Ordinary Sunday 14B (04-7-2021)

The following service was streamed live via Zoom  on July 4th 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.

-oOo-

“We make this space sacred by our resolve to project onto the pathways of tomorrow our best reflections.”                      (Stephen Shick)

CALL TO WORSHIP

L: Let us worship God.

R: Let us celebrate life.

OPENING SENTENCES

L: God, good presence all around us,

R: help us to find and to celebrate the goodness that is given to us in this new day. 

PRAYER OF AWARENESS

Spirit of Life, open us to good ways to celebrate the simple joys of life, so we can contribute some goodness to this new day. Amen. 

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation    “When my mind is still and alone…”

When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I remember many things too easily forgotten: the purity of early love; the maturity of unselfish love that seeks nothing but another’s good; the idealism that has persisted through all the tempest of life. 

When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I can sense my basic humanity, and then I know all men and women are my brothers and sisters. Nothing but my own fear and distrust can separate me from the love of friends. 

When my mind is still and alone with the beating of my heart, I know how much life has given me: the history of the race, friends and family, the opportunity to work, the chance to build myself. Then wells within me the urge to live more abundantly, with greater trust and joy, with more profound seriousness and earnest striving, and yet more calmly at the heart of life. 

     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.
(at least 30 seconds silence)

A PRAYER OF CONFESSION

L: During a few moments silence, let us place ourselves within the light of Christ, examine our hearts and minds, and recognise where we have lost our way and neglected our calling.    (Silent prayer)

If we have been so busy that  we don’t notice the needs of others,  or have resented those who take time to be kind and generous, or have disgraced our faith by becoming self centred: Forgive us, loving God, 

R: and save us from ourselves.

L: If we have been too proud to undertake humble tasks,
or too impatient to do tasks that have no immediate reward, or too stubborn to seek the help of others.Forgive us, loving God, 

R: and save us from ourselves.

L: If we have magnified small wrongs done to us,
or have allowed tiny difficulties to frustrate us,
or have been thick-skinned, inflexible or unteachable. Forgive us, loving God, 

R:and save us from ourselves.(silent prayer) 

THE ASSURANCE

L: My fellow pilgrims on Christ’s narrow road; take heart. God does not have to be persuaded to forgive us; but our pride often holds us back from accepting forgiveness. Please let down your guard, open your mind and heart, repent and accept the Gospel of free grace.

R: In Christ there is grace. In Christ there is peace.
 In Christ there is love and joy.

L: And so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.

R: Thanks be to God!

SCRIPTURE READING – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into Paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. Though if I wish to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I shall be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS   “When God’s Word Gets Thorny”

     Part 1

“…to stop me from getting too proud I was given a thorn in the flesh, an angel of Satan to beat me…”  (2 Cor.12:7)

Last week my sermon was about flying – flying with God – so continuing on the subject of flight: do you know that New Zealand is the home of more species of flightless birds than any other country?  There’s the kiwi, the kakapo, the penguin and the weka rail.   Fossils tell us that these birds had useful wings at one time in their evolution, but lost them by neglecting their use.  The reason??  Because food was always abundant so they didn’t have to travel far to find nourishment and there are no natural predators in New Zealand – no fearsome beasts or reptiles – so there was no danger from which they had to escape.  They had no necessity to fly; now they have no ability to fly.This little tidbit of natural history is a parable.  If Jesus was speaking, he would stop here and trust that it would lead you to realise that, while life is hard, in fact, it is for our own good, it was never meant to be easy.  Paul, on the other hand, would never stop with 100 words when he could use one or two thousand.  Since I am using Paul’s writing this morning,… well stop me when you’ve had enough.

You heard a few moments ago that Paul prayed and prayed to God to take away whatever it was that he called a thorn in his flesh, but to no avail.  Why wouldn’t God remove it?  Jesus prayed with tears of blood the night before his crucifixion that he be spared the ordeal, but the crown of thorns was his to wear.  God did not remove these thorns either.

Why the thorns in the life of Jesus?  in the life of Paul?  And, more to the point, why the thorns in the your life, in my life, in lives in which thorns are part of the daily routine as people suffer famine, oppression, grief, et al.  Why do bad things happen to good people?  

We are left with a thorny problem as we are faced with the inexorable logic of life: there is pain in the world; therefore, God is either powerless to prevent it or God chooses to have it.  We are faced with the nettlesome conclusion that either God is not all-powerful or that the existence of pain in his world is God’s choice.  The logic even allows the possibility that God is both helpless and sadistic.

But where would we be without pain?  We would be like the flightless birds, stripped of our ability to expand on the wings of the Spirit.  The first of the “Four Noble Truths” taught by Buddha was “Life is Suffering.”  It is a called “noble truth” because once we truly know the truth we can transcend it, i.e. we gain life because it enables us to grow beyond where we are.  Anthony de Mello illustrates the value of pain with story – another bird story:

Each day a bird would shelter in the withered branches of a tree that stood in the middle of a vast deserted plain.  One day a whirlwind uprooted the tree, forcing the bird to fly hundreds of miles in search of shelter – till it finally came to a forest of fruit-laden trees.  If the withered  tree had survived the storm, what would have induced the bird to give up its security and fly?

Now I do not believe for a moment that someone up there decides it is time that Bob Thomas had some pain in his life in order to get him out of his rut, and then sends a car accident or an illness or a violent crime to jolt him out of his lethargy.  However, it is very evident that pain has been, from the start, incorporated as part of the on-going process of creation.  Indeed, it is the driver of evolution. This doesn’t mean that one should seek pain, or be grateful for it; indeed there are times when it is appropriate to feel outraged at God for the pain that has dropped upon us.  But the people who get the most out of life are the ones who make best use of the pain in their lives.

     Part 2

A coal-miner’s son in Corbin, Kentucky was the oldest of many children and, with his father working in the mines and his mother having to go outside the home to work in a shirt factory, he was assigned the task of cooking for the family.  For a young, athletically-inclined boy who would much rather be outside playing football, the family’s poverty, and his particular chore, was a real thorn in his side.  But he made the most of it, and got to be quite a good cook, especially in frying chicken.  The young man’s name was Harland Sanders, and you and much of the rest of the world now know what Colonel Harland Sanders did with his Kentucky Fried Chicken.

There is a second, and thornier, aspect to this theology of thorns.  It is relatively easy to understand pain as a means by which we are encouraged to grow.  We may not like it, but we can see the value, the necessity, of pain.  However, this understanding does not extend to an explanation of why some people have such devastating pain in their lives, calamity after calamity, and others have a comparatively smooth ride through life.

Here we are not so much in the realm of theology, but of psychology and sociology.  Yes, life is a series of problems.  That’s God’s fault and we can pray about it, moan about it and rail against it till kingdom come and it won’t change anything, because that is just the way it is.  But we do have the choice to either sit and moan about these problems or to deal positively with them. This is the human choice we have been given to go with the pain.

Life is difficult because confronting and solving problems is painful.  It evokes frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or fear or anguish or despair, none of which is particularly comfortable.  Life calls forth our courage and wisdom to face the pain, and if we dare to face the pain we grow mentally and spiritually.  (Slide) As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt instruct.”  And as M. Scott Peck added, “For this reason a wise person will not dread, but actually accept problems.”

The trouble is that most of us are not so wise.  Fearing the pain, almost all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, attempt to avoid problems.  We procrastinate, hoping they will go away.  We ignore them, forget them, pretend they do not exist.  We take drugs to help us ignore them.  We attempt to skirt around problems rather than meeting them head-on.  We attempt to get out of them rather than suffer through them.

This tendency to avoid problems, and the emotional suffering inherent in them, is a primary barrier to life.  The tragedy of this avoidance is that whatever we use as a substitute for facing pain becomes more painful than the original problem.  Not only does that mean that our own lives are lessened, but that we spread what was originally solely our own inner pain, a pain of the soul, outside to those around us.  In other words we create pain for others, often all out of proportion to the original pain we would have felt had we dealt with the problem in the first place.  

One of the great questions of humankind is where does evil come from.  Well, here is the answer, folks.  There is no devil, no demons wreaking evil upon the world.  There doesn’t need to be.  We have plenty to go around, and it starts right here with good people, with you and with me.  

There is a bit more that needs to be said on this, for it is not an easy concept to grasp, yet it is one that is intrinsic to the understanding of human psychology.  So I will continue next on the topic next week, and explain how evil gets its start in us.

For now I hope you will take away the knowledge we were meant to fly with God, and yet we live constantly with the danger that we will lose our wings, just like the Kiwi, because we don’t continue to exercise them.  The thorns that God gives us are painful pointers – they have to be painful so that we take notice – painful pointers to God’s grace, which lead us on the path to growth that is both the salvation of the soul and the salvation of the world.  That which enables us to face pain is the faith that God is there with us in the pain, giving us all we need to grow through it, and guaranteeing a new creation at the other end.

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: In response to the word reflected on, let us stand and share together a celebration of faith. We celebrate that where people are gathered together in love,

R: God is present, good things happen and life is full.

L: We celebrate that we are immersed in mystery that our lives are more than they seem;

R: that we belong to each other and to a universe of great creative energies, whose source and destiny is God.

L: We celebrate that the spirit of God beat in the heart of Jesus of Nazareth,

R: and God’s good news was heard by the broken and wounded.

L: We are glad that the spirit of peace is present with us, the church,

R: as we gather to celebrate our common existence, and the fidelity of God.

L: And most deeply we believe that in our struggle to love,

R: we incarnate God in the world.

L; And so aware of mystery and wonder, caught in friendship and laughter,

R: we become speechless before the joy in our hearts as we celebrate the sacredness of life.

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS TO GOD

Decisions, decisions, decisions! Creator God, help us, Spirit of Truth guide us, Jesus Christ save us!

Although we find ourselves excited by the brilliant achievements of this new age, we become exhausted by its ethical challenges and confusions. There are moments, Lord, when we hanker for the simpler days of our great-grandparents, for whom the path of morality was simply defined by church authority. But now it seems as if our technological cleverness constantly outruns our ideas of goodness, and we cannot catch up.

Be with us, loving God, with all your compassion and wisdom. Be with us as we make decisions about genetic engineering or virtual reality, body transplants or brain enhancing drugs, space exploration or the adventures of cyberspace, the artificial maintenance of life or the quality of life and euthanasia. Through all the changing scenes of life, enable us to seek first your kingdom and its true-goodness.

Jesus Christ, make us clever as serpents and gentle as doves.
Spirit of Truth, keep us sharp witted and love-directed.
Father of all mercies, help us to so trust you that all things
may work together for good to those who love you for your love’s sake. Amen!

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. 

WORD OF MISSION

L: As we prepare to leave this sacred space where we have worshipped together, let us return to our work enlivened and renewed; remembering that the universe is much larger  than our ability to comprehend.

R: Let us go from this time together with the resolve to allow wonder, to find space to open up our minds and illumine our lives. Amen.

BENEDICTION

May the places where you walk
become sacred spaces of the Holy God;
The places where you take your stand
be signposts to the love of Christ;
The places where you rest
be filled with the renewing grace of the Spirit. Amen! 

An open, virtual door to the world