Welcome to the Church
Welcome everyone to today’s service. If you are still in bed or still in your pyjamas, welcome, if you are listening late in the day or later in the week welcome, for our God welcomes us wherever we may be and whatever state we are in and although we are physically distanced the Spirit draws us together to spend time in the presence of our mighty God.
The effects of lock down life are weighing heavily on many of us at the moment so as Spring begins to burst into glorious blossom and foliage may we keep our eyes on the God who promises us a bright future.
Call to Worship
The Call to Worship is a responsive and if you would like to, I invite you to say along with me the words in bold font.
Let us worship God,
At your Word, O Lord,
the days lengthen,
and the warmth of the sun embraces bud and soil and seed.
You send rain and the earth turns from grey to green.
We come before you in wonder,
and we praise your Word, Jesus Christ in all his glory.
Hymn: 10,000 Reasons (Bless the Lord)
Prayers of Adoration
Let us pray,
Lord, your creation constantly surprises us with its beauty and splendour.
We praise you for making everything wonderfully well.
We praise you for the beauty of humankind,
for the ways in which we express love,
for the joy of intimate relationships,
for the opportunity to give and receive love.
We praise you for making us wonderfully well.
17 Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18 In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19 You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21 Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23 For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24 for they look at themselves and, ongoing away, immediately forget what they were like. 25 But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing.
26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
Prayer of Confession and Declaration of Forgiveness
Gracious God, we come before you with our prayers of confession,
When we fail to listen to others, forgive us Lord.
Sometimes we can only see our point of view,
and sometimes we are only interested in the sound of our own voice.
When we react too quickly and say things we regret,
teach us how to control our speech.
When we let emotions like anger get the better of us, grant us mercy.
and show us instead the way of compassion and gratitude.
When we fail to keep our focus on you
and allow other things to take away our attention, guide us back to your side.
When we kid ourselves about how good we are,
how righteous and pious,
inspire us to look more carefully into our own hearts and souls,
for we confess that we often fail to reach out to those who need us the most.
Lead us towards the pure and undefiled way of being,
the true religion that is based on our Lord Jesus Christ’s law of love.
In your great love for us you declare us holy and righteous,
for in you our sins are forgiven,
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Come as you are.
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 Springtime Rhapsody
8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23.
The Tradition of the Elders
7 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. 3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles. 5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.” …
14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.” …
21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”.
This is the word of the Lord, Thanks be to God
Sermon: God's Love Letter to You
I wonder how many sermons you can remember. When I think back throughout the decades there are only a handful that I can still recall. One of the most memorable takes me back about nine years ago and the preacher, a friend and mentor of mine spoke all about today’s lectionary reading from the Song of Solomon. The sermon lingers in my memory for two reasons, first, it was the first time I had ever heard someone preach out of this interesting and somewhat controversial piece of Scripture and secondly my friend unashamedly and openly spoke about its celebration of sensual, erotic, faithful human relationships.
My preacher friend explained that over the centuries theologians have debated why this unusual book even makes an appearance in the Bible. The answer for most is to see a connection between the love the man and woman have for each other as an expression of God’ love for God’s people Israel and later in current times the bond of love between Jesus and the church. Today, however I would like us to consider the words of love, the flirting, the wooing and the expressions of joy and hope in this reading as a love letter from God to each one of us. Before we do that though we are going to briefly think about some of the features of a loving relationship between lifelong partners.
Can you remember what it felt like to fall in love? Do you remember spending nearly every waking moment thinking about that special person and longing to be in their company? Everything about them seems wonderful, we are fascinated by the colour of their eyes, the curve of their mouth and every word they say is like gold. This state of infatuation, this first phase of love often described as love sickness, thankfully settles down over time and then the hard work begins, we start to build a relationship. If we are fortunate, we may spend decades with our beloved and over time something really weird often begins to happen. Have you ever noticed how people who have been together for ages begin to look and sound like each other? I have included some fun examples in the pictures below in the written text.
Psychologists suggest that long term couples start to resemble each other due to a number of factors. I have picked out three. First couples often “change or modify themselves” to form a better, more harmonious relationship. Secondly, couples who have journeyed together through life’s ups and downs develop similar frowns and laugh lines and lastly, they develop similar habits, routines, and diet. They also begin to appear to read each other’s minds and can finish each other’s sentences.
So, if we become more like our earthly lover or long-time companion over time what can we say about our relationship with the lover of our souls, our Lord Jesus?
In today’s reading from James, we are reminded that we are God’s own children, birthed through the word of truth. We are people gifted with new life in Christ and that my friends changes everything. James then goes on to explain how our relationship with Jesus should change and modify our behaviour. We are advised to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. James then commends us to rid ourselves of all human sordidness and rank growth of wickedness. These are quite harsh descriptions of human nature but if you want to be reminded of how messed up, we humans can be just watch the nightly news or better still listen again to the list of human brokenness in Mark:
For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come, fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
Sometimes we just have to wonder what God had in mind when he created human beings. The Scriptures tell us that all creation was condemned to lose its purpose because God willed it to be so. There is profound mystery in this but even more amazing and startling is the fact that even in our brokenness God makes the first move and reaches out to us with love and grace. When we respond to this divine ‘first move’ we enter into the greatest relationship of our lives.
In today’s readings from both Mark and James we are reminded that being in a relationship with God always means a change of heart and a change in our behaviour. If we think we are following Christ yet fail to become more and more like him by changing and modifying our behaviour, we need to have a good long look at ourselves. Following Christ and adopting his way of love, takes work and dedication, and as James points we can only do this if we keep our focus on the law of grace that sets us free. To encourage us to continue on this path and dedicate ourselves to mirroring the lover of our souls Jesus Christ it is good to remember at all times just how much we are loved.
When I read the poetic description of love in today’s Song of Solomon, I hear Christ say to all of us,
Arise my beloved, my beautiful one.
Come take my hand.
Walk with me and spend time with me
and I will show you the promise of new life.
The winter of your shame and fear has ended.
The flooding rain that threatened to wash you away is over and gone.
This new life will be like the beauty of spring flowers
and the cooing of doves.
It will be bursting with good things.
Arise my love, walk with me
for I am the lover of your soul.
You are now mine and I am yours.
May we live in Christ as Christ lives in us.
Hymn: Lover of my Soul
Prayers of Intercession
Ever-living, ever-present God, you are with us. Meet us, O Christ in this stillness of morning. Move us, O Spirit, to quiet our hearts. Mend us, O Father, from yesterday’s harms, from the discords of yesterday, resurrect our peace. From the discouragement of yesterday, resurrect our hope. From the weariness of yesterday, this moment matters. This is a moment we can be present to God, and God is present to us resurrect our strength. From the doubts of yesterday, resurrect our faith. From the wounds of yesterday, resurrect our love. Let us enter this new day, aware of our needs and awake to your grace, we remember those for who this time is one of uncertainty and challenge, those who now live with fear and in isolation, and those for whom this time is one of anguish.
Holy God, you encourage us when doubtful to draw closer to you. Allow us to recognise your Holy Spirit as our guide, comforter, and companion. And so with the hope you instil in us, and when the time is right, and this season of our church is over, we will return as your gathered community celebrating our resilience, to worship together, knowing our communities are stronger than ever to continue your work, to help build a flourishing world where ever we find ourselves.
God, when there is so much going on in our hearts, in the world, when there is so much pain around us, we find ourselves wanting to just stay huddled up inside. May we be thankful that we can go outdoors and enjoy the sunshine, and all that you have created. O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation.
In western NSW, this Lockdown and being isolated from family is the most foreign and distant feeling to that of the strong kinship systems that exist within Indigenous Families and Communities, and this is having devastating effects due to many families being struck with the COVID virus and being unable to care for each other in a way that is normal and natural. While many are suffering from illness, loneliness, fear and anxiety – we have some that are struggling with the most basic needs including accessing food and basic supplies and staying connected with information and essential resources. Some of our most remote communities have no local store and need to travel to get the basics. Panic buying and shelf shortages, adds to the disadvantage in being able to access essential food and medical supplies. In some households there may be no access to a vehicle, no over the phone or online payment methods, lack of drivers licensing and so many other complexities that we may not ever encounter under normal circumstances. Be with our Indigenous Brothers and Sisters at this time.
We have all watched the devastating developments in Afghanistan over the last week with feelings of anger, sadness and helplessness. For those people in Afghanistan, we can’t begin to imagine their fears for the future under Taliban rule. And for the people here in our communities – who have sought asylum in Australia – many continue to live in limbo, their cases for protection still undetermined or rejected, as they watch the unfolding crisis that is affecting their families, friends and communities O God, Wisdom of the universe, you bear the pain of your people. Be with the families of those who died in the bomb blasts, the Afghani Nationals, and the American soldiers.
Grant us the gift of wisdom, that we may discern your way and live justly and graciously amid the struggles of this world.
We pray for those in our Church we know that are struggling, for those living alone, for those who are not well, for those missing contact Family relationships.
We pray for our mainly music families, and also those in our WOW Group, whom we haven’t seen for a long time, be with them all, that they will know that the prayers we pray are for them as well. We pray for the children and parents doing home schooling, Lord give them both the patience to teach, and the patience to learn in these hard times, with the hope of returning to school, in the next month or so.
Dear Lord we know that we are at an important crossroads as a Church here in Carlingford. We are being given an opportunity moment to rethink who we are, and what direction we should take, and who we are as a Church, to seek new ideas and enthusiasm to reach out and engage with others in our community. We need to seize this opportunity to listen to who we are. This means that we need a dramatic change in the witness and mission activity of the Carlingford congregation. Please listen to our prayers Lord, for our Church Council, that wisdom will be granted, both to Carlingford and West Epping representatives, as discussions recommence. Let’s not retreat, but re-frame how the Church can operate in our society and the world. Let's be the community that God wants us to be.
We pray for our Elders and our Pastoral partners, and we ask that the Holy Spirit will work through all of us. Loving God, you bless us, you hear us, you sustain us, and you give to us – unfailingly, unconditionally, and lovingly.
Be with us Lord in the week ahead as we go out onto the world to be your servants. Loving God, we pray the prayer that Jesus taught us …
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. Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. AMEN
In enthusiasm and hope,
in humility and community,
in trust and expectation,
we make our offering to God.
Hymn: Lord of the Dance
The Lord bless you and keep you:
the Lord make his face to shine upon you
and be gracious unto you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you,
and give you peace.
Next Week: 5 September 2021
Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9, 22-23, Psalm 125, James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17, Mark 7: 24-37.
Proverbs 22:1-2,8-9, 22-23, Psalm 125, James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17, Mark 7: 24-37.