The Other Side (9 Aug 2020)

9 Aug 2020 by Karen R (Service) John McK (Sermon) in: Online Services

Welcome everyone to our time of gathering and reflection today.  Please prepare your spirit and your mind to listen, reflect, share and pray.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF GOD and COUNTRY

Lord we come humbly today to share with each other and to lift our thoughts and eyes to you.

We acknowledge the Dharawal people the traditional custodians of this land and pay our respects to Elders past and present.    We thank them for their courage, faith, spirit and graciousness.  May we walk gently and humbly on this land.

 

The Lighting of a Candle

 

Call to Worship

 

Come friends

Let us listen for the voice of our Lord this morning

Let us seek our Lord’s Will

Let us speak out for our Lord

Let us deepen our spiritual connection with the Lord and with each other

 

Opening Prayer

 

Ever present Lord we come before you today

We  are awed by your magnificence , your grace

Despite the troubles in this vast world you bring us comfort and beauty as a balm for our hurts and troubles

Thank you for the singing of birds, the beauty of winter flowers and shrubs, the smell of damp earth, the crunch of fallen leaves under our feet, the beauty of a blue sky

The joy of a random act of kindness, a stranger’s smile

We lift our hearts and eyes to you Lord, help us to keep our God focus and not to be discouraged by the sights and sounds of trauma that go on around us

 

Prayer of Confession

 

Lord we confess that we are flawed that we often give lip service and not substance

We talk of what we can and should do but so often we don’t get around to it

Forgive us when we dream of a better world but fail to put effort in to making the dream a reality

Forgive us when we judge our fellow Christians instead of praying for them asking for God’s guidance and wisdom to be theirs

Lord you see, hear and feel our weaknesses, yes we are flawed, we humans are full of kindness and compassion one minute and hard and selfish the next

Yet through it all you are still there gently prodding us to rise, forgive ourselves and continue to keep going and soldiering to be loving people of God,

Let us “Be still and know that you are God”

 

Hymn: Great is thy Faithfulness       

 

 

Bible reading   NIV

 

Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28 Joseph the dreamer

1-4  Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age, and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

 

12-28    Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem.  Come, I am going to send you to them.” “Very well,” he replied. So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the  flocks, and bring word back to me.”  So he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron. When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?” He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers.  Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?” “They have moved on from here, the man answered.  “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan.  But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other.  “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him.  Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands.  “Don’t shed any blood.  Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe – the richly ornamented robe he was wearing – and they took him and threw him into the cistern.  Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead.  Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his  blood?”  His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of sliver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

 

Prayer of Affirmation

 

The great good news is that each of us is part of God’s great dream.

God is not afraid to act upon God’s vision of what is possible.

When we turn in contrition and confession, God’s dream is closer to being realised.

Let us stand tall in knowing that we are each important to God’s good dream of wholeness.

We are loved, forgiven and made new.

 

Bible Reading   NIV

 

Matthew 14: 22-33 Jesus Walks on Water

22-23   Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the board and go

on ahead of him to the side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up into the hills by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind

was against it. During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the

lake.  When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I.  Don’t be afraid.” “Lord, , if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat and walked on the water to Jesus.. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, he cried out,  “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.  “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down.  Then those who were in the boat worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

 

Reflection /sermon -  John McKinnon

 

Jesus walking on the water is a favourite Sunday School story. Throw in Peter’s failed attempt to also walk on water and it is ripe for all sorts of devotional lessons: preachers have had a field day. “Maintaining faith in life’s storms”; “Reaching out for Jesus as we sink below life’s pressures”; “Stepping out of the boat in faith”. I’m sure you have heard them all.

 

It has also served an apologetic purpose. That is, we have traditionally used Jesus’ nature miracles, including walking on water, to prove he is God.

 

Are these devotional lessons and proofs that seem so attuned to our comfortable 21st century first world faith really what the gospel writers wanted to teach their readers?

 

Let’s have another look. This story comes just after the feeding of the 5000. The 5000 were Jewish people on the Jewish side of the lake. In Mark’s gospel this is very clear because Mark soon tells another story of feeding 4000 on the Gentile side of the lake. Despite the lectionary being from Matthew, I am going to draw on Mark’s themes around this story today. The other side was the side where the Gentiles lived. There was a Jewish side of the lake (part of Israel) and the other side of the lake, the Gentile side, which was not part of Israel.

 

So, after feeding the 5000, Jesus makes his disciples cross to the other side. Note that: he makes them go. It is quite strong language. It is also not the first time Matthew and Mark have told a story like this. In an event told back in Mathew 8 and Mark 4, the disciples also got in a boat and started to cross to the other side. That time there was also a storm. However, on that occasion Jesus was with them and famously calmed the storm. And we, very consistently, make the same devotional and apologetic conclusions from that passage: Jesus calming life’s storms; Jesus proving his divinity through his mastery of nature.

However this time, in today’s reading, Jesus makes them go alone: alone to the other side  - alone to the Gentile side. It was not somewhere they wanted to go. That’s why he had to “make” them go.

So why is going to the other side important? We need to recognise that much of the NT is about Jews and Gentiles coming together in the church; it is the major theme of Paul’s letters. We see it mentioned in today’s reading from Romans. Paul writes, “For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.” Note that the next line in Romans (“For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.") we also traditionally take out of context and use as a proof text for how we are saved. It has become an evangelistic text. But really, considering both the previous line and the whole context of Paul’s writings, it is about the fact that Jews and Gentiles are equal before God – everyone [Jew and Gentile] who calls on God will be saved.

This equality of Jews and Gentiles and the mixing within the church was THE big issue for the early church. It is also a major theme of the gospels.

So the narrative about going to the other side after feeding the 5000 was about the disciples embracing the Gentiles. They had just fed the Jews and showed how a new community of sharing could function. Now, that community had to spread to the others, the Gentiles.

On two occasions in Matthew and Mark this crossing to the other side involves a storm. Why is that? The Jews did not like the sea. All through their ancient literature we see fear of the sea and storms – think of Jonah for example, or Noah’s flood. But why a storm here? It shows how hard such integration and reconciliation was; how hard and frightening it was for Jews to embrace Gentiles. Jew and Gentile existing together in the church was unthinkable for 1st century Jews. For Jesus’ disciples, going to the Gentile’s side was unthinkable. So of course going to Gentile territory was a stormy event - a terrifying event, not something they wanted to do. The narrative is not surprising.

 

It happens twice, and both times Jesus calms the storm. The message: Jesus makes the racial reconciliation possible. Against all odds, against the huge waves and wind, Jesus calms it. He makes it possible to cross the great divide; he makes racial integration and reconciliation possible.

 

Peter’s faltering attempt to do what Jesus does is so typical of Peter. As on other occasions he impulsively thinks he can follow Jesus – whether it is to the cross or walking on water. Each time he fails. He betrays Jesus at his trial; he sinks in the water. It is not easy to follow Jesus. It is not easy to stand against the tide of injustice. It is not easy to stand against centuries of ingrained prejudice and enmity. Peter tried and failed. But Jesus still took them to the other side. It was where he wanted them to go. By the time we read to the end of the New Testament we see a church full of people from all tribes and tongues. Racial divides have been demolished. We see the other side has been embraced.

 

So rather than see this story as teaching us comfortable lessons about faith in the midst of storms, or as rational proof of Jesus’ divinity, let’s see the challenge to step out of our comfort zone and embrace the other side.

 

Who is on the other side now? Who do we need to embrace as full equals?

 -The Black Lives Matter movement has highlighted just how much non-whites are still on the other side.

 - The Covid welfare arrangements demonstrate just how much foreigners, refugees, low paid workers and even women are still on the other side.

 - The disgrace on Christmas Island with a single family being held there at great expense demonstrates just how much asylum seekers are still on the other side.

There will be other examples that each of us can think of. People that we need to cross over to, despite the cultural difficulty, despite the theological changes we need to make to do so, despite the years of built up prejudice that now we can’t even see.

But is there an other side closer to home? For us in the church, who meet together in our building each Sunday morning, are the people outside our walls on the other side? What does it mean to cross over to them? Can we find out their needs and allow them use our resources without requiring them to join our worship or accept our beliefs? Can we open ourselves to the wider community, accepting them as they are and jointly engaging in life-giving conversations and activities? Is that what our proposed plans for the future are about?

This week you will have received a draft of the church strategic plan. The vision statement in it says “To create a healthy, inclusive, peaceful and just society in which all belong and find their sense of purpose.” Notice that it is not about the church or the congregation but is inclusive of our whole community. The plan talks about community events that don’t involve getting people to join our congregation but rather us running events that they want and need. Is that going to the other side?

Jesus made his disciples cross over. It was stormy and scary but he came to them when they were on their way. Jesus will join us too as we step in our boat and head out.

 

Questions:

Who do you think is on the other side for us?

Can you think of a time when you have tried to cross to the other side (embrace people who were “not us”) and hit storms (found it hard going)?

Did Jesus “calm the storm” at that time?

Does a future for our church that embraces those outside the church seem scary and stormy to you?

 

Additional questions, inspired by the Old Testament reading for today: 

Have you ever had a dream that you felt was God inspired?

How have you tried to make that dream become a reality?

 

Prayer Poems

I have a little dream its true

I leave that dream of peace for you

Open your eyes and take my hand

We will walk together upon this land

Fish and hunt dance and draw

Our family our tribe we don’t need more

Red brown green and white

Our colours our joy our story told right

Snakes and dots tell of our deepest dark thoughts

Our treasure, our story, our lives are taught

 

Lord, in our hands we hold our dreams

Cradled in our palms are the visions we each have for something powerful and good

Curled within our fingers are our hopes for how our dreams can be part of your good dream

Bless and make it so, we pray.

 

Prayers of the People (Karen)

 

Song: The Australian Blessing  

 

Benediction

 

Lord bless us all as we depart this gathering today

Keep our dreams alive and fill our hearts with hope and courage

May we feel your presence in our lives each and every day

May we strive to fulfil our potential as children of God