The following service was streamed live via Zoom on July 18th 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.
Note: We have reversed the order of Ordinary Sundays 16 & 17; hence this service is a week early.
“A man who wants bread is ready for anything.” (French proverb)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Let us worship God! Let us celebrate life!
R: We come to this worship sick or grieving or discouraged.
L: We come from households spiky with anger; from unfinished projects, ruined plans, and multiple irritations.
R: We come from broken diets, hidden drinking, unanswered mail and a week without bedtime prayers.
L: We come from a paralysis of fear and the refusal to read the newspaper for fear of learning how we might help someone.
R: From inadequacy we seek God’s wholeness; from delinquency we seek God’s forgiveness; from self-imposed impotence we hope to be freed for love and service by the gospel’s power.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Meditation by Anthony de Mello, S.J.
And what, pray, would that be?” asked the industrialist.
“Take yourself,” said the Master. “Your efforts produce better things; mine better people.”
To his disciples he later said, “The aim of life is the flowering of persons. Nowadays people seem concerned mostly with the perfection of things.”
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.
(Keep a silence of at least 30 seconds)
WE REFLECT ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
God of love, God of power, we have heard your promises of abundant life and have been afraid to believe them. We have worshipped you with our lips, but have reserved parts of ourselves for our own purposes and plans. We are bound by our need for absolute certainty, and so we often miss your living presence in the surprises of life. Renew us by turning our trust to you again. Amen. (A period of silent reflection)
THE ASSURANCE (Psalm 16:10-11a)
L: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor allow the one you love to see the Pit; you will reveal the path of life to me…” And so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us;
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE WORLD AROUND US – “I Hunger”
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – 2 Kings 4:42-44
42 Then a man came from Baal Shalisha, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley bread, and newly ripened grain in his knapsack. And he said, “Give it to the people, that they may eat.”
43 But his servant said, “What? Shall I set this before one hundred men?”
He said again, “Give it to the people, that they may eat; for thus says the Lord: ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’ ” 44 So he set it before them; and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord.
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 6:1-15
6 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”
15 When Jesus realised that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Called Forth”
“When the people saw the sign which he had done, they said, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world!'” (Jn.6:14)
When you see a “STOP” sign, you know that it means stop. It is a very plain command. Even if you were to see only the red octagon without the word, the sign would be no less vague, because of your previous exposure to it. It is a very obvious and clear communication. Or is it?
When I arrived in Australia I had to learn by experience that there is more to that STOP sign than meets the eye. On my first day in Melbourne I was nearly run down by a car as I crossed the street. I had seen the car coming, but I knew it had to stop, because there was a STOP sign on the corner.
Where I lived in the U.S., a STOP sign meant just what it said, and the law was policed vigorously. People almost always came to a complete stop as the law required. Hence I jumped to the conclusion that it must mean the same thing in Australia. After my close call, I assumed I had had the misfortune to encounter the odd reckless driver, but as my experience of driving in Australia grew, and I would get honked at or sworn at by drivers behind me when I stopped at STOP signs, the realisation gradually sank in that, although the road law was the same in Australia as in the U.S., in practice its interpretation was not. To many Australians, that octagonal red “STOP” meant stop only when necessary, i.e. when there are no police about – which is most of the time.
In Galilee the people saw a sign that they thought they understood. The apparently miraculous feeding of the multitudes recalled a similar episode, which was related to us in 2nd Kings, in which the prophet Elisha performed a similar, though less spectacular feeding. “Aha!!” they said. “Here is a sign that this man is the one who has been promised. HE will provide us food and security. HE will be our king to lead our people to power.”
The scripture says that Jesus then withdrew when he saw that they were going to try to make him their king. He had already faced that temptation in the wilderness. The people had read the sign; an obvious message they thought: Jesus was the promised one. But they had not understood the message. What of present-day readers of this story? What is the message for us? Too often the response of the modern Christian is similar to the mistake made by those who were present: Jesus is the Christ, our saviour. He will be our king.
Usually our attention is directed at the miracle: how Jesus managed it, the mechanism he used to feed all these people. Some want to understand it as a supernatural event, hence a sign showing Jesus’ power – proof to aid a struggling faith – while others explore possible natural explanations, because they are not content with a supernatural explanation. The deficiency in this approach is that it focuses on the beginning and earlier stages of the story, and on the act itself rather than what the story is trying to convey. But it is not the act itself which is important; it is the result that counts, because it is the final state which carries the message.
The 12 baskets which are left are closer to the point of the story than however many loaves and fishes were there at the start. We never find out what a fully developed reality is by examining its nature when it began to be. Looking for causes leaves out vast baskets full of remainder. Aristotle took the wise position when he said: “The true nature of a thing is the highest that it can become.” The gospel story of the feeding of the multitudes is an important story for sure. The Gospel writers are unanimous on that. It is the only story told in all four gospels. What does the story say to us that is so important that it became a fixture in all streams of Christian mythology?
Here Jesus is, confronted by thousands of hungry people, and not a great deal with which to feed them. After he blessed what food there was, the quantity seemed to change, and there was enough to feed all the people with much left over.
What happened when food was blessed by one who held the value that Jesus did for those who gathered? You can imagine that, in the blessing, Jesus brought an attitude of calling forth that aspect of God which changes, transforms and heals. The substance seemed different after the blessing. No longer just food, it was imbued with the blessing of Jesus. The attitude of the people changed, too, and what had been poverty became plenty. A new sustenance filled them – “spirit food” as the Navaho Indians call it. Whether they filled their stomachs was now immaterial, because that which was called forth was so satisfying.
This is the point of the story. It’s not about how to stretch a meal when you’ve got unexpected guests for dinner, but about CALLING FORTH – calling forth undreamed-of potential – about calling something to the highest that it can become.
There is an African proverb which reminds us: “You can count the apples on a tree, but you cannot count the trees in an apple.” We can’t count them, yet we know that there are many potential trees in an apple, each yielding many more apples with many more potential trees.
Consider the potential which is present, as yet untapped, in each human being; in you and mean . Consider the hunger of many sorts in our lives and in the lives of those with whom we share this globe: physical hunger, spiritual hunger, hunger for freedom, hunger for life & health, hunger for security, hunger for peace.
Jesus blessed the bread and fish and there was change. We don’t know what changed, but people experienced a change; something was called forth. Jesus touched the resource of transformation, and the participants were lifted to a higher order of reality. What if we, too, can evoke the values that were incarnated in Jesus, which can fill the situations of our need. In other words, we might arouse in ourselves the presence of values seen in him, in order to let those values come to bear on any situation of poverty or inadequacy.
What happens when one comes in contact with the blessing, the emanation from a holy centre such as Jesus touched? Things change, people change. The vitality inherent in every event may be enhanced when touched by the Spirit, or perhaps it is more accurate to say whenever the spirit in it is released.
The people saw the sign, and interpreted it, or rather misinterpreted it, as proof that Jesus was the Messiah come to save them, to provide for them. What was Jesus’ response? He left, probably groaning inwardly. He only wanted them to see their own possibilities; to see the potential for transformation that comes when one is in touch with the power which God opens to all who seek; to see the higher reality that was theirs to have.
There was a TV documentary series in the U.S. a few years ago called “Creativity.” On one show, artist and poet, Maya Angelou, returned to her small childhood village, and the program ended with her speaking to a classroom of children in that tiny, culturally-abandoned hillbilly village. The final words of this successful and well-travelled woman, who must have appeared to those children like a person from another world, were: “When I look at you, I see who I was. When you look at me, I hope you see who you can become.”
The story of the feeding of the multitudes is a story about calling forth potential, a potential to satisfy every hunger and still have plenty left over. Rather than demonstrating messianic power (a temptation which Jesus firmly rejected in the wilderness), Jesus is saying to those people, and now to those who read or hear the story, “When you look at me, I hope you see who you can become.”
PRAYERS FOR OTHERS
Great lover of humanity, we seek your blessing on the people of this world. Tear us away from all that evades the truth and thereby adds to misery. Gather us in towards your light and love and peace.
Let your Spirit challenge and transform Christian congregations that are self satisfied. Discomfort those that are so entrenched in practices that they treat anyone who does not exactly share their dogma or life style as a sinner and enemy.
Let your Spirit challenge and transform communities where racism and injustice are accepted as normal, or even lauded a good thing. Break through closed minds and soften hard hearts, that the inclusive love of Christ may be embraced and practised.
Let your Spirit challenge and transform our parliaments and politicians, the U.N. Assembly and its commissions and committees and agencies. Overcome our human pride, greed and humbug, and hasten the day when humanity shall treasure all its members.
Let your Spirit challenge and transform cities that are prosperous but lack a soul, and rural towns that are clannish and divided by old quarrels, or dominated by a selfish few who have the clout of inherited family prestige or the power of new wealth.
Let your Spirit challenge and transform families that foster arrogance and disrespect of others. Bring to account those who cultivate indifference towards their needy neighbours and esteem the plundering of the weak and vulnerable.
Let your Spirit challenge and transform each of us. That free of self justification, and relying totally on your grace, we may be Christians who give our best without counting the cost, and accept our limitations without self-disparagement.
Great lover of humanity, we seek your blessing also on those whose lives are in disarray: Those who have lost their jobs, endured marriage break up, been diagnosed with serious illness, suffered road accidents, watched their loved ones die, and any who are despairing or are contemplating suicide.
Loving God, you alone fully know both our need and its best remedy. Please save those who cry for your help, and those who feel unable even to do that. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour, we pray as he taught us: “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.
You are justified by faith in the God of absolute grace, mercy and peace; therefore go out into the world as people of freedom.
Give liberally, receive gratefully, serve humbly, be served graciously, forgive generously, receive forgiveness humbly.
The grace of the Redeemer, the love of the Creator, the friendship of the Counsellor will be with you this week and always. Amen.