Welcome to worship with the Ocean Grove
and Barwon Heads congregations.
This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on January 16th 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.
“In the Gospel, Jesus is… the Kingdom himself.” (Origen of Alexandria)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Each new day is a gift.
Each new phase of life brings generous possibilities.
Each new question brings learning and growth.
Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life.
OPENING SENTENCES (Ps.36:5-6a,7b-9)
R: Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep.
L: Earth’s children, high and low, take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
R: We feast on the abundance of your house; you give us drink from your river of delights.
L: For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
R: Glory be to you O God, our life and our light!
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation – “Seeds” by Thom M. Shuman.
it’s the word of confidence to a 9-year-old which one day leads to the winning goal in a World Cup match;
it’s the extra practice sessions after school, going over word after word, which bolsters a young girl at the Spelling Bee Nationals;
it’s the gentle touch of a mother in the terror of a midnight thunderstorm which leads a child into nursing;
in a world which idolises success, greatness, biggie-sized achievements, remind us of those mustard seeds planted deep within us by so many over the years, which help to shape us into the people you mean us to be, Tender God.
Loving God, you call us to worship you. You call us to be community. And here we are; many of us busy, weary and pressured, believing that we will meet you here, and having done so, will sense you more clearly through our week. In the stillness of this time speak to us. Hold us. Bring us energy, peace, love, courage, patience and creativity. In our emptiness, fill us with your Spirit. In our silence, fill us with your Word.
(at least 30 seconds of silence)
CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE
Let us confess our sins, repudiating those things that rob us, and those around us, of generosity and joy. Let us pray.
Whenever we have turned our Christianity into dull routines and platitudes, without zest and laughter; Lord have mercy/
Lord have mercy.
Whenever we have resented the enthusiasm of the new convert or the excitement of the idealistic person; Christ have mercy/
Christ have mercy.
Whenever we have traded the new wine of the Gospel for the old beverage of religious laws, anxiety; and self-belittling; Lord have mercy/Lord have mercy.
O dearest Christ, Brother and Saviour, your super-abundant forgiveness is ready ages before we seek it; your love is enfolding us long before we become aware of it. Fill us, we pray, with the peace that the secular world cannot give us, and with the joy that no doubt, failure or fear can steal from us.
Infinite God of all peoples and all places, you created the earth, with its mountains and valleys, oceans and plains, with no boundaries. Yet we have parcelled out your good earth and built great armaments to protect our separate parcels
You have given us assurance of a future, a covenant on which to build our hopes. Yet we expend much of our time, money and energy trying to build for ourselves a secure future at the expense of our ability to share what we have in the present.
Forgive us, and breathe your Spirit of unity into all peoples, that the world may live in harmony, sharing the abundant resources for life that you have provided. Let us find our hope and direction from the Christ, alive in our being, that your way may be our way, and your light fill the dark places of our world. Amen.
WORD OF ASSURANCE (Ps.36:6-7a)
L: “Your righteousness, Yahweh, is like the mountains of God, your judgments like the mighty deep. You save both man and beast, how precious your love.” It is Christ who sets us free, therefore we stand free indeed, and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 62:1-5
This passage comes from a section which consists of songs celebrating the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. The subject is the restored city of Jerusalem. God is now rejoicing over the city as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride. Its nuptial imagery depicts the relation between Israel and Yahweh and, for us, helps bring understanding to the symbolism in the Gospel reading.
2 The Gentiles shall see your righteousness,
And all kings your glory.
You shall be called by a new name,
Which the mouth of the Lord will name.
3 You shall also be a crown of glory
In the hand of the Lord,
And a royal diadem
In the hand of your God.
4 You shall no longer be termed Forsaken,
Nor shall your land any more be termed Desolate;
But you shall be called Hephzibah, and your land Beulah;
For the Lord delights in you,
And your land shall be married.
5 For as a young man marries a virgin,
So shall your sons marry you;
And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
So shall your God rejoice over you.
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 2:1-11
John’s gospel is thought to be a reworking of an earlier collection of miracle stories (John calls them signs) in order to set before us the purpose of Christ’s coming into the world. Unlike most of the other signs in the gospel, the Cana marriage story has no discourse attached to it by the writer. Rather, he has contented himself with a few extra touches to link up the Cana miracle with the passion story.
2 1-3 Three days later there was a wedding in the village of Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there. Jesus and his disciples were guests also. When they started running low on wine at the wedding banquet, Jesus’ mother told him, “They’re just about out of wine.”
4 Jesus said, “Is that any of our business, Mother—yours or mine? This isn’t my time. Don’t push me.”
5 She went ahead anyway, telling the servants, “Whatever he tells you, do it.”
6-7 Six stoneware water pots were there, used by the Jews for ritual washings. Each held twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus ordered the servants, “Fill the pots with water.” And they filled them to the brim.
8 “Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host,” Jesus said, and they did.
9-10 When the host tasted the water that had become wine (he didn’t know what had just happened but the servants, of course, knew), he called out to the bridegroom, “Everybody I know begins with their finest wines and after the guests have had their fill brings in the cheap stuff. But you’ve saved the best till now!”
11 This act in Cana of Galilee was the first sign Jesus gave, the first glimpse of his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
When hopes seem dry as bull dust, old visions on the wane,
look for the wedding feast where water is changed into wine.
If you cannot keep faith’s pace, despair seems sure to win,
attend the house at Cana, where water is turned into wine.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “Some Saw Glory”
Let’s say we’re here this morning in an attempt to ‘get right with God.’ I’m not all that sure what this means, but enough people have said that this is what church is all about – to get close to God – that it must at least be close to the reason that some of us are here. So let’s start with this assumption.
Yet John’s gospel opens with a strange account of how God comes close to us: a wedding reception in Cana in Galilee. John says that after Jesus got through with the wedding guests that day, “some saw glory,” i.e. many believed.
Let me remind you before we get too far into this occasion that it is not a story about a miracle so much as a sign, as John calls it. John’s gospel is a book of signs, each one depicting something of his belief about Jesus. So what does this sign say?
The first striking aspect of this story is the quantity of water; on the order of 120-180 gallons or 450-700 litres. What were they doing with all that water? The water is for the Jewish rites of purification, of which the Jews had many such, the purpose being to make oneself pure. In this story, there is as much as 700 litres of water with which the people would purify themselves according to the law.
These purification rites were strictly regulated within the Torah – the Law. This was not water for cleansing, but rather water used to prepare for worship, that time when people gathered to get close to God, to meet God, to be with God. It is a bit like the holy water in the Catholic church. And the Jewish law said that, in order to get close to God in worship, it was necessary to get clean by ritual cleansing.
In fact, in the Talmud it is specified how much water is required for the rites of purification: only about one cup was necessary to purify 100 people. Here at this wedding, there are nearly 3000 cups of water, enough for 300,000 people, which exceeded the population of Israel at that time. Got that? Enough to purify all of Israel and more! And yet, not enough, for there are only 6 water jars. 7 is the number of perfection in Jewish numerology; only 6 jars means that they haven’t quite got there.
The meaning of the story is not that Jesus took plain drinking water and turned it into delightful wine. Rather, the issue is purification: making oneself right with God, the goal being to set oneself up to be part of God’s Kingdom where one would experience eternal life. Jesus has, in this story, in turning the water of purification into wine, the symbol of life itself, transferred us from a means of getting close to God right into the midst of the Kingdom feast, complete with all the wine – that is, all the life – that one could want. Jesus has replaced the rituals of the law with himself, and unlike the law, which only provides the potential, Jesus actually delivers the goods.
In verse 10, the story seems to stop. The narrator steps in and says, “This is the first of his signs.” It is a sign pointing to glory. When people saw the sign, they saw glory, and suddenly a wedding party was transformed into an occasion for revelation, a moment when some were brought close to God.
What is glory? I think John is talking about the cross, for elsewhere in John’s gospel, Jesus’ hour of glory is when he is “lifted up” on the cross. John says the wedding, the day when water was turned to wine, which in sacramental terms, the wine which is his blood for all people, was on the third day. Ring a bell?
We are here because we want to be close to God, but this story speaks to us of Jesus Immanuel, the incarnation of the God who has chosen to be close to us. This story is all about the Jesus who, by bringing God to humanity, renders irrelevant all human attempts to get close to God.
I fear that the Church has too often simply taken over the place of the Jewish Law; that is, to provide means by which we might get close to God when, in fact, God has been with us all along. In other words, the church has trivialised the gospel by reducing Jesus to a means to our ends, one of which is to get close to God, whatever we think that means. Jesus is judged on his utility, his helpfulness in getting what we want, the things we wanted before we met Jesus.
Writer David Wells reminds us that a Christian faith that is “conceived in the womb of self” is quite different from the Christianity that proceeds from Jesus. “It is a smaller thing, shrunken in its ability to understand the world and to stand up in it. The self is a canvas that is too narrow, too cramped to contain the largeness of the truth of Jesus.
Good and evil are reduced to a sense of well-being or its absence, God’s place in the world is reduced to the domain of private consciousness, God’s providence in the world diminishes to whatever is necessary to ensure one’s having a good day, conviction fades into evanescent opinion and theology becomes therapy. The biblical interest in righteousness is replaced by a search for happiness, holiness by wholeness, truth by feeling, ethics by feeling good about one’s self. The world shrinks to a range of personal circumstances, the community of faith to a circle of personal friends. The past recedes. The world recedes and all that remains is the self; a paltry thing…”
So we come to church looking for self esteem or peace of mind or for help making it through the next week. Of course, any or all of that may happen here, but it’s not the main event. The main event is to come here hoping to meet, or more to the point of today’s story, hoping to be met by God.
In John’s gospel Jesus bursts in, devastating all our self-salvations. In his temptations in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted to turn stones into bread. Now, we want him to turn water into wine? (pause) Turning water into wine is impressive, yet it, in itself is trivial – a parlour trick – and a temptation that the real Jesus would have nothing to do with. So when you think of it, on the surface, this is a rather trivial way to begin a gospel; at an ordinary wedding party with ordinary problems, like running short of wine, a problem apparently solved with a bit of hocus-pocus from Jesus. But by the end of the story, when you get beyond the wishful thinking for miracles, and look at the story as symbol, all this has been swept away. Our trivial usages of Jesus are overcome, and glory breaks out. It is no longer wine in short supply, it is life itself that is running out, and Jesus comes on to the scene to bring life in abundance: glorious life. God has come to us. Halleluia! Amen!
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
L: We celebrate our God
L: We celebrate our God
R: who knows and loves our deepest hearts, whose compassion is always greater than ours so that the measure of our kindness is always less than that of God.
L: We celebrate our God
R: who engages with our souls, linking us with the mystery of the universe, the endlessness of eternity, yet is as close to us in our beings as a parent with a child.
WE OFFER GOD OUR CONCERNS
God of wedding parties and new wine, of love and laughter, dancing and singing, we pause to pray for those in your worldwide family who feel left out in the cold.
Bless the many people who must work such long hours that there is no time or energy to laugh or sing.
Bless your children who feel so demeaned and exploited that they view even angels of mercy with suspicion and fear.
Bless your children whose every waking hour is spent in pain, and whose sleep is at the best fitful.
Bless those people who are drawn to Christ and new life, but who fear family, friends or workmates.
Bless your children who once tasted the new wine of Christ but have now slipped away into indifference.
Bless the people of your church, that love may flow in our prayers and our prayers flow into suitable deeds.
In the name of the Christ who makes all things new and 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.
Take the sign with you. The sign of the stone jars of cold water, that can be turned into new wine, is a sign of hope for the strong and weak, the middle aged, old and young, the downcast and the buoyant, and for those with large, or very small, faith. By the grace of Christ Jesus, go out from this place with more than you brought in. Go boldly into the future which has been claimed by God.