Call to Worship and Opening Prayers
Welcome and call to worship
Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come […] and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen. (Rev 1:4b-6)
Welcome to our Carlingford Uniting worship.
Let us pray:
Almighty God, to all hearts are open, you have called us to be your people. We ask you to bless us by your Holy Spirit, bind us together as the body of Christ, so that we may serve you faithfully and be your witnesses in the world.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one eternal God, resplendent in brightness, radiant in purity, inconceivable in majesty, to you we give all blessing, glory, honour and power.
We depend on you; and we remember your goodness to us and to those who have gone before us.
We tell your story in every generation: you are our familiar God, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God of Sarah, Rebekah and Rachel,
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
God of a pilgrim people, your church.
We pray that by your grace, you may enable us, unworthy though we are, to worship you adoringly on earth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Friends in Christ,
here in the presence of almighty God let us open our hearts to confess our sins,
so that we may obtain forgiveness by God’s infinite goodness and mercy.
Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your name.
Assurance of Forgiveness
God is light, in him is no darkness at all.
If we walk in the light, as God is in the light,
we have fellowship with one another,
and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:5, 7)
Hear the Good News of grace:
In Christ, we are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: All people that on earth do dwell
Blessings in Store for God’s People
51 Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
you that seek the Lord.
Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
2 Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.
3 For the Lord will comfort Zion;
he will comfort all her waste places,
and will make her wilderness like Eden,
her desert like the garden of the Lord;
joy and gladness will be found in her,
thanksgiving and the voice of song.
4 Listen to me, my people,
and give heed to me, my nation;
for a teaching will go out from me,
and my justice for a light to the peoples.
5 I will bring near my deliverance swiftly,
my salvation has gone out
and my arms will rule the peoples;
the coastlands wait for me,
and for my arm they hope.
6 Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth beneath;
for the heavens will vanish like smoke,
the earth will wear out like a garment,
and those who live on it will die like gnats;
but my salvation will be forever,
and my deliverance will never be ended.
12 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6 We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; 7 ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; 8 the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.
Being the body of Christ - Romans 12:1-8
We last met together, in person, as Carlingford Uniting Church on the 15th of March. That’s 22 weeks ago. Which means that this is our 22nd Sunday of worshipping together in other ways - on our website or in writing.
It’s not something that I’d ever done before. It’s not something that I’d ever contemplated doing before. And that’s true of not only most people who lead worship, but also of most people who take part in worship.
A couple on months ago, we seemed to be on track toward meeting together again… but then there were Covid19 flareups and things have again slipped.
When will we be able to meet together again? I don’t know. I know that some churches are meeting together in some way… but with limited numbers, and people wearing masks, and no community singing, and no fellowshipping over morning tea. Our Synod strongly recommends that our congregations don’t meet together.
It is very hard for church communities. But Covid19 makes everything harder: I watch TV news every day, and every bulletin has stories of how people are doing it hard financially, or being particularly disadvantaged, or missing out on opportunities.
I think of John’s memorial service at Carlingford a couple of weeks ago, and think how much Covid19 forced things to be different than they should have been.
I think of my daughter Hazel’s wedding in May. It should have been a grand event their church building, but the Public Health Order at the time allowed only five people to attend.
But there’s also all the day-to-day difficulties. Going to the supermarket – wearing a mask, sanitising hands and trolleys, coping with shortages – or going out to eat – limited seating and giving names and contact details every time; or visiting family and friends in hospitals and aged care facilities – masks and temperature checks and hot-spot declarations, and even then only limited visiting opportunities.
Just about everything is harder at the moment. We are living in circumstances that none of us have been in before, and with leaders – whether they be federal or state or even church leaders – who haven’t lead in such circumstances.
Just about everything is harder, for just about everyone.
We can look back through history and find many times when things were harder, pandemics and plagues, wars, famines and all the rest of it. All those things that Jesus warned us about on the Mount of Olives – “And you will hear of wars and rumours of wars; see that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places…” (Matthew 24:6-7)
Our reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans, comes from a time when there were riots among the various Jewish groups in Rome. It was a hard time for the early church. The riots were likely the result of problems within the Jewish community caused by some synagogues and/or individuals becoming Christian, and/or by Christian Jews coming from elsewhere to Rome and sharing the good news of Jesus within the Jewish community – bringing in teaching which, while it was in accordance with Scriptures and the gospel of Jesus, it often went against tradition.
And going against tradition is hard to cope with. Think about the various changes in our church over the last twenty years. Or forty – before Union. Or fifty years. Changes to the way we worship. Our music.
And Covid19 has forced us to change our tradition of gathering together in person to worship and sing and have fellowship.
But these changes we’ve experienced really aren’t as hard as the changes within the synagogues of Rome and elsewhere at the time of Paul’s letter. Jesus had not only fulfilled the Jewish Scriptures, but his saving grace was being extended to not just the Jews – the chosen people – but to all the people of the earth – just as God had promised Abraham back in Genesis!
Of course, whatever their backgrounds, they were called to be the church together. As Paul writes to the Galatians (3:26,28), “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith […] there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus”.
But all of those people were human; they were imperfect; just like us, human and imperfect. Hopefully, we are all being transformed by the action of the Holy Spirit within us and on us, but in the meantime, we will struggle, and we will fall short.
So Paul writes to encourage the church in Rome to focus on what’s important, to work together as the church, not as members of an organisation of the world. And in effect, he was also writing to the church in Sydney, and for that matter, the church in Carlingford.
We always like to think that we’re special, that our circumstances are unique, that what we experience is novel. But the truth is, as the writer of Ecclesiastes puts it, there is nothing new under the sun. The problems we experience today, have been experienced by people before, and are experienced by people in all sorts of other places, and almost certainly will be experienced by others into the future.
The difference though, is how we react. Do we ignore problems? Do we run and hide? Do we spend all our time and effort on blaming others? Or deciding that some other approach or person can solve our problems for us?
Paul is clear: he appeals to us – on a very personal level – “as brothers and sisters by the mercies of God, to present our bodies – ourselves – as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (12:1)
But what does it really mean to be a living sacrifice? Mostly people assume that our traditional offertory is roughly the equivalent of the ancient practice of sacrifice… that just like the Israelites would have sacrificed a bull or a sheep, we now put some money in the plate.
But when the ancient peoples made sacrifices, the sacrifices themselves were generally destroyed. The sheep was burned – the burnt offering. No one ate it. The wine in a drink offering was poured out onto the ground – the priest didn’t get to drink it.
Whatever was sacrificed was given up. Not repurposed. Not given to the church or the priest or the poor. But entirely given up. Entirely given up to God.
But because of what Jesus has done for us all – giving himself up entirely for us all – we don’t have to make those sorts of sacrifices.
Paul calls on us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice. To give ourselves up to God. Not to die for God, but to live for God.
So it follows that if we have given ourselves up to God, then we are God’s and not the world’s. So Paul says in verse 2, “Don’t be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God.”
Paul tells us to offer ourselves to God as living sacrifices, and then he tells us to allow ourselves to be changed, and in doing that we will know God’s ways better; in fact, we will know God better.
But as I said earlier, we aren’t perfect. And we aren’t going to be perfected this side of Christ’s return, so Paul calls on us to work together as the church, as the body of Christ.
If we are the body of Christ, we will be, effectively, Christ’s body in the world. We will be Christ’s eyes, and see people, we will be his feet and walk to them, we will be his hands and reach out to them, we will be his mouth and we will speak to them, and we will be Christ’s heart, and we will love them.
Paul implores each one of us – and all of us together – to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the faith that God has assigned.
Paul is not telling us that we’re worthless – he’s just telling us to be honest in how we see ourselves, and I think, in how we see others. I’ve heard explained as: “Being humble doesn’t mean thinking less of yourself, it means thinking of yourself less”.
If we’re honest in how we see ourselves, and how we see others, then we will very quickly see that we are all very different people, we have different talents, different interests, different skills, different priorities and so on.
And that’s okay: “For as in one body we have many members and not all members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.” (12:4-5)
Paul says that “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the compassionate, in cheerfulness”.
There are similar passages in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12:7-12, 12:27-28) and in his letter to the Ephesians (4:11).
While I don’t think those lists are comprehensive ones, one thing that strikes me is how little overlap there is with the average church roster.
Many things are possible or practical though, only because of how organised the church has become. In normal times, we need the doors to be unlocked and the lights turned on, we need to be welcomed and we need offertory collected, and in Covid times, we need sermons and prayers and bible readings recorded, and the website updated, and the newssheet emailed and posted, and we always need do deliver pastoral care to each other, and have proper governance, and ensure bills are paid and all the rest of it.
And it would be really nice if there were always a perfect match of people and roles or roster slots, but we aren’t perfect and there aren’t always enough of us anyway.
Things don’t always work out nicely, and we struggle to get some things done, and sometimes we will all be operating outside our comfort zones.
Of course, we should all be supportive of people who are outside their comfort zones too. And be prepared to give them a break or help them or even takeover from them. Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light – so let’s make sure where not putting any more burdens on ourselves or each other than we need do.
We are blessed at Carlingford with the gifts that we have and share. We should make sure we acknowledge and appreciate those gifts and encourage the people who have them. I certainly feel it. I know I’m encouraged by being part of the life of the Church in Carlingford, people encourage me all the time. Sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly, maybe sometimes even subconsciously. But I hope others are encouraged by being part of Carlingford too, and I hope others realise the encouragement too.
Often, we will get tied up in the routine of it all, of the weekly and monthly and yearly cycles of the church. We need to get things done by certain times and dates… and its easy for the encouragement, and the exhortation to slip away. And for being compassionate and generous, and cheerful to slip away as well.
In all things we should be following Jesus commandment “to love one another”. We should be doing all the things we do out of love – love for Jesus, and love for each other – not out of duty.
Paul says as much in the next few verses of Romans 12 “Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection...”
Sometimes people think of church congregations as companies, and although in many ways we are required to act like companies – in terms of compliance for Covid19, or workplace health and safety or employment law or whatever- a congregation is not a company where we can rate our performance on price to earning ratios or returns on investment or anything.
And sometimes people think of congregations more as clubs – but it’s not simply a Jesus fan club – though I hope we all are fans of Jesus.
It’s not a social club – but we should be encouraged to be social, to have fellowship together (in whatever ways we can manage at the moment).
And it’s not a book club either – even though I hope we’re all taking time to read history’s greatest best seller.
We are not a club, we are not a company: we are the body of Christ. And we need to be Jesus’ hands and feet and eyes and mouth and heart, to each other, to all the people of Carlingford, and all the people of the world.
And to do that we need to offer ourselves to God, as a living sacrifice, so that we may be transformed…
To the glory of God.
Hymn: The church’s one foundation
Prayer of Intercession
We know You as our Creator, our Provider and our Redeemer. You are the platform upon which we live as you are involved in every aspect of our lives, from our beginning to our end – our Alpha and Omega. At this time as we gather in a virtual environment, we ask that You will make us alert to your presence in our time of worship.
Our churches, of all denominations, are facing challenging times as we seek to identify, and implement, new ways to worship. We give you thanks that there is evidence of many members of our communities turning to church broadcasts and web-based communications seeking reassurance and some comfort in these times of uncertainty. May your Spirit be working in the hearts and minds of these enquirers so that they might see You as the positive force that You are.
We also pray for those church members who are finding the new, virtual world of worshipping difficult to adjust to. Give them comfort and assurance that You remain their God whose love for them remains unchanged.
Our world is so different today to what we are used to. Many of the certainties that we have grown up with are no longer there. We accept that change is necessary, but when that change is forced on us unexpectedly, or not in ways that we may have envisaged, we feel uneasy and unsure of what lies ahead. Loving God, give us comfort, a sense of security and confidence that You are in control.
We look at the world around us and get worried.
The pandemic of coronavirus continues unabated. Loving God, we give You thanks for the progress that appears to be being made with the development of a vaccine. We pray that the multitude of researchers be guided to a vaccine that will lead to the removal of this scourge from our society.
We pray for responsible government and leadership in those countries where the virus is still running wild. We pray for those who are ill with the virus and those medical personnel providing wonderful service in the most difficult of circumstances. We uphold before You those families who have suffered loss and ask that they might feel the arms of your love surrounding them.
At the international level we grieve with the people of Lebanon following the horrific blast that occurred in Beirut a couple of weeks ago. We pray that military peace and economic stability will come to this failed country and life resumes some form of normality. Wherever there is conflict we pray that the marginalised and most vulnerable will be protected and the sanctity of human life pursued ahead of personal or national ambitions.
We pray for peace in the divided United States of America. As the Presidential election draws nearer, we pray that civility will be paramount in election discussions, debates and so on. We pray that the issues confronting this once great nation can be addressed with the driving force being the common good for all Americans.
We pray for our Joint Nominating Committee as they wrestle with some serious questions relating to the future ministry to be exercised here at Carlingford. We ask that they have wisdom as together with the Presbytery representatives they discern the way forward for our Congregation that brings glory to You.
We pray for Richie as he ministers amongst us. We give thanks that he has been available to faithfully bring Your Word to us week by week, provide pastoral care and assistance in the conduct of the mainly music program. Continue to give him strength and wisdom as he continues in this role.
We pray for our Congregation in this unusual time. May it be a time of renewal; a time of reconnection; a time of reflection; a time for renewing our life of faith. Help us to discover new ways of reaching out in friendship and support for others.
We pray for those members of our Congregation who grieve, those who are ill and those facing surgery. Be with them all.
We offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, who taught us when we pray, to say:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Hymn: From heaven you came
Offering and prayer
receive and bless the offering of our worship, and so consecrate our bodies, minds and spirits by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may give ourselves to you, a living sacrifice, dedicated and fit for your acceptance;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Go in peace, as living sacrifices to the God who created you, who redeemed you and who sustains you, and go praising God.
Go, assured of the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Looking Out: Travellers’ Guide to Heaven
Next week (August 30):
Theme: “Living God’s way”