Christmastide 2C (02-01-2021)

Welcome to worship with the Ocean Grove
& Barwon Heads congregations

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on January 2nd 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. 

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.

-oOo-

“I refuse to be intimidated by reality anymore.  What is reality?  Nothing but a collective hunch.”
(Lily Tomlin)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

OPENING SENTENCES  

L: Take from life its coals, not its ashes. Fan the flames of love and justice.

R: Join hands and hearts in common endeavour.

L: And there will be no limit

R: to what we can achieve together.

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Creative Spirit of life and love, we have gathered at this sacred time, 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.  Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation  

An old Jewish story tells of a rabbi who asked his disciples, “How do you know when the night is giving way and the morning is coming?” One of the disciples stood and said, “Teacher, won’t you know that night is fading when, through the dim light, you can see an animal and recognise whether it is a sheep or a dog?” The rabbi answered, “No.”

“Rabbi,” asked another. “Won’t you know that the dawn is coming when you can see clearly enough to distinguish whether a tree is a fig or an olive?” “No,” responded the teacher. “You’ll know that the night has passed when you can look at any man and any woman and discern that you are looking at a brother or a sister. Until you can see with that clarity, the night will always be with us.” 

     Silence

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.(30seconds Silence)

HYMN  187  “Let All Creation Dance” (click here to listen)

OUR FAILINGS AND GOD’S GRACE

L: Let us repent our foolish words, and seek the mercy of the Living Word. Let us pray. For covering our ignorance with slick speeches and whitewashing our sins with the sick chatter of self justification, forgive and save us.

R: Forgive and save us, holy Friend.

L: For rushing in with prattle when silence and awe are the only appropriate responses to your Living Word, forgive and save us.

R: Forgive and save us, holy Friend.

L: For trying to cramp your Word within the wordy cages of our many denominational biases or theological fashions, forgive and save us.

R: Forgive and save us, holy Friend.

L: Most holy God, we can fool others sometimes, we can fool ourselves often, but we can never fool you. There is not a word on our tongue or a thought in our head, but you know it altogether. Please pity our foolish stunts and correct us, pity our sinfulness and redeem us. Confront us with your incarnate Word: surround us with it, capture us with it, wrap us up in it and reshape our lives with it. In the name of Christ Jesus, we pray you. Amen!

ASSURANCE

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, and so I can declare to you: the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE EPISTLES – Ephesian 1:3-18 

3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son.

7-10 Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth.

11-12 It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for. Long before we first heard of Christ and got our hopes up, he had his eye on us, had designs on us for glorious living, part of the overall purpose he is working out in everything and everyone.

13-14 It’s in Christ that you, once you heard the truth and believed it (this Message of your salvation), found yourselves home free—signed, sealed, and delivered by the Holy Spirit. This down payment from God is the first instalment on what’s coming, a reminder that we’ll get everything God has planned for us, a praising and glorious life.

15-19 That’s why, when I heard of the solid trust you have in the Master Jesus and your outpouring of love to all the followers of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thanking God for you—every time I prayed, I’d think of you and give thanks. But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!

FROM THE GOSPELS – John 1:10-18

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 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 or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’”) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

HYMN  314   “As With Gladness, Men of Old” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  “A Hope With No Horizon”       Part 1

”I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that …you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…“ (Eph.1:16-17)

On this second day of the new year, we have had one less tomorrow this year than Shakespeare put into the mouth of Macbeth, when he said:

To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
Creeps this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow,
A poor player that struts
and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more;
It is a tale told by an idiot,
Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Pretty hopeless stuff isn’t it?  An 18-year-old university student protested to her elders, “If people are right in saying that these are the best years of my life, then I don’t know that I care to stay around to see the rest!”  Some people feel that way about facing this new year.  If its anything like the last one, they don’t care to stick around for this one.  It is a hopeless outlook, like one of Woody Allen’s characters who says in a humorous, yet despairing vein, “We have two alternatives: One leads to hopeless, alienation and despair.  The other leads to total destruction.  Let us hope we have the wisdom to make the right choice.”

The point of Christmas is that there is a third alternative. God has broken into the world, creating something new, bringing new light into a dark world, so that we may have hope.

Consider Helen Worth of Portville, New York, a grandmother, teacher and an active Methodist.  At 54 she discovered that she had AIDS because of a blood transfusion she had received seven years previously.  Her faith had been sorely challenged during the two years since she received the news.  Persons who are HIV-positive such as Mrs. Worth respond to such news with a variety of emotions: despair, depression, anger, bitterness and some, in time, with acceptance and hope.  Helen Worth wrote this statement that reflects her own doubt and hope:

I am over the initial shock now.  Whole days pass when I am able to forget my adversity. Now I have an answer to the question I used to ask God, “Why me?”
For God has opened many doors providing new challenges, commitments and opportunities:
A university level job teaching teachers to teach;
Community speaking engagements;  
And sometimes I am even asked to preach…
But I would be remiss without saying that sometimes I am sad, I am afraid of the future, and, at times, even mad!
However, with the grace of God these moments do not last – for new opportunities await me.  My uncertainties are assigned to the past.
And instead of lamenting on the question, “Why me?” I ask, “Why not me, Lord?  Yes, Lord, why not me?

The essential ingredient for people such as Mrs. Worth is hope.  Scientists tell us that rats without hope drown in a jar of water in a little over three minutes on average, but give them a glimmer of hope, and they swim for 36 hours!  And so do we!  Two doctors at a national meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology were discussing the papers that they were to present.   One was complaining bitterly:  “You know, I just don’t understand it.  We used the same drugs, the same dosage, the same schedule, and the same entry criteria; yet, I got a 22% response rate and you got 74%.  That’s unheard of.  How do you do it?”

The other doctor responded: “We are both using Etoposide, Platinol, Oncovin and Hydroxyurea.  Using the first letters of those drugs, you call your treatment regime, EPOH.  I reverse the letters.  I tell my patients I’m giving them HOPE.”

Paul Tillich, one of the better thinkers and theologians of modern times, preached a sermon in 1965, entitled “The Right to Hope,” which he began with these words:

Hope is a permanent force in every man, a driving power as long as he lives.  We may wonder why it is so seldom that philosophers and theologians speak about hope.  They don’t ask what kind of force it is that creates and maintains hope, even if everything seems to contradict it.  Instead they devalue hope by calling it wishful thinking or utopian fantasy.

        Part 2

But nobody can live without hope, even if it were only for the smallest things that give some satisfaction even under the worst of conditions, even in poverty, sickness and social failure.  Without hope, the movement of our lives toward the future would vanish, and with it, life itself.  We would end in despair,…or in deadly indifference.

Hope for the Christian is not to be thought of as an uncertain feeling of mingled longing and misgiving, as when we say that we hope it will be a fine day tomorrow, knowing that it may well be nothing of the kind.  It is not letter-to-Santa wish list, with all of the things we want our future to include. Christian hope is a non-specific confidence in good things to come.  St. Paul reminded us that a hope that is seen is not hope. In others words, proper hope does not have an object. Why? Because our meagre human hopes are severely limited by self-centredness and our own knowledge and experiences. 

The hope that God gives is based upon our faith in the unseen, the unimaginable. Although this hope does not specify the object of the hope, it is a sure thing.  As Jesuit priest, Father Joseph Tetlow wrote, “We do not have a hope which defines its own horizons; on the contrary, our hope has no horizon.”  In other words, our faith creates for us an infinitely open future where God is free to act totally unconstrained by our limited imaginations or by our human penchant for messing things up.  It is God’s initiative, just as Christmas represents God’s new initiative.

As we are reminded in today’s reading from Ephesians, we are called by God through the spirit, ie. God takes the initiative.  Our part is to simply respond.  Our calling is the basis of our hope.  Once we know we are called to God, we can confidently move into the future, for it is God’s future.  The nature of that future will be just as obscure to us as to anyone else.  We do not know what this year will bring, any more than anyone else, but because we believe that it is in God’s hands we have hope.  Hope is at the heart of existence.  Philosopher, Ernst Bloch, wrote, “Where there is life, there is hope.”  I would emphasise the converse:  Where there is hope, there is life.  We have have been given life through the hope symbolised so well by the birth of Emmanuel, God With Us.

When one looks at a picture of the sun on the horizon there is a choice:  it can be viewed as a setting sun or a rising sun.  We have 52 weeks left in 2022: weeks during which our faith will be challenged, during which we will have to wrestle individually with the various problems which beset human beings: sickness, family squabbles, death.  As a species we will need to deal the climate change, declining energy reserves, terrorism and a terminally ill economic system. It may appear at times that the sun is setting, and in fact, literally, it does so everyday, and symbolically, all too often, but in Christ we know that the sun doesn’t stay set, either literally or symbolically, and will rise. So we have reason to look forward, at every moment, in expectant anticipation of God’s future.

A warning:  when I talk about faith in God’s tomorrow, I am not saying, as some Christians do that we don’t have to worry about all these problems because God will fix them.  If we don’t deal with the problems, they will go on causing suffering, and may indeed kill us , for not even God can save us from the consequences of our actions or non-actions.  But when we are given hope, we are thus equipped with the motivation and resources with which to act in order to address the issues that threaten us.  Like the hopeful rats in the jar of water experiment, we will keep swimming, and this will make all the difference.

HYMN 690  “Beauty for Brokenness; Hope for Despair”
(click here to listen)

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 ‘bush capital’ 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 CARES AND CONCERNS TO GOD

God our holy Friend, by the Word of your supreme love in Christ Jesus, enlarge our vision so that we may pray with ample faith and hope. Speak to your church, busy at worship and service around this planet. Especially we commend to you those branches of the church about which we are most ignorant, and those with whom we seem to have least common ground. Jesus, Word of God,  make your church truly your body, with love to the world.

Give your Word of hope to all outcaste and dispossessed people; those who have been made outsiders in their own country, and those who are trying to establish themselves in a new land. Jesus, Word of God, encourage the least among these your sisters and brothers.

Speak to the leaders of our nation, states and territories. Cut through the propaganda of their ‘minders’ & media advisers, which our leaders themselves start to believe in. Set free the basic integrity and compassion which most began their political careers. Jesus, Word of God, make us an unselfish and hopeful nation.

Give your Word to all the weakest members of our community, and to those brave souls who assist them in making their voices heard and their needs known. Lift them up; encourage, guide, befriend and embolden these precious children of yours. Jesus, Word of God, call their names  andplace your own confidence within  them..

Speak to people who are at wits end; those who are bereaved today, the drug addict who despairs, the newly maimed and handicapped, those youths who see no future worth having, and those elderly folk who live in the past because the present seems unbearable. Jesus, Word of God, continue to be the rest and reviver of all who are weary and heavy laden.

God our holy Friend, you know own personal needs long before we frame the words of prayer; please do not give us what we think we want, but bless us with whatever gain or loss is best for us. Through Christ Jesus, your dearest and strongest Word, with whom we pray….

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.

HYMN   301 “The First Noel” (click here to listen)

WORD OF MISSION 

L: There is a season for everything in creation:

Le: A time for dying and a time for rebirth,

Ri: A time for laughter and a time for tears,

Le: A time for courage and a time for fear,

Ri: A time to talk and a time to be still,

Le: A time alone.  A time for romance,

Ri: A time to welcome and to send away,

Le: A time to break rules, a time to behave,

Ri: A time to search and a time to find,

Le: A time to begin,

Ri: and a time to end.   

L: There is a season for everything in creation.

BENEDICTION 

The blessing of God: star maker, friend maker, wisdom maker,
make and remake you
in the image of God.  Amen.

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