Ordinary Sunday 18B (01-08-2021)

The following service was streamed live via Zoom  on August 1st 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-

Grow something else besides Old!

 

CALL TO CELEBRATION

Come to this sacred time. Come, bringing every part of you that hungers. Rest and quiet your week-worn spirit, for you are here to touch again eternal springs of hope and renewal.  Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life. 

OPENING SENTENCES

L: The chorus of suns and planets announce the beginning of a new day.

R: Each morning births new possibilities, and beckons fresh challenges.

L: The cycle of morning music and starry silence promise second chances.

R: Each day provides new vistas, and promotes further exploration.

L: The laughter of oceans and the wailing of winds reflect the human condition.

R: Each week declares we are in the world, and determines we are of the world.

L: The praises and prayers of all living things affirm our connectedness.

R: Each month begs for our nurture, and betrays our own nature.

L: What can ever separate us? 

R: Only the self-imposed isolation of arrogance or ignorance.

L: What can draw us homeward?

R: Only the self-possessed compassion of radical hospitality.

L: It begins with us. 

R: It begins right now.

L: It embraces morning. 

R: It bursts forth in music.  

ACT OF AWARENESS

In all our living, may we be freed to see things afresh, be more fully alive, and have the courage to keep faith in the future of humanity, Creator Spirit, Life-giving Spirit, Nurturing Spirit. May it be so.

HYMN AHB 66-“God is Love” (click here to listen)

JOURNEY INTO SILENCE

     Meditation  “Hopes” by Kevin Gillan.

hope isn’t blue or loose or lost. hope is full.
hope isn’t tearful or funny or berserk.
hope is cumulus and shag pile.
hope isn’t mood or diameter or pinned.
hope is hinge, hope is note and bottle and flotsam and found.
hope isn’t pulpit or coal fired or concave.
hope is spinifex and singing.
hope is rain

       Silence

Now let silence of this place once again gently enfold us. (Pause)

Let us centre our minds and our hearts. We are one with the universe. We are one with the sun and the stars. We are one with the earth. We are one with the One who is mystery…

(Keep a silence  of at least 30 seconds)

WE REFLECT ON OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

God our holy Friend, you are the source of saving initiatives, never forgetting your human family and never neglecting our prayers. We admit to you the spiritual ineptitude that we hide behind a proud exterior, and we confess the sins that have corrupted our words and deeds. Please intervene in our lives that we may know your salvation.

Merciful Friend, come between us and our self deceit,
between us and our mental hiding places
between us and our plaintive excuses,
between us and our fears,
between us and our shame,
between us and our cheap goals.

Intervene and save us from all that would frustrate your purposes, lead us into the experience of forgiveness, bring us to a quiet place where your grace is all in all. In the name of Jesus, your son and our brother. Amen!

THE ASSURANCE

L: People of God, in the name of Christ Jesus, I declare to you: God is love. Out of God’s fullness we have received grace upon grace. And so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us;

R: Thanks be to God!  

READING FROM OUR BIBLICAL TRADITION

“Now I don’t know if it happened this way or not, but I know this story is true… (Native American Storyteller)

FROM THE GOSPELS – John 6: 25-35

25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

SONG – “Author of Faith” (click here to listen)

A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS – “Reading Between the Lines”

     Part 1

This week we continue the stories about ‘bread’. Recently we reflected upon the story of the feeding of 5000 (or so) with bread and fish.  This week, like young Oliver, the crowd respond with the cry: ‘More sir!’.

Indeed, this lectionary theme of ‘bread’ will continue for several more weeks yet, so I want to start with the premise that these stories are familiar to all of us.  The people ate their fill of bread, yet John indicated they were not satisfied. Why?  It may be worth our while to ponder this, because a similar situation is before us today.  

How do we, in the 21st century world, receive and interpret the stories from our biblical tradition. For me and many others this is an important question, because the competing answers are so different, and it can be very frightening.

In this and the other stories on ‘bread’, all the Gospel storytellers have Jesus trying to get the people to look beyond the literal to the meaning and to the world view he is inviting them to consider, but they either refuse or are unable to do so.

So expressing a degree of frustration, John’s Jesus says, “You are not looking for me because you have seen the signs, but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat.”

Jesus has just fed them. They were hungry because of staying on the hills and listening to his words, and he had compassion for them. Yet, they continue to want the actual thing; i.e., the literal answer, but there is no literal answer given, because Jesus argues that a literal answer leaves everyone just as hungry as before. 

They are unable to look beyond the words. It is too complex, too difficult, too stressful. They settle only for what they see and taste and touch.

I think John’s Jesus is a realist. He knows these people are looking for actual food that fills the hungry stomach. They want miracles that will make their lives easier.

In a rural peasant culture,

      • where food is not always plentiful,
      • where peasant farmers had been forced off their land, crushed by the rich and powerful,
      • where people are persecuted because of their beliefs,

magic or miracles are easier and more welcome than the grind of daily reality.  So the last thing I want to suggest is that somehow these people deserve their plight or are responsible for it,  or if they only prayed harder, or had more faith, their situation would change.

What John is trying to suggest through this story, maybe 60+ years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth, is that we look, listen, hear, imagine beyond the literal words; that we read between the lines.

Katerina Whitley, a professor of communication at one of the state universities in America, who has also reflected on these stories, suggests:

“The words of Jesus, though based on what the people knew from experience, always point to that which is true, to that which does not perish.  But the people clamour for more assurance than that…”

That’s back then. What about us, now, in our so-called ‘postmodern’ society? More so than they, we live in an age where the ‘literal’ is constantly struggling with the ‘more than’, in a climate where answers have international or global implications. And the literal seems to be winning. Fundamentalists still ask for a sign, an answer, that is firm and unquestionable to any number of issues:

      • to the sadness of abortion,
      • to the fear of terrorism,
      • to the problem of disobedient children,
      • to the rapid technological changes, that baffle them.

In our moment of time, indeed for more than 25 years, we are particularly conscious of this ‘firm and unquestionable’ position in regard to the questions of differences in sexuality.

     Part 2

It is easier to retreat from the world and its problems rather than engage in a search for meaning ‘between the lines’. You see, most of us want concrete and secure answers. Ambiguity is troubling. We want definiteness. And literalism, even though it picks and chooses only those portions of the Bible it can manipulate, gives to the fundamentalist this assurance. But in some words of warning, Katerina Whitley also points out: “Literal interpretation of what we don’t like gives us permission not to love those who are different from us.” And that is very serious, indeed!

Retired Uniting Church minister, Bruce Prewer tells this story.

“An outstanding preacher of a previous generation, was invited to speak at a men’s breakfast meeting, held in the lounge of a local hotel. Before he was called to address the gathering, the chairperson quietly warned him there might be a bit of trouble.  One of the men present was involved in a serious court case, but the judgment had not yet been determined. Some members, said the chairman, might resent the man’s presence among them. Sure enough, after the guest had finished giving his address, a man at the back of the room stood up and shouted: ‘That fellow at the middle table must leave.’ The man stayed seated. The objector then called out the man’s name and insisted he immediately be sent out of the room. Then another man stood up and said: ‘We may be in a hotel room filled with tobacco smoke, but we are assembled as a church.  That man at the middle table is in church here, in the place where forgiveness rules.  The law-suit concerning him is in the hands of the authorities, and will be properly prosecuted in time .  But that does not alter the fact he is our brother in the faith.  Therefore he must not leave’”

The problem with literalism is it does not reveal truth.  It hides it. It comes from a position of fear, and is fuelled by what I believe is a misrepresentation of religious experience. And when it comes from within the Christian community, it is often all the more dangerous and vitriolic.

Bishop John Shelby Spong knows about all that. In his book Why Christianity Must Change or Die, he writes:

“I have had a ‘truth squad’ based at an evangelical theological college in Sydney follow me throughout Australia wherever I lectured, handing out their tracts and publications designed to mute my witness.  I have lectured with guards protecting me in Calgary… (and) endured a bomb threat… in Brisbane.  I have been the recipient of sixteen death threats, all of which came from Bible-quoting ‘true believers’…”

To take up Spong’s challenge of a ‘new Reformation’ requires courage and some risk.

And a lot of theological people in Australia are not prepared to take risks, either for fear they shall be criticised, or dismissed from office, or both. But an ‘honest church’ requires its theologians and ministers to be just that: honest.

John’s Jesus was not a literalist. The eating of bread is much more than the mere ingestion of food as nourishment for the body. It is the symbolic sharing of our common humanity, in mutuality with those around us. So John the storyteller invites his listeners, then (and now), to seek the meaning beyond the words, beyond the ‘bread’. For in the doing of that we are freed to go on the journey chartered by Jesus rather than being caught up in worshipping the journey of Jesus, as do the literalists.

Such a ‘Jesus theology’ is, I believe, liberating because: 

      • it shows us something of what it means to be human,
      • it invites us to find in ourselves the same powers that were manifest in Jesus,
      • and, it means we are to be co-creators with God.

Now, if we have the courage, that can indeed be a great blessing!

A CELEBRATION OF FAITH

L: In response to the word reflected on, let us share a celebration of faith. We are a cloth of diverse colours made from many gifts and graces.

R: We are the people flowing forth from Creator God, surprising ourselves with the things which can be done.

L: We are raw material for rewarding relationships as our lives interweave,

R: contributing one to the other, holding each other firm when one is weak or breaking.

L: We are each worthy of being respected and cared for 

R: essential to the pattern, skilled in our appointed tasks, sources of laughter and sharers of tears.

L: We commit ourselves to work together,

R: that one day, this world may be a place where all people live in justice, freedom and peace.  

HYMN 544 – “Since the World was Young” (click here to listen)

WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS AND JOYS TO GOD

God of love, have mercy on the world of human affairs where the gap between the advantaged and disadvantaged seems to be ever widening.

We pray for all victims of this injustice: 

For the sick and the maimed who cannot afford the latest in medical technology.

For the hungry millions who have been denied the benefits of genetically improved grains, fruits and meats.

For indigenous minorities whose health and education prospects lag far behind the general population.

For the unemployed who have been cast aside by the electronic revolution in industry and commerce.

For the second and third generation of refugees who are still living in camps that we set up in the previous century.

For small nations who are being exploited or shut out of markets by the strong and aggressive.

For the common people who cannot afford to pay the cost of obtaining justice in courts of law.

For the poor who cannot afford to pay the cost for the best medical and surgical help.

God of justice and mercy, keep your church faithful and compassionate. Do not permit us to become so concerned with our own weaknesses that we neglect to love our neighbour even as Christ Jesus has loved us. In his name we pray. 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. 

HYMN  239-“Jesus the Lord said, ‘I Am the Bread'”(click here to listen)

THE SENDING OUT

L: May the quality of our lives be our benediction.

R: And a blessing to all whom we touch.

BENEDICTION

He who has called you will not leave you without encouragement.
Let the great God be between your shoulders,
to look after you at your coming and going.
Let the Son of Mary be very close to your heart.
And the lovely Spirit be poured upon you.
Yes, the lovely Spirit be poured all over you! 

-oOo-

What you can become you already are.

An open, virtual door to the world