Armadale Uniting Church: Order of Service

Prepared by Karel Reus

Sunday at 9:30, January 10, 2021

The First Sunday after Epiphany

And God saw that it was good

 

We gather to worship God

Call to Worship

God of glory,
you nourish us with your Word
who is the bread of life:
fill us with your Holy Spirit
that through us the light of your glory
may shine in all the world.
We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sursum Corda (Lift up your hearts)

The Lord be with you
and also with you.
Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God.
It is right to give thanks and praise.

Hymn

TIS 276
There’s a light upon the mountain…
To be sung privately.

There’s a light upon the mountains,
  and the day is at the spring,
When our eyes shall see the beauty
  and the glory of the King;
Weary was our heart with waiting, and
  the night-watch seemed so long,
But His triumph-day is breaking, and
  we hail it with a song

There’s a hush of expectation, and
  a quiet in the air;
And the breath of God is moving in
  the fervent breath of prayer;
For the suffering, dying Jesus is the
  Christ upon the throne,
And the travail of our spirit is the
  travail of His own.

Hark! we hear a distant music, and
  it comes with fuller swell;
’Tis the triumph song of Jesus, of
  our King Emmanuel;
Zion, go ye forth to meet Him,
  and my soul, be swift to bring
All thy sweetest and thy dearest for
  the triumph of our King.

Prayer of adoration and confession

Lord, help us be partners in your creation;
not just bystanders,
nor just cheerleaders
but partners.
Let us sense within us
the indwelling and upwelling
of the Spirit that makes all things new
and makes old things shine again.
Cultivate in us a sense of awe;
and a gratitude too great for words
and a hope sustained by wonder
and a love for creatures great and small.
Give us each day
renewed appreciation
for the complexity of our life-world
and our responsibility in it.
In this newest of years
may we grow in dignity;
may we cultivate humility;
may we understand our role and place.
And should we not live up to the highest standards;
not reach out to neighbours far enough;
let ourselves and others down;
say things best left unsaid,
judge in haste;
condemn in anger;
prefer prejudice to understanding;
destroy instead of build;
make war instead of peace;
talk at, rather than talk with;
disdain rather than admire;
criticise when encouragement is called for -
then grant us your promised new start
again and again
without end,
we pray.

Assurance of Forgiveness

Merciful Lord,
grant to your faithful people pardon and peace,
that they may be cleansed from all their sins,
and serve you with a quiet mind;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Readings

Reading 1: Acts 19:1-7

Paul in Ephesus

19While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the inland regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. 2He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ 3Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism.’ 4Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’ 5On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied— 7altogether there were about twelve of them.

Reading 2: Mark 1:4-11

4John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7He 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. 8I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.’

The Baptism of Jesus

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

Hymn

TIS 627
Praise and thanksgiving… Tune: Bunessan
To be sung privately.

Praise and thanksgiving,
Father, we offer,
For all things living
You have made good;
Harvest of sown fields,
Fruits of the orchard,
Hay from the mown fields,
blossom and wood.

Lord, bless the labour
We bring to serve you,
That with our neighbour
we may be fed.
Sowing or tilling,
We would work with you;
Harvesting, milling,
For daily bread.


Father, providing
Food for your children,
Your wisdom guiding
Teaches us share
One with another,
So that, rejoicing
With us, our brother
May know your care.

Then will your blessing
Reach every people;
Each one confessing
Your gracious hand.
When you are reigning
No one will hunger:
Your love sustaining
Fruitful the land

Reflection

Reading 3: Genesis 1:1-19

Six Days of Creation and the Sabbath

1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

6 And God said, ‘Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ 7So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome from the waters that were above the dome. And it was so. 8God called the dome Sky. And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9 And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. 12The earth brought forth vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the dome of the sky to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, 15and let them be lights in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so. 16God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth, 18to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

My adventures with Genesis

I have had a long love affair with the first chapter of Genesis. It started when I heard for the first time the reading of this chapter by Sir Laurence Olivier (see the link below). This has since been a model for me as to how scripture should be read. It also imprinted on my mind the glorious poetics of this first chapter of the Bible. One cannot but stand in awe before this account of creation. It is little wonder that both Jews and Christians have clung to this book as something sacred and God-given. It is little wonder that so many of us, carried away by the majesty of it all, have wanted to assert, as an article of faith, that this is how it all happened – really and truly.

Sir Laurence Olivier reads Genesis

https://youtu.be/Wj4PEmOD2I4

My second serious brush with the first chapter of Genesis was forced upon me. At the age of 26, married with two children, with a mortgage and a good job, I had candidated for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church and had been accepted on condition that I finish High School and then follow that with a university degree. (I had left home and school at the age of 14), So I needed to satisfy the conditions for the Adult Matriculation in order to get into university. To satisfy the language requirement, I elected to study Hebrew in the evenings at The University of Melbourne. The main text set for study was Genesis. I remember the teacher, a Dr Murtonen, big beard, hat, thick accent. It was rumoured that the good doctor spoke some twelve languages – and English was not one of them. The course was a real trial for me. I never even remotely mastered the language and, to pass the exam, I was forced to memorise large slabs of the text. Fortunately Hebrew lends itself to memorisation. I can still recite parts of it from memory. If you want to hear what it sounds like follow the link below.

Genesis read in Hebrew

https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnNXzYjQerJgxhfYI-RR3Y100heeeqEkT

Of course, the debate over the historicity of the Genesis account of the creation goes on. I’ve never been able to get very excited about that. People do, of course. Particularly those with a leaning towards fundamentalism, who want the scriptures to mean what they say, and only what they say.

In one of his books (We Make the Road by Walking) the theologian Brian D. McLaren says:

Genesis means “beginnings.” It speaks through deep, multilayered poetry and wild, ancient stories. The poetry and stories of Genesis reveal deep truths that can help us be more fully alive today. They dare to proclaim that the universe is God’s self-expression, God’s speech act. That means that everything everywhere is always essentially holy, spiritual, valuable, meaningful. All matter matters.

To say what McLaren says does not require a commitment to a three-layer universe – for that is what the authors of Genesis had in mind: water below, water above, and in between everything else. What is required of us is to focus on deep meaning, because it is deep meaning that Genesis lays out before us.

I have long wondered what a similarly poetic version of “the beginning” might look like if it were to take seriously what we now know of the beginning of everything. Does our “science” preclude an awareness of deep meaning? I searched high and low, and could not find such a contemporary and yet meaning-full account. So, I got out my trusty iPad and tried to set out what amounts to a meaning-charged account of the “Big Bang” and beyond.

A New Genesis

© Karel Reus, January 2021

Before the beginning began
there was nothing;
not just absence
(for there was nothing to be absent from)
and there was neither time nor place;
no when, no was, no where, no sound -
and there were no questions.
And then there was light
and in the light was stuff
and stuff begat more stuff
and the stuff spread ever wider
and obeyed rules
so that one event followed predictably upon another.
In the chaos was order
and light and time -
but no eyes saw it
and no mind wondered why.
And then there was life
and at a point in time
a collection of cells
converting light to energy
got together
and became conscious
and became aware of self
and thought “I AM”.
And self-centred life was driven by an urge
to SURVIVE.
And then there was WE
and WE became US
and together made more rules
and discovered logic
and exercised imagination
and exerted power over everything
without asking why.
And WE invented gods
and formed them in our own image
and WE posed to them the question “Why”
and abdicated responsibility
for the answers.
And WE lost the sense of US-ness
and became an I
and I became the measure of all things
and answered lots of questions
before they were even asked.
Then came new light
showing a way to re-shouldered responsibility
and US-ness writ large
and WE were drawn to this light
as moths to a flame.
And the flame was LOVE
and LOVE was dangerous
because it was illogical
and because it hurt
and threatened survival -
but it generated MEANING
and re-shaped life.

Of course, this exercise in what we may call “Theopoetics” is far from perfect. “Where is God?”, one might ask, and where does it say that this creation was good?

The Biblical Genesis was mostly concerned with the earth. A new Genesis must necessarily have wider – universe-wide concerns. We have not yet worked out what pre-existed the Big Bang. We just don’t know. We are left guessing. Some people assert that it was God, but that begs a whole lot of questions. And is this God of the Big Bang anything like the Christian God? Can you talk to “him”? Can/will “he” forgive our sins? Does this God have a continuing working interest in “his” creation? Did he have a son? Does he love? Did he create theologians so that these questions are posed and revisited again and again?

These questions remain important, no matter what account the origins of the universe and everything we propose. They won’t be answered or resolved in a few chapters of a short book, nor will enigmatic versifying provide ultimate answers – but they might help. The important thing is to keep asking the big questions: questions that have to do with meaning.

The great theologian Paul Tillich, early last century, proposed that God is the very ground of our being. Our being is the great miracle of the cosmos. If this is so, then we need to ask what are the implications of that. We need to live as if our very being-ness is precious, along with the being-ness of all of creation. How we came to be is a question for science to pursue; that we came to be is a matter for endless wonder.

To be responsibly is the ultimate goal.

and God saw that it was good.
So may it be…

A brief period of response

Prayer of intercession:

One and only God; God of no thing, God of the Cosmos with its myriad parallel universes; God who exists beyond the limits of time and space - eternal, infinite, indescribable, undefinable, omnipresent; God in all things; God within me. In the conscious biological phase of our existence evolution has gifted us the capacity through prayer, meditation and contemplation to choose to communicate and develop a relationship with the part of you that is in us, and because of the connectedness of all things find you in others and the whole of creation. On this Epiphany Sunday may we have a revelation, a realization that in Jesus we have an exemplar of how by living in harmony with the limitations of the temporal conditions on Planet earth and with you as its creator we achieve fulfillment and we can drive back the darkness of human error, misery and evil.

And so -:

Where people are lost and jaded in contemporary consumerism,
Where addiction to alcohol, other drugs, and gambling is causing ruin,
Where dictators rule without mercy or wisdom,
Where democracies are manipulated by the rich and powerful, or attacked by violent mobs
Where youth see no prospect in the future and so contemplate suicide,
Where the long-term unemployed exist without hope,
Where the church dodges its evangelical mission,
Where the church evades its social and political responsibility,
Where the terminally ill face death fearfully,
Where people without purpose face life despairingly,
Where people live in fear of the effects of the covid-19 virus on their health and economic well-being
Where selfish and irresponsible people actively flout public health directives
 Where disadvantaged, disabled and minority groups are discriminated against

We seek to have the scales of prejudice, apathy or indifference removed from our sight, that we may increasingly become aware of the neglected and abused people, and increase our efforts to do what we can through love, respect, compassion, gratefulness, forgiveness, seeking justice, equity and truth, by being good stewards of the abundance of creation and protection of the vital systems that maintain our fragile environment.

We give thanks for the people in our parish, for the ministry and leadership of Fiona and our Church Council, and we look forward to next week when we resume worship activities in the parish church. Guide us to serve those in need and uphold them in their faith.

We summarize all these petitions in the prayer Jesus taught us..

The Lord’s Prayer

Hymn

TIS 626
Lord of creation to you be all praise… Tune: Slane

Lord of creation, to you be all praise!
Most might your working,
most wondrous your ways!
Your glory and might are beyond us to tell,
And yet in the heart
of the humble you dwell.

Lord of all power, I give you my will,
In joyful obedience your tasks to fulfil.
Your bondage is freedom;
your service is song;
And, held in your keeping,
my weakness is strong.

Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
Rich truth that surpasses
my knowledge to find;
What eye has not seen
and what ear has not heard
Is taught by your Spirit
and shines from your word.

Lord of the bounty, I give you my heart;
I praise and adore you for all you impart,
Your love to inspire me,
your counsel to guide,
Your presence to shield me,
whatever betide.

Lord of all being, I give you my all;
If e’er I disown you, I stumble and fall;
But, led in your service your word to obey.
I’ll walk in your freedom
to the end of the way.

Blessing

God to enfold us,
God to surround us,
God in our speaking,
God in our thinking.

God in our sleeping,
God in our waking,
God in our watching,
God in our hoping.

God in our life,
God on our lips,
God in our soul,
God in our heart.

God in our sufficing,
God in our slumber,
God in our ever-living souls,
God in our eternity.