The Peace of Christ be with you all.
Call to Worship –
Give ear to God’s teachings. We gather to hear the stories of our ancestors. Incline your ears to parables and dark sayings of old. We come seeking stories of God’s wondrous power.
Tell the coming generations of God’s glorious deeds. We will not hide them from our children.
Come to the fount of living water.
We will drink deeply from the waters of life. Taste the wellspring of our salvation. We gather to worship as people reborn.
The stories of our ancestors touch us as dark sayings of old. Help us behold truths in their stories, that we are frightened to see in our own.
Open our eyes to see your presence amidst their hopes and fears.
Open our hearts to the courage it takes to assume leadership in our communities, while remaining your faithful followers. Open our minds to perceive hope in the midst of despair. We believe, Great Spirit. Help our unbelief. Open our hearts to your words of life that we might hear and open our minds to imagine the deeds we might do as your Spirit of grace dwells and grows within us. Amen.
HYMN– AHB 478 Guide me, O my great Redeemer (TIS 569)
Scripture Readings- Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-16; Matthew 21:23-32
Prayer of Confession
God of second chances, you are always there for us. In the midst of our grumbling, we yearn to find the strength of our convictions. In the course of our struggles as a church and as individuals, we long to work humbly on, forsaking positions of power or influence. We want to work gladly in your vineyard, without focussing on the rewards and able to bear the pain inflicted. We want to be different from our contemporary society which gives publicity to those loudly complaining and rebelling against legitimate authority. We are thirsty – but sometimes our thirsts are for drinks that harm us and bring harm to our community. Refresh and renew us in your compassion and grace, grant us truly living water so that we no longer thirst for futile goals. Transform our values and attitudes so that our eyes may be opened to your presence, our ears hear the cries of the wounded and suffering, and our minds may be filled with the very mind of Christ. Amen.
Words of Assurance
Hear the good news: No matter who you are, or what you have done, Christ welcomes all into God’s kingdom with open arms. When we open our hearts and our lives to Christ, God’s forgiveness is truly ours. Thanks be to God
Sermon – Complaints again!
I’m tired already of these complaints from the Israelites in the Exodus stories. Nothing seems to satisfy – they are so ungrateful once again almost the next day after God has saved them and given them what they demand. They treat Moses, the reluctant leader who has shown such courage in the face of huge adversity, with hostility and distrust, rarely acknowledging his work on their behalf. They just expect him to bear the brunt of their discomfort and displeasure and go and fix it with God – NOW!
Thankfully, Moses takes the problem to God, but he is obviously at his wits end with them: “What am I going to do with these people? They are about to stone me to death!” In last week’s reading we heard how God reassured Moses that it was God they were rebelling against by their complaints and criticisms. But that does not totally remove the pain of the attacks and criticisms of Moses as a human person. “He’s a public figure – he’s fair game to criticize” seems to be the mantra even today. No such thing as personal life or imagining how the person under the public profile might feel.
God’s advice to Moses was to take some reinforcements – leaders as witnesses to his actions – and to take the ‘walking stick’ that had been the instrument of God’s miracles in the past. They were to go ahead of the people to Mt Horeb/Sinai to a rock where God would be present with them. God’s power would be seen when Moses used the stick to strike the rock because water would flow for the people to drink. The leaders watched as Moses did as he had been told by God – and the water flowed!
We do not need to try to use geology to explain how water can appear to come from rocks, especially in limestone karst areas or places where the water table comes to the surface on the side of a mountain. We have seen the waterfalls and marvelled at their majestic appearance. We have felt the euphoria of the ionisation of the water as it falls and mixes with the oxygen in the air. After a hot, dry day, we know the glorious relief of a good cool shower. The awesome power of God’s love for us can be reflected in the experience of the contrast of rock and water – one that seems so light and beautiful and yet is able to wear away the hardness and brutality, the stubbornness and resistance of the other.
Appreciate with me the miracle of the story and the metaphors it has created for humans ever since. Enjoy the archaeologist’s claim of finding the rock near Mt Sinai which has signs of water flowing out of it from the past. It reminds us of the story, and it does not matter if it is “THE” rock historically.
The rock which reminds us of our hardness of heart and our testing of God with our complaints. How did God feel about the repeated testing of God’s promise to be with them? Is God offended by our distrust, ingratitude and lack of respect? In the retelling of this story in Numbers 20: 1-13, Moses strikes the rock twice and is accused of doubting God’s power and the people therefore not respecting God. This is given as the reason he is not allowed to enter the Promised Land years later. One mistake and you are excluded? That sounds rather doubtful to me.
James Newsome, Professor Emeritus of Old Testament at Columbia Theological seminary in Georgia, wrote in his commentary on this passage:
Poor Moses! .. he persists in the role of mediator, communicating the panic of the people to Yahweh and subsequently enacting Yahweh’s instructions as to how to deal with this emergency. How many visionary individuals who undertake leadership roles in the church and in society find themselves incessantly buffeted by the unrealistic demands of those they seek to lead, and find themselves trapped between those demands and the realities of a given situation. (Texts for Preaching Year A. WJK Press, p. 498)
Psalm 78 is a wonderful summary of the Israelites’ journey and their fluctuating behaviours and attitudes towards God. The psalmist also imagines God’s anger and frustration alternating with times of compassion and care for this rebellious, ungrateful people. We look at this psalm again in November, so I encourage you to read it all for the story it tells.
The same fluctuations in faithfulness and willingness to work or obey instructions are evident in the gospel reading. Is it better to promise much and not deliver – or not to promise anything and come good with faithful service and obedience in the end? Do politicians ever read Matthew 21: 28-32? The confrontations with chief priests and elders in Jerusalem over Jesus’ authority to interfere with the traditions of the Temple reserved for themselves by the leaders there, highlights complaints again. Forgiveness of sin was the main function of the Temple rituals and the priests, so when both John the Baptist and Jesus bypass the priests to absolve people who show they have truly repented and want to re-establish their relationship with God – people like Zacchaeus, tax collector and the repentant woman of Luke 7, those in power resent the loss of their precedence and position. The priests and elders engage in the rhetoric of obedience, say the right liturgical words, but fail to do God’s will. Those who turn to God, are welcomed and forgiven.
Emeritus New Testament Professor William Loader, from Murdoch University, Perth, writes in his commentary:
Matthew clearly requires Scripture to be interpreted by central themes of love and compassion. He has a way of…by-passing the religious bureaucracy. Prostitutes and toll collectors, at least some of them…got the point. Is it because they allowed themselves to be vulnerable, to let the word of compelling compassion address their deeper needs? Were the religious leaders so defensive in protecting their system that they suppressed their inner cries and stopped their ears? (Pentecost 17 first thoughts on passage from Matthew)
Let us allow St Paul to advise us on how we should live this week as faithful people of God. Our lectionary reading from St Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2: 1-13. (Good News Bible version p. 248) Let us read it alternately.
Your life in Christ makes you strong, and his love comforts you.
You have fellowship with the Spirit and you have kindness and compassion for one another.
I urge you then, to make me completely happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and being one in soul and mind.
Don’t do anything from selfish ambition or from a cheap desire to boast, but be humble towards one another, always considering others better than yourselves.
And look out for one another’s interests, not just your own.
The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:
He always had the nature of God, but did not think that by force he should try to become equal with God.
Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the form of a servant
He became like one of us and appeared in human likeness.
He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death – his death on the cross.
For this reason, God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
And so, in honour of the name of Jesus, all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall on their knees
And all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
All will openly proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord!
All will openly proclaim Jesus Christ is Lord
To the glory of God the Father.
So then, dear friends, as you always obeyed me when I was with you, it is even more important that you obey me now while I am away from you.
Keep on working with fear and trembling to complete your salvation
Because God is always at work in you to make you willing and able to obey God’s own purpose. Amen.
HYMN- AHB 170 At the name of Jesus
Offering- 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)
We are grateful for all the good things and blessings we have in our lives and so we respond by sharing something of what we have in the giving of our offerings through this church community.
As we give you our gifts of money, God, know they come with our commitment to the people of your way. They are gifts of love for you, to be used in your mission in the world. May they bring new life and liberation. Amen.
Prayer of Intercession –
Gracious God, we would like to be conscientious followers of your way, aware we are called to be full of the spirit of compassion and empathy. We pray for those suffering from their duties associated with or the effects of Covid 19. We acknowledge our utter dependence on your saving grace in this pandemic.
Help us to ensure that what we do and how we act within our world, is done, not out of rebellion, ambition or competition, but because of our regard for the folk with whom we share this world.
Deepen our understanding that there is no benefit to self-interest alone.
Teach us your ways, so that we may all flourish when the hand of friendship and camaraderie is extended wide to everything in heaven and earth.
We know what it looks like when we do your will. So, make us good neighbours, peacemakers, joy bringers and hope bearers. In the name of Christ, Amen. Pray the Lord’s Prayer.
HYMN- AHB 531 When we walk with the Lord
We have experienced the grace of God as the liberating power in our own lives. As we go from here, we go to be the people who impart that liberating grace to the world. May God’s Word be upon our lips; Christ’s way be the path we tread, and the Holy Spirit’s breath give us life. This day and always. Amen.
Resources used in this service include Words for Worship year A 27th 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); Texts for preaching year A, ed. Walter Brueggemann et al, WJK, 1995 and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license #217268.