The following service was streamed live via Zoom on September 5h 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.
As this is a communion service, you may like to provide communion elements (bread, wine for yourself
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for some of the text, including the sermon . [I’m sorry about the commercials that sometimes come with YouTube clips. Be sure to click on the “Skip Ad” box if and when it appears in the lower right of the YouTube clip] When a YouTube clip has finished, simply click on the ‘back’ button of your browser to return to this page. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
“What we take for granted
might not be here for our children.” (Al Gore)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
L: Fountain of life, Pulse of life, Breath of life.
R: Earth is filled with the presentness of God.
L: A planet filled with the presence of God
R: a living green blue planet, peoples from every corner of creation, the vast reaches of space above us, and the rocks and hills and wonders of the wild.
L: Together this day, let us sense the face of God in all creativity.
R: Celebrate your beauty and your grace, your special place in our solar system.
L: Planet Earth, gleaming green and blue:
R: Rejoice in your ocean currents as they dance and swirl with hope.
L: Planet Earth, pulsing with life:
R: Join in praise with all your fauna and flora as they sing their songs with praise.
L: Planet Earth, enveloped in the breath of God:
R: Bless all your creatures this day with the life-giving breath of God.
L: Planet Earth, our precious, fragile home:
R: Celebrate, with all your children, God’s presence in our planet home.
L: Spin, Planet Earth, spin!
R: Sing, Planet Earth, sing!
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
Creating God, whose renewing breath fills our planet, may we discern your vibrant, creative presence among us. And may our spirits be lifted as we rejoice with Planet Earth and all its inhabitants, this day. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Now away from the busyness of life and in the silence of this place, let us now give thanks for the gift of Planet Earth, filled with mystery! (30 seconds of silence)
Here we are, God: a planet at prayer. Attune our spirits that we may hear your harmonies and bow before your creative power; that we may face our violent discords and joining with your energy to make heard in every heart your hymn of peace.
Here we are, God: a polluted planet. Purify our vision that we may perceive ways to purify our beloved lands, cleanse our precious waters, de-smog our life-giving air.
Here we are, God: an exploited planet. Heal our heart, that we may respect our resources, hold priceless our people, and provide for our starving children an abundance of daily bread.
L: Christ hears our confession and forgives our sins against Earth. Christ will teach us to love Earth as our home and the planet as a precious sanctuary, and so I can I speak for Christ: I invite you to celebrate Earth as your home and to revere this planet as God’s sanctuary. I can now declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE PSALMS – Psalm 33:1-9
33 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous!
For praise from the upright is beautiful.
2 Praise the Lord with the harp;
Make melody to Him with an instrument of ten strings.
3 Sing to Him a new song;
Play skilfully with a shout of joy.
4 For the word of the Lord is right,
And all His work is done in truth.
5 He loves righteousness and justice;
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord.
6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
And all the host of them by the breath of His mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea together as a heap;
He lays up the deep in storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the Lord;
Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him.
9 For He spoke, and it was done;
He commanded, and it stood fast.
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Genesis 1:1-25
(follow evolution in these words)
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form, and void; and darkness [a]was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light. 4 And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. [b]So the evening and the morning were the first day.
6 Then God said, “Let there be a [c]firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And God called the firmament Heaven. So the evening and the morning were the second day.
9 Then God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 And God called the dry land Earth, and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas. And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, on the earth”; and it was so. 12 And the earth brought forth grass, the herb that yields seed according to its kind, and the tree that yields fruit, whose seed is in itself according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 So the evening and the morning were the third day.
14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years; 15 and let them be for lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so. 16 Then God made two great [d]lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also. 17 God set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 So the evening and the morning were the fourth day.
20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living [e]creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the [f]firmament of the heavens.” 21 So God created great sea creatures and every living thing that moves, with which the waters abounded, according to their kind, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 So the evening and the morning were the fifth day.
24 Then God said, “Let the earth bring forth the living creature according to its kind: cattle and creeping thing and beast of the earth, each according to its kind”; and it was so. 25 And God made the beast of the earth according to its kind, cattle according to its kind, and everything that creeps on the earth according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS
Whilst we usually think of the Bible as the inspired source of God’s Word to us, it is not uncommon to find God speaking in other writing as well; written by people who, like the biblical writers and editors, were similarly inspired. Listen to this passage from Report to Greco by Nikos Kazantzakis:
Blowing through heaven and earth, and our hearts and the hearts of every living thing, is a gigantic breath – a great cry – which we call God. Plant life wished to continue its motionless sleep next to stagnant waters, but the Cry leaped up within it and violently shook its roots: “Away, let go of the earth, walk!”
Had the tree been able to think and judge, it would have cried, “I don’t want to. What are you urging me to do? You are demanding the impossible!”
But the Cry, without pity, kept shaking its roots and shouting, “Away, let go of the earth, walk!”
It shouted this way for thousands of eons; and lo! as result of desire and struggle, life escaped the motionless tree and was liberated. Animals appeared – worms – making themselves at home in water and mud. “We’re just fine here,” they said. “ We have peace and security; we’re not budging!”
But the terrible Cry hammered itself pitilessly into their loins: “Leave the mud, stand up, give birth to your betters!”
“We don’t want to! We can’t!’
An lo! after thousands of eons, man emerged, trembling on his still unsolid legs.
The human being is a centaur; his equine hoofs are planted in the ground, but his body, from breast to head, is worked on and tormented by the merciless Cry. He has been fighting, again for thousands of eons, to draw himself, like as sword, out of his animalistic scabbard. He is also fighting – this is his new struggle – to draw himself out of his human scabbard. Man calls in despair, ”Where can I go? I have reached the pinnacle, beyond is the abyss.”
And the Cry answers, “I am beyond. Stand up!” All things are centaurs. If this were not the case, the world would rot in inertness and sterility.
Perhaps the Great Cry was that to which Jesus was responding when he said, “…let this cup pass from me…” but the Merciless Cry will not be denied.
One gets quite a different image of the Creator from that of a grand builder who carefully puts everything into place. In Kazanzakis’ essay, responsibility is placed upon the creation to develop, to evolve, to grow as the creator demands.
Consider Planet Earth. Most of you have seen pictures like this one, taken from space. To anyone born after the late 60’s, such photos are old hat, but to most of the rest of us, the first photos of Earth were absorbingly beautiful and moving. Earth stands out from its solar system colleagues as the only one (as far as we know) to harbour life. Indeed, life abounds on this blue-green gem, and as the most advanced form of life, we marvel in its beauty and wonder at its life-sustaining nurture.
But it wasn’t always this way. It started as the other planets: a ball of hot swirling dust and gas, that cooled and solidified into a place as about as hospitable as our images of hell. But each planet set upon its own unique journey. As we listened to the Genesis reading this morning, I encouraged you to follow the way that creation evolves on Earth. Genesis does not say that God made this and then that until the world was completed. Similar to Kazanzakis’ description, God’s brooding Spirit called forth the land from the water. The land then was encouraged to give birth to vegetation, which was then called upon to feed the animals.
Likewise, the last of the animals, human beings, were called upon to take their part in the creation and grow themselves into the manifestation of the image of God. Genesis tells a story of evolution of the planet, with each facet connected by birth to that which came before. It is no wonder so many people and cultures talk of Mother Earth.
But the road to wherever evolution is taking us is not smooth, nor is it always marked by progress. At least twice, most of the life on earth was wiped out by catastrophic collisions with asteroids. Even without extra-terrestrial events, life has ebbed and flowed through long-term cycles of climate change. Despite all the trials, the capriciousness of nature, and evolution dependent upon chance events; life continued to develop and flourish until evolution brought about a creative, reasoning, extraordinarily powerful life form; a life form through which the creation may know itself: homo sapiens.
Of course, the name is perhaps wishful thinking, for it means “wise” man. It had better be an accurate name, for in us, the creation no longer is dependent soley upon chance for its continued evolution. We have the ability, if not to set, at least to influence the course of evolution. We now are truly co-creators with God. If we do not live up to our designation as wise, we will be a truly dangerous force upon this planet. So far the evidence suggests that we have not been very wise at all.
We live at a cross-roads in the evolution of the Earth, at the door of a calamity equal to the one which wiped out the dinosaurs, albeit not as quick or dramatic. Today, a day when we celebrate the Lord’s supper, I would like to reflect, with the help of Catholic theologian, Denis Edwards, upon the meaning of this sacrament in a time of catastrophic global climate change.
I still occasion upon individuals who, like the ostrich, prefer to keep their heads in the sand; who believe that the current climate change is simply another natural variation. But the biggest businesses in Australia have concluded, based upon CSIRO research: the currently observed pace of climate change is undeniably the result of the human production of carbon dioxide and methane. Furthermore, it is probably the most serious problem that humanity has ever faced; if the world does not reduce its production of green house gases by 50% by 2030 – a mere 8 years away, we will cause untold suffering to the planet and to all the life upon it. And that is the world. The industrialised countries, meaning us, must reduce emissions by 80%, while the our do nothing government frets over meeting the target set in Paris of a mere 28%.
Unfortunately we still have political leaders who, showing a complete lack of moral fibre, choose not to face this reality, preferring to dump an ecological crisis upon future generations rather than deal with the pain of fixing it now.
Enough about climate change, about which I have spoken before, but what has it got to do with the Eucharist; the Lord’s supper? Whilst it is important to note the scientific reality and hear the ethical arguments, if we hope to make radical changes to economic priorities and life styles, more is needed. We need a different culture and ethos, and as Christians, we may find what is needed in our liturgy. The ecological conversion called for by Pope John Paul years ago can be inspired by many things, but the Christian community possesses a unique foundation for radical change in our spirituality.
We often use the word, “communion” to refer to the Eucharist. Of course, communion is much more than the Lord’s supper, though the Eucharist is a form of communion and a symbol of a greater communion. If you hold to a trinitarian theology, God is communion. Communion is the deepest reality at the very beginning of things. Orthodox Theologian John Zizioulas says, “It is communion that makes things ‘be’: nothing exists without it, not even God.”
I suppose another way of saying this is that nothing exists outside of relationship. No man is an island – literally! The human person is not an individual, but someone who goes out of self to others. These others include not only the trinitarian God and other human beings, but all parts of creation. We are called to be Christ, which involves being fully relational rather than self-enclosed, for creation will only come to completion in Christ through one another.
When we come to the Lord’s table, we offer the fruits of creation. In the Eucharist, creation is lifted up to God in offering and thanksgiving. Then the Holy Spirit is invoked to transform the gifts of creation, and the community assembled, into the body of Christ.
But what we do here at the table is not restricted to liturgical celebrations, but is symbolic of what is meant to happen in the whole of life. It involves all human interactions with the rest of creation. The lifting up of creation is meant to be played out around the planet continually by every human being in authentic love for every creature, every part of creation.
The table around which we gather offers hope. If indeed God meets us here, God will not be content to see us leave the table simply to return to a life infected with affluenza, consumed by conspicuous consumption, uncaring about the damage we are doing to the earth, its poorer inhabitants, its endangered species and to future generations. If indeed God meets us here, we will leave transformed and renewed in our relationship to God, to others and to Planet Earth.
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
R: In grass that grows through cities of concrete and brick, we see the signs that God is with us.
L: In the faces of people whom God so loves,
R: we see the signs that God is with us.
L: In our brokenness, there is the hope of wholeness.
R: In our emptiness, there is the hope of fullness.
L: In our deaths,
R: lies the hope of resurrection life.
L: This is the Word in Christ to us.
R: The flame of the Holy Spirit lives in this place and travels with us. Amen.
PRAYERS OF COMPASSION
We thank God for a wondrous planet home. We celebrate with all our kin. We pray for all those in need. We name them now.
(silence as you think of those for whom you wish to pray)
We close with the following prayer: Jesus Christ, teach us to empathise with Earth. Make our spirits sensitive to the cries of creation, cries for justice from the land, the seas and the skies.
Jesus Christ, make our faith sensitive to the groans of the Spirit in creation, groans of longing for a new creation.
Jesus Christ, make our hearts sensitive to the songs of our kin, songs of celebration from the sea, the forest and the air. Christ, teach us to care. Amen
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.
CELEBRATING COMMUNITY: Sacrament of Holy Communion
The earth has gone the round of seasons: from the vibrant green of spring’s new life to the lush richness of warm summer, to the brilliant fulfilment of riotous autumn, to the generosity and self-giving of winter. Now we stand again, touched by the promise of new life in early spring.
L: It is thus fitting that as we celebrate the renewal of life and hope, we also celebrate the presentness of the Spirit of Life and Hope and Creativity, everywhere around and within us. (pause) Loving and caring God, how fertile your genius! You shape everything. You fill the world with what you do. You search us out and know us.
R: All that we are is open to you.
L: Look not upon our sin but upon our faith. Break down all barriers which we erect against your love. Cover us with the blanket of your peace. And let your justice reach to the ends of the earth.
R: So that we can come glad to this celebration.
L: When our days become over-busy, and our spirits are bleached like spinifex
R: Flood us with a downpour of mercy!
L: When we take things for granted and gratitude goes to sleep…
R: Put a new song on our tongues.
L: When life’s abrasive pressures fray us, loosing our hold on the Still Centre…
R: Tell us again about nesting magpies, golden daffodils and pink prunus blossom- symbols of Creative Mystery.
R: And also with you.
L: Open your hearts.
R: We open them to our Creator.
L: Let us give thanks to our Creator.
R: It is right to join creation in giving thanks.
L: It is right and our joy to give thanks world-gazing, hope-cheering God, our cherisher. We offer our praise for the changing moods of nature: for sunshine and showers of a spring day. For the rich brown earth beneath our feet, and for the clouds, the winds, the dusk and the dawn.
R: We give joyful and heartfelt thanks.
R: Holy, holy, holy, hope-breathing 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: We also offer our praise for Jesus our Companion, who taught all to care for the birds of the air and the grass of the paddock, as a mother or a father cares for a child. We remember that night among friends, reclined at table, Jesus again shared a meal with his friends. Through grain and grape, bread and wine, and in fellowship together, Jesus spoke of his enduring love for each of them. So we take this bread and this wine, ever mindful of the Creative Spirit at work in our lives, making our living a source of renewal and hope, a springtime of promise and resurrection.
Breaking of the bread/Pouring of the wine
We break this bread in celebration of the great truth that on this tiny planet, hurtling through cold, empty space, death is made the servant of life, and out of death, life is forever resurrected. (bread is broken)
Wine is poured out this cup with its fruit of the vine, (cup is raised) a celebration that things are not always as they seem: that out of faithfulness and steadfastness, out of suffering and sorrow, may come unsought blessings.
(In this time of pandemic, the Uniting Church has made provision for the consecration of the communion elements by lay people, and so you may preside over your own Eucharist at home)
To eat and drink together reminds us of the deeper aspects of human fellowship, for from time immemorial the sharing of bread and wine has been the most universal of all symbols of community. Bread and wine are served
We give thanks that we have gathered together in this sacred place. We rejoice in the giftedness of each person here. We are grateful for who we are for each other. We consider ourselves blessed in and by the Creative Spirit. May we continue to be truly thankful in all we do and in all we become.
WORD OF MISSION
L: Will you care for Planet Earth?
R: We will remember our planet home! We will nurture our planet! We will celebrate life!
L: As the sun in its shining brings glory, as the stars in the night scatter dark, as the moon gives us hope in its radiance, so may the light of God fill your heart and your mind and your life.
May God bless us not with clean air alone, but the will to keep our air clean.
May God bless us not with a vision of a healthy planet alone, but with the will to do all in our power to restore and maintain our planet’s health.