Acknowledgement of country
We acknowledge the Dharawal peoples, the first inhabitants of this place from time beyond remembering.
We acknowledge that through this land, God nurtured and sustained the First Peoples of this country, the Aboriginal and Islander peoples.
We honour them for their custodianship of the land on which we gather today.
We acknowledge that the First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land, revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony.
We acknowledge that the same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways; and so we rejoice in the reconciling purposes of God found in the good news about Jesus Christ.
Uniting Church Assembly Day of Mourning Resources
Lighting the Candle
The light of Christ shines as a beacon, passing the message along coastline and hilltops.
The light of Christ shines as a torch, lighting our way forward so we may tread safely and boldly, keeping danger at bay.
The light of Christ shines as a lighthouse, warning of perils around unless we heed the Light of the Word.
The light of Christ shines as a bonfire, for warmth and comfort that we may draw close in times of need.
The Light of Christ. Thanks be to God.
CALL TO WORSHIP (from Psalm 22:23-31)
Stand before the LORD in holy fear:
You have not hidden your face from me,
but you heard when I cried out to you.
Glorify the LORD with reverence and awe:
You, O LORD, are the source of my praise;
in the great congregation I will praise you.
Let us glorify God who created all things, yet who hears and responds to the cries of the weak and the needy. The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
those who seek him shall praise the LORD.
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD God;
For dominion belongs to the LORD, embracing all the nations.
All who sleep in the earth bow down;
future generations will serve the LORD.
God’s mighty saving acts will be proclaimed
from generation to generation; Let us worship and witness so faithfully that future generations will believe and glorify God in their hearts and with their lives.
our children’s children will be told what the LORD has done.
Believe Christ’s word of grace to us:
Your sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
speed sketch, stop at 4.19
OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis 15 5,6 17: 1-7; 15,16
5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring[d] be.”
6 Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.
17 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2 Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.”
3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram[b]; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
15 God also said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you are no longer to call her Sarai; her name will be Sarah. 16 I will bless her and will surely give you a son by her. I will bless her so that she will be the mother of nations; kings of peoples will come from her.”
17 Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?”
The God of Abram praise
Author (attributed to): Daniel ben Judah
Born in Italy, a Jewish liturgical poet who lived in Rome
Readings Psalm 22 v 23-31
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honour him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
Romans 4 13-21
13 It was not through the law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless, 15 because the law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.
16 Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. 17 As it is written: “I have made you a father of many nations.” He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.
18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.
A word of prayer
Dear God, may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of our minds and hearts be always pleasing in your sight. We often pray for the world of our children and grandchildren with fear and trepidation, needing to rest in knowledge of your past works and future promises as we entrust their safekeeping, their spiritual well-being and ability to flourish into your hands. Amen.
We look today at the covenant between God and Abram, and God’s promise to Abraham, the Great Patriarch. These readings today concentrate on Abraham’s descendants rather than the promise of land.
In Gen 12 God speaks for the first of what will be many times, assuring Abram that God will make of him a great nation too numerous to count but…right now, Abram has no children. The years are ticking on. Chpt 15 tells of Sarah’s treatment of Hagar, the slave girl, after she gives birth to a healthy son for Abram. It was Sarah’s idea in the first place to use the slave girl (an idea that passed through two generations to Jacob and Bilah, more recently Margaret Attwood copied for The Handmaid’s Tale, and certain film producer has made a lot of money out of etc). Sarah dealt harshly with her for a while out of jealousy, so Hagar runs away but is encouraged to return by an Angel of the Lord. Later Sarah casts her out for good when she sees the half-brothers Ishmael and Isaac playing nicely together. Not a particularly great example for a matriarch of a great nation…why do we revere these stories so much?
We remember Sarah for laughing at the idea of giving birth successfully at her age, but Abram too laughs in 17 v17. Isaac means “he laughs”. What kind? Laughter is the best medicine for many situations, a well-timed joke or quick wit can ease a tense situation and help resolve disagreements.
Yes, laughter and joy after a successful birth, but maybe there was laughter of scorn and derision when being told that there will be a birth in later years.
And maybe that nervous laughter covering guilt, embarrassment, fear of their treatment of Hagar.
Such Biblical stories are not easy for couples who have been trying to have children -also Hannah in 1 Samuel, and Elizabeth and Zechariah (getting on in years) before John the Baptist.
A quick look at the name changes:
Abram exalted ancestor becomes Abraham ancestor of a multitude
“Father Abraham had many sons, many sons had Father Abraham I am one of them and so are you”- Jews, Christians. Muslims (Ishmael) traditionally- three great faiths trace back to Abraham.
Sarai means joy and delight. Princess in Hebrew and in Persian My princess. Sarai to Sarah is the equivalent of Princess to Queen.
Now why is Psalm 22 in the lectionary today? Psalm 22 Christ on cross, more familiar with the beginning of the Psalm My God, my God why has thou forsaken me?…
Towards the end, there is much mention of offspring of Jacob, families of nations, rules over nations, future generations, - therefore linking with Genesis reading.
But at very end “and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn saying that he has done it”, which implies generations into the future.
He has done it, last few words of Psalm echoes to me of Christ’s other words from the Cross. (It is finished) He has done it, Completed, paid in full (same word used on transaction documents and when the Priest emerges after temple sacrifice) It is finished.
And the Romans passage?
Paul uses the example of Abraham. Paul is wanting to make Christ’s way inclusive, not just for Jews (the Law keepers). Long before the Law and Moses, Abraham lived and believed. He had faith. And Abraham is surely the father of all of us? Paul says. Father of all of us, Jews and gentiles. Paul tries to open up the way for the gentile converts. Faith in Jesus is more important than following the Law. Abraham only had his faith – before Moses. Non-Jews can understand the way of Jesus without being a law follower, a Jew.
V19 Paul says he (Abraham) did not weaken in his belief! OK Paul, but Abram certainly took a while to get used to the idea.
Were that religions were not exclusive to certain races, I don’t think they were ever meant to be. The Jews did not own God. But obviously beliefs are linked to the culture around them. We need to look for the one and only same God in all of us, respect and share the God of our understanding.
The culture we have inherited seems that many believe God made man white (in His image, whose image I wonder? It seems we make God in our image, our own God) God has favoured and been with white culture. Better than any other races - like Abraham and then the Hebrew nation felt chosen and special, elite dare I suggest? And had a mission to accomplish in the Promised Land. And that for us the White God has been generously given to people of colour, other nations. BLM unfortunately necessary to remind us of the brotherhood of man, no superiority to claim. Rather guilt and remorse and redress so necessary. The current TV ABC slave trade program some of you may be watching, graphically horrendous.
So are these old patriarchal story relevant for us?
It seems to me that our patriarchal society, church and state, (of which we have been reminded close to home quite recently), and our colonising history here in the land now called Australia, is not so much different to early Biblical stories. Abraham claiming Canaan, committing genocide then, and when Joshua later claimed the same area of fertile ground, believing themselves to be superior to other nations already there and resident. Our history seems to be reflected in early Bible stories. I can’t help thinking God wants us to read them differently and not to copy them. Or imitate them, or use them to justify our behaviour.
The challenge for us as a church to make it quite clear to our community today that, whilst we treasure the old stories and our heritage, we do not treat them like we did in Sunday school. We read the Bible more intelligently and see it for what it is. We should read it critically and with imagination. An amazing collection of history, poetry, letters etc. But the characters in the Bible, Abraham and Sarah included, are flawed. Don’t revere them as great patriarchs etc, but revere the story and it’s place in the history of Judaism and Christianity and all we have inherited. Our society’s understanding of God (or that force of love which is best for the common good) that understanding today is very different to what we believed God desired for us 40 years ago, or 400 years ago or 4000 years ago. My own understanding of God is very different to what I thought I had worked out 30 years ago. I remember when Christians claimed that they had the right to ban Sunday trading. I knew that as I was asked to sign a petition about day of rest and so on, that I would actually find shopping on a Sunday very useful. I am appalled how recently recognition of gender diversity has happened, and what happened before we were enlightened on those issues arising. I am appalled that the church did, and in some places still does claim to know what is right due to reading history books without intelligence but made up for with loads of arrogance and prejudice. So many examples, in the treatment of children, women etc.
I keep discovering meaning to the Bible that I had not appreciated before, ways to read it that challenge and see that it is relevant today if we study and apply it intelligently in the light of Jesus life and teaching. Interpretation is varied, evolving and exciting. It is wonderful to have teachers/books/podcasts etc that throw new light on familiar sections of the Bible. (recent example was from Father Rod Bowers Sunday 24th January on the passage of Come, follow me as the Rabbi Jesus calls his disciples. Can be read or heard on the Gosford Anglican website). And John’s interpretation of Jesus’ baptism last week.
It was Einstein who said ‘Don’t listen to the person who has all the answers, listen to the person who has the questions’. Good preachers and Biblical scholars should raise questions and guide debate, not claim to have the one and only right answer or interpretation.
When we read the Bible, especially these Old testament early narratives, let us take out the trying to pretend they are wonderful examples of how to do things, and that God really wanted the narrative to unfold in this way. Mostly they are examples of how not to do things. When we read “And God said”, I suggest we should read ‘so and so thought it was a good idea at the time’, or ‘sought to justify himself by invoking God’s name’. Abraham worked out there had to be only one true God. That’s good. (BAD side to that, is that people who call their god by a different name but still worship a Creator God who demands justice and a sharing and stewardship of resources are labelled wrong and need culling, killing, or colonisation, or being preached out and given a Bible of a foreign power’s God.) or in Genesis, they required circumcision like the family of Abraham practiced, if they survived the battles and killing spree that is. (We left the Covenant of Circumcision out of the Genesis reading this morning.)
Back to the good. Abraham had a relationship with his God. Conversation could happen both ways. Abram’s God was accessible, approachable. Wanted to communicate. Abram separated from the culture around him, travelled from Ur with ziggurats built to many gods around the fertile crescent to Canaan. He was to be a beacon to other nations to show how “best to worship” and behave e.g. no child sacrifice, he did not always get it right but … apply that to ourselves here, we want to be seen distinct from how churches are generally perceived in the media, the worst of other churches that is. Like we practised this year January 26th. The media highlights the church that is old fashioned, out of touch, a laughingstock, irrelevant, downright criminal. The patriarchal heritage has done much damage along the way and shaped our thinking. Not inclusive, hung up on gender issues rather than social justice. We here should be seen to apologise and make redress for any crimes committed in the past. By getting involved on policy making and advocacy. We should challenge the culture around us. Be a beacon to local community, get our message out there to show we are different. Can offer something to community. Folk can feel it is safe to belong. They are proud to belong. Can find a place with us where their interests and talents can be used. Their beliefs are welcomed and can be discussed and flourish in a safe space. This is our challenge into the future, because only then, will our numbers multiply and increase so we can’t even count our members like grains of sand, stars in the heaven, we will become fruitful and exceedingly numerous!
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Gracious God, you reached into Abraham and Sarah’s lives and asked them to dream the impossible dream - that you would transform what appears to have been a barren and lifeless situation into one overﬂowing with promise and hope - and, through faith in you, they believed your promises.
Forgive us, O God, if we never get beyond thinking of your call on our lives as an impossible dream or even as an unwelcome interruption.
Faithful God, the apostle Paul emphasises Abraham’s complete trust and faith in your promises and how he grew ever stronger in faith, fully convinced of your ability to fulfil what had been promised.
Forgive us, O God, when we find it hard even to hear your promises as other voices tempt us to trust the newest and trendiest product to realise our dreams.
Merciful God, Jesus revealed the great depth of your love in his determination to defeat evil even when this meant giving up his own life.
Forgive us, O God, when we allow the power of evil to ﬂourish because we fear that taking up one’s cross would be just too costly an exercise.
Silent reﬂection on these words
Gracious and loving God, forgive our lack of trust in you;
Have mercy on us and forgive us.
Help us when we hesitate, and strengthen us when we are weak.
Breathe your Spirit afresh into our hearts and minds - our lives -so that we have the courage to follow Jesus wherever he takes us.
ASSURANCE OF FORGIVENESS
God, who gives hope for the future when all seems bleak and barren,
God, who gives second and third chances and always sees the potential of resurrection and new growth,
God, who loves, forgives and gives us reason to laugh for joy and for the love of life,
He forgives. In the name of Christ, the crucified and risen Lord, we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
Thanks be to God.
God be in my Head
Creator God, in the unity of Christ
we bring our diverse gifts
Let your Holy Spirit
breathe life into our serving,
so that all we do
brings glory to your name. Amen © Jeff Shrowder 2000.
WORDS OF MISSION
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD;
all the families of the nations shall worship before the LORD our God.
For dominion belongs to the LORD,
whose realm embraces the nations.
Indeed, both old and young shall worship the LORD;
and our children’s children shall experience and proclaim
God’s mighty saving acts.
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
Tell out my soul the greatness of the Lord.