Easter 2/Earth Sunday (19-04-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE OCEAN GROVE/BARWON HEADS CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on April 19th at 10am

Below is the entire text for a service of worship for home use while the ban on public worship is in place.  Even though the service is streamed live, those who are unable to participate 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 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.

A NOTE FOR NEWCOMERS:  Common churchy words like “God” are used freely, but those who have not been exposed to Rev. Bob’s use of such words may misunderstand.  Though he is an old man, his theology is not.  Traditional usage of those familiar churchy words in popular Christianity is often wide of the mark of a good theological understanding.  To acquaint yourself with more up-to-date definitions (i.e. ones that actually make sense in our modern world), see “Words of the Word” on this website.  (You might start with words such as “Prayer” and  “G-O-D”.)

Today we celebrate Earth Sunday with the wider Church.  Earth Sunday is the Sunday before  Earth Day, the annual event celebrated around the world on April 22 to demonstrate support for environmental protection. 

HYMN – “Song at the Centre” (click here to listen)

    • Refrain: From the corners of creation to the centre where we stand,
    •            let all things be blessed and holy, all is fashioned by your hand;
    •            Brother wind and sister water, mother earth and father sky, 
    •            sacred plants and sacred creatures, sacred people of the land.
    • In the east, the place of dawning, there is beauty in the morn;
    • here the seeker finds new visions as each sacred day is born;
    • As the earth gives up her life blood so her children’s hearts may beat,
    • We give back to her our rev’rence  holy ground beneath our feet. (to refrain)
    • In the south, the place of growing, there is wisdom in the earth,
    • both the painful song of dying and the joyful song of birth;
    • All who honour life around them, all who honour life within,
    • They shall shine with light and glory when the morning breaks again. (to refrain)
    • In the north, place of wisdom, there is holy darkness deep;
    • here the silent song of myst’ry may awake you from your sleep;
    • Here the music still and holy sounds beneath the snow and night
    • In the ones who wait with patience for the coming of the light. (to refrain)
    • In the the west, the place of seeing, there is born a vision new
    • of the servant of the servants, who pro claimed a gospel true;
    • Let the creatures of creation echo back creation’s prayer,
    • Let the Spirit now breathe through us  and restore the sacred there. (to refrain)

CALL TO CELEBRATION

L: We thank you, Creator God, for at your Word the sky was  formed, the land was born, and by your Word they are sustained.

R: Praise God, O my soul!

L: We thank you, Ruler of the Universe, for the stars, the  energy from the sun, and all that is seen and unseen.

R: Praise God, O my soul!

L: You have created the universe as a garment without seams and given us our atmosphere and set it over us to protect us and give us breath.

R: Praise God, O my soul!

L: From the sky you send rain, and the Earth is filled with your blessing.

R: Praise God, O my soul!

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Autumn Easter God, may we be empowered to look to the future with hope: unafraid of our dreams, realistic about our limitations, yet never losing hope in our potential to live courageously in today and for tomorrow. May it be so.

HYMN 137 – “For the Beauty of the Earth” (click here to listen)  

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

Meditation – “Autumn Leaf “

Look at this leaf:  a sign of wonder, a symbol of creation: changing shape and colour with the seasons. This autumn shall be for me the most glorious of them all, for I shall no longer struggle possessively to clutch life, but instead like a leaf, let myself be blown by God’s spirit. And whenever I touch the earth sing the song of the universe, dance in the power of God’s grace and, with tenderness, offer myself to all.  

Centring Silence

Breathe deeply… unclench your hands and let your shoulders and neck relax. Allow your face muscles to relax and sit comfortably, for even in this time of social isolation, you are connected with those who wish well for you.

(30 seconds silence)

Today is the beginning of the rest of our lives and the world awaits the emerging wonders we are and will yet be.  Deep peace to you all.

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: Let us pray. Most holy God, our ways are not like your ways, our thoughts are not as your thoughts, our deeds do not reflect your deeds.

R: We are the low achievers who need uplifting, the timid who need encouraging, the clumsy who need correcting, the proud who need humbling, the rebellious who need recapturing and the lost who need much saving.

L: Please, holy Friend, may the risen Christ assert his presence in our midst, unhindered by the walls of this church, or by the half-open doors of our mind and heart. May he assert his presence and reclaim his brothers and sisters from everything that corrupts, degrades, and alienates us from your joy and salvation. May he give us the kiss of life, breathing your forgiveness and renewing Spirit into every corner of our being. For your love’s sake. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: It is written: Jesus breathed on them and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven. If you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” By the grace of Christ Jesus I am emboldened to declare unto you: the door to life has been opened to us!

R: Thanks be to God!

FROM THE PSALMS – Ps. 133

L:  Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!

R: It is like the precious ointment upon the head  that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard:  that went down to the skirts of his garments;

L:  As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: 

R: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.

FROM THE GOSPELS – John 20:19-31  (from The Message)

This reading is unique, in that it is the only passage used in each year of the three-year Common Lectionary for a given Sunday. Hmmm…it must be rather important. 

19-20 Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side.

20-21 The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

22-23 Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said. “If you forgive someone’s sins, they’re gone for good. If you don’t forgive sins, what are you going to do with them?”

24-25 But Thomas, sometimes called the Twin, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples told him, “We saw the Master.”

But he said, “Unless I see the nail holes in his hands, put my finger in the nail holes, and stick my hand in his side, I won’t believe it.”

26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the room. This time Thomas was with them. Jesus came through the locked doors, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.”

27 Then he focused his attention on Thomas. “Take your finger and examine my hands. Take your hand and stick it in my side. Don’t be unbelieving. Believe.”

28 Thomas said, “My Master! My God!”

29 Jesus said, “So, you believe because you’ve seen with your own eyes. Even better blessings are in store for those who believe without seeing.”

30-31 Jesus provided far more God-revealing signs than are written down in this book. These are written down so you will believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and in the act of believing, have real and eternal life in the way he personally revealed it.

HYMN 186 – “Stars & Planets Flung in Orbit” (click here to listen) 

CONTEMPORARY WITNESS         “I Doubt It”  

Readings don’t come much shorter than our Psalm, but when unpacked, it yields a vision worthy of Eastertide.  At first glance it is a vision of a united humanity, which is perhaps enough in itself, but when we explore the question, “who is my brother?” we end up with a vision worthy of Earth Day Sunday as well.

The Psalm speaks to us of the life-giving quality of unity, i.e of relationships restored.  We live in a world of estranged relationships, not only with our present sisters and brothers in the human race, but with those who are yet unborn, with our kin among other species and with our Mother Earth.  All of these broken relationships are manifestations of our estranged relationship with God, i.e. that situation that we call sinfulness: the life-sucking condition that denies us life in the realm of God.

Easter may be about salvation, but it does not do anything to save us from our spiritual task; rather Easter is God’s affirmation that the path upon which Jesus sets us is indeed the path to new life.  It reinforces Jesus’ teaching that it is absolutely necessary to take up our own crosses daily and follow him, for at Easter God has shown these words to be true: there is no way to life in the Kingdom other than to give up all concern about one’s own life.

Of course, it is one thing to recognise the path to life, and quite another to follow it. What is required to make such a radical change of direction? What is the only change that will save the world from us, save us from ourselves and restore the web of relationships that will make creation whole, as God created it to be? 

Realistically, to expect human beings to change their basic nature is not reasonable.  If history is any guide, human beings do not make such changes until they have no other choice, and in the case of something like global warming, it will be too late.  Perhaps the story of Thomas has something to contribute toward an answer.

Near the end of the reading, Thomas (‘the doubter’) makes the most remarkable statement of faith to this point in the Bible. He starts, “My Lord,” a statement of fact about the man he has just seen with his own eyes, but then goes on to exclaim, “and my God,” which is purely a statement of faith.  It is this kind of faith that we need in order to transform our lives and the earth. AND you will note that Thomas was put onto this path to faith by his doubt.

Some people think that doubt is the opposite of faith but, as Desmond Tutu and Elie Wiesel are always reminding us, the opposite of faith is indifference. Doubt, writes Frederick Beuchner, is the “ants in the pants of faith.” Doubt keeps faith awake and moving. Whether your faith is based upon a belief that Jesus is the son of God or that he is not, if you don’t have any doubts, says Beuchner, you are either kidding yourself or asleep.

Long, long ago, some Jews believed that God asked of them human sacrifices. But prophets emerged who said: “I doubt that.”  Through this doubt, the sacrifice of children in the valley of Hinnom was finally stopped.

Long ago many Jews were taught: “God loves only Jews. Others are rubbish.” But some Jews said: “I doubt that.” And from the greater faith that issued from this doubt, the story of Jonah emerged which declared God’s love even for wicked, pagan cities like ancient Nineveh.

Long ago many Jews claimed that God could only be known and worshipped in the temple at Jerusalem. But one visionary had his doubts and from his own experience he wrote a psalm; “Where shall I flee from your Spirit? Where shall I hide from your Presence? If I ascend up into heaven you are there. If I make my bed in hell, behold you are there.”

Then came a Jew called Jesus. He was a remarkable doubter of many of the things he had been taught. He had been taught that pagans like Romans were hopeless; but he saw remarkable faith in a Roman centurion whose child was ill. He had been taught that women were inferior beings who should be kept hidden in their homes; but he doubted that and chose women to travel with him among the band of disciples.  

Jesus had been taught “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,” but he doubted this, too, and taught instead, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hurt you.” It had been instilled in Jesus that the greatest thing in the whole world was the Torah and its righteous law, but Jesus doubted, and instead taught, ‘no, the Law is not the pinnacle of truth; rather, the greatest thing is love.’

In the story of Christianity, again and again, doubts have led to a larger faith and a bigger love. Thomas and people like him are not to be despised. Whether our doubts arise about the resurrection of Christ or about some other aspect of Christian belief, they should not be stomped on by heavy-booted religion. Some of the greatest souls in our history are those who pursued their doubts with fierce integrity and thereby found a larger faith.

So you’ve got the message:  Doubt is good…essential…but it is only part of the message, albeit a very important part. I must warn, though, that doubt as a total way of life can become very fruitless. I can’t emphasise enough how important doubt is in the development of faith, but sooner or later we need to sort out the things worth living for and commit ourselves to them. Don’t allow doubt to paralyse you. Throw in your lot with what you do know and understand about Christ, even though it be a little, and get on with it. Get on with it!

No matter how good, how essential doubt is, not all doubt is good. It is necessary to make a distinction between faithless doubt and faithful doubt.  Faithless doubt is the doubt that seeks to avoid the truth. In fact, faithless doubt is the foundation for the indifference that is the opposite of faith. Faithful doubt is the doubt that seeks to know the truth. Thomas, it seems to me, was a model of faithful doubt; he keenly wanted to know the truth about Jesus.

Unfortunately, the wrong kind of doubt abounds. Pathetically, some get so enthralled by faithless doubts that these doubts cripple their lives and the lives around them. They constantly mull over their doubts rather than affirming their beliefs and acting on them. This is not only a miserable way to spend life, it ensures that the earth is mired in the dangerous situation of a human status quo. If we are serious enough about honest doubt, then we should be honest enough to vigorously question our own doubts. Our doubts themselves need to be doubted; be put under a microscope. Not all doubts are healthy. If we stringently examine our doubts, we may find some of the following unsavoury factors lurking in the shrubbery.

Some of our doubts may be nothing more than our being sucked in by the rampant materialism and hedonism of this twenty-first century. This is the means by which some people can go on believing that the climate change crisis is not caused, in part, by their own consumption; therefore they conveniently avoid the need to reduce their standard of living. 

Some of our doubts may be a cover-up for a cowardice that is not prepared to take the risk and launch out into the unknown, keeping our heads firmly in the sand rather than staking our all on Christ Jesus. The environment suffers from this kind of doubt, because it allows people to ignore our God-given role as protectors of God’s creation and avoid the action to which we all are called.

Some of our doubts may masquerade as an uncritical acceptance of pseudo-scientific dogma that is propounded by second-rate minds who are themselves philosophical and spiritual paupers.  This type of doubting says, for instance, “I doubt that God will let us ruin his creation, so God will save it (and us with it) no matter what people do or don’t do; therefore I don’t have to worry.” Yeah, right!

Some of our doubts may be the result of sins to which we refuse to face up, and the spiritual barrenness that can result. Some of our doubts may stem from the fact that we have never developed our own Christian understanding beyond that of an 8 year old Sunday School child. Some of our doubts may be the by-product of the disappointments, wounds, rejections and griefs we have personally suffered in the course of life. Some of our doubts may be the fruit of a negative rut into which we have allowed our thoughts to sink; a habit which has taken us over.

With the exceptions I have just listed, I believe most other doubt is more usually a sign of spiritual health rather than malady. Thomas asked a reasonable question: “Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe.” Far from rejecting Thomas, Jesus came to him with the evidence which the other disciples had already been given. And then Thomas got to work.

After that post-Easter encounter, Thomas had many long years to travel without seeing or touching Christ again. I imagine that he had more doubts along the way, for such was his nature. Yet he remained committed as a missionary, bearing the good news of Christ to places far away, to the very end of the known world. There is a small hill outside Madras in India where the people of that land say that Thomas finally paid the supreme sacrifice for his faith. There, far from home, he was executed for his Easter faith.

What do I want you to take away from today’s message? Don’t be afraid of honest doubt, but always challenge your faithless doubt, especially if it is keeping you from your responsibilities as God’s agents in this world and stewards of God’s creation. Faithful doubt can be blesséd, and it rebounds to the glory of God.

FOR YOUR REFLECTION

Having listened to the Gospel reading, why do you think it is so important that the lectionary includes it every year on this Sunday?Is it meaningful to you?  Can you identify where your doubt has been important to you?  Can you identify where it has been faithless doubt and kept you from growth?

HYMN 668  – “Touch the Earth Lightly”  (click here to listen)

A LITANY FOR EARTH DAY

L: To bring new life to the land, To restore the waters, To refresh the air,

R: We join with the earth and with each other.

L: To renew the forests, to care for the plants, to protect the creatures,

R: We join with the earth and with each other.

L: To celebrate the seas, to rejoice in the sunlight, to sing the song of the stars,

R: We join with the earth and with each other.

L: To recall our destiny, to renew our spirits, to reinvigorate our bodies,

R: We join with the earth and with each other.

L: To recreate the human community, to promote justice and peace, to remember our children, we join with the earth and with each other. 

R: We join together as many and diverse expressions of one loving mystery: for the healing of the earth and the renewal of all life.

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

L: Let it never be said, loving God, that your church neglected to both pray for and serve the world in its multiplicity of needs. Although we cannot do everything,

R: enable us to do some things.

L: For the oppressed and forgotten people of our nation and world we pray, that the grace of Christ will, through his servants, come to their aid. Although we cannot do everything,

R: enable us to do some things.

L: For the unemployed and the unemployable,  those who are grossly overworked and underpaid, and all who have seen the results of years of toil collapse around them, we pray. Although we cannot do everything,

R: enable us to do some things.

L: For the disinherited indigenous people of this and other countries, for their health and education, for the fostering of their culture, and for their leaders, and for those non-aborigines who work with them for justice and reconciliation, we pray. Although we cannot do everything,

R: enable us to do some things.

L: For the frail and the sick in this congregation and beyond, for the handicapped and those who suffer constant pain, for those dying slowly and all who care for them, for the bereaved and loving friends who reach out to console them, we pray. Although we cannot do everything,

R: enable us to do some things.

L: Loving God, by your adoption we are your family; like children we pray to you, asking for the blessing of your hands laid upon us, that we may with courage and compassion, work with the other members of your family with humility and good humour.  Through Christ Jesus our Brother and Saviour, who taught us to pray, “Our Father…”

THE LORD’S PRAYER

HYMN 181   – “Sing Out” (click here to listen)

THE SENDING OUT

L: The presentness of God reaches beyond this place. Now may our wisdom show itself in deeds of compassion and in acts of understanding.

R: May the fruits of the spirit be apparent in our lives.  

 

 

 

BENEDICTION

May our lives be blest according to the depth of our love,  the persistence of our faith, our willingness to forgive and be compassionate, and in proportion to our yearning to be free.

MORE SONGS “Mother Earth’ (click here to listen) 

                                   “Love Song to the Earth’ (click here to listen)

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