WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE OCEAN GROVE/BARWON HEADS CONGREGATIONS
This service was streamed live via Zoom on April 10th at 9:30am.
Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use while the ban on public worship is in place. Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate 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.
You may also wish to light a candle, as a reminder of the spirit of the Lord among and within you. 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 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.
A NOTE FOR NEWCOMERS: Common churchy words like “God” are used freely, but those who have not been exposed to Rev. Bob’s use of such words may misunderstand. Though he is an old man, his theology is not. Traditional usage of those familiar churchy words in popular Christianity is often wide of the mark of a good theological understanding. To acquaint yourself with more up-to-date definitions (i.e. ones that actually make sense in our modern world), see “Words of the Word” on this website. (You might start with words such as “Prayer” and “G-O-D”.)
FOR YOUR REFLECTION BEFORE STARTING THE SERVICE
L: In hope, in longing:
R: We’re glad to come together.
L: In solidarity with those who struggle:
R: We’re glad to come together.
R: We’re glad to come together.
L: In memory of Jesus, who lived with compassion:
R: We’re glad to come together.
L: In memory of all who act with courage:
R: We’re glad to come together.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
We come here today to remember a man. A man who had dreams, who had those dreams shattered, who needed time to think and pray, who knew he was likely to die for what he believed. A man of extraordinary religious insight. A man who died a cruel death.
On this day we look at the cross, and we remember the betrayal of friendship and its consequences, the casual cruelty of Roman authority and execution, and how unreliable others proved to be in a crisis. On this day may we also remember that religious bigotry, cruelty and unreliability are still a part of our everyday lives.
On this day, then, may we learn some new precepts for living: do not avoid contact with suffering, or close your eyes before suffering; do not maintain anger or hatred; do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest, or to impress people; do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature.
On this day we remember. (at least 30 seconds of silence)
CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE
R: Lord have mercy.
L: If we are unaware of the ambiguity of our motives and of the ego that has crept into our best thoughts and deeds: Christ have mercy.
R: Christ have mercy.
L: If we have measured our loving by odious comparisons with those around us, rather than by the exquisite self-giving of the cross; Lord have mercy.
R: Lord have mercy.
L: Please God, may we have the grace of sincere repentance, and find our true selves gathered up in your healing and freedom. Then having been forgiven, enable us to live as a forgiving people, breaking into the vicious circle of the world’s weary blame and counter blame. Let us be a redemptive community, sharing the love with which you have loved us. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour. Amen!
L: Friends, God does not ask us to wallow in our mistakes, or deny ourselves the grace that abounds in human weakness. Let us take Christ at his word, and live the life of the forgiven and the forgiving. And so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
GOSPEL READING – John 19:1-30 (from The Message)
19 1-3 So Pilate took Jesus and had him whipped. The soldiers, having braided a crown from thorns, set it on his head, threw a purple robe over him, and approached him with, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they greeted him with slaps in the face.
4-5 Pilate went back out again and said to them, “I present him to you, but I want you to know that I do not find him guilty of any crime.” Just then Jesus came out wearing the thorn crown and purple robe. Pilate announced, “Here he is: the Man.”
6 When the high priests and police saw him, they shouted in a frenzy, “Crucify! Crucify!”
Pilate told them, “You take him. You crucify him. I find nothing wrong with him.”
7 The Jews answered, “We have a law, and by that law he must die because he claimed to be the Son of God.”
8-9 When Pilate heard this, he became even more scared. He went back into the palace and said to Jesus, “Where did you come from?” Jesus gave no answer.
10 Pilate said, “You won’t talk? Don’t you know that I have the authority to pardon you, and the authority to—crucify you?”
11 Jesus said, “You haven’t a shred of authority over me except what has been given you from heaven. That’s why the one who betrayed me to you has committed a far greater fault.”
12 At this, Pilate tried his best to pardon him, but the Jews shouted him down: “If you pardon this man, you’re no friend of Caesar’s. Anyone setting himself up as ‘king’ defies Caesar.”
13-14 When Pilate heard those words, he led Jesus outside. He sat down at the judgment seat in the area designated Stone Court (in Hebrew, Gabbatha). It was the preparation day for Passover. The hour was noon. Pilate said to the Jews, “Here is your king.”
15 They shouted back, “Kill him! Kill him! Crucify him!”
Pilate said, “I am to crucify your king?”
The high priests answered, “We have no king except Caesar.”
16-19 Pilate caved in to their demand. He turned him over to be crucified.
They took Jesus away. Carrying his cross, Jesus went out to the place called Skull Hill (the name in Hebrew is Golgotha), where they crucified him, and with him two others, one on each side, Jesus in the middle. Pilate wrote a sign and had it placed on the cross. It read:
Jesus the Nazarene
the King of the Jews.
20-21 Many of the Jews read the sign because the place where Jesus was crucified was right next to the city. It was written in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. The Jewish high priests objected. “Don’t write,” they said to Pilate, “‘The King of the Jews.’ Make it, ‘This man said, “I am the King of the Jews.”’”
22 Pilate said, “What I’ve written, I’ve written.”
23-24 When they crucified him, the Roman soldiers took his clothes and divided them up four ways, to each soldier a fourth. But his robe was seamless, a single piece of weaving, so they said to each other, “Let’s not tear it up. Let’s throw dice to see who gets it.” This confirmed the Scripture that said, “They divided up my clothes among them and threw dice for my coat.” (The soldiers validated the Scriptures!)
24-27 While the soldiers were looking after themselves, Jesus’ mother, his aunt, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene stood at the foot of the cross. Jesus saw his mother and the disciple he loved standing near her. He said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that moment the disciple accepted her as his own mother.
28 Jesus, seeing that everything had been completed so that the Scripture record might also be complete, then said, “I’m thirsty.”
29-30 A jug of sour wine was standing by. Someone put a sponge soaked with the wine on a javelin and lifted it to his mouth. After he took the wine, Jesus said, “It’s done . . . complete.” Bowing his head, he offered up his spirit.
HYMN 339 – “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded” (Click here)
SERMON – “T.O.D.”
What is it about this day that is looms so large in our religion? Certainly, we all know that it is the day on which we observe Jesus’ death on a cross. Most of us have been taught that it was this death which somehow saves us. A few years ago a newspaper interviewed a number of clergy in Australia and discovered that most of them considered that the notion of Jesus’ death as a sacrifice for sin is an irrelevant image, a view with which I agree. We perhaps can sympathise with his suffering, and feel humbled by the belief that it was, somehow, all for us. But if it is not about sacrificial atonement, what is it about really? Does it matter to the fact of our salvation?
Is this Good Friday service merely a memorial service recalling the death of a Galilean sage a couple millennia ago or does it have relevance to our lives today. I am fond of saying about all our Christian feast days, if they are only recollections of events 2000 years ago then they are just sentimentality gone crazy. But I don’t believe that. I think, that seen in the proper light, they effectively bring life into our lives, and this is particularly true of this day.
I have always been troubled by the common notion among Christians that we are washed clean in the blood of the lamb; that Jesus died for our sins so that, somehow, we are no longer condemned by them. Such a theory may have been appropriate to explain the Good News to those who had been raised in a religion which believed that God’s anger could be appeased by sacrificing animals on the altar, but in today’s world it is absurd to think that people will be convinced that their salvation comes in some mysterious means through the sacrificial death of Jesus.
I am also troubled by the fact that this death, for all of the hype about a revolution in our relationship with God, has not made much difference to human behaviour. If Golgotha, the place of the skull, were only one place, one moment in time, we might say that it was in some way effective. But no, there is Auschwitz, Belfast, Kosovo and the list of Calvaries keeps getting longer as history unfolds; where atrocities are committed regularly by Christians and, in the case of the Salem witch trials, the inquisitions, the pogroms of Russia, even committed in the name of Christ.
In the U.S., the most churchy of countries, two women were being interviewed on TV about being fired from their jobs at a fast-food restaurant because of their sexual orientation. Two men also being interviewed on the matter related: “There’s nothing worse than being homosexual,” one says. “Yeah,” says the other. “It’s an abomination, the Bible says. Nothing worse than that as an abomination, unless it’s being a Jew.” You see, people will even use scripture to make a path to Golgotha.
We really do need saving, but judging from the evidence all around us, it hasn’t happened yet. I am a bit worried, too, that if we go around thinking that we are already saved – that it has all been done for us – then we are not going to do anything to change.
We might enter into a clearer understanding of the meaning of Jesus’ death by asking the question: What did Jesus say WAS the way to salvation? Certainly, he did NOT say that we are saved by his death. Insofar as we need forgiveness – and we need it very much – Jesus taught that God’s forgiveness was unlimited. Apparently, in Jesus mind, there was no need for him to die to gain such forgiveness for us. As far as he was concerned, forgiveness was, and always had been, there for the asking. He may have died because of human sin, but not for our sins; so we can toss out the appeasement by sacrifice idea as superstition from a more primitive era.
The gospels portray Jesus as consistent and clear on the subject of the path to salvation. He told Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” He told the rich young ruler, “Sell all you have,” and to the disciples he said, “He who would save his life must lose it.”
The common ingredient in all that Jesus taught about salvation is commitment; total commitment to the will of God. Jesus said, “Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven. This commitment is a demand for decision and absolute loyalty even in the face of death.
In fact, this degree of commitment is death: it is a dying of self and a turning one’s total orientation to God. This is the significance of our rite of baptism, a dying of the old self and a resurrection to a New Being who is wholly of God. This is the significance of the phrase ‘born again’, for it presupposes a dying in order to make way for the new birth. No, we are not saved by Jesus’ death, but by our own deaths in the sense of giving up all to follow God. Our whole being is rendered dead that the vacuum may be filled with God’s life. This is behind the Holy Conflict which raged in Jesus during his temptations in the desert and again in Gethsemane, and which continues on in us; the struggle of ego versus God, self-interest vs. concern for other.
The alternatives are very clear, either one moves with God or without God. To compromise, to try find an easier, more self-serving path is to decide against God. To waver, to try to postpone the decision, is to decide against God. To try to hide the matter is to decide against God. There is no escape. One must say yes or no; there is one way of saying yes and no way of saying anything else that will bring life.
And this is the sticking point for us: we rage against the prospect of death. Fear of it drives us, but there is no alternative. The only choice we have is how we die. If we fail to take up the cross, ignoring Jesus’ command that we must, we force someone else to the cross by way of our choices to avoid it. This is why people are, this very moment, dying in Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere. It is why, this very day, – in fact, at least once and perhaps 4 or 5 times during the time it takes me to preach this sermon – the last of some living species will die, its kind gone forever from the Earth. It is why millions live in poverty with no chance of every bettering their lot. It is why the Earth itself is becoming uninhabitable for future generations. Whether the manifestation in the outer world is in violent politics, social injustice or economic excess, these all stem from the spiritual problem played out in our inner worlds. The cross is becoming very crowded with all that we have nailed there as a result of our search find life in an unsustainable quest for security and comfort, doing our best to avoid the truth: true life – the life that Jesus called “eternal” – comes only in dying to oneself.
Jesus taught this way of commitment, and more importantly he lived it. It is a tragedy, but not an ESSENTIAL tragedy, that those around Jesus decided that he would have to be hung on a cross. By the time he got to the cross he had already died in a sense. His death was evident in the wilderness where, in order follow his single-minded commitment to God, he refused the temptations to be a messiah. His death was again evident in the Garden of Gethsemane when he was tempted to opt out of the path he had chosen, but in the end stuck with his commitment to God. Jesus didn’t die on the cross. His body may have, but that which he himself recognised as Jesus of Nazareth – in psychological terms, his ego – had been given up to God at some point long before, perhaps at his baptism, certainly in the wilderness and in Gethsemane, and God had been born in its place. It was not Jesus of Nazareth who died on the cross, but rather an embodiment of God.
So does Jesus’ death save us? No, not in itself. Not unless we are prepared to follow; to walk the same path. There is no magical shortcut to salvation. Jesus taught the way, he lived the way, but he could not live the way for us or instead of us. There is a familiar song which says, Jesus walked this lonely valley, He had to walk it by himself, then the last verse reminds us, We must walk this lonely valley, we have to walk it by ourselves, nobody else can walk it for us , we have to walk it by ourselves. There are no free rides to what the Bible calls eternal life. There is only Jesus’ way. In the words of the great paradox which describes that way, in order to live, we must die.
We observe this day, not only as a memorial to a great man who died, but because it is part of our own human story which proclaims the Truth about the path to life: that life grows out of a single-minded commitment to God so strong that there is no room left for ego, and it must given itself up.
The cross is not just the place of death for Jesus, it symbolises the death required of any who would live. That cross is yours, it is mine.
FOR YOUR PERSONAL REFLECTION
In case you are wondering about the title of the sermon, T.O.D. represents Time Of Death. The title raises the question about the time of Jesus’s death, because, in all the ways that really matter, he died before Good Friday, perhaps long before. The question for each of us is: How are you doing in the quest for the life that is gained by dying? To what do you still cling as a source of life, instead of giving up all? Your financial security? Your family? Your reputation? Your beliefs? Et al?
MEDITATION AT THE FOOT OF THE CROSS
“A Time of Preparation and Change”
The leaves are falling around us, through days growing ever clearer and more barren. Surrounded by little deaths, the drying of the grass and shrivelling of the flowers, we gather our lives in like the harvest.
Our friendships, our experiences, our achievements we wrap around ourselves, against the coldness which is to come. For in this time, our lives will be lived within. Like the grapes that are harvested in happy sunlight, turning to wine in dark cellars, our thoughts will transform and grow richer.
Come, Spirit of Mysteries, into the centre of our containment. Grow treasure from within us.
HYMN 351 – “Lift High the Cross” (Click here)
A WORD OF MISSION
R: our deaths are not the final word, our moments of crisis are part of eternal possibility, and our weakness is taken up into the courage of God.
L: As followers of Jesus of the Way,
R: our humanness is touched with divine life, our tears are mingled with longing love, and our solidarity with those who suffer is joined by divine presence.
L: In the Spirit of Creativity,
R: there are no boundaries on the dream, there is no end to hope, and we will never live beyond the cherishing of God.
May the God of dreams and visions, enable you to dream creatively, and to hear the dreaming of others, young and old, in your community. May you be open to new ideas, dare to share visions, be encouraged to hope.