This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on April 24th at 10:30am
Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not able to attend 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.
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“Believe those who are seeking the truth;
doubt those who find it.” (Andre Gide)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
It is God, in the dawning, in the renewal, in the arrival, in the new day. God’s presence fills this gathering. The whole earth is full of God’s glory. Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.
L: Empowering God, when the road ahead looms endless,
R: empower us to be companions for one another along the road.
L: Inspiring God, when the road forward is blocked,
R: inspire in us creative responses that move us beyond the barriers.
L: Enabling God, when the road before us divides,
R: enable us to feel your presence luring us on.
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
God of time and eternity, help us look to the future with hope. May we be unafraid of hopes and dreams. May we be realistic about our limitations, but never to lose hope in our potential to transcend them. Grant us courage for today and tomorrow. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation: “We build temples in the heart” by Patrick Murfin.
We have seen the great cathedrals, stone laid upon stone, carved and cared for by centuries of certain hands; seen the slender minarets soar from dusty streets to raise the cry of faith to the One and Only God; seen the placid pagodas where gilded Buddhas squat amid the temple bells and incense. We have seen the tumbled temples half-buried in the sands, choked with verdant tangles, sunk in corralled seas old truths toppled and forgotten. We have even seen the wattled huts, the sweat lodge hogans, the wheeled yurts, and the Ice Age caverns where unwritten worship raised its knowing voices. But here we build temples in our hearts. Side by side we gather.
Let us sit side by side here in the temples of our hearts, and relax into the silence of this time.
(Maintain silence for at least 30 seconds)
REFLECTING ON OUR RELATIONSHIPS
R: That’s what we say.
L: If I could be sure, then I’d act.
R: That’s what we say.
L: Show me, Lord, let me see.
R: That’s what we say.
L: Just let me see for myself.
R: And we turn our eyes away.
(a period of silence)
R: Thank you, God, for accepting us just as we are.
L: Thank you for accepting us just as we are. We come to you with our fears: fears of the unknown, fears of not living up to the expectations of others, fears of failing at work and at school and in our relationships with one another.
R: Thank you, God, for accepting us just as we are.
L: Like Thomas, we wish for some proof that you exist. Like Thomas, we sometimes question who you are.
R: Thank you, God, for accepting us just as we are.
L: Help us to know that our doubting is a gift. Our questions help us to think about what you mean in our lives. You accept us just as we are. We give you thanks and praise. Amen.
L: Jesus said, “How happy are those who believe without seeing.”
R: Jesus said, “Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”
L: So I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 20:19-31
19-20 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.
20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were awestruck. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”
22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”
24-25 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”
But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”
27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”
28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”
30-31 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Faint-Hearted to Faith-Hearted”
“As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” (Jn.20:21)
Over the years I have led worship at a variety of churches, and been part of the gathered congregation at many more. I’ve attended a church with a membership of 3000 with every resource under the sun, and I’ve ministered to a congregation with a total membership of 6 in a church building with no power or running water. The largest congregation I’ve preached to numbered about 400, but I’ve also led worship with only two people present.
There are things which unite churches, wherever they are, but really, congregations have very little in common with one another. They gather in vastly different circumstances, with no common architecture, no common order of service, and in communities each with their own history and character. Some have marvellous facilities, others get by on a shoestring budget. Today’s gospel reading gives us picture of a church that had no pipe organ, not even a piano. No choir, nor even a pastor. No lovely windows or hymn books. In fact, it’s a picture of the worst church imaginable: the first miserable little congregation ever to be considered to be ‘church.’
It’s the gathering of the disciples of Jesus after his resurrection. Look at them! For long, painstaking chapters in John’s gospel, Jesus has been preparing his disciples for his departure. He has gone over and over his commandments to love one another, to be bold, to trust him, to be ready to follow him at all costs.
Well, somebody wasn’t paying attention. Look at them, cowering like frightened mice behind closed and bolted doors. They were to be the ones walking confidently out into the world, full of the Holy Spirit, announcing the Easter triumph of God. Look at them hunched down, hoping that nobody in town will know that they’re there. Here is the church at its worst: scared, disheartened, and defensive.
What kind of advertisement would this church put in the Saturday paper to attract members? “The friendly church- all welcome?” Hardly! Locked doors are not exactly the sign of hospitality. “The church with a warm heart and a bold mission?” Not likely! This is the church of sweaty palms and weak knees.
Could this even be called a church? Not only is there no sanctuary, no pulpit, no choir and no car park, more significantly it has no plan, no mission, no conviction, no nothing. Here is a church with absolutely nothing going for it except…(pause)
Except that, when it is gathered, the risen Christ pushed through the locked door and stood among them.
And maybe this is every church, even the one in Houston with a dozen bowling alleys and a pool and a large screen closed circuit TV or even Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral. Left to their own devices every church is nothing more than a huddle of confused, timid, cowering failures to follow Jesus.
Oh, we try hard. We gather in meetings and plan, we set goals and choreograph our worship, (and as we will do today, elect leaders,) but maybe all that is just another equivalent to the those disciples’ locked doors. We work so hard to plan and organise so as to keep it all fixed, planned and tied down that the spirit of Jesus can’t move us; can’t upset us too much. This can be death.
But sometimes, by the grace of God, the Spirit slips through our closed doors, and there is worship, not worship of our own creation, but worship as a gift. And we take off our shoes in awed wonder, for we have become church.
Without the presence of Jesus, which turns our human gatherings into the church of God, we are just like that pitiful huddle of timid souls in John’s gospel, hanging on to one another in fear behind locked doors. But the good news is that it was to this church, which was hardly a church, that the living Christ came saying, “Peace be with you.” Into this busy, buzzing void, there was a voice, a presence.
Now Christ could have come to say, “Shame on you all! After all I’ve taught you, you call yourself a church?” But he didn’t. He said, “Peace be with you.” He even says it twice, in case we don’t get the point (He knows how slow we are): “Peace be with you,” telling them he is sending them into the world. Then he breathes on them, giving them the Holy Spirit, bestowing upon them the power to forgive sins.
You put all these gifts together and they are the church. To the church that had nothing, he gave everything: Spirit, mission, forgiveness, authority.
We are the church, not because of the building we’ve built and cared for, not because of the choir, the organ, the preaching, or the various activities. We are not the church because of what we have done. We are the church because to us, even to us, Jesus has come and given us his gift of Spirit, mission and forgiveness, commissioning us to give them to the world. That’s why we are called church.
I read about a church in the rural southern US, the kind of church where they typically sent the worst of the newly ordained ministers. One new minister arrived on his first visit to his new church, to find a large chain and padlock on the front door, put there by the sheriff. Naturally his first question to one of the locals was why?
“Well, things got out of hand at the board meeting last month, and folks started ripping up carpet, dragging out the pews they had given in memory of their mothers. It got bad. The sheriff came out and put that there lock on the door until our new preacher could come and settle things down.”
This beginning typified that young minister’s time at that so-called church. Each Sunday he would pray for a miraculous snowstorm to save him from another Sunday there. Fortunately he only had to spend a year there, which was all that the powers-that-be considered possible for one human being. In that year he had tried everything, but the response was always disappointing. The arguments, the pettiness, the fights in the car park after church took its toll on him. “You call yourself a church?” he muttered to himself as he left after his last Sunday among them.
A couple years later, that minister ran into a young man who, as it transpired, was currently ministering at that very same church. The young man commented, “It is a remarkable bunch of people out there.”
“Yeah, Remarkable,” said the older minister.
The young man continued, “Their ministry to the community has been a wonder. That little church is supporting more than a dozen troubled families around the church. The free day-care centre is going great, and it’s one of the few interracial congregations in the state.
Of course, the former minister could hardly believe what he was hearing. “How did that happen?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” replied the young minister. “One Sunday things just came together. It wasn’t anything in particular. It’s just that, when the service was over, and people were on their way out, we all knew Jesus loved us and had plans for us. Things just took off after that.”
It sounds to me like that church got intruded upon. I think someone greater than any of us knocked the lock off that door, kicked it open and offered them peace, the Holy Spirit and forgiveness. And now they are not just called ‘church’; they are church.
Church isn’t my work, your effort, our long-range planning, or sacrificial giving. Church is a gift, a visitation, and an intrusion of the living Christ standing among us.
CELEBRATION OF FAITH
L: In response to the word reflected on, let us stand and share together an affirmation of faith.
R: With faith to face our challenges, with love that casts out fear, with hope to trust tomorrow, we accept this day as the gift it is: a reason for rejoicing.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy Spirit of Christ Jesus, Holy Spirit of God, we pray for a world where blaming one another will give way to trying to understand, and a determination to put right old wrongs. Breathe on us breath of God; Spirit of Christ Jesus, come with your breath of pure sanity and grace.
We pray for our imperfect system of justice in this land. Let magistrates, jurors and judges begin by seeing themselves standing there in the dock, but for the grace of God.
That in spite of their limitations, our prisons may be geared towards character change and restoration, and that communities may give ex-prisoners a fair go to make good.
We pray for the United Nations when it is faced with the obscenity of war crimes; that a thirst for vengeance may not override the hunger for complete truth, justice and the wisdom of mercy.
Let compassion and encouragement flourish in our family life, that biting criticisms for obvious faults, and nit picking over minor ones, and the habits of pay-back, may not set the dominate mood.
We pray for church congregations around the globe. Let us become extravagant with compassion towards the lost and those who hate themselves, yet steel-sharp in confronting both injustice and social evils.
Loving God, please continue to save us. Where our true need is the loosing of sins, deal gently with us. But where we need discomforting, binding and rebuking, give us no rest until we come to our senses and open up to receive your mercy.
And in the words Jesus gave us we 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.
THE SENDING OUT
L: And now we take our leave.
R: Before we gather here again:
may each of us bring happiness into another’s life;
may we each be surprised by the gifts that surround us; may each of us be enlivened by constant curiosity.
And may we remain together in spirit
til the hour we meet again.