Monthly Archives: October 2021

Sunday Worship at MtE – 31 October 2021

The worship service for Sunday 31 October 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below. 

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

31 October – Surrounded by martyrs

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All Saints Day

Hebrews 12:1-3
Psalm 24
John 11:32-44

Sermon preached by Rev. Dr Peter Blackwood

Tomorrow is All Saints Day – a feast day of the church whose earliest mention is in the writings of Ephrem Syrus who died in 373CE. By 407 it was celebrated on the first Sunday after Pentecost which is where it is still observed in Orthodox churches. The Western church moved it to 13 May 609 and then to 1 November by Pope Gregory IV prior to 844. It became a very handy day for remembering all the saints for whom there were no special days assigned.

The celebration of All Saints has come into Protestant consciousness relatively recently. So what is our expectation of observing All Saints Day. It is always on 1 November, and yet many churches pull into the nearest Sunday (as we have today). It doesn’t warrant a special civic holiday like Christmas. So what is expected of us in this celebration?

One place to look could be in the minds of those who determine the readings for the day in the three-year ecumenical lectionary. This gets a bit complex if all the readings – Hebrew Scriptures, Psalms, Epistles and Revelation, and the Gospels. Let’s keep it simple and consider the Gospels. In the year of Matthew, the reading is the Beatitudes. In the year of Luke, the reading is the Beatitudes. But in the year of Mark, which gospel does not have any beatitudes, the reading is the raising of Lazarus in John’s gospel with particular emphasis on the family and Jesus mourning his death.

We could surmise that the lectionary compilers would like the church to focus on those who mourn. The Beatitudes announce blessings on those who mourn, those who weep, and John tells of the family in mourning. So it is that on this celebration we remember those whom we mourn. For many of us that will include those whose lives of faith in Christ has impacted on our own lives and faith. It is a good time for a congregation to gather in memory and thanksgiving, those from among us who have died during the past year, since the last All Saints Day.

There is a reading that would be included in the lectionary anthology for All Saints if I were the compiler of the three-year lectionary – Hebrews 12 ‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses…’. How could it have been left out of our lectionary? Maybe because the focus is on us – the gaze of the witnesses is on us, not us on them. Maybe because of the horrific list of sufferings the witnesses endured at the tail end of chapter 11. Indeed, these witnesses are martyrs. The Greek for witness is μάρτυρας (martyras). English translations of the New Testament never render this as ‘martyr’ but this is an occasion when it would be appropriate. A good time to remember that witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ is a risky business.

I am a volunteer coordinator of an icon school. One of my tasks is to lead iconographers in a reflective meditation on an icon. As we contemplate the icon of a saint I tell the story of the saint, listing the virtues and quoting the words for which the person is venerated by the church. I will often then ask two questions – “As you look upon this image of this saint, what do you see? As this saint looks upon you, what might he or she see in you?” This provides, I hope, an invitation into self-examination in light of the virtues of the saint.

My questions are prompted by our Hebrews reading. The text evokes a word picture. The scene is an athletics arena – ‘… let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us…’ – the ancient athletes stripped of their clinging clothing. The witnesses are in the stands watching. They are looking at us as we run. And what might they see? The writer of the letter instructs that the cloud of martyrs will see the runners (Hebrews 12:2) ‘looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.’

I guess this holds the clue as to why the cloud-of-witnesses text doesn’t get a go in the All Saints lectionary. It is not about the witnesses who have gone before. It is about us. Because the witnesses witnessed and are looking at us, we who are running the race are to respond as people, who like them, are faithful to Jesus. The text kind of deflects the attention away from the saints that this celebration invites us to remember. Yes, but I would hope that this celebration is not just a focus on the loved ones gone before, to assist our grief, to remind us to be grateful of our inheritance from them. Each Christian celebration is to evoke a change in us – to draw us on in faithful obedience.

Yes, we look to the saints, our own cherished ones who have lived among us and who are now dead. We remember with thanksgiving the examples of faith in Christ that they set us, but their example surely prompts a response from their inspiration to examine our own faith journey. How is our race running? The cloud of witnesses, the cloud of martyrs reminds us that for the saints in the letter to the Hebrews, the race of faith was perilous. Looking to Jesus and choosing the way of faith is perilous as it was for the cloud of martyrs. It is a call to lay aside the sin that clings to lay aside greed, to lay aside seeking power advantage, to lay aside motives of political expediency. ‘[L]ooking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith…’

MtE Update – October 29 2021

  1. Worship this October 31 will  be live-streamed VIA ZOOM at 10.00am. Please see the streaming link on the homepage for the Zoom link; the service will also be recorded for later viewing, although only those with liturgical roles (readings, prayers, etc.) will be ‘caught’ in the distributed recording. 
  2. We will return to gathered worship in the church on Sunday November 7!!! Attendance at gathered services will be limited to those who demonstrate that they have had two COVID-19 vaccination shots, or that they are exempt from being vaccinated. Please see here for more information.
  3. The most recent Synod eNews (Oct 28)
  4. The most recent news from the UCA Assembly (Oct 27)
  5. This Sunday October 31, our preacher will be Peter Blackwood. The readings will reflect the All Saints theme, All Saint being November 1: Hebrews 12:1-3, Psalm 24, John 11:32-44.

Returning to Worship at MtE

Attendance only for fully vaccinated people

We will be returning to gathered worship in the church on Sunday November 7, 2021

The church council of MtE recently considered the logistics of returning to gathered worship under the present health directives, and resolved that:

  • MtE gather for public worship as a fully vaccinated/exempt-only community;
  • MtE continue to provide online access to live and recorded services for at least the duration of these limited worship gatherings;
  • MtE return to gathered worship on Sunday 7 November; and
  • this policy be reviewed at the December Church Council meeting.

This is to say that if you have not had both COVID-19 vaccinations, you will not be able to attend Sunday morning public worship at MtE until vaccination ceases to be a factor impinging on social gatherings

The following summary of the rationale for the above resolution was also approved:

  • The Church Council has determined that, in view of the current health crisis, our public worship services would be open only to people fully vaccinated against COVID-19, and to those exempt from vaccination. While individuals are free not to be vaccinated, we believe vaccination to be the best response of Christians to the present health crisis. In vaccination, we express concern for each other as much as for ourselves. This policy is intended to reflect that conviction and will apply until such vaccination ceases to be relevant for public gatherings. We recognise that this means some might not be able to participate fully in congregational activities, and we will seek to offer ministry to these as we are able. If you are in this situation, please contact the minister for discussion.

Putting this into practice

This policy requires that, in order to attend gathered worship services at MtE for the time being, it is necessary to demonstrate that you have received your double COVID-19 vaccination or are exempt from vaccination. There are several ways of doing this:

  • Download a copy of your vaccination certificate from your MyGov account and email it Rod M or Craig T for recording;
  • Take a screenshot of your digital certificate in the Medicare app on your smartphone and email or text it to Rod or Craig;
  • Bring your phone and show it to the attendance recorder (usually Rod M or Peter B!) on the first Sunday you attend;
  • Phone Medicare and request that a copy of your certificate be posted to you, and bring it to church to show us.

More information about obtaining a vaccination certificate is available on this government page. If you’re still unsure of how to access one of these options, please check with Rod or Craig or a tech-savvy family member!

It will help us if you are able to send us confirmation of vaccination prior to your first attendance back at church, but on the day is also fine.

While it will continue to be necessary to record your attendance at church via the QR code each week (as before the most recent lockdown), your vaccination status needs only to be demonstrated once. Our record of your vaccination will include that you have been vaccinated and the date of your second vaccination, and will only be held for as long as we might need to demonstrate to health authorities that the gathered congregation is fully vaccinated.

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 31B; Proper 26B (Sunday between October 30 and November 5)

The following links are to the Revised Common Lectionary commentary pages of Howard Wallace and Bill Loader, and are suggested as preparation for hearing the readings in worship for the Sunday indicated above.

Ruth 1:1-18 and Psalm 146 see also By the Well podcast on this text 

       Mark 12:28-34 see also By the Well podcast on this text  

Hebrews 9:11-14 see also 

Sunday Worship at MtE – 24 October 2021

The worship service for Sunday 24 October 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below. 

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

24 October – Eyes wide shut

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Pentecost 22

Psalm 126
Mark 10:46-52

In a sentence
With Bartimaeus, we have need of our eyes being opened, to see that God sees – and loves – us.

As with all miracle stories in the Bible, so also with the healing of blind Bartimaeus: we should not be too distracted by the miracle itself. Even if things happened exactly the way in which they are told in the gospel, the story is not told simply that we might believe that Jesus once healed a blind man. Today’s reading asks not whether we believe Jesus once brought sight to a blind man but whether we see clearly ourselves.

This is the second healing of a blind man in Mark’s gospel. In both cases, the healing takes place just before a revelation of Jesus’ hidden identity. The miracles are not simply about seeing; they are about seeing Jesus.

Immediately following the first healing of a blind man (Mark 8.18ff), we hear Jesus declared to be God’s anointed king (Messiah-Christ) and then of the qualification of this kingship by the cross. Immediately following today’s story of Bartimaeus, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey, a traditional way in which Israel’s king would enter the city (cf. Zechariah 9.9). This sign of kingship will be qualified now not by the prediction of the cross but its realisation. Eyes are opened to see a king, if, strangely, a crucified one.

Kings are as foreign to us today as are the miracles of the Gospels, but the king is just a contemporary sign Mark uses to identify Jesus. Bartimaeus cries out and his is sight restored, and what he sees is Jesus. The text’s question to us, then, is not whether we can believe that Jesus could fix a blind person’s eyes but, Are we blind to Jesus?

This is not an easy question to answer, for implicit here is that if we don’t see Jesus, then we don’t see ourselves properly. This is then a strange blindness: we might not know that we are blind.

The possibility of not knowing we are blind is not simply a ‘religious’ proposal. In our social discourse today, there are raging outings of blindness – of those blind to their own violence, privilege, cultural appropriation, racism, or whatever. We seek to unveil what is hidden, what has been blended into the background and so is overlooked. Or we seek to resist its unveiling.

In this political opening of eyes, however, there is deep accusation. We shake each other awake: ‘Can’t you see?’ It is our guilt we are to see: the effects of our blindness on others.

With Bartimaeus, however, there is no accusation. If Bartimaeus had his eyes opened, the healing is an answer to the problem he knew he had but was not his fault. Even if we wonder whether such a thing could happen, we understand what would be happening if it did. An honest answer is given to an honest question.

If the story is about our blindness to our blindness, things are different. Now the healing reveals the problem: that we have been living with our eyes wide shut. A serious question is put to what where our certain answers. Yet, there is still no accusation here, no guilt. Miracle stories are about what we cannot do for ourselves, and this is no less the case when the miracles are metaphors: it takes God’s healing power to reveal this kind of blindness, too.

And the healing is not a one-off. To have our eyes opened – to see something of God and ourselves in Jesus – is not the end of the matter. Bartimaeus does a strange thing when his eyes are opened. Instead of running home to see his family for the first time in years(?) or anything else a just-re-sighted person might do, he ‘follows Jesus on the way’.

To have our eyes opened to our blindness is to learn that we do not know when we are blind. If seeing is first seeing Jesus, then keeping Jesus close – following Jesus – is the way to see clearly who we are and what is happening around us.

Of course, this is not merely ‘looking’ at Jesus. Religious adoration is not the point, at least not here. To see Jesus is to see him seeing me, affirming what I can become, whoever and wherever I am. Having our eyes opened will mean different things for each of us. The rich and the poor are blind in this way, but differently so, and seeing will mean different things. And so also for the young and the old; for the parent and the child; the wife and the husband; the white and the black.

We all know that we don’t know, can see that we can’t see, and it is usually the case that there is nothing we are able to do about it but act in ignorance, step out blindly, and see what happens. And this delivers us the world we live in today.

The cry of those who find themselves in these circumstances is not different from that of Bartimaeus. We need to see more clearly: Son of God, have mercy on me. See me, that I might see.

Our story today assures us: God does see us, and gives us a vision of ourselves through God’s own eyes, that we might begin to walk God’s way.

This is the beginning of our healing, our waking up, our being made new.

May Bartimaeus’ prayer for healing be ours, that God might heal us.

MtE Update – October 23 2021

    1. Worship this October 24 will  be live-streamed VIA ZOOM at 10.00am. Please see the streaming link on the homepage for the Zoom link; the service will also be recorded for later viewing, although only those with liturgical roles (readings, prayers, etc.) will be ‘caught’ in the distributed recording. It is not necessary to have a web-camera to view the live-streamed service; connect via Zoom and you’ll see what is to be seen, but just won’t be seen yourself!
    2. Our Melbourne Uniting Churches’ Justice Coalition is hosting an online event on asylum seeker issues on THIS SUNDAY Octotber 24: details.
    3. For those interested who enquired about the version of the organ the Saint-Saens organ movement featureed in the most recent MtW, was performed by Zuglo Philharmonic (Budapest) with Hamori Máté.
    4. If you’ve not checked out what’s happening in Hotham Mission, have a look!
    5. The most recent Presbytery News (October 18)
    6. The most recent Synod eNews (Special post-virus edition, Oct 21)
    7. The most recent news from the UCA Assembly (October 20)
    8. This Sunday October 24, and perhaps for the remainder of the year, we will return to set Sunday readings in the lectionary. This Sunday we our focus text will be Mark 10.46-53. See here for some commentary on the gospel text.

Lectionary Commentary – Sunday/Ordinary 30B; Proper 25B (Sunday between October 23 and October 29)

The following links are to the Revised Common Lectionary commentary pages of Howard Wallace and Bill Loader, and are suggested as preparation for hearing the readings in worship for the Sunday indicated above.

Job 42:1-6, 10-17 see also By the Well podcast on this text and Psalm 34:1-8 (19-22)

       Mark 10:46-52 see also By the Well podcast on this text

Hebrews 7:23-28

Sunday Worship at MtE – 17 October 2021

The worship service for Sunday 17 October 2021 can be viewed by clicking on the image below. 

Other worship services can be found in the list below or at the MtE YouTube channel

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