Ordinary Sunday 13B (27-06-2021)

The following service was streamed live via Zoom  on June 27th at 10:30am.

The entire text for the service is printed below for home use by those who are not ready to return to public gatherings or who are otherwise not able to be at church on the day.   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.

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CALL TO CELEBRATION

L: Let us worship God!
R: Let us celebrate life!

LIGHTING THE CANDLE   (The Christ candle is lit)

We light this flame to affirm that new truth is ever waiting to break through to illumine our minds.  May we be always open to the rich possibilities such an experience brings us.

SONG – “Starman” (click here to listen) 

This might be seen as a rather unusual song for a worship service, but David Bowie sings of a yearning for, ,,,what?… the kingdom of God perhaps.  It’s waiting for those who let go and fly, “So let the children loose…”

OPENING SENTENCES

L: Life rises in our midst:

R: sometimes hard-won life.

L: It surprises us when it blossoms forth at unexpected times:

R: and in unexpected places.

L: It comes with power stronger than death:

R: life born of faithfulness, life born of courage, life born of God. Thanks be to God. 

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Universal Being-Becoming, may we learn how to open ourselves to awareness of your Ever Presentness, and to accord all our doings to your evolving character. Amen.

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation   “Unwrap the Gifts” by Fra Giovani (1513) The gloom of the world is but a shadow.  Behind it, yet within reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in the darkness, could we but see, and to see, we only have to look.   I beseech you to look. Life is a generous giver, but we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendour, woven of love by a wisdom with power. Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty:   believe me, the gift is there, and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Our joys, too:  be not content with them as joys.They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

     Silence

Let us now commit ourselves to pause in silence, to rest for a moment, to enter a time of peaceful reflection. Let us allow this space, this place, to offer its care to us, restful in its quiet, away from the busyness of our everyday life. 

(30 seconds silence)

WE REFLECT UPON OUR RELATIONSHIPS

If you, holy God, should keep tally of our sins, who can stand? But there is unlimited forgiveness in you that you may be worshipped.

Great God, just and gracious, have mercy on us; forgive the injustices to which we are party, both the wilful ones and those committed in ignorance.

Great God, truthful and gracious, forgive the deceits we personally practice and those communal lies in which we participate without protest.

Great God, patient and gracious, forgive our impatience and irritability, the unreal expectations we put on others and the petulant excuses made for ourselves.

Great God, generous and gracious, forgive our miserly ways and the occasions when we resent the demands made on our time, money, energy and goodwill.

Great God, inclusive and gracious, forgive our proud exclusive habits, and have mercy on us if we perversely exclude ourselves from knowing your free grace.

Great God, by the saving grace of Christ Jesus, cleanse us from sins, support us in the hour of temptation, deliver us from evil, and lead us in your ways of light, love and laughter. For your name’s sake. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L:  O People of God ! Put all your hope in God! For with God there is steadfast love, in the Holy One is plentiful redemption. God will redeem the people from all their sins. and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened for us.

R: Thanks be to God!

HYMN   “I Love to Tell the Story” (click here to listen)

FROM THE GOSPELS – Mark 4:26-32

26 And he said, “The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, 27 and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. 29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

30 And he said, “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? 31 It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – 2 Sam.1:1,17-27 

Now it came to pass after the death of Saul, when David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites, and David had stayed two days in Ziklag.

17 Then David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son, 18 and he told them to teach the children of Judah the Song of the Bow; indeed it is written in the Book of Jasher:
19
“The beauty of Israel is slain on your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
20
Tell it not in Gath,
Proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon—
Lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
Lest the daughters of the uncircumcised triumph.
21
“O mountains of Gilboa,
Let there be no dew nor rain upon you,
Nor fields of offerings.
For the shield of the mighty is cast away there!
The shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.
22
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty,
The bow of Jonathan did not turn back,
And the sword of Saul did not return empty.
23
“Saul and Jonathan were beloved and pleasant in their lives,
And in their death they were not divided;
They were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
24
“O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
Who clothed you in scarlet, with luxury;
Who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
25
“How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan was slain in your high places.
26
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
You have been very pleasant to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Surpassing the love of women.
27
“How the mighty have fallen,
And the weapons of war perished!”

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS   – “On Eagles Wings”    

     Part 1

“…they were swifter than eagles…”(2 Sam.1:23)  

The image of the eagle arose from a fascination of the ancient Hebrews with this powerful bird.  The writer of Proverbs relates: “Three things are too wonderful for me;” and then goes on to list as the first one,  “the way of an eagle in the sky.”  

In eleven books of the Bible the eagle is mentioned, and furnishes writers with images of speed, power, inaccessibility, longevity, and nobility.  The eagle’s association with deity was common in the ancient world, and in Revelation one of the four living creatures surrounding God’s throne is said to be like a flying eagle.

It is hardly surprising; humanity has always been attracted by the notion of leaving behind the earth to which it is tied, and escaping into the heavens.  The eagle is a symbol for freedom from the captivity to mortality; it represents one who lives in God’s domain.

In the lament of David for his friend, Jonathon, we find a contrast between the mighty who have fallen, but who were swifter than eagles; of those who for a time flew with God, but who come in time to meet the same fate that faces all human beings despite, or perhaps even because of, their might.

In the gospel of Mark we read of another contrast.  Instead of men who become mighty and yet fall, we read of the tiniest seed which grows quite apart from human activity into the greatest of shrubs.  The works of humanity do not compare with the works of God.  The former, no matter how great, are always limited by the death which must come to all that is human.  The latter, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant, will grow regardless of human involvement.

And yet, in these two sets of contrasts, there is a connection between humanity and God.  Jesus’ proclamation of the Kingdom is a message of hope for humanity, which is not limited by human frailty, but based upon the work of God.  The yearning of humanity to escape its bonds opens us to Jesus’ message, and puts us in touch with the possibility for  limitless freedom offered by God.  Flying with the eagle is an image which helps us capture that yearning.  

Richard Bach is a contemporary writer who has written several books on the mystique of flying, but is better known for his novels, Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Illusions, both of which drew heavily upon the joy of flight to convey the human yearning for God’s kingdom.  Like David’s Johnathan, Bach’s Jonathan (Jonathan Livingston Seagull, that is) was swift like an eagle, except that he was, of course, only a seagull.  But he was a seagull who yearned to be more: to not just fly, but to really Fly with a capital “F.”  As he found out to his dismay, other seagulls only fly in order to eat; so Jonathan didn’t fit in, because he was a seagull who ate in order to fly. 

Those of you who have flown may know the feelings which have been expressed so poetically by so many people.  Even people who would hardly consider themselves writers have been moved to express the experience of flying in words that could have been written by the angels.   Beryl Markham, one of the pioneer women of aviation, was the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east to west.  Later she wrote a book about her life entitled, West With the Night.  Earnest Hemingway once told an audience, “Beryl has written so well that I was completely ashamed of myself as a writer.”  Hers is writing that one might call inspired; that is, writing which is sourced in the spirit. This passage is a reflection at the end of her 21 hours alone over the Atlantic.  

“There is a feeling of absolute finality about the end of a flight through darkness.  The whole scheme of things with which you have lived acutely, during hours of roaring sound in an element altogether detached from the world, eases abruptly.  The plane noses groundward, the wings strain to the firm cushion of earthbound air, wheels touch, and the engine sighs into silence.  The dream of flight is suddenly gone before the mundane realities of growing grass and swirling dust, the slow plodding of men and the enduring patience of rooted trees.  Freedom escapes you again, and wings that were a moment ago no less than an eagle’s, and swifter, are metal and wood once more, inert and heavy.”

In this passage, the reader hears the sweet sorrow of a woman who has left the bonds of earth and entered the domain of God, and who now must return to earthly reality and face ultimate death.  But for one who has flown – and I use the word in its allegorical sense – like Beryl Markham, facing reality and death takes on a new purpose, for she has glimpsed her destiny.   Earthbound life has taken on a new meaning for it becomes connected to the life and purpose of God.

     Part 2

John Gillespie Magee, Jr., a 19-year-old fighter pilot serving in WWII, composed the following while flying over England.  It conveys sentiments similar to Beryl Markham.

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of – wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
Hov’ring there, I’ve chased the shouting wind along,
and flung My eager craft through footless halls of air.

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue,
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark, nor even eagle flew –
And while, with silent lifting mind, I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand and touched the face of God.

Magee died shortly after he wrote it, but one gets the impression that his death was an anti-climax, for he had already, in his words, touched the face of God.

But for all of those who have taken to the air, either literally or figuratively, there are also those who have striven to build their kingdom on the ground, those who are classed among the mighty like Saul and Jonathan, as well as lesser mortals – but who have never ‘flown’.  God’s kingdom developed and grew as they were ‘sleeping’, as the parable says, but they did not, or did know how to, accept the gift at harvest time.

George Clemenceau, French statesman and prime minister, was loathe to fly and, given what was available to fly in the primitive days of aviation, one can hardly blame him.  Before one flight he was heard to admonish the pilot, “Fly very cautiously, very slow and very low.”  I tell this story not to comment on the fear of flying in an airplane, but the fear of flying to God.  Some have been known to fly spiritually on those same constraints: more like a turkey than an eagle – low and slow.

Fear causes us to hold on to what we know, to stay planted in the earth, and this will always be a limiting factor.  Sportsmen know the difference between the athletic performance that comes when they are solely in control, compared to the added performance that comes, as if by grace, when they are able to let go and enter another level of reality.  

Bill Russell, one of the all-time greats of basketball called this rare experience, “flying free.”  He wrote: 

“Every so often a game would heat up so that it became more than a physical or even mental game…At that special level, all sorts of odd things happened.  The game could be in a white heat of competition, and yet somehow I wouldn’t feel competitive…The game would move so quickly that every fake, cut  and pass would be surprising, yet nothing could surprise me.  I always felt then that I not only knew my teammates by heart, but also all the opposing players, and that they all knew me. On the few occasions when the game ended at that special level, I did not care who had won.  If we lost, I’d still be free as a skyhawk.”

The image of the eagle is for us today a metaphor for the experience of flying with God; of experiencing, in the here and now, our destiny.  Yet the parables in today’s reading tell us with no uncertainty that we do not control this experience, nor any experience of God’s kingdom.  It happens without human assistance or knowledge, and hence is unrelated to all our attempts to create the kingdom ourselves.The parables of Jesus are addressed to all who would try to construct a life, including their religious life, in order to secure for themselves those things that characterise God’s kingdom: peace, joy, love, hope, acceptance, and whatever else salvation means to them.  Jesus reminds us that the kingdom grows unseen, underground, while we sleep; from small things that seem insignificant.  Reality is not as it seems.  Without any help from human beings it comes to maturity, waiting to be harvested by those who have eyes to see it; by those who can let go in order to join it.

The mighty fall, and always will, but those who are willing to let go the reins of their lives, and be part of this divine growth process, will fly and touch the face of God.  Sure, they must come back down to earth, but life is never again mundane, for it is viewed through eyes which have seen God, and those lives will grow with the kingdom knowing themselves to be  part of God’s purpose.

HYMN 48  – “On Eagles Wings”(click here to listen) 

OFFERING OUR JOYS AND CONCERNS TO GOD

God our holy Friend, let us share some of your love for the world. While we are here praying for the world’s healing, others are busy implementing that healing. Later, when we are out there trying to give of our best, may others remember to pray for us.

Give your grace to all peacemakers; those who endeavour to resolve with justice all conflicts between nations, and within communities, commerce and industry, parliaments, families, marriage partners, colleagues, and friends.

Let your grace support those who fight with and for neglected people; those small ethnic groups with no political clout, the little people who are being ripped off by the rich and powerful, and the deserted wives or husbands who are raising a family alone.

Endow the merciful folk with your sustaining grace; those who treat diseases, bind up wounds, feed the hungry, re-settle the homeless, care for the orphan, visit the prisoner, encourage the handicapped, watch with the dying and grieve with the sorrowful.

Endorse the work of this church with your enabling grace. Keep it close to the agenda of Christ. Let us be joyful in worship, warm in fellowship, inclusive in outreach, open in decision making, humble and sensitive in evangelism, and gracious in our ecumenical endeavours.

Bless any servant of yours who is keeping the faith against the odds: those without the encouragement of other Christians at hand, or without even a distant congregation that can pray their names with affection. Please let your grace renew them daily, and may they know your Spirit as Friend and Counsellor.

Visit each of us with your grace, loving Friend. Dismantle our fears, build up our faith, deepen our love, clarify our goals, sharpen our insight, widen our compassion, and open our minds to the new words you wish to speak to our situation. In the spirit of the prayer Jesus taught us, we 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.

HYMN 604 – “Make Me a Captive, Lord” (click here to listen)

WORDS OF MISSION

L: The presentness of God reaches beyond this place…(Extinguish the Christ Candle)…We extinguish this flame, a mere wisp of matter in process.  Yet our civilisation has harnessed the power of such a flame to drive and shape a new world. 

R: So may it be with the power of our thoughts and our deeds.  That in truth and love they may drive and shape a  re-imagined world.

BENEDICTION

God’s blessing be yours and well may it keep you.
Christ’s blessing be yours and well may it heal you.
Spirit’s blessing be yours and well may it warm you,
now and ever more.Amen! 

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