Online Service – 17/05/2020

Sunday, 17th of May, 2020

Dr John Kennedy

Welcome, my name is John Kennedy and I am a member of the Keiraview Uniting Church.

It is my pleasure to present this service of worship today for Sunday 17th of May 2020.

I wish to acknowledge the Dharawal People, the traditional custodians of the land on which Keiraview Uniting Church now stands.  I acknowledge their elders past present and emerging and pay my respect to their ongoing connection to country and community.

Call to Worship

ONE: Come one, come all, let us gather in praise of the one who shows us the way:

ALL:  The way of Christ is love.

ONE: Let us gather in thanksgiving for the one who teaches the truth:

ALL:  That we were all made in God’s image and called good.

ONE: Let us worship the one who gives us life.

ALL:  Blessed be our God, source of all creation.

Opening Song of Praise: I the Lord of Sea and Sky.

Opening Prayer

ONE:    This glass bird is not God.

ALL:    Our God is within and beyond.

ONE:    This cup is not God.

ALL:    Our God is within and beyond.

ONE:    This book is not God.

ALL:    Our God is within and beyond.

ONE:    This candle is not God.

ALL:    Our God is within and beyond.

ONE:    This cross is not God.

ALL:    Our God is within and beyond.

ONE:    We are not God.

ALL:    Our God is within and beyond.

God of all Creation, out of your being all things were made, yet in all things your being is uncontained. Help us to see you within all things, within all people. Help us to know that you are beyond our understanding, beyond our imagining, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen.

Prayer of confession

God of all, whom we have learned to see in the person of Jesus the Christ, open our eyes to your presence around us. Open our hearts, that we might see your incarnation continuing in the living and growing of your Creation.

For we confess that we see you more easily in those who look like us, think like us, act like us. We confess that we can struggle to see you in those who are different; in those who are homeless, in those who suffer from alcohol or drug addiction, in those who are dispossessed, in those who are ……not me.

We confess that we do not always see that you are more significant than we are, more diverse than we are, more inclusive than we are. We confess that in refusing to see you in all our neighbours, we have refused to love you as you have loved us.

            Forgive us, we pray.

Help us to see beyond ourselves. Help us to keep your commandments. Help us to feel confident enough in your love for us that we can acknowledge your love for others without fear. Amen.

Words of affirmation

ONE:    God of grace, you invite us to love one another as you have loved us. And so we remember your abiding love. We remember that you did not wait until we were ready but sent Jesus the Christ to guide us in your way. For your grace is poured out upon us before we even ask, calling us always back to you.

ONE:    By your mercy, we are beloved. By your grace, we are forgiven.

ALL:    Thanks be to God! Alleluia! Amen.

A Word for the Young People… and the "Young at Heart"

A bedtime story

For today’s children’s section I want to show you a bedtime story. 

Lord god, we want to do the right thing, but we often forget what that is.  We ask you to help us to remember that this is Your world that we share with you.  We ask that you guide our hands and our feet and help us, through prayer to make this world a better place.

Children's Activity

I encourage all of you who are young at heart to join with me this week and create a prayer chain. 

  1. Take a piece of A4 paper and fold it short-ways twice to divide it into 4 equal long rectangles. 
  2. Cut along those lines to make 4 strips. 
  3. On the inside of each strip write a prayer for something or someone you want to bring to mind. 
  4. Then join your strip end to end to make a link. 
  5. These links can be joined together using a stapler to make a chain, a prayer chain. 

As we start carefully venturing outside this week, I encourage you to join your prayer chain to those of others by adding it to the chain I have started at the church.

The Reading

The reading today is brought to us by Lyn Jones and comes from Acts 17:22-31

22 Paul stood up in front of the city council and said, “I see that in every way you Athenians are very religious. 23 For as I walked through your city and looked at the places where you worship, I found an altar on which is written, ‘To an Unknown God.’ That which you worship, then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you. 24 God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by human hands. 25 Nor does he need anything that we can supply by working for him, since it is he himself who gives life and breath and everything else to everyone. 26 From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth. He himself fixed beforehand the exact times and the limits of the places where they would live. 27 He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us; 28 as someone has said,

‘In him we live and move and exist.’
It is as some of your poets have said,
‘We too are his children.’

29 Since we are God’s children, we should not suppose that his nature is anything like an image of gold or silver or stone, shaped by human art and skill. 30 God has overlooked the times when people did not know him, but now he commands all of them everywhere to turn away from their evil ways. 31 For he has fixed a day in which he will judge the whole world with justice by means of a man he has chosen. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising that man from death!”

Sermon

Do you ever get the feeling that you do not quite know everything?  I find this feeling of doubt both concerning and comforting.  But is has not always been this way.  As a seven year old I thought I knew everything; and as you might imagine being a seven year old, I was quite happy to tell people that I knew everything.  My mother kindly pointed out that other people were not all idiots and that there might still be something to learn so I reluctantly carried on with learning.  Then as I became a teenager, I was convinced again that most people were in fact idiots and that I already knew everything I needed to know again: If I didn’t know it, well then it was not worth knowing….probably.

Teenage arrogance? Most likely.  But is this feeling part of the human condition?  As I have got older I have found that the more I have learned, the more I have realised that there is even more to learn.  My understanding of the world has become bigger but also paradoxically more limited at the same time.  Have you ever experienced this sort of thing?

When I used to teach, I would often have exchange students join us for a short while.  In Japanese culture it is appropriate to refer to teachers as sensei, so to them I was known as Kennedy Sensei.  In the same way that school students might refer to teachers as Sir (even though they have not been knighted) or American students might refer to their teachers as Professors even though they may not be an expert of the highest rank which is the word’s original etymology.  However, I was never really comfortable with the title sensei.  To me it implies a sense of mastery and while I’ll admit that I know quite a bit of “stuff” I hesitate to say that I have mastered it; as I know what I know, it puts into context the vast plethora of things that I do not know.  I am aware of my limitations (at least sometimes I am anyway).

Athens between the 5th century BC and the first century AD was often described as the centre of knowledge in the world.  If the learned scholars and philosophers in Athens didn’t know something, then it probably was not worth knowing.  Theirs was a polytheistic society with a pantheon of 12 major gods and plethora of minor deities. Yet around 500BC they were subjected to a plague that they could not explain.  It is said that one of their philosophers realised that there must be another god who was unknown to them.  One thing led to another and eventually alters to “the unknown god” the Agnostos Theos. were in evidence across Greece.  In fact, they spread among the ancient world.  In Rome, archaeologists have found an alter dedicated to “either a god or a sacred goddess” SEI DEO SEI DEIVAE SAC.  These intellectual thinkers decided that it was best to have an extra alter to the unknown just in case they missed someone out.  It was said that quite often Greeks would even swear to the unknown god to save the risk of swearing to the wrong known god!  Talk about covering your bases and sitting on the fence!

It is in this context that we find Paul in our reading from Acts.  Paul has left Thessalonica in the North of Greece where life has been getting a bit scary and has escaped to the relative safety of Athens.  Here we find him trying to lay low a bit, but he seems unable to do so.  One day he arrives at the Areopagus and enjoys an intellectual discussion with the locals.  The Areopagus had once been the central court of Athens but by this time was only used for the trial of murderers and for trials around corruption.  Otherwise it was a meeting place of philosophers, scholars and the powerful of Athens.  Paul has been going about the city in his usual way, preaching here, stirring things up there etc. and so ends up at the Areopagus where his ideas are sort of put on trial.

However, what we see in this story of Paul the apostle is very different to the Paul we find elsewhere in the New Testament.  Rather than condemning the Athenians’ polytheistic fervour with his usual zeal, Paul opens by being quite complimentary to them. “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’” Acts 17:22b-23a

This in itself is noteworthy.  Paul does not condemn nor assume that the Athenians are wrong but instead makes a simple statement of fact and attempts to meet the Athenians where they are spiritually speaking.  He acknowledges that God is the universal creator who makes the world and everything in it, who gives life and breath, who allotted time and space where they would live and gave them the opportunity to search literally and metaphorically for God.  None of this would have been too much of a stretch for the Athenians; none of this is controversial; none of this is asking the Athenians to discard their paradigm. It is almost as if Paul is simply affirming what they already know.  How can what he has been saying around the city therefore be construed as “stirring things up” or threatening?  Paul is heading off the criticism before it is raised by intellectually jousting with the Athenians and by playing by their rules not his.

By proclaiming the characteristics of his God as the characteristics of the Agnostos Theos, Paul is saying to the Athenians, “Look! These things I have been talking about around the city; they are nothing to be afraid of.  I am not trying to rock the boat.  I am just telling you things that really you already know.”  To emphasise this even further, Paul then points out that his living god, in whom we live and move, is nothing really new and is certainly not a blasphemous idea.  Even the Greek poets have stated that “we too are his offspring”.

Paul then circles round for his punchline.  Using pure logic, he states that if we are his offspring, if we are made in the image of God, then we cannot think of God as being like silver or gold or stone.  God cannot be an image formed by the art or imagination of us mortals.  God must be a real entity that surmounts this.  He not only is able to offer us a relationship with him, but he requires it of us.  Paul says that God has overlooked our ignorance, our stupidity and naivety if you will but now wants us to repent.  He wants us to admit that we do not know everything and that our human ignorance and arrogance is going to make us fall.  He wants us to look to him and to listen to him.  And to make his point God has done the impossible: he has raised his chosen man from the dead.

Now Luke goes on to tell us in the next few verses that many of the Athenians simply laughed at Paul essentially saying you have given us all this good rhetoric and logic and then concluded by stating that an impossible event is your only proof.  It is clear that many of the Athenians simply thought of Paul as being some sort of crackpot.  However, we are also told that some wanted to hear more and that in time they followed Paul and believed.

This story of Paul preaching to the gentiles is one that we can probably all relate to.  If you think back to your own first meeting with Jesus did you get there because someone told you to believe or because someone met you where you were, told you the facts you needed to hear and allowed you to start your own conversation?  I am reminded here of the painting by William Holman Hunt entitled Light of the World.   Paul has shown me the door from the inside and told me what I might find on the other side, but I am still the only one who can open this door.  Paul cannot open it, Jesus cannot open it, no one else can open it… you see there is only one handle and it is on my side of the door. Amen.

Taizé Meditation

Prayers of the people

God of all, we have gathered here, in ours homes, in our ones and twos, in the electronic web of the Internet, to praise and worship you because we have known your power and movement in our lives. We have felt your love surrounding and upholding us. Your Holy Spirit, the Advocate, has walked beside us through celebration and grief; a gentle, constant reminder of your presence.

God of mercy, we commit ourselves to be your church together because we know that you will not abandon us or leave us orphaned, but will be our sustainer forever. We commit ourselves to be a community that shows forth your abiding love to those who have felt abandoned by this world. And so we pray this day:

for those who are grieving, and seeking a new way forward;

for those who are experiencing housing insecurity, hunger, or food insecurity;

for those with health concerns, mental or physical, that keep them isolated or unable to live into the fullness of who they could be;

for those who have been rejected by their families or communities;

for those who have been blamed or shamed by those who were supposed to give support or accountability;

for those who are living with violence and trauma as part of their daily lives.

Holy God, we know that the hurts of this world are not what you want for us. We know that you are with us, our comfort and consolation, even in hard times. Help us to come alongside each other, as well. Help us to be the tangible presence of your Holy Spirit, the hands and feet of your love in this world.

Help us, O God of grace, to love each other as you have loved us.

Amen.

In Christ Alone

Used with Permission

Prayer of dedication

Holy One, bless all of the gifts that we bring before you—our hands and feet, our voices, our money—that they may be a pure offering of love to your Creation. Bless these offerings that in all our giving and moving through this world, we might show forth your compassion and grace. Bless our seeing, our hearing, our understanding, that in all times and places we may know that you are present with us.

God of love, bless us, we pray.

Amen.

Blessing

Let us go out into the world with our eyes, our ears, our hearts wide open to the movement of the Holy swirling around us. Let us go out prepared to see our God, even in the most unexpected times and places. Let us remember that God will not leave us.

May the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit abide with you now, and in all your days. Amen.