Universal God

17 May 2020 by Loraine H (Service) Bruce H (Sermon) in: Online Services

 

Before you begin today's service, watch this video (click on the image) to focus on the space of worship of our creator God.

 

Acknowledgment of Country

 

We begin our worship service, each in our own homes on Darawal country. Let us acknowledge the first nations peoples who have lived here for 60,000 years, who sang songs and danced, who created art and who had a just and fair legal system before Europeans arrived. We give thanks and appreciate their knowledge and care for this country and for the environment. We acknowledge their love, support and strong relationships they have within their family, We acknowledge and respect their spirituality inherent in their way of life. We acknowledge the elders, past and present.

 

Lighting a Candle in your Place

In a world of darkness, we cannot see our neighbour’s face

Light shatters the darkness and invites us into community

A world without light, is a world enveloped in fear.

Light has come in Christ Jesus, the light of the world!

 

Call to Worship (from Bruce Prewer)

  

Because of the living Lord Jesus,

we can confidently say:

We are never alone,

for the Counsellor, the Spirit of truth,

is with us forever.

 

Bidden or unbidden, God is always present.

As the sea is to the fish, 

as the air is to the bird,

so is God to all who live by faith, hope and love...

 

Blessed is our God, who has never rejected our prayer,

nor ever removed from us the love that endures forever.

Bidden or unbidden, God is present.

Prayer of Approach (from Bruce Prewer)

 

Loving God, by your Spirit lace streamers of holy joy through this time of worship, that we may be able to offer you something far brighter than duty and much livelier than religious solemnity. Let us worship you with love and love you with our worship. Through Christ Jesus our ever-living inspiration.

Amen!

Confession and Assurance

 

My friends, we come to God with prayers of confession, not to rake up added guilt and self hatred, but to become repentant and re-embrace the new life which God offers us through Jesus. 

 

Let us pray. (from Bruce Prewer)

 

When our faith becomes shaky and we fall into a deep trough of doubts and anxieties, Lord have mercy.

Lord have mercy and rescue us all.

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

Christ have mercy and rescue us all.

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

Lord have mercy and heal us all...

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.

Christ have mercy and heal us all

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

 

A prayer from Leunig

Dear God,

We pray for another way of being:
another way of knowing.

Across the difficult terrain of our existence
we have attempted to build a highway
and in so doing have lost our footpath.
God lead us to our footpath:
Lead us there where in simplicity
we may move at the speed of natural creatures
and feel the earth's love beneath our feet.
Lead us there where step-by-step we may feel
the movement of creation in our hearts.
And lead us there where side-by-side
we may feel the embrace of the common soul.
Nothing can be loved at speed.

God lead us to the slow path; to the joyous insights
of the pilgrim; another way of knowing: another way of being.

Amen.

 

Forgiveness

 

It is true!  “Where sin flourishes the redeeming grace of God flourishes all the more.” We are a forgiven and reclaimed people.

Thanks be to God.

 

Hymn 1. Joyful Joyful we adore thee

1 Joyful, joyful, we adore You,
God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow'rs before You,
Op'ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness;
Drive the dark of doubt away;
Giver of immortal gladness,
Fill us with the light of day!

2 All Your works with joy surround You,
Earth and heav'n reflect Your rays,
Stars and angels sing around You,
Center of unbroken praise;
Field and forest, vale and mountain,
Flow'ry meadow, flashing sea,
Chanting bird and flowing fountain
Praising You eternally!

3 Always giving and forgiving,
Ever blessing, ever blest,
Well-spring of the joy of living,
Ocean-depth of happy rest!
Loving Father, Christ our Brother,
Let Your light upon us shine;
Teach us how to love each other,
Lift us to the joy divine.

4 Mortals, join the mighty chorus,
Which the morning stars began;
God's own love is reigning o’er us,
Joining people hand in hand.
Ever singing, march we onward,
Victors in the midst of strife;
Joyful music leads us sunward
In the triumph song of life.

 

Bible readings

Acts 17:22-31  (Good News Translation)

22 Paul stood up in front of the city council and said, “I see that in every way you Athenians are very religious.

23 For as I walked through your city and looked at the places where you worship, I found an altar on which is written, ‘To an Unknown God.’ That which you worship, then, even though you do not know it, is what I now proclaim to you.

24 God, who made the world and everything in it, is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples made by human hands.

25 Nor does he need anything that we can supply by working for him, since it is he himself who gives life and breath and everything else to everyone.

26 From one human being he created all races of people and made them live throughout the whole earth. He himself fixed beforehand the exact times and the limits of the places where they would live.

27 He did this so that they would look for him, and perhaps find him as they felt around for him. Yet God is actually not far from any one of us;

28 as someone has said,

 

‘In him we live and move and exist.’
It is as some of your poets have said,
‘We too are his children.’

 

29 Since we are God's children, we should not suppose that his nature is anything like an image of gold or silver or stone, shaped by human art and skill.

30 God has overlooked the times when people did not know him, but now he commands all of them everywhere to turn away from their evil ways.

31 For he has fixed a day in which he will judge the whole world with justice by means of a man he has chosen. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising that man from death!”

 

 

John 14:15-21 (Good News Translation)

 

15 “If you love me, you will obey my commandments.

16 I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, who will stay with you forever. 17 He is the Spirit, who reveals the truth about God. The world cannot receive him, because it cannot see him or know him. But you know him, because he remains with you and is[a] in you.

18 “When I go, you will not be left all alone; I will come back to you.

19 In a little while the world will see me no more, but you will see me; and because I live, you also will live.

20 When that day comes, you will know that I am in my Father and that you are in me, just as I am in you.

21 “Those who accept my commandments and obey them are the ones who love me. My Father will love those who love me; I too will love them and reveal myself to them.”

 

 

Sermon

 

Ba Methodist High School (Fiji), 1970.  A Science teacher is a turban-wearing member of the Sikh faith.  One day while in the office where materials for worship and teaching are typed and photocopied he comes across a Methodist hymn book, and browses through it.  He brings it to another member of staff to point out with delight a hymn whose words speak deeply to him.  It resonates with his own spirituality, his own faith in God.

Although that man did not decide to convert to call himself a Christian, he knew that faith in God as known through Jesus was the foundation of the service the school offered.  Some years later he became the principal of the school.  As far as I know he continued to practise the Sikh religion while still respecting and supporting the work of the school.

In the book of Acts, Luke tells of the apostle Paul coming to the Greek capital, Athens, filled with enthusiasm to share his knowledge of Jesus.  But he doesn’t come at it like the proverbial bull at a gate:  In fact his approach probably would have pleased the apostle Peter:  In the extract we heard from Peter’s letter, he said that when we are given the opportunity to speak about our faith, we should do so readily and with gentleness and respect.  Thus Paul begins by affirming the Athenians for their keen interest in religion.  He quotes two of their own respected poets.  He doesn’t say that their religions are all rubbish, he links his message directly to things he has observed in their own religious practice. 

He had found a shrine in the city dedicated to “an unknown god”, and so he begins by suggesting that the faith he is there to preach is not something strange and new, but rather it is the missing knowledge of a faith that is already within their experience.  Yes, he says, you are so right, and I want to tell you what I know of this unknown god.

What do you know of the values, spiritual or otherwise, of people that you meet day by day?

Paul focuses on the Athenians’ open-ness to the idea that there is a deeper spirituality than they have experienced so far.  This god you’re reaching out to (he says) – creator of the world, giver of life – is close to all of us.  Somehow there is in all of us a reaching out to find God, and yet God is there, an integral part of our life experience even when we don’t realise it.  Some Greek poets depict us all as children of God, and in God “we live and move and have our being”.  In using those quotes, Paul is saying that no one, regardless of what they might or might not believe, is entirely cut off from God and removed from the influence of God.  To live, to move, to be; all is surrounded by God and underpinned by God.  A person’s ability to walk across the room is as dependent on God as it is dependent on the oxygen that they breathe.  Indeed Paul specifically says that although God wants to be sought out by us, God is not far from anyone and is within reach of everyone.

What signs of God’s presence do you observe in the world around us that would speak to you even if you had never heard about Jesus?

God as Creator is all around us, yet still (Paul implies) we make these shrines, these altars, symbols of our faith, but the Creator doesn’t really need them!  Paul is bold enough to say that God has tolerated idolatry among people who knew of no alternative.  But now, time for us to be weaned off idols, and in Jesus we have the means for that, a flesh and blood representative of God, with the promise of life that overcomes death!  So Luke tells us finally Paul got to the climax.  He has accepted their interest in religion, maybe we could think of it as recognising their degree of spirituality, and now he offers a challenge to go beyond it and find something more.   – Christ risen from the dead.

Peter and Paul have very different styles from each other.  Indeed, they don’t always agree, but both focus on the dramatic message of resurrection.  Peter challenges believers always to be ready to give an account of your belief – “with gentleness and respect”.  The eternal living Christ is the ultimate inspiration; the risen Christ assures us that his way is victorious; the risen Christ strengthens us even through suffering.

So today’s scriptures remind us that it isn’t our job to take God into the world around us – God is already there, near to any who will reach out for God.  And we are reminded that when our own lives seek to be centred on Jesus Christ, we will be prepared to share the knowledge of that centring, when appropriate, with gentleness and respect.  We will encounter those who are living the way of Christ – helping to support the needy, living the way of forgiveness, working for faithful stewardship of God’s creation, seeking justice not for themselves but for all – and we will stand ready to let them know, with humility and gentleness, that our empowerment depends on the Spirit of the risen Christ.

 

 

Hymn 2:  Lo, I Am with You

Iona Community; Seasons Songbook, vol. 6

 

Lo I am with you to the end of the world

Lo I am with you to the end of the world

Lo I am with you, Lo I am with you

Lo I am with you to the end of the world

 

Lo I am with you when you leave self behind

Lo I am with you when you leave self behind

Lo I am with you, Lo I am with you

Lo I am with you when you leave self behind

 

Lo I am with you when you suffer for love

Lo I am with you when you suffer for love

Lo I am with you Lo I am with you

Lo I am with you when you suffer for love

 

Lo I am with you in the changes of life

Lo I am with you in the changes of life

Lo I am with you Lo I am with you

Lo I am with you in the changes of life

 

Lo I am with you in the darkness of death

Lo I am with you in the darkness of death

Lo I am with you Lo I am with you

Lo I am with you in the darkness of death

 

Lo I am with you to the end of the world

Lo I am with you to the end of the world

Lo I am with you Lo I am with you

Lo I am with you to the end of the world

 

 

Activity

 

  1. Create your own verse to this song by completing the phrase “Lo I am with you… “

 

  1. Humans are very good at worshipping that which looks like us and calling it God – we tend to re-create God in our own image. We’re not quite as good at seeing the image of God in those we consider “other” or “outside.” Seeing and loving are deeply intertwined. When we are truly loved, being seen has the power to create bonds of trust and solidarity that bind us into community.

 

  • What signs of God’s presence do you observe in the world around us that would speak to you even if you had never heard about Jesus?
  • What do you know of the values, spiritual or otherwise, of people that you meet day by day?
  • How might we embody love that sees someone as they are?
  • How might stories of those who seem different, cross boundaries, race, gender, class, orientation?

 

Consider your response to such stories.

 

  • What inspires you? Challenges you? How do stories inform your understanding of what it means to love one another?
  • What role might social media play in crossing boundaries? …In building walls?
  • What helps us to allow our own hearts to grow beyond our individual experiences, towards the God who created us all?
  • Remember what it felt like to be seen and affirmed as your own self. How and where might you pay it forward?

 

  1. This catchy little song puts funky music to the words of Acts 17: 24 – 28a. Great to play and dance with children. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=khwLzxLshP4

 

 

Prayers of the People (from Seasons of the Spirit https://www.seasonsonline.ca/2/what_is_seasons//)

 

Prayer is one thing that helped the disciples sense the Spirit of Jesus was with them.

Let us Pray

 

God of all, we have gathered here to praise and worship you because we have known your power and movement in our lives. We have felt your love surrounding and upholding us.

 

God of mercy, we commit ourselves to be your church together because we know that you will not abandon us or leave us orphaned, but will be our sustainer forever. We commit ourselves to be a community that shows forth your abiding love to those who have felt abandoned by this world. And so we pray this day:

 

for those who are grieving, and seeking a new way forward;

for those who are experiencing housing insecurity, hunger, or food insecurity;

for those with health concerns, mental or physical, that keep them isolated or unable to live into the fullness of who they could be;

for those who have been rejected by their families or communities;

for those who have been blamed or shamed by those who were supposed to give support or accountability;

for those who are living with violence and trauma as part of their daily lives.

Holy God, we know that the hurts of this world are not what you want for us. We know that you are with us, our comfort and consolation, even in hard times. Help us to come alongside each other, as well. Help us to be the tangible presence of your Holy Spirit, the hands and feet of your love in this world. Help us, O God of grace, to love each other as you have loved us.

Amen.

 

Hymn 3:  We are Companions of the Journey

 

Refrain

We are companions on the journey,

breaking bread and sharing life;

and in the love we bear is the hope we share

for we believe in the love of our God,

we believe in the love of our God.

 

 

Verse

No longer strangers to each other,

no longer strangers in God’s house;

we are fed and we are nourished

by the strength of those who care,

by the strength of those who care.

 

Refrain

We are companions on the journey,

breaking bread and sharing life;

and in the love we bear is the hope we share

for we believe in the love of our God,

we believe in the love of our God.

 

(This is a shortened form)

Words and music: Carey Landry © 1985 Carey Landry and North American Liturgy Resources.  https://www.seasonsonline.ca/files/Companions%20on%20the%20Journey.pdf

 

 

Sending and Blessing (from Seasons of the Spirit https://www.seasonsonline.ca/2/what_is_seasons//)

 

Let us go out from this place with our eyes or ears, our hearts wide open to the movement of the Holy swirling around us. Let us go out from here prepared to see our God, even in the most unexpected times and places. Let us remember that God will not leave us, even though we might leave this space.

 

May the love of God, the peace of Christ, and the presence of the Holy Spirit abide with you now, and in all your days. Amen.