Easter 6 (17-05-2020)

WELCOME TO WORSHIP WITH THE OCEAN GROVE & BARWON HEADS CONGREGATIONS

This service was streamed live via Zoom on May 17th 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.

CALL TO CELEBRATION 

Discovered in daily life, divine background print opening eyes, opening minds, opening hearts, inviting the journey deeper into life, gentle still point, silent place of knowing…Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of this God.

OPENING SENTENCES  

L: As we gather in this sacred place let us open our minds to the challenge of reason, our hearts open to the healing of love, our lives open to the calling of conscience, and our souls open to the comfort of joy.

R: Astonished by the miracle of life, grateful for the gift of fellowship, and confident in the power of a living faith, we celebrate this time together

PRAYER OF APPROACH

As this season of Easter gradually draws to a close may we continue to be created, sustained and energised, for the journey the future holds. Amen.

HYMN 408  “O Breath of God, Breathe on Us Now” (click here to listen) 

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

    Meditation  “Prayer as Invitation” by Earl Holt

The moment of prayer is an invitation to be calm  in the midst of the tumult of the world and our over busy lives to bring together thought and feeling, mind and spirit,  and to find some centre, some still point of perspective and peace. Here in this sacred place which has been home for so many secret thoughts and hopes, fears and desires,  may we feel free to look at ourselves honestly. 

May we be unafraid to face the decisions we have been trying to avoid, the doubts and questions it has been easy to ignore, the things we have tried to keep hidden, not only from others, but even from ourselves. 

May we come to discover that there are resources within ourselves and beyond us, new dimensions of the spirit. 

May we be emboldened by these discoveries to reach out to others in their need and so finally to discover that to give is not only more blessed than to receive, but that to give to others is to receive what we most need for ourselves.

    Silence

So come apart from the busyness of family and work, and dwell in the presentness of God who is our source of being. (Pause)  May the silence which we now share quieten us, touch our need, refresh our courage, enlarge our wonder.     

(30 seconds Silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

L: My friends, we come to God with prayers of confession, not to induce in ourselves added guilt and self hatred, but to become repentant and re-embrace the new life which God offers us through Jesus. Let us pray.  When our faith becomes shaky and we fall into a deep trough of doubts and anxieties, Lord have mercy.

R: Lord have mercy and heal us all.

L: When our hope and joy lapse and we get bogged down in the swamp of despondency, Christ have mercy.

R: Christ have mercy and heal us all.

L: When our hearts grow cold towards the rights and needs of others and apathy settles in like a wintry fog, Lord have mercy.

R: Lord have mercy and heal us all.

L: When our minds become confused by the babel of the world’s many religious voices, and we lapse into a spiritual cynicism, Christ have mercy.

R: Christ have mercy and heal us all.

L: God, most holy and most merciful, grant each of us a sincere repentance, a heart open to forgiveness, a will ready to make amends, and a soul fixed on loving. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.  Amen

THE ASSURANCE

L: It is true: Where sin flourishes the grace of God flourishes all the more. We are a forgiven and reclaimed people, and so, with confidence, I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God.

FROM THE GOSPELS  John 14:15-21  (The Message version)

15-17 “If you love me, show it by doing what I’ve told you. I will talk to the Father, and he’ll provide you another Friend so that you will always have someone with you. This Friend is the Spirit of Truth. The godless world can’t take him in because it doesn’t have eyes to see him, doesn’t know what to look for. But you know him already because he has been staying with you, and will even be in you!

18-20 “I will not leave you orphaned. I’m coming back. In just a little while the world will no longer see me, but you’re going to see me because I am alive and you’re about to come alive. At that moment you will know absolutely that I’m in my Father, and you’re in me, and I’m in you.

21 “The person who knows my commandments and keeps them, that’s who loves me. And the person who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and make myself plain to him.”

FROM THE NON-CANONICAL GOSPELS   – Gospel of Philip

God’s farming… has four elements: faith, hope, love and knowledge. Faith is our earth, that in which we take root. Hope is the water through which we are nourished. Love is the wind through which we grow. Knowledge is the light through which we ripen… Truth did not come into the world naked, but it came in types and images.  One will not receive truth in any other way.

HYMN 453“We Limit Not the Truth of God” (click here to listen) 

SERMON   “The Truth Gets Personal”    

“God will give you another counsellor, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees it nor knows it. You know it because it lives with you and will be in you.” (John 14: 16-17)

Have you met any truth lately? In the New Testament, truth is personal. Not some thing, but some One. Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, truth gets personal.

Jesus assured his friends that they would not be left without divine assistance after he’d gone. There would be another Counsellor, the Spirit of Truth. Here truth is not some abstract quality but a personal relationship, manifest in the lives of those who have chosen to live from this great gift of God dwelling in the core of their being.

John goes on to tell us that the condition for sharing in this indwelling of God in our lives is keeping Jesus’ commandment by loving. Love and keeping the commandments are two different facets of the same way of life. The one who loves is the one who practices the truth and commits no injustice. God is Truth and Love is Truth. But what happens is that many people know the Truth, but don’t practise it; they don’t obey the Truth because of fear. 

On the other hand, lies are easy to obey. In our world where deceit is practised as a major profession via political ‘spin doctors’ and advertising specialists, lies are proffered to us on a regular basis. So it comes as a relief to know that there is someone called “The Spirit of Truth,” and that it is a reality available to you and me.

When I was young, the punishment for misbehaving was always much worse if I lied about it.  Concern for the truth seemed to be held rather high among my parents’ values.  I have long suspected that, in the Ten Commandments, the most important command after the first two (concerning worshipping God alone), is the ninth: you shall not bear false witness. It seems to me that as long as truth is respected, a community can deal with most misdeeds. But when deceit rules, then all becomes chaos.

For example, society can handle theft as long there is integrity in police and witnesses. Society can sort out the breakdown of marriages as long as the participants will be honest.  We can even cope with murder, providing witnesses, police and jurors and judges retain their truthfulness.

However, when the essence of the ninth commandment breaks down, when truth ceases to be the common bond in communal interaction, then all hell has broken loose. Sadly, I believe we are very much in that situation in our times. If you follow events in the U.S. you will have noted an unfortunate phenomenon since Donald Trump appeared on the scene: if an untruth is repeated enough and with sufficient confidence, it is believed by the masses and becomes the new truth. I suppose this has always been so, but with the advent of social media and a President who is a blatant and pathological liar, George Orwell’s“newspeak” in his book, 1984, has become a reality.

This morning we need to speak the truth. We need to bring this into focus, because so much of our ordinary conversational lives don’t so much take the truth for granted, as they assume that we can bypass the truth in favour of a prettified, comforting delusion about the world. 

When we’re asked “How are you doing?” etiquette forbids our saying that we hate our boss or that the stress of dealing with our obnoxious relatives threatens to unravel the already-frayed fabric of our lives. Instead, civilised society expects us to say, “I’m fine; how are you?” Polite discourse hides from the truth.

Sure, this is departure from the truth seems pretty harmless.  Indeed, politeness helps people get along together, but politeness also offers a selection of attractive curtains behind which to hide our real disagreements, our real frustrations, our real and important doubts about one another and about the God whom we gather here to worship and praise. Tact impels us just to go ahead and mouth the words, “Doing fine,” or “We believe;” to nod and bow and smile and say, “God’s peace be with you,” when we’re not so sure who this God is or what brand of peace we’re inflicting on people. Let’s not press issues too far; it’s better just to smile nicely, and move on.

That won’t do. That won’t do this morning, because this morning God calls out for us, God challenges us to seek our divine Source. This morning, God invites us home, and we can’t get there by diplomacy or denial or delusion; the only way home is by way of the truth, and that’s a hard way.

Telling the truth has always seemed a hard job, but it oughtn’t be. Telling the truth should come easily, just saying out loud the way things are. Truth ought to be our mother tongue, and should come in and out of us as naturally and unquestionably as our very breath. But it doesn’t; often it’s hard to tell the truth, harder still to live by the truth.

From as far back as humanity can remember, people have betrayed one another, cheated one another, ducked, equivocated and evaded rather than come out with true stories. And for just as long, we have stoned, slandered, condemned and executed our neighbours who told unwelcome truths. 

Even if we want to be truthful, we’re aiming at a moving target. What looks true one minute doesn’t look quite the same moments later. The promises we make, the vows we take on one day don’t always keep their hold on us after years, or even months or days. We are not cut out for the truth, my friends; the air is different there, the sun is more intense; which makes our communicating with God and our seeking after God all the more peculiar an enterprise. 

Whereas we live in misty shade, in the cloudy atmospheres of confusion and deception, our God inhabits the light. We cannot look on the face of God and live; so we avert our gaze, we stammer and hesitate, we dodge and weave. We evade, and fudge, and sometimes we lie. People want so badly to live in a comfortable, shiny happy world that we put on rose-colored glasses and make-believe that our worlds are shiny and happy and comfortable; not beautifying them to the praise of God, but pretending, to the consolation and protection of ourselves.

The only way to God is by way of the truth, the hard way of the truth. And the truth is that sometimes we don’t know what we believe, that sometimes we hurt so deeply that we don’t know which way is up or even care, that sometimes we have lied to ourselves, to our beloved ones, to God, because it felt easier and more comfortable than dealing with the truth.

Therefore I must ask it of myself, and ask it of you: To what degree are we being seduced by this pervading ethos of deceit?

Thank goodness there is a Spirit of Truth, for on what else can you depend in this deceitful world? Where else can one find a solid viewing point in post-modern world in which all truth is said to be relative. The Spirit is one reality which is not relative, one on which we can completely rely, one voice that never fools us, one great love which will never cheat on us. This truth is personal.

The Spirit of Truth is, of course, God-with-us. As Jesus said: You know it because it lives with you and will be in you (John 14: 16-17).  Theologian, Paul Tillich defined “Spirit” as “God present.”

This truth is not erudite information about physics, or astronomy, or psychology, or theology. It is a relationship of God with humanity. A relationship which God initiates and to which we can respond with a no, or with a thousand celebratory yeses each day. It is the sheer veracity of God’s love leading us toward the fulfilment of self and community.

The Spirit of Truth sees us as we really are, yet accepts and treasures us. Nothing can be hidden from this truth. Nor is there any need to hide anything from this truth. 

I find this one of the wonderful things about the Spirit of Truth. Here we do not have to pretend, or make excuses, or try to hide any ugliness. Just as men and women found themselves at peace in the presence of Jesus of Nazareth, so we too find ourselves at peace in the presence of the Spirit of Truth.

The Spirit also sharpens our perceptions of life, and at times alerts us to dangers or opens our eyes to new opportunities for living authentic lives. Traditionally the church used the word “convict” to describe this ministry of the Spirit of Truth. The Spirit convicts us; that is, convinces us of wrongs to be righted, neighbours to be helped, enemies to be forgiven, apologies to be made, achievements in others to be gladly applauded.

Please do not confuse this work of the Spirit of Truth with your conscience. Conscience is a handy, but very fallible tool. Conscience is a construct of the values of parents, teachers, friends, pastors, Sunday School, books that deeply influence us, and saints who profoundly inspire us. But sometimes our conscience is also corrupted from some of these same sources.

To trust the Spirit of Truth may mean enduring the pain of having conscience reshaped, and that can be a painful business indeed. Most of us do not like change; especially not the change of deep down parts of our beings with which we are familiar and comfortable.

The Spirit of Truth is the Counsellor who, like a barrister conducting a fierce cross examination, can make us face things that we thought were good, but we now begin to see are distortions of the best that God wishes for us. Celtic Christians chose the wild goose as a symbol representing the Holy Spirit.  A wild goose is one noisy, bothersome bird.  I like this image of the Holy Spirit as a wild goose, because it jars us out of our complacency.

Truth, God’s truth, is no kinder, but no tougher than the Jesus whose life we admire and praise and love. There is laughter in God’s truth. There is compassion in God’s truth. There is judgement in God’s truth. There is grace in God’s truth. There is a cross in God’s truth. There are wounds in God’s truth. There is resurrection joy in God’s truth.

Around us in this twenty-first century, there is a mass of lies and deceits; like smog over a large city on a still autumn day, infiltrating our offices, our homes and our lungs. There are a few, maybe more than a few, deceits within each of us. Some of them are the same lies and deceits that had Jesus hounded, abused and slaughtered. But in the midst of all this the Counsellor, the Spirit of Truth, will be personally with and within the friends of Jesus, determined to set us free from all falsity.

In a two weeks we will celebrate Pentecost, that great eruption of the Spirit of Truth in the young church. Why not, in this two weeks, make it your prayer and discipline to empty out some of the junk in your being and make more room; more room for more of what you already have but can have in larger fullness..

By the way, if you have more it will show itself in more love for others, for love is the only infallible sign of the presence of the Spirit of Truth.

HYM N 499 AHB  “Once to Every Man and Nation” (click here to listen)

or, if you would rather hear a more majestic, though much slower version by the London Philharmonic, click here.

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS

Today there are many spaces in these prayers in which you are invited to insert your private love and concern for others. For this reason, there is no audio file for this section.

Let us pray for those who are confused by life, and fear there is no Spirit of truth anywhere.

Let us pray for those who are too cocksure, who think they hold the truth without error.

Let us pray for those cowered by oppression & suffering, who fear that despair is the truth.

Let us pray for the severely handicapped, who are angry with whatever truth is responsible.

Let us pray for the very healthy and proud, who imagine that all the truth favours the strong.

Let us pray for the dying and those who love them, who fear that death is the ultimate truth.

Let us pray for those who nurse the new born, who today intuitively know that truth is love.

Let us pray for those who today find faith in Christ, and eagerly want to be led into all truth.

Holy Friend, pervade us with your living Truth, making us more at peace with ourselves and more understanding of others. Please give us a deeper insight into, and concern for, those who seem shallow, course or utterly selfish. Make us patient with all who easily irritate us, but firm with those who try to manipulate us.  Teach us how to live loyally, lovingly, wisely, courageously and with abundant good humour.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray, “Our Father….”

LORD’S PRAYER

HYMN 624 “Christ Be My Leader by Night as by Day” (click here to listen) 

WORD OF MISSION

L: Let us embrace the wonder of this week with expectation and imagination.  There is hope! Our God is a God of life, and the power of the God’s Spirit permeates all creation.

R: To live according to the Spirit is to acknowledge its presentness in all creation.

BENEDICTION

May the blessings of the Holy One be upon us and upon this congregation. May the memories we gathered here give us hope for the future. May the love we have shared bring strength and joy to our hearts, and the peace of this community be with us until we meet again. Amen.

 

An open, virtual door to the world