WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS
This service was streamed live via Zoom on September 13th 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.
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“We didn’t inherit the Earth from our ancestors, we are borrowing it from our children.”
BEFORE YOU START
Go out into your garden, or farther afield if need be, and collect a sprig of lavender to use during your worship. If it is easier to come by, a dried bit of lavender will also serve the purpose. It is not essential, but may enhance your experience of worship.
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Fountain of life, pulse of life, breath of life; Earth is filled with the presentness of God.
INVITATION TO WORSHIP
R: wild flowers and mysterious mushrooms, swirling grasses and golden wattle.
L: We invite the farmlands to sing with us:
R: wheat fields, orchards and vineyards, red gums, gardens and wetlands.
L: We join with all the fauna in praising God:
R: kangaroos, emus and bandicoots, echidnas, eagles and magpies.
L: We invite the ground to stir deep below:
R: life-giving microbes restoring the soil, beetles and worms preparing our food.
L: We celebrate the song of the soil!
R: Sing, soil, sing!
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
Creating God, we celebrate your vibrant presence among us and our kin in creation, especially in the soil, the paddocks and the land.May our spirits be lifted to rejoice with the land, the wild flowers, and all the creatures of the countryside. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation “The Small Plot of Ground” by Alla Renee Bozarth
The small plot of ground on which you were born
cannot be expected to stay forever the same.
Earth changes, and home becomes different places.
You took your flesh from clay, but the clay did not come from just one place.
To feel alive, important, and safe, know your own waters and hills, but know more.
You have stars in your bones and oceans in your blood.
You have opposing terrain in each eye.
You belong to the land and sky of your first cry,
you belong to infinity.
Rub a sprig of Lavender in your hands, smell its fragrance, and allow it to bring memories of the garden to mind. We remember with delight the gardens and paddocks of our childhood: the places where we played in the sand, when we felt close to the ground, to bright flowers and baby animals. We remember and rejoice. Away from the busyness of our day-to-day living and in the silence of this place, let us now give thanks for the land, for soils that sustain our life!
(At least 30 seconds in silence)
CONFESSION AND ABSOLUTION– (holding the lavender)
R: We remember the dry land that rose from the waters in the beginning, the plants that emerged from the soil to cover the land with vegetation and the rich diversity of animal life. We remember the gardens and the fields of our childhood, the places where we played in the sand, when we felt close to the ground, to magic flowers and baby animals.
L: Jesus, once buried in Earth, hear our cry.
R: We regret that we have become alienated from Earth, and treated this garden planet as a beast to be tamed, as a domain to be dominated and a place to be ruled for our gain.
L: We remember and confess how we have violated and polluted the lands of our garden planet.
R: We are sorry. We have killed living soils with chemicals; we have turned fertile fields into lifeless salt plains; we have cleared rich lands of wild life. We are sorry. We are sorry.
L: Christ hears your confession from deep in the tomb, forgives your sins against the land, and calls you now to open your ears and your hearts to sustain rather than destroy our soils, soils God has filled with life and love.
R: Christ, teach us to love Earth as our home and all living creatures as our kin. Help us to return home to Earth.
L: I speak for Christ: I invite you to come home to Earth to tend this planet with love, to nurture the land as the land has nurtured you, and to join together in healing creation.
R: Shalom! Shalom! We are coming home!
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Genesis 3:14-24 (NKJV)
14 So the Lord God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this,
You are cursed more than all cattle,
And more than every beast of the field;
On your belly you shall go,
And you shall eat dust
All the days of your life.
15 And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise His heel.”
16 To the woman He said:
“I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
In pain you shall bring forth children;
Your desire shall be for your husband,
And he shall rule over you.”
17 Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’. Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life.
18 Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you,
And you shall eat the herb of the field.
19 In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread
Till you return to the ground,
For out of it you were taken;
For dust you are,
And to dust you shall return.”
20 And Adam called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.
21 Also for Adam and his wife the Lord God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.
22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever.” 23 Therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
FROM THE GOSPELS – Matthew 12:38-40 (The Message)
39-40 Jesus said, “You’re looking for proof, but you’re looking for the wrong kind. All you want is something to titillate your curiosity, satisfy your lust for miracles. The only proof you’re going to get is what looks like the absence of proof: Jonah-evidence. Like Jonah, three days and nights in the fish’s belly, the Son of Man will be gone three days and nights in a deep grave.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “Baptism in Dirt”
“Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered, saying, “Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.” (Mt. 12:38)
We have signs all around us. Some of you, especially the farmers, have come to know the seasons by their distinctive signs. Late in April or in May the leaves begin to turn colour. Chill winds begin to blow, and flocks of birds, plus a significant part of the population, head north for better weather. Now we are into a new season of the year in which football lovers of various codes stock up on whatever beverages would see them through the finals season, where they watch blood sacrifices offered up to the God of the oval-shaped ball. Tulips have appeared, reminding gardeners that it’s time to start sowing seeds in the ground, encouraged by the warm winds of spring. Summer will come too late and leave too soon, but for at least four months out of the year we will be blessed with blue skies, warm temperatures and, if the rains come, green pastures.
The farmers count on this cycle to making a living and we, in turn, count on the farmers to feed us. A few years ago you will recall that the price of oil shot up, and with it the price of grain and the meat fed on it. The high price of oil raised the price of pesticides, fertilisers and fuel for farmers and the price of transporting the farm products to market. But the high oil price also made alternative fuels more financially viable, so that fuel started to compete with human hunger for farm land. This is an absurd human cycle that nature would never claim as her own: the use of food crops to make ethanol and bio-diesel instead of to feed the hungry.
So vast amounts of land, water, petroleum-based chemicals and petrol are put to use, not that the world may be fed, but so that we in the so-called First World can remain addicted to cars. As in the past, this is yet another example of placing more hope in our ability to address a problem by finding a better technological fix than of adjusting our moral compass and modifying our habits.
We have an addiction to a life-style, and as with any addiction, there are innocent victims who must suffer the consequences. In this case, the human toll is certainly tragic; people the world over are bypassed on the food line just so that we can fill the tanks of our 4-wheel drives. There is less food available, but record grain harvests around the world still roll into grain elevators year, right on schedule. The hungry poor are not the only victims; the detrimental effects can also be felt on the land itself, our primordial home.
A book was published a few years ago entitled, The Face of Prostitution by an undercover detective who had been collecting arrest photographs of women picked up on prostitution charges and then recording these in chronological sequence, hence providing a series of ‘before and after’ snapshots depicting human faces that had been transfigured over time into visages of desolation.
One photo depicted a young woman who might likely be found walking the halls of any small town high school. Her hair was cut, even stylish, her clothes were clean, and her eyes seemed to reflect that glimmer of hope so often associated with spirited youth. In the next image – her second arrest – she was faring less well, sporting a black eye and looking like she could use a good night’s sleep. The third photo was worse, and by the fourth, the reader is left staring at only a shell of a person, someone who had endured untold beatings and abuse from controlling pimps and johns, to the point that only the faintest vestige of life was left in her sallow flesh and cadaverous eyes. At this stage she was completely addicted to drugs; the hopeful high school senior had spiralled into the depths of despair.
This graphic depiction of prostitutes is analogous to what has happened to much of our farmland. Soil, once rich in nitrogen, but victimised by years of abuse, now lies as barren of this necessary element as any plot on the moon, so what is needed this spring, as with every spring, is a little help, a fertiliser boost: ‘Just a little something to keep it going.’
If the land had had a face, I’m sure it would have been as cadaverous as the one that stared out from the photo in the book. Had it eyes, their emptiness would have been haunting. Not only have we become grossly dependent upon the highly processed products of agribusiness, whether these be ethanol or patented food varieties, but the very land itself is suffering a kind of chemical addiction. Today’s industrial agriculturist, whose technological toys and chemical know-how have become the pride so many farmers, is really nothing more than a kind of eco-pimp doling out ‘a little help’ here and there in order to keep his property putting out, as it were.
Of course, the Judeo-Christian tradition has more than its fair share of guilt to claim in all of this. After all, doesn’t our most ancient mythology, the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden which was read today, provide the lens through which countless generations have understood the human condition? Many people regard as essential truths the enmity between the woman and the serpent, or the antagonism between men and the land? Small wonder, then, that those of us who were created to be caretakers end up being little more than exploiters. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy, is it not?
Those who have such beliefs, however, seem not to have thought too critically about the person and work of Jesus. This is not surprising, given all the attention that has been given over the years to the notion that Jesus is a ‘personal Lord and saviour’ and little else (for what else is there?). This may help some people to feel good, but does more harm than good in obscuring the more important insight that Jesus’ ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection have implications that are not only personal, but also cosmic in proportion.
It is here, I think, that we should consider the curious statement that Jesus offers to a group of scribes and Pharisees shortly after they press him for a sign, some clear indication that he is, in fact, the expected messiah. Jesus, disturbed at their insistence, suggests that the only sign they will receive is one that their lack of faith will prevent them from truly comprehending:
An evil and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth (Matt. 12: 39-40).
In the heart of the earth. In other words, in the womb from which the original Adam was drawn by the Creator, as if to say, God must also raise the Second Adam, the Christ, from the very earth itself, so that creation may begin anew, redeemed and reconciled to God. We tend to place so much emphasis on the crucifixion and then on the resurrection of Jesus that this three-day sojourn in “the belly of the whale” is all but lost on us. But descent into the earth, into the abyss, is indeed significant, for it is here that the Second Adam, the prototypical caretaker of the new creation, is formed, and it is from here that the redemption of the cosmos, not just humanity, begins.
H. Paul Santmire has written a book, entitled Ritualizing Nature. In it Santmire argues that the church, if it is to be truly aware of its responsibility for the care of creation, must introduce into its worship new rituals that will accentuate this unique calling in a meaningful way. Reflecting on this in light of the lectionary text for this week, I began to wonder about the possibility of a ‘green sign of Jonah’; that is, a means of enacting in a symbolic way our own rebirth from the earth into a life of commitment to the health of our earth communities. How often do we have the opportunity to incorporate the soil, (change slide) which we have long taken for granted, if not abused; into our communal life?
Though I would never go so far as to suggest that we set aside the ritual of baptism, I do wonder what possibilities might lie in a kind of ‘baptism in dirt’; that is, in enacting in a deliberate way our own essential connection with the earth and the landscapes of which we are a part. In so, doing we might begin to realise and affirm that the new creation, which we claim to profess in word and deed, began not in the early light of a Sunday morning resurrection appearance, not in the appearance of Jesus to Mary Magdalene, but in the rich, dark depths of the womb from which we were all formed, and to which we will all someday return.
From dust we came, and to dust we shall return. Why are we only reminded of this important truth on the occasion of a death? Perhaps we would do well to get our hands a little dirty now and then in the context of our Christian worship, and thus in the whole of our spiritual lives. Focusing only on the beginning and the end seems to devalue the real stuff of life; namely, the troubles that arise between women and serpents, sweat and bread, seeds sown and brambles grown, as well as their sweet resolution through the mystery that is God’s faithfulness.
We are reminded that from the dust we are made and to the dust we will return, but those who have sunk their hands into the dirt a time or two, who have planted seeds and nurtured their growth for a season, know that dust is an unlikely source for the life of one reconciled to God. Arid and lifeless, dust is the final resting place of the fallen Adam. The earth, by contrast, moist and rich, teeming with life, is the primal home of the Second Adam, and thus the seedbed of a new creation. It is the ground of our very being as Christians. But how to make this evident and ritually significant in our individual and communal lives: this is the question. And this is our task. We need always to be reminded that between dust and dust, between ashes and ashes, and between crucifixion and resurrection, lies the good red earth, the material source of our spiritual lives and the place where we might still be forgiven of our many ecological transgressions.
We certainly don’t need to ask for signs as the Pharisees did. The signs now are plentiful. The course to be taken is becoming very clear, a good deal clearer than during the church’s first Season of Creation 20 years ago. Our role as God’s carers for the earth is now in the spotlight and, for the community and the world, the church is in the spotlight, too.
Over the last decade, I have read a number of articles around the theme of what it means to be stewards of God’s creation and disciples of Jesus who can read the signs of the times. Personally, I see exciting prospects for the future. Yes, the challenges are serious, scary, demanding and will take us places that we may not want to go, but the end result can be a community which is a whole lot closer to the Kingdom than it is now. If we are not in the vanguard, we will not be in a position to apply Jesus’ teaching to guide its direction. Let us avail ourselves of a baptism in dirt, that the earth and its inhabitants may have new life, now and into the future.
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
R: desert sands hum and gum trees dance,
L: brown grasses sing
R: and mountains breathe their stillness.
L: All created things add their rhythm of delight
R: and even the stones rap out their praise.
L: Let our voices mingle with the song of the earth.
R: May our hearts join the beat of her joy.
L: For our triune God is with us:
R: our creator surrounds and upholds us. Christ Jesus walks beside and before us. The Spirit moves within and between us. Blessed be God, our wonder and our delight.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We pray for the overthrow of the arrogant and cruel, and for discontent in the souls of the greedy and the careless.
We pray for the uplifting of the meek and merciful, and for the encouragement of the poor and the pure.
We pray for the recovery of the bruised and the lost, and the peace of those who thirst for righteousness.
We pray for the feeding of the hungry in body or spirit, and for the healing of those who are dis-eased in body or mind.
We pray for the comfort of the suffering and the grieving, and for the befriending of the lonely timid, or socially awkward people.
We pray for the humbling of the church if it becomes proud, and for courage wherever it is shunned or persecuted.
We pray for the strong and the weak in this congregation, and for the spiritual health of all other churches in the community.
Lord, teach us to empathise with Earth. Make our spirits sensitive to the cries of creation, cries for justice from the hill and the trees. Make our faith sensitive to the groans of the Spirit, groans from the deserts, the salt plains, the winds. Make our souls sensitive to the call of our kind, species in pain calling from land, sea and air. Lord, teach us to care.
You, Holy Friend, are more eager to give than we are to receive. Deal firmly with your servants gathered here now, that we get rid of everything that clutters our souls, and make way for all the new blessings you have in store for us. Through Christ Jesus our Lord in whose name we offer this prayer in the spirit of the prayer that he taught his disciples…
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.
WORD OF MISSION
R: We will nurture the soil! We will care for creation! We will celebrate life!
L: This we know, the earth does not belong to us,
R: We belong to the earth.
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 blows as the breath of the Spirit before you. Amen.