Easter 5C (15-05-2022)

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on May 15th 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. 

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-

“The greatest hope for the future of the world
is a great hope held in common.” 

(Teilhard de Chardin)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Each morning we are thankful for the night just ended, for the years that have been, and for the day that is.  Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

OPENING SENTENCES (based on Rev.21:1-6)

L: Do you see this city?  Here God dwells among the people

R: God will make a home among us and we shall be God’s people.

L: God is the beginning and the end and is making the whole creation new.

R: Let us worship together.

A GATHERING PRAYER

Generous God, you bring light to our days and hope to our hearts. We are grateful for your care. You have invited us once more to this time of celebration. May we be raised up to embrace your way of love. Amen.

HYMN 441 – “Behold! The Mountain of the Lord” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE  

     Mediation – “For Desert Times”  by Margaret Keip.

The journeys of our lives are never fully charted. There come to each of us deserts to cross: barren stretches, where the green edge on the horizon may be our destination, or an oasis on our way, or a mirage that beckons only to leave us lost.

When fear grips the heart, or despair bows the head, may we bend as heart and head lead us down to touch the ground beneath our feet. May we scoop some sand into our hands and receive what the sand would teach us: it holds the warmth of the sun when the sun has left our sight, as it holds the cool of the night when the stars have faded.

Hidden among its grains are tiny seeds, at rest and waiting, dormant yet undefeated. Desert flowers. They endure.  Moistened by our tears and by the rains  that come to end even the longest drought, they send down roots and they bloom.

May we believe in those seeds, and in the seeds within us.

May we remember in our dry seasons that we, too, are desert flowers.

     Silence

Let us take a few moments to listen for God in the silence in which we may find strength to live lives  rich in affection, deep in understanding and sympathy for each other.  May the blessings of life be known to all.               

                  (Maintain  silence  for at least 30 seconds)

CONFESSION

L: Loving God, we confess that sometimes we leave no room in our lives for dreams.  We like to be well-organised, leaving nothing to chance.

Mn: Our eyes are closed.

Wm: Our minds are closed.

L: Loving God, we confess that sometimes we are afraid of new knowledge and new ideas; afraid that they will change our lives.

Mn: Our eyes are closed.

Wm: Our minds are closed.

L: Loving God, we confess that  sometimes we hear you call and hesitate, unwilling to move on from where we are into an unknown future.

 Mn: Our eyes are closed.

Wm: Our minds are closed.

L: Loving God, help us to become new people.

Mn: Open our eyes and let us see.

Wm: Open our minds and let us dream.

All: Loving God, make us new!

THE ASSURANCE

L: In the city of God, all are forgiven, and called to share in the building of a new heaven and a new earth.  This is the promise of Christ to us, and so I declare to you the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE EPISTLES  Revelation 21:1-5 (NIV)

The 21st chapter of Revelation presents a vision of the final goal of history under God.  This vision for the future is flashed before us like a series of photographic slides on a screen in an audio/visual presentation:  a new universe, the heavenly Jerusalem, a recovered paradise where God dwells with humanity.  Like a kaleidoscopic image, pictures from different sources are used to describe what lies outside of human experience, but is contained in the hope of every human soul.

Revelation is one of those hard to understand and widely misunderstood parts of scripture.  First, let’s be aware that, though there is a radical newness in this future, it does not, contrary to the belief of some, require the destruction of our world and its inhabitants.  Though religious life, which has become familiar and predictable, is severely challenged by this newness, the newness comes into the world in which we live and into the lives we live, not destroying, but transforming.

Second, there is no discontinuity of time.  Some have taken apocalyptic literature, which is a highly symbolic, literally, particularly the notion of the end of time; e.g. today there is this world with all its suffering; tomorrow, after the end of time, there is a new time when the old  world is replaced with a new world in which there is no suffering. Note that, in the conclusion of today’s reading there is the phrase, “I am making everything new.”  This vision is not just some future hope. “I AM MAKING everything new.”  It is in progress.  The transformation is happening within this world and its time.

Finally, I want to emphasise that, though Revelation is not about the end of time and some other-worldly completion of God’s creation, neither is it about a return to the Garden of Eden.  This notion of a return to the way things were in the beginning – in some paradise full of naive, innocent human beings – is not a valid Christian concept.  In God the best is yet to come, and newness enters from the future, not from the past. 

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

FROM THE GOSPELS  – John 13:31-35

31 When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of man glorified, and in him God is glorified; 32 if God is glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself, and glorify him at once. 33 Little children, yet a little while I am with you. You will seek me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going you cannot come.’ 34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

HYMN 699 – “A New Commandment” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “A World Revisioned”        

     Part 1       

“And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God…”(Rev.21: 2)

Today I want to focus on that part of the vision of Revelation described as the ‘new Jerusalem’.   But first, three brief stories, similar to thousands, perhaps millions of similar stories which occur every day:

His room was in a poor, but densely populated part of Liverpool.  Children played outside his door.  He was found in August.  The doctors estimated that he had died in mid-February, during the bitterest cold!  No one had missed him: and he may never have been found had not some housebreakers tried to rob his gas meter!

In the scullery of her Portsmouth home, the body of a 70-year-old woman was discovered.  It was almost totally decomposed.  She had been dead for about four years.

And Annie Driver of Stepney, London said, “No one comes here, and I don’t know any one to go and visit.  I haven’t any relatives, and I haven’t any friends left now.  They are dead and gone. Once I got ill at night and I was afraid.  I thought I was going to die all alone.  I crawled to the window.  I was choking and I couldn’t breathe.  I shouted for help and I hammered on the window.  It was hours and hours before anyone heard me.”

The phrase, “crisis of the city” is one which has been frequently used to describe a well-known and much talked about collection of problems which is, in some ways, a summary of all human crises.   When the remark is made that our cities are becoming jungles, what is really being said is that the lives of the inhabitants of the city have been reduced to a subhuman, predatory level. 

Although the phrase, “crisis of the city,” is hardly applicable to Ocean Grove/Barwon Heads, it may be sooner than you expect.  Perhaps it is very applicable even now in some ways.  For it is the decreasing sense of community, the lack of love and concern for others which has made our cities jungles.  And it is this lack of community which may well do the same to this area where people will someday talk about the “crisis on the Bellarine.”

Even here, one finds the disturbing trend supporting greater police powers and harsher sentences for criminals which arises out of the fear of the inhabitants. Even here there are people who don’t know their neighbours and don’t want – or are afraid – to get to know them.

We live in a fast-growing area.  In fact, I have often lived in a fast-growing area. When I first moved to Australia I lived in the Melbourne suburb of Burwood,  only 6 or 7 km from the city centre.  It wasn’t so long ago – certainly within my lifetime – that places like Burwood were semi-rural areas at the end of the tram line.  My first house, built in 1973 – only 49 years ago – was bordered by orchards in the now densely populated suburb of Wantirna.

Faced with today’s image of the city as jungle, as a collection of isolated individuals barricaded behind their locked doors, alone in their fear of going out or letting a stranger in, it is especially fitting that our highly urbanised society is given an image of hope in the symbol of a new city, the holy city.  The city transformed represents the perfection of humankind instead of its destruction, and the glory of the city replaces the crisis of the city.   

The image of the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven is not difficult to picture in your mind’s eye.  But the visual image is deceptive if we see the new Jerusalem slowly descending like the backdrop of a play at which we are spectators in the audience.  The transformation of the city is based upon the transformation of its inhabitants, who live out the commandment given to them by Jesus, and thereby become a community.

     Part 2

Lest you get the impression that the new city must be created by human beings, by you and me, scripture makes it plain that the new city is a gift from God,…(pause)… but it is a gift for which we cannot sit around waiting.  It is a gift received in and through acts of love.  God creates it, but we must act in order to appropriate the gift.  What is new, because it is new, comes from God, but it enters the world through us.

Furthermore, we are enabled to give birth to the new creation which God has given us because of God’s continuing presence.  In Revelation, when the voice from the throne says that God dwells with human beings, the Greek text states that he tabernacles with them. To the Jew such a reference would have immediately recalled the Feast of Tabernacles, the last great festival of the year, a feast which commemorates God’s presence with, and protection of, God’s people in the wilderness.  So in the time of the new Jerusalem, God will live with and protect his people in a manner analogous to that of their escape from Egypt.

Such protection enables us to open our door to the stranger, to go out among those with whom we share this ‘city’ despite our fears.  Because we feel loved and protected, we can even let ourselves be vulnerable to the pain of others, and risk revealing who we are underneath the masks we have hid behind all our lives.

I’m often reminded, in the course of my profession, of the wall I hide behind.  It is a small thing, but illustrates well the difference between living in proximity to others and living in the same community.  

Many of the funerals I conduct are for people I’ve never met – people who have little, if any, church connection – and whose death is routinely appropriate: long, full life, died naturally, with no undo suffering.  When these come at a busy time, my first reaction is: I’ll just do a standard service with a general sort of address, and I’ll just pay a brief, polite visit to the family, spend as little time as possible, and I won’t get all wrapped up in their experience.

But it doesn’t work. Inevitably when I meet the family and hear their story, I become involved.  Against my earlier intentions, I open up to their feelings and I find myself really interested in the family situation and the life of the deceased.  The funeral service ends up very personalised and I reap the rewards of having been given entry, for a time, into a family.

I am lucky.  I’m forced into these situations by my calling.  What a world of difference is made simply by meeting people and getting alongside them! But would I become similarly involved with strangers if I was not a minister?  Would I even have a way into such situations?  The answer to both is a strong “probably not.”  Yet here is an obvious place for the notion of community to function.  Here is a source of closeness and joy even though it is occasioned by death.

Here is one of many, many means by which God offers us the gift of the ‘new city’.  God’s gift of love enables us to love.

To love others as we have been loved is a witness to the world proclaiming the love that God has for it.  This love-proclaimed builds community, and transforms the ‘crisis of the city’ into the glory of the city.  And it begins here.  If this church is not a true community, then we can hardly bear witness to the vision of the new city.  What is our role in a fast-changing, growing population?  That is the challenge set for us as a church and as individuals.  I leave the answers to you.  But in your search, know that God has first loved you, and abides with you.

 HYMN 133 – “O Worship the King”  (click here to listen)

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

L: Let us bring before God the life in this place.  Into its loneliness and weariness, its pain and its brokenness;

R: breathe healing and energy, O God.

L: In its struggles for meaning and search for identity:

R: give courage and purpose, O God.

L: In its longings for new things and deepest dreaming moments:

R: send vision and hopefulness, O God.

L: Through us, its people, and the buildings with which we are gifted:

R: bring new love and new freedoms, O God.

L: For we listen to the songs of Barwon Heads/Ocean Grove, in the murmuring rhythms, rising and falling, the sounds of the working, the walking and talking, sing the songs of this place.

R: For God is in our midst.

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 446 – “Glorious Things of You are Spoken” (click here to listen)

WORDS OF MISSION

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.   

BENEDICTION

Go boldly into the future which has been claimed by God.
Know that the God who holds all things will be there,
that Christ who calls us friend will walk beside us,
and the Spirit who makes all things new
will mark our way with light and hope.

An open, virtual door to the world