The following service was streamed live via Zoom on May 2nd at 10:30am.
The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day. 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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“True love is really Divine love on a pilgrimage.”
(Bishop Fulton J. Sheen)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.
R: as we celebrate our vibrant, strong past.
L: God’s spirit calls us to a new vision,
R: as we struggle with life as it is now.
L: God’s spirit calls us in compassionate love,
R: as we wonder and worry and wait.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Spirit of Life, bless us through this day and through this life, till this day ends, and a new day dawns. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation “God is Ignited by Life” by Michael Benedikt.
God is ignited by life. God is lit in the living. Chance gives us opportunity, and imagination gives us choice, but God helps us choose. God does not preside over battle; God does not hover over the smoking field of destruction, but wells up in the tears of those who bend over the wounded. God did not make the ovens of Auschwitz; or watch the Nazis build them and do nothing…but was extinguished “himself” over and over again…Life is necessary but not sufficient for God to come to be. There is no God of molecules. There is no God of fibrillating sea urchins. There is no God of blindworms or chickadees or whales. But there is a God who is for them all, and who loves them all, through us. For God begins and ends with our activity, with what we do for life.
Let there be a time of silence between us…(Pause)…May the silence remind us of the best hours we have known, and strengthen our resolve to live in that spirit that gives the better meaning to our lives. Let us open ourselves to the process of becoming more whole: of living more fully; of giving and forgiving more freely; of understanding more completely the meaning of our lives here on this earth.
(30 seconds silence)
L: Most holy God, most of the time we see ourselves as nice people, trying to do the right thing in a difficult world. We try not to lie, cheat, malign, abuse or hurt others. We try to serve you through the church and within the community. We pray for peace and justice, and we attempt to forgive those who sin against us. By the standards of the wider community we may not have done badly.
R: Yet deep within we know how far we fall short of the love-standard set by Jesus, and we even fall beneath the level that our own ideals have set us. We feel compromised and mislead by this hustling world with its glitter. We become frustrated and undermined by negativity within ourselves which divert us and lead us down into spiritual inertia.
L: Loving God, we certainly need your pardoning grace and humbly we ask for it. But also we need much more.
R: We seek the grace of self honesty, and a sharper awareness of our own hearts. We need your illuminating grace, helping us to see through the humbug of society.
L: We ask for your motivating grace to make us more hungry for the art of true loving, and more eager for your enabling grace to assist us.
R: Grant us these graces we pray, for without you we are as nothing. Hear our prayer, through Christ our Saviour. Amen!
L: Sisters and brothers in the family of God, listen well for it is written of old: “You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.” What was thus written was in the fullness of time made gloriously visible in Jesus of Nazareth, and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE EPISTLES – 1 John 5:1-6
(Both readings today are from next week’s lection, i.e. the readings are for Easter 6))
5 1-3 Every person who believes that Jesus is, in fact, the Messiah, is God-born. If we love the One who conceives the child, we’ll surely love the child who was conceived. The reality test on whether or not we love God’s children is this: Do we love God? Do we keep his commands? The proof that we love God comes when we keep his commandments and they are not at all troublesome.
4-5 Every God-born person conquers the world’s ways. The conquering power that brings the world to its knees is our faith. The person who wins out over the world’s ways is simply the one who believes Jesus is the Son of God.
6-8 Jesus—the Divine Christ! He experienced a life-giving birth and a death-killing death. Not only birth from the womb, but baptismal birth of his ministry and sacrificial death. And all the while the Spirit is confirming the truth, the reality of God’s presence at Jesus’ baptism and crucifixion, bringing those occasions alive for us. A triple testimony: the Spirit, the Baptism, the Crucifixion. And the three in perfect agreement.
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 15:9-17
9-10 “I’ve loved you the way my Father has loved me. Make yourselves at home in my love. If you keep my commands, you’ll remain intimately at home in my love. That’s what I’ve done—kept my Father’s commands and made myself at home in his love.
11-15 “I’ve told you these things for a purpose: that my joy might be your joy, and your joy wholly mature. This is my command: Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends. You are my friends when you do the things I command you. I’m no longer calling you servants because servants don’t understand what their master is thinking and planning. No, I’ve named you friends because I’ve let you in on everything I’ve heard from the Father.
16 “You didn’t choose me, remember; I chose you, and put you in the world to bear fruit, fruit that won’t spoil. As fruit bearers, whatever you ask the Father in relation to me, he gives you.
17 “But remember the root command: Love one another.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Love is Not a Noun”
“Theology can never begin by assuming it already has the answer. Any theology that does not begin with radical doubt is basically dishonest.”
So says biblical scholar B. Brandon Scott; a statement which is not only challenging to all of us who engage in theological and biblical discussion or study groups, but also personally challenging, as I remember an elder saying that the first word in religion must always be ‘No’.
“Our faith is not a single moment of coming to faith or conversion, but an ongoing activity or process. Our faith grows and develops in response to our concrete experience… [But] we need faith for what we don’t know or can’t know. Faith is a gamble about what might be, not what certainly is.” (Scott 2001:148).
Yet it can be hard to say ‘No’ when the politics and interpretations from the past, or the church bureaucracy of the present, have framed or shaped a story in a certain way. This is because, for two thousand years, there has been this big contradiction between the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus.
The religion of Jesus is found in the things he talked with people about: how to live, how to treat one another, how you can be made whole here and now, how you can help make the world more whole here and now.
The religion of Jesus included a constant pressing at the margins for justice and empowerment as he ate with toll collectors and prostitutes, called the poor blessed, and praised the confessions of common folk. In short the religion of Jesus was not about believing, but about doing, about loving.
The religion about Jesus, on the other hand, is about believing; believing a certain story, too often aimed at frightening people into accepting agendas such as hating gays or independent women, or the sanctioning of torture against so-called ‘middle-eastern terrorists’. It is usually coupled with the promise that if you do ‘believe’, you’ll be ‘saved’ after you die. It is my educated opinion Jesus would have hated this story. He would have said ‘No’ to that story.
Today we have one of those ‘in process’ stories as our gospel story. You will have recognised it is a story about ‘love’, but not the Women’s Day or New Idea celebrity love story, or the Hallmark card, sentimental, love story. Yet it is a love story which has inspired our storyteller to both tell it and to wrap it around the name of Jesus. It is a story in which love isn’t a noun, but a verb.
So let me tell you a love story in reply. And offer a prayer. Both come from a minister colleague in America, Davidson Loehr, and both are about love as a verb, not as a noun.
First the story…
A monk, Friar Bernard, in his cell on Mount Cenis, lamented the crimes of humankind. Rising one morning before daybreak from his bed of moss and dry leaves, he ate his roots and berries, drank from the spring, and set forth to go to Rome to reform the corrupt people there.
On his way he encountered many travellers who greeted him courteously, and the cabins of peasants and the castles of lords supplied his few wants. When he came at last to Rome, his piety and good will easily introduced him to many families of the rich.
On the first day he saw and talked with mothers with babes at their breasts. They told him how much love they bore their children, and how they were perplexed in their daily walk lest they should fail in their duty to them.
“What!” he said, “and this on rich embroidered carpets, on marble floors, surrounded by expensive sculpture, and carved wood, rich pictures, and piles of books around you? “You’re rich Roman pagans, not even Christians! How can you be good people?”
“Look at our pictures, and books,” they said, “and we will tell you, good Brother, how we spent last evening. “These books are full of stories of godly children and holy families and sacrifices made in old or in recent times, by great and not mean persons. And last evening, our families were all gathered together, and our husbands and brothers spoke sadly on what we could save and give to others in the hard times.”
Then the men came in, and they said, “Greetings, good Brother! Does your monastery want gifts? Let us share with you.”
Then Friar Bernard went home swiftly with other thoughts than he had brought, saying, “Their way of life is wrong – they are not even poor, and they are not Christians! Yet these Romans, whom I prayed God to destroy, are lovers. They are lovers. What can I do?”
That’s the story.
Friar Bernard has a couple choices. He can try to forget what he’d just seen and felt, and return to his comfortable beliefs, or he can realise that his beliefs are too small to hold life, or even to serve life in a way that isn’t a curse to others.”
Now the prayer (edited)…
We pray to the angels of our better nature and to the still small voice that can speak to us when we feel safe enough to listen. Help us to love people and causes outside of ourselves, that we may be enlarged to include them… Help us remember we can, if we will, to invest ourselves in relationships, institutions and causes that transcend and expand us. Help us guard our hearts against those relationships and activities that diminish us and weaken our life force.
And help us give our hearts to those relationships that might, with our help, expand our souls and our worlds. We know every day that both life and death are set before us. Let us have the faith and courage to choose those involvements that can lead us toward life, toward life more abundant.
May we see more clearly in these matters. May we have the will to hold to those relationships that demand, and cherish, the very best in us. Just that. Just those. Amen. (D.Loehr.,First UU Church, Austin, web site, 2006).
What does it take to let love get lived? Love, of the kind our gospel storyteller is talking about, is a verb rather than a noun. It is not a good feeling that dwells inside; it does not exist in any kind of static, inert way, but only in action. It is the creating of a whole, a harmony, a unity, which does not diminish or weaken, but expands our life force, encouraging a response in expressions of joy. This creating is greeted in open and honest ways that can lead us toward life more abundant. And if God is love, then God, too, is a verb: the process of lovingly relating to everyone, everything, indeed to the whole of creation, filling all with the power of divine loving.
Theodore Parker, the great Unitarian reformer of early 19th century America, once wrote near the end of his life: “I have had great powers and have only half used them.”
I dare say that we all have great powers that we have only half used. Isn’t that one reason we come here; to keep being exhorted to develop the other half of our great powers, and to use them to help ourselves and our world come alive? We come seeking wholeness, and so often we don’t want to admit that, if only we will it, we can have it.”
A LITANY OF THE ORDINARY
L: We celebrate a God
R: who lives and speaks in sunsets, in love-wrapped gifts, and fleeting butterflies.
L: We celebrate a Christ
R: who honoured our humanness, who climbed trees, skinned knees; who laughed and cried, loved and wept, bled and died.
L: We celebrate a Spirit,
R: who mystically joins us to people everywhere, and incorporates us into Christ.
L: We celebrate a church,
R: seeking, however imperfectly, to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
SHARING GOD’S CONCERN FOR THE WORLD
We pray for the end of bitterness and violence in its many forms. Bless all peacemakers: those who negotiate between nations, or arbitrate within commerce and industry, adjudicate in family courts, defuse tensions in school grounds, and counsel conflicting parties within church denominations.
We pray for the effective, compassionate care of all who are diseased, maimed, or severely handicapped, including ailing members of this congregation. Bless all who work in clinics and hospitals: surgeons, physiotherapists, nurses, physicians, oncologists, psychiatrists, dieticians, social workers, dentists, pharmacists and the staff of hospices for the dying.
We pray for the feeding of the hungry, the clothing of the destitute, the housing of the homeless, the reformation of prisoners, and the rehabilitation of those who have been addicted to drugs. Bless every agency, church or government, which is dedicated to the care of our disadvantaged sisters and brothers
We pray for the provision of systems of justice that that are truly fair. Whether they are within our homeland, in other nations, or international courts of justice, may those who are brought to court find an equality before the law. Bless with insight and integrity each barrister and judge, work in the mind and soul of every juror, that the innocent may be exonerated and the hearts of those sentenced turned towards repentance and regeneration.
We pray for the church, for all denominations large or small, that we may love one another in practice as well as in prayer. Bless all joint initiatives in worship, fellowship and service to the community. May the world know that there is a grace at work in us which is not our doing but a gift from a Lover who outstrips all others. Through Christ Jesus our humble Lord, who taught us to pray, “Our Father….”
THE LORD’S PRAYER
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 and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.
SACRAMENT OF HOLY COMMUNION
Here today, through bread and wine, we renew our unity with one another, and with all those who have gone before us in this place. Here today, through bread and wine, we renew our communion with the earth and our interwovenness with the broken ones of the world.
We are reminded again of the tradition that surrounds this story. Long ago, as was his custom, Jesus shared a meal with his friends. He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it. And handed it to his friends, inviting them to eat: ‘Remember all that I have been to you’. Long ago, during that same meal, Jesus poured a cup of wine, offered thanks for it, and gave it to his friends: ‘Remember me and give thanks for all I have given’.
L: Creativity God, Source of Life, we offer our thanks.
R: The smell of gums after rain, the surprise of ducks in flight, the taste of peach and plum and nectarine.
L: For all gifts simple and profound, in country and city, in paddock, or back yard and on lake:
R: We give thanks.
L: We who hold all such good things in trust join in the praise of all people:
R: Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
L: Holy is peace.
R: Holy is truth. Holy is love.
L: In this season of transition as the leaves continue their subtle change of colour and our hearts cling to the warmth as the days shorten, once again we are reminded, that new possibilities can rise from our failures or disappointments or what has come to an end. We give thanks for all the influences for good in our lives that have helped us to become more human and humane: more loving, more compassionate, more courageous, more just, more intelligent.
R: God is not done with creation. God is not done with us. Nor are we done with God.
L: Especially we give thanks for Jesus of Nazareth, gatherer of folk, teller of stories, breaker of bread, pourer of wine, weaver of lives. In his life, wisdom, stories and social vision we recall the words he spoke to call forth in us love, care and respect for one another:
R: And we believe the same Spirit of God that came to visibility in Jesus yearns for visible expression in us.
Bread and Wine
May the bread and the wine and the remembering be a blessing on us all.
WORD OF MISSION
R: To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
L: To reach out to another is to risk exposing our true self.
R: To place our ideas – our dreams – before the crowd, is to risk loss.
L: To love is to risk not being loved in return.
R: To hope is to risk despair.
L: To try is to risk failure.
R: To live is to risk dying.
Go in peace to claim the life of God within our midst: and may the earth be warm under your feet, the rain bring the gentle flowers of the bush bright around you, and the wind blow as the breath of the Spirit before you. Amen.