Welcome to the Church
Call to Worship
Lord our souls wait for you,
for in your word we hope.
You are steadfast in your love,
merciful, forgiving, powerful and mighty.
You are our Redeemer and to you we lift our hearts.
Hymn: Tis 216 Rejoice the Lord is King
Prayers of Adoration, Confession and Declaration
Lord you are alone are holy and righteous.
When we see the works of your hands we are awed by your majesty,
so, we praise you for the wonders of creation.
You watch over all living things and notice even the sparrow when it falls.
So, we praise you for the gift of life.
We praise you for calling us your beloved children.
We praise you because through your grace we become more than we could ever imagine.
We grow and transform into the likeness of our Lord and Redeemer, Jesus Christ.
We become part of your family and take on the family resemblance.
So, we respond to you with prayers of adoration,
for your Spirit tenderly and lovingly guides us, claiming us
as your own and redeeming us from our far less than holy selves.
God of grace and miracles
we ask that you teach us the way of love, justice, and mercy.
Forgive us when we lie in order to gain an advantage over another or in order to hide our shame and protect our egos.
Teach us Lord, how to speak the truth in love.
Forgive us when we hold on to feelings of anger.
Teach us Lord, how to forgive.
Forgive us for storing up riches and turning a blind eye to the needy and forgive us for feeling so comfortable with our place of privilege within the world’s system of economics.
Gracious God, teach us compassion and generosity and make us aware of injustice.
Forgive us for saying things that hurt and wound others.
Teach us instead to speak words of encouragement, hope, love, and grace.
Teach us how to put away emotions that fill us with anger, making us hostile towards others and keen to see their downfall.
Gracious God, teach us to be kind, tender hearted and forgiving. Teach us to live in love.
We ask all this in the name of Jesus Christ, the one who grants us abundant grace and forgiveness.
For in him we are declared righteous and holy.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Forgive our sins as we forgive
John 6:35, 41-51
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
41 At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
Rules for the New Life
25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. 5 1 Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Sermon: Spiritual Growth
Between the ages of twelve and fourteen my son, Brynn grew over 15 centimetres in height. I can remember catching glimpses of him out of the corner of my eye and thinking who is this tall man in my house? It was as if he had transformed from a child to young adult over- night. For the next two years he and I, spent a considerable amount of time visiting a Physiotherapist because growth can come at a cost. Brynn had to commit to daily exercises so that his leg and back muscles lengthened to accommodate his height and growing bone structure. These exercises often caused more pain than his actual condition, but he stuck with it.
Today at 22, Brynn stands at 6 feet and 1 inch and enjoys many of the benefits of being tall, including reaching things on the top shelf, seeing over the heads of people in crowds, and being a pretty good basketball player. So, despite the cost of those years spent at the physio and the pain and discomfort Brynn endured it was all worth it in the end. Fortunately, we humans finish physically growing between the ages of 18 to 20, so no more growing pains. Mentally we reach the stage of psychological maturity at age 25. This is all fascinating stuff, but it makes me wonder about our spiritual growth, does it ever stop? Do we ever reach a stage of spiritual maturity? Is it full of stops and start, growth spurts and times in which nothing much at all happens and does it mean there will be some discomfort along the way, spiritual growing pains?
Today’s passage from Ephesians concludes with a description of the ongoing process of spiritual growth. Like muscles stretching and growing over bone we as followers of Christ are encouraged to grow out of the smallness of our hearts and the stuntedness of human self -centredness into giants of kindness, compassion, and mercy, to become nothing less than imitators of God. This is a high calling, we could say the highest calling, however at first glance, this passage seems to read like list of rules and codes of behaviour.
Many of the rules in this text sound like the good advice we may have heard from our elders, sayings our mothers or grandmothers were fond of repeating. In verses 26 to 29 for example we can see the foundations of sayings like “never go to bed angry”, “leave no room for the devil”, and “if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”. When we reach verse 30 however, we could be excused for finding the admonishment to ‘never grieve the Holy Spirit” at odds with the common sense that precedes it, particularly if we read this passage out of context. In the previous chapters of Ephesians, we are reminded that when we believe in Christ, we are “marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13). With the Holy Spirit as constant companion throughout our Christian journey, there must be times when the Spirit cries out, “what on earth are you doing beloved child of God? Why are you slipping away from the truth and light of Christ into the darker side of self-centred human nature?” If we are honest and open to self-reflection, we probably hurt God’s Spirit on a fairly regular basis. Thank God for the grace Christ has lavished and freely bestowed upon us (Eph 1:6-9).
Although Ephesians concludes with more advice and codes of behaviour, we are first reminded in the opening chapters that, by grace we have been saved, not as the result of works. We can never be good enough or try hard enough to be “imitators of God” on our own merit and despite the heading my NRSV bible attributes to today’s reading, the life of faith in Christ is far more than simply observing Rules for the new life. It is nothing less than an ongoing transformative experience through the grace and guidance of the Triune God. So, when do we as people of faith reach spiritual maturity? Never, well at least in this lifetime, anyway.
Martin Luther, the sixteenth century theologian put it this way,
This life, therefore, is not godliness but the process of becoming godly, not health but getting well, not being but becoming, not rest but exercise. We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way. The process is not yet finished, but it is actively going on. This is not the goal, but it is the right road. At present, everything does not gleam and sparkle, but everything is being cleansed.
If we are travelling on the right road, following in Christ’s footsteps, and imitating his way of being we should expect to feel the discomfort of growth every now and again, I think we can call this our spiritual growing pains. We should also be able to look back and notice how much we have spiritually grown and changed as we have matured, how we have grown in love, understanding, kindness, compassion, wisdom, and mercy. However, be warned, looking back can be a painful process because we will come face to face with our own failings, times when we have been hard hearted, bitter, unforgiving, and selfish will stand out against our high calling to imitate our ever-loving God.
You may look back and notice that you have been going nowhere, that your inner transformation has halted or become stunted. If that is case you are perfectly normal and perfectly human. All living things are designed to achieve a state of balance, a steady state that resists change. Biologists call this homeostasis. Although we are unaware of this going on at a biological, physical level we can see it working its way into our daily lives. We all tend to base our lives on comfortable, safe, and predictable patterns, things like having a comfy home, a cosy group of friends, a steady job, and habits and rituals that are familiar. We even tend to cling to familiar ways of being church. Have you ever noticed that coming up with a new idea or way of doing things always faces some level of resistance?
Our Triune God calls us out of this state of resistance prompting us to continually grow into becoming more and more Christlike. How do we achieve this process of becoming spiritually mature? Although it is true, we do not achieve spiritual growth through our own merit or goodness we do need to show up, to commit to the exercises, to practice the way of Christ. We need to pay attention, to wake up, and to take up, the high calling of those sealed with the Holy Spirit for we are God’s own beloved children, the ones who live in love.
Hymn: Tis 650 Brother, sister, let me serve you
Prayers for Intercession
Almighty God, we know that everything is in your control. We ask that you keep this Coronavirus from continuing to spread. Help people to decide to stay home instead of going out needlessly and help us to follow the rules for safety. Give hope, that one day soon the rules will lift and we can joyfully enter each other’s homes and relax again. We thank you for the increases in the vaccines arriving here.
Help us believe that You are our refuge and strength, as Psalm 46 says, “a very present help in the time of trouble, (even though) the earth may give way and (if) the mountains fall into the sea we need not fear”. Help us apply that to our anxieties in the present. And based on what we know you have done in the past (for the Old Testament is full of accounts of you rescuing your people), keep us open minded to future new ways of doing things, and having courage because you go with us.
For those isolating in our midst, may they feel your power of healing, take away their alone-ness. Give us all a sense of purpose in pursuing health and protecting others from exposure.
Philippians Chapter 4 tells us to not be anxious but in every situation to present our needs to you, so teach us by your Holy Spirit to put that into practice in regards to the future of our church. And show us Lord, the small ways how we may “bear one another’s burdens” in supporting each other while we cannot see each other face to face, be it in text, email, phone or video chat or prayer. WE especially pray for those in our congregation who are unwell, physically or mentally, or just very stressed; those who feel isolated, those grieving. Let us pause for a moment to silently bring their names to you now as they come to our minds. We also bring to you Audrey, Luke, Pat and Sheila and bless and support them and those who care for them.
This time of lockdown is a great leveller and a great opportunity to proclaim to those we know, that what we thought would give us safety (that is, wealth, education, status, privilege) in fact does not help us in a pandemic. So, we are forced to consider what matters and what we need most. May this lockdown time give us reason to pause and reflect on the truths we know, that our security comes from belonging to you and peace and future hope lie in being your children.
And finally, Lord, we ask that you bless and energise the Church Council and bless Gail and Trish in their work with us. Bless them and build them up, give wisdom, patience for each other and strength. For you are a mighty and powerful God who is interested in our affairs and more than able to dispel the fear, uncertainty and weakness we feel at times. We ask all these things in your name. Amen.
Lord and giver of everything good thing,
We partake in the joyful feast of Christ
through your gracious gift of bread and wine.
Bless the gifts we bring before you so that they may be
transformed through you grace and love,
made known in Jesus Christ our Saviour.
May God, bless us and make us pure and holy in His sight.
May the riches of his glory abound in us.
May He instruct us with the word of truth and inform us with the Gospel of Salvation,
and may His guiding Spirit enrich and transform us, in and through the love of Christ.
Hymn for the Journey: Tis 658 I the Lord of sea and sky
Next Week: 15 August 2021
1 Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14, Ps 111,
Eph 5: 15-20, John 6:51-58