Acknowledgement of country
We meet for worship as the gathered and scattered people of God.
We celebrate Christ Jesus, and His Way of Love. Thanks be to God!
We also acknowledge that where each of us live is on the land of the Dharawal people.
We acknowledge their 40,000 years of ongoing stewardship of God’s Creation
We pledge to be ambassadors of reconciliation, justice and peace.
You are all welcome, as we worship God this day.
Lighting the candle
God of all who wander in the wilderness,
your Light shines before us as a beacon and guide.
Lead us through all danger,
sustain us through all desolation,
and bring us home to the land
you have prepared for us. Amen.
Call to Worship (Rex A. E. Hunt)
This moment of quiet is an invitation
to be calm in the midst of the noise of the world and our over-anxious lives,
to bring together thought and feeling, mind and spirit,
and to find some centre, some still point, of perspective and peace.
We draw near to each other in the presence of a Holy Weaver.
That we may see afresh.
That we may hear anew.
That we may act again with vigour.
May there be many new patterns woven among us:
patterns of peace between strangers,
patterns of love between friends,
patterns of hope among the hopeless,
patterns of joy among the sorrowful.
And may we be brokers of a spirit of new hope with all people,
to the ways we cope with life,
to the ways we embrace the present,
and the ways we think about the future.
May we all in our own small way, come to discover
there are resources within ourselves and beyond us
that are as hidden but as real
as our secret doubts and fears.
This is our prayer.
May it be so. Amen.
The OT reading is the end of Moses’ amazing life and journeys - both physical and spiritual. The NT ‘greatest commandments’ reading is maybe for us on our journey, a map and a guide.
Deuteronomy 34 v1-12
34 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain, that is, the Valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. 4 And the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” 5 So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord, 6 and he buried him in the valley in the land of Moab opposite Beth-peor; but no one knows the place of his burial to this day. 7 Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated. 8 And the people of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. Then the days of weeping and mourning for Moses were ended.
9 And Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him. So the people of Israel obeyed him and did as the Lord had commanded Moses. 10 And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 none like him for all the signs and the wonders that the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, 12 and for all the mighty power and all the great deeds of terror that Moses did in the sight of all Israel.
Reflection: Well, sounds familiar. Looking out across a border but unable to cross. Moses’ punishment for disobedience and pride seems harsh. He was barred from entering the Promised Land (Numbers 20:12) after an incident at Meribah, when he struck a rock and water flowed for the people. Yet we do not see Moses complain about his punishment. Instead, he continues to faithfully lead the people towards that land and honour God. He doesn’t throw in the towel and say “Ok, you are on your own now. I have already done my bit.”
It is the vision of freedom and promise rather than life turning out precisely as Moses expects and desires that gives Moses hope. He could live with discouragement, frustration, and betrayal because the vision God had given them as a community was intended as a blessing for all people, and this vision never loses its force or power. It is this same vision that is the source of life and strength for the Psalmist and Jesus as he confounds those whose lives are governed by imperial rules rather than the power of love.
Prayer of confession
Just a little further… Just a little more… Just a little longer… Just a little closer. As we journey in faith, we have often made the mistake of believing that the destination is the goal, rather than notice that the journey itself holds blessings often unseen and unknown. We join with Moses in holding visions of what is possible. Yet, we confess, we have not always been able to join Moses in accepting that we may not live in the fulfillment of our dreams. This has meant we have missed some of the beauty, grace, wonder, and peace that have been ours along the way. Forgive us, and help us to see the treasure that is in our midst as we journey together toward your realm on earth. Amen.
Words of affirmation and Absolution
Look around and take it in!
Though we journey together toward new life, and always will, God’s realm is with us now. Though we seek better days; though we long for greater healing; though we are called to challenge the status quo that still embodies injustice in so many ways, let us allow that vision to fill us right now – to be enough – and to be God’s gift of peace and renewal today.
Though God tests our hearts,
our sins are not held against us,
but God entrusts to us the message of the gospel,
the promise of God’s forgiveness and love.
Sisters and Brothers,
our sins are forgiven;
be at peace. Amen
Reflection: In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam embark on an epic journey. The way is dark and it seems many times that they will not make their destination or fulfill the vital quest.
They have this conversation
Sam: "..folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn't. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something."
Frodo : "What are we holding onto, Sam?"
Sam : "That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for."
Let’s hear them here.
I would like to stay with Tolkien and Peter Jackson a while longer. Many of us are missing music in these times. This arrangement of Enya’s song by Voces8 causes me to wonder and awe, praise and thanksgiving. It is perfect. The elvish is translated for you. We are on all sorts of journeys. Journey through Covid, journey through personal health issues, journey to a different stage in this church, journey of understanding and/or doubt. Many more. Wanting transition to safer fuels, aware of refugees’ journeys, advocating where we can. We are not on a journey that some of were planning for this year, involving aeroplanes and cruise ships! Many times we do not see the end point. We do our best to navigate and hope we are on the right path, trust that we are not wasting our time. Moses had his promise. Jesus’ teaching and our fellowship inspires and guides and is our promise. It is our encouragement and compass when things are not going to too well. And when they are.
May it be an evening star
Shines down upon you
May it be when darkness falls
Your heart will be true
You walk a lonely road
Oh, how far you are from home
Mornië utúlië ((darkness has come))
Believe and you will find your way
Mornië alantië ((darkness has fallen))
A promise lives within you now
May it be the shadows call
Will fly away
May it be your journey on
To light the day
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun
Mornië utúlië ((darkness has come))
Believe and you will find your way
Mornië alantië ((darkness has fallen))
A promise lives within you now
A promise lives within you now
Psalm 90 is for us:
Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn men back to dust, saying, "Return to dust, O sons of men."
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.
You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning--
though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.
We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation.
You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.
All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a moan.
The length of our days is seventy years-- or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.
Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.
Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Relent, O Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble.
May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendour to their children.
May the favour of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us-- yes, establish the work of our hands.
Let us sing, or hum along, Oh God Our Help in Ages Past. Yes, often sung at funerals. But as we look back, we find strength and hope to trust for the future.
Matt 22 v 23-40. Marriage at the Resurrection
23 That same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to him with a question. 24 “Teacher,” they said, “Moses told us that if a man dies without having children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up offspring for him. 25 Now there were seven brothers among us. The first one married and died, and since he had no children, he left his wife to his brother. 26 The same thing happened to the second and third brother, right on down to the seventh. 27 Finally, the woman died. 28 Now then, at the resurrection, whose wife will she be of the seven, since all of them were married to her?”
29 Jesus replied, “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. 30 At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 31 But about the resurrection of the dead—have you not read what God said to you, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’[b]? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
33 When the crowds heard this, they were astonished at his teaching.
The Greatest Commandment
34 Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. 35 One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: 36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’[d] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions.
Reflection: The Jews had been out to trap Jesus. First, the Pharisees and the Herodians had a go with a question whether taxes should be paid to the Emperor or not. A question to get Jesus to condemn himself with his own answer.
Then the Sadducees try out a tricky question on Jesus about a woman who marries seven times. Which husband will she have when the dead will be raised to life? Again a question to trick Jesus because the Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection.
And now the Pharisees test Jesus again to try and find out where he stands in regard to the traditional faith, the faith of the fathers. And in his reply, we find that Jesus had a great respect for tradition. He goes to the very heart of the Jewish faith and quotes passages of the Old Testament. Earlier in Matthew’s Gospel we hear that Jesus hasn’t come to do away with Israel’s faith. We hear him say, “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law or the prophets. I didn’t come to destroy, but to fulfill. For most certainly, I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not even one smallest letter or one tiny pen stroke shall in any way pass away from the law, until all things are accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). Jesus has great respect for the traditional faith, but not necessarily the traditional interpretation of the Pharisees. I suspect many of us can identify with that, as we have traveled away from certain interpretations of certain traditions in our own spiritual journeys.
Most translations miss the point of this question, which is: which kind of command is great in the law? That is, what kind of a commandment must it be to constitute it a great one? Not, which commandment is greatest as compared with the others? Everyone listening would agree with the first commandment, you shall love the Lord your God etc. ( Deut 6 v5) They were waiting for Jesus’ next breath. Which turned out to be Leviticus 19 v 18. The scribes declared that there were 248 affirmative precepts, as many as the members of the human body; and 365 negative precepts, as many as the days in the year; the total being 613, the number of letters in the Decalogue ( the Ten commandments, probably not when translated into English) Of these they called some light and some heavy. Some thought that the law about the fringes on the garments was the greatest; some that the omission of washings was as bad as homicide; some that the third commandment was the greatest. It was in view of this kind of distinction that the scribe asked the question; not as desiring a declaration as to which commandment was greatest, but as wanting to know the principle upon which a commandment was to be regarded as a great commandment. - Phew!
So the Pharisees were eager to see whether Jesus was emphasising their tradition of staying apart, to keep holy and undefiled, or to look out for and serve others.
When the Bible talks about love it primarily means a love that keeps on loving, it means commitment. We may have warm feelings of gratitude to God when we consider all that he has done for us, but it is not warm feelings that Jesus is demanding of us. It is stubborn, unwavering commitment. It follows then that to love one another, including our enemies, doesn’t mean we must feel affection for them, rather it means a commitment on our part to take their needs seriously.
This kind of love doesn’t come naturally and putting it into practice is something we have to work on. Love – commitment – is a deliberate action of the will. To love means deliberately to turn toward another person and their needs, to give away something of ourselves to someone else without thinking of what we will get in return. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 15:25-37) as he discusses the same verse with an expert in the law, to clarify the meaning of neighbour.
Now in 1978 a gentleman by the name of Michael Hart made a list of the most influential people in the world. His list has been revised since but generally has been the springboard of much debate. Top ? Mohammed. 2nd Isaac Newton and third: Jesus of Nazareth. Hart is an astrophysicist and a chess master amongst other things. Note the list is not of the famous, but influential - for good and bad. The reason that I mention that here, is the explanation he has of why Jesus is third not first. I use Peter Enns here:
Hart answers this question at the end of his essay about Jesus. After referencing Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount about turning the other cheek, loving enemies, and praying for persecutors (Matt 5:39, 43–44)—which many believe to be Jesus’ clearest and most direct teaching about nonviolence—Hart offers this explanation for Jesus’ third place finish:
Now, these ideas—which were not a part of the Judaism of Jesus’ day, nor of most other religions—are surely among the most remarkable and original ethical ideas ever presented. If they were widely followed, I would have had no hesitation in placing Jesus first in this book.
But the truth is that they are not widely followed. In fact, they are not even generally accepted. Most Christians consider the injunction to “Love your enemy” as—at most—an ideal which might be realized in some perfect world, but one which is not a reasonable guide to conduct in the actual world we live in. We do not normally practice it, do not expect others to practice it, and do not teach our children to practice it. Jesus’ most distinctive teaching, therefore, remains an intriguing but basically untried suggestion. (Hart, The 100, 20–21)
It is easy to quote examples where Christians have not loved their neighbour let alone their enemy. Spanish inquisition, Crusades, slave trade, apartheid, child abuse within the church - and of course also easy to find examples the other way. But what makes us obey a command which is given for the common good? Does it have to be a law - like wearing cycle helmets or seatbelts? Banning smoking. Should wearing facemasks be a Law to obey, or because in certain places it is a very good idea, should we wear them because they are for our good, and the common good. I know what food types are best for me - why do I ignore that knowledge so often? Drink and drive. Does it have to be law for that common sense instruction to be obeyed to save lives? Why? We have been warned again and again about climate change and the devastating affects both now and into the future. So why does humankind largely ignore working for the common good and the survival of future generations. Would governments and big business obey if laws were made? (No, they will not.)
So Jesus gives us the ultimate law for the good of humanity. Why is it still a “basically untried suggestion”? Many have followed his instruction who are not Christians e.g. Gandhi. And many more whose names we would not recognise. This takes us to John’s recent sermon on authority and carrying out God’s will. Many folk are motivated to serve and love their neighbour and the future of mankind, without declaring Jesus as their Lord and Saviour, and would not perceive that they are obeying a commandment. What a sad indictment that many of those who claim to follow Christ obviously do not. And I will not mention the obvious example at the moment.
We believe that God gives us the strength and resources to love our neighbour as ourselves. It needs ongoing resolve. Wisdom. Courage. Patience, hope, endurance, creativity. Much else. It is ongoing and we are never “done”. We are not likely to see too many fruits of our labours. Some hopefully. But we pass the baton onto the next generation (Moses to Joshua) as we look towards a promised land, as we indeed benefit from the achievements of previous ‘lovers of neighbours’. We catch a glimpse of how living on this earth could be, looking over the boundaries of power, racism, poverty, pandemic, climate change towards better things. But it is our compass on life’s journey.
“There’s some good in this world, and it is worth fighting for.”
Prayer of Thanksgiving (from a Eucharistic prayer, which literally means thanksgiving)
It is right to give you our thanks and praise, O God,
for you have been our haven from generation to generation.
From age to age, you are God.
You created the mountains,
and brought the earth to birth.
Through your servant Moses you led your people to freedom,
and after seeing from afar the land of promise,
he died, returning to dust like all the children of earth.
In your child, Jesus Christ
one even greater than Moses has come to us.
On him rests the Spirit of wisdom and truth,
and on his words hang all the law and the prophets.
Though he was killed by love’s enemies,
you raised him to life and seated him at your right hand.
In him we have seen the splendour of your work
and through him you have entrusted us
with the wonderful news of your love for the world.
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.
Hymn: O Brother Man
O brother man, fold to thy heart thy brother;
where pity dwells, the peace of God is there;
to worship rightly is to love each other,
each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.
For he whom Jesus loved has truly spoken:
the holier worship which He deigns to bless
restores the lost, and binds the spirit broken,
and feeds the widow and the fatherless.
Follow with reverent steps the great example
of him whose holy work was doing good;
so shall the wide earth seem our Father's temple,
each loving life a psalm of gratitude.
Then shall all shackles fall; the stormy clangour
of wild war music o'er the earth shall cease;
love shall tread out the baleful fire of anger,
and in its ashes plant the tree of peace.
Prayers of the People
Friends in Christ,
God invites us to hold the needs of our sisters and brothers
as dear to us as our own needs.
Loving our neighbours as ourselves,
Hear our prayers
that we may love you with our whole being
and willingly share the concerns of our neighbours.
We praise your abiding guidance, O God,
for you sent us Jesus, our Teacher and Messiah,
to model for us the way of love for the whole universe.
We offer these prayers of love
on behalf of ourselves and our neighbours,
on behalf of your creation and our fellow creatures.
God of mercy and healing,
you who hear the cries of those in need,
receive these petitions of your people
that all who are troubled
may know peace, comfort, and courage.
You call us to be holy as you are holy.
Assured of your love,
help us to cast aside all fear,
that we may love our neighbours as ourselves.
Increase in us your gift of faith
that, forsaking what lies behind
and reaching out to that which is before,
we may run the way of your commandments
and win the crown of everlasting joy;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Commission & Benediction
your Son has shown us how to love one another.
May our love for you
overflow into joyous service
and be a healing witness to our neighbours
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Go now, with courage in our God.
Declare the message of the gospel
which God has entrusted to us,
and in wholehearted love for God and for others,
share not only the message, but your very selves.
And may God be your haven; your shelter in the storm. But from where you journey out.
May Christ Jesus lead you into love - heart, soul and mind;
And may the Holy Spirit bless the work of your hands
and gladden all your days.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
In the name of Christ. Amen.