Acknowledgment of Country
As we gather this morning to worship on Dharawal land, let us acknowledge and remember the first nations peoples who also gathered, lived, cared for and worshiped on this land. We acknowledge the great sorrows and injustices brought on the Dharawal peoples through the past and present actions and inactions of the church, the government and the society in which we live. We seek forgiveness.
Lighting the Christ Candle
We light the Christ candle as a symbol that our Lord Jesus is the light of the world and the darkness is forever quenched.
Call to Worship
Because of the living Lord Jesus,
we can confidently say:
We are never alone,
for the Counsellor, the Spirit of truth,
is with us forever.
Bidden or unbidden, God is always present.
As the sea is to the fish,
as the air is to the bird,
so is God to all who live by faith, hope and love...
Blessed is our God, who has never rejected our prayer,
nor ever removed from us the love that endures forever.
Bidden or unbidden, God is present.
As the Deer
Prayer of Adoration
As the Psalmist said:
I waited patiently for the Lord;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
Prayers of Confession
My friends, we come to God with prayers of confession, not to rake up added guilt and self hatred, but to become repentant and re-embrace the new life which God offers us through Jesus.
Let us pray. (from http://www.bruceprewer.com/DocA/33EAST6.htm)
When our faith becomes shaky and we fall into a deep trough of doubts and anxieties, Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy and rescue us all.
When our hope and joy lapse and we get bogged down in the swamp of despondency, Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy and rescue us all.
When our hearts grow cold towards the rights and needs of others and apathy settles in like a wintry fog, Lord have mercy.
Lord have mercy and heal us all...
When our minds become confused by the Babel of the world’s many religious voices, and we lapse into a spiritual cynicism, Christ have mercy.
Christ have mercy and heal us all
God, most holy and most merciful, grant each of us a sincere repentance, a heart open to forgiveness, a will ready to make amends, and a soul fixed on loving. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.
Lord, settle our minds and hearts from distractions as we hear from your word.
Give us a discerning ear as we listen, absorb and understand the message today.
Give us humility and courage as we work out our response to your word.
Your word, O God, is a lamp to our feet:
a light to our path.
Comfort, comfort my people,
says your God.
2 Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,
and proclaim to her
that her hard service has been completed,
that her sin has been paid for,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand
double for all her sins.
3 A voice of one calling:
“In the wilderness prepare
the way for the Lord[a];
make straight in the desert
a highway for our God.[b]
4 Every valley shall be raised up,
every mountain and hill made low;
the rough ground shall become level,
the rugged places a plain.
5 And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,
and all people will see it together.
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”
21 They went to Capernaum, and when the Sabbath came, Jesus went into the synagogue and began to teach. 22 The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law. 23 Just then a man in their synagogue who was possessed by an impure spirit cried out, 24 “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God!”
25 “Be quiet!” said Jesus sternly. “Come out of him!” 26 The impure spirit shook the man violently and came out of him with a shriek.
27 The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.” 28 News about him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee.
Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer.
Sermon by John
It seems Australia has just had its #MeToo moment. Following the Four Corners episode last November, rape allegations by Brittany Higgins and more recently the allegations against the Attorney General, thousands of women have been sharing their stories on social media. We are just a few years later than the movement in the US. There is a key difference though. In the US, Harvey Weinstein has investigated, charged, convicted and jailed. In Australia, Brittany Higgin’s alleged rapist has not been charged but was given references to get another job. Another alleged rapist, Christian Porter, is still Attorney General, one of the most senior positions in the Federal government. While a criminal conviction may now be out of the question, many legal experts have pointed out the necessity for some sort of inquiry to see if he is fit to hold such a senior role – after all, this government held an enquiry into Julia Gillard’s kitchen renovation. But rather than investigating, those in power are seeking to discredit the victims and to blame them – anything to prevent justice. Porter is now using a defamation suit to silence any more media talk about the allegations against him.
1 in 3 Australian women over 15 has experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by a man. 1 in 4 Australian women over 15 has experienced physical or sexual violence by current or former intimate partner. When women (and men) gathered on Monday to demand some serious action to address these issues, our Prime Minister’s response was to point out they weren’t shot for protesting. When words of victim Brittany Higgins were being read out in Parliament , the government silenced the reader and refused to hear more.
Is it any wonder that women are not only angry but despairing, wondering if anything will ever change? Those in power make it seem like there is no alternative, no different future, only the present which will last forever. This creates a numbness, a hopelessness, a despair. As a result we stop trying to change things. We numbly accept that things just are and will be.
The ancient Jews faced this type of hopelessness. They were slaves in Egypt. Every time they fought for better conditions, the Egyptians just made their lives worse (they were given less materials to make bricks and then punished for making fewer bricks). There was no escape, no hope. When Moses first told them about God’s plans for freedom and a new free society in their own land, they told him to go away. Not only impossible, but a dangerous heresy that would only brig down the wrath of the Egyptians on their heads.
The exiles in Babylon, 800 years or so later felt the same. Their country was in ruins, they were exiles in a foreign land, ruled by powerful kings. Even if the Babylonians were weakening, the Persian conquerors were on their way. It was hopeless. Furthermore (in their eyes) they deserved it anyway.
In Jesus’ day, the Jews were in their own land but ruled by the Romans and their own collaborating religious leaders. The majority peasant class were powerless to protest the injustice. Living with a military occupation would have meant violence and injustice everyday. If rape is still a weapon of war today, imagine it back then. It was hopeless. Nothing would change; there was no better future.
One month ago when I last spoke we looked at Jesus’ baptism and how he was embarking on a new mission. He was leaving behind his participation in the status quo and starting something revolutionary. He went into the wilderness to plan, to ponder, to pray. Then he emerged, called some disciples, went to a synagogue and starting to teach.
And did he teach! Mark says, they were astounded at his teaching. It wasn’t like the scribes. Further down it says they were amazed at his teaching. What was it that made them so amazed, so astounded?
Perhaps first consider what the scribes would have taught. Two weeks ago Paul mentioned that the Jews at this time had over 600 laws that the people were expected to obey. Laws about washing, about praying, about sacrifices, about who you could and couldn’t talk to or touch. These laws prescribed that only priests could announce forgiveness of sins, only priests could pronounce a sick person clean. Remember the story from John’s gospel about the woman caught in adultery? The law said she should be punished. Where was the man involved? What about him? Basically, these laws kept people in their place. They maintained the existing social hierarchy; the existing patriarchy. What the scribes taught was about maintaining the status quo; maintaining the eternal present. Nothing could change.
So what about Jesus; what might he have been teaching? Jesus was a prophet, in some ways modelled on Moses, Isaiah and others. Scholar Walter Brueggemann says,
The task of prophetic ministry is to nurture, nourish and evoke a consciousness and perception alternative to the consciousness and perception of the dominant culture around us.
I think that is what Jesus started to do that day. Mark doesn’t tell us what he said but from the other gospels we can make a good guess. For example he might have used his “sermon on the mount” material to evoke that alternative consciousness.
He might have said: Blessed are those who mourn. Not just mourning for lost loved ones, but blessed are those who mourn the state of the world: the suffering, the environmental degradation, the treatment of women, the wars. Why are they blessed? Because they will be comforted. Not by a pat on the shoulder or some kind words, but Jesus, echoing 2nd Isaiah and his message to the exiles in Babylon that we read before, says the mourners will be comforted because the things they mourn will pass and there will be a new future.
Jesus might have said: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice (and I assure you that the Greek there can be translated justice). In our day many of us hunger for justice for asylum seekers, particularly that poor family on Christmas Island, this week in particular we hunger for justice for women who have suffered sexual violence and have not spoken up because they see what happens to those who do. Echoing Moses’ words to the victims of Egypt’s tyrannical rule, Jesus says those hungering for justice will be filled. There will be justice. There is a different future.
I could go on but you can see why Jesus’ teaching was so different to that of the scribes. While the scribes taught how to live on in a present that would never change, Jesus gave hope for a revolution – a new and different future – an alternative consciousness.
The Jews hadn’t had a prophet for 500 years. Now, in Jesus, they were hearing echoes of Moses and Isaiah. They were listening to a prophet telling of a different future; one they could be part of - a new prophet bringing a message of hope to those who were numb and despairing.
Mark then says that at that point a demon cried out. Jesus’ teaching really had stirred things up. The demon tried to name Jesus. In that culture, naming someone was a way of asserting control over them. Jesus silenced the demon. Jesus was not a believer in unrestricted free speech; he would not be controlled.
But there were other reasons why Jesus refused to let the demon speak. The idea that justice will never come, that things cannot change, that there is no alternative to the way things are - those are lies. Lies perpetrated by the powerful to maintain their power. We saw this recently when Christian Porter claimed any investigation into allegations about him would “trash the rule of law”. That is a lie, and it has been debunked by countless legal experts over the past few weeks. But it is a lie that protects the powerful, the status quo. There have been horrible lies told in the media about the poor woman who made the credible allegations against him. Lies to protect the powerful and prevent change. We can point to lies telling us that addressing climate change would ruin the economy, that lock downs to prevent covid spread are not effective and just destroy the economy. The big lie that the economy must be worshipped at all cost. In Jesus’ day similar lies kept people in a state of hopelessness. Jesus called Satan the father of lies and the demons were doing Satan’s work. So Jesus silenced the demon; he would not let it speak its lies anymore.
Instead, he replaced those lies with his truth that a different future was possible. Four weeks ago I introduced Lent as a time we could consider what further aspects of our culture we need to leave behind. Today I ask you to dwell on what sort of future we can present to the people of Engadine. What lies need to be countered and silenced? The people of Engadine might not all be despairing, although some are. Some are just numb, some probably feel good about the present time but all are subject to the lies that keep us constrained. How can we demonstrate and present an alternative? What alternative can we present? What hope can we give? For too long the church in general has been on the side of power and status quo. It has protected the powerful within its ranks and sided with secular power. Would the people around here be amazed or astounded if we sided with the poor, the refugees, the substance abusers, the victims of sexual abuse and violence? If we could show them a different future?
Walter Brueggemann says:
Speech about hope cannot be explanatory and scientific, rather it must be lyrical in the sense that it touches the hopeless person at many different points.
That is why so much of the prophetic writings are in poetry and song. Messages in the Bible about hope are often framed as “singing a new song”. Our reflective song is from Ps 40 and is about just that - regaining hope by singing a new song. I invite you to listen and reflect.
U2 “40” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z_LBNF_-xI&ab_channel=ClaudiaSoppelsa). based on Ps 40.
Offering and Prayer
Lord, accept the offerings of your followers in the giving of physical and electronic transfer money, in the provision of our time and in hearts that are focused on your will. Amen.
'Lord let me see'.
Blessing and Dismissal
Loving God, we are human and often overwhelmed by the many difficulties we face in our world, in our Church, in our lives. In the face of so many challenges, you call us to always act with love. Help us to become instruments of peace in our world, to confront violence and its causes, the toxic roots of injustice, and the vicious hatred that disfigures the human person made in your image. This we ask through the transfigured Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen