St Lucia – Order of Service 16th August 2020

When:
16/08/2020 @ 9:00 am
2020-08-16T09:00:00+10:00
2020-08-16T09:15:00+10:00

Greeting-

The Peace of Christ be with you all.

Call to Worship –

When hatred and division separate us,

God’s love binds us together.

When quarrels estrange us from one another,

Christ’s light shows us the way to reconciliation.

When we feel excluded and left out,

The Spirit’s peace eases our pain.

When all hope of fellowship seems lost,

God’s grace restores our hope.

Come! let us worship God, who make us one.

Prayer  –

Eternal God, part the veil that blinds us to our unity as your beloved children.

When those we love hurt and betray us, help us let go of our pain

and find the balm of forgiveness. When we feel abandoned by those we trust, help us seek your peace and reconciliation. When our hearts are pierced with anguish, help us find those who will bring us solace, through your loving Spirit. Amen.

HYMN– AHB 28 Praise to the Lord

Scripture Readings-  Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Matthew 15: 21-28

 Prayer of Confession- 

Forgiving God, we come before you confessing that we are often stubborn and hard-hearted. There are people we just don’t listen to, that we refuse to believe we will hear any truth from, not because of their words necessarily, but because of who it is that’s speaking. Sometimes we resist through prejudice -because of the colour of their skin, or the make of their clothes or because they speak with the accent of an outsider. It might be that we find their manner annoying, that they don’t use the niceties we expect, or it might be that they keep pushing and pushing their point and become tiresome and irritating. We wish we could brush them away like crumbs off a table. Too often we refuse to see a human face with a human need, an injustice that has been perpetrated, or any wrong that needs to be put right. Forgive us. Renew our minds to listen for truth and justice. Renew our hearts to be open to stranger and friend, for we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Words of Assurance

God’s table is open to all of us. There are no exceptions. No one is too young or too old, too bold, too shy or too foreign. We are all beloved and forgiven people. Thanks be to God.

Sermon – Good triumphs over evil

‘Sometimes we are in such a hurry to fix things before they fall apart, that we miss the chance to wait and let God allow them to fall into place.’ This was quoted to us last Friday at the Chaplaincy prayer meeting as we waited upon God’s direction for our work. Later that afternoon, Catherine Zanetti came to see me to say she had decided to do the prayer ministry from Toowong church instead of using our rooms below the church. I was disappointed, but having the reminder to wait for God’s timing, calmed me. I have to believe the promise that God is working with us, and with the whole church, to bring about the Kingdom of God reality that Jesus and the prophets spoke about. Finally, no matter how difficult it seems right now, good will triumph over evil; God’s purpose will be worked out.

This week, I had an email from my fellow Union Theological Seminary student, Rev Fredi Eckhardt. She is a Lutheran Pastor who works as a chaplain at the Veterans’ hospital in Philadelphia, USA during the week and then used to go up to New York to take services for a small Lutheran church in the Bronx each weekend. She told me she has not been to NYC for five months but continues to offer weekly services on Sundays and lead a Bible study & prayer group each Wednesday via Zoom. Imagine: your minister lives and works two and a half hours away – or just under 200 km south by road! It sounds like a Frontier Services chaplaincy in outback Australia. Yet, with the technology of today, she is there on the screen in person and able to hold a conversation in real time with you.

How is God bringing new life to the church in this time of Covid 19? People are ‘attending’ worship, or using digital and video worship resources, from many parts of the world instead of just driving up to their local church. No longer is it just watching Songs of Praise from the UK on ABCTV on a Sunday when you are too ill to attend church, church is there for you via your computer. The issue becomes then, how are you BEING church for the rest of the week in your community? How are you serving the One who has served you?

Our lectionary readings for this week reassure us that, when life seems to be overwhelming us, there is a design and purpose above our plans and knowledge of what appears to be happening. We have been following the sagas of Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph from Genesis and today reach a high point of the story – the reconciliation of Joseph with his brothers. The evils of jealousy and greed, sex and politics, slavery and deceit might have overwhelmed Joseph but by chapter 45 he is able to say, ‘You meant to harm me, but God has used me to bring good to many people – to save them and you now.’ The dreams of his youth were visions of God’s ultimate purpose, despite the evil and suffering he had to endure from others.

It is as difficult for modern people as it was for those centuries ago in the Hebrew scriptures to believe that God was working through the dark and destructive times of life. Some wanted to see God’s judgment in the pain and suffering, instead of God’s mercy and sustaining power despite the evil. Grace and redemption are not always evident in all our human experiences and some people want to deny God’s presence in those times – God seems to be silent or absent. Thankfully, others affirm to us that God has been present with them in the suffering and sustained their hope. The Joseph story reminds us that God’s destiny is ultimately for the good of humanity. God so loved the world – always! God’s faithfulness to us is recorded in the biblical stories we study for guidance and hope.

This week we have seen the devastation of the explosion in Beirut and we cannot ignore the suffering of the Lebanese community, so often unseen on our TV news broadcasts. I think of God’s timing that today we read in Matthew’s gospel the story of the Lebanese woman. The biblical prophets of Israel often portrayed the towns of Tyre and Sidon as wicked and Matthew uses the ancient term ‘Canaanite’ meaning pagan and pre-Abrahamic to describe this woman. The gospel of Mark had used ‘Syro-Phoenician’ to explain she was a Gentile – outside the people of Israel. This story challenges us about our prejudices and beliefs about God’s love and purpose seen in Jesus’ actions.

It has a very personal meaning for me because in late February 1999, I visited the Palestinian refugee camps near Tyre and drove through the bombed city of Sidon just a day after the Israelis had once again bombed Hezbollah Palestinian camps near both cities. Following a two-week study tour of Israel and western Turkey, I was visiting a former fellow doctoral student who was the President of the Near East School of Theology in Beirut. In 1985, Dr Mary Mikhael, a Syrian Christian Educator working in Lebanon, had made me promise if I ever visited Israel, I had to go to Lebanon also. Because I was on the Board of World Vision Australia and we had projects in Lebanon, I spent a couple of days with the World Vision staff there to see those projects. In a crowded narrow alley of one project in Tyre, I was accosted by a woman who pulled out a key on a chain around her neck and waggled it in front of me. The local staff translated her message – this was the key to her home in Jaffa which she had been evicted from 49 years previously by the Israelis. She was a Palestinian Muslim and not allowed to go home – condemned to live in crowded multi-storied apartment blocks as a refugee in Lebanon. She was not considered a citizen of Lebanon and her children were not allowed to go to schools there. The UN and agencies like World Vision Australia tried to provide aid for the refugees.

In another camp up the hill, I saw the vocational school for those children and the foodbank room with Sunshine powdered milk tins made in Gympie, Australia ready for distribution to families. (My uncle’s dairy farm had sent milk to that factory. We drank that powdered milk in PNG in the 1950’s and my parents even sent it to me in NYC in the 1980’s.) The woman begged me to petition the Australian government and the UN not to stop aid to the refugee camps because the 50 year timeline cut-off was near. I met my Canaanite woman that day.

Matthew tells of Jesus being accosted by a woman who affirmed him as ‘Lord, Son of David’ (God’s Messiah) begging for help for her daughter who was ill. She persisted in following him, shouting out for help while Jesus appeared to ignore her. The disciples asked him to send her away – they have a track record of wanting to be rid of needy people! Jesus commented that he was sent only to the people of Israel who were like sheep without a shepherd. We do not know if this comment was made to the disciples or the woman, but she comes even closer and kneels at his feet begging “Please help me, Lord.” Humble but determined to receive a blessing she believed he could provide.

He makes a cruel and discriminatory statement: “It isn’t right to take the children’s food and give it to dogs.” She does not react to the hurtful racism, but challenges: “That’s true, but even dogs get the crumbs from their master’s table.” Assertive, full of faith in him as Messiah, Son of David, Jesus recognises her faith and rewards her with healing immediately for her daughter.

Scholars and preachers and teachers have interpreted this story in many different ways over the years. For some, it contradicts their understanding of Jesus and so they suggest Jesus is testing the woman; or he was unclear of his mission to the Gentiles; or that he was joking about pet dogs; or this was a foretaste of the Great Commission in Matthew 28 to go out to include the Gentiles. Others want to claim it as the time Jesus was defeated by a woman in theological argument or that she helped him expand his understanding of God’s grace. Others find it a teaching lesson for the Christian community to overcome their prejudices and challenge their beliefs and behaviours. This reminds me that biblical scholarship involves not just finding out the background BEHIND the story, but also recognising that we interpret the story from TODAY’s perspective and our own pre-suppositions and experiences. We see in the story our story of being outsiders, begging for help, needing the grace we know Jesus can provide.

Prof. Charles Cousar (Columbia Theological Seminary, Georgia) comments “She becomes the model voice from beyond the boundaries who stakes her claim on the mercy and generosity of God. Just as others minister to Jesus by providing food or housing, she ministers by facilitating his movement across ethnic borders… As an outsider, she grasps what they as Jews cannot perceive – that the good news belongs also to the outsiders.” (Texts for Preaching, WJK. pp. 450-451)

Senator Kamala Harris, chosen to be the Democrats Vice-president candidate beside Joe Biden, challenged young women at a leadership conference: “There will be resistance to your ambition. There will be people who say to you ‘You are out of your lane,’ because they are burdened by only having the capacity to see what has always been, instead of what can be. But don’t you let that burden you.” The Canaanite woman – that outsider living in Lebanon – demonstrated that for us 2000 years ago. May God’s grace reach all people through our work this week and may we seek justice for all God’s people on earth.

HYMN- AHB 138 And can it be (TIS 209)

Offering-

  1. A) Cheques to be made out to ‘St Lucia UCA Parish account’ and posted to 7 Hawken Dr, St Lucia Qld. 4067, please. OR
  2. B) direct deposit to ‘St Lucia Uniting Church’ BSB: 334 040 acct#: 553 842 259 (St George Bank) mark it OFFERING please.

Offering prayer  

Bountiful God, when famine threatened the world, you blessed Joseph with dreams that saved children of every nation. Faithful One, when hunger threatens our world, you bless us with dreams that we can save the children of our day. Bless this offering, that your dreams for a world without want may bless the lives of your children. Accept these gifts, as tokens of our dreams and our commitment to make all people one in your Holy name. Amen.

Prayer of Intercession –

God of hope, love and healing, you call us to be servants of others, to make a difference wherever we are and to care for your creation. We pray for those who are suffering from the coronavirus or grieving the loss of loved ones from it. We pray for those living in communities where the virus is spreading. Help them to keep their distance from others and to act protectively for themselves and others. Bless those who are serving in the health sector as doctors and nurses, paramedics and cleaners, trying to keep people comfortable and safe. Grant your wisdom to the researchers trying to develop a vaccine or medicine to help with a cure. Guide our political leaders as they balance health and economic issues.

Gracious God, you call us also to be a community of welcome. We long to see in the Canaanite woman a child of God worthy of mercy and compassion, but we fear that our deep-seated prejudices might lead us to dismiss her out of hand, as Jesus’s disciples did before us. We want to open our hearts, O God, to those who are different from ourselves, but our fears hold us back. Help us know the joy of living in peace and harmony, even with those we would rather live without. Help us to look beyond what we now know, to not be afraid of wisdom from outsiders. Let us welcome new revelations, to be curious about innovative justice, and to look for the good that we can do. Create in us a will to be kind, to offer a supportive arm or work for all creation to reach its full potential. Let all your people serve your mission of reconciliation, for we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer- Pray the Lord’s Prayer.

HYMN- TIS 690 Beauty for Brokenness © Graham Kendrick, Integrity music

Beauty for brokenness, hope for despair

Lord, in the suffering, this is our prayer.

Bread for the children, Justice, joy, peace,

sunrise to sunset your kingdom increase.

Shelter for fragile lives, cures for their ills,

work for the craftsmen, trade for their skills;

land for the dispossessed, rights for the weak;

voices to plead the cause of those who can’t speak.

CHORUS

God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray;

melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain.

Come change our love from a spark to a flame.

Refuge from cruel wars, havens from fear,

cities for sanctuary, freedoms to share,

peace for the killing fields, scorched earth to green;

Christ for the bitterness, his cross for the pain.

Rest for the ravaged earth, oceans and streams,

plundered and poisoned, our future, our dreams.

Lord, end our madness, carelessness, greed;

make us content with the things that we need.

CHORUS

God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray;

melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain.

Come change our love from a spark to a flame.

Lighten our darkness, breathe on this flame

Until your justice burns brightly again;

Until the nations learn of your ways,

Seek your salvation and bring you their praise.

CHORUS

God of the poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray;

melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain.

Come change our love from a spark to a flame. 

Benediction-

Go into the world wearing the love of God on your sleeve, the hope of God in your hearts, and seeking the wisdom of God from whichever direction it comes.

May God’s love hold us firm, Christ’s surprising revelation guide our path, and the blessing of the Spirit make us whole. Amen.

Resources used in this service include Words for Worship year A 2020 by MediaCom (subscription of Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan) and The Abingdon Worship Annual 2020 edited by Mary Scifres and B.J. Beu, Abingdon Press, Nashville USA; and Texts for Preaching Year A, WJK, Louisville. 1995 (both owned by EN); and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license #217268.

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