COCU56C.Pentecost 17C.11th September 2016

(in 2016, this Sunday is also 15th anniversary of 9/11 – resources here)

Readings:
Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28; Psalm 14; 1 Timothy 1:12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Call to worship (general) here

Call to worship
The foolish say, ‘there is no God.’
We come, trusting in Jesus, the face, the voice,
the presence of the God who loves us.
The scoffers of our age ask, ‘why do you seek after God?’
We come, in this time,
because God’s grace has spilled over in our lives.
The hopeless around us think, ‘no one cares about me.’
We come, in this time, to this place,
because Jesus has found us and brought us home.
(Source: Thom Shuman)

Prayer of Confession (inspired by Luke 15: 1-10)
God of wisdom,
we confess the foolishness of our ways,
and our failure to follow you in your paths of right relationships –
with you and with others.
We have gone astray; we feel lost.
We have upheld our own interests first, to the detriment of others.
We have failed to be generous with the poor,
and abandoned our efforts to bring about justice.
We feel the stains of our sins, God;
have mercy on us according to your steadfast love.
Wash the sinfulness out of us,
and help us to live more faithfully as your servants.
We seek your unfailing Lordship
and ask for your guiding hand on our lives.
You are the immortal, invisible One;
to you be honour and glory forever; amen.

Assurance of Pardon
Merciful and loving God,
we thank you for never losing hope for us.
When we are lost, you are there on the look-out for us,
bringing us back to you like the good shepherd that you are.
Your Word tells us of the joy in heaven that awaits us.
May this joy flow into our lives each day,
and be faithfully reflected into the world around us.
Thanks be to God, our Great Shepherd.
(Source: Presbyterian Church in Canada website)

The Lost (a poem inspired by Luke 15: 1-10)
Praise God for the Lord who loves
Praise God for the Lord who cares
In the midst of my weakness
When I am lost
Unable to find
Even myself
There is One who seeks
One who finds
Me
The lost
And rejoices in the correction of our folly
Rejoices with the angels
Rejoices with song
Rejoices for us
And with us
Often before we are aware
We were lost
“Isn’t it strange how things happen?”
“It was just one of those days”
“I’ve decided to make a change”
These are the words we use
Rejoice and be glad,
For that which was lost has been found
(Source: Pastor Dan, http://coslcgrace.blogspot.ca/)

Sermon ideas (from Church of Scotland) – see more below
Theme: Repent of our misuse of creation. We are the inheritors of the earth, those who have responsibility to be proper stewards.

Luke tells us that there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety- nine who do not need it. In the world today, there are few without sin, and even fewer who have not done something which causes harm to the world in which we live, God’s created order.
“The firstborn child has a special status. The earth is the firstborn of creation, created before the human beings, so we should respect the earth and hold it in a special status.” Rev Maurice Munthali, Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) Livingstonia Synod.
Among the most pressing concerns for the world church is that of the whole created order, ensuring its sustainable future, and the responsibility of the human race to deal sensitively and gently with it. So many places in the world are seeing desertification from the degradation of the plant and forest life, or inundated with water as sea levels rise, or taken from them by land-grabbers – all of which impoverish the lives of individuals and communities. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams says. Christians need to regain a sense that our relationship to the earth is about ‘communion not consumption’. The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
Jeremiah 4, and other prophets emphasises that creation is important to God. It highlights how the whole creation suffers when God’s people repeatedly fail to follow God’s ways: it is “waste and void,” the mountains are quaking, “the birds of the air had fled,” “the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins.” The creation groans. But as Jesus emphasises in Luke, we can repent, we can change our ways, we can find restoration. Jeremiah suggests that the people are clueless, but today we are not clueless, we do know the things that make for a good environment and a healthy planet.
We are all interconnected and interdependent. If the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, we need to recognise our responsibility for others. Changes to the climate as well as non-climate related natural disasters are not just challenges to particular places, they also impact the lives of people. There is an element of enlightened self-interest in tackling the issues of climate change caused by global warming, or pollution and waste caused by over-consumption; but the Church around the world must go further than speak out about climate change and pollution — we must challenge attitudes (including our own) by practising, promoting and encouraging a renewed reverence and respect for the whole of creation and, in particular, the way we relate to our planet. Whether we think of the planet in a South American (or Franciscan) way as ‘Mother Earth’ or with an African emphasis as the ‘firstborn,’ or simply recognise the presence of God in the whole created order around us as Christ did, we need theologies and spiritualities which recognise that “the earth is the Lord’s” and not ours. Christ reconciles the whole creation to God, not just humanity (Colossians 1:20). Jesus’ resurrection is but the beginning of the restoration not only of humanity, but of all things. And we need to continue with the development of ways of living that are better attuned to the rhythms of the natural world and in harmony with the rest of creation.
(Source: Church of Scotland)

Prayer of Dedication/Offering
When we could not find our way, you came searching for us. So may our gifts be used to bring hope to those cast aside by the world, peace to those whose lives are troubled, and grace to all who are alone. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
(Source: Thom Shuman)

Sermon reflections:  Jeremiah
The modern, industrial age has been characterised by some, on the more mystical wing of the Green Movement, as an Age of Exploitation and Plunder. Humanity has quarried wealth for itself out of the earth, laying waste huge swathes of the planet, its land, rivers and seas choked with waste and toxicity. People have become bloated on wealth on the back of the slave trade and the exploitation of the poor. The rich have become richer by hoarding the world’s wealth and the poor continue to lose out even today, 200 years after the abolition of the slave trade. Global warming reminds us that the earth is not endlessly abundant and as immune to our exploitative ways as we might have imagined. Ours has been characterised as the ‘Suicide Economy’. There are indeed ‘limits to growth’ and the words of Jeremiah ring in our ears, ‘for my people are foolish, they do not know me…they are skilled in doing evil but do not know how to do good’.
Jeremiah goes on to describe an apocalyptic vision that could be written for today’s world, ‘the birds of the air had fled….the fruitful earth was a desert’. An arid lifeless planet is the consequence of humanity’s persistent foolishness. Is a world laid ‘waste and void’ what awaits us unless we repent and think again? As Walter Bruegemann puts it, ‘I would not have thought that the universe rested its future on our capacity to do good’.
The mystical tradition within the ecological movement anticipates a paradigm shift in human behaviour; a spiritual revival that will perhaps be the only chance of saving the planet. This is not a management fix that will sort out the environmental problem so that we can return to business as usual. The call is for a true repentance, a change of heart and mindset to carry us from the Age of Plunder to the Age of Healing. The call is for humanity to be a more benign and respectful presence to creation and to our fellow earth citizens. It is a call to a more generous and inclusive system of economics as though people, communities, cultures, individuals and the earth itself matter. ‘Yet I will not make a full end’ is how the passage ends. God will not give up on wayward humanity.
Sometimes we need to tell it like it is, to give voice to the reality of the desolation and despair that visited Christ on the Cross and visits places and peoples on the planet still. Jeremiah’s vision is one such moment that articulates the idea of ‘departed glory’ and the prospect of desolation as a consequence of our persistent foolishness. However, the last word is not condemnation but the possibility of redemption. The call, in the present context, is for a change of heart. Can we move from the Age of Plunder to the Age of Healing?
(Source: Church of Scotland website)

Sermon reflections: Psalm 14
The famous phrase, ‘Fools say in their hearts, there is no God’, is one that will be familiar even to those who do not read their Bibles. In the context of contemporary society, where belief in God is often reduced to a mere matter of opinion, the objective existence or non existence of God would seem to be the starting point for a sermon based on this text. However, the preacher would be the fool if she were to assert that those who take the philosophical view that there is no supernatural deity were all stupid. Some of the most learned thinkers in history have made this assertion and some of the greatest have also asserted the exact opposite.
In the pre-modern context in which the psalmist was writing, it is more reasonable to suppose that people were not discussing the reality of the supernatural, or indeed reducing faith to personal opinions. Rather this psalm is an attack on those who live as though there were no God. Even church going, card carrying Christians do this, and some of the most ardent atheists can be amongst the most virtuous and compassionate of people. Belief in the objective reality of God is no guarantee of ethical behaviour. The psalmist is taking issue with people who are a law unto themselves, people who have no humility and exercise no restraint. Affirming the reality of the Divine must result in a practical, ethical response.
(Source: Church of Scotland website)

Sermon reflections: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Personal testimony about the conversion of people’s manner has to be handled carefully in the Christian context. It is easy for those with a dramatic story to tell of their transformation either to be elevated to a position of high status, or to make others feel like they are second rate Christians because they have a less interesting spiritual journey to narrate. The temptation to use narrative to illustrate deep truths is strong, but we should note how rare it is in the Bible. Paul does not speak much of his own conversion (the famous description of his Damascus Road experience is conveyed by the pen of Luke). Here, Paul (if it is indeed him), is unusually candid about his own experience. He relates how he was once a man of violence, a persecutor of Christians and a blasphemer. However, he attempts to deflect attention from himself by the assertion that ‘Christ came into the world to save sinners’. Two points can be drawn out of this text, first, that it is the Spirit working through people that should rightfully be the focus of our attention, for it was not Paul, but the Spirit working in him that has effected change. So often we can be seduced by a dangerous impulse to admire the achievement, piety or zeal of an individual. Secondly, and this fits in with the theme of all our readings today, no matter how far away people are, the Spirit will not give up on us and actively seeks out the lost. No one is beyond redemption and transformation through the power of the Gospel.
(Source: Church of Scotland website)

Sermon reflections: Luke 15:1-10
There is something quite reckless and troubling about Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. The shepherd will abandon his sheep in the wilderness in order to seek out the one that is lost. It is almost as though Jesus is saying that the sheep that are not lost can be legitimately exposed to risk for the sake of securing the one that has gone astray. This is a challenge for any congregation of God’s people who believe that at some level the church exists for those who are outside its boundaries. A ministry focussed on the outsider, the stranger, (and indeed the parish), may well invite opposition from insiders who believe that they have ‘paid for their ticket’ and that they do not deserve to be abandoned in the wilderness.
The parables depict the extent of God’s concern for all of God’s people and reveal just how far God will go to search out and restore a relationship with those whom God loves. When one who is far away has been found, there is reason to throw a party. Our dour Presbyterian tradition has often found it difficult to deal with the aspect of celebration that frequently crops up in scripture, but even the angels would not wish to miss one of God’s parties.
An amusing anecdote: when the first missionaries to the Innuit people attempted to translate the Bible they stumbled over the word, joy. Presumably, in that bleak, icy landscape there was not much need for such a word, until someone pointed out the Innuit’s dogs that were always full of joy at the end of a hard day of sledge pulling. The sentence is apparently translated, ‘there will be more tail wagging in heaven over one sinner that repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance!’
(Source: Church of Scotland website)

 

About admin

Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon) in placement at Pilgrim Uniting Church, in Adelaide CBD (12 Flinders St). This blog is mainly to resource worship planners for our services, but of course may be useful for others. We have some great writers of music, words for hymns and liturgy at Pilgrim, so this blog also includes their words.
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