This service was streamed live via Zoom on May 3rd at 10am
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.
Included in this service is a Harvest Thanksgiving liturgy. Last spring, parishioners were encouraged to plant something so that harvest thanksgiving could feature produce actually harvested in home gardens. Since we cannot meet to display the harvest, people have photographed their produce, and their photos are included here. Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.
There are also links to YouTube files for music and, should you rather listen than read, sound files for 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.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
God holds out to us the promise of new life: life as unpredictable, as unrehearsed, as explosive as life at the very beginning. God calls us to respond to this gift with creativity, with joy, with courage and with thanksgiving. In worship, we can begin to accept this gift of new life. Let us pray. Risen Lord, live in us that we may live in you. We gather to thank you that your resurrection means we are renewed and transformed. Like the butterfly, we unfold and fly free, free from our cocoon, free from all the grave clothes that have bound us: our prejudices, our fears, our angers, our self-centredness, our loneliness. Alleluia. Amen.
HYMN 369 “Hail the Day that Sees Him Rise” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGWjFiobOtI (click here)
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation – “Spirit of life” by Barbara Hamilton-Holway
Spirit of life, in us and around us, here is our chance, once again, to live like we wish the world would live. May we find within ourselves the courage to be who we are. May we know when it is time to listen and when it is time to speak. May we trust ourselves to be the ones to find the words that need to be said or to do what needs to be done. May we trust one another and know there are many ways to go through life. May we know that though we cannot change some of what life gives to us, we can choose how we deal with what we are given.
We are coming into our power, and together we can make possible justice and love. We are all connected; we depend upon one another more than we know. We are one body. So be it. Blessed be.
There is a moment when noise ceases, when the busy world is quiet and the day’s work is done. In that moment, in this silence, may we know God’s presentness and God’s peace. (30 seconds silence)
WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS
Revolutionary God, in raising Jesus, you loosed a great energy, creating a new people who shared a common life, witness, prayer and even belongings. Yet we confess that we are afraid to risk selves and goods in creating your new world. We are not always alive to the new possibilities you offer. We are even afraid to pray honestly with one another. God, forgive us when we live as if there was no Easter, as if the old world continues, rather than is made new. Forgive us when the church is no more than a boring mirror of the present order rather than an exciting foretaste of the world to come. Empower us to be the people you would have us be. Blow through us with the Spirit of your Christ, and make us Easter people, people ready to live in the new world offered us in the resurrection of Jesus. Amen.
L: Your past is forgotten, your future will be fruitful and Jesus’ words will become your personal benediction: “These things I have spoken to you that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” And so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God.
HYMN 472 “Father of Mercy, God of Consolation” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fz6gcQMDzGs (click here)
FROM THE RECORD OF THE EARLY CHURCH – Acts 2:42-47
41-42 That day about three thousand took him at his word, were baptised and were signed up. They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.
43-45 Everyone around was in awe—all those wonders and signs done through the apostles! And all the believers lived in a wonderful harmony, holding everything in common. They sold whatever they owned and pooled their resources so that each person’s need was met.
46-47 They followed a daily discipline of worship in the Temple followed by meals at home, every meal a celebration, exuberant and joyful, as they praised God. People in general liked what they saw. Every day their number grew as God added those who were saved.
CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “My Kind of Church”
One Sunday morning, a man entered the church and sat down the front with his hat on. Noting the man, one of the ushers spoke to him, asking him if he knew he had forgotten to remove his hat. “Yes,” said the man, “I realise I have my hat on. I’ve been coming to this church every Sunday for two months, and this is the only way I could get anyone to speak to me.”
The store reflects a common problem in churches, but obviously not in the church of which the writer of Acts speaks. Did you listen to his description carefully? Now there’s a church! We heard first of an active Christian education program, where people don’t drag their kids to Sunday School merely out of guilt or habit, but because everyone, no matter how old, was so devoted to the apostle’s teaching that they all came to learn.
We heard about people having a wonderful time together. They didn’t limit their contact to Sunday morning; they met daily!! They actively cared for one another, for the scripture tells how they shared everything in common; Christian Communism!!
“And all who believed were together,” says Acts; a church without factions, cliques, divisions. They prayed together, they ate together, they grew. Every day new members flocked to be members of this church, and this despite persecution.
When you put this vision of the early church alongside the reality of the church we have experienced, we might want to say to ourselves, “Oh, to be in that church!” I have good news for you: You are! You and I, no less than first century Christians live in the light of Easter.
Easter was not just something that happened once to Jesus, a dead body once raised from the dead. Easter continues to happen, breaks out all over, with implications for all aspects of our lives: communal, political, and ecclesiastical. It is this Easter church, in which God makes new life burst forth, to which we belong. If this congregation doesn’t share all the qualities of the one in today’s Bible passage, it is not because we lack divine resources. We are part of that same Easter church.
It is tempting to compare ourselves to the Acts church, and dwell on our deficiencies, and feel guilty. After all, are all of our members clambering to get into study groups to enhance our understanding of the faith like in the early church? Are we all one, without faction or division? Do we meet together daily and eat together? Do we share all things in common?
Now you might also say, with some justification, “But times are different now.” Indeed, we cannot expect to be like the Acts church. It existed in a whole different culture. We need only focus on being the church in our culture.
But perhaps the telling comparison – the comparison that is still valid, irrespective of cultural differences – is in the last verse: “And the Lord added daily to their number.” The point being that the gospel stands on its own. It is God’s gift to people’s deepest needs. If the church is getting the gospel across, people flock to it, because their needs are being met; life in all of its fullness is being found.
If new people aren’t arriving in droves, then we might conclude that the gospel is not being proclaimed in a way in which it can be received. That’s not the same as saying you should focus on increasing membership. I don’t particularly worry about how many people there are in church on a given Sunday. What I’m saying is that the gospel, when it is truly heard, draws people to it.
But having suggested a comparison between our congregations and that of the Acts community, I want to move on. It doesn’t matter how well or how poorly we have compared in the past. What is important is how we proceed from here into the future. And the defining criterion will be how effectively we communicate the gospel in this place, in this time.
For a start, we are not on our own. One might imagine that, if we are open, God will lead us into the same sort of inspired togetherness which marked the church described in Acts.
Plus we’ve got a lot more going for us than did that first church. At least most of us were born into the church. It was made easy for us to be here. In that first church there were only a few scattered followers of Jesus. They had to come from different parts of town, different social groups, and often risked their lives to do it.
It’s tough to get across the boundaries of class and income, but something happened to them. Here they were around the table, sharing with one another, even though there was so much that could have divided them. It was nothing less than a miracle; another Easter miracle. As we continue our Easter season celebrations and march toward Pentecost shouldn’t we expect no less a miracle? If we believe in the God who raised Jesus, we can do nothing less than anticipate vibrant new life in our midst.
We have good reason to be hopefully expectant. We start with good morale, a pleasant fellowship and, I think you will agree, this church is a nice, friendly group to be part of. Even though I have been here only about a year, and I don’t know this everyone really well, I get the impression that, like most Uniting Churches I have known, there are at least some who put their faith into action in the community.
But do any of you really think that is all that is needed? That God has finished with us? Does anyone think that we’ve reached the pinnacle of what it means to be the church? Yes, let’s affirm all we have done and all that we have been. Let’s smile and rejoice in the wonderful sense of community we have in this congregation, and all that has been accomplished. But having affirmed those really good things, let’s move on.
We all have to move on. Those who would be content for the church never to change would be condemning it to death. In a fast changing society the church must change, too, or it quickly becomes ineffective in its primary task of spreading the gospel. Look what happened in the 60’s. People left the church in droves, and we are only starting to recover, very slowly. Why? Because the church failed to respond to the rapid changes in society, particularly a growing scientific understanding of reality.
The church lost intellectual credibility. Many of its key leaders, lay and clergy, turned to politics, the peace movement, and the environmental movement. And many others turned further toward materialism. With the real fear of nuclear annihilation that existed then, living for the day became pretty important.
A significant part of the remainder of the church took refuge in the pseudo-security of biblical fundamentalism and/or a charismatic style of worship that evoked positive feelings, love and healing. But in doing so, I would argue that they, just like those chose materialism, opted for faithlessness, neither group doing much for the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth.
So here we are in a world in which people are more spiritual than ever, more seeking than ever, yearning for a void in their lives to be filled, but they are turning to other ways of exploring it, for example to those things generally grouped under the vague title of ‘New Age.’ People are still looking for the same things which they have always looked for in religion: peace, security, hope; and they’re expressing it in concerns about the healing of the earth and of peace among its peoples, but the vast majority are not finding meaning in traditional religious forms.
It may sound heretical, but I see the Spirit of God doing her thing out there. God’s church is being born again in new-age spiritual awareness, while in the average mainline church there are some people who can find nothing better to get stirred up about than the times of worship or new hymns. God’s church is being reborn among those who are actively doing something to reverse our destruction of the environment. It is being rekindled among those who are finding Christ in working for justice for the poor. It is finding direction among those who are fighting for the human rights of the asylum seekers. It is being rebuilt by those who dare to confront immoral decisions of governments.
In other words, it is growing in places where people trust God enough to let faith push aside their fears, insecurities, racism and prejudices to create a better world, God’s world: the kingdom proclaimed by Jesus.
Amongst all this fertile ground in which to plant the gospel, be reminded that we are the church, with every spiritual resource at our disposal that God gave to that first church. There is nothing we cannot be, if it is God’s will. And there is nothing we cannot do if we act in anticipation of God’s next Easter miracle.
But the key word there is ‘act.’ You will recall last week’s story of the disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. All the preaching and teaching on that road did not make Jesus visible to the disciples. It wasn’t until they acted that they saw their Master in the face of the stranger to whom they opened the doors to their house and their hearts.
Where do we go from here? I hope each of you will take every opportunity to talk and pray with one another over the next few months; not to seek ways to maintain the church as it is (as some will inevitably do), but to make the gospel real to the people out there – in the political sphere, in the economic realm – wherever the ways of the world deprive people of life, so that we all may find the way into God’s future
WE OFFER OUR THANKS
We say thank you, most holy Friend, for your pastoral commitment to this world and its billions of people.
We say thank you for committing yourself to the ancient Jewish trailblazers of faith; those men and women whose stories and visions and prayers still nourish and inspire us.
We say thank you for your incarnate commitment to the Jew at the centre of our belief; Jesus son of Mary, Son of God.
We say thank you for his compassionate commitment to the lost and broken humanity around him; for hands that healed, words that uplifted, and courage that confronted evil.
We say thank you for the unswerving love that took him through rejection, abuse and execution; and for your commitment to him into the grave and gloriously beyond.
We say thank you for the resurrection event which gave him a universal Presence as Saviour and Lord, and his promised commitment to us as long as earth endures.
We say thank you for your commitment to the Christians of successive generations who have passed on the faith through times of ease and times of travail.
We say thank you for your commitment to each of us here, that you see through all our disguises, know all our sins, yet love us with an unconditional love.
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS FOR OTHERS AND OURSELVES
L: Loving God, help us to pray with something of the compassion of Christ in our hearts as we think of our sisters and brothers in all lands. We pray for the taming of the wolves of terrorism and war on the face of this earth; Good Shepherd hear us.
R: Good Shepherd save and heal us.
L: We pray for the end of injustice, neglect, discrimination, and the apathy of those who look on yet do nothing. Good Shepherd hear us.
R: Good Shepherd save and heal us.
L; We pray for people who have been mislead and misused by false shepherds, or exploited spiritually and materially by slick religious and political salesmen. Good Shepherd hear us.
R: Good Shepherd save and heal us.
L: We pray for the removal of the hurts, resentments, misunderstandings; for the rescue of those who once had faith in God but have fallen into empty cynicism. Good Shepherd hear us.
R: Good Shepherd save and heal us.
L: We pray for the blessing of all who are good shepherds to their fellows; who foster hope through the work of medicine, counselling, social planning, legal aid, wise laws, and sincere good-neighbourliness. Good Shepherd hear us.
R: Good Shepherd save and heal us.
L: We pray for special care of the dying and the grieving; that they may know in a first-hand way the comfort of the Shepherd whose love does not terminate at the valley of the shadow of death. Good Shepherd hear us.
R: Good Shepherd save and heal us.
L: Most loving God, enable your flock to embody the spirit of these prayers. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray…
THE LORD’S PRAYER
HYMN “Come, Ye Thankful People, Come” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=msOzJ6DY7EA (Click here)
WE DEDICATE OUR HARVEST GIFTS
The concept of a harvest festival is an ancient theme, in which thanksgiving may simply be the pagan notion of giving the necessary thanks to the gods who provide the harvest so that we keep them happy for another year. There is a danger that the harvest festival joins the many other factors in our lives which point our attention to what we get. The harvest can become a polite “Thank you, God” in recognition for what we have received. And so, in our offering, we respond to a sense of obligation to give back a little of all that we’ve received for God’s work
The Easter story and the Lord’s Supper which we celebrate today is about the life that comes once there is nothing left to give. The whole orientation is on giving everything so that life may come. This is a radically different concept.
The real thanksgiving comes about through our participation in Christ’s death. Everything that we would normally gather and display at a harvest festival, all the produce members have photographed and is here displayed, has come about through a death of some sort. Jesus drew our attention to the seed that must fall to earth and die so that the plant can grow and bear fruit. The food items pictured all came through such death, they were fertilised by the decay of once living matter, they were planted and tended and picked by human beings who expended some of their life’s energy and time on this earth. Processed items also required death: the death of living tissue which, over millions of years, became coal, gas and oil needed to produce energy. Each of the items presented at this harvest thanksgiving has arisen from death.
The joy of being able to say thank you today is more than just a polite response to what we receive; it is the joy of the Easter story and our ability to participate in it at whatever level. It is the outpouring of that part of ourselves that has gained the freedom to die and, so doing, has found life.
WE DEDICATE OUR OFFERING (Deuteronomy 26:1-11, read as part of the Festival of Weeks, the offering of first fruits recalling the providence of God, 50 days after Passover; however, its essence is far older than the Scriptures. It was incorporated into Deuteronomy because it was already an ancient text, possibly going back to 2000 BC)
L: And it shall be, when you come into the land… Then the priest shall take the basket out of your hand and set it down before the altar of the Lord your God. And you shall answer and say before the Lord your God
R: My father was a Syrian, about to perish, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and there he became a nation, great, mighty, populous. But the Egyptians mistreated us, afflicted us, and laid hard bondage on us. Then we cried out to the Lord God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice and looked on our affliction and our labour and our oppression. So the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm, with great terror and with signs and wonders. He has brought us to this place and has given us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey; and now behold, I have brought the first fruits of the land which you, O Lord, have given me.
L: Then you shall set it before the Lord your God, and worship before the Lord your God. So you shall rejoice in every good thing which the Lord your God has given to you and your house, you and the Levite and the stranger who is among you.
HYMN “We Plow the Fields and Scatter” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YQ8dEkjmEMg (Click here)
CELEBRATING COMMUNITY: Sacrament of Holy Communion
The Assembly Standing Committee has granted permission for lay people to celebrate the Eucharist at home while churches are closed.
Here today, through bread and wine, we renew our unity with one another, and with all those who have gone before us in this place. Here today, through bread and wine, we renew our communion with the earth and our interwovenness with the broken ones of the world.
L: We are reminded again of the tradition that surrounds this story. Long ago, as was his custom, Jesus shared a meal with his friends. He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it. And handed it to his friends, inviting them to eat: ‘Remember all that I have been to you’. Long ago, during that same meal, Jesus poured a cup of wine, offered thanks for it, and gave it to his friends: ‘Remember me and give thanks for all I have given’.
L: Creativity God, Source of Life, we offer our thanks.
R: The smell of gums after rain, the surprise of ducks in flight, the taste of peach and plum and nectarine.
L: For all gifts simple and profound, in country and city, in paddock, or back yard and on lake:
R: We give thanks.
L: We who hold all such good things in trust join in the praise of all people:
L: Holy is peace.
R: Holy is truth. Holy is love.
L: In this season of transition as the leaves continue their subtle change of colour and our hearts cling to the warmth as the days shorten, once again we are reminded, that new possibilities can rise from our failures or disappointments or what has come to an end. We give thanks for all the influences for good in our lives that have helped us to become more human and humane: more loving, more compassionate, more courageous, more just, more intelligent.
R: God is not done with creation. God is not done with us. Nor are we done with God.
L: Especially we give thanks for Jesus of Nazareth, gatherer of folk, teller of stories, breaker of bread, pourer of wine, weaver of lives. In his life, wisdom, stories and social vision we recall the words he spoke to call forth in us love, care and respect for one another:
R: And we believe the same Spirit of God that came to visibility in Jesus yearns for visible expression in us.
Bread and Wine
So we take this bread and this wine… The bread is broken and the wine poured, in silence... Bread broken… Wine poured out… for the life of the world.
Come, taste of this same bread and wine. Gifts of the earth. Work of human hands.
May the bread and the wine and the remembering be a blessing on us all.
HYMN 470 “Rejoice in God’s Saints” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dwTUexSvfzU (Click here)
L: May the fold of Christ keep you safe from the wild things that are too fierce for you. May the door of Christ open wide for your spirit to go out and experience the sunshine of God. May the foresight of Christ the good shepherd lead you in fruitful pastures and beautiful places.
The blessing of God Most Wonderful, will certainly be with you as you go about to encounter the manifold joys and irritations of a new week.
R: Thanks be to God. Amen!