The following service was streamed live via Zoom on August 22nd 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.
“Tragedy is not so much in what men have suffered, but in what they have missed.”
(Bishop Fulton J. Sheen)
CALL TO CELEBRATION
This being human is a guest house. Every morning is a new arrival. Let us celebrate the richness and diversity of life in the presentness of God.
R: Sing to Life, all Creation!
L: Sing of compassion and temper your deeds with kindness.
R: Sing to all the world and tell of the miracles that sustain us daily.
PRAYER OF AWARENESS
May the spirit of wisdom, comfort and inspire us.
The symbols of life are all around us: light and noise, infants and adults, birds and animals, colours and movement, words of goodwill, songs of joy.
May we be helped to recognise the symbols of life.
May they be renewed everyday, as we are inspired to share them generously. Amen.
JOURNEY INTO SILENCE
Let silence be placed around us now, like a mantle. Let us enter into it, as through a small secret door; stooping, to emerge into an acre of peace, where stillness reigns and God is present….(Pause)… O God, may the mantle of silence become a cloak of understanding to warm our hearts this day.
(30 seconds silence)
Thank you empowering God, for all that is loving and beautiful in the way we have lived our lives. Thanks for friends cherished, strangers welcomed, enemies forgiven, the needy enabled, hard lessons learned, integrity maintained, obstacles surmounted, injustices fought, and faith enlarged. We praise you for the graces that has flowered in our weakness, and for the blessings that have stretched our strengths.
Forgive us for the darker side of our performance. For the things that have been slipshod or cowardly, insensitive or unhelpful, sly or vindictive, self promoting or pompous, degrading or despairing. Have pity on us also for the twists and knots in the labyrinth of our minds; those dark chambers where we rarely see the truth clearly, and seldom deal with the dark forces effectively. We ask not only the word of your forgiveness to release us from shame and discouragement, but also your healing fingers to deeply probe those shadowy places where corruption needs dislodging and motives need straightening.
In the name of Jesus Christ, our Liberator and Physician. Amen!
L: We are forgiven, and by grace have become the liberated children of the new age, and so I declare to you, the door to life has been opened to us.
R: Thanks be to God!
FROM THE HEBREW SCRIPTURES – Psalm 84
(A 21st century exploration by Francis Macnab)
O God, from my place in the working world, and in the wide wilderness of life, I long for that sure sense of knowing what it is all about. I yearn for that experience of joy to come to my whole body and soul. I look for your presence as a pathway to life’s fullness. Even the birds as small as a sparrow and the swallow, show me the way to your presence.
Though we are often wounded and hurt in this fractured world, we discover that this world also has its source of healing. We are all enriched and our hearts are made stronger as we tap into that power that flows into us. The very sight of a spring of water arouses our anticipation of being refreshed and renewed. From all our external involvements, we hear the call of our inner spirits.
O Lord of all Being you remind us that you take hold of us. A moment in your presence is worth more than many years in the wilderness of life. I will be happy to stay only at the edge of your presence than be carried away by my own self-serving pursuits.
God – you stand in front of us when we fear the future. In our dark times you bring the sun to shine again. Out of our troubles you point us to the pathway of our best bliss. And as we receive: we are rich indeed!
FROM THE GOSPELS – John 6:60-61, 63-64a, 65-69
60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?
65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
A CONTEMPORARY WITNESS
“The Spirit Gives Life, but Life is not Just Spiritual”
In the Celtic spiritual tradition, pilgrims often draw a circle around themselves before embarking on a journey. Initially standing still, the pilgrim points her finger outward, and then rotates in a clockwise direction until she completes the circle. During this circling a prayer is often said.
Listen to this contemporary ‘circling’ prayer: “God protect me on this journey. Surround me, whether I walk, drive, or fly. Fill my heart and mind with surprising possibilities. Remind me that I am always in the circle of your love. Remind me this day, O Holy Adventure, that your inspiration guides me in every situation. Open my eyes to your presence in each meal, as I turn on my computer, as I start my car. Awaken me to possibility and wonder. Energise me to love and embrace all I meet.”
This practice of faith, the ‘caim’ or ‘encircling’,reminds travellers that God surrounds them wherever they go. While we recognise that life is filled with risks, and that faith cannot protect us from every threat, we also recognise that God is present as a force for wholeness and reconciliation in every situation”.
Today’s biblical stories, from the Psalms as reconstructed by Francis MacNab and from the gospel sermon-story by a writer we call John, continue to reflect on God’s presentness in the world and in our lives. Although I think it is a little easier to hear this in the former rather than in the latter!
Francis MacNab, theologian and psychologist, in his presentation of Psalm 84, attempts to get into the mind and the experience of the writer to see if he can discover, or reasonably assume, what was bothering this philosopher of life, and what led him to say what he said.
And this is what MacNab says he discovered: “I found the writer was emphatically and repetitively proclaiming a fairly revolutionary view of the world, creation, his beliefs about God, humanity, the human spirit and human potential. Again and again I found his psychology had long ago pre-empted our current psychological explorations and research on happiness, optimism, the positive human emotions, and the sense of awe and wonder.”
Let’s listen again to some of how MacNab relates Psalm 84:
O God, from my place in the working world, and in the wide wilderness of life, I long for that sure sense of knowing what it is all about. I yearn for that experience of joy to come to my whole body and soul. I look for your presence as a pathway to life’s fullness. Though we are often wounded and hurt in this fractured world, we discover that this world also has its source of healing. We are all enriched and our hearts are made stronger as we tap into that power that flows into us.
The very sight of a spring of water arouses our anticipation of being refreshed and renewed. From all our external involvements, we hear the call of our inner spirits.
God, you stand in front of us when we fear the future. In our dark times you bring the sun to shine again. Out of our troubles you point us to the pathway of our best bliss. And as we receive: we are rich indeed!.
What is the Psalmist suggesting? Experience the divine centre in yourselves: in your bodies, in your actions, in your every day lives.
I want to agree with that. But it’s a bit of a different situation when we come to John’s sermon-story. John’s language and the images are a bit of a struggle generally, but here, I want to challenge him, and reject his apparent denial of the ‘flesh’ or ‘body’ as useless. I reckon we can do better than that!
So I want to support theologian Bruce Epperly’s comments when he says: “we need to redeem such passages for our time and place. We can affirm that the spirit gives life, but the life of the spirit is not just ‘spiritual’, it is also ‘embodied’ and ‘incarnational’.” (Epperly/P&F web site-06).
Now, I know John’s position has a long history. Some of it dates back to the early Christian communities, whose theology seemed to prevent them from seeing Jesus as a God-infused human being, forcing them rather to perceive him as a divine visitor who came from heaven.
And some of it is as recent as the early 18th century when one Charles Wesley penned his popular ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing,’ which portrayed Jesus as not human, but one ‘veiled in flesh’.
Both John and Wesley were affected by the Greek notion of a dual reality: the material and the spiritual; God up there and us down here. I opt for a richer understanding that comes from the Christian mystics of the past: God is in all things and all things are in God, rather than God as supernatural miracle worker in the sky who can come (or doesn’t come) to our aid in times of need.
But equally important for me is, we experience this creativity that we name ‘God’ routinely, quietly, mysteriously, moving through life; our life. “It is less like a hammer on the head than it is a gentle prod”, suggests Bruce Epperly again, “a tickle, sometimes as gentle as a feather, touching each moment into being.” (Epperly/P&F Web site-2005)
Yes, we can affirm with John and Paul, too, that the “spirit gives life.” It inspires personal creativity and transformation; it lures us to support the well-being of others; it challenges us to look beyond our own interests to an integration of our well-being and the well-being of the planet.
But the life of the spirit is not just ‘spiritual’. It is also ‘embodied’, even in the rough and tumble of our everyday world. This is what incarnation is all about. Such an understanding is in the biblical stories, but it is usually found in the less read pages of sacred text!
Another John, Bishop John Shelby Spong, has some wonderful words in one of his recent books, The Sins of Scripture. Let’s listen to them: “I experience God as the source of life calling me to live fully and thus to respect life in every form as embodying the holy. I experience God as the source of love calling me to love wastefully all that God has made, including the earth with its plants and animals. I experience God… as… calling me to be all that I can be and to affirm the sacred being of all that is.” (Spong 2005:66).
Then the chapter concludes with these words: “We have looked upward for a God above the sky for centuries, but we now know that this infinite universe is empty of supernatural invasive deities. We need to shift our vision to look within; at life, at love, at being.” (Spong 2005: 66).
May it be so with us in all our living.
A LITANY as we prepare for early Spring
R: Thanks be to Creativity God.
L: Early morning dew on cobwebs hangs like crystal on the weeds along the roadside, reminding us of creation’s plan for all creatures; great and small.
R: Thanks be to Creativity God.
L: The winter has been short and dry; cold wind never quite giving way to rain driving its clouds on towards the coast; but the seed lying in the thirsty ground has still burst forth.
R: Thanks be to God.
L: We cannot hold you in the spider’s web, O God; we cannot hold you in the winds that drive the windmill; for you are also in the thirsty ground, the budding fuchsia, and the struggling seed. Great is your faithfulness
R: O Lord, our God.
R: Thanks be to God.
L: We cannot hold you in the daffodil or daphne;
R: For you are also in the air we breathe and in the magpie’s song
L: Reminding us again of creation’s plan.
R: Great is your harmony, Creativity God.
WE OFFER OUR CONCERNS AND JOYS TO GOD IN PRAYER
God our health and salvation, bless our prayers as we now pray for others. Let the power of prayer when blessed by Christ’s hands, stretch far beyond the limited range of our concern, and probe much deeper than our compassion can ever reach.
We pray for the lost and all who go searching for them, for the fallen and the merciful who give them a hand, the timid souls and those who speak up for them.
We pray for the nations and advisers who have influence with governments, for the different races and all who treasure the smallest and weakest, for those at war, and the peace-keepers who stay the bloodshed, and peacemakers who try to bring a just reconciliation.
We pray for the hungry millions and the agencies and donors who attempt to feed them, the homeless and those who house them, for refugees and each country that gives them a new start.
We pray for the handicapped and the therapists who encourage and enable them, the oppressed and those who empower them, the alcoholics and other drug addicts and each clinic or adviser that offers some respect and hope.
We pray for the diseased and the nurses who touch and tend them, the injured and the surgeons and carers who rehabilitate them, the mentally ill and each counsellor who patiently works for their well being.
We pray for the dying and those who stay with them to the end, the sorrowing and pastors and loved ones who comfort them, for the inconsolable and those special friends who do not become impatient or expect a rapid recovery from grief.
We pray for the unemployed and those who recognise their despair, for the unemployable and all who understand their frustration, for those in sheltered workshops and the supervisors who encourage and affirm them.
We pray for the church in its many denominations and congregations, for its leaders and members who elect them, the pastors and those who train and pastor them, the new converts who may feel impatient with staid ways, and established members who forget what it is like to be new comers.
Loving God, our health and salvation, channel love through our praying, and show us how to practice love in activity as well as in prayer. In the name of Christ Jesus, who taught us to pray, “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.
WORD OF MISSION
L: Blessed is the One within the many.
R: Blessed are the Many who make one.