Advent 2B (06-12-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE BARWON HEADS & OCEAN GROVE CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live from the Ocean Grove church via Zoom on December 6th at 10:30am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use for those who are not ready to return to public gatherings.   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 some of 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.

This week’s service includes Holy Communion.  The Uniting Church has declared that, until March 31st next year, lay people may preside at this sacrament, blessing the elements as clergy do.  This means that everyone can partake of Communion in their homes. If you wish to do so, please prepare the elements before beginning this service.

-oOo-

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you ODD.”    (Flannery O’Connor)

INTROIT HYMN 269 – “Hark! The Glad Sound”(Click here to listen) 

CALL TO WORSHIP

The season of Advent challenges us to see God’s vision of what is yet to be, to hear God’s voice calling anew, to smell the scent of God in our world.

LIGHTING THE ADVENT CANDLE 

L: Last Sunday we lit the first candle,  a candle for Hope. We light it again as the light of hope shines for us in the darkness.
(Light the first candle.)   

Peace is one of God’s gifts to us.  May we, by our actions, help to prepare the way for the coming of peace.  We light this second candle to remind us that Jesus is the Prince of Peace.
(Light the second candle.)

The prayer of St. Francis asks God to help us to be peacemakers.
Let us say this prayer together.

R: Lord make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred let us sow your love; where there is injury let us bring pardon Lord; Where there is doubt true faith in you; Where there is sadness, ever Joy. 

HYMN 275 “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed”(Click here to listen)  

OPENING SENTENCES

John there Baptism depicted on Orthodox icon

L: There is a voice crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make the paths straight for him.”

R: On the mountains there will be plentiful grace, and peace shall prosper on the hillsides.  He shall defend the poor, defenceless people, deliver the needy and crush the oppressor.

L: Let them worship him as long as sun and moon endure,

R: and love him throughout all generations!

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Gentle God, as the sun rises each day, and light lifts our world out of darkness, give new energy to our bodies, new healing to our minds, new strength to our spirits. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Reflection “Circles of grace” by Keri Wehlander.

As we enter our silent time, let us pray. Holy One, we live at mystery’s edge, watching for a startling luminescence or a word to guide us. In fragile occurrences you present yourself, and we must pause to meet you.

Daily, there are glimmers, reflections of a seamless mercy revealed in common intricacies. These circles of grace spill out around us. and announce that we are a part of you.

     Silence

Let us now take a moment to settle into the silence.  May we become conscious in this moment and in every moment of our gathering, that the Holy One, Creativity God, is the life giving energy pulsing through us.   (about 30 seconds silence)

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

L: My sisters and brothers in Christ, our God does not ask for outpourings of guilt, but for repentance. Repentance means a determined, and often costly, about-turn from sin to the ways of God. Let us pray.

If we feel sorry for ourselves when we go wrong, but are rarely sorry for the damage done to others, and are slow to make amends, Lord have mercy.

R: Lord have mercy.

L: If we outwardly apologise and put on a show of making amends, yet in our hearts remain far from radical repentance, because we are often stubborn and unteachable, Christ have mercy.

R: Christ have mercy.

L: So that we may get real with ourselves, recognising and admitting how far we have may have wandered and low we have fallen, Lord have mercy.

R: Lord have mercy.

L: Holy Friend, God and Saviour, by the truth and mercy of Christ, bring us to a wholehearted repentance, a hunger for cleansing grace, and a reinforced will to undertake whatever changes your Spirit and Word ask of us. In you may we find that peace which the world cannot ever give to us. For your love’s sake.

THE ASSURANCE

L: Listen to what God promises: salvation happens when love and faithfulness meet together, when righteousness and peace kiss. (Psalm 85:9,10) This is surely the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God.

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES: Isaiah 40:1-11 (NKJV)

Isaiah

1 “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”
Says your God.
“Speak comfort to Jerusalem,
and cry out to her,
That her warfare is ended,
That her iniquity is pardoned;
For she has received from the Lord’s hand
Double for all her sins.”

3  The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert
A highway for our God.
4  Every valley shall be exalted
And every mountain and hill brought low;
The crooked places shall be made straight
And the rough places smooth;
5  The glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
And all flesh shall see it together;
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

6  The voice said, “Cry out!”
And he said, “What shall I cry?”
“All flesh is grass,
And all its loveliness
is like the flower of the field.
7  The grass withers, the flower fades,
Because the breath of the Lord
blows upon it;
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers, the flower fades,
But the word of our God stands forever.”

O Zion,
You who bring good tidings,
Get up into the high mountain;
O Jerusalem,
You who bring good tidings,
Lift up your voice with strength,
Lift it up, be not afraid;
Say to the cities of Judah, “Behold your God!”
10 Behold, the Lord God shall come with a strong hand,
And His arm shall rule for Him;
Behold, His reward is with Him,
And His work before Him.
11  He will feed His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs with His arm,
And carry them in His bosom,
And gently lead those who are with young.

FROM THE GOSPELS: Mark 1:1-8    (NRSV)

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,

“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John by Caravaggio

John the baptiser appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptised by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptised you with water; but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.”

HYMN 647 “Comfort, Comfort All My People”
(Click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS   “Repentance is Good News”

     Part 1

Mark’s Gospel does not begin with angels whispering in Mary’s ear.  There are no shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night, no wise men from the East following a star, no big-eyed animals standing around a straw-stuffed manger.  Mark either does not know about such things or else he does not care about them.  For him, the good news of Jesus the Christ begins in the wilderness of Judea with an old-time prophet named John; the first real prophet to turn up in Israel in 300 years.

John by Leonardo da Vince

He is dressed as was Elijah, 800 years before him: a camel hair clock with a leather belt.  His hair and beard look as though they have never been cut and he is skinny as a cactus.  One gets the impression that the description is, in itself, a statement of some kind: that this man was a messenger sent by God.

Ever wonder why people flocked to him?  Everything I know about John leads me to think that I would have gone out of my way not to see him.  He sounds too much like those street evangelists, who wave their Bibles and tell you that you are going straight to hell if you don’t repent right now.  However, there is one big difference between them and John.  

Self-appointed prophets tend to plant themselves right in your way so that you have to cross to the other side of the street to avoid them.  They get in your face and dare you to ignore them, whereas John planted himself in the wilderness, so that anyone who wanted to hear what he had to say had to go to a lot of trouble to get there.  Would you have borrowed your neighbour’s donkey or set off by foot with enough food and water for an 8-day journey from Jerusalem (4 days there and 4 days back) that led down lonely trails thick with bandits?

You’d have to wonder why anyone would bother, especially if they lived in Jerusalem, the home of the temple.  If they wanted religious help – if they really wanted to hear from God – they would have the priests and all the accumulated wisdom of the religious establishment right there in the city. 

What did John have that the temple could not supply?  What did he have that people were looking for?  Whatever it was, it John was certainly one of Israel’s more socially unacceptable characters.  Dressed in animal hair, his breath heavy with locusts and wild honey, John proclaimed that it was time to prepare for something big.  The old order was ending  and a new world was on the way, and the time to prepare was at hand.

John by Caravaggio

What strikes me about this messenger is that he clearly had something that pulled people out of their comfort zone into the desert, even though, when you read Matthew or Luke’s version of events, he harangued and insulted, threatened and condemned them when they got there.  But what was it that pulled people to him? Plato said that when one begins a speech, it is advantageous to flatter one’s listeners; let your listeners know that you are on their side. Clearly, John did not study preaching with Plato, calling his audience a brood of vipers and chaff to be burned in the fire.  When John preached he hurled grenades: shouting, raving, and certainly was no respecter of social class.  Now I ask you, why would people keep trekking out to the desert to hear John?  How could anyone have heard what he said as good news?

His images were things like an axe slicing into the root of the tree,  God turning away from all of the good hereditary believers and raising children out of the stones in the muddy Jordan River.  Why would people have trotted out into the wilderness to hear that?  To hear a strange man confronting them with an axe, stones, a winnowing fork separating the wheat from the chaff, fire?  Why would people make the effort to hear weird John? I’ll tell you…

The axe, the winnowing fork, the refiner’s fire are all images of change. John’s was a simple message; a message that everyone wanted to hear, yet nobody wanted to hear; and a message that is as good for today as it was for John’s audience: that you can change.  This is what repentance means: change.

     Part 2

Where there is wilderness, an axe is laid to the tree to carve a straight path.  From nothing but stones in the muddy Jordan, children spring forth.  Chaff is burned so that the good wheat is left. Dusty, ugly ore is refined until there is pure gold.  Change! And it’s change for the good.

King Herod hated John and had him killed, because Herod didn’t want to hear about change.  Those who are in power, those at the top, members of the establishment don’t want to hear about change.  Why change?  They like things as they are up atop the good old status quo.  The status quo is good for them.

But multitudes went to hear John.  The majority of people, though part of the status quo, are not content with it.  When John preached, even his fierce hellfire and damnation approach sounded like good news because he dared to speak of change.

A friend of mine, a counsellor, told me that after twenty years of counselling, he had learned one thing: people rarely change.  Oh, there can be modest movement, but fundamental, drastic change in personality is rare.  In fact, change is so rare that most wise counsellors don’t aim for it.  They content themselves with small moves, minor adjustments in behaviour that allow their clients to keep on keeping on.

For most of our days this is enough.  When asked to comment on the state of affairs, we make witty, cynical comments.  We pick up the morning paper, contort the voice into a whine, and complain about the state of the world, but we never see anything new, nor do we expect it, and we certainly don’t set out to change it or ourselves.  Rather, we resign ourselves to the human condition.

But occasionally, once in a great while, there may be a voice, a word, an image that radically reorients us.  Before there can be change, there must be promise of change.  This was what John preached.  He announced the advent of God.  He promised change, and that was good news.

John the Baptist by Bosch

Jesus’ sermons began with John’s sermon.  John told the people,  ‘the Messiah is coming.’  Jesus said that the Kingdom of God is right now.  The message was,  “Not everything is fixed and tied down,” and that has to be the most frightening news you’ll ever hear…(pause)… and, at the same time, the very best news.  You can change.  Our world can change.   When God walks among humanity, stands at the door and knocks, we can change.  The fierce grip of our economic, sociological, political and psychological determinism is relaxed.  With axe, winnowing fork and fire, the world begins to shift.  That is good news…(pause) … I think.

My uncertainty is due to the fact that I am in a church.  Remember, John’s message isn’t good news for the establishment, with its foundation in the security of the status quo.  Prime among the establishment institutions of Jesus day was the temple, and no less conservative are the religious institutions of our day.  It is telling that John preached nowhere near the religious establishment, and those who insisted on staying inside the church never heard his message.  Only those willing to enter the wilderness got to taste the freedom on offer. This is still true.

Thomas Merton, writing about the message of the desert fathers, those hermit monks who lived in the Egyptian desert in the 5th century, said, “Society…was regarded by the Desert Fathers as a shipwreck from which each single individual had to swim for his life…These were men who believed that to let oneself drift along, passively accepting the tenets and values of what they knew as society, was purely and simply a disaster.”

So my prayer is that as you drift along in currents of the status quo, you hear the good news: it doesn’t have to stay this way.  You can change, your world can change, and the world will change as you change.  Halleluia!

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: On this second Sunday in Advent, and in response to the word reflected on, let us stand and share a celebration of faith. Unpredictable, irrepressible, dancing, laughing Spirit, when we’re tempted to be cautious and hesitate,

R: Draw us forward into the surprising and joyful future you have waiting for us.

L: Unpredictable, elusive Spirit, when we’re tempted to opt for certainty,

R: Free our spirits to adventure and risk, as your people have always done.

L: Unpredictable, people-loving, freedom-loving Spirit, when we’re tempted to be shackled to comfort and conformity,

R: Enable us to leave such things behind, call us through your people into the surprise of each new day.

L: Clear our vision, so we may see things, to which we’ve paid no attention in the past.

R: Sharpen our listening, so we may hear pleadings and cries we’ve never heard before.

L: Strengthen our hands, so we may do things we’ve previously not dared try.

R: Put a new spring into our step, so we may follow your leading into new situations. Draw us dancing and laughing into tomorrow.

HYMN 283 “Long Ago, Prophets Knew”(Click here to listen)

PRAYERS FOR OTHERS

God of the forgiven past and the open future, inspire us to pray with our minds as well as our hearts, with our actions and well as our words.

We pray for your church around the globe, that it may repent, turning from all that is evil, and second-rate towards the full abundance of the saving grace and right-living of Christ Jesus. Then mercy and faithfulness will embrace;  righteousness and peace shall kiss.

We pray for those who have no bread, no coat, no home, no hope for tomorrow. Inspire us to embrace that better future where poverty and distress is never left without a generous response. Then mercy and faithfulness will embrace; righteousness and peace shall kiss.

We pray a blessing on those who bring justice to the victims of greed, and who expose companies and ruthless managers, extortioners and drug barons, pimps and corrupt police officers. Then mercy and faithfulness will embrace; righteousness and peace shall kiss.

We pray for the downfall of the unrepentant who are set in arrogant ways, and for the uplifting of many folk who have been crushed by circumstances and had their hope almost extinguished. Then mercy and faithfulness will embrace; righteousness and peace shall kiss.

We ask a blessing on your generous servants, who go the second mile, give without looking for reward, gladly serve without praise, and who see their own gifts as a bonus to be shared. Then mercy and faithfulness will embrace;  righteousness and peace shall kiss.

We pray for your true prophets of this age, no matter what their race or religion, Please give them insight and courage, and turn our hearts to humbly hear, receive and obey your word.Then mercy and faithfulness will embrace; righteousness and peace shall kiss.

Isaiah with Angel

Advent Friend, we want to be ready for you, but we are set in our bent and bumpy Ways.  Create in us the capacity for repentance and the vulnerable grace of openness. Use our friends and our critics to straighten twisted motives and smooth rough moods.  Make us ready for more and more of your healing baptism in our lives.  Grant an increase of your nurturing Spirit in the ordinary affairs of each day.

Most merciful God, may the wisdom and joy of your new age spread, and the fruits of your Spirit multiply, that your prophets may not preach in vain, your believers may not serve in vain, and your martyrs may not die in vain. May your new age fully come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Through Christ Jesus our Brother, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”

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, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. Amen.

CELEBRATING COMMUNITY: Sacrament of Holy Communion

     Discernment and Welcome to the Table

Sacred objects, bible, bread and wine.

L: Thus it is fitting that 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. (pause)  No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome at this table with it’s 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: It is right and our joy to give world-gazing, hope-cheering God, our cherisher. We celebrate the changing mood of nature: for sunshine and showers of a spring day, for the nesting and cheerfulness of birds, and the flowers of bush and garden… wattle, heath, and bottle brush. We who hold all such good things in trust, in the company of each other, and in company with people throughout the world declare as generations before us have declared:

R:Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might.
Heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

The Last Supper by Salvador Dali

L: And we celebrate our knowledge of the one called Jesus, who taught all to care for the birds of the air, and the grass of the paddock; living expressions of the Spirit of Life in our midst. Through his sayings and parables, Jesus broke down existing biases and opened a way for more humane ways of living.  Jesus at supper is a demonstration of this teaching. He urged his followers to include a wide variety of folks in what he called the realm of God, and he encouraged them to be open to the insights and understandings that come from honest and respectful dialogue among those who seek a worthy way of life.  We are here to carry on this tradition of seeking for truth and recognising goodness wherever they may be found.

     Bread and Wine  (Bread is broken, wine poured out)

Wheat grains crushed provide our food. Grape full bunches pressed become our table drink. Because they do not cling to what they were, a wonderful new happening: we who are hungry – fed; we who are thirsty – satisfied.  (Please partake of the elements)

After Communion

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

HYMN 276 “There’s a Light Upon the Mountain”
(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.  Gathered together,
R: We wait for the light.

L: Standing together
R: We trust in the light.

L: Praying together
R: We hope for the light.

L: Seeking together
R: We step out with the light.

L: Singing together
R: We are blessed by the light.

BENEDICTION

Go in peace and celebrate the presence of God, the source of Creativity, in your lives.

An open, virtual door to the world