Ordinary Sunday 14 (05-07-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on July 5th at 10am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use while public worship is not available in the church buildings   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 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.

CALL TO WORSHIP

Now is the time to dance heaven’s dance, time to discern eternity’s face, moment of knowing beyond all sight, day of God’s smile and tender embrace.  Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.

SONG “Turn, Turn Turn” (click here to listen)   

OPENING SENTENCES

L: We are called to worship, not just by words spoken, but also by miracles recalled:

R: a baby’s first cry, the petals of a rose, mist-covered hills, the restless tides of the seas, human love, human hope.

L: We respond with gratitude:

R: with joy, with wonder, at life’s boundless possibilities

ACT OF AWARENESS

We have been placed within the interwoven fabric of nature. May we appreciate its beauty: mountains and valleys, rivers and plains, sea and sky, and all of the earth with its its vast array of plant and animal life which it sustains. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

Gathering as we do in this special time, we pause again to reflect, to feel, and to commit to thoughtful and mindful intention. (Pause)

We wonder again about the ebb and flow of this living, breathing, expanding universe…And of our community. (Pause)

We give our attention right now to others in our circle, in our community, to new beginnings, to this time, to this season. (Pause)

May this time spent in sacred silence, empower us to once again be open-eyed and open-sensed to the beauty and the oneness of all people and things. Let us now settle into silence and stillness.  (Pause)   

Let us centre our minds and our hearts. We are one with the universe.  We are one with the sun and the stars.  We are one with the earth.  We are one with the One who is mystery…  (30 seconds Silence)

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

L: Jesus said: “Come to me all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. Let us unburden ourselves in the Presence of the great love of God.  Lord, we repent that we have laboured long and wasted much energy on things which are worthless in your eternal scheme.

R: We repent those occasions when we have chosen to only do those things for you that suited our inclinations, and have therefore wearied ourselves on matters that are second best.

L: We repent the times when we have toiled at your hard and unpleasant tasks like slaves rather than your children, and have worn ourselves down with resentment.

R: We repent the situations when on top of the disciplines of faith we have added the weight of worry and exhausted ourselves much too soon.

L: We repent the burdensome pride that sometimes makes us cling to tawdry self-justifications rather than admitting our sin and accepting your grace.

R: We repent the events where we have not even made a pretence of being Christian, but slipped into the corrupt ways of the world and loaded ourselves with a ballast of evil.

L: God of Jesus, we who are the heavy laden come to you for rescue and relief. Please pity the folly of our choices, and forgive us for the evil in which we have participated.

R: As we accept the invitation of Christ, release from our shoulders the burden of shame that is beyond our power to remit.

L: Restore our dishevelled spirits, and strengthen our faith in your abundant grace.

R: Return to us an awareness of the beauty of your ways, and enable us to walk in that beauty without looking back.

L: Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.  Amen

THE ASSURANCE

L: The remarkable thing is, my sisters and brothers, that we are forgiven! Through Christ all things become young again. Our Brother Jesus says: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.,” and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES

       Genesis 2:18-23   (New King James Version)

5.1.2

18 And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

23 And Adam said: “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”

      Song of Solomon: 2: 8-13     (New King James Version)

8  The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he stands behind our wall; he is looking through the windows, gazing through the lattice.

10  My beloved spoke, and said to me: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. 11 For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12  The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove Is heard in our land.

13  The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away!

HYMN 654  “When Love is Found” (click here to listen)   

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “The God of Lovers”    

     Part 1

   We begin with a modern paraphrase from Song of Solomon

              “Love Song”          

Isn’t that the voice of my lover? There, look, see him coming, leaping from crag to crag and bounding down the hillside.

My true love moves as easily as a roo, and as gracefully as a dancing brolga. See how he vaults over our stone wall, hoping to glimpse me through windows.

Now his voices reaches me clearly: Come on out, my lovely darling, see how the winter has gone away and the season of chill rain is over. Wild flowers are scenting the bushland, the joy-time for songbirds has come, and the voice of the mating doves are once more heard in our land.

The wattles trees are ablaze with gold, lorikeets a feeding on the gum blossom. Come out and join me, my darling, Put on your shoes, come walk with me.  

Let us pray: Through the written word and through the spoken word, may we behold the living word. Amen.

Love poetry?  How is it that a collection of extremely sensual love poems ended up in the Bible?

The book that is called either “Song of Solomon” or “Song of Songs” does not mention God even once. It is all about a young man and a young woman who are delightfully and hopelessly in love and, I dare say, not even married. It was among the last few books that were included in the Jewish Scriptures. From there, along with the other OT books, is was adopted by the early Christian’s and placed in their Scriptures.

Why? Why was it that love poems of great beauty, yet in places so erotic that some verses are not considered appropriate for reading publicly in church, were included in the Bible and passed on to us?

It is my belief that any book that ended up as Holy Scripture did not get there by some quirk or accident.  It was intentional, and some would go further and say that it is there by the providence of God.  Each book is there to help us, to affirm some truth, to guide us in the knowledge of God’s ways. Or to use an older word; the books of the Bible, each and every one of them, are there for our “edification”.

Let me read the passage from Chapter 2 again as presented in the RSV. In it we hear the young woman’s delight in her much-loved man:

The voice of my beloved! Behold he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills.  My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in through the windows, looking through the lattices.

Isn’t that just wonderful? I revel in this delight from a woman as she admires the athletic, muscular beauty of her man with whom she is deeply in love and who, she well knows, is impatient to see her again?  Romantic? Sure! I hope you women still feel that way about your guys and tell them so. We fellas may act tough, but we like a bit of romance too!

Then she records what he has come to ask of her:

My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise my love, my fair one, and come away with me,  for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away with me.”

There is enough beauty in that passage to warm the hearts of even those of us who are long past the age of youth and its wonderful enthusiasm!     

Even if one doesn’t believe that every word in Scripture is there by the wise providence of God.  They are at least there because the wise fathers of our faith considered them to be so, and among them, included poems like these to speak to us from the passages of the holy book we that we call the Bible.  What then is it about the Song of Songs that has value? What does it teach us?

There are, among scholars, a few who think it has to do with ancient ritual marriage ceremonies between kings and a fertility goddess. They have a right to their opinion, but it is not widely accepted.

More common is the allegorical approach.  By the second century AD some Hebrew writers, probably who were uncomfortable with bringing sex into the synagogue, doubted whether God would have inspired a profane book about sensuality, so they began teaching the poems as an allegory of God’s love towards his people Israel.

Not surprisingly, given the discomfort that some people felt about mixing sex and religion,  a similar thing happened within Christianity. From about the time of the famous scholar Origen of Alexandria, in the fourth century, it became common for the poems to be seen as an allegory describing the love of Christ and his bride the church. Many Christians still read them this way today.

But scholastically it is hard to make a credible case for allegory being their true meaning and the main reason why they are in the Bible.  Neither pre-Christ nor in the first Christian century is there even a scintilla of evidence to support this allegorical approach.  Not one New Testament writer employs the Song of Songs in this fashion.  So, most Christian scholars today accept them for what they are: beautiful love poems.

     Part 2

Why, then, are they in the Holy Scriptures?  If one believes that the books in the Bible are there because of the providence of God, it poses an interesting question. My answer?  I believe they are in the Bible to clearly affirm the essential goodness of our sexual nature. They are there to affirm that sexuality is a good thing; one of those things created in the beginning which, says Genesis, God declared to be very good….and I am certainly inclined to agree.

Sensual love is not an unworthy, profane, dirty thing, as has unfortunately been preached in some churches over the centuries, but a wholesome gift. It is God given and God blessed. It is the will of God that man and woman delight in the sensual beauties and their expression.

“And God blessed them and said: “Be fruitful and multiply…And God saw   everything that he had made, and behold it was very good.”

Now let us hear another of the poems. Again feel the celebration of sensual beauty that is expressed in Chapter 4 of Song of Songs. Remember this is a rural setting in an age far removed from ours, and the poet uses rural images which may sound a trifle odd in our bustling, urbanised age. Then goats and sheep were precious and much loved, often the subject of poetry. This time it is the man speaking to the woman.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats moving down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.

For the sake of discretion, I break off the poem here as the writer works his way down the body of the woman.  But isn’t it lovely? It surely is a wonderful contrast to the coarse, meaningless triviality of much of what happens between numerous men and women today.  Compare the lovers in the Song of Songs with the words of the bloke who picks up a woman in a pub and beguiles her with: “Hey babe! How about coming back to my flat for a night-cap?”

The love in the Song of Songs is a beautiful thing. It expresses the wonder of the chemistry between man and woman using the beauty which God intended.  Our sexuality is basically a wonderful gift from God. Like all gifts it can be corrupted and debased, but the bottom line is its status is a good gift from a loving God.

We need to openly fight the opposing view, which has been all too prevalent in churches; the attitude that sexuality is a nasty thing.

The fruit that Adam and Eve are caught eating in the garden and Eden, is not, as has been taught in some places, an allegory for sexual intercourse. Sadly however, there has been a perverse stream in Christianity that has treated it so.  These misguided people have taught that all sexual expression is evil. That godliness cannot be achieved without total sexual abstinence.

There have been emotionally tortured Christians, right up to this present time, who believed they were in a no-win situation; a “Catch 22”. They believed that as married people they were commanded to multiply, but to do this they had to engage in sexual intercourse which, in their thinking, was a sinful thing.

There are some very sorry cases in the contemporary world where sex in marriage is avoided by using the method of artificial insemination. (Yes! It really happens!) Thus they multiply without recourse to what they falsely believe is sin.  I find this grotesquely sad.

I am wary of making generalisations, but I suspect that one of the unspoken motivations of any church hierarchy that insists on unmarried clergy is a deep fear of sexuality as evil.  This pernicious fear has shown itself again and again in the long story of the church, from the time of Paul until today.

It seems to me that if one has this fear of sensuality, and in particular sexuality, then the only recourse in dealing with the Song of Songs is to make it a holy allegory of the relationship between the church and Jesus Christ.

I do not think it is a meaningless coincidence that the great Christian scholar Origen, who gave the allegorical interpretation a mighty push into the foreground against some spirited opponents, was a man who had himself castrated so that he could better serve and honour God.

Today we speak of ‘hang ups’. Well, far too many Christians have had suffered hang ups about the essential sexual nature that we have been given by God.

In saying this I do not wish to undervalue the love and devotion of those who feel that, in renouncing sexuality, along with renouncing possessions and freedom, they have placed themselves at the service of Jesus Christ. Their devotion puts mine to shame. But this does not mean that those who marry and enjoy it are lesser Christians.

In contrast to the degraded view of sexuality unfortunately held by some neurotic minds within the Christian church, stands the pure, naked beauty (I chose the word “naked” carefully!) of the Song of Songs.

I thank God for the Song of Songs. I believe it is there, near the physical centre of our Bible, as an affirmation of the delightful thing that God did when we were created male and female.

I thank God that it holds nothing back , but tells it as it is.

I thank God that through the use of superb poetry it reflects something of the  beauty of the God who saw to it that we were created male and female.

I thank God that it puts to shame much of the crass, ephemeral sexuality of our era.

I thank God that by providence the Song of Songs still speaks to us from Holy Scripture.

Today’s poem has been recited at many a wedding. In one particular instance the man and woman both came from the bruising grief of previous failed marriages, a bitter season of their experience which was like a long, cold, wet winter. Now a spring had arisen. They were both somewhat anxious about making another commitment, yet were determined to overcome their fears and find a future in this new springtime.

The man, a fellow who scorned trivial sentimentality, spoke the poem, taking both hands of the bride and looking into her eyes:

“Arise my love, my fair one, and come away’ for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one and come away.”

Thank God for the Song of Songs. Thank God for love, both human and divine.

CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: In response to the word reflected on let us share together a celebration of our faith. (pause) God is with us. This we celebrate. For we have seen the signs of grace in every place, in every generation.

R: The beauty of the creation, in all its pristine wonder, is not the only dwelling place of the creator.

L: This, our God, is born again in cities as well as country stables.

R: Is found in holy places and the supermarket, sits with us in coffee shops, and by the one who hopefully sings a song on the streets of this day.

L: The spirit dances on concrete

R: and holds in comfort those who walk with briefcase and shopping bag.

L: The God who is more than we can ever name or know

R: is beside us in every work place and every hidden home of our body, mind and soul. 

HYMN 645 “As Man and Woman We Were Made” (click here to listen)

As man and woman we were made
that love be found and life begun,
so praise the Lord who made us two,
and praise the Lord when two are one:
praise for the love that comes to life
through child or parent, husband, wife.

Now Jesus lived and gave his love
to make our life and loving new;
so celebrate with him today
and drink the joy he offers you,
that makes the simple moment shine
and changes water into wine.

And Jesus died to live again,
So praise the love that, come what may,
can bring the dawn and clear the skies,
and waits to wipe all tears away;
and let us hope for what shall be,
believing where we can not see.

Then spread the table, clear the hall,
and celebrate till day is done;
let peace go deep between us all
and joy be shared by everyone;
laugh and make mercy with your friends,
and praise the love that never ends.  (words by Brian Wren)

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS

L: Loving God, our Friend, Saviour, and Healer, the world is too big for us, the degree of human suffering too great for us, the tangle of cause and effect too complex for us. Prayerfully we place before you a tiny segment of humanity, and ask you to bless them well. Then as you bless them, please bless all the other people whose needs  are outside our direct knowledge.  We pray for the young people of this church and community, especially for any who find life bewildering and aimless and any who may be contemplating suicide.

R: Friend, Saviour and Healer, may your children know your love and strength.

L: We pray for the old people of this church and community, especially those who because of illness, frailty or grief, feel that the burden of life far outweighs its remaining joys.

R: Friend, Saviour and Healer, may your children know your love and strength. 

L: We pray for the overworked and the unemployed people of this church and community, especially any who feel that they are trapped in circumstances out of their control.

R: Friend, Saviour and Healer, may your children know your love and strength.

L: We pray for grieving members of this church and community, those reeling from death, divorce, loss of job, or family estrangement, especially for those who are living alone.

R: Friend, Saviour and Healer, may your children know your love and strength.

L: We pray for members of this church and community who feel that they are victims of misunderstanding or injustice, especially any who may be at the point of despair.

R: Friend, Saviour and Healer, may your children know your love and strength.

L: We pray for members of this church and community who are facing temptations or worries that today seem overwhelming, especially for any who are near breaking point.

R: Friend, Saviour and Healer, may your children know your love and strength.

L: We pray for members of this church and community who feel at the crossroads between doubt and faith, especially for any who feel too shy or ashamed to talk with a pastor.

R: Friend, Saviour and Healer, may your children know your love and strength.

L: Most loving God, with our assistance or without it, please reach far beyond the limited circle of these prayers, that the world may drawn away all that is defeatist, deranged  and diseased, towards the grace, mercy and peace of your Son Jesus, our Brother and Redeemer, who taught us to 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 and the power and glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

CELEBRATING COMMUNITY:   The Eucharist

     The Invitation

Jesus invited all to the feast of peace and new life. Jesus risked everything in compassion.  Jesus promised to make himself known in the breaking of the bread.

     Thanksgiving

L: We give thanks for the wonderful gift of reflective awareness that allows us to recognise and name the presence of a Creative Spirit beyond all imagining, in our universe.

R: We give thanks.

L: Everything we have, everything we see, everything we do, everyone we love and everyone who loves us reveals this sustaining Presence and our total dependence on it. We marvel and wonder at the size and complexity of our universe. We marvel and wonder at the development of life on this planet. We give thanks for the creative Presence that ‘energises’ this life and all that exists. We recognise that human life gives this Presence a particular way of coming to expression, and that in us the Presence can sing and dance, speak and write, love and create.  Conscious that we live, move, and have our being in this Presence, we give thanks for people throughout history who have affirmed this loving presence in all people. For those who have invited people to give witness to this by lives characterised by gratitude, compassion, generosity and forgiveness. Especially we give thanks for Jesus of Nazareth.

R: In him we see the presentness of God urging all of us to make its creativity on earth more visible. 

L: We also remember the meal tradition of Jesus and the early Jesus movement, in which Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take, eat.  This is my body.” Then after supper, he took the cup, and giving thanks, he blessed it and said, “Drink this, all of you, for this is my blood.” So in that tradition, we take this bread and this wine mindful of the Presence at work in our lives, in the ordinary, in the everyday,

R: and in our desire to love as generously as Jesus loved.

     Bread and Wine

Sacred objects, bible, bread and wine.

(Bread is broken) We break this bread in celebration of the great truth that on this tiny planet, hurtling through cold, empty space, death is made the servant of life, and out of death life is forever resurrected.

(Cup is raised) This cup with its fruit of the vine, is a celebration that things are not always as they seem: that out of faithfulness and steadfastness, out of suffering and sorrow, may come unsought blessings. 

Bread… the very stuff of life.  Broken. Wine… fruit of the vine.  Cup full.

     After Communion 

God of love, God of compassion, may the celebration of the wonder and the mystery of your Presence, strengthen and enable us to be your body the church.

HYMN 203  “Fairest Lord Jesus” (click here to listen)  

WORD OF MISSION

L: Let us embrace the wonder of this week with expectation and imagination. There is a season for everything in creation: A time for dying and a time for rebirth;

R: a time for laughter and a time for tears;

L: a time for courage and a time for fear;

R: a time to talk and a time to be still;

L: a time alone and a time for romance;

R: a time to welcome and to send away;

L: a time to break rules and a time to behave;

R: a time to search and a time to find;

L: a time to begin and a time to end.

R: There is a season for everything in creation.

BENEDICTION

With wisdom and understanding, with justice and compassion, with courage and hope, may we be blessed this day and every day, by the Creative God, source of our and all life. Amen.

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