The following service was streamed live via Zoom on May 9th 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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Let us be like the lines that lead to the centre of a circle; uniting there,
and not like parallel lines,
which never join.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
God holds out to us the promise of new life; life as unpredictable, as unrehearsed, as explosive as life at the very beginning. God calls us to respond to this gift with creativity, with joy, and with courage. In worship, we can begin to accept this gift of new life. Let us worship God!
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation – “Valiant women” by Miriam Therese Winter
Throughout history and at present, there have been and are many valiant women, generous, gifted, who have given of themselves for the benefit of others with little or no recompense.
Strong in colour, with dew resting gently on its petals. It’s fragrance filled my spirit. As I picked it, it’s thorns scratched my hand, and blood mixed with the dew. And I was reminded of life, and all that comes with it.
Today we celebrate, honour and mourn the role and place of women in this world. The strength and colour of women, the fragrance and wholeness of women, the damaged and bleeding women, the relationships between women and men, the life of women and men we know and don’t know. We come to God, who created women as well as men.
Amid all the noise in our lives, we take this moment to sit in silence: to give thanks for another day; to give thanks for all those in our lives who have brought us warmth and love; to give thanks for the gift of life.
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)
WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS
L: We thank you, gracious God, for Jesus Christ the true vine, with his roots eternally grounded in you. We rejoice that by grace we have been grafted into him, to be branches on a vine which bears the loveliest of all the fruits of earth. Yet we confess that all is not well with the way we live.
R: Please forgive us for the occasions when we have been the ones to introduce disease into the vine, preferring its contamination to the vigour of health. Forgive us for neglecting to draw deeply on the sap of Life,
for our tendency to wander instead of growing on the framework your provide,
for being content, and sometimes even proud of, a few sparse or undersized fruits,
for the apathy which lets us to go through some seasons without bearing any fruit.
L: Have mercy on us. Please do not lose patience or sever us completely from the true vine. Rather heal our diseases, discipline and train our wandering tendrils, prune our unfruitful branches and cut away our diseased ones. May we remain in Christ and he in us, through all the changing seasons of life. Let us delight in bearing the fruits of love which are our true purpose and joy. For your Name’s sake. Amen!
L: Jesus said: “If you reside in me, and my words reside in you, ask whatever you will and it shall be done for you.” Friends, we have asked for forgiveness and correction. It has been truly done for us. It is being done for us. And it will be done for us. And so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE EARLY CHURCH – Acts 8:26-40 (The Message version)
26-28 Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.
31-33 He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this:
As a sheep led to slaughter
and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
He was silent, saying nothing.
He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
But who now can count his kin
since he’s been taken from the earth?
34-35 The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.
36-39 As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptised?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptised him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.
40 Philip showed up in Azotus and continued north, preaching the Message in all the villages along that route until he arrived at Caesarea.
FROM THE GOSPEL – John 15:1-8 (The Message version)
15: 1-3 “I am the Real Vine and my Father is the Farmer. He cuts off every branch of me that doesn’t bear grapes. And every branch that is grape-bearing he prunes back so it will bear even more. You are already pruned back by the message I have spoken.
4 “Live in me. Make your home in me just as I do in you. In the same way that a branch can’t bear grapes by itself but only by being joined to the vine, you can’t bear fruit unless you are joined with me.
5-8 “I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. Anyone who separates from me is deadwood, gathered up and thrown on the bonfire. But if you make yourselves at home with me and my words are at home in you, you can be sure that whatever you ask will be listened to and acted upon. This is how my Father shows who he is—when you produce grapes, when you mature as my disciples.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “Water is Thicker than Blood”
Today is Mothers Day. Motherhood is not a religious category, and for that reason, I usually give Mothers Day no more than a passing reference during worship. However, today it gives me a jumping off place for my sermon. If there is one human experience dear to most people, it is being mothered, and when we become adults, this experience is experience in the other direction for many of us as we become parents, raising children, and then we get echoes of this experience when the grandchildren come along.
Though today is the day we remember mothers, it should be noted that one reason we do so is that mothers are keystone of that primary institution in our culture, the family. Every year national families week starts after Mother’s Day, so today I would like to expand our Mother’s Day observance to focus on the family. Now I also recognise that being part of a family can be a very negative experience for some people, which I don’t mean to ignore, but for most Australians, family is the place where we learn what love is, where we can feel accepted and secure.
One of the political issues that almost always gets a mention when election time rolls around is protection and funding for the family: baby bonuses, child tax allowances, maternity leave, child care support, etc. Family is the one issue a politician can be for without stepping on any toes. In fact, it is difficult to imagine a more cherished human arrangement than the family. We would die for our families, even kill for them. Most of us are not violent by nature, and yet when asked, “If your family was threatened, your children, would you kill someone if it were necessary to protect them?”I think the majority of us would answer, “Yes.” We are not unlike the many other wild animals who are not dangerous unless they are protecting their young.
There appears to be no limit to our love for our family. “Blood is thicker than water,” it is said. Our family is the source of our name, our values. Home is where you go when you have absolutely no where else to go. Family takes you in when everyone else has rejected you.
The church is praised as an institution that supports the family, and one of the major reasons younger adults give for joining a church is support of their family. We have forgotten that a major criticism of Christianity by Romans was that Christianity destroyed the family. In his book, The First Urban Christians, Wayne Meeks notes that pagan Roman society had no more cherished value than its belief in the primacy of the family. Every Roman institution had its basis in the Roman family. There was no means of advancement in ancient Rome, except in the military, other than marriage into a family, because your family determined your status in life.
I once read a letter from a parent to a government official. The parent complains that his son, who had received the best education, had gone to all the right schools, and was headed for a good job as a lawyer, had got involved with a weird religious sect. Now members of this sect controlled his every move, told him whom to date and whom not to date, and had taken all his money. The parent is pleading with the official to do something about this sect.
Who is this letter describing? The Moonies? The Scientologists? Some other similar group? It is a letter from a third century Roman concerning a group called the Christians.
Mark relates a story where once they came to Jesus saying, “Your mother and brothers are outside asking for you.” “Who are my mother, my brothers?” asked Jesus. You see, his family was that new gathering of people called disciples.
When Jesus called his disciples, the sons of Zebedee left their father with the fishing nets and followed Jesus. The story doesn’t say anything about what Zebedee thought about his sons walking out of the family business and following some itinerant rabbi. The story doesn’t care. I’ll bet Jesus broke the hearts of many a first century parent. And don’t forget the passage in Luke in which Jesus is reported to have said, “You must hate your father and mother…”
You see, in the church’s formation of a new family, the Church, it came into early collision with traditional, conventional means of having family, and not without reason. The family is not only the source of our greatest gifts, but also of our greatest damage. When psychiatrists are counselling troubled persons they always talk about family, and often little else.
The family has become the one, the primary, perhaps only, place of our identity, our direction; the main place in our lives where there are people who care for us and know us. But this has led to a kind of tyranny of the family. Lacking any institutions within our lives with the power to stand against the family, bereft of any other source of identity or meaning, the family takes over everything. The sad state of many families may be testimony to the truth: not that we don’t love our families, but that we love them too much. We are asking our families to bear far too much moral and spiritual weight, to be all things for us, and they crack under the strain.
One of the greatest gifts that a parent can give a child is the reassurance that all of the parent’s hopes, dreams, aspirations are not resting upon that child. And one of the greatest gifts a child can give parents is the reassurance that the source and significance of their lives is not totally dependent upon the competency or goodness of the parents.
Most of the really serious damage that is done to us, occurs in family. The blood of the family is thicker and more indelible than any other attachment in our lives.
If you are not in a family, then you’re very apt to be very, very lonely, for we live in a society in which family is the one attachment that matters. Show me a church that advertises itself as the “The Singles Church,” or runs a “Single Life Centre.”
It is five weeks after Easter: a long time. The sound of Easter trumpets has faded away, and we wonder what, if anything has really changed. Eventually the old boundaries fall back into place. The Easter sun has set and today the sun is the same old sun, rising on the same old world, the same old you, the same old me. The boundary of death seems so impervious, so impenetrable to the assaults of a living, let-loose Easter saviour. Often the most insidious boundaries are the ones we love most, the ones which provide us such comfortable identity, such sure space that we don’t even recognise them as boundaries between us and life. We don’t see how we are confined behind those barriers. Family can be one such boundary.
It was also five weeks after Easter when Philip was sleeping and awakened suddenly to find an angel standing before him. “Get up!” says the angel, “and go out into the middle of the desert at noon.” Now noon is not the time to be in the middle of the desert, but Philip knows enough of his Hebrew Scriptures to know that when an angel delivers a message, something big is afoot. Out he goes into the desert and meets a man – or is it a man? He is a eunuch, a chamberlain in the court of the queen of Ethiopia, Candace. He has been reading an Isaiah scroll, and has come to that passage which reads, “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, like a sheep before its shearers is dumb. He didn’t open his mouth. Justice was denied him. He has been cut off from the land of the living. Who is going to declare his generations?”
Why is this man so interested in this obscure, though beautiful, passage in Isaiah? He is a eunuch. He, like the subject of the Isaiah’s words, has been cut off, without posterity. Who is going to declare his generations? And furthermore, the scripture says quite plainly in Deuteronomy 21, “The eunuch shall not have a place in the congregation of the family of God.”
Why wasn’t there a place for the eunuch in God’s family? Because it was all family oriented, and a eunuch will never have a family. Throughout scripture children are praised as a reward of God, a sign of divine favour. But this eunuch will never have children, will never have a family, and therefore will have no place in the family of God.
And so this eunuch is reading this passage, and he wants to know: Who is this who is, like himself, cut off from the land of the living, without posterity, without future? Isaiah says, “The days will come when the foreigner will no longer say, ‘The Lord will separate me from his people.’ The days will come when the eunuch will no longer say, ‘O I am just a dry stick.’ The days will come when the eunuch who loves me and my house and my covenant shall have a name written in my house and my covenant which shall be better than a thousand sons and daughters and will be remembered forever.”
This man has been up to the temple in Jerusalem to forage around in the scriptures to try to find his own name, but they won’t let him in. The scriptures say clearly, “Don’t let him in.”
Why would anybody go to church and be made to stand outside? Why would anyone keep going to worship where you are not welcome, stand all during the service, peering in, trying to get a hint of the music, hoping to hear just a snippet of the prayers? Imagine standing on the outside, excluded, asking people in the crowds as they depart, “Was the sermon good today?” What did the preacher say? Did the choir sing andanthem?”
But the eunuch had at last found a place in the Bible that offered hope. “Who is this?” he asked Philip. “Why that was Jesus of Nazareth,” said Philip. “He was cut off. He had no family, no issue, and yet he created the largest family in the world.”
In the church’s traditional liturgies for baptism, there was a point in the service where the recipient was “christened.” The person being baptised was given a new name, a “Christian” name as a sign that a new identity was being given through baptism, as sign of entrance into the new family.
And right there, in the desert, a white man and a black man, a Jew and a gentile, Philip baptised the eunuch. Water in the desert. In this new family where water is thicker than blood.
WE OFFER OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD
What a great world it would be, God our Friend, if we all kept our lives grafted in Christ Jesus, the True Vine, and like good branches produced the bountiful fruits of his Spirit.
What a great world it would be if we sought the lost and bewildered people and restored their dignity and hope, as Jesus did.
What a great world it would be if we opened our hearts to misfits and outcastes, and our arms to the untouchables, as Jesus did.
What a great world it would be if we practised forgiving our enemies, and doing good to those who spitefully abuse us, like Jesus did.
What a great world it would be if we let others borrow what we have, and gave gifts without looking for reward, as Jesus did.
What a great world it would be if we created a new community out of disparate types of people, as Jesus did with his disciples.
What a great world it would be if we were prepared to carry our own crosses with the courage and faithfulness of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Loving God, bind us close to your lovely Christ, let his Spirit flow within us, healing our defects and enabling us to produce the fruits of love both in and out of season, as we pray the words he taught, “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.
IN PRAISE OF THE FEMININE
Wm: It was you who breathed life into me. In your likeness I was formed.
The darkness of your sacred womb enwraps me in the silence of the Holy One
L: Your creative energy pulsates through every fibre of my being.
Wm: You birth forth life within me. Your abundant breasts continue to sustain my very being.
You carry me close to your heart, and sing your song of love to me.
L: You hold me close to your heart and sing your song of love to me.
Wm: You hold me close to you and comfort me.
L: Cradled in your arms, I am at peace.
Wm: You bathe me with life-giving waters of your giftedness.
L: Reflected in your eyes is my dignity as woman. You nurture me and guide me to proclaim my sacredness as woman of God. You call me forth to image your compassion, love and joy to a broken world.
Wm: Together we dance life’s passionate song.
SPENDING A NEW WEEK WITH THE CHRIST
How will this new week will unfold for each of us? There may be new opportunities, there may be setbacks and dangers. If we cherish our place in the vine of Christ, receiving the very sap of his abundant life, much might frustrate us but nothing shall destroy us.
Go cheerfully then, and live boldly. The grace of the Saviour, the love of the Creator, the friendship of the Lover, is yours forever! Amen!