Ordinary Sunday 19 (09-08-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on August 9th 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.

-oOo-

“Cynicism and fear freeze life;
it is faith that thaws it out, releases it, sets it free.” 

 (Harry Emerson Fosdick)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Every creature is a word of God, and all creation is a book about God. Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of this God.

HYMN 138 – “Eternal Father, Strong to Save” (click here to listen) 

OPENING SENTENCES

L: On a winter morning it is comforting  to be together, albeit virtually.

R: Drawn by the prospect  of the warmth of those familiar and new, and to the welcoming of this sacred time. 

L: In this safe place let us open ourselves to new understanding, reassurance, and hope;

R: For this is a time when truth, love, and challenge meet. It is a good time to be together. 

PRAYER

We have gathered in community, if not physically together, at least together in spirit. A space has been made for each of us. Let what we say and do at this time be both real and honest, thus preparing ourselves for the life of the world. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation – “No Other Plans,” a story by Wm J Bausch. .

Upon Jesus’ arrival in heaven, a vast host of angels greeted him. After the formalities, they asked him whom he had left behind on earth to finish the work he had begun.

Jesus replied, ‘Just a small group of men and women who love me.’

‘That’s all?’ asked the angels, astonished.‘What if this tiny group should fail?’

Jesus replied:  ‘I have no other plans.’

     Silence

May the silence now engulf us, and be for us a time of reflection, prayer and meditation. Great possibilities do await us. The grandeur of life, of which we are a part, fills us with hope… if we seek to choose it.  

(30 seconds of silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

Let us commit our lives to the mercy of God.  Let us pray.

Holy Friend, in the name of the Love that takes away the sins of the world, we put ourselves at your mercy.

It is just as well that we do not see the consequences of all our ignorant or ill considered actions, for the burden would frighten us.

It is just as well that we do not comprehend the shortcomings of all our wisest thoughts and kindest deeds, for such knowledge would depress us.

It is just as well we cannot chart the complete outworking of our many recognised faults and sins, for the grief would overwhelm and cripple us.

It is well, very well, that you alone can see the complete picture, and that you alone are capable of being the One who “has born our griefs and carried our sorrows.”

It is well, very well, that we can repent those things that we are capable of recognising and repudiating, and leave all that, and everything else that is sadly amiss, in the arms of your indefatigable mercy.

Through Christ Jesus our Friend and Brother. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: My sisters and brothers, it is truly written: “Every one who calls on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ will be rescued and healed.” Humbly embrace the total forgiveness and the healing and liberating grace that is freely offered to you, and you will be made new and young in heart again. So I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

HYMN 598  “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind” (click here to listen)             

FROM THE GOSPELS – Matthew 14:22-33

Walking on the Water

22-23 As soon as the meal was finished, he insisted that the disciples get in the boat and go on ahead to the other side while he dismissed the people. With the crowd dispersed, he climbed the mountain so he could be by himself and pray. He stayed there alone, late into the night.

24-26 Meanwhile, the boat was far out to sea when the wind came up against them and they were battered by the waves. At about four o’clock in the morning, Jesus came toward them walking on the water. They were scared out of their wits. “A ghost!” they said, crying out in terror.

27 But Jesus was quick to comfort them. “Courage, it’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

28 Peter, suddenly bold, said, “Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”

29-30 He said, “Come ahead.”

Jumping out of the boat, Peter walked on the water to Jesus. But when he looked down at the waves churning beneath his feet, he lost his nerve and started to sink. He cried, “Master, save me!”

31 Jesus didn’t hesitate. He reached down and grabbed his hand. Then he said, “Faint-heart, what got into you?”

32-33 The two of them climbed into the boat, and the wind died down. The disciples in the boat, having watched the whole thing, worshiped Jesus, saying, “This is it! You are God’s Son for sure!”

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS  – “Daring With Jesus”

     Part 1

Have you ever walked on water?  I have. Not literally speaking, but metaphorically I certainly have.

I have walked into stormy situations, often more through naivety or stupidity than courage, where no person should have been able to get anywhere, but something helped me through. I have been up to my waist in work, and in danger of going under, but by grace I have escaped. I have looked ahead and gasped at the size of the waves, thinking it seemed almost possible to get from point A to point B without sinking, yet I have made it. Not always. Not as often as I would like. Not every time with the balance and dignity I would wish. Yet, by grace I have walked across stormy seas.  But I am getting ahead of myself. Back to where I should have started.

What do you make of the story of Jesus, walking across stormy seas at night to save the disciples in their fishing boat?  I don’t know about you, but that is not the kind of activity I often see when I holiday by the lakeside or the ocean. Literally walking on water is not something that appears likely. For some it might sound impossible. How do we interpret this story?

It certainly is a story that grabs our attention.  Unfortunately, the very thing that grabs our attention is also an unhelpful distraction. People too often get hooked into the how of the story rather than the why of the story: the reason the story is being told.

      1. Some are uncomfortable with the supernatural, and want to say that it is just a superstitious story; just another fable concocted by the early Christians to try and make their hero seem like one of the gods.
      2. Others will say that this is a misunderstood event. They assert there must be a rational explanation for everything.  Perhaps the disciples had become lost in the storm and were much closer to land they realised. Jesus was actually walking along a low-level promontory, meeting them at a point where they would have soon run aground. Through the darkness they suddenly spotted Jesus and jumped to the conclusion that he was walking on water.
      3. The new agers might say that this is a psychic phenomenon: like stories of American Indian shamans, and some Australian aborigines who, they say, could make these journeys.   Jesus could have been one of these advanced minds who was on something akin to an astral journey when he came to the disciples at sea.  One day, they suggest, when humanity learns to understand and harness the full range of our largely untapped human potential, we will all be able to do such things.
      4. Of course, for the religious devotee, one of the prime interpretations is simple: Jesus was Lord, not just the Lord and Saviour of human soul, but also Lord over all nature. He shared the divine power of the Creator over land, sea and air. In such events as walking on the sea, calming the storm, or turning water into wine, Jesus revealed his true Divinity and Lordship. The account is an accurate, eye witness record of what actually happened.
      5. If  your religious zeal can’t quite come at that, you might at least be able acknowledge that the basis of this story could be a parable, slowly turned to an actual event. Maybe Jesus originally told his disciples a parable about terrified fishermen, caught in a violent storm, who prayed to God and were saved. God was a God whose care for his people knew no limits; walking on water, or stilling storms,  was no big deal to this God.  In  time, as the stories of Jesus were passed on from mouth to mouth, things became altered in the telling. Just as they do today as rumours go around a community. Some parables were gradually transformed into literal events. The fishermen became identified as the first disciples, and the sea became Lake Galilee.

Any of these could be right, but these possible explanations are all unimportant diversions.  I’m not asking you how the story came about.  I really don’t care, because it really doesn’t matter. The question is not whether Jesus, by the will of God, could or could not walk on water; it is not the point.

Rather I invite you to explore this question:  Why was this story so treasured by those first few Christians who spread the Gospel throughout the Roman Empire? Why did it become so embedded in the oral sources which missionaries and evangelists used both in the spread of the faith, and in its nurture? Why did it end up written down in three of our four Biblical Gospels.

     Part 2

I believe it was because it spoke to those trailblazing Christians  in a special way. It spoke to them of an important aspect of their own Christian experience: THEIR SITUATION ALL AT SEA IN A  HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT

It was a risky thing to be a Christian in that first century. At the beginning, they were persecuted by the more rigid of the orthodox Jews.  Then followed purges and persecutions in other places.  Later, as the first generation of Christians were nearly all gone, from the sixties until the end of the century and beyond, Christians because officially persecuted by Roman authorities.

To be a Christian was like being at sea in storm. It was like beating upwind, or rowing against a strong current. The waves were always threatening to sink the Christian vessel. Life was, to say the least, most insecure. Yet even in their darkest moments, hiding in the catacombs under Rome, or dying in a sports stadiums from Pompeii to Corinth, to Alexandria in Egypt, their Lord Jesus came to them, saying: “Cheer up, my sisters and brothers. It is I. Do not be afraid.” They treasured this story because it spoke to them in their troubles. They found Christ to be faithful, always.

Since being a Christian today in Australia is a relatively tame affair by comparison to those early pioneers, we can only try to imagine what it was like, but the story of Jesus walking on water also spoke to them in a way that speaks to every generation: FAITH IS A BIG RISK

The daring nature of faith is illustrated here quite graphically: Peter said: Lord, if that is really you, then say the word and command that I come to you across the water. And Jesus said come. Then Peter left the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus.”

The story mirrored the nature of Christian faith. It spoke to them about not only belief but of trust, and trust meant daring to risk themselves.  They were called, as we are called, to walk on water, which is another way of saying that we are called to live out our faith.

Faith is not something we gain in full, by immediate, sharp human  perception. It is not like eyesight or hearing, or  instinctive like eating or drinking or sleeping. Nor do we have faith by working it all out in theory and saying, “Yes, it must be right.”.

From numerous standpoints, faith looks as ridiculous as the notion of walking on water.  IT IS A HUGE RISK!  Take the kingdom parables that we discussed two weeks ago:  in order to enter the kingdom one must give up everything – not just all material possessions, but everything one holds dear: loved ones, talents, accomplishments, security, self identity – EVERYTHING!

Faith is the means, the only means, to life in the kingdom of God, and it only functions when we take the risk and try it. Faith is like walking on water. It cannot be proved. It does not provide a substantial path ahead of us like concrete or granite. The option of faith appears to be precarious. We only know if faith will support our weight by trying it.

From old letters we hear of an early pioneer in the U.S. who came to the edge of the Mississippi River, a giant of river flowing through the centre of the entire country, which often is over a mile wide.  He arrived in winter and the river was covered with ice.  He needed to cross, but not knowing how thick the ice was, he was fearful.  He lay on the ice so as to distribute his weight and slowly began crawling across the river.  After a couple of hours of this, he turned at a sound to see a large wagon filled with coal and pulled by four horses at a gallop pass him by.  The difference between the pioneer and the wagon driver was that the driver had crossed the ice previously and knew it able to support tons of weight.  The driver had already taken the leap of faith and the risk had been rewarded.

So it was that the story of Peter attempting to walk on water like his Lord, became extra precious to those pioneer Christians. On Lake Galilee, and later in his missionary work, Peter did not always do the faith thing very well, and at times he doubted and began to sink. But Jesus was there for him.  Always there for him.

Peter said: Lord, if that is really you, then say the word and command that I come to you across the water. And Jesus said come. Then Peter left the boat and walked on the water towards Jesus.”

Those Christians scattered across the Roman empire treasured this story; savoured the telling and retelling. It was Peter’s story. It was their story.  So it is for us today: our story.

When we live by faith we won’t always get it right. Doubts will intrude. Temptations will unsettle us. We will be at risk. But Christ will not let us sink. He is there for us. But we will never know that unless we try it for ourselves.

Sermons often speak of the “leap of faith.” Of stepping into the unknown. It has always been so. And it always will be so as long as our mortality endures.

Trusting Christ is a bit like your first bungee jump or your first sky dive or even like your first step as a child. It is a journey into the unknown. Jesus says, as he said to Peter, “Come It is me. Don’t be afraid.” One must leave the relative safety of our little boat and walk. We must take the step of faith and find out for oneself. There is no other way to through the storms of life with Jesus.

That is why those followers of Christ in that first century loved this story. It is why it ended up in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. It spoke to their experience.

     Part 3

I am sure that they swapped anecdotes with each other of their own stormy adventures, when they did the seemingly impossible and lived the faith against outrageous odds; and of the worst moments when they started to sink, yet their Lord was there with them, saving them from sinking further into fear and despair.

It began as Peter’s story. It became their own story.  It is now our story.

Danish philosopher and theologian, Soren Kierkegaard, tells a parable about a flock of geese that lived together in a close, harmonious fellowship in the safety of a fine barnyard.  Once a week one of their number would climb up on the barnyard fence and tell the other geese about the joys and wonders of flight and how they, like all geese, were made for something more than a barnyard existence.  He would relate to them the adventures of their forefathers who winged their way across the trackless wastes and of their gratitude to God for giving them such talent.  And as he preached the hearers often nodded their heads in approval and felt proud of having such a fine preacher in their flock.  Once in a while they even flapped their wings as a sign of agreement, but they did not fly, because the corn was good and the barnyard safe.

Have you ever dared to walk across the waters when Jesus said to you, “It is me. Do not be afraid. Come.”    Maybe it is time?

We dare to walk on water and manage a few steps;
not big stylish strides of course, but many starts and stops.
Then daunting fears arrive blown on an alien wind.
With instant understanding he grabs us by the hand.
It’s plain we have not mastered the basics of this game;
only his presence saves us from sinking in the storm.
Sometimes we sourly grumble, and wish for quick rewards.
Does walking on water matter? It’s easier on the roads!

Yet when He says ”Come join me!” a soul-deep christ within
leaps up with expectation impatient to begin.

HYMN 123 – “Be Still, My Soul”(click here to listen)  

A LITANY   Basketful”

L: Spirit of God, brooding over the waters of our chaos,

R: inspire us to generous living.

L: Wind of God, dancing over the desert of our reluctance,

R: lead us to the oasis of celebration.

L: Breath of God, inspiring communication among strangers,

R: make us channels of your peace,

L: that we may give in deep thankfulness,

R: placing the overflowing basket of our gifts on the table of rejoicing.

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

L: Loving God, teach us to trust you.

R: and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

L: Holy Friend, loving God and Saviour, we pray to you, both when we are at our wits end and on those days when we feel reasonably capable and competent. We ask you to bless our attempts in aiding all the lonely, suffering, bewildered, and grieving people on earth. Loving God, teach us to trust you.      

R: and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

L: Yet our efforts, even at their best, towards loving our neighbours are piecemeal. Sometimes, in spite of our good intentions, our efforts are ill advised and ill directed. Please do for our fellow human beings all that we cannot do for each other. May no child of earth face distress or calamity on their own.  Loving God, teach us to trust you.    

R: and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

L: Please guide and bless those who seem to have the knack of loving others in appropriate, practical ways. Give each of us the commitment and wisdom to express our compassion more wisely and lovingly. 

R: and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

L: Loving God, to you all persons are precious. Teach us your ways. Let no person be forgotten, none neglected, none despised, and none judged as unworthy of the best care that is available. Loving God, teach us to trust you.    

R: and to love our neighbours as we love ourselves.

L: Bring the day nearer when your people on earth may be more like a community of grace, mercy and peace.  Through Christ Jesus. our Brother and Lord, 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

HYMN 48 – “On Eagles’ Wings” (click here to listen)  

THE SENDING OUT

L: The time now has  come for us to leave the sacred space we have created for this service. As we do, may we embrace the challenges of our lives and our world. May we go forth thankful for the life that sustains and renews us, and open to the grace that surrounds and surprises us.

R: May we go forth with openness and with thanksgiving!  

L: The calling of a magpie greets the promising sunrise on a winter’s morning. May there be awakened in us long held hopes and a keening of our longing for you, Gracious God, and we are blessed.  Amen.

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