Welcome to worship with the Ocean Grove
and Barwon Heads congregations.
This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on February 27th 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.
One day the Master asked, “What, in your opinion, is the most important of all religious questions?”
He got many answers:
“Does God exist?” “What is the path to God?”
“Is there life after death?” “Who is God?”
“No,” said the Master, “The most important question is: Who am I?”
from One Minute Wisdom by Anthony de Mello, S.J.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
R: Through us
God comes to unique and personal expression.
L: Let us give thanks for the abundance of life on this earth.
R: Through it we and all people may be nourished.
L: Great God, we come together to worship you.
R: We meet to praise you.
L: We remember your great deeds of creation:
R: You made the earth, the moon and the stars.
L: You made living creatures and growing plants.
R: You made us – men and women in your own image.
ACT OF AWARENESS
In all our living, may we be freed to see things afresh, to be more fully alive, and have the courage to keep faith in the future of humanity.
A PRAYER OF THANKS AND ADORATION
R: You chose Abraham and Sarah as the beginning of a great nation.
L: You chose Moses to set that nation free from slavery in Egypt.
R: You chose to give your message of love to all people through Jesus.
L: We thank you for your great love for us:
R: We see your love in the world around us.
L: We hear about your love in the stories of your people.
R: We know your love in our own lives.
L: We bring to you our love.
R: We worship and praise you. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation:“The Womb of Stars” by Joy Atkinson.
The womb of stars embraces us;
remnants of their fiery furnaces pulse through our veins.
We are of the stars, the dust of the explosions cast across space.
We are of the earth:
we breathe and live in the breath of ancient plants and beasts.
Their cells nourish the soil;
we build our communities on their harvest of gifts.
Our fingers trace the curves carved in clay and stone
by forebears unknown to us.
We are a part of the great circle of humanity
gathered around the fire, the hearth, the altar.
We gather anew at this time to celebrate our common heritage.
May we recall in gratitude all that has given us birth.
Let us open ourselves to the sacred silence of this place.
May the strength of silence support our courage to endure,
and open to us creative channels of the spirit.
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Exodus 34:29-35
After his mountain-top experience with God, Moses returns with skin aglow. As the story goes, his transformed countenance causes some anxiety among his followers, so Moses veils/masks his face. Henceforth, whenever he has talked with God he, afterward, puts on a mask. The use of a ritual mask is well attested in antiquity in connection with prophecy, and it is this practice which probably gave rise to the story; however, the point of the story for us today is that, as a result of being in touch with the Divine, God is reflected in Moses’ face. The mask is used to protect the people from seeing in Moses the awesome, fearful face of God.
29 Now it was so, when Moses came down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the Testimony were in Moses’ hand when he came down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone while he talked with Him. 30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 Then Moses called to them, and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned to him; and Moses talked with them. 32 Afterward all the children of Israel came near, and he gave them as commandments all that the Lord had spoken with him on Mount Sinai. 33 And when Moses had finished speaking with them, he put a veil on his face. 34 But whenever Moses went in before the Lord to speak with Him, he would take the veil off until he came out; and he would come out and speak to the children of Israel whatever he had been commanded. 35 And whenever the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone, then Moses would put the veil on his face again, until he went in to speak with Him.
FROM THE GOSPELS – Luke 9:28-37
We have here a parallel to the Moses story with the traditional elements of a theophany (a manifestation of God): a mountain top, a change in a person’s appearance, a cloud, a voice from heaven. Our concern is not what actually happened, but what the story-teller is trying to convey with the story. The story, in fact, tells us a great deal, making references to Jesus’ baptism, the garden of Gethsemane, the cross, and the resurrection; but for today our interest is the visible appearance in Jesus of the Divine. There is no veil, no mask. What does it mean for our lives after the veil is lifted?
28-31 About eight days after saying this, he climbed the mountain to pray, taking Peter, John, and James along. While he was in prayer, the appearance of his face changed and his clothes became blinding white. At once two men were there talking with him. They turned out to be Moses and Elijah—and what a glorious appearance they made! They talked over his exodus, the one Jesus was about to complete in Jerusalem.
32-33 Meanwhile, Peter and those with him were slumped over in sleep. When they came-to, rubbing their eyes, they saw Jesus in his glory and the two men standing with him. When Moses and Elijah had left, Peter said to Jesus, “Master, this is a great moment! Let’s build three dwellings: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” He blurted this out without thinking.
34-35 While he was babbling on like this, a light-radiant cloud enveloped them. As they found themselves buried in the cloud, they became deeply aware of God. Then there was a voice out of the cloud: “This is my Son, the Chosen! Listen to him.”
36 When the sound of the voice died away, they saw Jesus there alone. They were speechless. And they continued speechless, said not one thing to anyone during those days of what they had seen.
TRANSFIGURATION © B.D. Prewer 2000
It could have been on Mt Wellington or on St Mary’s Peak,
with Christ up there something went on
which words could never speak.
It could have been Liz, or Jack or Fay,
Grechen, Nardoo or Ruth,
with Peter, James and John that day
when they saw blazing truth.
It could have been an Aussie voice
that spoke to them like thunder:
“Listen to him, my chosen Son,”
and left them dazed with wonder.
It could now be at scenic Bright or maybe Botony Bay,
that human souls still see the light of Love that’s here to stay.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS
Here, appropriate for today, are some words of the 1960s poet and song writer, Sydney Carter:
You can blame it on Adam, you can blame it on Eve,
you can blame it on the apple, but that I can’t believe.
I share this with you this morning because today’s gospel story by Luke, pinched directly from Mark, is about one of those ‘but that I can’t believe’ incidents: a mythical incident (and I use the word ‘mythical’ in its technical sense, referring to an eternal internal story) in the life of Jesus called the ‘transfiguration’.
As a story it is very imaginative, but not so imaginative that we can’t find many similar stories, such as our mountain top tale from Exodus. Jesus and some of his friends climb to the top of a mountain. They enjoy the magnificent views. They breathe deeply the fresh air. They are engulfed by a cloud. They allow the experience to recharge their flagging spirits and re-sensitise their imaginations.
And they wanted the experience to last for ever. ‘Let’s build our own chapel, and you, Jesus, can be our private chaplain’. Some of you have told me of your religious experiences which are, in many ways, very similar, and you wanted it to last.
But, says the storyteller, a booming voice out of a cloud put paid to the idea. And as another storyteller has said: “The mountaintop is a refuge, but it is not home. The mountaintop is safe, but it is removed. We are forever changed up on the mountain, but we are useless to the world if we do not return and share what we have experienced. We go up the mountain so that we can come back down.” That is, in essence, it’s message. It is the sermon the author of this story preached to his listeners a couple thousand years ago, and it is still pertinent today. But is that all it is? We can approach this story with:
- historical questions… such as: ’How did this happen?’ ‘Where did it happen?’;
- we can approach this story with theological questions such as: ’What connections can we make to this story?’ ‘What is this story saying about Jesus, or even G-O-D?’;
- Or we can approach this story with (iii) imagination, as poets and hymn writers have done through the ages.
So we really do have several options. Option 1, the historical approach, is for me, a waste of time; it can be only speculation at best, of curiosity value only, because it doesn’t really matter to my understanding of Jesus; so, my usual inclination is to favour option No. 2, which I did last year, for there is something quite important about G-O-D here; that G-O-D is to be understood as a creative, transforming ‘energy’ in the lives of people. And, for me, understanding is crucial. It has to make sense. Whatever this story is telling us has to fit with human experience of life and must advance my theological understanding, or it has no value.
And from this story I understand we are called to come down off the mountain top and serve in the towns and cities and the valleys below. To reach out our hands, so to speak and touch the Christ, who is incognito in our neighbour.
It’s a great message. If today’s sermon was to be constructed along similar lines, it would be an important message to be sure. Yes, you’ve heard it before, but it is worth repeating.
But today I would like to take you down a different path, for I’ve been encouraged to let go of my desire, my need, for understanding.
So what is more important than understanding? During a conversation on the Transfiguration with a colleague, he said: ‘And what about the prophet’s ecstasy, the dreamer’s vision, the preacher’s imagination’. If you’ve read on the congregation’s website my article on the religious role of the imagination, you will understand why my colleague’s comments hooked me in.
He went on:
‘Our faith is about entertaining angels, every bit as much as it is about seeking to comfort the afflicted and to heal the sick. It is not only about understanding what is, but seeking visions of a new heaven and a new earth; it is about visions of what is not, every bit as much as it is about seeking justice and resisting evil.
Although he agreed that chasing the historicity of the Transfiguration was a futile exercise, he also wanted me to stop trying to understand the story rationally, and instead, allow it to stimulate my imagination. He went on: “Read some of the writings of Marcus Borg, who suggests Jesus was an ‘ecstatic’.”
So, I did. Let me offer some of Borg’s ideas:
“Jesus… was a Jewish mystic.… a ‘religious quester’, which seems the best explanation of his going to the wilderness to John the Baptiser. I think he had visions, though I don’t know whether we have an account of any of them. I have a hunch that he had experiences of nature mysticism… this would be consistent with his sense of the immediate presence of God… I suspect [he] had an experiential sense of the reality of God in his prayer life, which I assume included some form of meditation”.
Mmmm. There is good news this morning in this story. The good news is: G-O-D, however we use that word/symbol/metaphor, is not aloof and detached and supernatural, but rather G-O-D as an Event works like an expert weaver, naturally, even tangibly.
G-O-D uses the fibres of our lives, weaving them into beautiful, powerful garments of love, empowering us for mission, as a congregation, and our continuing theological journeys as individuals.
And the good news is also, the presentness of G-O-D is to be found:
- in the close encounters with new life and death,
- in a special way during a period of suffering,
- in church liturgies.
- in praying and meditation,
- in the beauty of the universe around us, and our ability to apprehend it,
So listening to my colleague’s comments, may I suggest again:
Don’t ignore or throw away these imaginative and mysterious experiences. Don’t let go of those things that you don’t understand or cannot explain or don’t believe. Rather, meditate on them, delight in them, use them in all their exciting particularity:
- As imaginative ‘energy’ or Creativity that vitalises your faith.
- As a source of strength for living (and ministry) in the valleys below.
- As we revere how things are, and find ways to express gratitude for our existence.
Perhaps this recounting of a story from Karl Peters, retired professor of philosophy and religion, may also offer a clue to a new awareness and imagination. He was sharing in a conference on ‘Prayer and Spirituality’ with a Zen Buddhist nun, called Geshin. He says:
“We were having a vigorous intellectual go at prayer and spirituality, with all their implications. In the midst of our intense discussion, Geshin raised her hand and said, ‘Do you hear the bird outside, singing?’ I realised at that point that she had included not only what we were talking about, but also the whole environment around us. She was connected ‘with the way things are in all their exciting particularity’” .
So as a final gesture may I add: imaginative and mysterious experiences can allow us to balance our personal selves with the sense we are in a context that is larger and more important than our selves.
Humans need stories; compelling stories; stories from the sages and artists of past and present times “which help to orient us in our lives and in the cosmos. May it be so with all of us as well!
A LITANY “Commitment to Life”
L: In the midst of hunger and war
R: We celebrate the promise of plenty and peace.
R: We celebrate the promise of service and freedom.
L: In the midst of doubt and despair
R: We celebrate the promise of faith and hope.
L: In the midst of fear and betrayal
R: We celebrate the promise of joy and loyalty.
L: In the midst of hatred and death
L: In the midst of sin and decay
R: We celebrate the promise of salvation and renewal.
L: In the midst of death on every side
R: We celebrate the promise of the Living Christ.
WE OFFER OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD
L: God our Holy Friend, we pray that your light in Christ, unencumbered by the faults of your worshippers, may be seen and trusted by the people of the world. Wherever there is darkness,
R: Let the Light shine.
L: When there is trembling and superstition, timidity and a shrinking into deeper error and blindness of the spirit; wherever there is darkness,
R: Let the Light shine.
R: Let the Light shine.
L: When there are none to stand up for the weak and the neglected, when good people don’t want to get involved and even the voice of the church is muted; wherever there is darkness,
R: Let the Light shine.
L: When people struggle on without hope, or suffer without being loved, or die without any faith; wherever there is darkness,
R: Let the Light shine.
L: When two or three gather in Christ’s name, when the needs of the world seem enormous and church resources meagre; (or when a church such as ours meets to ponder the path to be chosen and the next step taken, as we will today;) wherever there is darkness,
R: Let the Light shine.
L: Holy Friend, by the light which can never be smothered, by the light which is sufficient for fools, by the light which bursts free from deepest tombs, guide our feet in the way everlasting. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught his disciples 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.
WORD OF MISSION
L: Now may our wisdom show itself in deeds of compassion and in acts of understanding.
R: May the fruits of the spirit be apparent in our lives.
As you prepare to end this sacred time, pack away a piece of this church in your heart, wrap it carefully like a precious gem, carry it with you through the joys and sorrows of your days, and let its gentle glow strengthen you, warm you, remind you of all that is good and true until you gather here again in this time of love.