WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS
This service was streamed live via Zoom on September 20th at 10am
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“Let the wilderness lift up its voice” Isaiah 42:11
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Fountain of life, Pulse of life, Breath of life, Earth is filled with the presentness of God. A planet filled with the presentness of God quivering in the forests, vibrating in the land, pulsating in the wilderness, shimmering in the rivers. Together this day, let us sense the face of God in all creation.
INVITATION TO WORSHIP
R: Uluru and the red centre, deep gorges and mountain ranges.
L: We invite the flora to sing in the sun:
R: ghost gums and spinifex, mallee trees and Sturt’s desert pea.
L: We join with the fauna of the outback in praising God:
R: roaming dingos and wallabies, old goannas and hovering hawks.
L: We invite the Dreaming to join us in praise:
R: songs of ancient custodians deep in the rock, spirits of life deep in the sand and the hills.
L: We celebrate the song of the outback!
R: Sing, outback, sing!
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
Creating God, whose rugged beauty fills our planet, may we discern your vibrant presence among us, especially in the wonders of our outback. May our spirits be lifted to rejoice with the sand and the wind and the wild of the outback. May it be so with us.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation – “In the Kimberley” by Bruce Prewer.
This outback landscape is not the right place
for camera and video; its scale is much too big,
its colours too rich and a person too small.
The best we can do is just be here, overawed by it all.
If that is how it is with one small parcel of an ancient land, why am I so quick to wordily dogmatise about the mind of God?
In such sublime territory,
isn’t awed worship the only way to be wise?
We remember the sand and spinifex and brush turkey.
The places we have visited and stayed a while, when we felt close to Earth and been embraced by the Southern Cross.
Away from the busyness of life and in the silence of this place, let us now give thanks for the outback, filled with a mysterious silence! (30 seconds in silence):
WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS
L: We remember and confess that we have become alienated from Earth and cleared much of the life from the land in our garden planet. Large bleached bones and/or other symbols of parched lands may be held high in the sanctuary and then deposited on the red soil of the Earth bowl.
R: We are sorry. We have killed living soils with excessive chemicals. We have turned fertile fields into lifeless salt plains. We have cleared rich lands of wild life. We have swallowed Earth’s resources in selfish cities.
L: We are sorry.
R: We are sorry. We are sorry.
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 land.
R: Shalom! Shalom! We are coming home!
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Joel 1:8-12 (NKJV)
8 Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth
For the husband of her youth.
9 The grain offering and the drink offering
Have been cut off from the house of the Lord.
The priests mourn, who minister to the Lord.
10 The field is wasted,
The land mourns;
For the grain is ruined,
The new wine is dried up,
The oil fails.
11 Be ashamed, you farmers,
Wail, you vinedressers,
For the wheat and the barley;
Because the harvest of the field has perished.
12 The vine has dried up,
And the fig tree has withered;
The pomegranate tree,
The palm tree also,
And the apple tree—
All the trees of the field are withered;
Surely joy has withered away from the sons of men.
FROM THE EPISTLES – Rom.8:18-27 (The Message version)
18-21 That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.
22-25 All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it’s not only around us; it’s within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We’re also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don’t see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.
26-28 Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “A Voice in the Outback”
As I thought about this week’s Season of Creation theme, “Outback,” I was reminded of the words of Isaiah, “A voice of one calling: ‘In the desert, prepare the way of the Lord.’” Take note of where God comes to humanity: in the desert, in the wilderness. In Australia, we might be called to this preparation in the outback.
Outback, wilderness: An uncivilised place, a natural place, unspoiled by progress; a hidden, unexplored place; an uncultivated place, a frightening place, an uninhabited place and, in the context of this reading, a sacred place. In the wilderness, in the Sinai Desert, Israel encountered God. In the wilderness Jesus came to understand the call he heard at his baptism. Now the voice comes again from the wilderness, from the outback: “Prepare the way of Lord.”
The wilderness is the source of God’s messenger. And where is there more wilderness than in outback Australia? Perhaps we, in Australia, with our huge wilderness spaces, have an advantage over the rest of the world when it comes to finding God. It was Les Murray’s view that “two-thirds of Australia is reserved for mystical experiences”. The poet’s tongue may have been firmly in his cheek, but Latrobe University scholar, David Tacey, says there is much truth in his words.
In the desert, “We have to find a relationship to eternal forces, to limitless horizons, literally thousands of miles of desert and semi-desert which…can only be contemplated as a visible emblem of eternity.” The irony of the Australian desert, says Tacey, is that we discovered it was “useless to human beings” in a physical sense, but “very useful to the soul”.
Another desert sojourner, theologian Tony Kelly, believes Australia is poised to make a distinctive contribution to the multi-cultural, global conversation concerning spirituality. Kelly writes of a unique Australian “spiritual imagination” that for years has been an inarticulate, even embarrassed, longing for what Les Murray calls “wholespeak”. Kelly believes that in our relationship to the land, we meet a human limit where we move more deeply into the silences of the soul. Thus, by journeying to the interior—geographically, politically, psychologically and spiritually—we can attend to the mysterious centre, “away from the noise and business of the periphery, to the silence and dispossession of the desert.” (1990: 31). Kelly joins another theologian, Veronica Brady in mapping the spiritual terrain as a movement away from the busy seaboard toward the centre where we “expose ourselves to the vastness, the silence, even the menace of the land” (1990: 31).
Very soon after my arrival in Australia a few decades ago, I got the impression that the outback is a special wilderness. Before I ever heard of David Tacey or Veronica Brady or any of a number of people who have identified Australia’s centre as having spiritual significance, I became aware that there was some kind of attractive force in the desert. So many people I knew had been drawn to the centre on a trek that can only be described as a pilgrimage, though they probably would not have been conscious of this. I imagine a number from this congregation have been there, and there are others who haven’t yet visited the centre, but want to go. It has a special kind of beauty, a special attraction, and what is more, it IS sacred in a literal sense for the aboriginal people of this country.
The hot north wind which blows from the sacred centre of this country, stirring up not only the dust of the land, but also that which had settled inside its inhabitants: emotions, memories, longings, is perhaps like the fiery wind of the spirit of God blowing from our own sacred centres, stirring up expectations of a new birth.
Some may find it difficult to see this analogy between the centre of the country and centre of their being, but it would not be a foreign concept at all to our aboriginal brothers and sisters, who know themselves, not as individuals, but as part of the land. For them the world is the union, in body and spirit, of every form of life and non-life in the land. Everything is part of one all-embracing, inter-connected system; one vast network of relationships which can be traced back to the great Spirit Ancestors of the Dreamtime. For them, the voice of God does come on the wind from the wilderness in a very real sense.
Whilst we may not take it so literally, the sacred centre of Australia can be a symbol for the sacred centres of our own souls. It can be, and it is for many, evocative of that inner reality from which God’s word comes. There is inside of us a wilderness, a place which lies unexplored, seldom travelled; the home of strange and perhaps dangerous beasts; the source of dreams and nightmares; the home of God.
St. John of the Cross wrote: “The centre of the soul is God, and when the soul has attained to him…, it will have reached the last and deep centre of the soul,… when with all its powers it loves and understands and enjoys God.”
In a poem by Angelus Silisius we read: “However well of Christ you talk and preach, unless he lives with within, he is beyond your reach.”
The messenger of God calls us to the wilderness – to the centre – to meet God, for it is from the centre that the voice of God comes on the wind of the spirit.
The disciple asked for a word of wisdom. Said the Master, “Go sit within your cell and your cell will teach you wisdom.”
“But I have no cell. I am no monk,” replied the disciple.
“Of course you have a cell,” said the Master. “Look within.”
Looking within is something that we modern protestants have not learned very well. We have much to learn about spirituality, not only from our Catholic brothers and sisters, but also from Australian aborigines who, in a tribal setting spend a very significant portion of their day talking about their dreams and re-telling their myths, i.e. spending time with the sacred aspects of life. Indeed the sacred is not separate from their existence.
The preparation to meet God starts in the wilderness within, whence the voice of God comes. It is a centre not unlike the centre of our country: wild, unknown, harsh, beautiful, and sacred. To journey there is fraught with difficulties, and requires preparation and stamina and persistence and courage and time: time for meditation, for prayer, for dreaming. Perhaps these two different centres, the centre of the soul and the centre of the land, are really parts of the same thing. Certainly, there is evidence that one leads to the other.
The people who have learned to journey within, and who have found its wisdom, are sometimes called mystics; including those in the Christian tradition such as Hildegaard of Bingen and Meister Eckhardt. I used to assume the word ‘mystic’ was related to the word ‘mystery’, and so, like many people, I understood ‘mysterious’ and ‘mystical’ to be synonymous, but they are not. ‘Mystery’ is that which is not understood, and comes from the word in Latin meaning ‘ministry’, which perhaps explains why ministers are often hard to understand.
‘Mystic’ derives from a Greek word that means ‘an initiated one,’ i.e. someone who has made contact with, and been initiated into, the Divine. The adjective ‘mystical’ refers to that realm of which the mystic has become aware. It is a realm in which all things and all beings are understood as inter-connected in a divine whole. In this sense, aboriginal ‘Dreaming’ is a form of mysticism. There is no distinction between outer world and inner world; they are one, as everything is one.
Perhaps a physical journey to Australia’s centre is the same as, or is at least catalysed by or a catalyst for, a journey to one’s spiritual centre. Perhaps Aussies really are not as non-spiritual as the census seems to indicate. I think that, at least for some, the experience of the outback is an initiation, in the sense of the word ‘mystic’, into the realm of God. It is an awareness at some level, perhaps even unconsciously, of the oneness of all things; of feeling one’s roots in the Earth and losing one’s ego long enough to understand oneself as not a separate individual, but a part of the web of creation, which includes that which we call ‘Creator’. For a fleeting moment visitors to the centre may understand the bond their aboriginal brothers and sisters have with the Earth. For just a moment, they may feel the pain of the “creation groaning in travail,” as Paul put it, and feel the weight of the terrible burden human beings have imposed upon the Earth.
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
L: In response to the word reflected on, we share a celebration of faith: We celebrate a God
R: who lives and speaks in sunsets, in love-wrapped gifts, and fleeting butterflies.
R: who honoured our humanness, who climbed trees, skinned knees; who laughed and cried, loved and wept, bled and died.
L: We celebrate a Spirit,
R: who mystically joins us to people everywhere, and incorporates us into Christ.
L: We celebrate a church,
R: seeking, however imperfectly, to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy Friend, you are the hope of all who call upon your name, teach us to pray with our hearts as well as with our lips, with our actions as well as our thoughts.
Bless those who are doing it tough: The unemployed or work-weary, handicapped or enduring pain, those trying to break a drug habit, coping with mental illness, or facing a slow death, and especially those who have no faith to guide and encourage them.
Bless those who have big decisions to make: Whether to have surgery or not, or to change jobs, or return to study and retrain, or shift house, or to stay in a difficult marriage, move interstate or overseas, or to take legal action against an injustice.
Bless those who are enjoying life: The happily married, those expecting a new baby, the ones who are successful in sport, those promoted at work, the ones who are newly in love, those who have a secure and growing faith, any who celebrate a birthday or anniversary.
And now we pray for those outside the circle of our loves ones. For neighbours and work colleagues, strangers in the street, our enemies and the host of people who are only faces and names in news programmes.
Bless them according to their respective needs we pray. Everything we ask for our loved ones we also ask for them.
Bless those who are doing it tough. Bless those who are facing difficult decisions. Bless those whose who are enjoying life.
For every human being we seek the guiding, nurturing, inspiring friendship of the Holy Spirit, the redeeming, challenging, healing grace of Christ Jesus, and the undergirding, enfolding, ever-enduring love of God.
To you be given all trust and thanksgiving, love and praise, today and forever.
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.
L: As we prepare to end this sacred time where we have worshipped, let us return to our work enlivened and renewed. Will you care for creation?
R: We will care for creation! We will nurture the outback! We will celebrate life!
L: This we know, the earth does not belong to us,
R: We belong to the earth.
May your inner ear hear the cries of Mother Earth. and may you respond with empathy.
May your enquiring mind explode when you discover the mystery of Wisdom encoded in the blueprints of nature.
May the compassion of the cosmos, and the empathy of Earth, stir within you a consciousness of a spiritual force in nature that shares pain, heals hearts, and nurtures hope.