The following service was streamed live via Zoom on August 15th 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.
“The Christian metaphysics is…that he eats God”
CALL TO CELEBRATION
R: Dance with joy and sing a song of gladness!
L: Let us worship God!
R: Let us celebrate life!
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
Spirit of life and love, we have gathered in this sacred place, again. May we create here a circle of love, ever expanding, ever growing. A place of wisdom. A place of connection. A place of hope. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Reflection: “Seeds” by Thom M. Shuman.
It’s the word of confidence to a 9-year-old which one day
leads to the winning goal in a World Cup match;
It’s the extra practice sessions after school, going over word after word, which bolsters a young girl at the National Spelling Bee;
It’s the gentle touch of a mother in the terror of a midnight thunderstorm which leads a child into nursing;
Come apart from the busyness of family and work, and dwell in the presentness of God who is our source of being. May the silence which we now share quieten us, touch our need, refresh our courage, enlarge our wonder. (silence is kept for 30 seconds)
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Most loving God, you through long ages have shaped humanity out of soil, sunshine, air and water, and breathed your own spirit into us. Yet we have often lived as if we were the self-made people. We pretend that our half-truths are wisdom and that our occasional kindnesses are love. When things go well we praise ourselves. When things go wrong we accuse others or blame you.
Have mercy on the rank silliness that distorts our behaviour,
the ease with which we get seduced by trivial goals,
the clumsiness and insecurity that marks our relationships,
the burdens and hurts we impose on one another,
the sneaky way we dilute the Gospel to suit our prejudices,
and the apathy that gets in the way between us and your saving grace.
Please pity our weakness and forgive our sins. With your grace taking away our shame and healing the diseases of our spirit, let us begin again with no agenda except that of loving to live as your redeemed children. Through Christ our brother and friend, amen
L: Friends of God, hear one of the many words of forgiveness that speak from the pages of Holy Scripture: “If we confess our sins God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” We are forgiven, and by grace have become the liberated children of the new age, 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 – Psalm 146
L: Praise the Lord!
R: Praise the Lord, O my soul!
L: While I live I will praise the Lord;
R: I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
R: Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help.
L: His spirit departs, he returns to his earth;
R: In that very day his plans perish.
L: Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help,
R: Whose hope is in the Lord his God,
L: Who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;
R: Who keeps truth forever,
L: Who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.
R: The Lord gives freedom to the prisoners.
L: Lord opens the eyes of the blind;
R: The Lord raises those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
L: The Lord watches over the strangers; He relieves the fatherless and widow;
R: But the way of the wicked he turns upside down.
L: The Lord shall reign forever—
R: Your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 6:51-58 (The Message version)
47-51 “I’m telling you the most solemn and sober truth now: Whoever believes in me has real life, eternal life. I am the Bread of Life. Your ancestors ate the manna bread in the desert and died. But now here is Bread that truly comes down out of heaven. Anyone eating this Bread will not die, ever. I am the Bread—living Bread!—who came down out of heaven. Anyone who eats this Bread will live—and forever! The Bread that I present to the world so that it can eat and live is myself, this flesh-and-blood self.”
52 At this, the Jews started fighting among themselves: “How can this man serve up his flesh for a meal?”
53-58 But Jesus didn’t give an inch. “Only insofar as you eat and drink flesh and blood, the flesh and blood of the Son of Man, do you have life within you. The one who brings a hearty appetite to this eating and drinking has eternal life and will be fit and ready for the Final Day. My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. By eating my flesh and drinking my blood you enter into me and I into you. In the same way that the fully alive Father sent me here and I live because of him, so the one who makes a meal of me lives because of me. This is the Bread from heaven. Your ancestors ate bread and later died. Whoever eats this Bread will live always.”
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS “We Are What We Eat”
“Once upon a time, somewhere far back in ancient human history- so far back that personal survival was the only concern -a defining event must have taken place. Someone didn’t eat what he found when he found it, but decided to take it back to the cave to share with others. There must have been a first time. A first act of community – call it communion – in the most elemental form” (Fulghum 1995:79).
This is from Robert Fulghum’s book, From Beginning to End: the rituals of our lives. And it is from this book along with some comments from Brazilian Rubem Alves that I want to share some parallel thoughts to this morning’s shockingly graphic gospel story. But first let me tell you another story. It’s a story from Fulghum’s book.
When my first son was in kindergarten, I was a parent volunteer who visited the school once a week to teach folk songs to the children. Singing came between rest-time and snack-time. Regularly I was invited to stay after singing and join the class for milk and scones. I gladly stayed, not because I was particularly hungry, but because I enjoyed watching the children carry out this ordinary task with such extraordinary care.
Two children set the table with serviettes and cups. Two others arranged the chairs. Others went to the refrigerator for cartons of milk, while two more fetched the scones from the kitchen and arranged them neatly on plates. One child was responsible for placing something in the middle of the table to talk about during the snack – a sort of ‘show and tell’.
For half the class, their job for the day was being good ‘guests’. The other half were the ‘hosts’. Each ‘host’ took a scone off the plate, broke it in half, and gave it to a ‘guest’ before eating the other half. During this snack-time, they discussed the ‘show and tell’ object in the centre of the table. After the scones and milk were consumed, the children who had played ‘guests’ for the day cleaned up and put away everything, before they went out to play. It was a high-point of my week. For me, it was communion.
Fulghum then goes on to add some comments:
The sacraments are often defined by the church as “outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual grace”. Scones and milk with those children became a sacrament for me. Grace was clearly present. It was a ritual reminder that civilisation depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion.
Jesus often talked about, or is represented as talking about, food. And as he moved from place to place, the various storytellers declared he would seek rest in a house. Rumour has it once there he would make his way to the cooking space because there he knew he could find food to transform his weariness into new energy and purpose.
For it is the cooking space – the kitchen – which is the place of transformations, suggests Rubem Alves. “Nothing is allowed to remain the same. Things come in raw, as nature produced them. And they go out different, according to the demands of pleasure.”
The raw must cease to exist for something different to appear. “The hard must be softened. Smells and tastes which were dormant inside are forced to come out: cooking is a magic kiss which wakes up sleeping pleasures… Everything is a new creature. Everything is made anew” (Alves 1990:79).
Jesus often talked about food: slow food rather than fast food, that is.
But Jesus was no literalist. And religious language is primarily metaphorical or poetic. In other words, Jesus spoke so words would be eaten. When bread and wine are eaten, they become body and blood. When body and blood are eaten, they become compassionate deeds. When compassionate deeds are eaten, they become as the Holy One in our neighbour. We are what we eat, suggests Rubem Alves.”One eats and one’s body is resurrected”.
Robert Fulghum suggests milk and scones at kinder snack-time is communion; it is grace enacted. “Since the beginning of time,” Fulghum writes, “people who trust one another, care for one another, and are deeply connected to one another have shared food as a sign of and a reaffirmation of their relationship.
“Every time we hold hands and say a blessing before a meal, every time we lift a glass and say fine words to one another, every time we eat in peace and grace together, we have celebrated the covenants that bind us together”.
Traditionally, this morning’s gospel story from John has been given strong sacramental overtones; Holy Communion or Eucharist overtones, that is. If this is indeed the case, then it very much reflects John’s community many years after the life of Jesus. When things were getting organised, and rules – dos and don’ts – were being put in place. But whatever the sacrament of Holy Communion is, “it is an act that arises out of our humanity, not organised religion”.
The point I want you to take home is that the Eucharist is merely the symbol used in worship to represent our everyday gathering and eating together in order to remind us of our bonds of community. Yes, we ritually celebrate our common and shared humanity in worship every first Sunday in church, but we experience it again and again whenever we eat together, as we will at morning tea later. May today’s morning tea be our celebration that, as we share a biscuit and a cuppa, just as when we share the communion elements, civilisation depends on sharing resources in a just and humane fashion, for what affects one life, affects all. Remember this whenever you eat with others.
A CELEBRATION OF FAITH
L: God of all living, we have seen your presence in the rhythm and surprises of our years.
L: We recognise your closeness in this day.
R: You challenge and encourage us in each act and decision. So we praise you.
L: Now we look to you in the promises which stretch before us.
R: You meet us with hope and call us to freedom to live as your new people. So we trust you and commit ourselves again, to live as passionate people in this place.
PRAYERS OF COMPASSION
Here we are God, living among people of strong faith or no faith, wide experience or little understanding, big hearts or narrow minds, brave deeds or timid retreats. Please let your blessing continue to fall on all humanity, that we may be cured of our maladies and saved from our addiction to evil.
Here we are God, living in a country where some have wealth and some poverty, some wield much power while many feel powerless, where good people often suffer and the bad go arrogantly on their way. Please show us how to best redress injustices and correct abuses, and how to tend the needs of those who have suffered badly at the hands of their fellows.
Here we are God, living in nation where access to the best health care or justice through the legal system is limited by lack of money, community indifference, or political clout. Please assist the forgotten people and help us all to learn from the way of Christ and apply it where we live and work.
Here we are God, living in a community where many are afflicted by cancer, aids, arthritis, heart and kidney disease, schizophrenia, depression and the grave results of road trauma. Please bless those who give skilled care to the sufferers and help the rest of us of us to be quick to understand and eager to assist wherever practicable.
Here we are God, members of a church where some feel at home and others feel on the fringe, where faith jostles for leverage over doubt and love struggles to disperse indifference, and where we often allow the world to set our goals and morals rather than the Gospel. Please help us to love one another with that practical compassion and courage that we have seen in Christ Jesus, who taught us how to pray…
IN THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD’S PRAYER
God, lover of us all, most holy one, help us to respond to you to create what you want for us here on earth. Give us today enough for our needs. Forgive our weak and deliberate offences, just as we must forgive others when they hurt us. Help us to resist evil and to do what is good. For we are yours, endowed with your power to make our world whole. 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.
Take comfort. Blessed be. 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.