Ordinary Sunday 30 (25-10-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on October 25th 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-

“The future is not a place we are going to, but a place we are creating.  The paths to it are not found, but made.  The making of those paths changes both the maker and the destination.”
(Australian Commission for the Future)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

In sacred times of word,
wonder, and awe.
In ordinary days of work and play.
In every moment,
Creativity God is with us.
So let us celebrate
the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of this God.

HYMN 675 – “Shine Jesus, Shine” (click here to listen)   

OPENING SENTENCES

L: God has been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were raised up, before the universe was even formed, God has been there for us.

R: So let us live in God, rooted and established in the faith of Christ, and abounding in thanksgiving.

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Great Lover of the world, in many separate ways and through many different people, you have conveyed your love to each of us. We bless you for finding us, embracing us, encouraging us, and releasing in our hearts a love for you. By your Spirit please foster our love, that our fledgling faith may soar high above dutiful worship into the realm of free delight. Through Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation   ‘The Web’  by Jeanette Stokes.

As I walked through the bush one morning during autumn,
I came across a perfectly formed spider’s web bright with dew.
The delicately woven strands reminded me that
as we live and work…
we spin out the thread of life
that connects and supports us all.
The web of support that joins me to my friends is like a lifeline.
Sometimes I can almost feel it – tiny golden threadstying my heart to the hearts of others.
My passion for life… fueled by theirs.
And my life is never the same.
I am a porous being.
There are spaces in my soul like the open places in a web.
Other people pass through me.
I am changed and sometimes I am born again
to a whole new way of being, of understanding myself
my work, and the world.
The dreams we spin need to be tied to something.
The spider’s web I saw was attached
to the graceful curve at the end of
a wild blackberry cane.
As we live and work together we can create and maintain
a web of connection that will support us all.In the safety of this sacred place I invite you now into a time of
gratitude, reflection, renewal and hope.

(Please keep at least a 30-second silence)

Great possibilities do await us.
The grandeur of life, of which we are a part,
fill us with hope… if we seek to choose it.

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

L:  Most gracious Lord, we confess… 

R: our failure to fully entertain and trust the love shown in Jesus.
We have not loved you, God, with his joyous enthusiasm.
We have not loved others with his burning compassion.
We have not even loved ourselves sufficiently to fully nurture
our own lives in the grace and liberty of the Christ.
Consequently our characters are stunted, our achievements flawed,
our peace is fractured, and our happiness is diminished.

L: God of tireless mercy, please overthrow those feelings and thoughts which have become barriers against the inflowing of your truth and grace. Please enter the stubborn or fearful corners of our being with your light and your forgiveness. Restore us to the joy of your salvation and renew a right spirit with us. Through Christ Jesus our  Brother and Friend. Amen!

WORD OF ASSURANCE

L: People of God, believe and you shall be rescued and healed! God’s mercy is not rationed out in qualified amounts, but overflows the banks of history with prodigious generosity. You are a forgiven family, and so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!.

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES   Deuteronomy 34:1-12

Moses Dies on Mount Nebo

34 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is across from Jericho. And the Lord showed him all the land of Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali and the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the South, and the plain of the Valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to give Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have caused you to see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.”

So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the Lord. And He buried him in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth Peor; but no one knows his grave to this day. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died. His eyes were not dim nor his natural vigor diminished. And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days. So the days of weeping and mourning for Moses ended.

Now Joshua the son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, for Moses had laid his hands on him; so the children of Israel heeded him, and did as the Lord had commanded Moses.

10 But since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, 11 in all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to do in the land of Egypt, before Pharaoh, before all his servants, and in all his land, 12 and by all that mighty power and all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

HYMN 441 – “Behold! the Mountain of the Lord”(click here to listen)  

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS        “Doing Your Dash”

     Part 1

“…So Moses the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab.”

Sad story? I think so. The man who had loyally given all he had to God for the purpose of returning his people to the Promised Land was not to set foot in it. He could only glimpse it from a long way off: the sad obituary of a great hero of the faith.

You can learn a lot from obituaries and epitaphs written on tombstones.  I had a history teacher in high school who used to wander cemeteries collecting epitaphs. Listen to these real messages found on tombstones: 

Side by side are found these ‘his and hers’ messages.  HIS was dated Sept 15, 1854: 

Stop here my friend and cast an eye.
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so shall you be.
Prepare for death, and follow me. 

HERS, dated April 12 1859: 

To follow you I’m not content
Until I know which way you went.

In a Ribbesford, England, cemetery is found this tribute to Anna Wallace: 

The children of Israel wanted bread
And the Lord sent them manna,
Old clerk Wallace wanted a wife,
And the Devil sent him Anna. 

One creative man decided to play a game with his name in a cemetery in New Mexico, 

  “Here lies Johnny Yeast. Pardon me for not rising.”

A Uniontown, Pennsylvania cemetery contains a memory of the manner of death: 

  “Here lies the body of Jonathan Blake;
Stepped on the gas instead of the brake.”

Lester Moore was a Wells, Fargo Co. station agent in Naco, Arizona in the cowboy days of the 1880’s.  He’s buried in the infamous Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona: 

  “Here lies Les Moore;
Four slugs from a .44;
No Les, No More.”

On Margaret Daniels’ grave at Hollywood Cemetery Richmond, Virginia: 

  “She always said her feet were killing her,
but nobody believed her.”

But let’s get back to Moses: Frankly, I’m not surprised Moses died on Mt. Nebo. The silly old goat should have expected it: mountain climbing as his age! As the memorial plaques to those who have died climbing Uluru testify, very elderly people should not go on such strenuous adventures. In this case the man at the centre of the story was a very, very old man. The writer of Deuteronomy records Moses as being 120 years old when he died.

Some might say that God miraculously gave Moses the time and the strength to do the job before him.  Then, when the right time came, Moses went back to God.  Of course, we have to take the long lives of Bible characters as apochryphal, with long ages ascribed to those who served God well as a reward. However, it does suggest Moses lived long time, no matter his actual age at death. I’m inclined to think that Moses retained his health because he had a worthy purpose all his life.  He never retired.  He was always on a journey, a quest.  His life had a mission and a purpose.  I believe this is the secret of a long and healthy life: having a mission. 

God may have been doing Moses a favour by not letting him cross over the Jordan River.  If he had lived, I suspect Moses may have become the most miserable man in the Promised Land, for he lived for the quest, not the conquest.  The purpose of his life was in the journey, not in achieving the destination.  And that’s the way it is with many of us.

Most of us think if we could just achieve our goals then we could sit back and relax.  The struggle would be over, and life would henceforth be good.  But I wonder.  How many times have you seen  active people, who have worked and struggled all their lives, finally retire and then quickly waste away?  I think we have, in this story of Moses, a truth about humanity: it’s the journey, the struggle that gives life its meaning. 

I have long thought the idea of paradise is highly overrated.  Imagine if Adam and Eve had been obedient, and not eaten the forbidden fruit.  Today, as everyday, Adam would say: “Well, Eve, what are you going to do today?”  

Eve would reply, today as everyday, “Oh….eat, drink and be merry.”

“Uh huh,”  Adam would grunt, and then he would ask, “Eve,….what is being merry?”

     Part 2

No struggle, no pain, no problems to solve, no adventures to risk…mmm… Now, you might like a holiday from life’s trials from time to time, especially when they are weighing heavily but, face it, paradise would be one interminably long, boring, meaningless existence. Being ‘merry’ has no meaning, because there is no sadness or anxiety or tension with which to compare it. Without the vision of something better, without a task  and a goal, without a calling, Moses may have died at 35 or 40 just like the average man of his time.

Stop for a moment and think about those 120 years.  Moses spent the first 40 years being educated among the princes of Egypt in all aspects of that mighty civilisation. The second forty years saw a most different education: time as a shepherd in the Sinai wilderness, learning how to live off the harsh land and coming to know, in a personal way, the one God of heaven and earth. The third forty years was spent keeping the nomadic nation alive in the wilderness, slowly teaching them the ways of God, and shaping them into a new community of faith.

I can’t resist suggesting to those who have yet to turn 40 years of age (rare though they are in the church these days) that maybe you are only in the first phase of your education, and the second phase won’t start until you begin the next 40 years. Also, I put it gently to those of you who are around the eighty year mark: What if the best work of your life is about to start now? It’s a bit mind boggling isn’t it?

Moses is a symbol for all of God’s visionaries and hard workers. They see the promised land from afar, but they cannot enter it. Would it have made any difference to Moses if he had known earlier that his own feet would never walk in the land flowing with milk and honey?  I doubt it. People like Moses, unconditionally devoted to God, are content to leave such matters in God’s hands.

Of course he would have liked to be able to set foot on the other side of Jordan. Of course he would have liked to sit by the well of his ancestor Jacob and drink its fresh water. Of course he would have wanted to pitch his tent where his great ancestress Sarah had baked bread for three angelic visitors, or sit in the shade of the oak trees of Mamre where Abraham rested.

Yet when it came to what God chose to do, Moses was content. He was content to see others reap the fruit of his labours. He was content to let Joshua, the son of Nun, lead the people into the Promised Land. I think it was enough for him that he had glimpsed it from afar.

There is an old story of an elderly man hard at work planting Mango trees.  His young neighbour laughed at him when he saw the old man sweating in the hot sun: “What a waste of your time and energy,” he said. “You know you will be long dead by the time those trees produce any mangos.”

“Yes,” replied the old man, “but in 20 years people will rejoice over the juicy mangoes they are eating, and gives thanks to the one who planted these trees, just as I give thanks to those who have provided me with mangoes throughout my life.”

What a contrast Moses makes with the mood of our current Western society. We are the neurotically impatient generation. Appropriately, it has been l called the ‘me’ society.

Long range visions are in short supply. Many settle for lesser delights right now. Waiting patiently for something worthwhile has become an unacceptable burden. Selfish impatience is a disease that has seriously infected our world.

Selfishness wants results now. Shareholders demand big dividends this year, which is one of the reasons why there is so little long-term investment in Australian’s future. Our chronic self-interest has made us foolishly short-sighted, and our grandchildren will suffer the consequences of our impatience.

One professional fisherman on South Coast of Victoria fears for the future. He told me one day after church, how hard it is to get his fellow fishermen to plan for the future. One by one, the stocks of certain species are over-harvested until they are pushed to extinction. Among his various proposals to the local fishermen’s organisation is that each fisherman negotiate a specified area for which he alone would be responsible. He could then farm it and either reap the rewards of good stewardship or go out of business. But the other blokes won’t agree. They want to rush in and plunder every area they can, now!

     Part 3

The concept of beginning a task that won’t be completed in our time is, in most quarters, an alien notion. This even afflicts the church. When ministers accept a call to a church, they can feel pressure (real or imagined) to show quick results. So some clergy want the fruits immediately, and set their priorities accordingly. They want a quick, outward show of success, but with little thought for what may happen beyond their term in that congregation.

The same applies to some parishioners. There are some congregations that change their ministers often. With each new induction, they hope they have found the sub-Messiah who will bring success in a rush, without too much effort from the laity. It does not happen, of course, so annoyed, they start to carp and criticise, and before long they seek to terminate the current settlement and look for a different pastor. They want the land flowing with milk and honey, now!

On the other hand, I am most thankful for the many congregations and ministers who are in it for the long hall; those people, both laity and clergy, who are prepared to let God decide the timetable. Like Moses, they dream about the promised land, they read the Scriptures and study in the school of Christ and glimpse the ‘land flowing with milk and honey.’ Yet here and now, they are willing to give their utmost for Christ, and are content that maybe another generation (or the next minister!) will reap the harvest of their toil.

I wonder what God would write for your epitaph and for mine.  It really is up to us.  We may not control when we come into this world or when we leave it, but we are responsible to make the best of the time we have between. 

One of the odd similarities of every tombstone is the way the passage of time is marked in the same way on every one of them.  On every tombstone, you will find the birth date and the death date.  And between the beginning and the end, the whole of life is summed up with a simple dash.  The dates at the beginning and end say very little; they are but bookends for the library that documents the life in between.  It’s the bit signified by the dash that carries the meaning of that person’s life.

Some anonymous author once wrote a poem about the “Dash between the Dates.”  It goes like this: 

Memorial Day was over now;
all had left and I was alone,
I began to read the names and dates
chiseled there on every stone.
The names, which showed whether it was Mom or Dad
or daughter or baby son.
The dates were different, but the amount was the same;
there were two for everyone.
It was then I noticed something;
it was a simple line.
It was the dash between the dates placed there;
it stood for time.
The dates there belong to God,
but that line is yours and mine.
It’s God who gives this precious life,
and God who takes away.
But that line between He gives to us
to do with what we may.
We know that God’s written the first date down
for each and every one.
And we know those hands will write again,
for the last date has to come.
We know He’ll write the last date down,
and soon, we know, for some.
But upon the line between those dates,
I hope He’ll write, “Well done.” 

Usually the last act of the preacher is to sum up the sermon with a moving conclusion, but since the message today is that life’s value and meaning is in the journeying rather than reaching the goal, we shall just have to consider this an ongoing project…

Take with you the words of the Australian Commission for the Future that were cited at the beginning of this service: “The future is not a place we are going to, but a place we are creating.  The paths to it are not found, but made.  The making of those paths changes both the maker and the destination.”  

HYMN 547 – “Be Thou My Vision” (click here to listen)  

For a little variety you can try these versions of this hymn:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihJAJA4ibEs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jIMhshpf0Y4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Optrm7lF16s

PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE

L: You, wonderful God, whose glory the heavens declare and whose handiwork the whole earth sees;

R: be with astronomers and astronauts, artists, photographers and bush walkers.

L: You, whose Spirit brooded over the face of the earth and brought breath to all that lives and grows;

R: be with health workers who control viruses and bacteria, or engineer genes and chromosomes.

L: You, for whom truth is not mere facts and figures, but relationship and the gift of eternal love;

R: be with those whose science has left them empty or whose technology has become a slavery.

L: You, who give us faith that leads to many doubts and deep doubts that lead to a larger faith;

R: be with all agnostics and those who despair, and all the pure of heart  who hunger for you.

L: You, who have created us for fulfilment and joy, & do not rest while one lost person is in misery; 

R: be with those who are lost in amusement arcades or imprisoned by poker machines and  casinos.

L: You, who should mother and father forsake us, cherish us as your very own family;

R: be with abused children and street kids, social workers, magistrates and foster parents.

L: You, who when thick darkness covered humanity, leapt into the night bringing light and joy;

R: be with night-shift workers and police, evangelists, counsellors and pastors.

L:You, whose first-born, perfect Child covered our sins and bore our griefs;

R: be with mothers and midwives, the falsely accused and sorely abused.

L: You, who banish fears and bring a new dawn, who swallow up death in victory;

R: be with those who risk their lives for others and all who today face death alone.

L: You, who know our needs before we utter them and do far more than we can ask or imagine;

R: be with us as we offer these prayers and with all who have forgotten how to pray.

L: Through Jesus Christ our Brother and Friend, who taught us to pray… 

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 687  – “God Gives Us a Future” (click here to listen)   

WORD OF MISSION

L: Let us go in faith to ponder in our hearts the mystery and the wonder of this season.  Glorifying the past can never be the key to our future.

R:We need to get a new perspective on today by getting a new vision of tomorrow. 

BENEDICTION

We have been given this new week in which to honour the God who is easy to love by loving the neighbours who are sometimes difficult to love. Not in our own strength are we so commanded, but in the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit and in the grace of the Lord Jesus, through whom all things are possible. Go on your way rejoicing, and the blessing of the Living God will always be yours. Thanks be to God; go in peace.

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