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 30th 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.
“No man can be a friend of Jesus who is not a friend to his neighbour.” (R.H. Benson)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Fold up the newspaper. Turn off the kettle. Close up your diary already filled with dates and times and people and places that claim you. This congregation is ready for you to fill this sacred time, to create its spirit, to generate its warmth, to kindle its light. Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God
Leader: In this land, Australia, may we keep in touch with the simple pleasures of life:
Women: the smell of the bush after summer rain,
Men: the sound of surf rolling on sandy shores,
Women: the juiciness of fruit freshly picked,
Men: an evening breeze at the end of a hot day.
Leader: In this land, Australia, may we keep in touch with the simple pleasures of life:
All: gifts of the Creative God new every morning.
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
Abiding God, grant us the joy of feeling ourselves a part of your vast magnificence, your all-encompassing love. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
To the God above God we turn our thoughts in meditation. To the God above the god of any single nation, who unites the people of the world in the bonds of kinship and peace; to the God above the god of any single ideology, who knows that one human life is more valuable than all the systems in the world; to the God above the god of any single religion, whose goodness and inspiration are the possession of people of all faiths; to the God above God who brings humility to our minds and reverence to our hearts. We dedicate ourselves in work and in prayer.
Come apart from the busyness of family and work, and dwell in the presence of God who is our source of being. God calls us to renew ourselves and our life’s purpose as we gather with others who are searching. Let us be in silence together.
(30 seconds of Silence)
With confidence we come before you, loving God, for your goodness can display its glory in the midst of our spiritual bankruptcy.
You understand our corrupted nature much better than we do, and you precede us with truth and grace. Grant us the grace of repentance./ Grant us your peace.
You anticipate our need for forgiveness and provide a way of healing which is open to every repentant soul. Grant us the grace of repentance/ Grant us your peace.
You have great patience, relentless mercy, and refuse to be put off by our repetitive sins and self deceits. Grant us the grace of repentance/ Grant us your peace.
Please continue to deal with us, loving God, not in the way we want but the way we really need. Wipe out our shame and restore us to the joy of your holy friendship. Amen!
L: “The love of Christ Jesus is patient and kind. His love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. His love will never end.” My friends, secure in the saving love of God, I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 4:16-30 (The Message version)
The story we are about to hear is set in Jesus’ home town early in his ministry. Luke’s knowledge of the area, having never been there himself, was sketchy at best. He says Nazareth was built on a hill. Well, if it was, it has been moved! Actually it’s on the slope of a hill. It was a tiny village clinging to the edge of its one small spring. There was no cliff over which the villagers might throw Jesus. Of course, having never visited the place, Luke was not to know that; just as most of his readers ever since have been unaware of the actual geography of Nazareth. We may conclude, then, this story is the product of Luke’s imagination, rather than a memory of some actual event passed on to him by others. So let’s remember: Luke, like all the gospel writers is writing theology rather than geography or history. Now on with the story.
16-21 He came to Nazareth where he had been raised. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
God’s Spirit is on me;
he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, “This is God’s time to shine!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.”
22 All who were there, watching and listening, were surprised at how well he spoke. But they also said, “Isn’t this Joseph’s son, the one we’ve known since he was just a kid?”
23-27 He answered, “I suppose you’re going to quote the proverb, ‘Doctor, go heal yourself. Do here in your hometown what we heard you did in Capernaum.’ Well, let me tell you something: No prophet is ever welcomed in his hometown. Isn’t it a fact that there were many widows in Israel at the time of Elijah during that three and a half years of drought when famine devastated the land, but the only widow to whom Elijah was sent was in Sarepta in Sidon? And there were many lepers in Israel at the time of the prophet Elisha but the only one cleansed was Naaman the Syrian.”
28-30 That set everyone in the meeting place seething with anger. They threw him out, banishing him from the village, then took him to a mountain cliff at the edge of the village to throw him to his doom, but he gave them the slip and was on his way.
THEY WERE FILLED WITH WRATH (based on Luke 4:20-28)
And all spoke well of him and of his gracious words
until he called their bluff
and demanded much more
for the outcaste and poor;
then they got rough.
And all spoke well of him, “A nice bloke, Joseph’s son”;
until he stepped outside
their polite comfort zon
where brave souls walk alone;
then they deride.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Look Who’s Coming to Dinner”
“He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news…’”
At this point in the service I am going to do something strange. The problem is, you have experienced me and others do this so often that it no longer strikes you as strange. I am going to lead you in a radical, counter-cultural, subversive activity. I am going preach. But as the reading for today suggests, I might be taking my life in my hands in doing so.
I invite you to ponder with me, a couple of important questions:
* what was happening in Luke’s community for this story to be told?
* what is happening in our own stories- family, church, nation – for us to hear and connect with this story?
Luke’s Jesus decided to return home. When he did, his people, many of them cousins and near relatives – those whom you would normally expect to be welcoming and accepting – listened, and indeed liked what they initially heard. A local boy made good. This could be good for the local tourist trade! But when they read between the lines and listened some more, especially when pushed a bit, they decide they can’t accept what he has to say. What were they reacting to?
Looking carefully at the text, we discover that Jesus went on to talk about God’s grace towards the despised Gentiles, those non-Jews who were regarded as unclean and hardly human; despised and unfit for the company of righteous Jews.
This ordinary bloke, one of us, has great potential, but he comes making unrealistic demands, disturbing our fragile village comfortableness. His views do not match our ideas of ‘God’ or ‘religion’; so who does he think he is! Or more important: who the hell does he think we are!
Mmm. Better the domesticated Jesus at their personal disposal than the challenging Jesus let loose, perhaps even out of control. Sounds very modern, yet very old.
What was happening in Luke’s community for him to decide this imaginative story was important for them to hear? How were they acting when faced with new or different ways of thinking and believing and shaping community? Again to be honest, we can only speculate. Luke is a storyteller not an historian, and he doesn’t help us much here, so we have to speculate.
It could have been something like this: the people of Luke’s community, just like the so-called people of Jesus’ hometown in the story, were puzzled and disturbed and anxious by the demands of the new and challenging vision of God’s domain, populated as it was with outsiders, outcasts and exiles! It contradicted their normal notion of who belonged and who did not, of who was in and who was out!
But Luke’s Jesus continues to nudge and persuade: God’s love is inclusive and embracing and universal, not exclusive. And no one, not even the so-called ‘God’s chosen people’ should ever think of themselves as privileged. But were they ready to hear this?
Likewise, an important question in the even broader expression of this story is: how are we to be church and express being an inclusive community, today? Or indeed: how are we to be an inclusive, multicultural Australian community? And there are many puzzled and agitated people expressing their viewpoints, and sometimes anger, on that broader issue right now! So how can our expression of community – church or family – help in this debate?
There has always been a degree of underlying racism to Australian culture. In saying this, I do not suggest that it is any worse than in, say, the U.S. or anywhere else. Indeed, racism is natural to some extent: the extension of a survival instinct that has outlived its usefulness. But there has been less willingness to acknowledge racism as a problem in Australia – you know, fair go egalitarianism and all that – therefore, it has simmered under the surface, used and nurtured by canny politicians as a source of power, while remaining sufficiently subtle to avoid evoking corrective action.
Luke could have brought his message of Jesus’ inclusiveness to the very first colonists to this country who, instead of the old English fox hunts, indulged in what they called “boong” hunts.” The first time I ever spoke at an ANZAC Day service, I paid tribute to that segment of the Australian population that had, by far, the greatest number of war dead; that is, the Aborigines who died fighting the invaders in the British colonial war of conquest. I discovered first-hand why the crowd turned against Jesus; no one spoke to me and I was never invited back. While white Australians no longer hunt black Australians, the indigenous people still are kept on the margins.
Despite the variety of riches that migrants have brought to this country in the several decades, each ethnic group has had to struggle to prove themselves to be real Aussies. First it was the Chinese during the gold rush, then the Greeks and Italians in the 60’s, then the Vietnamese and Cambodians fleeing the war, then came the Lebonese, the Serbs and Croats, and now, refugees from the Middle East, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
I would suggest that more than one federal election has been won, at least in part, because the winners played to the racist tendency which lies behind the fear of those who are different, be it boat people or women who wear veils. Nor has the courting of racism stopped.
In 2007 under the Howard government, the portfolio for Multiculturalism was replaced by Citizenship. On the surface, a name change is hardly a radical move, yet the motivation for the change was potentially quite sinister. Fortunately, Rudd Labor government reversed the change the next year.
So if Australians who are, relatively speaking, a pretty accepting group, can have their racist buttons pushed, imagine an audience such as the one Jesus faced, which has exclusivism engrained in their law and in their upbringing.
Jesus spoke of the legendary prophet Elijah, who in a time of famine did not precipitate a food miracle for Jews, but did so for an alien widow in the Phoenician province of Sidon. Jesus drove home his message by also reminding them of the case of the prophet Elisha, who although there were many lepers in Israel, was used by God to heal a leper called Naaman; a man from hated Syria.
That did it! Their good mood turned foul. Praise turned to scorn and anger. I quote: When they heard this, all those who were in the synagogue became furious, and they went for Jesus. Not so unusual. As recent as the 1970’s some church ministers were rejected and practically ‘run out’ of country towns because it was considered they sided with aborigines.
This was the crunch time for Jesus. It appears that it was Jesus’ declaration that God loved Gentiles as much as he loved Jews, that enraged the people of his home town. They had no time for this inclusive message; it disgusted and infuriated them. What had seemed at first a kindly congregation, basking in the glory of one of their own making good, turned into a wild mob bent on lynching this upstart who dared to challenge the doctrine of God’s favouritism towards the Jews.
Yet Jesus’ mission remained a universal, inclusive one, and he proved this by including in his outreach the hated Roman and the mongrel Samaritan, the Greek and Phoenician. As well as this, he made sure he included all those disgraced Jews, the outsiders who would no longer have been welcome at the synagogue: prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers
Jesus refused to classify people into pure or impure, righteous and unrighteous, worthy churchgoers and the unworthy outsiders, Israelites and pagan Gentiles, God’s people and the unwashed mob. His love was radically inclusive. This is what appears to be what ‘got up the noses’ of his fellow citizens in Nazareth.
God’s grace in Christ Jesus did not discriminate. This led to rejection, even by those kindly folk with whom Jesus had grown up in Nazareth. Doing the right thing led him to be pushed to the edge of a cliff by the good people of his home town.
Let’s face it: true godliness does not directly lead to prosperity and praise. In fact, Luke includes in his list of beatitudes, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.”
Here in Australia, in spite of our myth of ‘mateship’ and an egalitarian ‘fair go,’ the faithful church, or faithful minister, might not be marked by booming congregations and community admiration any more than Jesus and his disciples were.
Inclusive love, when it moves beyond mere religious sentiment into nitty gritty truth and action, remains a scandal. It will offend some. Those who once spoke well of us, can quickly turn on us and reject us when the truth of Christ starts to bite. To love and follow Jesus is a risky way to go. Yet it is the only way that leads to abundant life and light and holy joy.
Luke’s story suggests a universalism underpinning life. Which could be summed up as: God is as likely to bless an Imam as an Archbishop. But it’s a universalism which comes at a cost, then and now. Right now there are those, mainly politicians, who talk dismissively of multiculturalism, calling it ‘mushy’, but who pound their nationalistic fists like silly cocks crowing on their own dunghill when it serves them.
Yet such universalism or extravagant welcome to all persons, whether in the church or in our wider Australian community, really is the only way to experience abundant life and to be all that we can be in our pluralistic and polarised age. So I think this is Luke’s challenge and blessing, to and for us, if we can hear it amid all the other seductive calls and demands in our own Aussie backyard, at this time and in our day.
Just a final note on Jesus’ rejection and the potential for ours as well: the Church defeated the mighty Roman Empire in less than 400 years using none of the props by which Roman institutions constituted themselves. Assaulting family, gender, race, social class and economic level, the Church formed a people on not much more than the Word; the intrusive Word that ploughed through Roman institutions and values, creating, as if out of nothing, a new people where previously there had been none; a seismic shift on the basis of nothing more than the Word, the intrusive Word.
As Baptist prophet, Will Campbell says, the Word is our first offence and last defence. My major task as a minister is the creation of congregations bold enough to hear the Word without killing the preacher for speaking it. Every time the scroll is unwrapped and the words come forth, the adventure begins. The Word of God is given freedom to roam about in your life, and God’s people are reconstituted. And for the zillionth time in our history, God’s Word has had its way with us. And if you come here Sunday after Sunday and never feel challenged, changed…assaulted even… by the Word, then either I am failing at my task or you are not listening.
Remember when Jesus had been fasting for forty days in the wilderness, starving for lack of bread, Satan came to him and offered him all the bread he could eat. Jesus, probably so hungry he could die, said, “We don’t live by bread, but by the Word of the Lord.” We live, only because of the Word.
LITANY FOR AUSTRALIA
L: In response to the word reflected on let us stand and share together a litany for Australia. We affirm that we are called to be the Church,
R: the witness of Source of Life and Love in the world.
L: We believe that we are the disciples who follow in the footsteps of Jesus, the Compassionate One,
R: who extended the hospitality of God by living within and for the marginalised, those kept to the outside of society; and the stranger.
L: We believe all lands belong to God and that Australia is God’s gift to us.
L: We uphold the right of all people
irrespective of colour, culture, creed, or sexual orientation, to find a home in Australian community.
R: We believe the Spirit of God calls us to work for and to support an Australian society which affirms the traditions which have enriched our country, welcomes newcomers, appreciates the diversity of cultures, and is inclusive and cooperative in spirit.
PRAYER OF INTERCESSION
Loving God, please continue to embrace this world with your inclusive judgement and mercy. We pray for humanity with all its fear and division, self deceit and injustice.
For bigoted groups who feel so sure of themselves that they exclude from their fellowship all other races, cultures and religions; and for those who are so unsure of themselves that they are constantly pulled this way and that without any security or peace.
For some churches that have turned in on themselves, shutting out all other opinions and behaviour; and for those churches that in trying to be open to the world are in danger of losing their basic integrity of faith.
For country folk who having endured the shrinking of their towns and the loss of key services, and now strongly resent the cities; and for urban communities who have been hit by the closure of industries, and the take-over of companies, and imagine that rural people have it easy.
For arrogant and powerful nations who seek to manipulate, dominate and ruthlessly exploit other countries; and for small nations that have much to offer the world community but are too reticent or afraid to do so.
For workplace situations where cliques and power groups manipulate or bully others for their own personal prestige and profit; and for those workplaces where employers and employees work together in good humour for the common good.
For those fortunate people who, though ill or injured, have swift access to the best doctors, clinics, hospitals and surgery; and for those less fortunate who remain on waiting lists, or spend long, painful hours on trolleys in casualty wards..
For any in this congregation today who have found their faith strengthened, their hope uplifted, and their love deepened; and for any who may be feeling barren of soul and anxious and depressed about the future.
God of our salvation, please draw all your children closer to your inclusive arms and to one another, that we may experience the healing of Christ and enjoy the freedom of the Spirit.
In the name of the one 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.
WORDS OF MISSION
R: May we go forth from this place with openness and with thanksgiving!
L: Because God loves Gentiles as much as Jews, and sinners as much as the saints, you and I will never walk alone. There is no fault in our lives that is beyond God’s power to remedy, nor any gift that is too small for God to celebrate and use. God is in the business transforming all things into a beauty exceeding our holiest expectations
May God, Jesus and the Spirit bless your ways;
God bless the ground beneath your feet,
God bless the road or which you travel,
God bless the friends with whom you stay,
Each day and night, each night and day. Amen!