Prepare some bread and wine/water for Holy communion
in this service
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Call to Worship –
Have you heard the good news?
Christ calls us to be people of light.
Have you felt the good news?
Christ offers us God’s love and grace.
Have you lived the good news?
Christ lives in us when we gather in his name.
Let all God’s children rejoice and worship God now.
God of love and judgement, when the Egyptians enslaved your people, your love set them free; when rulers oppress the poor and powerless, your judgement brings peace and justice to the land. Reach our minds,
O God, that we may fulfill your law of love. Touch our hearts, Holy One, that we may love our neighbours as we love ourselves. In the name of Christ. Amen.
HYMN– AHB 148 Love divine TIS 217
Exodus 12: 1-14; Romans 13: 8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
Prayer of Confession-
Merciful God, help us become the people you have created us to be.
We yearn to build communities of love, but often we seem to tear down rather than to build up.
We long for the healing of the nations, but envy more often leads to harm rather than to heal.
We want to bear our grief with dignity, but we are tempted to parade our wounds for all to see. Bind up our spirits, Gracious One, that we might reconcile with those who have caused us pain. Help us cast aside the things that chain our spirits, that we might be free to care for one another and fulfill your law of love. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Hear the words of Jesus:
“Where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Separated although we may be, we gather in spirit to fulfill the law of love, Christ is with us to make us whole. Thanks to be God. Amen.
Sermon – Being Set Free
Have you had an experience of being set free? Can you recall the feelings and thoughts you had while imprisoned and then being freed?
I remember being caught in a lift in an office building in Melbourne one Friday afternoon after 5pm in the early 1990’s. Thankfully, I was not alone. It took 45 minutes for the elevator technicians to release us and much of that was spent in silent prayer and real fear of being stuck for the weekend. Covid 19 ‘lockdown’ is not as bad as that confined space, nor of being held a slave for years, but the relief of the Israelites being spared from death like the Egyptians in Exodus 12 makes the Passover story relevant for all of us who have faced the threat of death in different ways.
The Passover story of Exodus chapters 12-15 has some disturbing details for the 21st century reader and it is good to be reminded not to read it literally, but to listen for the meaning under or within. While many of us may have seen documentaries describing how the first nine plagues of Egypt were consistent with natural disasters in the lower Nile area, the tenth one, the one that convinced Pharaoh to let the people go, was all God’s work. Not surprisingly, the Egyptians do not tell the Exodus story in their history – history of nations is often biassed in favour of winners, and losers are forgotten, if possible. Yet the story is pivotal for the history of the Israelites and for Jews today.
Egypt and Egyptian gods were viewed as ‘enemies’ of God YHWH by the people of Israel who wrote down and edited this ‘history’ years later. Both were rivals for the allegiance of the people of Israel to God as the later chapters of Exodus relay. This is theological history more than a factual record and so we look for what the text says about God and God’s relationship with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is a story of God’s redemptive actions for Israel. The Israelites are not required to fight for their freedom – God is the one who acts for them Exodus 14: 13-14 “ Moses said to the people, ‘Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today…the Lord will fight for you, and you only have to keep still.”
Trust in God and obedience to God’s directions given through Moses are what the Israelites have to do. Trust and walk out into the wilderness from the relative comforts of the city in Egypt. Leave behind the known and the sure – food, shelter, work, and a political regime that oppresses you but at least you know how to minimise the discomforts. Out in the desert is unknown future – barren land so different from the fertile Nile delta. Before you go into this future, have a really special meal – full of meat and meaning. Remember this special night annually and celebrate the meal again to remember God’s saving actions for you and your people. The Passover meal came before the Exodus experience and its physical sustenance was enriched by spiritual encouragement and meaning for the long-term future of that people. God also needs to liberate us from the powers that would enslave us and pretend to be alternatives to God in our century – economic and physical materialism, political power, easier philosophies and values for us to adopt.
To the Israelites, Moses says: God has plans for you – God’s people. God will be with you and will guide you. Those promises and blessings for the people of Israel are also promises for us as we walk into the unknown Covid future for the world and our congregation’s unknown future. God continues to set God’s people free from fear as we trust and obey God’s directions through the prophets of Scripture. When have you felt ‘set free’ by God?
Our New Testament readings share the theme of forging a community as Moses had to do with the Israelites escaping from Egypt. St Paul says in Romans that to work together as a community so that we can be effective, we need one rule – the Law of Love. That gets worked out in practical ways in both our Romans 13 and Matthew 18 readings. ‘No one who loves others will harm them. So love is all the Law demands.’ (Romans 13:10) It is very simple – and very hard for humans to put into practice. Verses 11-14 set a high standard for our behaviour and values as a Christian community whose lives are transformed by our Lord Jesus Christ being in us and with us. (Romans 12: 1-2)
The gospel passage records Jesus’ teaching on when individuals break that law of love and do harm another. To keep the community together, Jesus says to ‘sort it out privately and quickly between the two of you.’ The passage applies to individuals in conflict – not to those who sin against society or the group. The culprits who are law-breakers of society are to face legal justice – robbery, violence, exploitation or sexual abuse are beyond the scope of this process for community care and people should not be allowed to twist the texts or manipulate Christians into silence or cover-ups.
Significantly, it is the person who feels aggrieved who is to initiate the healing or reconciliation process. Tell the person you believe hurt you what they did, but do it privately at first. Don’t go spreading gossip or slander another person without trying to allow them to apologise and remedy their behaviour. If they will not listen to you, then bring along witnesses who can verify the wrong behaviour. The whole idea is to rehabilitate the offender in the community – to use love to win them back into Christ’s way of ‘Love for neighbour.’ Only if they refuse to change or accept responsibility, do you take it to the larger group of the church community. If that fails then you actually have to start again with them to teach them Christ’s way – they are like unbelievers or tax collectors needing to have their minds transformed. LOVE them as Jesus demonstrated and help them to learn the Law of Love which does no harm to others. Jesus will be with us to help in this process (v.20). The cartoon below deals with advocacy on behalf of victims of a group – not what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 18: 15-20. The passage is not about victims getting justice but victims healing a relationship by assertive, courageous love. In so doing, they are being set free from anger and guilt and temptations for revenge. Next week we’ll deal with the topic of forgiveness in reconciliation.
All the readings help us remember what it means to be a community – and what it takes to be a community of God’s people. We have rituals and festivals to help us remember God’s gracious and redemptive actions in setting us free as well as instructions to follow to help keep the community together in harmony. Most of all, we have been reminded that we are to TRUST God to lead us into a new future, despite the uncertainties and difficulties around us.
HYMN – AHB 367 All praise to our redeeming Lord TIS 442
Sacrament of Holy Communion
The Israelites celebrated the ritual that became their special annual feast of Passover in their homes on the night before they were freed from slavery in Egypt. Jesus instituted the ritual we celebrate as The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion from the Passover meal he celebrated with his disciples in the Upper Room of a home, according to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. When we cannot gather together in the church, we will remember and celebrate our deliverance by Jesus in our homes with the church’s ritual meal. So let us give our thanks and praise to God.
The Great Thanksgiving Prayer
The Lord be with you. And also with you.
Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.
You formed us in your image, breathing into us the breath of life. You rescued our ancestors from slavery in Egypt and dealt with their complaints and disobedience in the desert; you guided them with light as pillars of cloud and fire; you fed them manna and quails; you gave them water from a rock to quench their thirst and gave them your Law so they would become a people who knew and served you.
You come to us also, in night times of weariness, in days of confusion and doubt, and you give us a blessing of love. When our faith falters and we reject your guidance, you speak to us of love and compassion through the Scriptures – the law and the prophets, the gospels and letters to the early church communities. Always, your love remains steadfast. Always, you deliver us from death and despair, from the weary burden of sin and fear, and you call us to return and follow you. And so, with your people on earth, and with all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn, saying:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
Holy are you, and blessed is your beloved child, Christ Jesus, who walked up on this earth. He healed the sick and taught your love and forgiveness. He created a ritual for your church to remember his work of salvation so we may receive your blessings and love, both now and into eternity.
On his last night, before meeting death, at a last supper, Jesus blessed and broke bread one last time, feeding his disciples with these words:
“Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you.”
After supper, he took the cup, giving thanks again, and he gave it to disciples, saying: “Drink from this, all of you; this is my life, which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. As often as you drink it, do so in remembrance of me.”
And so, in remembrance of these, your miraculous acts in Christ Jesus, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving, as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith:
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us, that we might know your blessing and receive your grace. Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and wine/water.
May they nourish us as bread that never ends and as living water that always satisfies. By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to the world, until Christ comes again in final victory, and we feast at the heavenly banquet. Through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory are yours, almighty God, now and forevermore. Amen.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer
Breaking the Bread
The bread we break is a sharing in the Body of Christ. The cup we take is a sharing in the blood of Christ. God’s gifts for God’s people.
Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.
Jesus, redeemer of the world, grant us your peace.
Receiving the Bread and Cup
The bread of life, to feed your soul. The blood of Christ, to restore your life with God. (eat your piece of bread and drink your wine, juice or water)
Prayer after Communion
This has been no ordinary meal. It has been one in which we have been fed and nourished with the life of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. May we go from here, refreshed and eager to share that life with others. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
- A) Cheques to be made out to ‘St Lucia UCA Parish account’ and posted to 7 Hawken Dr, St Lucia Qld. 4067, please. OR
- B) direct deposit to ‘St Lucia Uniting Church’ BSB: 334 040 acct#: 553 842 259 (St George Bank) Please mark it OFFERING with your name (optional).
Prayer of Intercession –
Loving God, in a country that we boldly state is the land of a fair go, we pray for those for whom that is not true. We think particularly of our first peoples and how we know the judgements are so often made on the colour of a person’s skin rather than their deeds. Entrenched, antiquated law creates bias from which they cannot be unshackled. We pray for our law makers: politicians and their advisors, lobbyists and party officials, that they might hear the hurts and heartbreak of the poor and disadvantaged, that they might make laws that don’t further exclude them, but rather bring all into a place of safety and security in our society.
We pray for those within our justice system: lawyers, judges, magistrates and attorneys, that they might use the function of their position to foster civility and respect for all peoples. We pray that when we find ourselves in places of difference and potential conflict, that we will walk that path with love, authenticity, consideration, and grace.
We pray for those affected by Covid 19: those who are sick and those caring for them – health workers and families, especially those members unable to see their loved one. We pray for politicians and researchers, for police and defence force personnel whose job it is to keep the community safe. We pray for all who are bereaved and for those who live in fear or despair because borders are closed and they are stranded from loved ones. We pray for our church community, scattered at present. Enable us to gather again soon in safety. We pray for all the men in our community – fathers and grandfathers, step-fathers, uncles and brothers. May they enjoy the love of family this Father’s Day. We pray also for those abused by any father figures for whom this day is difficult – comfort and heal them. Gracious God, hear our prayers, for we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.
HYMN – TIS 650 Brother, sister let me serve you.
- Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
- We are pilgrims on a journey and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other walk the mile and bear the load.
- I will hold the Christ-light for you in the night-time of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you, speak the peace you long to hear.
- I will weep when you are weeping; when you laugh, I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow till we’ve seen this journey through.
- When we sing to God in heaven, we shall find such harmony,
born of all we’ve known together of Christ’s love and agony.
- Brother, sister, let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
Richard Gillard 1953-Used by permission CCLI licence #217268
God has put a new song in our hearts.
We will sing a new song to the Lord.
God has put a song of justice and peace in our souls.
We will bring a new song to the world.
God has put a song of joy in our very being.
We will live a new song with every step we take. Amen
Resources used in this service include Words for Worship year A 6th September 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 (owned by EN); gathering Pentecost Year A 2020, United Church of Canada (EN subscription); and Uniting in Worship People’s Book by Uniting Church Press (JBCE) 1988 Melbourne and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license# 217268.
NEXT WEEK 13TH September at 9am worship in the church, we hope. Bring your mask and remember to keep a safe distance from others.
If you do not wish to come yet, please let me know so I can send you a copy of the service. Email firstname.lastname@example.org