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Worship, Prayer, Sermons and Bible Teaching Notes

Ordinary 19 - Year B

Liturgical Colour - Green


Introduction

We live in a consumer society in which it is assumed that happiness is determined by the ability to purchase and enjoy material possessions.  This is not just a modern problem. Jesus warned of the dangers of gathering more than we need, telling people to be more concerned with the stuff that rust and moths cannot destroy. Jesus understood the real needs of the human heart, it is not what you have that counts, but what you are. It isn't what we can purchase that matters but what we can give of ourselves to others.  

In our reading from John today, Jesus tells people that they need to be concerned about their spiritual diet, to be discriminating about what we allow into our minds and hearts. It makes little sense to be concerned about our calorie intake if randomly inundate our minds with malicious gossip and hateful thoughts. What use is daily exercise if we never exercise our minds with new learning or our souls with prayer?

Real life transcends our physical needs and involves our spirits, only when we recognise do we have the possibility of finding true happiness and fulfilment.

Opening Verses of Scripture  John 6:35

"I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Collect Prayer for the Day -  Before we read we pray

O God, you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

God of glory, the end of our searching, help us to lay aside all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom, and to give all that we have to gain the pearl beyond all price, through our Saviour Jesus Christ. CW


First Bible Reading   1 Kings 19:4-8

Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: ‘It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, ‘Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.’ 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. NRSV

Alternate reading  2 Samuel 18: 5-9, 15, 31-33
The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, ‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.’ And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword. Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And ten young men, Joab’s armour-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, ‘Good tidings for my lord the king! For the LORD has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.’ The king said to the Cushite, ‘Is it well with the young man Absalom?’ The Cushite answered, ‘May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.’ The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’ NRSV

Second Reading Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. NRSV

Gospel Reading  John 6:35, 41-51

Jesus said to the crowd, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ NRSV

Post Communion Prayer

Lord of all mercy, we your faithful people have celebrated that one true sacrifice which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace: by our communion keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel and preserve us from all sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

Commentary:

From bread by the lake to the bread of life, Jesus will give his flesh, the word made flesh, for the life of the world. In the Gospel reading, Jesus again offers nourishment, and this time the provisions are for a very long journey: eternal life. The people listening will not have a bit of it. They argue among themselves, ridiculing his silly offer of miraculous food. They "murmur" that they knew his parents, which made him just a local boy acting as if he was crazy. How could he make such an outrageous and offer which, to them and their limited understanding, lacked any credibility at all? Just who does he think he is, they wonder. Jesus ordered them to stop complaining (grumbling) and listen. Jesus explains that He is not making claims for Himself, as they wrongly assume, but speaking about what they should already know about God.

As we saw last week, the “I am” sayings of Jesus run throughout John’s Gospel. They are central to its message. When Jesus comes walking across the water to the disciples in the boat during the storm after the feeding of the 5000 in the first part of this chapter of John, He simply said to them, “Fear not, I am.” I am the one who is God incarnate. The feeding of the multitude in that passage calls to mind for the Jews the historical feeding in the desert. Jesus points out that the bread Moses gave and the bread Jesus gives come together in God, the physical and the spiritual together. But the physical is not enough on its own, the two are inextricably linked.

In today’s passage Jesus is presented as offering Himself as both human and divine. Earlier in the chapter we read how the apostles took him into their boat as he came towards them. Jesus’ loving desire and hope is that everyone will not only take Him into the boats of their earthly passages and journeys but enjoy the bread of eternal life too. The past deeds of God in providing for His people are being continued in Jesus, who came that all may have life and sustenance. For Jesus, life is believing that He was, and is, sent into the world. Our comfort is more than bread, it is that we have taken Christ into our ‘boats’, allowed Him to sweep us wherever we go, so that he can support and empower us as His real presence in the society in which we live. Jesus says to us, “I am enough! You take my life, eat it all, live it all and you will be already living the eternal life I came and come to share.”

To believe in Jesus, as Tom Wright puts it, is to
‘grasp with heart, intellect and will, that in this human being the true and living God is to be found.
Jesus’ forthcoming death is the clue to it all. The people had wanted to make him king but Jesus’ royal claim would be that he had done what his ancestors had wanted to do: ‘Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son’. Jesus invites us to eat of the bread of life, and in so doing become more like the God who we see in Jesus. The God whose love was revealed in the self-giving love of the cross and the true king who was nailed there.

Our reading from Ephesians speaks of this self-giving love, ‘…a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God’. Jesus offers the source of true life and we are called to live out this reality as individuals and as the Christian community of the church. Sometimes, like the Ephesians Paul is writing to in his epistle, we find this difficult. For the Ephesians it would appear that their actions, and from today’s passage clearly their words, did not reflect the reality of the bread of life living within them and amongst them. We are called to live together as imitators of God. Our life together shows our family likeness and should enable others to see what God is like too. But if our words and actions damage that image it’s not surprising that others find it difficult to see. As we see in today’s gospel reading, Jesus constantly lived with those who did not understand Him, misjudged Him, and even perhaps actively sought to undermine Him and His teaching. Despite being clear about who He was and why He had come into the world people did not always see and hear the reality which was before them in Christ. We too may be misunderstood in our words, actions and motives, sometimes perhaps even deliberately.

Jesus pressed on whatever the circumstances, the words or the attempts at undermining the local boy, ‘the carpenter’s son’, the son of Joseph and Mary. He is the bread of life. There is no other, despite the alternative options that others sometimes seem to crave. Jesus’ words of bread, life and flesh are powerful. All the more powerful from a Messiah that brought life from death and in so doing gave bread for the eternal journey. Jesus invites all to join Him on the journey and offers Himself as the bread for all that do. By our words and actions as individuals and as a church he invites us to offer that bread of life to those who do not know Him, or only perceive Him from a distance so that they too can share in His eternal life. Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation

In his book ‘Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John Jean Vanier writes, ‘”I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst”. This was something that these people could understand. For the Jewish people, the work of God, the Torah, was an incredible form of nourishment. It was bread for their hearts and minds. We read in the book of Ezekiel that the Lord had said to him,
”Son of man, eat what is offered to you; eat the scroll and go, speak to the house of Israel”…. …
Then I ate it and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey. Ez 3 v 1 – 4.
The word of God is the revelation of the love of God for the Jewish people. It is also the revelation of what humankind is about, what our lives are about, what the whole history of the universe and of salvation is about. And it is as sweet as honey. Our intelligence needs and yearns for wisdom. We not only need practical wisdom that shows us how to live, but also an intelligence that seeks an understanding of the meaning of the universe. We need to be nourished by the word of God. Those who were listening to Jesus could understand that the bread Jesus was speaking about was the nourishing bread of the word of God. Jesus wants to lead them further. He is not just the word of God enlightening their hearts and minds, he is the Word made flesh, wanting to give himself to them as he is, in his incarnated person, to be present to them as a friend, a vulnerable friend through his flesh. Jesus is offering to us a personal, intimate relationship with him that will lead us into the very life of God and nourish this life. It will bring us to dwell in Jesus and to have Jesus dwell in us.’ Sam Cappleman  

Hymns

  1. Praise my soul
  2. Who put the colours in the rainbow
  3. Immortal Invisible
  4. Who would true valour
  5. Lift up your hearts Tune Woodlands

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead


God of the way, you are the road we travel, and the sign we follow; you are bread for the journey, and the wine of arrival. Guide us as we follow in your way, holding on to each other, reaching out to your beloved world. And when we stray, seek us out and find us, set our feet on the path again, and lead us safely home. In the name of Jesus, our Lord we pray. Amen.
Praying figure
Dear Lord, we thank you for your love, for how you provide all things that we need. We thank you and we ask you, O God, to continue to feed us, to work on us - and to move us to feed others. Father, just as you graciously provide for our spiritual nourishment through the Word revealed to us by your Son, Jesus Christ, so we bring our physical needs and the needs of others before you, in the faith and confidence that you are willing to hear our prayers. We pray, O God, for the needs of our brothers and sisters throughout the world, those who are united with us at the one table of the Lord, and also for the people of his Church, that they may continue to illuminate the Word by their words and example.

Creator God, Give us a heart for simple things: love and laughter, bread and wine, tales and dreams. Fill our lives with green and growing hope; make us a people of justice whose song is Alleluia and whose name breathes love.

Father God, when we are troubled and afraid, come to us, and make us hungry for you so that your love and presence may sustain and encourage us all the days of our lives and evermore. Amen

Risen Christ, whose absence leaves us paralysed, but whose presence is overwhelming, breathe on us with your abundant life; that where we cannot see we may have courage to believe that we may be raised with you. Amen

The God of all grace who called you to His eternal glory in Christ Jesus, establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always. Amen

 

Additional Material

Commentary

The Story of Elijah is an interesting one, he was one of the first of the great prophets. Elijah background is known only from his description as Elijah, the Tishbite, of Tishbe in Gilead?1 Kings 17:1. He first appears warning King Ahab of an impending drought, this drought would only end when Elijah proclaimed it so.

What lay behind this was a challenge as to who had power and authority, Yahweh, the God if Israel, or the Canaanite Baal gods. Baal means Owner or Lord and this was the name given to the Canaanite gods of storms and weather. The Baal god was the owner of the land and the inclination to worship these gods was strong. After making his pronouncement, Elijah hid in the desert and lodged with a widow. When the local brook dried up Elijah assured the widow that she would be able to feed her household many days with her meagre supplies which would not diminish. The widow also had her dead son raised by Elijah. (17:24)

After three years of drought Ahab accused Elijah of troubling Israel. Elijah responded by telling Ahab to assemble the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel, where he issued a challenge. Elijah proposed that both he and the prophets of Ball set up an altar and prepare a sacrifice. The people would then recognise as God the one whose altar caught fire. Baal prophets called upon their god that day, danced around the altar and mutilated themselves, but there was no reply. Elijah built his altar with twelve stones, to represent the unity of the Twelve tribes of Israel. He then called to God and the altar was immediately consumed by fire. The rains came later that day, proving to Ahab that God, unlike Baal, could end the drought at will.

Elijah was then faced with a death threat from Jezebel, Ahab wife, and he fled from the city of Jezreel to Beersheba. There he went out into the wilderness about a day's walk, and came to a solitary broom tree in the midst of this wilderness, and sat under it. He then asks God that he might die. An Angel fed him and he gained strength to go on to Horeb, which we call Mount Sinai, where Moses had received the ten commandments. Elijah complained that he was a fugitive, a poor reward for having served God. Wind, fire and an earthquake passed by the cave where he hid. God was not there but appeared to him in a still small voice (1Kings 9:12). So it was that God cared for Elijah even when Elijah felt there was no hope left.

At the end of this journey through the wilderness he is granted a vision of God - and given a message of hope for his own life and for the nation. Elijah went on to serve God in challenging Ahab over the murder of Naboth and taking of his vineyard. Elijah passed his ministry on to Elisha, by passing him his mantle while he was ploughing. Finally after the appearance of a fiery chariot and horses, Elijah was taken into heaven in a whirlwind.

Elijah in tradition
In Malachi 4:5 God says 'I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day comes? to reunite families in disagreement. As Elijah was believed not to have died, legend has grown around him. Jews believe that Elijah will come at the end of days to decide questions of law and that he will announce the coming of the Messiah. His presence is hoped for at the Passover Seder. A chair is dedicated to him at circumcision ceremonies, which he has to attend as each child might be the Messiah. In early Christianity the return of Elijah was attributed to John the Baptist and he was associated with Jesus at the Transfiguration. Charles Royden

 

Elijah

Fr. John Foley writes that Elijah had just come from a dangerous showdown with 150 prophets of the god called Baal, in the land ruled by Jezebel.  The God of Israel easily won this encounter, but Elijah progressed into violence against the surviving prophets anyway. Queen Jezebel, understandably enraged, sent a message that she would do the same thing to Elijah and more within that same day.  Elijah was frightened, exhausted, and dispirited, especially when he came back to find the Israelites themselves being unfaithful to the only true God. He became depressed in spite of his great triumph. So he prayed to God to give immediate death to his worthless self. Then, as depressed people will do, he went to sleep. He was under a broom tree (a tall hedge with which desert people shielded themselves from the sun in the day and the wind at night).  God could have been harsh to Elijah as a result. But instead, a quiet touch from God’s angel awakened the prophet, and the angel whispered: get up and eat. Lo and behold, "there at his head was a hearth cake and a jug of water."  Elijah did eat and drink, but then settled right back into sleep again. With tender care the angel whispered, "Get up and eat, else the journey will be too long for you!" He did and was strengthened for the unknown mission he was to be sent on. Today’s other readings are all about God’s kindness to us too, his goodness even in small things.  In the Gospel, Jesus offers nourishment too, but this time the provisions are for a very long journey: eternal life. The people listening will not have a bit of it. They argue among themselves, ridiculing his silly offer of miraculous food. They "murmur" that they knew his parents, which made him just a local boy acting crazy. Jesus ordered them to stop complaining and listen. He made the same comparison that we saw last week, between manna that came down from heaven in the desert and Himself, "the living bread that came down from heaven."  Jesus as living bread can be a difficult concept to understand.  But leave that aside for a moment and just concentrate on the deliberate kindness God shows to his people: feeding them, giving them drink, pursuing them again and again in order to offer the greatest gift of all, God’s sacrificial love for us. God follows us quietly, gently.  How can and should we respond?  Receiving the living bread in Communion is a beginning.  Reflecting on the mellowness of God is another.  And simply slowing down. Stop running away and let the Lord find you. God’s kind-hearted and also tough love is quite worth the struggle. God is the one who will send us into the world (if he can catch us!).  Here is how Paul puts it in the Second Reading.  "Be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma."

The “I am” sayings of Jesus run throughout John’s Gospel.  When Jesus comes walking across the water to the disciples in the boat during the storm after the feeding of the 5000 He simply said to them, “Fear not, I am.” The feeding calls to mind for the Jews, the historical feeding but the central message of the passage is how the apostles took Him into their boat as He came toward them.  Jesus is presented as offering Himself as human and divine and His loving desire for all men and women to take him into the boats of their passages and journeys. The past deeds of God are being continued in Jesus who came that we may have life and life is this: believing that He was and is sent into the world.  Larry Gillick says, Elijah wanted to give it all up and the apostles were being swamped with fear.  Most of us have been there and were tempted to do that as well. But God so often sends angels to “touch” us, to give us the “Bread from Heaven” and continues to urge us “get up and eat” and then get up and get on with the living.  Our comfort is more than bread, it is that we have taken Christ into our boats, allowed Him to sweep us from underneath the “broom tree” and keeps us as His real presence in the society in which we live.   Elijah moaned, “This is enough, O Lord! Take my life,” Jesus says to us, “I am enough!  You take my life, eat it all, live it all and you will be already living the eternal life I came and come to share.” Sam Cappleman

Meditation: Strength for the Journey

There are times when people we know and love despair to the point of wanting to die. Perhaps there have been times when we ourselves have thought death a better alternative. Our journey through life takes us through some very dangerous country, our pilgrimage of life can leads us into some very desolate wilderness. Think of the words of the angel to Elijah, the words "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you."

To survive on our journey, to have the strength to go through the barren places of life, those places where we are alone - because of divorce, or illness, or death - we need to eat to drink the food and the drink that God has prepared for us. God does provide food in the words of his scriptures, in the lives of good people around us. We reach out to God when we are in need, when we are in despair, it is then that we must wait upon that still small voice which encourages us to believe, to trust, to rise up and feed upon the living bread. It is only as we do this that we all gain strength to enable us to complete our journey. Sam Cappleman