From corner or limelight,
from fears or from sadness,
from hope or from gladness
in close relationships
or from separate lives.
We gather together
Who long for the company,
and the deepest joys,
found in your presence.
We gather together
To meet you,
to celebrate your love,
and to rejoice in the possibilities that arise
when we honour all the diversity
of our humanity.
We gather together today.
PROCESSIONAL HYMN AA 89, Light of Lights
WELCOME (Seekers church)
We come here looking,
all of us carrying
our small lamps of hope.
We come here calling out,
hearing each other,
retelling the story of promise.
Here, we reach out to God,
and become the one Body of Christ,
breathing together with the Holy Spirit.
A warm welcome is extended to all
especially those who may be joining us at St Andrew’s for the first time,
or who have returned after an absence.
Your presence enriches us, and this time together.
PRAYER OF INVOCATION (by Dorothy McRae-McMahon)
Be found here with us , Spirit of God,
discovering in our midst again,
for we are your disciples of today,
and we invite your knowing of our hopes and fears,
your entering of our longing hearts.
Break down the barriers which we place
between us and your presence,
for we long to be with you
and experience your grace.
CONFESSION (adapted from Dorothy McRae McMahon)
Sometimes we place a veil of separation
between you and ourselves.
Forgive us, healing God.
Sometimes we worry about our lack of faith
and our unworthiness.
Forgive us, healing God.
Sometimes we fear disappointment
Forgive us, healing God.
Sometimes we no longer dare to ask things of you:
Forgive us, healing God.
LIGHTING THE RAINBOW ROOM CANDLE
TIME WITH THE CHILDREN
PASSING THE PEACE
THE TRADITION IN TEXTS
First Reading: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
Gospel Mark: 6:1-13
Contemporary Reading: from Lament Psalm 27 by Ann Weems
I stand beneath the night
where stars used to shine
at the luminaries of the sky
until I could walk
the ink-blue beach
between their shining.
Then their shining stopped
for they left the sky,
and you, O God,
left with them.
And I am left
beneath a starless sky
with a starless heart
that barely beats.
Will your stars
never shine again?
Will they never again
speak of your mystery?
Will they never again sing
to my soul?
Will I never again know
of the God
of star and sky?
O God of my heart
peel back the night
and let the starlight
pour out upon
my upturned face.
Let my eyes drink
a sky of tears
Let my heart bathe
in the stunning light
until my soul sings again
with the conviction
of the faithful.
In your mercy and justice,
O God of my heart,
call me by name,
and the stars will shine
as they did
on that morning
when they first began
Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.
Thanks be to God.
HYMN AA 49, God of All Time
REFLECTION - Fionnaigh McKenzie
“Hoping for a theophany”
Last year, when I stood up here giving the reflection, I spoke of a god that permeates the universe, present in the stars of far-flung galaxies and the minute dances of atoms in our bodies. A God alive in the grandest gesture, and the smallest touch, ever present in our potential, our capacity for love and justice. This is just one variation on a faith in God. But sometimes we hope for different encounters with God, different theophanies. Faith doesn’t have to be static and unchangeable.
When I was preparing this reflection, I went and looked up the old orders of service, to see what Margaret did with these readings 3 years ago. It turns out that she was baptizing me! I chose to be baptised in the St Andrew’s community because of the openness to a variety of beliefs, and the willingness to ask questions. My baptism was not about a fixed belief, about blindly accepting a certain creed, it was about hoping for a theophany, hoping for an experience of God that would meet my needs.
There are so many kinds of faith, so many ways of believing in God. Sometimes we have unquestioning, “blind” faith. Sometimes we have beliefs so firm we just *know* they are true. Sometimes our faith is more uncertain. Sometimes we just hope for God. Faith just different from person to person, one person’s faith can change, from one moment to the next.
We’re all here because we have faith in something, whether in a divine being, or a sacred energy, or in belonging to a community. We are gathered because we are hoping for a theophany, an encounter with God that is right for us, where we are right now. Sometimes that may be like feeling the presence of a loving, caring being. Sometimes it may be the excitement of discovering new ideas. Sometimes it may take the form of reaching out to another person, and them reaching back.
The unquestioning acceptance of a personified God who can listen and intercede has been the feature of human faith throughout history and around the world. The God in today’s reading from Mark is a personified God, someone who can influence things and take action. A God who won’t do acts of power unless people have the right kind of faith. Margaret would know the context around these readings, and could interpret them in light of this. I only have questions. What about these people who didn’t have faith? Why not? Surely they must have wanted miracles, hoped for them? Surely they must have had faith in something, old religious and political structures, just not the “right” faith. Is there a “wrong faith?”
The St Andrew’s community accepts a diversity in the experience of God, including those who believe in a God who is being who actively listens and responds, others who believe that God is present throughout the universe, but not personified, and those who believe, as Lloyd has articulated, that God is a symbolic term used to refer to all that is of greatest worth to us.
I used to think that as we grow we progress from a more personal God, to a more abstract, complex idea of God. But now I think that it’s not such a linear process. Joy Cowley has written “It would seem logical that personal beliefs grow as we do and that is true for much of the life process; but then we get to the stage where they begin to diminish. I know that the complex ideologies I once thought to contain all wisdom have now dissolved, reducing themselves to the occasional drops of truth. These drops tend to run together to form one truth too simple, too great, too obvious for words. It just is.” Perhaps we have faith and hope for the God we need in our lives at any time.
A diffuse God may be cold comfort to someone who is struggling or suffering from something that is happening to them or to those they love. At times like these maybe we may need for a God with whom we can communicate on a very personal level and from whom we can hope for some kind of intervention. It could be comforting to be able to communicate all our fears, to bear our souls in a way we may not be able to with the people in our community. Having God take this form for us could be seen by some as a very deep expression of faith. Indeed this could be a faith that is required of us, as suggested in the reading.
Sometimes we don’t find what we hope for. Like the writer of the contemporary psalm, we keep searching, wondering if God is still there. Perhaps sometimes it is the hoping and wondering that is the point, not the belief, or the faith.
Is faith a choice? I used to think that I had to make myself believe the things I was told in church, and I couldn’t. I prayed, and asked God to help me to have faith. But it doesn’t seem to work like that.
When hope is the basis of our faith it could be a time of great questioning, but if this is only adding to the anguish in our lives maybe it could be a time for not questioning. When times are bad we need hope and maybe the idea that God has a purpose for the way things happen, provides us with the hope that we need in order to keep going with our lives. I don’t want to believe that God answers some prayers, but not others, based on whether we are faithful enough, I don’t believe, as I used to, that if God does not answer my prayers I didn’t pray with enough faith, or perhaps my prayers were misguided and didn’t fit in with God’s long term plan. But at the same time, I hope for an intimacy with a God who can hear me, when I need support.
We need to have enough faith to cope with what life throws at us. Sometimes believing in a God of ideas and energy is enough. Other times some of us may hope for an experience of God that is more concrete, a God who is with us and can give us strength and help us do things.
I’d like this time to be a celebration of the diversity of faith that we have in this community. Several people from our community have generously agreed to share a few words about their faith and what they believe about God.
CELEBRATION OF FAITH (by John Shea)
We celebrate that where people
are gathered together in love
God is present and good things happen
and life is full.
We celebrate that we are immersed in mystery
that our lives are more than they seem
that we belong to each other
and to a universe of great creative energies,
whose source and destiny is God.
We celebrate that the spirit of God
beat in the heart of Jesus of Nazareth
and God's good news was heard
by the broken and wounded.
We are glad that the spirit of peace
is present with us, the church,
as we gather to celebrate our common existence,
and the fidelity of God.
And most deeply we believe
that in our struggle to love,
we incarnate God in the world.
And so aware of mystery and wonder,
caught in friendship and laughter,
we become speechless before the joy in our hearts
as we celebrate the sacredness of life.
LIFE IN THE COMMUNITY OF ST ANDREW’S
People share news and notices and visitors are welcomed.
OFFERING AND PRAYER OF DEDICATION
We recognise and bless the gifts brought to the table
and those given to support the mission of the church
through automatic payments.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
CIRCLE OF PRAYER
PRAYER FOR ST ANDREWS (on pew card)
JESUS’ PRAYER "lowest common denominator version" by Fionnaigh McKenzie
We turn to all that is loving, nurturing and creating,
we turn to wisdom, light, a holy being or a divine spark…
we name this God
we lift up and treasure this name.
We seek to live life well
with love and respect for all people
and all things in the universe.
We hope that through God
our needs will be met.
We hope that we will have bread, enough for today
and some to share.
We seek forgiveness
in our lives and our living.
We hope that we will be kept safe
from evil and suffering.
We bring these hopes together
and offer them today
to God in us, with us, and throughout the universe.
WORDS OF ASSURANCE (Julian of Norwich)
God wants us to allow ourselves
to see the Holy Face continuously.
For God wants to be seen,
and wants to be sought.
God wants to be wanted,
and wants to be trusted.
BLESSING (Revd Rex A E Hunt)
And now may the blessings of life
be upon us, and
upon this congregation.
May the memories we gather here give us hope for the future.
May the love that we share
bring strength and joy to our hearts,
and the peace of this community be with us
until we meet again.
HYMN AA 31 E Te Atua
“We expect a theophany of which we know nothing but the place,
and that place is called community.”
- Martin Buber
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