21 June 2020
22 June 1977 – 22 June 2020
Uniting … What now?
Led by Ian Thomas
Call to Worship
Welcome and Grace
I pray that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that ou have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
TIS 152 – God the Father, Son and Spirit ( Keith Pearson 1992)
God the Father, Son and Spirit, through your grace immense and free,
Draw us to yourself and bring us into deeper unity.
Come, renew us as we worship, witnessing to truth we hear,
And, through lives of humble service, show forth Christ our saving Lord.
We are ready to go forward, loyal alone to Christ our Head,
In the church which is his body, follow on where has led.
Open still to your reforming, through your word in Christ your Son,
All united by the Spirit, who makes all your people one.
We acknowledge one another; love and joy to each is shown;
Our belief in Christ our Master sends us out to make him know.
So we live in hope’s assurance, waiting for the day to come
When the kingdoms of this world shall be the Kingdom of your Son
Readings (Cheryl and Stephen)
Genesis 21: 8-21; Ps. 86: 1 -10, 16-17: John 17:20 – 26
Your Word O Lord is a lamp to our feet – A light to our path
Genesis 21: 8 – 21 – Hagar and Ishmael sent away
The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac. The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named for you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring. So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.
When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, “Do not let me look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him. Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.
God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran; and his mother got a wife for him from the land of Egypt.
Psalm 86: 1-10; 16-17
Supplication for Help against Enemies – A Prayer of David.
- Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, I am poor and needy.
- Preserve my life, for I am devoted to you save your servant who trusts in you. You are my God; be gracious to me.
- Incline your ear, O Lord, and answer me, for Lord, to you do I cry all day long.
- Gladden the soul of your servant, for to you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
- For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call on you.
- Give ear, O Lord, to my prayer; listen to my cry of supplication. In the day of my trouble I call on you, for you will answer me.
- There is none like you among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like yours.
- .All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.
- For you are great and do wondrous things; you alone are God.
- Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.
16 Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving girl.
17 Show me a sign of your favor, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”
May your Word live in us, and bear much fruit to Your Glory
Hymn 474 – Here in this place
TIS 474 – Here in this place
Here in this place, new light is streaming,
now is the darkness vanished away.
See, in this space, our fears and our dreamings,
brought here to you in the light of this day.
Gather us in — the lost and forsaken,
gather us in — the blind and the lame.
Call to us now, and we shall awaken,
we shall arise at the sound of our name.
We are the young — our lives are a mystery,
we are the old — who yearn for your face.
We have been sung throughout all of history,
called to be light to the whole human race.
Gather us in — the rich and the haughty,
gather us in — the proud and the strong.
Give us a heart so meek and so lowly,
give us the courage to enter the song.
Here we will take the wine and the water,
here we will take the bread of new birth.
Here you shall call your sons and your daughters,
call us anew to be salt for the earth.
Give us to drink the wine of compassion,
give us to eat the bread that is you.
Nourish us well, and teach us to fashion
lives that are holy and hearts that are true.
Not in the dark of buildings confining,
not in some heaven, light years away,
but here in this place, the new light is shining;
now is the Kingdom, now is the day.
Gather us in — and hold us forever,
gather us in — and make us your own.
Gather us in — all peoples together,
fire of love in our flesh and our bone.
Reflection Uniting – what now?
Reflection – Uniting – What now?
I hope you found the material sent out as preparation for today’s worship instructive. This included -:
- Reading the first five articles of The Basis of Union found at https://assembly.uca.org.au/images/stories/HistDocs/basisofunion1992.pdf
a short reflection by Bill Loader – “What inspired Uniting in “Uniting Church?” at http://wwwstaff.murdoch.edu.au/~loader/LoaderUniting
- two video clips and the lyrics of I am Australian https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QZIsYUyqX-8
- additional resources mentioned in this reflection include links to sermons by David Beswick and Bruce Prewer at http://www.beswick.info/rclresources/12A99Ser.htm
In the preparatory materials I posed the question – “Would the formation of the Uniting Church in Australia be possible in today’s deeply divided and conflicted world?” Given that the UCA has already been in existence for 43 years the next obvious question is – “Where to now?”
Reflecting on the scriptures recommended for today (Pentecost 3 and the UCA Anniversary) we arrive at an interesting place.
Starting with Genesis 21: 8-21 we have an episode in the long story of Abraham and Sarah and their problems of conceiving children (among other things) that runs from Genesis 12 through to Genesis 25. In this episode Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith in God to keep his word results in Hagar and Ishmael being banished from Abraham’s household. Thus were sewn the seeds of the distrust, discord, disharmony, hostility, and even open warfare that continues today between Islam (descendants and followers of Ishmael) and Jews and Christians (descendants and followers of Isaac). (You might like to see David Beswick’s commentary on this reading at http://www.beswick.info/rclresources/12A99Ser.htm ).
In Psalm 86 we have David dumping his many problems (some would say problems he deserved and were largely self-made), in a very eloquent prayer of supplication to help him deal with the disharmony, discord and open warfare he faced.
In Romans 6:1-11 we have Paul vigorously and robustly defending his teaching that living a life based on an unshakeable faith in God and love i.e. following the example of Jesus, sets Christians free from the constraints of the law because their new life exceeds any requirements of the law. Paul’s detractors were saying this teaching lead directly to a massive outbreak of immorality, criminality, dishonesty and misdeeds in the community because people claiming to be Christian used this as a licence to do anything they wanted. Using Abraham (in Romans 4) as his prime example, Paul rightly pointed out that it was not the teaching, which emphasised that it was the Grace of God and following the example of Jesus Christ in leading a life based on faith in God to keep his word, that gives people the freedom to live their life based on love, compassion and respect. Rather, it was individuals who misunderstood, knowingly misused or ignored the teaching to achieve their own ends that was the problem. Another detailed version of this same issue is found in the First Letter of John. This issue continues to the present day where people commit all sorts of heinous crimes and misdeeds (often in the name of Jesus) while claiming their personal relationship with Jesus places them above consequences and accountability for their actions. It is no surprise that entitlement driven aspirational evangelical Christians are among the strongest supporters of the Trump presidency in the US.
In Matthew 10:24-39 we have the second part of a major discourse from Jesus where he is teaching the disciples about the difficulties they will face when carrying out the commission he has given them. The latter part looks more like a set of speaker’s dot points that will be enlarged and explained by stories and examples that are not present. One example is the section in v.29-31 dealing with the worth of sparrows. Bruce Prewer (see http://www.bruceprewer.com/DocA/41Sun12.htm ) asks the pertinent question – Are all sparrows equal?
The section from v34 -39 contains the unsettling declaration that Jesus did not come to bring peace to the world, but a sword. That because of him there will be disharmony and discord. Here, he is taking aim at the enormous potential destructiveness of family power and the false self it can generate in people because of its unquestioned assumptions that govern attitudes, hold values in place, and set patterns which can perpetuate systems of injustice and oppression at both individual and community level.
From these brief reflections the interesting place we arrive at, is that the work of spreading the gospel, of proclaiming the Kingdom of God is always set against a backdrop of persecution, disunity, disharmony, corruption, discrimination, abuse of power and unrest.
Looking at the 20 years or so through the 1950’s into the 1970’s, when the work of creating a Uniting Church in Australia was going on, the social context seems starkly familiar. World War 2 was recently over; the Korean War was underway; the Cold War with Russia was ramping up; testing of nuclear weapons was high on the agenda; the hippie movement with free love, alternative life styles and drug experimentation flourished, apartheid reared its ugly head; there was a referendum to recognize first nation people as citizens; the Vietnam War dragged on; Chairman Mao in China was telling us diplomacy came from the barrel of a gun; Watergate exposed political corruption in the US; anti-conscription and anti-war protests erupted; politically correct language came on the scene, the first oil crisis created economic chaos; Kennedy was assassinated; Whitlam was dismissed; Vatican 2 met and the ecumenical movement blossomed for a time. Against all this, what was the vision of unity that the Uniting Church proposed?
To understand this we need to look at the reading from John 17:20-26 which incorporates Jesus’ prayer about unity, commonly known as his high priestly prayer; and essentially the whole of 1 John.
Parting prayers like parting words are very important, and there is a whole genre of literature called “testaments” in which people imagine what great figures of the past might have said. The whole of John 13 – 17, which covers Jesus’ final instructions to the apostles and his prayer is a classic example. Interestingly passages in this genre often reflect issues which were particularly relevant for the community in which the writer was active. The segment from Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 10) is another example of this genre.
When in John 17:20 Jesus is portrayed as praying for his followers, now and in the future, but also for ‘those who believe because of their word’, we can be fairly certain that contemporary concerns are on the agenda. The clue comes in John’s first letter, probably written not long after he completed the gospel. He describes a sorry state of disunity and division in his community. At the same time these concerns are couched within a prayer which retains the broader perspective. This gives it a timeless quality, an enduring relevance. We can easily imagine therefore that Jesus is praying for the Uniting Church today.
Jesus’ prayer is for unity of his followers. The unity is of a kind that people can recognise as love-driven and find it attractive, so much so that they will count it as evidence that Jesus really did get people in touch with God. So it is not just an invisible unity, sometimes a slogan for avoiding the challenge of unity, but unity which shows. It is unity which forms part of a larger oneness: the oneness of Christ with God, and our oneness with the triune God – Creator, Christ and Holy Spirit. In fact it draws its inspiration and its energy from that unity. You can see that by the way the prayer states that people will believe because of the unity among Christians. Why? Because the unity among human beings is the result of Jesus’ coming which shows the love and the glory which he shares with God and is sharing with us. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). Glory and love and knowing are shared now and will be shared forever.
Jesus’ prayer, Jesus’ vision of wholeness, is that we share in the life of God. That life is typified as love. Knowing is more than knowing about, it is knowing which allows what is known to be real for us and to affect us. Here is a vision of salvation as oneness. It spawns many other images, like reconciliation for example.
The unity in focus was real; it was about people getting on together. It was about being a caring community. That caring included confronting major issues. Unity is not, for John, a desirable extra but part of the salvation itself. It is not a concrete sign of the real thing which is invisible and inward, but is itself part of the real thing. Such unity will embrace great diversity, but it will also draw the line (and face the cost of doing so), wherever the reality of Jesus and the earthiness of love is denied.
This, was the type of unity envisioned for the formation of the Uniting Church in 1977. Bill Loader’s reflection details how this vision had its successes, but, by and large with the passage of time and intervening events in the past forty-three years the image has paled.
The other driver of the vision of unity is the conviction that the whole Jesus narrative – coming from glory, to a humble birth as a human, living a human life, his teaching and healing, an excruciating human death by crucifixion, burial, rising from the dead to be recognised as alive by a crowd of witnesses and then returning to glory to rule over all creation and intercede on our behalf, to release the holy spirit as a guiding and comforting force to his followers – demonstrates his oneness with God and he shares that oneness with us. This is a wonderful mystery and a wonderful vision of what unity is all about.
Times have changed dramatically since 1977. To list just a few things – We now face divisions in our community due to a rise in post-modern libertarian individualism; the rise of destablising tribal partisan politics; rampant triumphalist nationalism; unabated racial and gender driven discrimination, abuse and violence; the unbelievable growth in the power of technology and social media for good and bad; the obscene divide between the rich and the poor (50 individuals control more wealth between them than half of the world’s population); the scandal of child abuse, a massive refugee problem world-wide caused by conflicts which have often degraded into genocide, a global financial crisis driven by greed and malpractice in financial institutions, failure to implement findings of royal commissions into things like black deaths in custody, the effects of climate change and bushfires; electoral fraud, family violence, homelessness and lack of social housing, the failure of care for the disabled and mentally ill: the hegemony of Chinese expansionism, and recently a pandemic.
So, where to for the Uniting Church today, with its own problems of diminishing numbers, financial and administration failures; where in our own area we could not agree on united action between local parishes.
A careful reflection on Jesus’ prayer in John 17: 20-26 indicates it is time to revisit the vision that formed the Uniting Church in 1977 and to revive and embrace the things that drove the spirit of uniting, but within a much broader perspective. Such uniting now needs to be seen across areas not so much in focus then, including cross-cultural meeting, engagement with first Australians, and finding common ground with other faiths, especially with Muslim communities. Celebrating “Uniting” is best done when it is promoted and lived out as something bigger than the UCA itself, and, not as an extra but as core to the gospel we uphold. Unity or wholeness comes when we individually and collectively share in the life of God (live as if we are already in the Kingdom of God), lead a life that is predicated on God’s Grace and love for all of creation.
Prayer and the Lord`s Prayer (Keith)
TIS 136. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy (Frederick William Faber)
There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea,
and forgiveness in his justice
sealed for us on Calvary.
There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
For the love of God is broader
than the measures of our mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own,
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he would not own.
If our love were but more simple
we should take him at his word;
and our lives would be illumined
by the goodness of our Lord.
May we go in peace united by the love of God, the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, may we carry God’s Wisdom, speak forth God’s Word, and embody God’s Presence wherever we are. In the name of Christ. Amen