Welcome to all who are reading or listening online this morning. We may be physically separated but we are spiritually connected. We are together apart.
Welcome to anyone who is joining us for the first time today.
It is my hope this time of worship will refresh and renew your spirit.
As I prepare myself to lead this time of worship, I light the Christ candle to remind me that no matter where I am the light of Christ is always with me. You might like to light a candle also.
Let us worship our God.
Call to Worship
Welcome, friends, to this space of worship.
Come into it with a sense of wonder.
For generations have worshipped and prayed
just as we do today.
Worship with happiness. Sing with joy!
For today, we meet again in the shelter of a Loving God.
Hymn: All are welcome in this place
Prayer of Invocation, praise and thanksgiving
More awesome than lofty mountains or rolling oceans, are you, holy Friend.
More cheering than the sunshine through winter windows,
fairer than springtime and more fruitful than mellow autumn,
more abundant in mercy than the number of stars in the Milky Way,
and as expensively loving as Christ crucified,
are you, God of all space, time and eternity!
Lovelier than the faces of those whom we most cherish,
more mysterious than the beginning of space and time,
more irrepressible than even Christ on Easter morning,
are God, God of grace, mercy, peace and joy.
There is nothing like you in the heavens above or on earth below!
You always keep faith with your stumbling people
and pour grace upon those who trust and serve you!
Glory and honour, thanksgiving and worship, shall be yours forever!
(by Bruce D Prewer)
Prayer of Confession
God of peace, we seek your forgiveness.
Too often we are distracted when we come to pray.
Our busy minds flick from ideas to concerns,
from choices to decisions,
diverting our attention from time with you,
and disturbing the peace that we seek.
Forgive us, God of peace.
God of truth, we seek your forgiveness.
As people of faith, we wander from your truth,
hearing the noise of the rowdy world,
and focusing on words that dishonour truth
to appease our wrong decisions.
We long to listen to your word of truth.
Forgive us, God of truth.
God of shelter, we seek your forgiveness.
We grieve over what we have not done,
and groan over what we do not have.
In this world, we create home and shelter
that is so easily replaced or updated.
We fall for the relentless change to uplift our souls,
rather than seeking shelter in your consistent presence.
We long to shed what is unnecessary
and be surrounded by your unchanging love.
Forgive us, God of shelter.
(© MediaCom Education 2021)
Words of Assurance
Friends of God, let us repeat together one of the many words of forgiveness that speak to us 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 indeed forgiven, and by grace have become the liberated children of the new age.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: You raise me up
56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
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? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 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.”
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Sermon: Be Strong in the Lord
I started to prepare today’s service two weeks ago and had a particular theme I wanted to focus on, then I got busy with a combination of work and family and I didn’t look at this service again until this week. In that time, we have seen daily case numbers of Covid increase alarmingly high and at a rate no one wants to see. We also have been flooded with the horrific images on our TV screens of people of all ages fleeing Afghanistan, climbing onto the outside of planes in the sheer hope of survival. And the devasting aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.
How do we find hope amongst all this? or as a Premier has referred to in recent days, ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’.
It is with this lens I approached the two readings Neil has just read for us. What stood out for me as I re read the story from John’s gospel and the letter to Ephesians is, the last two verses of John and the first verse of Ephesians. When you read them together, you can find hope in a time that seems hopeless.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power.
Quite powerful words.
Throughout chapter 6 of John’s Gospel Jesus is talking about feeding us and filling our hunger. First Jesus feeds the multitudes with 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish. So much food is produced there are leftovers. Jesus gives us what we need to be satisfied and more. Jesus then goes on to say that He is the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Jesus wasn’t talking about filling our stomachs but filling our lives and satisfying our deep hunger and sustaining our lives with all that we need. Chapter 6 ends with Jesus inviting us to feed on Him, to eat of His flesh and drink of His blood.
I don’t’ know about you but I can’t help but be repulsed by the image of eating of someone’s flesh and blood and I’m not surprised that people turned and walked away. Jesus doesn’t want us to gnaw on Him like we would a bone; Jesus wants us to feed on the very essence of who He is. To drink in all that He is and in doing so, the reward is not a full belly but eternal life. Not life that goes on and on and one but the real thing. Eternal life is the quality life that the disciples found in the presence of Christ, where there were no barriers and no limits.
Rev Geoff Stevenson, one of our Presbytery minister said this in his weekly reflection.
“Jesus invites those who are willing to see and hear to eat of his being, his body and blood – the deep and true essence of who he is and the Christ revealing the Divine Life who is Love and reaches out to hold each person and creature. We are invited to feed upon this wisdom, this way, this being, this life and be filled in our inner being. We are given the way into life that is liberated and full, that is a journey into becoming.”
This is what Peter was referring to when he said, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is what I hold onto when all seems hopeless.
Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power.
When Paul wrote these words he was imprisoned and would have had a solider guarding him all the time and yet from this dark place he urges the people of Ephesus to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His power.
We are not imprisoned but we have lost a lot our freedom and for many what little freedom we have will be tightened more in a desperate bid to control this virus.
For some of us it is a dark and lonely place and it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We may not be fighting against the spiritual warfare Paul was referring to in his letter but we do have a fight of sorts on our hands. When the days seem long and blur into one and loneliness creeps in, be strong in the Lord.
When you long to hug your grandchild and see their smile in person, be strong in the Lord.
When the news comes on and the stories are too hard to ear and the images to awful to see, be strong in the Lord.
And feed on Christ’s flesh and blood and receive all that Christ is and all that Christ offers. Recognise the flesh of Christ. See the flesh of Christ in the people of Afghanistan and seek freedom for them. See the flesh of Christ in the people of Haiti and pray that emergency and medical aid reaches all in need. See the flesh of Christ in the 11am Premier’s press conference and pray for wisdom for our political and medical leaders, healing for those who have Covid, resilience for our medical teams and all authorised workers who continue when others can retreat to the safety of indoors. See the flesh of Christ in others and weep when they weep and laugh when they laugh. Se the flesh of Christ in you when you gaze in the mirror and be strong in the Lord. Amen.
In response to the word let us affirm our faith.
In the toughness and traumas of life
we are never left defenceless
for the covering of God
lies around us stronger than any deaths.
We believe in a God who showed us
with open arms stretched out on a killing cross,
the power of good to defend the faithful,
to rise free in strong life again
in an eternal challenge
To all the forces that would destroy us.
In our every day,
we believe we are given energies for survival,
cherishing and healing,
courage and renewal,
to face all that stands between us
and the victory of love.
© Rev Dorothy McRae-McMahon
Hymn: Be thou my vision
Prayers of Intercession
God of power, God of peace, you equip us to face challenges in this and every era.
May we be mindful of your protection, and help us share your Word in ways that promote love, grace and justice.
We pray that you will give us your heart, O God, as we pray for the world you so deeply love. We pray for areas of conflict and war, of which, sadly, there is no shortage as we look around the world.
But this week, our focus is on Afghanistan where the whole dynamic has changed so dramatically as a new order is being installed.
We pray for the women and girls of Afghanistan who are often treated as second class citizens as they will be scared for what the new Taliban regime will bring. Give them courage, give them strength as they seek respect and equality.
We pray for Christians and other religious minorities who are anticipating persecution under the new regime. And we pray for the people of Afghanistan and the non-government organisations as they respond to the dramatic increase in refugees and those displaced internally.
The following prayer has been prepared by the National Council of Churches in Australia:
O God of mercy and of peace,
We hold before you the peoples of Afghanistan.
Be living bread to those who are hungry each day
Be healing and wholeness to those who have no access to health care amidst the ravages of pandemic
Be their true home to all who have been displaced
Be open arms of loving acceptance to those who fear because of their gender, ethnicity, religious or political views
Be peace to those engaged in armed conflict and those who live within its shadow.
Turn our hearts and minds to your ways of just and gentle peace,
Open our eyes to see you in all acts of compassionate care
Strengthen our hearts to step out in solidarity with your suffering people and
Hold us all in your unfailing love.
We pray in the name of Jesus Christ, who emptied himself of all but love in order to bring life in all its fullness.
We have watched with horror as events have unfolded on our television screens during this last week. And we feel so helpless. We hear words of conciliation from the victors. So, our prayer is that the rhetoric of the press conferences will be matched by the actions on the ground. We see film of pandemonium at Kabul Airport in what appears to be chaotic scenes as evacuations commence. We pray that a sense of goodwill and forgiveness will be evident and applied as evacuation flights are arranged. May our own Australian Government be welcoming of those seeking refugee status here in Australia.
And the second major issue before us at this time is the Covid-19 pandemic. Today is a National Day of Prayer for all those experiencing the on-going impacts of the pandemic. And so, I share this prayer prepared by our President, Rev Sharon Hollis:
God of mercy and compassion,
We pray for the world as across the globe we face the challenges of Covid.
We give you thanks for those who care for the sick,
For those who work on limiting the spread of the disease
And those who develop and administer vaccines.
We remember before you all those affected by Covid.
Comfort those who have Covid-19 or suffer the long-term effects of having had Covid.
Sustain those who work in health care, testing and vaccination.
Encourage those who are supporting education remotely,
Console those who must stay at home,
And bless and protect those whose work is essential for our wellbeing.
We long for a world where access to health care and vaccines are shared equitably.
Strengthen the efforts of those who work to end Covid for all.
And fill us with a desire to work for justice and care for all.
Even this week we found been informed that one of our own, Arash, has contracted the Covid virus and is now at home after being treated in Ryde Hospital. He is still afflicted with an annoying cough. We pray that you will speed his recovery. May it be a time when he can reflect on your love for him and his response to that love.
We pray for those in our church community who are preparing for medical procedures, recovering from illness or having on-going treatment. Comfort and encourage them.
And we offer these prayers in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ who taught us, when we pray to say:
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.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial
and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever.
We are offered abundant gifts. May we exercise generosity and open hands for God’s mission in the world.
Gracious God - you hold us firm through the power of your Spirit, and in Jesus you make clear that you withhold nothing from us. You offer us strength to withstand all that threatens to weaken our faith and our witness. Bless these gifts and our lives which we offer in response to your great gifts to us. This we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen
Hymn: Jesus I have promised
Go in the grace of the gentle smile
Be uplifted by the grace of the welcoming hand.
Join in the laughter with the grace of the humorous tale
And see where God greets you as you journey on.
May God’s grace greet you, hold you, heal you, and journey with you each day.
(© MediaCom Education 2021)
Next Week: 29 August 2021
Theme: “God’s love letter to You”
Song of Solomon 2: 8-13, James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23
Song of Solomon 2: 8-13, Psalm 45: 1-2, 6-9, James 1:17-27 and Mark 7:1-8,14-15, 21-23