Belief

19 Apr 2020 by Jan C (Liturgy), Bruce H (Reflection) in: Online Services



Before we start, listen to this song.  I know it’s old but the words are great.  Click here to hear Johnny Mathis sing “You Raise Me Up”. Here are the words:

You Raise Me Up
When I am down, and, oh, my soul, so weary
When troubles come, and my heart burdened be
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence
Until you come and sit awhile with me

You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains
You raise me up to walk on stormy seas
I am strong when I am on your shoulders
You raise me up to more than I can be

 

 

 


Acknowledgement of Country
Let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land. We pay our respects to elders past and present as they hold the knowledge, language and spiritual connections to this country.
We Acknowledge:
Our gratitude for this land we share today,
Our sorrow for the cost of that sharing,
Our hope that together in the spirit of Reconciliation,
we move to a place of justice and partnership,
As together we walk gently on this land.

Lighting the Candle  
A candle is lit today to symbolise that God is with us this day.  Each in our own homes by ourselves, or with our wife or husband, or family member: let us continually remember God is with us always and forever.           

Prayer: 

Be with us today as we share this service with friends. Keep us strong and patient as we go through this hard time. We pray for people everywhere sharing your words of love and comfort and hope. 

Meditation: a poem, by Bruce Prewer. 
 
Congregations
They live by faith;
congregations of common people
enlivened by an uncommon gospel,
sowing and nurturing mustard seeds.
 
They live by hope;
congregations growing or dwindling,
determined on Christ’s optimism
in the midst of the cynical crowd.
 
They live by love;
congregations with a spirited outlook,
looking to serve the world
and love as they have been loved.
 
They live by grace
defying all the secular odds
in Broome, Fitzroy and Kings Cross;
congregations convened by God.
Bruce Prewer
 
Prayer
We give you all thanks and praise, O God,
for you have given us new birth into a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

In the first of your mighty deeds of power
you created the heavens and earth.
You formed for yourself a people,
and through the law and prophets
you led them on the road to life.

Your child and our brother, Jesus Christ,
came to us speaking words of peace and forgiveness.
He was put to death by the enemies of life,
but you kept your promise
not to abandon your faithful one to death.

You raised him up, and freed him from death’s power.
Greeting us with hands still scarred,
he stands with us in our fears, doubts and trials
and protects us through faith
for salvation into our glorious inheritance -
boundless joy at your side forever.

Therefore, with our hearts lifted high,
we offer you thanks and praise at all times
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Amen.

Confession and Assurance
Christ has not risen to condemn us, but that we might be set free 
Let us pray.
 
Most Holy God, our ways are not like your ways, our thoughts are not as your thoughts, and our deeds do not reflect your deeds.
 
We are the low achievers who need uplifting,
the timid who need encouraging,
the clumsy who need correcting,
the proud who need humbling,
the rebellious who need recapturing,
the lost who need much saving,
and sometimes we are the faithful who need your smile of approval.
 
Please, awesome God our Friend, may the risen Christ assert his presence in our midst, unhindered by the walls of our homes or by the half-closed doors of our minds.
May he assert his presence and reclaim his brothers and sisters from everything that corrupts, degrades, and alienates us from your joy and salvation.
May he give us the kiss of life, breathing your forgiveness and renewal into every corner of our being. For your love’s sake.
Amen!
 
Forgiveness
It is written: Jesus breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”
 
By the grace of Christ Jesus, I find the audacity to stick my neck out and declare to you: Your sins truly are forgiven! You know? Really, absolutely forgiven!
Thanks be to God!
 
Now then, it’s up to us to forgive one another even as Christ has forgiven us.
Amen!
 
The peace of the Lord Jesus be always with you!
And also, with you!

Bible Readings
These readings are paraphrased and come from The Message, a paraphrase of the scriptures by Nathan Nettleton at Laughing Bird Literature. 

1 Peter 1: 3-9
A standing ovation for God!! Applause! Honours! The richest rewards! All this and more for the God and Conceiver of our Lord Jesus the Messiah! Just look at the astonishing mercy evident in what God has done for us by raising Jesus the Messiah from the dead. Through this resurrection, God has given us all a fresh start, as people newly born into a life full of hope.

And this newborn life can only get better, because God has put aside a nest-egg for us in heaven where its value cannot be eroded, degraded or rendered obsolete. It is all there waiting for you, and in the meantime, your faith will get you through, because God’s power is at work in it, protecting you from destruction and seeing you safely across the line into the life for which you are being saved — a life that will only be seen in all its glory when the curtain comes down on time as we’ve known it.

All of this gives you every reason to celebrate with great joy, even though in recent times you have been repeatedly put under the heat of hostility and viciousness. You’ll come out the better for it. Solid gold — although here today and gone tomorrow — is only seen in all its beauty after it is refined by fire. Your faith, which is so much more precious than gold, will likewise be proved to be the genuine article when it emerges from the fire, and will thus attract even more credit and glory and honour when Jesus the Messiah takes centre stage. You have never seen him, but that doesn’t stop you loving him.

You still don’t see him, and yet you are trusting him. And even now you are filled with a joy which words cannot describe; a joy which radiates the glories of heaven. And why not? Indeed, you are already tasting the life that is the ultimate reward for all who put faith into practice; the life for which you are being saved.

John 20: 19-31
It was a Sunday — the first day of the week — when the tomb was found empty. That same evening, the disciples met together. They locked all the doors of the house where they were meeting because they were afraid of being tracked down by the religious authorities. Suddenly, Jesus appeared and stood among them saying, “Good evening to you all!”

He proceeded to show them the deep scars in his hands and side. The disciples, of course, were over the moon at seeing the Lord again. Jesus spoke again, saying, “All the best to you. God sent me into the world, and in the same way, I’m sending you.” Having said that, he breathed a big breath onto them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit; all of you. If you forgive anyone who has sinned, then their sins are forgiven. If you withhold forgiveness for any sins, they remain unforgiven.”


When this happened, Thomas — known as “the Twin” and one of the twelve — was missing. The other disciples told him that they had seen the Lord, but they couldn’t convince him. “I’m not falling for that one!” Thomas replied. “I’d have to see the nail holes in his hands before I’d believe it. In fact, I’d have to feel the holes myself, and touch the spear wound in his side.”

A week later, the disciples again gathered behind locked doors in the same house, and this time Thomas was with them. Despite the locked doors, Jesus came and stood among them again and said, “Good evening to you all!” Then he turned to Thomas and said, “Here are my hands, Thomas. Put your finger here in the wound.” And pulling up his shirt, he said, “And here is my side. You can put your hand in the hole. Let go of your doubts and trust me.”

Thomas, of course, was blown away, and said, “You are my Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Believing is not that hard when you’ve seen me, is it? Imagine how much God will smile on those who put their trust in me without ever having seen me!”
The disciples saw Jesus do many other things that demonstrated to them the reality of who he was, but they have not all been written down in this book. But what has been written here has been written for you, dear readers, so that you will know enough to see that Jesus is the anointed One — the Son of God — and so that by putting your trust in him you can come to have real life: the life that he lived and shares.
©2001 Nathan Nettleton Laughing Bird

Through these readings we hear God speak -- thank you, God

 

Listen to Bruce's Reflection: Belief

We’ve been hearing a fair bit about “lockdown” in recent weeks.  It hasn’t been about locking doors but setting up barriers against danger, in this case a dangerous virus.

In today’s passage from John 19 we read that the disciples were in a locked room.  Their leader, their teacher, had been put to death. They were afraid that the religious authorities would want them out of the way too. But then Jesus appeared among them, bringing the greeting of peace.  

Shalom” was the standard greeting, and so Nathan Nettleton translates it as “Good evening”; but we might think that in this case there was a true sense of restoring peace to their lives. The one they’d written off was alive; their destroyed hopes were revived, not destroyed after all. They’d locked the dangerous, threatening world out; and then Jesus slipped through those defenses, brought inspiration and joy (as Nettleton puts it, they were “over the moon”).

I don’t wish for an explanation of how Jesus got into that room.  No attempt at an explanation that I’ve heard has ever seemed satisfactory.  Yet the testimony of the disciples was that they were afraid, in their fear they were holed up behind closed doors, and somehow Jesus appeared among them, accepting their fear and yet calming it:  He repeats ‘Peace be with you’ and then commissions them to continue his ministry.

Thomas wasn’t there to share their experience.  He wasn’t behind their physical locked doors at the time, but in his own mind he was locked behind the doors of his own rationality and scepticism, and so when the others told him about Jesus he didn’t believe them.  As Thomas H. Troeger writes, (Hymn 649 in Together in Song):
"These things did Thomas count as real: the warmth of blood, the chill of steel,
the grain of wood, the heft of stone, the last frail twitch of flesh and bone. The vision of his sceptic mind was keen enough to make him blind
to any unexpected act too large for his small world of fact."

So what did Jesus do the next time he slipped through their fears into the locked room, and Thomas was there? Jesus accepted his doubts, invited him to feel the physical evidence that this was his crucified Lord, risen from the dead. Again, in Troeger’s words:
"His reasoned certainties denied that one could live when one had died
until his fingers read like Braille, the markings of the spear and nail." 

May we, O God, by grace believe and thus the risen Christ receive, whose raw, imprinted palms reached out and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

Jesus slipped through Thomas’ defences, just as he had somehow appeared in the locked room. Thomas put a condition on his belief:  “Unless I can see and feel the evidence, I won’t believe”, so Jesus met the condition, and Thomas responded with belief, “My Lord, my God!” But then Jesus challenged him to replace his doubt with trust. “Blessed are those who don’t get to see the first-hand evidence, yet still come to believe.”

And so Thomas is called to the sort of faith that is described in the letter of Peter, faith in the resurrection that brings “a living hope” that carries believers through whatever trials come upon them.  As Peter writes, “Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.”

What “locked doors”, or barriers can we recognise in our own lives and the life of our community? At present we are all called upon to respect physical barriers between people for the good of all, to cooperate in response to a rational fear of infection, to defeat a danger to ourselves and others. Yet we know of bad effects of these barriers on the life of our nation, our community. We look forward to the time when those doors can be unlocked.

And what of less worthy fears and barriers? What of our locked borders because of fear of floods of needy people coming to our country? Are we tempted to put up barriers to people who look different, or speak a different language, or practise a different religion? It seems to be a natural reaction, but what effect does it have when Jesus gets through those defences? Are there locked doors, barriers, to our discipleship?

Maybe there are ideas we cling to that discipleship would ask us to let go; maybe we feel social or economic responsibilities lock us out of total commitment. If there are barriers, how does Jesus deal with them?  In the gospel story we don’t hear Jesus saying “Forget your fears, get out of here, get on with the task of ministry”. He slips through his disciples’ defences, speaks peace, shares with them the gift of the Spirit, and commissions them ready for ministry.

And then, when the time is right, action begins. What might cause you and me to be like Thomas in allowing our own scepticism to lock hope out? How do we respond when:

  • Evil and death seem to reign supreme and unchallenged?
  • Hospitals and child care centres are bombed?     
  • Politicians play fast and loose with other people's lives and reputations to win political points?
  • Out of self-interest, politicians and commentators bombard the public with lies and misrepresentation about the future of our planet, putting in danger the lives and wellbeing of many. 
  • Children are raped by people they trust, or sold into prostitution by men who have found a market in under-age flesh?
  • People are forced off their ancestral lands to make way for mines or beef cattle stations?
  • People are imprisoned and tortured for their beliefs?
  • All too often over the centuries, and even now, the church has colluded with the powerful to control the mass of the people?

Do we wonder whether Christ can truly be risen and active in the world? Let’s remember that:

  • The movement ‘Love Makes A Way’ campaigns in the name of Christ, along with other organisations, for just and humane treatment of asylum seekers;
  • Churches join the chorus of those supporting the advice of scientists regarding Earth’s climate;
  • The Uniting Church established a safe injecting room in Kings Cross, saving many lives;
  • Christian peacemakers have helped to reconcile conflict in Ambon, Indonesia;
  • Christians continue to support East Timor even while our government seeks to punish those who revealed its attempt to cheat East Timor.

Even unrecognised at times, the way of Christ does continue to work in the world.  God continues to call us to be a part of that mission.

May we, O God, by grace believe and thus the risen Christ receive, whose raw, imprinted palms reached out and beckoned Thomas from his doubt.

 


Prayers for Others

The world with its multitudinous needs is always with us. So is the Presence of Christ. Let us pray for some of them.
 
For those making hard decisions.
Most loving God, be with those who this day are on the brink of hard decisions. Save them from being taken in by either false appearances or subtle self deceit. Give to your indecisive children clear heads, strong wills, and peaceful hearts.
 
For those who feel deserted
God of the Christ who was betrayed by one friend and deserted by eleven, we pray for all people who are feeling rejected or forsaken. Let them know that you will never leave them
nor forsake them. May they rise up from their deep hurt and find a peace and a purpose that is not dependent on fragile human loyalties, but is grounded in your steadfast love.
 
For hospices for the terminally ill
Lord of gentle, wounded hands, please bless and bless again, those hospices where the dying come to watch and wait. Give to all the staff a profound sensitivity, and to each patient a profound serenity. When death comes, may it come like a friend opening a new door.
 
For peace in our world
Risen Friend, Prince of peace, please strengthen the hand of all peacemakers. Steer negotiators through the shoals of injustice, prejudice and pride. Build up courage, trust, forgiveness, patience and hopefulness, and teach us how to look into each other’s eyes without fear or self-righteousness.
 
For our governments
Living Lord, we pray for our parliaments and our councils across this continent. Keep the minds and hearts of our leaders open to Divine grace, that they may be wiser than they know and have the courage to make the hard decisions that will help our nation to reach towards its true mission and destiny among the nations of the world.
 
For the church
When we think of that handful of men and women who first gathered to celebrate your resurrection, Lord Jesus, we marvel at your church now in every country of the world.
Whatever our denomination, style of worship, numerical strength, or influence, we pray that we may all keep the faith with integrity and love. Teach us that the closer we draw near to one another the closer we come to you, and the closer we come to you the closer we must be to each other.
(These prayers are adapted from “Brief Prayers for Australians” B D Prewer)
 

Benediction          
As God sent Christ Jesus,
so now you are sent.
Go then, with your hearts rejoicing,
as those who have touched the marks of truth.
Endure suffering,
forgive sins,
and love the Lord.

And may God’s power be your protection;
May Christ Jesus reach out to you with words of peace;
And may the Holy Spirit fill you with indescribable and glorious joy.
In the name of Christ. Amen. 

Hymn:    Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) by Chris Tomlin
Amazing grace
How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost, but now I'm found
Was blind, but now I see

'Twas grace that taught my heart to fear
And grace my fears relieved
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me
His word my hope secures
He will my shield and portion be
As long as life endures

My chains are gone
I've been set free
My God, my Saviour has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy rains
Unending love, Amazing grace