This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on January 3rd at 10:30am
Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not ready to return to public gatherings. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate online may use this material at any time for their private devotions. If ‘two or three’ are gathered with you, you may choose a ‘leader’ in order to use the responsive prayers and readings as you would in church.
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“I refuse to be intimidated by reality anymore. What is reality? Nothing but a collective hunch.”
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.
LIGHTING THE CANDLE
“Let there be light!”
Let it shine in dark places, in moments of pain, in times of grief,
in the darkness of hatred, violence, oppression,
where there is discouragement and despair.
Wherever darkness is to be put to flight, “Let there be light!”
R: Join hands and hearts in common endeavour.
L: And there will be no limit
R: to what we can achieve together.
ACT OF APPROACH
Creative Spirit of life and love, we have gathered in this sacred place at the start of a new year.
May we continue to create here a circle of love, ever expanding, ever growing.
A place of wisdom. A place of connection. A place of hope.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation –“Before the Big Bang” by Rev. Bruce Prewer
In the beginning was the YES!
The YES was then with God and was always of God.
Before time-space, the YES was there;
without it no thing was or ever could become.
YES was the source of all things and brought light and life
to earth patterned beings.
In the darkness the YES always shines outflanking fear.
Full of grace and truth.
And this YES became a mortal, dear to God’s heart
yet truly one with us.
Oh invisible YES we see you!
Though intangible we touch you and live!
Let silence be placed around us now, like a beach towel.
May this towel of silence become a cloak of understanding
to warm our hearts and cool our body,
this day, this week, this new year.
(30 seconds silence)
WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIP
L: Most loving and most lovely God, we yearn for you and adore you, even though the beauty of your ways leaves us acutely aware of our malformed lives. As we have done on frequent occasions, we commit ourselves to your mercy, knowing that you are here waiting for us.
If, like sleep walkers, we wander from you without realising what we are doing, lead us back to where we truly belong, we pray.
L: If, like hypochondriacs, we become absorbed with our guilt to the point where self pity replaces repentance, confront and heal us, we pray
R: If, like adventure-seekers looking for an adrenalin rush, we take foolish risks with temptation and place ourselves in a vulnerable position, rebuke us and redirect us, we pray.
L: If, like discontented investors, we begin calculating how much we get out of our faith, and lose the sense of wonder in treasuring your love, confront and deliver us, we pray.
R: If, like mutineers hoisting up a tatty flag, we not only ignore our conscience but openly defy your clear Word in Christ, storm us and capture us, we pray.
L: Faithful and most liberal God, please help us to let go of excuses and fears; to release ourselves into the abundance of your saving grace in Christ Jesus; to humbly accept forgiveness; and to allow your Word to point our minds to noble goals and direct our feet in the paths of love. Through Jesus our Lord. Amen!
L: Friends we are the shareholders of a great fortune. Out of the storehouse of God’s loving, we have received grace upon grace, and are granted the right to become children of God.
R: Thanks be to God.
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 1:1-18
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God; 3 all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. 8 He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.
9 The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. 11 He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; 13 who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. 15 (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fulness have we all received grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Which God?”
No one has ever seen God; but God’s only Son, he who is nearest the Father’s heart, he has made God known. John 1:18
But which one? God may be given many different names in different languages, and worship is expressed in diverse ways among many cultures, but our beliefs affirm there can be only one. However, this is not to say that we Christians have a better handle on G-O-D than anyone else. Rather, we have a particularly Christian take on God, and as Christians, we need to be able to talk about God, within the church and outside it, in a particularly Christian way.
But still I will ask: But what kind of God is that one true God in our particularly Christian way of speaking? Which is the nature of God you worship? Behind the names we give God, what is the essential character of that God in a Christian framework?
- If some want to call God the Creator, then the question is: What kind of Creator?
- If others wish to call God the Divine Judge: What style of a Judge?
- If one believes that God is the Righteous One: What variety of Righteousness is this?
- If the belief is centred on the Holy One: What is the character of this Holiness?
- If God is to be worshipped as Liberator: What is the style of this Liberation?
- If God is seen as the Ever-Present-Spirit: What are the personal traits of this Spirit?
- If God is honoured as “Father”: What is the nature of this Fatherliness?
- If God is prayed to as Mother: What are the qualities of the divine Motherliness?
- If God is the Mind-Purpose driving all time and space: What is the Mind-Purpose like?
Which God is it we worship? What kind of God in our Christian perspective?
- Involved or uninvolved in creation?
- Caring or uncaring?
- Ruthless or compassionate?
- Dependable or capricious?
- Ethical on non-ethical?
- Vengeful or forgiving?
- Rigid or permissive?
- Bullying or nurturing?
In the Hebrew Scriptures, we glimpse various ways people viewed the one true God. And no matter how sincere these views were held, and no matter how more advanced than the pagan superstitions that surrounded the Jewish people, some of these views seem incompatible.
Turn now to the sublime words found in the great prologue of the Gospel according to St John. “No one has ever seen God; but God’s only Son, he who is nearest the Father’s heart, he has made God known.” John 1:18
The absolutely simple, yet at the same time ineffably profound, truth is this: Jesus of Nazareth totally determines the Christian definition of God. If you want to see the nature of God, look on Jesus. That’s how it is for us. Again I remind you, the Christian view is not the total encapsulation of God; it is not the totally determinative perspective; however, for Christians it is the starting point; it is what we have been given to work with as we journey toward God.
We may well be asking the wrong question as we seek to define God, for a child with a most limited theological understanding who trusts in Jesus, and prays to Jesus as if he were the totality of God, is much closer to the heart of the Mysterious Glory, than many urbane, well-educated, astute people who seek to understand God. The child can be wiser than the very clever, sophisticated and theologically erudite men and women who say there must be a God, yet reduce such a God to the inaccessible “Divine Mind” that existed before the Big Bang that started this universe.
For Christians, the nature of God; the personal nature, the kind of God that God is, has been most surely revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. This we most emphatically affirm, even though it can ever be only partial. It is not so much what God is, but what God is for us in a functional way; the way faith works for us; the way we grow.
The Christmas Season which we have been celebrating moves on into Epiphany on Tuesday, the 6th of January. The Epiphany, meaning ‘unveiling of God’, is pictorially expressed in the story of the three wise men coming from the East to worship Jesus. It is a declaration that the God we worship is the God that includes the nature of Jesus. This infant Epiphany is climaxed years later, in most amazing way, as Christ is nailed and left to die on a cross.
In the contemporary scene, many Christians, and I certainly am one of this number, have been attempting to find new ways of talking about God. We look for new ways that will more adequately express our faith, and witness to the faith in a modern scientific and changing world. We want to break free from what is seen as distortions of the idea of God by traditional Western culture. In particular, we want to be free of monarchical, imperialistic and masculine models of God. Thinkers, like Sallie McFague, consider that the original ‘Father’ word for God, as used by Jesus, was corrupted by the power-brokers of Western Christendom from at least the time Emperor Constantine.
Throughout my own faith journey, and certainly as it has played out in my ministry, I have been seeking for new ways in which to express the reality of God. Of one thing I am sure: in the Christian concept of God, whatever words and images we use must carry the qualities of God as revealed by Jesus. The whole advent, teaching, healing, suffering, dying and rising of Jesus must radically shape and colour the ‘image’ of God we take to our mind and heart. As German theologian Jurgen Moltmann kept reminding us over decades, we must never get far from the Crucified One in our understanding of the nature of God..
When we want to use the word ‘Father’ it should be Jesus-shaped fatherhood. Not gathered from the good fathering we may have seen in some families, but on that which is revealed in the word and way of Jesus, from the celebrating father in the story of the prodigal son to the father into whose hands the crucified Christ commits his spirit.
When we want to use a word like ‘Friend’ it cannot derive its core meaning from good friends we may have known and enjoyed. Its meaning must flow from the One who was “friend of tax-gatherers and sinners” and from that “greater love” that “lays down his life for his friends” and his enemies.
When we want to call God ‘Divine Lover’, the mental ‘model’ should never be shaped from the even the most treasured of our human loves, but on the quality of the gentle, fierce, costly, cross-carrying love of Christ.
When we prefer to think of God as Liberator, then the crucial elements in our concept of God must be drawn from the non-violent, self-giving of Jesus. “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
God, or at least that portion of God known in the Christian tradition, is like Jesus. That may seem like blasphemy to some, and utter nonsense to others, but for those who have been gathered into the healing, liberating, confronting, nurturing love of Christ, it is a Light exceeding all other. God is like Jesus.
- God as Creator, must be understood in the light of the Creator’s true Son.
- God as Judge, must take on the values and activities of the Man from Nazareth.
- God as the Righteous One is defined by the righteousness of Jesus, and Holiness by the quality of Christ’s ‘otherness’.
Our private definitions of the Holy Spirit cannot be allowed to slip into some twenty-first century variety of superstitious animism. We must not digress from the practical, loving charisma of the humble Galilean.
The Mind-Purpose (beloved of cosmologists) driving billions of years of cosmic evolution and the source of the mega explosion that resulted in immeasurable stars and planets, can only be understood by being a humble learner in the school of Christ.
I hope you have gotten the message: Christ is crucial to a Christian understanding of God. With God’s help we will move on to a much greater understanding, encompassing much more than the person of Jesus, but Jesus gives us our start, and his spirit leads us on. In fact, as we grow, we realise that ‘understanding’ is over-rated. What we understand, how we define God, what we believe, is nowhere near as important as how we live. Jesus never asked anyone to believe anything; rather, he merely invited people to follow.
No one has ever seen God; but God’s only Son, he who is nearest the Father’s heart, he has made God known.
LITANY: ‘Spirit of Life’
L: At the beginning of a new year, and in response to the word reflected on, let us share a special litany. Out of the ordinariness of the bare earth, has been brought the extraordinariness of human life.
R: The spirit of Creativity God lives within us.
L: In the ordinariness of the bare earth we plant seed from last year’s flower gardens.
R: The spirit of Creativity God lives within the gardens.
L: Out of the ordinariness of water comes the life of the seed.
R: The spirit of Creativity God lives within the water.
L: In human life and in the life of the Bellarine lies the life of this community.
R: The spirit of Creativity God lives within this community.
L: From the life of Creativity God comes life and community and recreation.
R: In the beginning was Creativity God.
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD
In the following prayers, I ask you as the family of God to use your imagination and picture diverse people being placed in the arms of God. Let us pray.
Holy Friend, help us in these prayers to let go of our self-importance, to quieten our impatient hands, to align ourselves with your will; and to co-operate with all that you are doing for the liberation and healing of humankind.We hand over to you our loved ones and friends, near or far away; May they, whether strong or weak in faith, co-operate with your purposes and fulfil their lives in ways beyond their anticipation.
We hand over to you our church, its members and its leaders. May we, in concert with your universal church on earth in its many branches, participate in the mission of Christ with humble zeal and untiring love.
We hand over to you the individuals within the church family for whom today seems like an uneven battle with adversity. May they know that around them are the “everlasting arms” which never weary or faint.
We hand over to you our brave but gravely flawed systems of democratic government. May the better intentions of our politicians survive the cynical pressures of powerful lobby groups and become legislation that will better the lives of the least powerful among our citizens.
We hand over to you systems of government in other nations that seem even more flawed than ours. Just as you are prepared to work within our limitations, may your Spirit also work within theirs, and bring the world closer to peace and goodwill for all.
We hand over to you the coming week. Whatever pleasure, pain, uplift or downfall, may come our way, please give us the grace to entrust all things to you, that both good and bad may be woven into a tapestry of greater purpose, and our daily lives declare your praise. Through Christ Jesus our Friend and Redeemer. Amen!
THE LORD’S PRAYER
CELEBRATING COMMUNITY: Sacrament of Holy Communion
(Current UCA regulations allow lay people to prepare, sanctify and preside over Holy Communion, including in their own home. These regulations are temporary, but will remain in place at least until March 31, 2021)
R: Praise and wonder be.
L: God of the lingering sunset and early dawn,
R: Praise and wonder be.
L: God of the hot north wind and the refreshing shower, God of the shady tree and the cool water bag, God of the ripening harvest and sparkling sea,
R: Praise and wonder be.
L: We gather together conscious that raising our hearts and minds is a gift of the Spirit of Life at work in the depths of our being.
R: For the presence of that Spirit in us, we give thanks.
L: We gather together conscious that our actions gives the Spirit a way of breaking into word and song unique in all the universe.
R: For the words and songs within each of us, we give thanks.
L: We gather together mindful of men and women throughout human history who allowed the Spirit of Life to work in them for the betterment of our world and humanity.
R: For their lives and their inspiration, we give thanks.
L: And so we offer our thanks and praise inviting the Spirit of Life, Love and Goodness to move freely in our words and actions.
R: Holy, holy, holy, celebrating God,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God.
Hosanna in the highest.
L: Jesus is the story we gather around and give thanks for. Human like us, he discerned where this Spirit of Life is found: in the everyday, in human interaction, in caring, in sharing, in being neighbour. He urged people to work together to establish the ‘reign of God’ by wholehearted generosity, by eliminating boundaries between people, by trust in the goodness of people, and by working for peace and justice in all human endeavours.
L: We also remember the meal tradition of Jesus. (Silence) So we take this bread and this wine
R: mindful of the Spirit at work in our lives, in the ordinary, in the everyday, and in our desire to love as generously as Jesus loved.
Bread and Wine
(Raise cup) We fill this cup with the fruit of the vine, reminding us of promises to love, of love generously shared, of Jesus who loved so totally, and our call to love as courageously as Jesus loved.
Communion (the bread and wine are consumed)
We give thanks for the Spirit of Life visible in Jesus, visible in us, visible in people in all walks of life. We give thanks for faith that recognises and names this presence and this bonding of all people. We pray that we will allow the life and the teaching of Jesus to motivate all that we do so that what we profess to have seen in his life and heard in his teaching might be evident in our living and loving.
GOING WITH GOD’S BLESSING
That holding this treasure which is far too much for you, you may share this wealth by many gracious deeds and words, I bless you in the name of the living Christ.
That in your enthusiasm you may display tact and sensitivity, and when bruised or weary you may exhibit patience and fortitude, I bless you in the name of the living Spirit.
The peace of the thrice-personal God be with you, my friends.