26 July 2015

The Lectionary moves from Mark’s Gospel to a journey through John Chapter 6 for the next few weeks. In the Old Testament semi-continuous readings we remain with David for the time being. This week, the question of faith becomes the focus as we contrast David’s lustful self-interest with the faith of Jesus in feeding the crowds and appearing to the disciples in the storm. The challenging question that this week’s readings raise is this: What will be the driving force of our lives – faithful trust in God’s ways, our own self-interest. It sounds like an easy choice to make, but the realities of our daily lives show how hard it can be.

May our worship encourage us in faith and give us the strength and courage to faithfully trust the ways of God’s Reign this week.

READINGS:
2 Samuel 11:1-15: After David sees Bathsheba bathing, he sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant. Then, he summons her husband, Uriah, who is away at war, and attempts to get him to sleep with his wife to cover David’s adultery, but when Uriah refuses, out of loyalty to his fellow soldiers, David commands that he be left stranded on the battlefield so that he will be killed.
OR 2 Kings 4:42-44: The prophet Elijah receives a bag of grain and twenty barley loaves, and he instructs his servant to feed one hundred people with them. The servant, although uncertain at first, obeys, and after everyone is fed there is food left over.

Psalm 14: Those who are foolish and wicked say that there is no God, and God sees how society has become corrupt. But, God is with the righteous who are “eaten up” by the wicked, and will save Israel, leading the people to rejoice.
OR Psalm 145:10-18: God’s people bless God and give thanks to God, telling everyone about God’s power and glory, and God’s everlasting Reign, because God is trustworthy and supports, provides for, and rescues all who call out to God.

Ephesians 3:14-21: Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians, asking God, who knows all people, to strengthen them, live in them and enable them to grasp the height, depth and breadth of God’s love. Then Paul, celebrates God who can do far more than we can think or imagine.

John 6:1-21: Jesus is followed by a large crowd and he asks Philip where they will find food to feed them, but Philip expresses that it would be far too costly to try and feed them all. Then Andrew points out one youth’s five loaves and two fish. Jesus blesses the food and has it distributed to the crowd, and everyone is fed. Then, because he knows they want to force him to be king, Jesus withdraws. But, later, as the disciples sail across the lake, a storm comes up. But, Jesus goes to the disciples on the water and they reach their destination safely.

For a deeper reflection on the theme for this week, check out this post on the Sacredise blog.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
This week’s readings offer us a startling contrast. On the one hand, there are the familiar stories of God’s provision. In the related Old Testament passage, Elijah feeds a crowd with small rations, and in the Gospel reading from John, Jesus does the same with a much larger crowd – possibly because the generosity and faith of one small boy led to greater sharing and mutual care from the entire group. Furthermore, as the disciples wrestle in the storm, their fear is removed when they know the presence of Jesus, and they are able to find their way back to land safely. In the letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds the believers of God’s provision and grace, and prays that they may learn to grasp how abundant God’s love is, and that they allow this knowledge to strengthen them and open them to God’s life within them. These narratives of God’s grace and provision are echoed in Psalm 145 where God is praised as the trustworthy one. On the other hand, there is the story of David’s lust and deception. The infamous story of his adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband speaks loudly of the consequences that result when we move away from trust in God’s grace and God’s ways, and begin to operate from our own self-interest. Although God had given David everything he could have desired, in his unfaithfulness and selfishness, it was not enough, and so he took things into his own hands and brought tragedy on others and (as we will see next week) himself. The focus, then, of the Lectionary this week, is on learning to trust in God’s grace and God’s ways, and learning to live out of that faith in every choice, every decision and every moment. It’s a timely word, since so much suffering is caused when we operate from fear, lust, greed and self-sufficiency. Faith in God’s ways and God’s gracious presence may sound naive and impractical, but, when we take the risk and live as faithful followers of Christ, we discover that the principles of God’s Reign really are the best way to live.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
Global Application:
There are tremendous challenges facing our world, and there are millions of people working daily to address these challenges. However, so much of our work for justice and peace is motivated by fear, or by the sense that it all depends on us alone. And so much of our work is plagued by the influence, or direct resistance, of interest and lobby groups. When it comes to dealing with the very real crises of our world, faith may feel like the most irrelevant thing, but without it we risk missing one of the most important resources and guiding principles at our disposal. Human wisdom and self-sufficiency drove David’s destructive lust. Human wisdom inspired Philip’s incredulous question about where food could be obtained to feed the crowds. But, when the values of God’s Reign are brought into play, we can truly believe in a different way, which often leads to surprising solutions to our problems. When a crowd is hungry, faith means that a boy’s lunch can be the catalyst that ensures that everyone is fed – most likely through the simple miracle of sharing. When the disciples face a storm alone, their fear threatens to sink them, but when they realise that Jesus is with them, they find the way to land safely. These narratives may be interpreted miraculously or not, but either way the principle remains: the miracle of God’s Reign is that we begin to believe that we can feed crowds, we can navigate storms, and we can discover ways to live that liberate us from the prisons of our own self-interest, lust, and self-sufficiency. The key challenge this week, then, is to risk believing in God’s Reign enough that we embrace its values as the primary driving force of our lives, and as the guiding principle for addressing the crises of our times.

Local Application:
In every life a choice must be made in which we decide the principles that will guide us. In our relationships, our neighbourhoods, our communities, our work and play we can choose to allow our own self-interest to be primary or we can trust that following the ways of God’s Reign truly do lead us to life. The challenge is that we would love to believe that following Jesus guarantees prosperity, health and safety, but this is not what this week’s readings promise.  Rather, we are offered a vision of God’s grace and presence that calls to the grace and compassion within us. We are shown, through David’s story, what can happen when we turn our backs on faithfulness, integrity and self-restraint, and we are challenged, through the Gospel story, to believe that generosity and trust really can help us to enjoy shared abundance and navigate the storms that we will inevitably face. One of the tragedies of the contemporary church is that we have failed to live the faith we proclaim. Where we have spoken about forgiveness and grace, we have been vindictive and condemning. Where we have spoken about trust and generosity, we have been greedy and stingy. Where we have spoken about courage and integrity, we have been fearful and cowardly. If the world is to believe our message, we are going to have to manifest it in our lives and communities, and when we do, we may well discover that we contribute to wholeness and peace in our world.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Defiant Praise
Fear Is A Terrible Thing
Loving Through The Storm
Chains
Living Aligned

Hymn Suggestions:
My Faith Looks Up To Thee
For The Beauty Of The Earth
Trust And Obey
Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
Great Is Thy Faithfulness
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube Video)
Hear Our Praises (Link to YouTube Video)
Give Thanks (Link to YouTube Video)
Blessed Be Your Name (Link to YouTube Video)
Priceless Vision

Liturgy:
A Liturgy of Compassion

Video Suggestions:
I Am – The Bread Of Life
Ephesians 3
A Prayer for the Church

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