritual personality who gave up a life of wealth and social position to embrace a life of poverty and chastity – With the approval of the Pope, he founded a new Monastic Order, commonly known as the Franciscans. St Francis is considered one of the greatest saints in the Christian tradition and an example of a life lived in imitation of Jesus Christ.

“Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honour, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.” – St Francis – Canticle of St Francis



In 1982 my husband and I visited Italy and I was thrilled to be able to go to Assisi and visit the place where St. Francis had discovered God’s Grace and devoted his life to God’s work.  I felt I needed to pinch myself as we stood in the famous Basilica above the steep streets of this beautiful hillside town and looked at the famous frescos of Giotto and other artists who had painted them nearly a thousand years ago.  I still remember the intensity of my art teacher at school as he held up his precious art book to show his students the photos of these wonderful paintings.   St Francis of Assisi died on October 3, 1226 and work on the church was started in 1228, the year of Francis's canonisation, and it was constructed slowly over the next 300 years.  We were very sad when the Basilica was badly damaged by two earthquakes in 1982 and some people died in the Basilica and in the town.



Many times I have tried to understand how St. Francis was able to give up all earthly joy and punish himself for his perceived failings when he led a selfless existence with his every thought devoted to God.  I have to admit that I have often had doubts about God’s expectations and asked myself if God really “requires” us to be miserable.  I think joy is the greatest gift in life we can give and share.

Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Marsden Road Uniting Worship Pentecost 19 - 11 October 2020

 


Marsden Road Uniting Church Carlingford

 ------------------------------------------------------- 

What Does the Lord Require?

Pentecost 19 Sunday in year of Matthew 9.30 am

Gathering God’s People

 Acknowledgement of First Peoples

We acknowledge the first people who have cared for this Land, where we worship, the Wallumedgal. 

May our worship join with the voices of the First Peoples of this Land.

 Call to Worship - (Abingdon Worship Annual 2011)

          Come, let us put God in the centre of our lives!

We rejoice in God's steadfast love!

Come, let our gentleness be a reflection of God's love.

We give thanks for Christ's enduring grace!

Come, let us lay down our burdens and worries.

       We offer our needs to God in prayer.

Come, let us focus on what is honourable and true.

With hope, we turn now to God's guiding word.

 

Hymn 474: Here in this place new light is streaming

                  (tune – Gather us in)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ar0BXa82F9M

 Here in this place new light is streaming, now is the darkness vanished away,

see in this space our fears and our dreamings, brought here to you in the light of this day.

Gather us in the lost and forsaken, gather us in the blind and the lame;

call to us now, and we shall awaken, we shall arise at the sound of our name.


We are the young-our lives a mystery, we are the old-who yearn for your face,

we have been sung throughout all of history, called to be light to the whole human race.

Gather us in-the rich and the haughty, gather us in-the proud and the strong;

give us a heart so meek and so lowly, give us the courage to enter the song.


Here we will take the wine and the water, here we will take the bread of new birth,

here you shall call your sons and your daughters, call us anew to be salt for the earth.

Give us to drink the wine of compassion, give us to eat the bread that is you;

nourish us well and teach us to fashion lives that are holy and hearts that are true.

 

Not in the dark of buildings confining, not in some heaven, light-years away,

but here in this place the new light is shining, no is the Kingdom, and now is the day.

Gather us in and hold us forever, gather us in and make us your own;

gather us in-all peoples together, fire of love in our flesh and our bone.

 Gather us in` - Marty Haugen (b. 1950)

Opening prayer

     Most Holy God, we come into worship with thanksgiving and praise, but we also come before you with worries and doubts. As we lay these burdens down, fill us with your Spirit and bless us with peace and joy. Keep our minds in Christ Jesus, that we may remain focused on issues of justice and righteousness, love and grace. In Christ's name, we pray. Amen.

A Prayer of Confession

Most Holy God, we have made gods out of gold and clay; we have allowed worries and doubts to cloud our vision and faith.

Do not think on these things, gracious God. Find in us all that is honourable and true, commendable and excellent. Shine in our lives, that we may reflect the just and righteous parts of ourselves. 

Forgive us when we reflect false gods or sinful values.

Guide us back into your holy presence and transform us with your grace, that we may be the gentle and just people you would have us be and become.


Declaration of Forgiveness

The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, is ours through Christ Jesus. In Christ, we are forgiven indeed! Amen.

Thanks, be to God!

 The Peace

Let us show one another signs of God's peace, the peace beyond all understanding that is yours and mine to share. The amazing peace of God be with you.

And also, with you!

 

A Word with the Children/Young People

Theme: Worship God and him alone.

Object: A small statue

Who can tell me what this is? (Give time for answers.) That’s right, it is a statue. How many of you have statues in your home? Have you ever seen any statues in parks around the city? Perhaps it was a famous baseball player or an artist or author. I once went to a park with statues of characters from books by Dr. Seuss. My favourite was Horton the elephant.

Statues are great unless they become something that we worship other than God. When we do that, the statue becomes an idol that replaces our God.

That is what one our Bible lesson that we won’t read that is set for this morning in Exodus is about. The main characters in the story are God, Moses, and his brother Aaron. As the story begins, Moses is up on a mountain called Mt. Sanai. I am sure that you remember that God had told Moses to go up on the mountain so that God could give him the Ten Commandments for the people to follow. 

Now Moses stayed up on the mountain longer than the people thought he should. They went to Aaron and said to him, "We want you to create gods who will go before us so that we will know what way to go. As for this fellow Moses who brought us out of Egypt, we don't know what has happened to him."

Aaron answered them, "Take off the gold earrings you are wearing and bring them to me." So, all the people took off their earrings and brought them to Aaron. He took all the gold they had given to him and made it into an idol in the shape of a calf. The people were very happy with the idol that had been made for them. 

When Aaron saw how happy the people were, he built an altar and placed it in front of the calf. He said, "Tomorrow will be a festival to the Lord and you are to rise up early and make a sacrifice burnt offerings before the calf." 

When God saw what the people were doing, he became very angry and told Moses that he was going to destroy the people because of their unfaithfulness. But Moses begged the Lord to remember the promise that he had made to Abraham, Isaac, and the children of Israel. Moses convinced the Lord and he changed his mind and did not do what he said he might do—he did not destroy them. 

What can we learn from this story? We sometimes put other things before God. It may not be an idol made of gold in the shape of a calf, but it may be things. It might be things like money, cars, or sports. Anything that we put ahead of our love for God becomes an idol and that is a big mistake. 

Offering Prayer  

God of steadfast love, we thank you for the abundant gifts in our lives: love and grace, clothing and belongings, friends and family. We thank you for the steadfast signs of your loving presence in our world: wondrous works and awesome deeds. We come before you with our offerings, rejoicing in this opportunity to help bring your realm to this earth. Amen.  

Hymn 430: Your words to me

                  (Tune – Capel)

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=553ynQB2-rY  

1.  Your words to me are life and health;pour strength into my soul;enable, guide, and teach my heartto reach its perfect goal!  

2.  Your words to me are light and truth;from day to day they showtheir wisdom, passing earthly lore,as in their truth I grow.  

3.  Your words to me are full of joy,of beauty, peace, and grace;from them I learn your blessed will,through them I see your face.  

4.  Your words you have fulfilled on earth,yourself, the living Word;within my heart your image printin clearest lines, O Lord.  

Author: G. Currie MartinTune: Capel (English)

The Service of the Word

 Readings:

The First Reading:            Philippians 4:1-9                        

The Gospel Reading:       Matthew 22:1-14

Readings: NRSV Translation

       Philippians 4:1-9                    

4 1 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Matthew 22:1-14

22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. 4 Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ 5 But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, 6 while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. 8 Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. 9 Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. 11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Preaching of the Word - What Does the Lord Require?

Imagine this: “A man flips lazily through the television channels and stops for a few minutes to look at a religious program. He then turns the set off, gets up, and walks into the hall where he encounters his wife. "Will you," he asks her, "be ready when the Bridegroom comes?" "Yes," she responds quickly, "I have my outfit all picked out."

This is, of course, comedy. It works as such because in this context it follows a formula similar to the one used in making puns. It replaces the symbolic, scriptural meaning of "Bridegroom" with the literal meaning of the word. In making light of the parable, the couple block out the light of understanding. Nothing is more corrosive to symbolic understanding than the literal. Do you recall how, during the 1960s, Timothy Leary declared LSD (lysergic acid), with which he was experimenting, to be a "sacrament." Do you remember how corrosive an idea that was, not just to brain cells but to the understanding of some people as to what was really a sacrament? It reduced the idea of "sacrament" to being a mere thing.

Jesus did not do stand-up comedy. Parables are like puzzles, and Jesus, we are told, always spoke in parables. Today's Gospel incorporates one of his best-known parables. He didn't use them to entertain or to perplex his audiences, or to give them games to play. His parables were like pieces of string that had to be rolled up into a ball. Like poetry, they were stories at whose heart was a metaphor. He was not trying to be difficult. He used the language of parable because he was speaking of something that was intangible. He was speaking of something unseen. And like the poet, he had the difficult task of making the unseen, seen.

Often the meanings contained in the parables were left, for the moment, unseen. Even the disciples had difficulty and more than once asked Jesus to explain the parables. Scripture can be difficult. It takes work.

A minister once wrote, "Only the poetic imagination can understand the Bible. Like unsolved puzzles, the meaning of parables can lie hidden in the mind. Hindrances to our understanding abound-like bars on a door or locks on a gate. We do remain curious about what lies on the other side.

We can be barred from entrance through the door of meaning by attempting to interpret the meaning of the parables as though the stories are literal. As with our initial scene, such a response flattens out the meaning, makes it comic or banal. Simply put, then, the meaning of today's Gospel story of the marriage feast might be:

"You had better get your clothes ready if you want to go to the wedding feast or you will be booted out; or, worse, you might be thrown to the dogs!" Would we leave deeper meaning behind and take off for the mall? The better we look when we go into church for the wedding, the more likely we are of being able to pass into heaven.

Is this what we really believe? Do we try and interpret and understand the metaphor or do take things literally? Would there be fewer trip to the mall? There is no section at the mall for symbolic wedding garb, or for symbolic brides. So, let's leave the literal and try doing the work of seeing through different lenses, in a way that will give us a new heart.

Literal interpretations of the parables bring us to a dead end. Symbolic interpretation can open things up for us. In today's Gospel, Jesus is using the image of a wedding feast, a favourite of his, to speak about the Kingdom of God. The bride in the story is not spoken about because she is everywhere, for she can be compared to the entire body of Christ's people. Jesus, I believe was really talking about a sacred marriage between God and humans; between the bridegroom who is the Word and human nature. Jesus himself is the bridegroom and the bride is every one of us. We are being given a picture, Jesus' vision, of the "married land." As in Revelations, the Bridegroom has come. It is heaven where, the divine and human have been united.

And when he comes, will we be ready? Will we be foolish enough to say that as there is a sale this week, we will certainly be able to look our best for the wedding in church? No, the costume in the story is to be understood metaphorically. It is our lives we need to change, the contents of our consciousness, our hearts, and our vision -- not our clothes! These are the intangible garments that concern Jesus. When we wear them -- then he will come, bringing his Kingdom of Heaven. Right here. Right now.

Will we be thrown out where there will be fire and the weeping and gnashing of teeth? Does this fate sound familiar? Similar language is used in other parables recorded by Matthew. It is a harvest metaphor. Literally, it is the weeds that are thrown out from the gathering and the bad fish from the net. And is it a mean God who will throw us out if we show up without the proper gown?

No. The purpose of a parable is to make one point and the point here is to get ready, to stitch together for ourselves the garments of truth, of the Way, so we will be open to God.

There are many people who will remain well armoured against the piercing truths today's parable conveys. They will refuse the challenge. It is easier, like the couple in our opening story, to protect ourselves from the real meaning of the parable by turning it into comedy. It is easier to limit our Vision, to wear a garment of armour. "The kingdom of God is spread on the earth and people don't see it," we read. Jesus' kingdom cannot be stormed. It must descend upon us like light.

In today's parable, Jesus has given us all a key. For God's sake, for Heaven's sake (heaven was used as a synonym for God), we must prepare, make our garments, clothe ourselves in understanding. Only by preparing such a robe are we to gain entrance into his Kingdom. 

Hymn 665: Jesus Christ is waiting

                   (Tune – Noel Nouvelet) 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_CSzEviUc_o  

1. Jesus Christ is waiting,Waiting in the streets;No one is his neighbour,All alone he eats.Listen, Lord Jesus,I am lonely too.Make me, friend or stranger,Fit to wait on you  

2. Jesus Christ is raging,Raging in the streets,Where injustice spiralsAnd real hope retreats.Listen, Lord Jesus,I am angry too.In the Kingdom’s causesLet me rage with you.  

3. Jesus Christ is healing,Healing in the streets;Curing those who suffer,Touching those he greets.Listen, Lord Jesus,I have pity too.Let my care be active,Healing just like you.  

4. Jesus Christ is dancing,Dancing in the streets,Where each sign of hatredHe, with love, defeats.Listen, Lord Jesus,I should triumph too.On suspicion’s graveyardLet me dance with you.  

5. Jesus Christ is calling,Calling in the streets,”Who will join my journey?I will guide their feet.”Listen, Lord Jesus,Let my fears be few.Walk one step before me;I will follow you.  

Author: John L. BellAuthor: Graham MauleTune: Noel Nouvelet  

Intercessory Prayers 

Remembering God's marvellous works and living in hope, let us pray for the church, the world, and all people according to their needs.

Stir up your church to do the work of evangelism and proclaim the message of the salvation through faith in Christ Jesus to the world. Lord, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Enlighten world leaders with new and creative ways to become good stewards of the earth's resources for the sake of future generations. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Watch over all who suffer from injustice, hear and answer their cry, and preserve them from all evil. Lord, in your mercy,

hear our prayer.

Let us pray for the sick (including) and especially for those with Covid-19 and those who deal with other viruses and illnesses, that God will give health and strengthen their faith. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Inspire our congregation to persistent prayer and steadfast study of the scriptures, so that we will be equipped for every good work. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We give you thanks for the witness of those who have gone before and our examples of faith. Give us persistence of faith until we, with all the saints, may see you face to face. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

God of faithfulness, encircled in your lovingkindness, we lift up to you all in need. Hear our prayers on behalf of others and sustain us as we await the coming of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, in whose name we pray.  

THE LORD'S PRAYER  

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.  

Hymn 573: A Charge to keep I Have

                   (Tune – Boylston)  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1M-64OwBK1E  

1.A charge to keep I have,

A God to glorify,

A never-dying soul to save,

And fit it for the sky. 

 

2.To serve the present age,

My calling to fulfill;

may it all my powers engage

To do my Master’s will!

 

3.Arm me with jealous care

As in Thy sight to live,

And now Thy servant, Lord, prepare

A strict account to give!

 

4.Help me to watch and pray,

And still on Thee rely,

                            let me not my trust betray,

But press to realms on high.  

Author: Charles Wesley (1762)

                        Tune: Boylston

Benediction 

        May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus this day and forevermore. Go forth in the name of the living Word, the One whose words bring forth the fruit of the kingdom in your own lives! Amen.        

Hymn 779: May the feet of God walk with you.         (Tune – Aubrey)  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0X5FHNGM2HA  

May the feet of God walk with you, and his hand hold you tight.

May the eye of God rest on you, and his ear hear your cry.

May the smile of God be for you, and his breath give you life.

May the Child of God grow in you, and his love bring you Home.

        Robyn Mann (1949 -)          Aubrey Podlick (1946 -)


Categories: Syndicated Blogs

Expect the Unexpected.

Whitestarhaven's Ramblings - October 8, 2020 - 9:24pm

The readings set in the Churches Lectionary this week are from Exodus 32 and Matthew 22 and are about the unexpected.  We live in a world of the unexpected. Just look at events over the last year or so with fire, flood, political incompetence and a Pandemic. Moses has been up on the mountain for a long time and the people are getting worried, even scared.  They don’t really know where Moses has gone, or why—they don’t understand.  Like so many times during their journey, they are confused and scared, and they lose faith which is not surprising.  They ask Aaron to make gods for them and he makes a golden calf which of course God sees. 

God tells Moses to go back down to the people, whom God threatens to destroy.  God’s anger is not so surprising, but Moses begs God to reconsider, and reminds God of the promises made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. Then comes the surprise, the unexpected:  God changes his mind and relents. 

In Matthew we have the strange story of the king who held a wedding banquet for his son.  The invited guests would not come, so the king sent his slaves out to bring people in from the street. He seems surprised to find a guest who is not dressed “appropriately,” and orders the slaves to bind the man and toss him “into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” We might think that this is just a strange, rude, unkind man, full of himself and his power as king.  We might think this is just an odd story, if it weren’t for the opening sentence of this passage: 

“Once more Jesus spoke to the people in parables, saying: ‘the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son.’” “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to….”  We get the part about the kingdom of heaven being like a wedding banquet.  The story starts out in a seemingly normal way, but quickly takes a strange turn when the guests refuse to attend the party.  This is unexpected behaviour.  We can understand the connection between the kingdom of heaven and people being invited in from the streets—this makes sense to us. 

But then there is the unexpected behaviour of the king toward one of the guests who was probably poor and from the streets but isn’t dressed in appropriate wedding clothes. The king has him bound and thrown out into the darkness.  What does this say about the kingdom of heaven? We are shocked and surprised, as were those listening to Jesus because in many cultures, hospitality was very important to people.  It would have been unforgivable for guests or hosts to behave in such a manner.  The listeners would have been shocked and offended, especially when Jesus compared this story to the kingdom of heaven.

Perhaps that was the point as Jesus often made unusual, surprising or uncomfortable comparisons in his parables.  Once again, he challenges the assumptions of those listening, shocking them with a surprising or unexpected story. But why would he tell such a story about the kingdom of heaven?  It was not just for shock value as Jesus wants to expand people’s perceptions.  He was not saying that the kingdom of heaven is like the king or the banquet or the guests.  He is saying that the kingdom of heaven is beyond our expectations, beyond our assumptions, beyond what we can analyse and think through and get our heads around. 

It is saying to us that there is always more than what we can see. God will always surprise us; will always confront us with the unexpected.  We are called to be open to more and not just to rest in the comfortable assumption that we know all about God. The Parables of Jesus make us uncomfortable.  We don’t know what to do with them, these strange, confusing parables. We usually ignore them or try to find some way to explain them away— “well, this is what this really means.”

But there is a way of understanding them, without taking them literally.  Jesus is deliberately provocative and challenges our preconceived ideas about what God and the kingdom of heaven are like.  We all have our favourite ideas of what the kingdom of heaven might be like.  Jesus is telling us that it will be like nothing we can imagine.  In that over-used phrase, Jesus is inviting us to “think outside the box.” Because the truth is that we cannot know for certain. 

This does not mean we are stupid, but we are human, and our knowledge and our understanding are limited.  Even though we contain a spark of the divine, even though we are made in God’s image, we are not God. The most we can hope for in this lifetime are glimpses—through story and scripture, through prayer and meditation, through music and through our experiences.  If we are open to the Spirit, if we listen, if we pay attention, we can catch a glimpse here and there of the kingdom.

These are the glimpses when Paul the writer of Philippians speaks in the Letter to the Philippians. He says,

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing,
whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and
if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

These are all things of the kingdom.  The only things Paul left out of his list might be “whatever is surprising, whatever is unexpected.”  It is often through those things that God speaks to us.

 


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