Season of Creation 1 (06-09-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on September 6th 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-

Teach your children what we have taught our children: that the Earth is our mother. Whatever befalls the Earth befalls the sons and daughters of the Earth. If we spit upon the ground, we spit upon ourselves.   (Chief Seattle)

 

BEFORE YOU START

Go out into your garden, or farther afield if need be, and collect a gum leaf to use during worship.  It is not essential, but will enhance your experience.  Also, as it is a communion service, prepare the elements for your use.

PREPARATION FOR WORSHIP

Be still and feel the presence of God,
the presence pulsing, pulsing through Earth,
be still and feel the pulse of God.    (Silent pause)

Be still and hear the Spirit of God,
the Spirit breathing, breathing through Earth,
be still and hear the breath of God.   (Silent pause)

Be still, behold the glory of God,
the glory filling, filling this Earth,
be still, behold the face of God.

HYMN 119 –“I Sing the Almighty Power of God” (click here to listen)  

INVITATION TO CELEBRATION

L: We invite the forests to worship with us:

R: Mountain ash and eucalypts, quivering ferns and glistening moss! 

L: We quiver with the trees as they shake before God:

R: when tempests and tornadoes hit, and raging winds invade the forest.

L: We invite tall trees to celebrate life:

R: Huon pines and ironbark, tall timber where lizards and lichen find their home!

L: We invite the forest night-life to sing:

R: Green tree frogs and timid moths, ancient owls and swirling bats!

L: We join with the fauna of the forest in praising God:

R: Lyrebirds and black cockatoos, platypuses, pythons and butterflies!

L: We celebrate the song of the forest!

R: Sing, forest, sing!

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Creativity God, whose renewing breath fills our planet, may we discern this vibrant presence among us, especially in the mysteries of the forest. May our spirits be lifted to rejoice with the forest and all the creatures of the forest, this day. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation

  “Let the trees be consulted…”  by John Wright. Earth Prayers.

Let the trees be consulted before you take any action;
every time you breathe in, thank a tree.

Let tree roots crack parking lots at the world bank headquarters; let loggers be druids, specially trained and rewarded to sacrifice trees at auspicious times; let carpenters be master artisans; let lumber be treasured like gold;
let chainsaws be played like saxophones; let soldiers on manoeuvres plant trees; give police and criminals a shovel and a thousand seedlings; let businessmen carry pocketfuls of acorns; let newlyweds honeymoon in the woods; walk don’t drive; stop reading newspapers; stop writing poetry; squat under a tree, and tell stories

     Silence

Take your gum leaf, rub it between your fingers, break it, smell it, and let it bring to mind some rich childhood memories of the forest, the bush or a special tree.  Away from the busyness of life and in the silence of this place, immerse yourself in the memories and give thanks for trees, for forests, filled with mysteries!    (30 seconds silence)

RESPONSE

L: We remember the gardens and the forests of our childhood. The places where we played in the past, when we felt close to Earth and to trees.

R: We remember and rejoice.

L: Earth is a sanctuary, a sacred planet filled with the presentness of God.

R: A home for us to share with our kin.

REFLECTING ON OUR RELATIONSHIPS (continue with the gum leaf)

L: As we rub this fragrant symbol in our hands we remember the forests where we have worked and played.

R: O God, we thank you for the majesty of creation and the gift of trees.

L:   We remember and confess how we have violated and polluted the forests in our garden planet.

R: Christ, crucified on a tree, hear our cry.

L:  We regret that we have forgotten Earth and treated this garden planet as a beast to be tamed and a place to be ruled.

R: Christ, the hope of all creation, we lament our failings.

L: As we come home to Earth,

R: Christ, have mercy.

L: As we seek to love our home,

R: Christ, have mercy.

L: As we seek to care for our planet,

R: Christ, have mercy.

L: We have ignored the distant sounds in the forest, the sound of chainsaws clearing for greed and gain, the sound of old-forest giants falling forever, the sound of rare  species breathing their last.

R: Christ, the source of all life, we are sorry. We are sorry.

THE REASSURANCE

L: Christ hears your confession from the cross and forgives your sins against the forest.

R: Christ, teach us to love Earth and return to Earth as our home.

L: I speak for Christ: I invite you to come home to Earth by rejoicing in the forest.

R: Shalom! Shalom! We are coming home!

READINGS FROM OUR RELIGIOUS TRADITION

     From the Hebrew Scriptures – Ps.139:13-16

13 For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

     From the World Around Us, inspired by the Hebrew scriptures

“Creation Accounts in Genesis” By Miriam Therese Winter. Womanprayer. Womansong

In the beginning, the very beginning, God gave birth to, God delivered, God created the heavens and the earth.
Yes, out of the womb of fertile divinity emerged our mother the earth.
Mother earth, sister sea, giving birth, energy, reaching out, touching me lovingly.
The earth was formless and empty. There was darkness over the deep.
God paused, reflected.
Her brooding spirit hovered restless over the face of the waters, savouring the stillness, embracing the mystical moment, contemplating the indissoluble cord binding Her to the earth.
Mother earth, sister sea, giving birth, energy, reaching out, touching me lovingly.
God loved the fruit of Her womb with all its potential for good.
Intuitively, She broke the silence, singing: Let there be light!
Her sunlight chased the shadows. She danced with the moon and the stars.
She sang all life into being: seeds, trees, fruits and flowers,
birds that took to the heavens and creatures that kept to the earth.
She taught earth all about motherhood, about nurture, about birth.
Mother earth, sister sea, giving birth, energy, reaching out, touching me lovingly.
God sang: Let there be life fashioned in My image.
She created humankind in Her image, rational beings She created them; female and male She created them, from out of the earth She created them.
From humus of earth, from mud, from muck, She fashioned in Her image woman and man,
breathed into them Her spirit, the very breath of life.
From the beginning,  humankind is the love child of our God in the womb of mother earth.
Mother earth, sister sea, giving birth, energy, reaching out, touching me lovingly.

HYMN 135  “All Things Bright and Beautiful” (click here to listen)  

A CONTEMPORARY WORD  “Treasures in Heaven”

     Part 1

“When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body.”  (Ps.139:15b)

This verse from Psalm 139 echoes the story of human creation in Genesis: “ …the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” (Gen.2:7)  It is a reminder of our very humble origins; origins which make us kin to all living things and the earth itself, for our life arose and is maintained through a relationship with the very stuff of all material existence and with its Creator.   

So today we are commencing something that may be new to you, although it has been going now for 20 years.  Today we are participating in an international initiative commenced in Australia – in Adelaide to be exact – to reshape a part of the Common Lectionary by adding to the seven existing seasons. So along with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost and the rather long period called After Pentecost, or Ordinary Time, we now have a new season.  Although Australian in origin, the idea has also been taken up in the U.S, Canada & elsewhere.

This new season claims some of that After Pentecost time by designating those Sundays in September traditionally associated with Spring in the southern hemisphere, as the Season of Creation.  Each of those four Sundays have been given a theme.  This year the themes are Forest, Land, Outback and River.

Next year the themes will be: Earth, Humanity, Sky and Mountain, while the following year, the themes will be: Ocean, Fauna, Storm and Cosmos. Each Season of Creation is to be wrapped up on the first Sunday in October, traditionally St Francis of Assisi Day.

In this new Season we are being invited to:

      • celebrate Earth as a sacred planet filled with God’s vibrant presence;
      • embrace our kin in creation as our extended family;
      • confess our sin against creation and empathise with a groaning creation;
      • go forth on a mission to be partners in the healing of creation.

Why do this?  It may be worth a few moments here to explain why some in the church feel that there is a need to address this issue; why, indeed, we need a Season of Creation to go along with seasons like Advent or Lent.  

There is a growing concern in Christian communities about the ecological crisis and the way human beings are treating the Earth, as there should be.  If Christians don’t care about God’s creation, who will?  This point was recognised by the scientific community in 1990 when a letter, penned by the avowed atheist, Carl Sagan, and signed by the world’s most eminent scientists, was sent to church leaders throughout the world to engage their help in saving the planet from environmental destruction by humanity. 

Now, some 30 years on, I can now say that the Church, and certainly the Uniting Church, is paying attention to God’s call to tend and protect God’s garden.  In that 30 years, the theories about the perils of climate change have been shown to be correct, and the situation is turning out to be even worse than the most dire early predictions. People around the world have learned, in very pointed ways, about one of the products of global warming; namely, the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.  Add to that the higher sea levels caused by melting ice, which means low lying areas are in much greater peril than they were even only a decade ago.

You might well ask yourself: why didn’t the church respond sooner?  Why did it require the prompting of the scientific community, many of whom were atheists? Why are there individuals in the church who don’t like to hear about the relationship of their faith to God’s creation?  Why don’t people care what kind of earth they are leaving for their children and grandchildren? Why is it that the current environmental crisis has been brought about and worsened by those nations populated by Christians?

     Part 2

There are a number of reasons, but I think that the main one is that Christians, in stark contrast to the Jesus they claim to follow, have historically emphasised the salvation of souls and a future life in heaven. The world’s beauty was often thought to be a seduction of the body and a peril to the immortal spark within us that alone is worth saving. Under the strong influence of Greek philosophy, fleeing the world was seen to be the path to eternal life.  This distortion of Christianity began with followers of Plato’s philosophy, but rapidly cemented its place and has continued to this day.

Add to this the impact of the way a large segment of Christianity has corrupted the book of Revelation:  They read into it the destruction of the world; a world from which the chosen will be removed to a new heaven and earth.  According to this adulterated reading, earth is only a temporary package that God will crumple and toss aside.

Of course, with their faith relegated to the hereafter, the worldly lives of these Christians have been dominated by the spirit of capitalism, which is fundamentally at odds with Christianity, in that it fosters competitive acquisition as the measure of human success, and has succeeded in reducing all things material and spiritual to commodities.

We in the church are finally beginning to recognise that Christians (i.e. you and I) bear a distinctive responsibility for responding to the needs of the Earth.  Why? 

      1. There are more of us than any other religion, so what we do and think matters. It makes a difference.
      2. Of all the world’s religions Christianity has been uniquely corrupted by the modern combination of technology, individualism, commodification and consumerism, so our repentance will make a huge impact in the world.  
      3. Christianity is the dominant religious influence in those parts of the world most responsible for the despoliation of the earth’s resources.  Too many Christians in the West live in a manner that reduces other humans to economic slavery and depletes the Earth;  and 
      4. precisely because of the privileged position of Christians, we can change patterns of society’s consumption as well as the perverse, distorted and defiled understandings of our religious heritage.

Listen to the authors of Genesis: “Now the Lord God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed.  And the Lord God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground – trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food.  In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”  

The first thing mentioned about human life is that it is found among trees, and so our season of creation begins with a focus on trees, forests.  The forest and the bush are ideal places  to feel immersed in the mysteries of creation.  And the first Sunday in a ‘Down Under’ Spring is a good day to begin the celebration of the Season of Creation.

Dr Paul Collins, in his book God’s Earth, writes:

“The beauty of nature and the wilderness has become vitally important for the spirituality of many people. It is increasingly in the cathedral of the environment that our contemporaries are rediscovering a way into the realm of the transcendent; they are discovering the sacred presence that stands behind the natural world” 

And then this warning:

“There is only one non-negotiable, and that is we have only one world – this one – and it is here and nowhere else that we will find God. If we destroy the world, we destroy not only ourselves but the most important symbol of God that we have”.

Similarly, David Suzuki has written in The Sacred Balance:

“Forty years ago ‘environment’ simply meant ‘surroundings’. What a distance we have travelled. Humanity has never before faced such a threat: the collapse of the very elements that keep us alive”(Suzuki 1997:6).

And again:  

“Today we believe that life cannot arise spontaneously, that life can only come from life. But once, at the very beginning, the first organism from which we are all descended was sparked into being, full of a life force that has so far persisted tenaciously for close to 4 billion years” (Suzuki 1997:114).

     Part 3

So it is important stuff we are doing this morning: celebrating our kinship in creation.  Spring calls us forward to a ‘new’ Christianity. We are reminded of the need to reconstruct a theology that requires humans to remember their kinship with creation.

The ‘old time’ Christianity was centred on the individual. The ‘new’ Christianity needs to be centred in relationships and the environment.  Of course, when I use the word “new” here, I am speaking of something  very old, going back to one Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus attempted to model a new kind of community to his followers. For several reasons, some chose – and still choose – to turn away.  His model was too demanding.  His model was saying one’s actions should not just be seen in terms of the end only, but in terms of the whole network of effects.

But many wanted to remain individuals, so their own needs, so their own sense of power, could be satisfied. They couldn’t see that by not reaching out to others – both out of concern as well as out of respect for the value of the other person – they were stunting their own lives.

Those who turned away were people of small ‘size’… To live the ‘new’ Christianity, which Jesus modelled, requires us to become people of  ‘S-I-Z-E’.  When I talk of people of SIZE, I have in mind the tall trees of the forests: the trees that have stood their ground for hundreds, even thousands, of years, continuously providing a carbon sink to soak up green house gases, pumping life-giving oxygen into the air, keeping soil in place, keeping the rivers healthy, providing homes for a myriad of creatures that form the web of relationships upon which all life, including us, depends; the trees that the various governments and business people and unions have been willing to sell to the Japanese for toilet paper for only about $250 per tree; the trees without which innumerable species have been and will be made extinct including, eventually, that species called homo sapiens.  It will be quite the joke among whatever species discovers our extinction and finds out that we named ourselves homo sapiens which means  “intelligent human”.  It will bring about a big laugh indeed.

The situation is now too too dire to beat around the bush.  It is time for bluntness.  Unless each of us changes our lifestyle now, people will die.  Unless the society changes its lifestyle, people will die.  It is also possible that, unless very major changes are made very soon, everything will die.  We have a place in this web, and one of our critical functions within that web today is to protect it,  and we must do that task with all the steadfastness and faithfulness with which the forests have done theirs.  

When we do, the rest of the Earth will be able to live in hope and all can share in the dream and the journey started by the Galilean. Because the future can be different from the past, there is hope.

LET US PRAY: Challenging God, you call us forth into the greys of life, but we cling to our boundaries of black and white. Inspiring God, you call us forth into a future filled with light, but we cling to our comforting, familiar blindness.  Healing God, you call us forth into the margins of the world, but we cling to our security as we seek out the centre. Forgiving God, forgive us for looking inward instead of outward, for protecting what we have instead of giving who we are.      

(Pause in silence for personal reflection)

HYMN 149 – “This is My Father’s World” (click here to listen) 

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: In response to the word reflected on, let us stand and share a celebration of faith. In desert and bushland, mountain and water, we see the signs that God is with us.

R: In grass that grows through cities of concrete and brick, we see the signs that God is with us.

L: In the faces of people whom God so loves,

R: we see the signs that God is with us.

L: In our brokenness, there is the hope of wholeness.

R: In our emptiness, there is the hope of fullness.

L: In our deaths,

R: lies the hope of resurrection life.

L: This is the Word in Christ to us.

R: The flame of the Holy Spirit lives in this place and travels with us.  

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

Loving and caring God, how fertile your genius! Your presentness is the living impulse in all things, filling Earth – land, sea and air – filling every element and place, filling the grain and the grape we share this day.

Look not upon our sin but upon our faith. Break down all barriers which we erect against your love. Cover us with the blanket of your peace. And let your justice reach to the ends of the earth. So that we can come glad to this celebration.

When our days become over-busy and our spirits are bleached like spinifex, flood us with a downpour of mercy!  When we take things for granted  and gratitude goes to sleep, put a new song on our tongues.  When life’s abrasive pressures fray us, loosing our hold on the ‘Still Centre’, tell us again about parrots and nesting magpies, about daffodils and peach blossom, and the Parent who knows our every need.  

(Silent prayer for those known to you and those you only read about or see on the TV news.  Pray also for the creation in turmoil and travail, and for those who are trying to save it.)

Challenging God, you call us forth into the greys of life, but we cling to our boundaries of black and white.
Inspiring God, you call us forth into a future filled with light, but we cling to our comforting, familiar blindness.
Healing God, you call us forth into the margins of the world, but we cling to our security as we seek out the centre. Forgiving God, forgive us for looking inward instead of outward, for protecting what we have instead of giving who we are.
Indwelling God, infused throughout all existence, we honour you with many names. Your realm is within the human heart.  We accept life for all that it can be, on earth as throughout all creation. 

May we continue to draw sustenance from this earth,  and may we receive forgiveness equal to our own.
May we ever move from separation toward union, to live in grace, with love in our hearts. In the spirit of the prayer taught to disciples long ago, we pray…

IN THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD’S PRAYER

God – heart of the world:
revealed through every aspect of creation:
understood through our awareness.

May we honour the holiness of creation and act accordingly
so that your love is reflected
in the way we live.
May we always be thankful for the food we eat
and the friends we have.
May we forgive those who transgress against us
and be forgiven for our own.

In the freedom of love may we live as your heartbeat
and not be compromised by hesitation.
Through our freedom, may your justice
be seen and heard and experienced
forever and ever.  Amen. 
 

CELEBRATING COMMUNITY: Sacrament of Holy Communion

     Centring Words

The earth has gone the round of seasons: from the vibrant green of spring’s new life to the lush richness of warm summer, to the brilliant fulfilment of riotous autumn, to the generosity and self-giving of winter. Now we stand again, touched by the promise of new life in the spring.

     Invitation

L: As we celebrate the renewal of life and hope, we also celebrate the presentness of the Spirit of Life and Hope and Creativity, everywhere around and within us.   (Silent pause)

No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at this table with its symbols of God’s Creative Presence.

R: In company with all who seek nourishment at this table,
we come to celebrate community, and to share these life-giving symbols.

     Thanksgiving

L: In the early spring, pale green blades of wheat broke through the earth’s surface. This hand of mine began to take shape millions of years ago as the first leaves stretched out for nourishment and light. Eons ago the earth itself was glowing with heat  as it separated itself from the sun.

R: You send your breath. And they come to life.
You give the earth the bloom of youth.

L: By mid-summer the wheat stems sway heavily in the breeze for acres and acres of green and golden earth. The early species of kangaroo, able to move quickly and nimbly in a way we can only imitate, learned which plants were best for them to eat and sought them out. The ground we stand on carries in it the remnants of volcanos and oceans which once dominated the landscape.

R: You send your breath. And they come to life.
You give the earth the bloom of youth.

L: This morning we gather around the bread, which comes from the wheat in the paddocks. This morning we celebrate our oneness with the plants and the animals, which precede and surround us. This morning we remember we are earth people, united with each other and to all on this globe by the ground under us. One body, one history, one home for us all.

R: You send your breath. And they come to life.
You give the earth the bloom of youth.

L: One body, one history, one home for us all.

R: You send your breath. And they come to life.
You give the earth the bloom of youth.
  (Silence)

     The Tradition

On the night of his arrest, so the story is told, Jesus shared again a meal with his friends. He took the bread, offered thanks, broke it, and gave it to them, inviting them to eat.  (Bread is broken)

Afterwards, he poured a cup of wine, offered thanks, and gave it to them, inviting them to drink.  (Cup is raised)

And we remember…Life grows from the earth. The kernel of wheat lives in the soil before it breaks ground. As it stretches itself skyward, it also reaches deeper into the earth. Water and nourishment blend with sunlight as the stalk
begins to produce kernels of its own. This bread holds those kernels, that sunshine, that soil and water. As we take it into ourselves, we affirm our own roots in the earth. This is the ground we stand upon, the earth yearning to be inside us. It is the life we have taken in order to live ourselves. Life flows toward us from the Source beyond us. It is a stream that creates us anew each day. It is a stream that wants to make its way through us. A stream that flows through the city and country. A stream that readies a harvest in every season. This is the life we have received from the earth and from our forbears. This is the pulsing energy that has made a home in us and that we live on.

Communion

To eat and drink together reminds us of the deeper aspects of human fellowship, for from time immemorial the sharing of bread and wine has been the most universal of all symbols of community. (Bread and wine served)

After Communion

We give thanks that we have gathered together in this sacred time, and been refreshed at this table. We rejoice in the giftedness of each person in our community. We are grateful for who we are for each other. May we go forth into the world in courage and peace.

HYMN 668 “Touch the Earth Lightly”(click here to listen)  

WORD OF MISSION

L: Let us take on this week’s life with renewed hope and imagination. Hold again the gum leaf in your hands as you go forth into this week. Will you care for creation?

R: We will care for creation! We will nurture the forests! We will celebrate life!

L: This we know, the earth does not belong to us,

R: We belong to the earth.

BENEDICTION

Go in peace to claim the life of Christ within your midst:
and may the earth be warm under your feet,  the rain bring the gentle flowers of the bush bright around you, and the wind  as the breath of the Spirit before you. Amen.

HYMN 187  “Let All Creation Dance” (click here to listen) 

 

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