Greeting: The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. And also with you.
Call to Worship –
In our darkest hours, God’s light continues to shine. In our weariest moments, God’s strength is enough. In our times of greatest isolation, God’s presence is always near.
Come, all who are weary. Christ strengthens us with love and grace. In this strength, we can do all things. We are here, ready to receive God’s blessings.
Mighty God pour out your power and strength on us. Grant us the nourishment we need to receive your word. May your presence fill our lives and carry us forth, preparing us to be your people and equipping us to do your work in the world. In your holy name, we pray. Amen.
HYMN: AHB 144 Ye servants of God (TIS 215)
Scripture Reading: Psalm 17: 1-8,15b
Prayer of Confession
We confess that, unlike the psalmist, we have not always followed your commands. Come to us, Holy One, even in our times of resistance. Work within and through us, even when we wrestle with doubt and despair. Enlighten and guide us, even in our darkest hours. Bless us and call us by name, even when we ignore your presence. Hold us and love us, even when we try to run away. When we feel beaten down by the world, and are weary with fatigue and sorrow, nourish us with your mercy and your grace. Fill us with your love, that we may go forward with confidence and faith. In your merciful name, we pray. Amen.
Words of Assurance
God’s mercy is boundless. It is forever offered to those who seek God’s grace.
There is never a time when we are turned away. Let us open our hearts to be fed by the promise of salvation and live as forgiven people. Thanks be to God.
Scripture Readings: Genesis 32: 22-31, Mathew 14:13-21 (also 1-12 please)
Sermon: Wrestling and Feasting
Have you ever wrestled with God – or had an argument or conversation about disappointments? As I read the story of Jacob’s dream of wrestling with God’s messenger, I recall times of mental wrestling with situations. Sometimes it was how best to deal with injustices done to me – how should I respond? Should I confront or overlook and forgive and forget? What words should I use? How can I control my facial expressions and tone? My personality is the kind that reveals the inner feelings – ‘wears the feelings on a sleeve’ far too transparently – so much so, that a former colleague told me I’d never be any good playing poker, because my opponents always would know what I was feeling. I have lost so many battles because I was too open and vulnerable in asking for justice or redress. ‘It is the past, let it go; forget it and move on’ – was the advice so often given.
Do the perpetrators of exploitation to achieve their advantage or deliberate lying to undermine a colleague or family member ever wrestle with their conscience in considering their victories over their victims? The story of Jacob wrestling with ‘a man’ or angel of God in his dreams on the night before he was to meet his brother Esau gives me hope that God may try to work for justice with those who do not show it. Jacob had deceived Esau and his father at least twice and his attempt to buy his brother’s favour still did not calm his conscience. He was frightened by the news his brother was coming to meet him with an army of 400 men. Once more Jacob prays to God (Genesis 32:9-12) acknowledging God’s goodness to him and his unworthiness, but also claiming the promise made to him by God. Consciously, he hopes his gifts will win forgiveness (v.20) but subconsciously he struggles in his dreams and demands another blessing. He is given a physical ailment and a new name, Israel, “God struggles” or “May God prevail”. How appropriate a name for the people of God down through the centuries who struggle with God, and always the prayer for us is “may God prevail” for God’s wisdom and mercy far exceed our capacities and desires as flawed humans.
The whole world has struggled with the effects of Covid 19 in health, social activities, family relationships and the economy – unemployment, debt, production and distribution shortages. How many of us also struggled with God in prayer about this scourge? The hopes of a vaccine or cure or that it would ‘die out’ naturally like SARS and the ‘Spanish flu’ appeared to do, have evaporated and some have given up the struggle to social distance, only to have the virus return in greater numbers of cases. We are reminded, like Jacob, that God is God, and we cannot understand God’s ways even when we struggle with them. Instead, we must continue to trust God’s love for us and the promises to be with us in the midst of our pain and uncertainty.
I wonder if Jesus might have wrestled with God in relation to the death of John the Baptist. Was that why he wanted to be alone to grieve? The story of the imprisonment and then death of John as recorded in Matthew 14: 1-12 is replete with injustice and stupidity, vanity and spite. In the midst of Jesus’ pain, did he wrestle with his conscience when he saw the crowd’s faithfulness in following him and was conscious of their needs for healing and help? Jesus’ compassion and sense of duty to God’s people overrode his desire to be alone for a time. How often his example is revealed in the sacrifices compassionate people have been making in this health crisis – especially the medical staff, politicians and their advisors, police and other essential service providers. Have we thanked them recently and recognised their struggles in putting their own lives and those of their family at risk?
Paradoxically, in the midst of the crises of the gospel story, comes a wonderful miracle that is recorded in each gospel, so it must have been really important for the early Christian community. Human needs (hunger) satisfied by God’s special power using the physical resources available – five loaves and two fish known about by the disciples. Ordinary people help God to bring healing and hope, comfort and spiritual wisdom to the crowd that day, and continue to do so now. The irresponsible feast of Herod (vs 1-11) with its implied excesses, is contrasted with the simplicity of Jesus’ miracle with the loaves and fishes.
Painting by Benedite de la Ronciere
This meal may have reminded the disciples and the crowd of the miracle of the prophet Elisha in 2 Kings 4: 42-44 as well as the story of God feeding the children of Israel in the desert with manna from heaven and flocks of quails in Exodus 16.
As we come to the Table of the Lord, we are reminded of the ways God continues to bless us and to feed us in our times of difficulty and pain, hunger and fear. We remember the stories of faith and especially Jesus’ sacrifices for us and we remember the promises of future feasting with God. Let us also promise to be channels of God’s healing and hope, messengers of God’s wisdom and peace as we ordinary people serve others in our community today as we have been served by Christ Jesus, our Lord and Saviour. Amen.
HYMN: AHB 334 Break now the bread of life (TIS 429)
As Jesus welcomes the thousands to share in a feast created from a few loaves and some fish, Christ welcomes us now to this abundant feast of Holy Communion, where we are fed with God’s grace and love.
The Great Thanksgiving
The Lord be with you. And also with you. Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord. Let us give thanks to the Lord, our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.
It is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to you, almighty God, creator of heaven and earth.
You formed us in your image, breathing into us the breath of life. You wrestled with our ancestors in the desert; you came to us in night times of weariness, confusion and doubt, and guided us as a pillar of light and a blessing of love.
When our faith faltered and we rejected your guidance, you spoke to us of love and compassion, through the law and the prophets. Always, your love remained steadfast. Always, you deliver us from death and despair, and call us to return and follow you.
And so, with your people on earth, and with all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn, saying:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest!
Holy are you, and blessed is your beloved child, Christ Jesus, who walked up on this earth. He healed the sick and taught your love. He also blessed and broke bread to feed thousands on a shore of Galilee.
In Christ’s great love, you gave birth to your Church; delivered us from the weary burden of sin; and freed us to receive your blessings and love, both now and into eternity.
On his last night, before meeting death, at a last supper, Jesus blessed and broke bread one last time, feeding his disciples with these words:
“Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you.”
After supper, he took the cup, giving thanks yet again, and gave it to disciples, saying: “Drink from this, all of you; this is my life, which is poured out for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins. As often as you drink it, do so in remembrance of me.”
And so, in remembrance of these, your miraculous acts in Christ Jesus, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving, as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.
Christ has died.
Christ has risen.
Christ will come again.
Pour out your Holy Spirit on us, that we might know your blessing and receive your grace. Pour out your Holy Spirit on these gifts of bread and wine/water.
May they nourish us as bread that never ends and as living water that always satisfies. By your Spirit, make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to the world, until Christ comes again in final victory, and we feast at the heavenly banquet. Through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, all honour and glory are yours, almighty God, now and forevermore. Amen.
Pray the Lord’s Prayer
Breaking the Bread
The bread we break is a sharing in the Body of Christ. The cup we take is a sharing in the blood of Christ. God’s gifts for God’s people.
Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us.
Jesus, bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.
Jesus, redeemer of the world, grant us your peace.
Receiving the Bread and Cup
The bread of life, to feed your soul. The blood of Christ, to restore your life with God. (eat your piece of bread and drink your wine or water)
Prayer after Communion
This has been no ordinary meal. It has been one in which we have been fed and nourished with the life of Jesus, our crucified and risen Lord. May we go from here, refreshed and eager to share that life with others. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.
Whatever our gifts – a loaf of bread, a tiny coin, a mighty blessing, or an amazing talent – each gift matters. Whatever our gifts, our gifts become miracles when we share them with God and God’s people.
Offering payment options–
- A) Cheques to be made out to ‘St Lucia UCA Parish account’ and posted to 7 Hawken Dr, St Lucia Qld. 4067, please. OR
- B) direct deposit to ‘St Lucia Uniting Church’ BSB: 334 040 acct#: 553 842 259 (St George Bank) Please mark it as ‘Offering’ with your name, if desired.
Prayer for offering
Holy Spirit, as you blessed Jacob long ago, bless us now.
As you blessed bread and fish on a Galilean shore, bless and transform our gifts into abundant blessings for those in need. Bless and guide our ministries into avenues for your mercy and grace. In your blessed name, we pray. Amen.
HYMN: TIS 687 God gives us a future
- God gives us a future, daring us to go
into dreams and dangers on a path unknown.
We will face tomorrow in the Spirit’s power,
we will let God change us, for new life starts now.
- We must leave behind us sins of yesterday,
for God’s new beginning is a better way.
Fear and doubt and habit must not hold us back:
God gives hope, and insight, and the strength we lack.
- Holy Spirit, teach us how to read the signs,
how to meet the challenge of our troubled times.
Love us into action, stir us into prayer,
till we choose God’s life, and find our future there.
© E.J. Smith used by permission CCLI licence #217268
We have gathered, listened, prayed and been fed by Christ. Now we are sent out to serve. May the miracle of God’s generosity stay with us and guide us on our way, and the blessing of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us always. Amen.
Resources used in this service include Words for Worship year A 2nd August 2020 by MediaCom (subscription of Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan) and The Abingdon Worship Annual 2020 edited by Mary Scifres and B.J. Beu, Abingdon Press, Nashville USA (owned by EN); and Uniting in Worship People’s and Leader’s Books Uniting Church Press (JBCE) 1988 Melbourne; and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license 217268.