Season of Creation 4 (27-09-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on September 27th 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-

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”   (Amos 5: 24)

PREPARATION BEFORE STARTING THE SERVICE

This day is River Sunday, so it may be useful (but not essential) to have at hand a smooth pebble or stone, like the ones worn smooth by water in a river or stream.

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.

HYMN – “In Water We Grow”(click here to listen)

INVITATION TO WORSHIP

L: We invite the rivers to worship with us:

R: the Murray, the Darling and all the streams that flow to the sea.

L: We invite the country creeks to sing:

R: perch, eel and platypus, trout streams and gleaming fountains.

L: We invite the fauna to praise God with us:

R: ibis, heron and mountain duck, dragonflies and sleepy tortoises.

L: We join with the waters in praising God:

R: waterfalls singing upstream and waves dancing at the river mouth.

L: We celebrate the song of the river!

R: Sing, river, sing! 

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Creating God, we celebrate your refreshing presence among us and our kin in creation, especially in the rivers, the creeks and the wetlands of Earth. May our spirits be lifted to rejoice with the vibrant world of the rivers. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE 

     Meditation – “Seeking harbour” by Kate McIllhagga. 

As the grey wave creeps on to the shore
and the sail limps for port,
so, Lord, do I seek harbour,
I crawl into the circle of your welcoming arms.
May I know your forgiveness.
Then may I forgive as you have forgiven me.
And now the blue comes flooding in,
transforming sea and sky with light;
the white wave tops are bracelets of glory;
the sand a new page on which to write my story.

     Silence

Hold the river stone in your hands, and rub it between your fingers, noting its smoothness. Recall a special memory of the streams, ponds or wetlands you have enjoyed; the streams of your past, the pools and ponds where you played and the feeling of celebration as you splashed your friends.  Remember the rivers God created in Eden and across our planet, rivers that are the lifeblood of Earth and vital for all that lives. Away from the busyness of our day-to-day living and in the silence of this time, let us now rejoice and give thanks for the rivers and creeks that sustain our life! (30 seconds in silence)

WE REFLECT ON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: As you hold the river stone, remember and confess that we have become alienated from Earth and have polluted the rivers of our garden planet.

R: We are sorry. We have polluted our rivers with poisons. We have treated our streams as waste dumps. We have turned living waters into deathtraps. We have wasted precious waters in luxury living.

L: We are sorry.

R: We are sorry. We are sorry.

THE ASSURANCE

L:  Christ hears your confession from the river Jordan
and forgives your sins against the river.

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 our rivers.

R: Shalom! Shalom! We are coming home!

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Amos 5:21-24  (NKJV)

21  “I hate, I despise your feast days,
And I do not savour your sacred assemblies.
22  Though you offer Me burnt offerings
and your grain offerings,
I will not accept them,
Nor will I regard your fattened peace offerings.
23  Take away from Me the noise of your songs,
For I will not hear the melody of your stringed instruments.
24  But let justice run down like water,
And righteousness like a mighty stream.

FROM THE EPISTLES  Revelation 22:1-5    (NRSV)

     The River of Life

22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

FROM THE GOSPELS –  Matthew 21:28-32   (The Message)

     The Story of Two Sons

28 “Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’

29 “The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.

30 “The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went.

31-32 “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?”

They said, “The first.”

Jesus said, “Yes, and I tell you that crooks and whores are going to precede you into God’s kingdom. John came to you showing you the right road. You turned up your noses at him, but the crooks and whores believed him. Even when you saw their changed lives, you didn’t care enough to change and believe him. 

HYMN 674 “Inspired by Love and Anger”(click here to listen)  

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS

     Part 1

“But let justice roll on like a river; righteousness like a never-failing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

I can’t read this phrase from Amos without hearing its reference by Martine Luther King, Jr in his “I Have a Dream” speech. It makes my skin tingle and my eyes tear up every time I hear it.  Amos delivered this censure to the religious establishment of Jerusalem, but it is still apt for the religious establishment today; namely, our worship, out religious observances, mean nothing to God or to anyone else unless we are striving for justice in our world: economic justice, political justice, environmental justice.  So we can’t focus on rivers in our Season of Creation without being reminded that, as well as liquid water, they carry for us the symbolic water of justice.

The gospel story of the two brothers similarly reminds us what really counts in God’s kingdom; not our words, but our actions.  With that preface, let’s roll down the river.

Most Australians choose to live close to the water.  They speak of something relaxing about listening to the rhythmic pounding of the waves on shoreline, bringing peace to the soul.   I didn’t grow up near the ocean, so I am more a lakes and rivers man than a beach person.  I especially like the rivers.  Unlike the oceans aimless caress of the shoreline, the rivers seem to have purpose; they are going somewhere, sometimes in a hurry, like the Niagara near where I grew up, sometimes just a steadfast meandering, like Melbourne’s Yarra, but always moving downstream. Whether it be in thundering rapids or the gentle trickle of a small brook, the sound evokes a reminder to us that life never stands still.  

And wherever the river goes there is life.  Unlike the salt water of the ocean, which does not support life on land, the river’s fresh water is the life blood of the land.  Nowhere is this fact more evident in those areas of Australia where the rivers have stopped flowing, because too much water has been take from them upstream or where they have become salt streams because of over-zealous land clearing and irrigation.  A few years ago, I drove to Adelaide from Melbourne on the coast road, and when I came to the mouth of the mighty Murray – the major water artery of the nation and one of the great waterways of the world – I was saddened by the sight of fields of salt all around the river and absence of vegetation – all of it caused by human greed and completely preventable. Just as the river is symbol of life in the Bible, in our reality, a sick river is a sign of death.  Just as the river is a metaphor for justice at work, so a sick river is the result of injustice.

No doubt Amos would approve of celebrating Rivers Sunday on this last Sunday of September, traditionally Social Justice Sunday. They are complimentary: on one hand we have the river as biblical symbol for the justice to which we are called by God and, on the other, care of the Rivers, as all of creation, is itself a justice issue, e.g. over recent years, you will have heard complaints from graziers and environmentalists about the extent to which irrigators, particularly cotton growers, are plundering the resources of the rivers, and by extension the livelihood of farmers who live downstream. By world standards, this is a relatively minor injustice. Worldwide, 20% of the world’s population – one and a half billion people – do not have access to safe drinking water. In the future, the world’s wars will no longer be over oil or other mineral riches, but over water.  As the music man said, “we’ve got  trouble right here in River City.”

This is a world out of balance.  The imbalance in access to water matches the imbalance in wealth and, indeed, the two are connected.  Not only the food, but a very large percentage of what we produce uses water.  If one has no access to water, one has little access to wealth.

     Part 2

The other image of the river in today’s readings comes from the book of Revelation.  Revelation, far from being a description of the future end of the world, is actually a critique of Rome, the principal strategy being the use of two images, the cities of Babylon and the New Jerusalem.  It describes them in terms of the contrast of two political economies, with the appeal to the reader to come out of one city in order to participate in the other.  

Babylon is described as an idolatrous city that seduces and oppresses peoples and nations with the wine of its prostitution, a word that the author uses to talk about the way its people sell not their bodies, but their souls.  The reader is called to come out of this evil, unjust city into the New Jerusalem, the city of justice, with well-being coming down from heaven in springs of living water flowing from God’s throne.

The author describes his vision of Babylon in terms of a wasteland, a landscape that has been devastated, and refers to the Roman market economy as a prostitute that has seduced and intoxicated people with trappings of wealth, exploiting others by means of her economic domination.  It is a world of buying and selling, frenetic commerce and accumulation of wealth. But its ruin comes in scenes of ecological catastrophe. Indeed Rome’s deforestation of conquered lands was notorious, denuding the countryside.

The New Jerusalem is the opposite of Babylon’s ecological imperialism, violence and unfettered commerce, idolatry and injustice.  The New Jerusalem is a city where, we are told, life and its essentials are given without money.  It has no ‘sea’, i.e. no shipping economy, no maritime trade; this source of evil and injustice will be no more.  Trade in luxury goods will be supplanted by an economy that supplies the essentials of life without payment.  The vision of New Jerusalem is profoundly ecological: a city on the banks of a  river of life, where grow trees with nation-healing leaves.  In contrast to Babylon’s deadly springs of blood that are undrinkable, the river of life in the New Jerusalem brings healing. William Blake’s poem, Jerusalem, sets the holy city’s promise of life, healing, reconciliation and justice against the hideous factories and inhuman working conditions of England’s industrial revolution.

It doesn’t take too much imagination to bring John’s critique of Rome into the present age.  Our modern day governments and business empires make ancient Roman look feeble by comparison.  The seduction of people today by wealth occurs to a degree the Romans could not have imagined.

We are so wealthy here in Australia that we can waste our wealth without giving it a second thought…and we do.  We throw away 7.3 million tonnes – 20 billion dollars worth – of unused food each year; that’s 300 kg. per person in Australia alone – 55 million dollars a day in wasted food!  That’s in addition to another equal amount that we waste on goods and services that are never used, and the estimate is conservative; it is probably more.  I wonder; do we not value what we have because it is so plentiful and comes so easily?  

Our propensity toward waste even carries over to our wastage of water, even though water is no longer plentiful.  We can turn the same spotlight on to the way we use energy and the ways we waste it: leaving lights and appliances on, using petrol on unnecessary trips, switching on the air conditioner at the first level of discomfort. In addition to the waster of food, over 30 million dollars worth of manufactured goods are wasted every day in Australia. (Actually, the waste is probably much more than this, as this figure is a few years old.) Imagine what the figure would be if we included things that were produced and used, but unnecessarily: a new outfit, not because the old ones are worn out, but because we want the latest fashion; or a new car, not because the old one isn’t reliable, but because it doesn’t have all the mod-cons or the new styling; or having a 40 square mansion when a 14 square town house is really quite enough or driving a big vehicle that barely gets 20 mpg instead of a hybrid or diesel car that gets over 50 mpg.

     Part 3

All of these things have a cost, a great part of which is hidden and which we rarely consider.  If we waste food and material goods or buy unnecessarily, we also waste the water and energy that was used to produce them, the oil that was used to transport them, the labour that was used to make them, and the depletion of the land itself in terms of soil and minerals that were sacrificed to have them and the pollution that was given in return.  In many cases, people in third world countries are further disadvantaged in the process, because they are helping to pay for our luxury.

There is also a cost in terms of the busyness that seems to accompany a culture of waste.  The things we are busy about are not necessarily related to our basic needs for food and shelter, either.  They are more about obtaining a certain degree of affluence.  One often hears people bemoan the need for the typical family to have two incomes in order to survive, but I know exactly what it costs to live – I can tell you where I have spent every penny since 1964 – and, armed with solid real data., I find it hard to rustle up any sympathy for such opinions.  The average family (and the average family in Australia is very well off indeed) chooses the two income route in order to pay off a home that (literally) is twice a big as the one in which they grew up (hence twice as big as they need), send the kids to private schools, have two or more vehicles, 2 or more smart phones, not to mention clothes with a fashionable label, a wide-screen TV or two, and so the list goes on.  

In fact, Australia is one of the least expensive places to live in the developed world; however, rather than use this fact to work less, be less busy, and enjoy the scenery, people aim for even more trappings of  affluence.  This state of affairs can be described as a disease: affluenza.  We know all-too-much about pandemics now, and so we know, as in all epidemics, some suffer more symptoms than others, but among the symptoms of affluenza we find high rates of depression and anxiety, the use of prescription drugs at record levels, including by our children, and high rates of separation, divorce and violent crime. The question for us as Christians is whether we are to be found among the patients or the healers.

Do our labour-saving devices give us more opportunity to love?  Do our new clothes make us more beautiful inside?  Do our computer games make us more understanding?  Do our mobile phones make us more creative?  Of course, all these things can contribute to love, beauty, understanding and creativity, yet our culture is such that we often lose these very values as we are taken captive by the things themselves. 

The Book of Revelation gives us a vision of a better alternative: God’s choice for us rather than the market’s choice.  Its vision of a river of living water flowing from God through the centre of our cities can be a vision of renewal. Even now we can glimpse examples of the vision coming to pass: in the tree-planting liturgies of Christian churches in Zimbabwe,  in the tree nursery tended by low-income gardeners in the heart of Baltimore, in the work of community building, river saving, justice seeking, bread breaking, nation healing everywhere.  Every river can become a river of life, every city can become God’s holy city.

HYMN 181  “Jesus Christ is Waiting”(click here to listen)   

PRAYERS FOR OTHERS

The response for this week’s prayer:

L:We pray to you, great Lover of the world
R: Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace

That the meek may be encouraged and the proud may be humbled, we pray to you, great Lover of the world/ Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That the losers may be comforted and boastful winners may be discomforted, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./ Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That the thin-skinned may be encouraged and the tough-hided become more sensitive, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./ Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That the downtrodden may be uplifted and the oppressors may be overthrown, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./  Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That the suffering may receive relief, and the unthinking and heedless may be made more aware, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./  Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That the drug addicts may find release and the power-freaks may be kept in check, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./ Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That the lonely may find friends, and the much admired and praised may be saved from believing such adulation, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./ Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That the dying may see God’s face in the darkness, and the grieving may find Christ in their tears and loneliness, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That those who feel sorely tempted may be held safe, and those who don’t even recognise temptation be given a wake-up call, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./ Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That the secular world may be saved from despair, and that the church may be saved from self-righteousness, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./ Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

That those thirsty for faith may permit Christ to find them, and that believers may permit Christ to regularly invade their comfort zone, we pray to you, great Lover of the world./ Hear our prayers, God of mercy and peace.

Source of all light and life and holy joy, bless all who pray to you this day, and bless also those who do not know how to pray. Through Christ Jesus our Lord, we pray using the prayer that he taught his disciples…

THE LORD’S PRAYER AMPLIFIED

“In God’s scheme, survival of the weakest is the rule. God always stands on the side of the weak, and it is there — among the weak — that we find God.”

OUR FATHER
Who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, and the abandoned with the love of a parent.  This is the great insight of the prophets and the holy ones.

IN HEAVEN
Where everything will be reversed: where the first will be last and the last will be first

HALLOWED BE YOUR NAME
May we always acknowledge Your holiness, respecting that your ways are not our ways.

YOUR KINGDOM COME
Help us create a world where we will act justly, speak tenderly, and walk humbly with You and each other

YOUR WILL BE DONE
May we place our freedom in You so that the complete mutuality which characterizes Your life might flow through our hearts.

ON EARTH AS IN HEAVEN
May the work of our hands reflect the infinite justice of Heaven

GIVE
Give life and love to us and help us to always see everything as a gift. Help us to know that nothing comes to us by rights, and that we must give because we have received.

US
In the truly plural sense of “us,” may we give not just to our own, but to everyone. Including those who are very different than the narrow confines of “us.”

THIS DAY
Not tomorrow but this day do we need Your grace to respond to the face of injustice and not put things off into some indefinite future.

OUR DAILY BREAD
So that each person might have enough food, clean water and clean air, adequate health care, sufficient access to education to sustain a healthy life, teach us to give from our sustenance and not just from our surplus.

AND FORGIVE US OUR SINS
Forgive us our selective blindness toward our neighbour, our obsessive domination and racism. Forgive us our capacity to consume the evening news and do nothing about it.

AS WE FORGIVE THOSE WHO SIN AGAINST US
Give us the grace to forgive those who victimise us. Help us to mellow our spirit, to not grow bitter with age, to forgive the imperfect spouse, parents, children, family and neighbours who injure us.

SAVE US IN THE TIME OF TRIAL
We fear being put to the test using this gospel scrutiny. Do not judge us only by whether we have fed the hungry, given clothes to the naked, visited the sick, or tried to mend the systems that victimised the poor. Give us, instead, more days to mend our ways, our hearts, and our systems.

BUT DELIVER US FROM EVIL
Take away the blindness that prevents us from seeing who gets less in our social systems while we get more.

AMEN 

HYMN 446 “Glorious Things of You are Spoken” (click here to listen) 

PARTING WORDS

L: Time has now come for us to conclude this sacred time. As we do, may we embrace the challenges of our lives and our world. Hold again the river stone 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 rivers! 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 blows as the breath of the Spirit before you.

An open, virtual door to the world