UCA Birthday (21-06-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was not streamed live via Zoom because it was replaced with the Geelong-wide worship service to celebrate the 43rd birthday of the Uniting Church.  Given that not all of our members have access to Zoom, the following service is presented for your use.

You 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 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.

ENTRY INTO CELEBRATION

L: The winter deepens and the days are short, but the long Light of Christ remains with us.  A cold wind blows outside, but the warmth of God is with us and within us.  We are indeed a most privileged people. The joy of Christ Jesus be with you all.

R: And also with you

HYMN 179 “Praise with Joy the World’s Creator”(click here to listen)   

ILLUMINATING OUR HERITAGE

Those at home may wish to light candles as a means to observe the specialness of this day.

L: We light a candle for our heritage in the Congregational tradition with its commitment to freedom and to the power of the priesthood of all believers.     (a candle is lit)

R: We will stand in that great tradition.

L: We light another candle for our heritage in the Methodist tradition with its commitment to social and enthusiasm in communicating the gospel.   (a candle is lit)

R: We will stand in that great tradition.

L: We light a third candle for our heritage in the Presbyterian tradition with its respect for scholarship and its deep understanding of the church.  (a candle is lit)

R: We will stand in that great tradition. 

L: We light this last candle to celebrate the other great traditions which are now joined with us through the people of this parish including Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Baptist, Churches of Christ and Pentecostal in all their diversity and all their faith.    

(a candle is lit)

R: We will stand in these great traditions, too.  In Christ we are one.  We are called. We are named. We are constituted and owned. Our very bones are knit together, our sinews and muscles woven, and blood poured through our veins.  We are called here, reformed, renewed and reconstituted as the people of God. By the goodness of God we are here today made new as the body of Christ.   

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Mysterious God, Word beyond words. You hide in the ancient rocks and lie still in a red dust land. You play in the cosmos and dance with the stars.

R: You are one with us to share our lives, in our joys, our sorrows. You step out before us to fulfil our dreams.

L: Pilgrim God, we speak many languages, we share many cultures, we sing many songs;

R: Together we seek to be your church in this place, companions on the way!

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

God, help us to listen to our inner spirit; to the inner yearning to belong to something greater than ourselves. Help us to listen to our inner spirits and find there the presence of your good encouraging spirit. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation:  “Our God”  by Rev. Bruce Prewer

Your rainbow shines its hope across all the lands; Christ’s new creation, grasped by loving hands.

You are the bridge which spans our separation; Christ’s life laid down the new foundation.

Your vast acceptance liberates from fear; Christ’s fellow-heirs high-spirited appear.

Full of surprises is Christ’s God and ours; the weak rejoice in unexpected powers. Our roots grow deep, firm in the ground which holds us; Christ’s subtle strength where love enfolds us.

     Silence

Let us take a moment to settle into the silence.   As it is the UCA birthday take time to trace your life with it; remember the key moments when your faith journey was catalysed; review how the church has changed in its short life; recall how you were changed. (Maintain  silence  for at least 30 seconds)

May our lives be rich in affection, deep in understanding and sympathy for each other.  May the blessings of life be known to all.        

PRAYING ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: On the day of union, we committed ourselves to be one people in the Spirit of Christ:

R: and we are still divided;

L: To be a pilgrim people;

R: but often we have refused to move and change;

L: To use the gifts of all people for the kingdom:

R: but we refuse to call forth the gifts and offer them to you.

L: To be servants to the world.

R: but we have turned away into our own concerns and closed our eyes to the pain of others.

L: Forgive us, God,

R: and help us to renew our commitment to live our the hope to which we are called. Amen.

THE ASSURANCE

L: In Christ our hope is new every day; every day a new chance.  Rise up and live as free people of God, for I declare to you the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE EPISTLESEphesians 2:19-22  (The Message version)

That’s plain enough, isn’t it? You’re no longer wandering exiles. This kingdom of faith is now your home country. You’re no longer strangers or outsiders. You belong here, with as much right to the name Christian as anyone. God is building a home. He’s using us all—irrespective of how we got here—in what he is building. He used the apostles and prophets for the foundation. Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home.

FROM THE GOSPELS – Matthew 8:18-27   (The Message version)

Most reputable scholars agree that this story can’t be traced back to an event in the life of Jesus. There are also strong hints this story has been influenced by the Hebrew story of Jonah, or perhaps it was told as a counter story to the fame of Apollonius of Tyana, a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth who was regarded as the master of storms, of fire, and of perils of all kinds.  Whatever the reason, it has become one of those stories to which people have turned to find a word of assurance as they experience the various kinds of storms in life.

18-19 When Jesus saw that a curious crowd was growing by the minute, he told his disciples to get him out of there to the other side of the lake. As they left, a religion scholar asked if he could go along. “I’ll go with you, wherever,” he said.

20 Jesus was curt: “Are you ready to rough it? We’re not staying in the best inns, you know.”

21 Another follower said, “Master, excuse me for a couple of days, please. I have my father’s funeral to take care of.”

22 Jesus refused. “First things first. Your business is life, not death. Follow me. Pursue life.”

23-25 Then he got in the boat, his disciples with him. The next thing they knew, they were in a severe storm. Waves were crashing into the boat—and he was sound asleep! They roused him, pleading, “Master, save us! We’re going down!”

26 Jesus reprimanded them. “Why are you such cowards, such faint-hearts?” Then he stood up and told the wind to be silent, the sea to quiet down: “Silence!” The sea became smooth as glass.

27 The men rubbed their eyes, astonished. “What’s going on here? Wind and sea come to heel at his command!”

HYMN 672 “Lord of Earth and All Creation”(click here to listen) 

FROM THE WORLD AROUND US    “The Big Wave” by John Bell.

Narrator: He was sleeping.

Jesus: (Snores)

Narrator: …sleeping in the bow of the boat, the sleep of a child,  the sleep of a happy child…

Disciple 1: Jesus, did you see that wave?

Jesus: (Snores)

Narrator: He was sleeping,

Jesus: (Snores)

Narrator: and nothing disturbed him; not the wind, not the weather…

Disciple 2: Jesus, this is getting rough!

Disciple 1: Jesus, this is getting really rough!

Disciple 2: Jesus, did you see that wave?

Jesus: (Snores)

Narrator: The sound of the sea…the sound of the pounding…the break of the waves…the creak of the boat…

Disciple 1: Jesus, I’m scared!

Disciple 2: Jesus, I’m terrified!

Disciple 1: Jesus, I’m going to spew!!!

Jesus: (Snores)

Narrator: I will keep him, keep him in perfect peace whose mind is set on me…waking or sleeping…waking or sleeping…

Disciple 2: Jesus, can you swim?

Disciple 1: Jesus, we’re sinking!

Disciple 2: Jesus, do something!

Disciple 1&2: Wake up, Jesus!  Jesus!  Come on!  Help us!

Jesus: (Loudly)  Shshshsh…(Ouieter)  Shshshsh…(Sternly)  …Oh where’s your faith?…even your little faith? In the storm, in the darkness, I am with you. Let the waves roar, but don’t be distressed. Otherwise you may never hear me saying, ‘Peace! Be Still.’

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS   “Fear of Death? Or Fear of Living?”

Fear is a very powerful thing in our lives. It prompts us to seek protection in times of very real danger. It motivates us into needed changes and surprising adventures. It serves as a constant reminder that we are fragile, limited, human.

On the other side of these impulses, we know fear also prompts us to lock the doors of our lives
from the mystery and wonder of the unknown and run into places of isolated hiding. One of the notable aspects of the birth of the Uniting Church in Australia was that it happened despite fear.  For once, the church let go of the known, the secure, the status quo, and reached out in hope to a yet-undefined future. For a time, in an act of faith 43 years ago, the church dared to follow Christ into the mists that shroud the future.

Now it is fair to say that the faith that launched the UCA may have wavered now and again, and the pull to return to ‘the good old days’ is occasionally strong. Some may even say that the motivation to embark on the journey to Union was more fear than faith: the fear of death, which seemed to be at the end of statistical path all mainstream denominations had been on since the 60s. Whilst I don’t agree with this view, I have to admit that very few emotions are stronger than fear. This morning’s gospel story from Matthew is about fear. But fear of what?

Matthew took the story from Mark, who when he retold the story of ‘the stilling of the storm,’ it is very likely his small community was either facing or recovering from, persecution in every direction. And in the face of this persecution or threats, it seems their fear was directed at the silence of God or God’s felt absence . So it is possible their fears, their concerns, were expressed in these felt needs in similar words: Is God indifferent to our suffering and persecution? Does God sleep while we are at risk?

Our tradition goes on to tell us these fearful people were told the story from today’s gospel passage, but I wonder if this story was heard; really heard, that is.

According to one myth that was widespread at the time, the original act of creation involved God in a desperate, but finally victorious contest with the forces of chaos and evil, which were identified with the waters of the sea.  As a consequence, Mark, Matthew and other storytellers of the day saw that the ability to control the sea and subdue storms as characteristic of having ‘divine power’.

But staying within this story, I wonder if the telling of it worked as an answer to the community’s fears. My suspicion is that it did not. So back to my original question: Fear of what?

I once received as a gift a book entitled, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him.  The title  is, in fact, an old Buddhist saying. Biblical scholar Walter Wink, who had commented on this Buddhist saying, wrote:

“We fall in love with our mentors or set them on pedestals, refusing to see their flaws and regarding them as bigger than life.  We project what we long for, into them”

Wink wrote this in relation to the story of the stilling of the storm.  He went on to say:

“A storm threatens to engulf them.  Jesus is asleep in the stern.  They might have reproached him with, Don’t just lie there; bail!  Instead they attack him personally: ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’  They personalise the storm, almost as if he has sent it against them spitefully.  They address him not as another available hand in a crisis but as their teacher.  They project onto him concern for their well-being and survival, and thus these weathered seamen empty themselves of their own inner resources to deal with the storm.”

Now, I find Wink’s comments helpful in answering my original question: Fear of what. These experienced fisher folk weren’t just surprised by, or afraid of, the storm. Been there.  Done that.  The Sea of Galilee was notorious for storms. Every day they ventured out was to engage in some risky business. No doubt they had successfully navigated many storms in their careers

Neither were they suddenly regretting the fact they hadn’t logged in to weather.com for the latest advice, before they set out. Yet, here they are, all ‘at sea’ on water!

Why? Instead of these experienced men just doing the things that they have done whenever storms had arisen in the past, they are frozen into inaction. They are afraid of themselves. They have lost their courage. Panic ensues. Why?  Because they had developed a dependency on Jesus.

Again Walter Wink is helpful, I reckon, with this comment:

“They awoke Jesus with reproaches, not the cry of believers for help.  They also lacked faith in themselves.  So Jesus replies: You deal with the storm.  You are the seamen here.  You have the resources, and you fail to call upon them.  Exercise your own faith!”

Now that is interesting: ‘confront your fears, forget your dependency. You have the resources; exercise your own faith!’

While these fisher folk were probably afraid of death in this moment, Jesus’ challenge to them in this story shows they (and by implication, Matthew’s and Mark’s communities) were also terrified of life! “…they had given up their courage by entering into dependency on Jesus.  And so they experienced the storm not as challenge, but as evil threat…  Where had their courage fled…?”

They had not yet seen or heard the Gospel of Thomas, where it says: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.  If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

This suggests that one of the worst things that the church has done down through the centuries has been to label Jesus as ‘saviour’; thus encouraging an unhealthy dependence when, if fact, everything needed for salvation has already be given to us.

Could this be the clue to answering to my question: Fear of what?  Could it be that the fear that determines whether or not we participate in the Kingdom of God is not the fear of death, but the fear of life? the fear of using what we have been given to its fullest extent?  I hear Jesus saying to us, as he said to his disciples; take responsibility for yourselves and dare to live, and don’t look for a saviour to do what you can well do yourselves.

This applies at an individual level, of course, but it may have wisdom for the church as well, as it is tossed on the rough seas of ageing members, declining numbers and a covid-19 pandemic that has slashed its income. It will do us well to remember that we, both as individuals and as a church, have been given all we need to weather the various storms of life.

A few years ago, Dr Francis Macnab, while still minister at St. Michaels in Melbourne, unleashed a storm of protest when he suggested the church should issue ten New Commandments; ten new commandments or guidelines for the way we need to live now, which capture Jesus‘ message. Let me briefly introduce them, and as Dr. Macnab did, I invite you to mentally give them a tick or not.

Commandment 1: Believe in a Good Presence in your life.  Call that Good Presence ‘God’, if you wish, and follow that Good Presence so that you live life fully: tolerantly, collaboratively, generously and with dignity.

Commandment 2: Believe in a Good-Presence within you that will lift you constantly to live harmoniously in yourself and with others, always searching for your best health and happiness.  How about that one?

Commandment 3: Take care of your home, your environments, your planet and its vital resources for the life and health of people in all the world.

Commandment 4: Be kind and caring to the animals, the birds and the creatures of land, rivers and seas.

Commandment 5: Help others develop their potential, and become as fully functioning human beings as is possible from birth, through traumas and triumph to the end of their days.

Commandment 6: Be magnanimous and excessive in your support of good causes, and use your affluence, material goods and scientific skills in altruistic concern for the future of the world.

Are there any so far that you would not tick?

Commandment 7: Study ways to encourage and sustain the dignity, hope and integrity of all human beings and study ways to help all human beings embrace their own dignity, hope, and integrity.

Commandment 8: Be alive to new possibilities, new ways, and to the unfolding mysteries and wonders of life and the world.

We often focus our lives on many things and pursuits that promise our fulfilment so:

Commandment 9: Study the deeper things of the Spirit, and the things of ultimate concern for all human beings.  Be part of an evolving life-enhancing Faith that will also bring a new resilience to the future.

Commandment 10: Take time to worship the great Source of all the positive transforming energies of life, and search to be at one with ‘the spirit of the good, the tender and the beautiful.’

These Ten Commandments, suggests Francis Macnab, are: “positive, plausible and powerful.  If you embrace them, really put them into practice, they will change your life.  And they will change the church and the world;” especially on those journeys that take us through fearful ‘storms’.

HYMN 607 “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace”(click here to listen) 

STATEMENT OF FAITH

L: There are diverse gifts;

R: but it is the same spirit who gives them.

L: There are different ways of serving God:

R: but it is the same Lord who is served.

L: God works through people in different ways:

R: but it is the same God whose purpose is achieved through them all.

L: Each one of us is given a gift by the spirit:

R: and there is no gift without its corresponding service.

L: There is one ministry of Christ:

R: and in this ministry we all share.

L: Together we are the body of Christ:

R: and individually members of it.                

PRAYER OF THANKSGIVING

For the first people of this land and their ways of belonging in this place,

For all those who have come to these shores from many lands and many traditions, with the light of the gospel of Christ,

For this land of rich or sparse beauty, its diverse and varied people, and our vocation in this land,

For all who have seen the vision of unity in this country and across the world,

For those whose efforts, in the power of the Holy Spirit, led to the inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia in 1977,

For those called to lead us in Assemblies, Synods and Presbyteries and in every congregation, For every faithful person who has used the gifts given them to serve God and others in quiet and humble places,

For the mistakes through which we have learned and the challenges that have stretched our faith,

And with all pilgrim people who have travelled this life as companions and encouragers for us, we bring praise and honour, glory and blessing, now and for ever. Amen,

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS

Our prayers today centre around the theme of community.

L: Holy Friend, for that small community we call our family, with its strengths that nurture or its faults that hurt and inhibit its unity, we ask for a special blessing. Three-person’d God,

R: join together your separated children.

L: Holy Friend, for that community we call the church universal, with its many graces and its numerous failures and even its scandals, we ask for a special blessing.  Three-person’d God,

R: join together your separated children.

L: Holy Friend, for that community we call our circle of friends, with its times of harmony and mutual joy and its incidents of misunderstanding or neglect, we ask a special blessing. Three-person’d God,

R: join together your separated children.

L: Holy Friend, for those communities we call health centres, and hospitals and hospices for the dying, with their skill and compassion yet also their pride and folly, we ask a special blessing. Three-person’d God,

R: join together your separated children.

L: Holy Friend, for those communities we call schools and universities, where much knowledge is imparted but love is not on the syllabus, we ask your special blessing. Three-person’d God,

R: join together your separated children.

L: Holy Friend, for that multi-ethnic community call our nation, with virtues that make us proud to be Australian. yet also with its prejudices and hurtful ways, we ask a special blessing. Three-person’d God,

R: join together your separated children.

L: Holy Friend, for that teeming community we call the world, rich with achievements for the good of all yet riven by greed, hatred, intolerance, injustice, arrogance, and war, we ask a special blessing. Three-person’d God,

R: join together your separated children.

L: Holy Father, thank you for sending giving the Christ to reconcile all things. By your Holy Spirit incite all people of faith and goodwill to strive untiringly for that communal harmony where the value of no one is denigrated, and where the gifts and successes of each person are celebrated with unstinted gratitude and joy. In the words we associate with Jesus, we pray, “Our Father…”

LORD’S PRAYER

HYMN 111  “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”(click here to listen) 

WORDS OF MISSION

L: Be assured that God’s presence goes with us.

R: We face the world with renewed faith and hope; God’s word abides with us.

L: Let your hearts burn within you as you dare to trust.

R: God’s love is real and alive in us.

L: Live in gratitude each and every day;

R: We will love sincerely and live confidently.

L: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.

An open, virtual door to the world