Fourth Sunday of Creation Time: 2010

Fourth Sunday of Creation Time

Service of Worship for October 3, 2010 (Worldwide Communion Sunday)

by John Moses

Call to Worship

One:      Jesus often spoke of the great banquet:
All:         People coming from east and west and north and south
                to share in the new reality that God is bringing into being.
One:      We are not there yet.
All:         Sometimes it seems that there is a long, long way to go;
                we are travel-worn and discouraged.
One:      Today there is a table spread to refresh our souls;
                it reminds us of the hard way Jesus has already walked in love for us
                and it points to the shining promise of what will be.
All:         From east and west and north and south,
                with sisters and brothers far and near,
                in faith and in longing, we come.

Opening Prayer

Life is your gift to us, O God,
and life is sustained by this planet earth,
our wondrous, fragile home.
As we praise you for your goodness and love,
may we be inspired to cherish
what you have entrusted to us,
treating all things with respect and tender care.
May your Spirit help us find wisdom
to be your partners in the keeping of creation
until all is healed and made new.
We pray in the name of Jesus
who marvelled at the birds of the air
and the lilies of the field. Amen.

Hymn of Praise

“God of the Sparrow” (Voices United 229)

Children’s Moment

I would bring some good soil, some wheat or other grain seeds, some grapes, a loaf of bread, and some grape juice. I would invite the children to taste the grapes, juice, and bread and touch the seeds and the soil. Explain that it all starts with the soil and ask what else might be needed to get the juice and the bread. (Sun, rain, someone to tend the growing seeds, etc.) I would emphasize that the communion meal, which, like all our meals, begins with something as ordinary as dirt, reminds us how special (holy) ordinary things are and how we need to care for such special (holy) things. Some children might have experiences that they would want to share of helping things grow.

Prayer of Confession

Merciful One,
do we wear you out with our confessing?
You have shown us what is good
—to do justice and love kindness and walk humbly—
and yet, we keep on getting it wrong
and coming back to ask your forgiveness.
We would like to promise that this time will be different
but we know ourselves too well.
We are always in need of your mercy.
Our hope is that you will always be merciful,
ready to embrace our hurt and failure
and send us on our way again,
trying to find the fullness of what you have shown us.
We pray in the name of Jesus
who sat at table with sinners like us. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

One:      Hear the words of one who lamented a nation broken,
                a way of life vanished, a people oppressed:
                “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
                God’s mercies never come to an end;
                they are new every morning.”
All:         Great is your faithfulness, O God,
                we will hope in you!
One:      Trusting in God’s never-ending mercy,
                let us live daringly for what is good.
                We are forgiven.
All:         Great is your faithfulness, O God,
                we will hope in you!

(Based on Lamentations 3:22–24)

Sermon Suggestions

My first thought is that this a tough set of lections from which to wrestle a word either for Worldwide Communion Sunday or the Season of Creation. However, I would focus on the Gospel (Luke 17:5–10) and the second text from Lamentations (3:19–26).

In the reading from Luke the saying about faith the size of a mustard seed comes in response to the disciples’ plea, “Increase our faith!” (17:5) Their sense of a lack of faith or of the inadequacy of their faith seems to have been provoked by the preceding warning against causing “one of these little ones to stumble.” (17:2b). This is not quite as clear as it is in Matthew 17:28–29, where the disciples ask Jesus why they could not cast out a demon and he replies that it is “Because of your little faith.”

Well, how much faith do we need? How much faith does it take to cast out a demon or to prevent someone from stumbling or to forgive as we ought to forgive or to move a mountain—or a mulberry tree? Much of the time we are pretty sure that we don’t have enough faith, however much it takes. No matter what face we put on, we know what’s behind the mask. We know all about our doubts. We know how many are the days when we’re just hanging on by our fingernails.

Surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples how much more faith they need. He says, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed...” (17:6). From one perspective this can be tremendously discouraging. If all it takes is the tiniest little bit of faith, what does that say about me? Is my faith less than nothing?

On the other hand, maybe I have enough faith already. This possibility can give us pause to reflect on the nature of faith. Faith does not equal belief as we often suppose. It is more an orientation of the heart. It is an inclination, however slight, to trust in a reality alternative to the one in which we are usually immersed. Paradoxically, this kind of faith can manifest itself in the form of a distrust of the conventional wisdom that most often shapes our decisions and our lives.

For example, we are always being told that economic considerations will inevitably trump concerns for the health of our planet. We are also told that economics and care for the environment are mutually exclusive. Anyone who has caught a glimpse of the sovereign reign of God (the kin[g]dom) that Jesus announces will wonder about that, will entertain some doubts about the received doctrine. The same applies to other justice issues. Faith causes us to be profoundly skeptical of many things. And here is something to consider: What Paul called “the principalities and powers,” the mighty forces of domination and oppression, are really quite fragile because, in order to flourish, they require our uncritical assent. They require our unquestioning belief in their invincibility. Once we begin to have doubts about them, cracks appear in their foundations and in these cracks tiny seeds can take root. And then, all bets are off.

That is why faith (apparently so puny) is so powerful. It can result in things as improbable as a giant tree pulling up its roots and planting itself in the sea or a great mountain moving itself out of the way. Think of all the great social movements that have brought us a step along the way to a more just and humane world. Without exception, they began as absurd notions in the estimation of the dominant culture.

Free the slaves? Without slavery, the economy would grind to a halt and everyone, including those held in servitude, would be much worse off. Slavery, don’t you know, is ordained by God. Do away with child labour? Preposterous. Who would sweep the chimneys? Entire cities would burn down. Unemployed children would starve. Equality for women? The full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church? Saving our planet from the ravages of climate change and other abuse? All absurd, all impossible, until the scarcely visible seed of faith begins to take root and the unshakable foundations begin to crumble.

Lest we get carried away, the second part of the Luke text brings us back to earth. It speaks to us of duty and obligation and it likens the disciple to a slave, and a worthless slave at that (17:10b). Whether we like it or not, faith requires discipline. It is not about how optimistic we happen to be feeling on any given day. Sometimes, when our faith is weakest, what we have to do is keep on acting faithfully. We have to keep on doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly even though there is no reward and, quite possibly, no apparent result. We just keep on doing what we must do because we refuse to accept the inevitability that threatens to crush any love, any justice, any peace that dares raise its head.

It’s not all about us, though. Thank God, it’s not all about us. The Lamentations text evokes the heartbreak and near-despair of one who has witnessed the humiliation and devastation of a nation defeated and on the verge extinction. But the one who laments remembers that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, [God’s] mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning...” (3:22–23a). “Therefore I will hope in [God].” (3:24)

What catches my eye particularly in this passage is verses 25 and 26: “The Lord is good to…the soul that seeks [God]. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.” Waiting for God, waiting quietly for salvation, does not mean doing nothing. While we wait for what God is bringing to birth, we do what we can. In the context of those to whom Lamentations was originally directed that would have meant keeping the Law, continuing to walk with God in the path the Law provided, albeit in strange and daunting circumstances. For us it can mean not giving up on justice, not giving up on healing our planet even though we know this is not the time of fulfillment. It most assuredly means that we ought not to burn ourselves out because we won’t wait for God or because we have bought into the conviction that the promised day will never dawn.

I hope these are some thoughts off which fellow preachers can bounce their own insights. I have not written specifically about communion, but it is always in the background insofar as it is the banquet of the age to come and a harbinger of future promises as well as a commemoration of how Jesus gave himself for us. You may want to draw the lines more clearly.

Hymn of Faith

“We Cannot Own the Sunlit Sky” (More Voices 143)

Communion Prayer

One:      May God be with you.
All:         God’s Spirit is here among us.
One:      Lift up your hearts.
All:         We lift them up to the Holy One.
One:      Let us give thanks to the Maker of all.
All:         All our thanks, all our praise.
One:      When there was nothing, O God,
                you were.
                Through eons of endless eons,
                in ways surprising, complex, and beautiful
                you loved all things into being.
                And we, human beings,
                come so lately to the theatre of your creativity,
                give thanks and praise for the wonder of it all—
                the things we think we understand
                and the mysteries at every hand.
                With the awe-struck of heaven and earth, we say:
All:         Holy, holy, holy,
                great God of loving power,
                the universe shines with your glory.
                Holy, holy, holy.
One:      Because we long to be in relationship with you,
                we give thanks for faith’s assurance that you seek us—
                to walk with us and fulfill your purposes in us.
                We thank you for Jesus,
                Spirit-filled and Spirit-led,
                who proclaimed the nearness of your sovereign reign
                of justice and peace.
All:         Even as we give thanks,
                we remember how Jesus was despised and rejected
                and put to death for who he was
                and what he did and said.
                We lament what is still in us
                that rejects him in our day,
                and raises new crosses of pain and despair.
One:      But you, O God, are a persistent lover;
                you do not reject us when we turn our backs on you.
                You answer our “no”
                with the cosmos-shaking “yes” of resurrection,
                bringing new life to the barren wastes
                we have created.
                Therefore, we still gather in the presence of Jesus,
                now become for us the Living Christ.
                We keep the feast he asked us to keep
                in remembrance of him.
                In bread broken and wine poured out,
                we celebrate the banquet of the age to come.
All:         Life-giving God,
                as according to ancient story,
                you breathed into the dust of the earth
                to make a living soul,
                so now, breath upon these things of earth,
                this bread and this wine,
                that we may enter into the joy of Holy Communion
                and know the presence of Christ,
                in whose blessed name we pray. Amen.

(This prayer assumes that the words of institution will be said at the breaking of the bread and blessing of the cup. Here is a suggestion:)

Words of Institution

One day a sower went out to sow and scattered seeds on good ground.
Watered by the gentle rains, warmed by the sun,
the seeds grew and became stalks of grain.
In the hands of the miller and the hands of the baker
the grain became, first flour, and then bread.
In Jesus’ hands on the night he met betrayal and death
these gifts of soil and sun and rain and human skill
became a sign of a tender love that was willing to be broken for us.
“This is my body,” Jesus said.
And after supper there was the cup, filled with wine
from grapes ripened on a warm hillside,
also the gift of soil and sun and rain and human skill.
“This is the new covenant in my blood,” Jesus said.

Hymn of Departure

“Sent Forth by God’s Blessing” (Voices United 481)

Commissioning for Mission

Let us go out from this place questioning the certainty
that nothing ever really changes.
Let us go out from this place doubting
that wealth and power will always prevail.
Let us go out from this place and labour in faith
until trees walk and mountains move.

Benediction

May the Creator who gives us life
bless all our living.
May the Christ who gave himself for us
bless our self-giving.
May the Spirit who fills all things
fill us with a deep joy and a lively hope.

 

 

John Moses is the ministry team member responsible for worship and pastoral care at Trinity United Church in Charlottetown, PEI.


Additional Notes

Visual Display

I think it is important to try to draw the connection between the sacrament of Holy Communion and our dependence on the gifts of the earth and also the part played by human participation in all of this. Although this usually happens on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, I would place some sheaves of wheat or other grains around the worship space. There could also be pictures of people making bread or perhaps someone could actually be making bread as the service proceeds. Similarly, there could be bunches of grapes that might actually be crushed into juice. To emphasize the diversity of Worldwide Communion, everywhere dependent on the earth for its elements, there might be rice cakes and representations of other kinds of “the staff of life.” If you are able to do PowerPoint, there is potential for all sorts of evocative imagery.

Scripture as a Lens through which to View Some Aspect of Creation

Here I would turn to the first lection from Lamentations (1:1–6). The desolate city is an urban image, but it speaks urgently of the potential consequences of human action. It is quite clear that the city is suffering “for the multitude of her transgressions.” (1:5a) It should be equally clear that earth is suffering for the multitude of our transgressions. Some parts of earth are already desolate and forsaken. Others may become so. It is a bleak picture and this passage taken in isolation does not relieve the bleakness. There is, nonetheless, the underlying theme of the need to cease destructive behaviour and turn back to what brings life (repentance.) In simple terms, this is taking responsibility. And that is what we creatures of earth need to do.

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