The following service was streamed live via Zoom on August 8th 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.
“Sorrow makes us all children again.”
(Ralph Waldow Emerson)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
Come to this sacred time. Come, bringing all of who you are. Rest and quiet your week-worn spirit, for you are here to touch again eternal springs of hope and renewal. Let us worship God! Let us celebrate life!
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.
ACT OF AWARENESS
Gathered here, we sense the Sacred in this place.
May we be awakened again to the mysteries that humble us,
the realities that orient us,
the beauty that informs us,
the fellowship that sustains us,
and the creativity that heightens and deepens our living,
that we may give ourselves
in honesty and openness
to the larger life before us.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Something got us up and out of bed this morning. Perhaps it was the sound of a bird chirping, of our alarm clock ringing, the smell of coffee brewing in the kitchen, or the sun shining through the window. Something got us up, and here this morning. Perhaps it was because we needed special time to praise God; or perhaps it was because we need time to feed our faith and our spirit. It does not matter whey we got up or why we are here now. The important thing is that we can share this time together (albeit virtually), experiencing God’s presence and celebrating these moments with joy. We celebrate because we know that God is always with us. We are glad that God is with us in times of energy and noise, that God is with us also in times of quiet and stillness.
So now, let us be quiet for a few moments; let us fill this space with silence and in the quietness of our hearts, reflect on how we feel God’s presence, how we know God is with us.
(silence is kept for at least 30 seconds)
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
As this is the 76th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima, we begin with a period of silence in which we may ask God’s mercy for this horrific act of terrorism inflicted upon innocent civilians.
As an option to silence, click here to listen to Psalm 130 sung by the Sons of Korah while you pray.
L: Who are you, God?
R: You are the one who cries with us when we are sad; you are the one for whom we wait when things around us are going wrong.
L: Who are you, God?
R: You are the one who loves us, who risks everything for us; you are the one who, in return, asks only that we should treat others with love and compassion.
R: You are the one who comes to us in Jesus, so that we will know how much you love us; you are the one who feeds us with love and who gives us the promise of life.
L: Who are you, God?
R: You are the one to whom we turn when we have failed to live up to your hopes for us; when we have not treated others with kindness or honesty; when we have not shared with those in need; when we have not been fair with others; when we have been mean to others or when we have said hurtful things to someone.
L: What do you want us to do, God?
R: You want us to know that we are loved and loveable; you want us to think about how, in turn, we should act toward others; you want us to be sorry for those things we have done wrong and to ask your forgiveness.
L: What do you do then, God?
R: You love us and forgive us and do not abandon us; you do not count up all the things we have done wrong, and for this we thank you, God.
L: Merciful God, whose care never ceases, we come to you as we are. Great sorrow comes over us; our cares would overpower us, and we know no way out. We are tired from trying to do more than we can manage. We are anxious about problems which go unresolved. We are worried about events beyond our control. We do not easily let go. For mistakes we cannot redeem, for tasks left undone, for uncertain goals, we need your forgiveness, and ask for your understanding. Today especially we acknowledge our connection For recovery of strength and enthusiasm, we pray for your Spirit. For fullness of life, generous hearts and contented souls, we pray to be followers of Jesus. In your mercy, restore and lead us. Amen.
FROM THE PSALMS (as part of our prayer) – Ps. 130
130 Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord;
2 Lord, hear my voice!
Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.
3 If You, Lord, should mark iniquities,
O Lord, who could stand?
4 But there is forgiveness with You,
that You may be feared.
5 I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
6 My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning.
7 O Israel, hope in the Lord;
For with the Lord there is mercy,
And with Him is abundant redemption.
8 And He shall redeem Israel
From all his iniquities.
L: O people of God, put your hope in Christ! In the words of Psalm 130 that you have just heard, “For with the Lord there is mercy, and with him is abundant redemption. And he shall redeem Israel from all her iniquities.” And so I can declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – 2 Sam.18:5-9,15,31-33
Our reading today concludes a story of strife in Kind David’s family, between the king and his son, Absalom; however, it may be a good idea to bring you up-to-date with the state of play. Almost from the start, Absalom had a number of strikes against him. For one thing, he was much too handsome for his own good, and his special pride was such a magnificent head of hair that once a year when he had it trimmed, the trimmings alone tipped the scales at three and a half pounds. For another thing, his father, King David, was always either spoiling him rotten or reading him the riot act. This did not promote stability of character. He murdered his lecherous brother, Amnon, for fooling around with their sister, Tamar, and when the old warhorse, Joab, wouldn’t help him patch things up with David afterward, he set fire to his hay field. All Israel found this kind of daring-do irresistible, of course, and when he eventually led a revolt against his father, many of them joined him, so much so that David was driven into hiding. We pick up the story on the eve of the crucial battle. David was a wreck. If he was afraid he might lose his throne, he was even more afraid he might lose Absalom. The boy was a thorn in his flesh, but he was also the apple of his eye, and the today’s passage begins with David telling his chiefs of staff, till they were sick of hearing it, to go easy on the boy.
5 Now the king had commanded Joab, Abishai, and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave all the captains orders concerning Absalom.
6 So the people went out into the field of battle against Israel. And the battle was in the woods of Ephraim. 7 The people of Israel were overthrown there before the servants of David, and a great slaughter of twenty thousand took place there that day. 8 For the battle there was scattered over the face of the whole countryside, and the woods devoured more people that day than the sword devoured.
9 Then Absalom met the servants of David. Absalom rode on a mule. The mule went under the thick boughs of a great terebinth tree, and his head caught in the terebinth; so he was left hanging between heaven and earth. And the mule which was under him went on.
15 And ten young men who bore Joab’s armour surrounded Absalom, and struck and killed him.
31 Just then the Cushite came, and the Cushite said, “There is good news, my lord the king! For the Lord has avenged you this day of all those who rose against you.”
So the Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise against you to do harm, be like that young man!”
33 Then the king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept. And as he went, he said thus: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!”
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS
”O my son, Absalom…would I had died instead of you…”
…Not a story with a happy ending. If I saw the movie version I would leave the theatre unsatisfied. The story ends with little explained, nothing resolved. In other words, it is a family story not unlike many of the tragedies which families live through. At the end, there has been nothing accomplished; no result other than grief. “Absalom! Absalom!” David’s cries echo down the corridors of time in every family tragedy, in every parent full of regret for what might have been, but is not. We see that even royalty is not immune from family pain, as Queen Elizabeth has learned in recent years.
We would have liked a happier ending for David and Absalom; a sense of resolution even. But in life there is rarely some final act in the play where everything comes together, with the bad identified and punished, the good living happily ever after, and everything is set right with justice done. In real life, in real families, endings are often more like that in Hamlet, with bodies everywhere, at least figuratively speaking.
Alan Paton brilliantly reworked the Absalom story in his 1948 South African novel, Cry, the Beloved Country. Stephen Kumalo, a black pastor, has a wayward son named Absalom. Absalom rejects his family, commits a murder, and hangs for his crime. In his attempt to find some redemption amid the tragedy, Kumalo meets and befriends James Jarvis, whose own son has been killed by Absalom’s violence. The two fathers find comfort through one another in their grief.
How many parents have had to go on, to live despite their desire to die, after the death of a child? How many parents have had to find some reason for living, some means of redemption after a child’s death?
David wanted to preserve his kingdom, a kingdom which had brought prominence and power to Israel. But the cost of preserving his rule was higher than David imagined: the death of his son. When David wails that he wishes he had died rather than his son, I think he is speaking truthfully. But he can’t. Parents like David wish that they could stand in for their children, that they could take the blows which life sometimes lays upon them. But such is not possible, and so the story of David ends with deep regret, with a father crying into the night in grief over his son, over the sad state of his family, over the high cost of fulfilling his royal responsibilities.
It is our lot as human beings to carry the grief of innumerable losses in life, many of which are the consequences of our own choices, as was David’s. Indeed, the pain may be all the worse because we know it could have been avoided had we chose differently. Given that today is the 76th anniversary of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, it may be worth reflecting on the grief and the guilt of that one awful choice made by those to whom Australia gave support; an act of terrorism on a civilian population that killed almost 70,000 innocent people, and then another 40,000 in Nagasaki, most of them burned to death. And this does not include those who died later due to radiation.
There is no lesson for us to follow up in this tale, no moral example, no hero to emulate. Rather, I think the writer means for us to see ourselves in this story. There is an Italian proverb that cautions: “He who would have no grief in this world must not be born into it.” In any family, even the best of them, there is always some regret. Things don’t always work out for the best. Children disappoint us. Parents do not always act as they should. This story just lets us know that unhappiness, tragedy, regret are part of loving and living in a family. It was true for King David; it is true at your house and mine. So what is to become of us if we can’t make it all work out right? What is to become of David’s troubled family or ours?
A cross is raised outside of the capital city. Upon it hangs a beloved son. The father gives everything for his kingdom, even his own son. But the cross does not set everything right. The cross does not ease the seriousness of the evils that have been, and will be, committed. Rather, the cross forgives, and makes it possible for life to continue, despite the tragedy. There on the cross, God’s whole tragic human family was gathered, embraced and forgiven by a Father, who, in grief, loves us yet.
While there may be profound theological truth in this, when we are actually in the throes of grief, such ideas are little comfort. We may want to cry, “Where is God now?” And then God comes to us in ways, sometimes surprising, sometimes mysterious, but most often in the ordinary as my final story illustrates:
A little girl came home from visiting a neighbour’s house where one of her little friends had just died. “Why did you go?” questioned her father.
“To comfort her mother,” replied the girl.
“What could you do to comfort her?” her father continued.
The child answered, “I climbed into her lap and cried with her.”
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS IN PRAYER
Holy Friend, there are times when our prayers seem a weak and ineffective exercise in the face of the world’s great need. Please keep reminding us that though we are weak and unwise, you have infinite resourcefulness and wisdom. May the full and inexhaustible grace of Christ crucified and risen, keep us praying with faith and serving with humble compassion.
Holy Friend, we pray for those who feel too harried, or too broken, or too despairing to pray for themselves. Please surround them with your everlasting arms of love, and bring some warmth and hope into even the bleakest situation.
Holy Friend, we pray for many who are subject to injustice and abuse, and all who are used up and then cast aside like garbage. Please bring down tyrants and bullies at every level of life, and lift up the downtrodden and heal the broken in body, mind and spirit.
Holy Friend, we pray for young people who are put in uniforms and ordered to make war on others; to bomb villages, blow up bridges, burn harvests, strafe refugees, and take few prisoners. And also for those who are sent incognito as suicide bombers into crowded places to create maximum carnage. Please bring this world back from its addiction to anger and violence to your ways of peace.
Holy Friend, we pray for all who feed the hungry, tend the injured, stand with the oppressed, house the homeless, watch with the dying, comfort the grieving, encourage the handicapped, empower the weak, and befriend the very fearful folk. Please widen our love to include all your children on earth.
Holy Friend, we pray for your church in its glory and its shame. Help us to repent of our corporate sins, to increase our love for other denominations, to live the love of Christ among the neglected and the lost, to encourage one another in fellowship and prayer, and to live optimistically by faith and love where the secular world wrings its hands in despair.
Holy Friend, God and Saviour, lead us on towards that glory which you have prepared for all who love you. Through our brother, Jesus, who taught us to pray, Our Father in heaven….
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
R: When our hearts are torn asunder or when we soar with sweet joy, we are never alone, never apart, from the spirit that resides within us, that guides our lives and cherishes us always.
As the sun in its shining brings glory, as the stars in the night scatter dark, As the moon gives us hope in its radiance, so may the light of God fill your heart and your mind and your life. Amen