Best and worst

*an opening prayer inspired by the story of David and his son, Absalom,
in 2 Samuel 13-18 and Ephesians 5:1-2*

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2, The Message

Praise to You O Suffering God.
You know the wounding of skin that was made to love,
the piercing of flesh with nail and thorn,
and the far greater rending of heart and of hope
through deception,
denial,
and desertion.

By humbling yourself in human form,
You have seen us at our best –
and at our worst.

You understand that love can lead to light and life
as easily as it can to death and destruction;
that a word spoken in anger can be an instrument of justice
or a wrecking ball of devastation;
that one day our family is a sanctuary, a source of strength and support,
the next, the people who we have given the most power
to drive us crazy or do us harm.

As we gather, this day, in Your holy presence
– our whole being hoping for Your faithful love
and great redemption –
we pray that You will gather together
both our beauty and our brokenness,
with Your infinite tenderness …

Graham Kendrick “O Lord, Your tenderness”

Your love is extravagant

Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6:1-21

What comes to mind for you when you hear the word “extravagant?”

By definition extravagance has to do with a lack of restraint in spending money or using resources. It’s a word associated with luxury, lavishness, comfort and indulgence. An extravagance is usually something optional, over-the-top and unnecessary, a waste really.

Yet Scripture tells us that God’s love for us is extravagant.

High and wide and deep and long, it breaks through our human dimensions of time and space. Intimate and endless, it transcends our reason and understanding. Inclusive and enduring, it defies all earthly limits and all our efforts to contain and control it.

In our Gospel this week, we read of God’s extravagant love being unveiled to a large crowd of people who had followed Jesus across Lake Galilee because of his power to heal the sick. Among them was also a large number of pilgrims heading towards Jerusalem to offer the traditional unblemished lamb as a Passover sacrifice in memory of their liberation from slavery in Egypt.

Now, we know from Mark’s retelling of this event that the disciples had recently returned from their own healing and teaching ministries and were tired, so Jesus had taken them off to a desolate place along the shoreline in the hope of having some time to eat and rest and share with them.

But when he was confronted by this mass of about 15 000 people (including the women and children of the group) so desperate to know of the power and presence of God moving among them that they had run on foot to get ahead of him, Jesus’s heart was full of compassion.

Because God’s love for us is extravagant: high and wide and deep and long, it breaks through our human dimensions of time and space so we’re never unwelcome, never unwanted, never intruding. When we reach for God, our needs are met with power, our deepest longings with loving-kindness.

Knowing full-well how he would deal with the massive crowd who just longed to be near him, Jesus asked one of his disciples, Philip, where they could buy enough food to offer hospitality to them all.

Philip’s reply is interesting in the way in which it demonstrates the difference between our own mindset and God’s. Notice how Philip actually avoids the question that Jesus asks of “where” this food can be bought and responds with how much it would cost if everyone was to have even a little piece.

Philip was blind to the extravagance of Christ’s intentions because of his own preoccupation with numbers: the size of the crowd, the cost of the food, how much – or how little – each person could have in order to keep their expenditure to a minimum. In Philip’s eyes, the extravagance of love that would be demonstrated by feeding a crowd of this size was reduced to a more symbolic act of offering a mere mouthful – and even that was beyond their current financial limitations!

His friend and fellow disciple was a little more creative. At least Andrew took the initiative to find a nearby food source. But even as he presented the child with his five barley loaves (a poor man’s bread) and two small fish, he evaluated what was on offer against what was needed and concluded that it just wasn’t enough.

But God’s love for us is extravagant … even though we are slow to comprehend both its nearness and its magnitude. Intimate and endless, it transcends our reason and understanding. When we focus on our limits, God reveals the untold riches of God’s glory and favour. When we are driven by the sense of “not enough,” God unveils a power and a plan beyond what we could ever have imagined or guessed at or requested.

So Jesus instructed the disciples to have everyone sit down. Imagine what welcome words those must have been to these desperate, hopeful, hurting people who had run so far from their homes to find him in the desolate place.

And he took the little that was on offer from one of the little ones in the gathering – who, for the record, isn’t named or even numbered among the 5000 because of his young age – and he gave thanks to God and began breaking it so that the disciples could share it out among the people.

Miraculously, the food multiplied, and everyone ate as much as they wanted, until they were completely satisfied. From the little that was offered, grew – in the breaking and the sharing – not just enough to feed 15 000 people, but more than enough with twelve baskets full of leftovers being gathered together!

Because God’s love for us is extravagant … but in no way over-the-top nor unnecessary nor wasteful. Inclusive and enduring, it defies all earthly limits and all our efforts to contain and control it.

Growing from a little, multiplying through dividing and sharing, this is what the table, the cross, the church, the kingdom of God is all about!

Yet, the immediate response of the people to this extravagant love was the desire to take hold of Jesus and forcefully make him their king. God-with-them on a grassy hill no longer measured up to their ambitious scheme to overthrow their Roman rulers so Jesus withdrew into the hills from the God-over-our-enemies mentality that even today seeks to cleave and crush and conquer.

Even the disciples were in danger of getting sucked in to this predictable plot which is why – in the other gospel accounts – Jesus, in fact, commanded them to head across the lake towards Bethsaida without him.

Their inability to control and contain the extravagance of God’s love, God’s plans, God’s kingdom was soon made apparent as a strong wind began to blow and the waves got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and they couldn’t even manage to get themselves to where they wanted to go.

But Jesus came towards them, walking on the water, speaking words of profound truth and deep peace: “Don’t be afraid. It is I.” And they happily took him into the boat with them and landed immediately at the place where they wanted to go – even though, through their own strained efforts, they had only made it about halfway to the opposite shore.

Those words in the Aramaic allude more strongly to “you know who I AM” than just “it is I.” Against the backdrop of darkness and the desolate place, at the time of Passover, with the manna-like provision of bread and the Moses-like power over the sea, these words are the climax of this chapter and the heart of the Good News: that Christ Jesus, the son of the Great I AM WHO I AM and I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE is the extravagance of God’s love given shape, present and active and moving among us.

As they landed at Bethsaida, on the opposite end of the lake to Jerusalem, Jesus resumed his work of bringing God’s great love for the world within reach of everyone. Soon everyone would hear him confess …

“I AM the bread of life,”

“I AM the light of the world,”

“I AM the good shepherd,”

“I AM the way, the truth, and the life.”

And they would know it was true for he fed the 5000, restored sight to the blind, sought out those for whom society no longer cared, and rose from the dead to restore to us the very fullness of life.

As we gather as church in a particular time and a particular place, we sit in fellowship with one another and in the refreshing presence of God to be met by the extravagance of God’s love and fed from the Bread of life.

The challenge though is not to try to control or contain what we receive as though God’s love is not enough but to allow the resting place of God’s love to become the very source and root of our life as the people of God within our particular community.

God’s love for us is extravagant. May our love for the world be no less high or wide or deep or long.

 

Meditation: where God dwells

2 Samuel 7:1-10; Ephesians 2:17-22; Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

The lectionary readings set for the week do something a little strange when it comes to the good news that we have been following in the Gospel of Mark: they scoop out the middle of the story (the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus walking on water) leaving us with just the beginning and the end of this particular pericope.

At first glance, there doesn’t seem to be much left over to shape a meaningful meditation from. But when we lay these fragments of story about Jesus being deeply moved by and responding to the sheer immensity of human need with his transforming power alongside God subverting David’s plans to build an appropriate house to hold God’s holy presence with God’s own promise to plant his people in a place of peace and prosperity and the admonition to the congregation of Ephesus to tear down the barriers that divide their society and embrace the one new humanity that is united in Christ, a rather challenging question begins to emerge: where does God dwell? Where does God dwell?

From the earliest times, God was on the move – with and among God’s creation. In Genesis, we have that beautiful image of God walking among the gardens with Adam and Eve, enjoying the intimacy of fellowship and face to face conversation. In Exodus, we read of the fiery pillar and the sheltering cloud that led and accompanied the Israelites on their long journey of freedom. It is during that pilgrimage towards the Promised Land that the first tabernacle  – or tent of meeting – is put up: a prototype of all later temples and churches, a place where anyone can come to seek God.

But, unlike the temple that David envisioned and his son – Solomon – ultimately built, and unlike the ancient churches and the modern sanctuaries of this day, the tent of the
tabernacle could be assembled and dismantled to travel with the people of God on their journey. So God resided among them – wherever they were.

But once the conquest of Canaan was over and David had declared Jerusalem the capital and moved into his fancy palace, he grew ashamed of God still dwelling in the old tabernacle tent of their wilderness years. 

And God ultimately accepts Israel’s need for a temple, as God had accepted her need for a king but in the message that the prophet Nathan receives and relays, God makes it clear that God doesn’t want or need a house to hold God but is, in fact, the One who is busy establishing the house or dynasty of David and the eternal resting place of God’s people. 

And, indeed, history tells us that the temple which was meant to be a focus of God’s divine rule and holy presence became instead a place of privilege and corruption and division where the poor, the sick, and the foreigner were kept at a distance through purity laws that had more to do with the power of the priests and the greed of the community leaders than the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart that God so desired.

Does Yahweh Tsebaoth, the God of Angel Armies and the Heavenly Host, dwell there, within that context of containment and control?

It is, in fact, into this very context that Mark’s Gospel breaks through with the good news of God on the move again in the person of Christ Jesus – a healer, a teacher, a shepherd who was full of compassion for the crowds of aching, searching, hopeful people who followed him from place to place, desperately seeking in him the power and presence of the God who was with them wherever they were.

There is a simple truth which has  profound implications for our understanding of what it means to be disciples of Jesus in the world today:

Jesus did not come into the world to start the Church. 

At the very start of his ministry, he declared that his God-given purpose was to proclaim the good news of God’s kingdom and he didn’t go about that by setting up a preaching place or taking over the temple but by journeying with and among the ordinary people who he encountered in streets and marketplaces, by wells and seashores, on the hills and in the storms, close to home and in the neighbouring country of Samaria.

And his disciples were called – and sent – to be part of that work, to extend the kingdom by travelling like pilgrims without food or money or baggage. At the start of today’s Gospel reading, they had just returned to Jesus to share how they had demonstrated God’s power and presence by driving out demons and healing the sick in Jesus’ name … not to advise Jesus of the prime piece of real estate that they had secured for future worship and ministry.

As the Church – the resurrection community entrusted with being the tangible presence of God in the world until the kingdom of God has been fully established – we have been guilty of living by the mantra of “if we build it, they will come” for far too long.

When the people of Gennesaret recognised God moving among them, they didn’t seek to control or contain it or to create an appropriate space to worship him. They were too busy running to fetch those too sick and too weak to run. And wherever Jesus was in the region, that’s where they showed up with makeshift stretchers full of broken, needy people who didn’t ask for much – just to touch the hem of his garment as he walked by for they knew that that would be enough.

A dusty floor littered with stalls full of food and baskets and sandals and cooking utensils and goats for sale, with a press of people bearing loved ones in in their arms, their
neighbours in on mats; beckoning, waving, calling for the Christ to walk down the narrow aisle in which they waited; hope rising in the air, excitement, cries of wonder, tears of celebration as people leapt to their feet for the first time in many years – full of the new life the Christ had come to make possible – what a radically different picture to so many of our churches and meeting places today: so neat and tidy and comfortable and carefully planned; the focal point of so many of our resources and our conversations …

… as if, once the lights go out and we’ve gone back to our ordinary lives, God dwells here and just sits around waiting for us to gather again.

“Who are we to build a house for God?” our Scriptures ask us.

It is God who is building the dwelling place that God longs for – not of bricks and stone and wood and gold – but of each and every one of our ordinary, imperfect, and often broken lives.

As we read in the letter to the Ephesians, the Holy Spirit of God is within us. This <hold hands to heart> is where God dwells – transforming us from the inside out, shaping us so that we fit together as an enduring symbol of the sweet message of peace that God welcomes all people into the family of God.

Our world today is as full of weak and fragile and hopeless people as it ever was – many who have been hurt and disillusioned by their experience of religion. Local churches in our communities are important in proclaiming that here is a place where the living God can be encountered. 

But God does not dwell in the number of windows that let light in or, really, in the fierce discussions and grumbling complaints that we often have about church property. God lives within us and touches the broken and the needy through:

  • the warmth of our greeting, 
  • the openness we show to those different from us, 
  • the hospitality of our table,
    the faithfulness of our prayer for others, 
  • the gentleness with which we hold another’s hand through a journey of hardship and struggle,
  • and the energy with which we run to find and to carry those who long only to touch the hem of his garment and be healed.   

May God forgive us for the times when our focus on the church
has been at the expense of God’s kingdom;
when our holding on to God
has gotten in the way of others touching the hem of Christ’s garment;
and when we have mistaken bricks and stone for God’s dwelling place
rather than our hearts, our hands, our homes.

And may the Spirit of God within us make us into a people who are on the move again to be instruments of healing, agents of reconciliation, and bearers of the good news of God’s kingdom.

Where God dwells

Resources for Proper 11B

Part One: In Our Worship

1. Welcome and notices

2. Opening prayer

from The Celtic Psalter

My dear King, my own King,
without pride, without sin,
You created the whole world,
Eternal victorious King.

King of the mysteries,
You existed before the elements,
before the sun was set in the sky,
before the waters covered the ocean floor;
beautiful King,
You are without beginning
and without end.

High King,
You created the daylight,
and made the darkness;
You are not arrogant or boastful,
and yet strong and firm.

Eternal King,
You created land out of the shapeless mass,
You carved the mountains and chiselled the valleys,
and covered the earth with trees and grass.

King of all,
You created men and women
to be stewards of the earth,
always praising You for Your boundless love …

… which we do now as we sing …

a medley of hymns/choruses appropriate to worship

I used:
O Lord, my God
How great is our God
As the deer pants for the water.

Part Two: In the Word

Old Testament Reading – 2 Samuel 7:1-10 (NCV)

King David was living in his palace, and the Lord had given him peace from all his enemies around him. Then David said to Nathan the prophet, “Look, I am living in a palace made of cedar wood, but the Ark of God is in a tent!”

Nathan said to the king, “Go and do what you really want to do, because the Lord is with you.”

But that night the Lord spoke his word to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Will you build a house for me to live in? From the time I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until now I have not lived in a house. I have been moving around all this time with a tent as my home. As I have moved with the Israelites, I have never said to the tribes, whom I commanded to take care of my people Israel, “Why haven’t you built me a house of cedar?”’

“You must tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord All-Powerful says: I took you from the pasture and from tending the sheep and made you leader of my people Israel. I have been with you everywhere you have gone and have defeated your enemies for you. I will make you as famous as any of the great people on the earth. Also I will choose a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them so they can live in their own homes. They will not be bothered anymore. Wicked people will no longer bother them as they have in the past.”

New testament reading Ephesians 2:17-22 (TPT)

For the Messiah has come to preach this sweet message of peace to you, the ones who were distant, and to those who are near. And now, because we are united to Christ, we both have equal and direct access in the realm of the Holy Spirit to come before the
Father!

So, you are not foreigners or guests, but rather you are the children of the city of the holy ones, with all the rights as family members of the household of God. You are rising like the perfectly fitted stones of the temple; and your lives are being built up together upon the ideal foundation laid by the apostles and prophets, and best of all, you are connected to the Head Cornerstone of the building, the Anointed One, Jesus Christ himself!

This entire building is under construction and is continually growing under his supervision until it rises up completed as the holy temple of the Lord himself. This means that God is transforming each one of you into the Holy of Holies, his dwelling place, through the power of the Holy Spirit living in you!

Reflection (with children)

Three symbols are placed around the sanctuary before the service – representing heaven, the ark of the covenant, and the temple of Jerusalem. Children are asked to look for the object that matches the question asked of them. When they have found the “correct” object for each question, the congregation will respond with whether or not that is a place where God dwells.

Where does God dwell?
In an unseen heaven far away
where we’ll meet Him on our judgment day?
No, no! God’s much nearer than that!

Where does God dwell?
In an oblong box of acacia wood
where She fits in snug as we think She should?
No, no! God’s much bigger than that!

Where does God dwell?
In a fancy temple made by human hands –
a holy place where few can stand?
No, no! God’s more loving than that!

Then where does God dwell?
What’s left to see?
Where has God gone?
Where could God be? 

An opportunity is given for the children (and congregation) to wonder about this. In our service, the children then gathered around a table to trace and colour in their hands which would be used later in the service in answer to the question.

Gospel reading – Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (NIV)

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught. Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

*** 

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went—into villages, towns or countryside—they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched it were healed.

Sermon/meditation: Where God dwells

Holy Communion

Great and glorious God,
we praise You for Your great love for us
which does not ever leave us alone –
not when we’re weak,
not when we’re hurting,
not even when we’re full of sin and shame.

We thank You for that love made visible in Your Son
who took on human form to be present with us,
to share our suffering,
to feel our pain,
to die our death,
and – through his resurrection –
to open up the intimacy of a face-to-face relationship with You again. 

He ascended into heaven
that we might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
dwelling with and within us;
offering counsel and comfort
and wisdom and strength.

Forgive us for the times when our focus on the church
has been at the expense of Your kingdom;
when our holding on to You
has gotten in the way of others touching the hem of Your garment;
when we have mistaken bricks and stone for Your dwelling place
rather than our hearts, our hands, our homes.

As we come to the sacred space of this table,
with its familiar gifts of bread and wine
reminding us of Your presence in the everyday and the ordinary,
may we bear before You the brokenness and the longing
of those who are unable to be here,
of those who do not yet know of Your great love for them,
of those for whom the church has become a place of rejection
or disappointment or abuse.

<Communion continues with the words of institution/consecration …>

Part Three: In our Witness

The children’s “handiwork” is held up for the congregation who respond:
God’s right here!
In hands big and small,
we hold the hand of the King of all. 

The peace is shared.

God’s right here!
In hands that hold
the sick, the lost, the poor, the old.

The people hold their hands open as they offer their prayers of intercession for the world.

God’s right here!
In hands stretched out
to share God’s love all about.

The offertory is taken and blessed. 

Words of Mission and Benediction

God is on the move!

May we move with God
as instruments of healing,
agents of reconciliation,
and bearers of the sweet peace of Christ Jesus
to all people – near and distant.

And may the peace, the love, the hope
of God with and within us
permeate our hearts, our hands, our homes –
this day and forever. Amen.

Closing hymn/chorus

I used Hear our praises.

A winter blessing

Written  by Joyce Rupp and Macrina Wiederkehr
in a contemplative and challenging journey through the seasons of life.

***

Blessed are you, winter,
dark season of waiting,
you affirm the dark seasons of our lives,
forecasting the weather of waiting in hope.

Blessed are you, winter,
you faithfully guard a life unseen,
calling those who listen deeply
to discover winter rest.

Blessed are you, winter,
frozen and cold on the outside,
within your silent, nurturing womb
you warmly welcome all that longs for renewal.

Blessed are you, winter,
your bleak, barren trees
preach wordless sermons
about emptiness and solitude.

Blessed are you, winter,
you teach us valuable lessons
about waiting in darkness
with hope and trust.

Blessed are you, winter,
season of blood red sunsets
and star-filled, long, dark nights,
faithfully you pour out your beauty.

Blessed are you, winter,
when your tiny snowflakes
flurry through the air,
you awaken our sleeping souls.

Blessed are you, winter,
with your wild and varied moods,
so intent on being yourself,
you refuse to be a people-pleaser.

Blessed are you, winter,
when ice storms crush our hearts and homes,
you call forth the good in us
as we rush to help one another.

Blessed are you, winter,
your inconsistent moods
often herald spring’s arrival,
yet how gracefully you step aside
when her time has come.

Divine DNA

*a prayer inspired by Psalm 139*

Lord, You know everything
there is to know about us.
You perceive every movement;
You are present in every moment:
Your Divine DNA woven into us
within our mother’s womb
as You shaped the delicate inside
and the intricate outside
and knit them all together in marvellous complexity.

When we awaken each morning,
You are with us –
and within us.
You know every step we will take
before our journey even begins.
You’ve gone into our future to prepare the way
and, in kindness, You follow behind us
to spare us the pain of the past.

May Your hand of love be upon our lives
as we meet You now,
in the light of this day.
Amen.

 

Imaged sourced at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/dna-tree-erzebet-s.html

A season for snuggling

*a winter prayer*

O extraordinary God
who reaches into the ordinary moments
of our days and nights,
with such tender, transforming touch:
smoothing and shaping,
healing and breaking,
soothing and stretching,
warming and pruning,
I give You thanks and praise
for this changing season
which invites me to snuggle and settle
into Your unchanging love.

Forgive me for failing to see the signs of Your presence
in the rot of leaf litter and the chilling breeze.
Forgive me for my resistance to solitude and silence
and slowing down.
Forgive me for my
hard heart,
harsh words,
and relationships damaged by coldness.

As the heartbeat of the land slows down
and the darkness lengthens
and the harsh cold reminds me of my need
for shelter, and warmth, and light

may Your Spirit offer assurance
that beneath the surface the seeds of life are being tended,
that what is needed for future growth will burst forth
in the rampant joy of spring,
and that each season’s turning and re-turning
is just an ordinary part
of an extraordinary life with You.

Forgive our sins we pray

While it’s been almost a year since we made the move to a new country and a different denomination, one of the constant thrills has been discovering new music (complemented by the comfort and familiarity of having many of the hymns I grew up with as a child included in our hymn book). Today’s treasure as I prepare for worship this week:

Sourced from youtube @ https://youtu.be/NRTLG7jPszA


Together in Song 635
“Forgive our sins as we forgive,”
You taught us, Lord, to pray,
but You alone can grant us grace
to live the words we say.

How can Your pardon reach and bless
the unforgiving heart
that broods on wrongs and will not let
old bitterness depart?

In blazing light Your cross reveals
the truth we dimly knew,
what trivial debts are owed to us,
how great our debt to You.

Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls
and bid resentment cease;
then, bound to all in bonds of love,
our lives will spread Your peace.

Quote: Trinity

“What the doctrine of the Trinity is telling us is that God is fundamentally a relational being…

The Father, Son and Spirit live in conversation,
in a fellowship of free-flowing togetherness,
and sharing and delight –
a great dance of shared life
that is full and rich and passionate,
creative and good and beautiful.” 

Baxter Kruger