August 1st, Tenth Sunday after Pentecost

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The Faith Nurture Forum would like to thank Rev Nigel Robb for his thoughts on the tenth Sunday after Pentecost.

Weekly Worship, based on the Revised Common Lectionary, is for everyone – in any capacity – who is involved in creating and leading worship.

It provides liturgical material that can be used for worship in all settings. Our writers are asked to share their approaches to creating and delivering this material to equip leaders with a greater confidence and ability to reflect on their own worship practice and experience and encourage them to consider how this material might be adapted for their own context.

We would encourage continual reflection on the changing patterns of worship and spiritual practice that are emerging from disruption and how this might help identify pathways towards development and worship renewal.

We may not all be gathered in the same building, but at this time, when we need each other so much, we are invited to worship together, from where we are – knowing that God can hear us all and can blend even distant voices into one song of worship.

Introduction

A huge number of threads could be explored in the prescribed readings and I have chosen to focus on the reading from John's Gospel and some of the links between the ideas and issues highlighted in the lectionary reading from John which may touch on those in the other readings.

Perhaps the whole of the chapter 6 of John's Gospel should be read at least once, not just the lectionary extracts for each Sunday, in the whole cycle of five Sundays. This might ensure the impact of the whole story is conveyed. The coherence of the story may be lost by the division in to different sections by the lectionary.

There is a huge issue of biblical illiteracy and some rather minimal understanding in congregations of the connections, complexities and contrasts in Hebrew and Jewish theological and religious traditions with the message of Jesus. Some of these might be helpfully explained, or explored, in any teaching part of the service, to enable the congregation to become more familiar with what is an often alien and mystifying world which has not been heard of at all, or properly understood.

My book on preaching outlines my approach, which is to read the texts, summarize, and take notes of what is interesting or challenging, and then think of them and interrogate them and ask: where does this hit whom in the congregation where this might be preached? Only after a lot of note taking and reflection do I go to any commentaries as they often divert the imagination and cancel any of the issues that may be real and contemporary.

My approach is to consider the texts in the light of the situation we are facing, and the questions I believe are raised both by the readings and the contemporary situation.

The two texts I focused on are both about feeding – and this is a major theme; nearly 30 of such in the scriptures, and then I thought about what links them in the human situation and our current experiences.

I have no standard way of approaching writing the sermon. Once I have looked at the commentaries and my notes and thoughts I try to identify one thread or theme. I do not think it is always helpful to try to do more than one focus in the sermon and therefore some themes are rejected until an appropriate time.

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

This is part of the story of King David and the result of his plotting against Uriah the Hittite whose wife Bathsheba he has acquired for his harem. The parable told by Nathan to King David means that the King himself condemns himself for his action.

This is an example of inductive preaching at its best and a demonstration of the power exercised, and the respect offered, to the prophet. Nathan has previously told the King that he would not be able to fulfil his desire of building a temple in Jerusalem. Nathan is obviously exercising a power that is granted by God to convey the limits of human authority. David is reminded that he is King by God's will, and that he has offended against God's will and ethical standards. No earthly ruler is supreme and able to defy God's authority.

The response of David is crucial. Repentance and confession of sin. Punishment is also a fact and the child conceived dies. The message is that no one is able to stand above or be exempt from the law of God. All actions which are irresponsible, especially against those of limited power in defiance of God's law, are liable to condemnation. This is a graphic description of the human condition affected by sin.

David demonstrates an acute awareness of his own responsibility for evil. He does not attempt to defend himself from the charge that he has attempted to live above the law of God. No matter his earthly power, he should be governed by the ways of the God who has granted him such authority. David, who has been especially blessed and should be living in a more ethical way than others, and has failed to do so. He admits this in this passage and is contrite.

Psalm 51:1-12

The first of seven penitential psalms in the Book of Psalms, and one of the most familiar. The psalm is particularly associated with the account in 2 Samuel which tells the story of David's experience after his wicked treatment of Uriah the Hittite and David's need for serious repentance.

The psalm expresses a desire to restore relationship with God which David's actions have fractured, and David takes personal responsibility for this – as should all worshippers. The psalmist acknowledges, like all sinners, that they had no right to be granted forgiveness by God. Instead, they trust completely in the empathy and compassion that is beyond all levels of human justice and is rooted in the grace of God.

Their actions are framed in terms of offences not just against other human beings, but against God who has created and endowed God's children with so many gifts. There is no attempt to evade or escape the implications of sin.

In acknowledging guilt, there is also the affirmation of the possible restoration of relationship with God, based on the confidence and conviction that God has the power and desire to recreate and restore sinful human beings.

The psalm moves from confession to petition and requests (as a sinner cannot attempt this) God's action in restoration. This results in thanksgiving and a statement about the implications of forgiveness being a life living out repentance, as the person God intends us to be.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

When the people of Israel came out of Egypt, they left behind all their usual sources of food. As slaves they had received enough, if not ample food, for their masters the Egyptians wanted workers with the stamina and energy to work hard.

People often complain because of real or imagined need. Constantly throughout the Exodus story is the continual moaning and complaining, alongside the gracious care and compassion of God who supports all in the preservation of life.

The Israelites as escaping slaves left in a hurry, taking their animals, but with only as much grain as they could carry. It was not surprising that they were soon short of food, for they were on the move without time, or place, to grow crops, or have their animals graze in pastures and grow fat. Soon they were angry and began to question the wisdom of their leaders, who had told them that God would take care of them.

It was all too easy for the Israelites to look back with nostalgia to their time in Egypt while being in the wilderness, to have no thought of its injustices, deprivations, cruelty and harsh experience. They had desired an end to slavery, but did not like the price which had to be paid. As the old Scots saying expresses it: There is only one thing worse than not getting what you want when you want it, and that is getting it.

God's response to the misery and rage of the Israelites who had been gradually dehumanised by oppression and fear, was the gift of unexpected food. It seems at first sight as if God's remedy is to supply what was lacking – food. When people are hungry, food is what they need, and if they lack homes and work then housing and jobs are required. The reasons for anger and resentment were removed along with the hunger, so that senses of hope and community were possible. The bread from heaven was food for the common life of the community as well as for the stomach.

They, and we, are to adjust to the reality that all of life means that we have to engage with some difficulties we might prefer to avoid. The Israelites, like so many of us, are not at all happy and seriously disappointed that there is a lack of immediate gratification of desire. They may find a return to Egypt attractive, but here they are encouraged by God's act to stiffen their backbone and trust in God. They are to develop confidence that God will be with them whatever difficulty, danger, and deprivation they may face. God's provision of manna, or bread, is a sign of God's continued presence, care and love, and assurance of companionship in the desert or wilderness. The wilderness is not a happy place, yet it is in the wilderness that God's presence may be discovered.

Suffering is a human experience that all religions have to deal with, often by denial, blame, projection of anger and origin onto God, or seeing God as suffering . There is no escaping from suffering.

This is not a simple miracle. It may be best to listen to it with a sense that it applies very much to our own condition and experience. Are we guilty, like the Israelites, of grumbling about the condition of our own lives which are unavoidable? Do we lose faith that God will provide for us in unexpected ways? What is the bread or food God gives us to sustain us? Here we are told of the gracious response of God to an ungrateful rebellious people.

Ephesians 4:1-16

This may be originally part of a sermon preached at a baptism. In the context of adult baptism, by immersion, taking off the old clothes and being reclothed in white garments was a symbol of the new life, the spiritual revolution.

This passage moves from the exploration of doctrine or instruction into exhortation and encouragement of ethical living. The writer is inviting the followers of Jesus to follow a way of life or to conduct themselves as those who have been called and chosen by God. They are to live a life of humility, gentleness, patience, and loving forbearance. Their behaviour is a direct revelation of the character of those chosen by God. We are recipients of grace and called by the gifting of God and privilege of blessing to be guided by grace in daily conduct.

Verses 1-6 outline the beliefs which are shared by all who are known as Christians, the body of Christ. Verses 7-16 develop the argument that the variety of gifts shared by the members enrich and contribute to the unity of the Church. The unity proposed is not a plea for uniformity, but rather the unity of purpose with a diverse assortment of gifts. These gifts are only really important in relation to the fact that they serve the God who has given them. All gifts are of importance to the wellbeing and functioning of the Church and advance the work of the Gospel.

This is a call to recognise that together the people of God may witness effectively to the Gospel.

John 6:24-35

The readings as usual in the lectionary are influenced by the Gospel reading which is part of the account in John's Gospel of the Feeding of the 5,000. There are some interesting links between them. The focus of the readings may be stated as the demonstration of the spiritual in the physical dimension of human life.

There may be some reminders here of the discourse when Jesus engaged with the woman at the well. Jesus invites the crowd to ask better questions so that He can give better answers. Faith in the Word, and in the Word made flesh, is a call to do the works of God.

The lectionary gives the option of linking the Exodus reading with the reading from the Gospel of John. This may be to do with the fact the incident in John's Gospel takes place at the Passover celebration, which is a remembering, in all senses, (‘bring to present significance') the Passover event. There is a linkage in themes and even chronology. The association with the miraculous provision of food in the wilderness is clear.

The bread of life discourse of John chapter 6 assumes that the reader is familiar with the story of God providing manna in the wilderness. It may suggest that the writer of John's Gospel was originally writing for a Jewish Christian audience. With today's congregation, however, we might be best not to make any assumption of biblical literacy.

There are a number of points in the Exodus reading which are echoed in John. The fixation of the Israelites on the material bounty of Egypt is paralleled by the Gospel's fixation on the material bounty they enjoyed in the miracle of the loaves and fishes. The emphasis in Exodus on God's saving action in providing bread from heaven is specifically cited, according to John, by Jesus in this account. As the Israelites are promised that they shall have their fill of bread, so those who come to Jesus are told that they shall hunger no more. Indeed, the manna of old is presented as a mere foreshadowing of the real heavenly bread, who is Jesus.

Bread may be seen in Hebrew biblical tradition as an image of wisdom or divine revelation, and eating and drinking are images of receiving it. Jesus therefore appears to personify the revelation of God, which is an echo of the Prologue of John's Gospel where He is not the bringer of the Word, but the Word Incarnate.

The emphasis here in the reading is not on the miracle, but on the new unique and imperishable gift God gives in Jesus. Jesus directs attention away from Moses and from the bread offered in the feeding to the author of the gift – God. His focus is on the spiritual needs being met, which the physical provision only represents.

Jesus sees the persistence of the crowd looking for a repetition or further miracles, trailing after Him as Jesus crossed the lake. Jesus then tries to use their energy and questions to move them beyond the satisfaction of the physical. This leads Him to address their questions with a clear reframing, or reinterpretation, of the story of manna in the desert and Moses to the giving of God in the present.

Rabbinical tradition stated that signs by a prophet proved the authenticity of the prophet and proved the veracity of the message they communicated. Jesus did not want to be seen as popular in terms of fulfilling their physical desires. Instead, He tried to stimulate the crowd to see beyond the physical. It is not a denial of the need to address physical needs. Rather, it perceives the need to address them as a demonstration of the spiritual commitment of the disciples of Jesus.

The miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000 is part of a series of seven ‘signs' which characterise John's Gospel, from the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, to the raising of Lazarus, followed by the ‘sign of signs', the Resurrection of Jesus. The evangelist is presenting the miraculous provision of water, bread and healing as signs or demonstrations of the power of Jesus and the revelation of who Jesus really is, the Word made flesh.

The crowd has eyes, but does not seem able to see. That may be part of our problem. We see physical needs being met and stop there. It may be that we are not prepared to risk the difficulties of spiritual adventure and commitment. The crowd, and we, may need to be brought to a realisation that the situation is not in their, or our control, and is not dependent on human action, but only the gift of God to the world, supremely in Jesus.

This passage introduces, in verse 35, the first of the seven ‘I am' sayings of Jesus, in "I am the bread of life". This points to the spiritual meaning of the passage, which is of such importance, and the necessity of avoiding being caught up in the physical issues which point to, but are not the substance of, the message of Jesus.

Sermon ideas

Some commentators have remarked that Christianity is one of the most materialistic of religions of the world, in contrast to some others. Jesus did spend a lot of time, according to the Gospel writers, talking about life now and what we experience as human beings in the physical world, like money, food, relationships, politics, oppression, discrimination and the gifts we have to share, or hoard. The passage here in John's Gospel points to the need to put this materialism in context, and the importance of seeing the miraculous in the everyday as a reflection of the spiritual power of God to act in the most difficult of circumstances.

While some may see the Gospel of John as a philosophical reflection of the message of Jesus, we need to note that this Gospel also includes references to so many physical issues and aspects, issues of the earth and the daily life we all share. The message articulated by Jesus is not a social philosophy, or political activism alone, but has had and continues to have major social impact. This is declared when those of the Christian faith and community are involved in changing the world for good. Christians may have historically had a part of the fight against the slave trade and continued slavery in the world today, or the battle that continues throughout the world for civil rights, or the call for action to feed the hungry and bring clean water which is sustained by organisations likes Christian Aid, or foodbanks in struggling communities.

Perhaps it is of significance that the crowd was fed before the teaching of Jesus took place. The Church may be called to attend to the physical needs of people and their basic rights, and avoid spiritualising, and move too quickly to interpreting the text. Rather, we need to understand the care and compassion in the heart of God for all God's children which the story demonstrates. When people suffer, even at their own hand, or after false argument, untruthful beliefs, self- deception and unfortunate decisions, God is gracious and good. The people do not deserve the food, have done nothing to earn it, but the food is given despite the moans and obsession with the physical perception of their needs.

In this post-modern and post-Christian era, it may be salutary to remember the enormous decrease in biblical understanding and knowledge which the Church encounters. Robertson Davies, a Canadian novelist wrote:

In my opinion, the… society… from which the Bible is disappearing is a society which is moving towards barbarism. Because one of the elements of a civilized society is that it has a congruous body of common knowledge, generally of classical literature. And this is what the Bible was, quite apart from what it has to say on religious subjects, which was another thing… There was a common frame of reference for conversation, oratory and opinion, right from the top of society to the bottom, and when somebody in parliament made a biblical reference, he was literally talking to a nation which understood him, not making a classical allusion which went often the heads of most of the people who might hear him. We have lost the great classic background'.

Belief in John's Gospel and the New Testament in general is much more than simply an intellectual acceptance of certain tenets. Belief is rather a whole-hearted and very personal dedication to someone. To believe in Jesus is to enter into a committed trusting relationship with Him and to find the satisfaction of the deepest human longings and hunger.

J A Sanders, in From Sacred Story to Sacred Text (Fortress, 1987),makes a distinction for preachers which may be of assistance in trying to convey the message of this passage:

One must read the Bible theologically before reading it morally. The primary meaning of redemption is that God has caught up human sinfulness into his plans and made it part of those plans.'

This understanding suggests that finding fault with the human characters of the story (moralising on the text) normally prevents us from hearing the Word being addressed to us. Sanders recommends that we learn to read the Bible with ‘humility and humour'. Humility will urge us to listen to ourselves complaining and moaning against God and realise the foolishness of such action. Humour will enable us to ‘take God a little more seriously than usual and ourselves a little less so'. The divine will for us always provides what we really need, not necessarily what we complain about lacking, or may perceive that we need.

Jesus did not come to create a new system of logic or school of philosophy. Rather, His intent was to change people, to change their outlook, and to convert them. This is not accomplished by giving information alone, or rules to follow. Instead, Jesus stirred them up, puzzled them, angered them, stimulated them, engaged them, worried them and challenged them. The account of Jesus here calls people to action – their believing is seen in the way they live now, as they are disciples of an active, creative and loving God. Jesus offers a possibility of human change, and the opportunity of discovering more about God than they can ever have imagined. Jesus is clearly committed to the idea, against all evidence to the contrary, that human beings are capable of radical transformation. We are then to be agents of transformation in the world, bringing the changes that God wants to the world which is in so much need of love and service.

The validity of the Church's social action is clearly to be seen as a means of pointing to the spiritual understanding of the implications of God's love of humanity in all its sinfulness. The individual's involvement in movements to create a better society where food, water, justice, education and all physical needs are met and equally shared, must originate in a spiritual commitment to the God revealed in Jesus. The miracles that are performed each day in the name of Jesus and the Christian faith are not in themselves what is ultimately important. Instead, they are clear signs, like the miracles of the Gospel accounts of the life and teaching of Jesus, of the fact God is active and involved in the world as we know it. God is the source and provider of the power to change and all of the gifts given individually and corporately. The Church is given these gifts for God use to use to proclaim love and grace.

Prayers

The prayers are intended to reflect the specific theme of the texts in worship alongside the particular issues in the lives of members of the congregations. At the time of writing this (Spring 2021), we have no idea exactly what is going to be happening in the world in August. We may be dealing with long-term issues of the virus, the vaccination programme, the issue of the Third World and its struggle to deal with the long-term and immediate impact of the virus, and the fact that summer, after a long period of lockdown, has arrived. Contrasting emotions of grief, anger, sadness, relief, anticipation, resignation and aspiration may all be present and powerful for individuals and congregations.

Public prayer is distinct from private prayer in that it often has to be general rather than specific. In constructing the prayers there is an implicit expectation in my mind that they will have to be adapted and developed in the light of the specifics of the situation when this Sunday arrives.

Call to worship

In this moment we are invited to acknowledge the loving care and compassion of God for each of us, to listen to the words of encouragement, and call, even on difficult or depressing days, and God's desires for our complete and unequivocal faithful response to the message of Jesus.

Come let us worship God.

Approach

O God You know each of us well, love us deeply
and are able to sustain us in an enormous variety of ways.
We are humbled by our awareness of Your profound concern
and involvement in our petty concerns and worries,
and your keen interest in our welfare.

Given so many gifts in our daily lives to enrich us
and opportunities for love and companionship,
we come anticipating a deeper appreciation of
and wider perspective of Your grace and power.

Confession

We know Your mercy for the penitent, O loving God.
Let us experience it once again
as we place the record of our past week before You.

We recall our lack of respect and care for others
and those set in authority over us.

We acknowledged our abuse and neglect of our particular talents and gifts.

We have lived as if the world and its wonders were under our control,
and needed no reference to You.

We have failed to measure up to the standard expected of Your disciples,
and our example has not influenced the world for good.

In certain ways we have lived as if this earth and life upon it
was the limit of our horizons
and have disregarded Your encouragement to strive forward
and live as mature human beings made in Your likeness.

Hear us, O God, as in silence we now confess our individual sin before You.

Listen to the word of promise :

If we confess our sin,
God is faithful and just and will forgive our sin,
so, I declare unto You, our sin is forgiven.

Thanks be to God.

Petition

Generous provider of every good gift,
Prod us awake to the opportunities and invitations You lay before us.

Give us magnanimity in defeat and denial,
so that we may trust You rather than our own wisdom and wit.

Give to those who lead,
the loyalty and support they deserve,
and to those who follow,
willing spirits and a sense of purpose of their part in Your plan for this world,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thanksgiving

Almighty God
We give You thanks
for all who have given their lives and talents in the service of others;
those whose religious zeal, commitment to truth, leadership ability and qualities of service have enabled others to live more freely and fully
and brought new harmony
and understating to the world.

For all those whose faithful witness
has challenged the prejudices and closed minds of others
and enabled people to appreciate the power of Your love in their lives.

We praise You for those who can allow another to take the lead where appropriate;
who know how to retire gracefully,
and encourage others by their example and concern for the good of the community,
rather than their own selfish interest and reputation.

For all who have lifted the standards of behaviour,
the moral and ethical codes,
and have been dissatisfied with slovenly or slapdash efforts
and careless attitudes to important tasks,
we glorify Your name.

Especially for Jesus Christ,
we are grateful and how His life and example has illuminated and inspired our lives
and pushed out the limited horizons of our thinking
and challenged our systems of values
and called us to look onward and upward towards You.

Intercession

Great and Loving God
We know we are tenants of this good earth,
entrusted through Your grace and love with its abundance and harvests.

Strengthen our resolve to be worthy of Your covenant with us,
and make us more willing to hear, to obey,
and to act in protection of the fruit of Your kingdom of love.

Fill the leaders of our nation, and all nations,
with a healthy respect for the dignity of human life,
the worth of the individual
and the need to consider the everyday issues
as well as the wider issues in politics and society.

Sustain those with special talents –
of laughter, healing, teaching, leadership, parenting,
production of food and necessities of life –
and encourage them to see You as the source of all their gifts.

Accept we pray, Your children with their particular hopes and promise,
Inspire them to continue in their faithful way to work for the growth of love
and cooperation, mutual dependence and trust.

Startle the wavering and the tempted;
the unsure and the procrastinating
with a sharp sense of Your interest
and Your demands of care upon them.

Refresh the weary and the war-torn,
the oppressed and the suffering
with the sense of Your unlimited and unexpected mercies.

Motivate the hearts of compassionate men and women
to the cries of the hungry and the plight of the undernourished.

Shake the complacent out of their stupor of self-satisfaction,
and grab their attention and stimulate them to action
on behalf of those with no ‘clout', or no political weight,
and no means of being heard for themselves.

Give patience to those who labour to alter the ideas of society
and challenge the patterns of the growing gap between rich and poor.

Direct and embolden those who grapple with the problems of insufficient shelter
and inadequate clothing,
the lack of ample resources in education,
and abuse of power, oppression and injustice.

Re-ignite the passion of those who have slumped into idle lethargy
and lukewarm apathy.
Give them a boldness to correct, eradicate and transform
the wrongs which reject and isolate those
who do not fit neatly within the norms of society.

Remind the Church to tread carefully in its eagerness to be popular,
or in hastily espousing doctrines that may be popular with the world.
Challenge us when we are silent on controversial issues,
when our silence condones the destruction and rejection of goodness, truth and life.

Stir up within the councils of the Church
a passion for the Gospel and the building of God's kingdom.
Rid them of any ecclesiastical ghetto mentality
which would threaten to overwhelm the proclamation of Your love.

Guide them in the deep waters of social and political action
so that they hold tight to spiritual truth,
and reject any seemingly expedient solutions
which are alien to the teaching of Jesus,
in whose name we pray.

Alternative Material

This material has been supplied by kind permission of Spill the Beans and allows you to explore the readings or theme of the service in creative ways that include everyone gathering for worship.

New material from Spill the Beans is provided in the latest issues available from their website.

All of the activities below can be carried out in church or in the home with some adaptation and notice in advance.

Through the Season

Windows to God – Mirrors for the Soul

A possible visual hook for this season would be through the use of windows and mirrors. Indeed the overall theme for this season could be based on "Windows to God, Mirrors for the Soul".

In some of the passages during the season we encounter people who are looking on to what is happening, as though looking through a window at events taking place. As we read some of these passages, it is like we have a "window" to God, a way of helping us to see something more, and to learn something different about God.

At other times as we explore the passages in this season, it is as though the passages reflect back to us aspects of what it is to be human, positive and negative: the passages act like "mirrors" for the soul.

This thought can be developed so that the focus during the season will switch between whether we are looking through a window or into a mirror. Some weeks we will learn more about God, other weeks we will focus more on looking at ourselves and how we can reflect more of God through our lives.

We remember that some windows are mirrors too!

Possible arrangements might be:

  • A large window frame with a separate pane for each week, this pane could either be clear or mirrored (shiny mirror card would work) depending on the week and key words or theme added;
  • Two large frames, one as a window on one side of the sanctuary, the other mirrored (either a large actual mirror or mirrored card), adding key words to whichever is the focus for that week.

Story: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

Theme: Repurcussions

Object: Mirror

Words: Nathan, lambs, poor man, rich man

Bible notes

Chickens coming home to roost – 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

During the American presidential election cycle in 2008, much was made of the preaching of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the pastor at the church that Barack Obama and his family attended in Chicago. In particular, a sermon he preached following the events of 9/11. The right-wing media made great play of what they saw as angry hatred of America when Wright cried from the pulpit, "America's chickens have come home to roost!"

It goes without saying that this much-ridiculed statement was ripped out of context from a much more nuanced sermon that highlighted the misuse of American power across the world. "Violence begets violence, hatred begets hatred, and terrorism begets terrorism," Wright said, quoting American Ambassador Ed Peck. Uncomfortable words, certainly, but an appeal for introspection, for self-examination, to think about what we are doing, and how we are doing it.

This self-examination was not what David had in mind following his failed attempts to cover up his dalliance with Bathsheba, and then his reversion to violence to rid himself of the awkward problem of Bathsheba's poor husband, Uriah.

Possibly patting himself on the back for his cunning and wiliness at sorting out this problem in such a manner that Bathsheba was able to join his many other wives without disgrace, David was not prepared for the message that Nathan brought to him from the Lord. Showing none of the grief or loss that he showed earlier in our story, David shows a self-serving callousness towards the faithful and good Uriah.

Having heard so much about how David was blessed even through all the bloodshed of battle that he instigated, it might be possible to see David's actions towards Uriah as part of his special status, and one must assume that this was David's state of mind. But now we read that he is deceiving himself. The bearer of God's judgement is Nathan who has to walk a desperately fine line in speaking truth to power, and shows real courage as he tells his parable of the poor man and his beloved lamb (for a real modern story along these lines read the story of Vu Ho , whose beloved sheep, Baa, was under threat by Melbourne City Council).

In beautiful dramatic irony, David declares the punishment that the rich man should pay for having taken the poor man's lamb, with no realisation that this is the payment he will have to pay himself for his sin.

This was a real "David's chickens have come home to roost" moment, but David didn't see it initially. How often do we too fail to recognise what everyone else sees? How easy is it to turn a blind eye to all that we do and all that is done in our name (at a national level) as if there are no repercussions?

The truth is that there are always repercussions, and usually these repercussions exhibit themselves in the destruction of relationships. For David it is his relationship with God that is imperilled. Psalm 51 is traditionally acknowledged as David's heartfelt appeal for mercy following these events: "Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love."

Violence begets violence, and David's family will live by the sword from now on.

The mirror has been held up to David, and what he sees is not pretty. What do we see in our mirrors?

Retelling for young people

We are just going to use the Bible passage to tell the story to the children and invite them (and the adults) to respond when they hear the names and animals as follows:

  • Uriah's wife – boo hoo
  • Lamb – Aaahh
  • David – Uh, oh!
  • Nathan – Hurrah!

When Uriah's wife (Boo hoo) heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. When the period of mourning was over, David (Uh, oh!) sent for her and brought her to the palace, and she became one of his wives. Then she gave birth to a son. But the Lord was displeased with what David (Uh, oh!) had done.

So the Lord sent Nathan (Hurrah!) the prophet to tell David (Uh, oh!) this story: "There were two men in a certain town. One was rich, and one was poor. The rich man owned a great many sheep and cattle. The poor man owned nothing but one little lamb (Aaahh) he had bought. He raised that little lamb (Aaahh), and it grew up with his children. It ate from the man's own plate and drank from his cup. He cuddled it in his arms like a baby daughter. One day a guest arrived at the home of the rich man. But instead of killing an animal from his own flock or herd, he took the poor man's lamb (Aaahh) and killed it and prepared it for his guest."

David (Uh, oh!) was furious. "As surely as the Lord lives," he vowed, "any man who would do such a thing deserves to die! He must repay four lambs (Aaahh) to the poor man for the one he stole and for having no pity."

Then Nathan (Hurrah!) said to David, (Uh, oh!) "You are that man! The Lord, the God of Israel, says: I anointed you king of Israel and saved you from the power of Saul. I gave you your master's house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more. Why, then, have you despised the word of the Lord and done this horrible deed? For you have murdered Uriah the Hittite with the sword of the Ammonites and stolen his wife. From this time on, your family will live by the sword because you have despised me by taking Uriah's wife (Boo hoo) to be your own.

"This is what the Lord says: Because of what you have done, I will cause your own household to rebel against you. I will give your wives to another man before your very eyes, and he will go to bed with them in public view. You did it secretly, but I will make this happen to you openly in the sight of all Israel."

Then David (Uh, oh!) confessed to Nathan (Hurrah!), "I have sinned against the Lord."

Nathan (Hurrah!) replied, "Yes, but the Lord has forgiven you, and you won't die for this sin.

Activities

These activities can be done with a gathered congregation or at home, with some adaptation.

Through the Season

If you are using the seasonal ideas above, this week's focus is the mirror, and keywords that could be used are: Nathan, lambs, poor man, rich man.

Gathering activity

Provide images of people in various situations from around the world. Attach them to the walls of the worship space and invite people as they gather to move round the images. With each image have a sheet of tin foil or mirror and the words: "Do you see yourselves?"

This is a simple exercise of putting ourselves in other people's shoes and learning about ourselves by doing so.

As a discussion, these images can be removed and groups could look at them together and consider the same question: Do you see yourself in their eyes?

What is seen can be written on the back of the image and be used as a starter for a prayer of confession later in the service.

What Do We Reflect?

You will need: reflective card cut into angular shards, plain white stickers, pens.

Give everyone a piece of reflective card, cut into shard-like angular shapes. Each piece of card should also have a sticker on it, which provides a place for people to write on. Have pens available in the worship space.

Ask people to think about what they would like to reflect in their lives and then get them to write that on the card.

As appropriate music is playing or a song is being sung, invite people to place their shard in a central location and then read the reflection in the Prayers, below).

Opposites

This can be done as individuals, as teams or as one group. Have a prepared list of words which give a series of words on one side and the opposites on the other. The children have to find the opposites and link them together. The first few words should link to the story: Rich, good, king, wrong, then lead onto other words, e.g. black, true, etc.

You can discuss the opposites later and what God would like us to do. Be good or bad, be true or false, black and white (are there any grey areas?).

Prayers

Call to Worship

God calls us here
to worship in spirit and in truth.
In the revealing light of God's grace
we know ourselves welcomed with love.
In spirit, truth, light and grace
God meets us here today.

Reflection

Like shards of glass
each catching a glimpse of light
and reflecting it back
in a rainbow of colours,
some dark and brooding,
some light and playful,
so are the people of God:
fragments
each mirroring a different facet
of an amazing God,
together
projecting a wonderful likeness
of the one in whose image
we are created.

Red, orange, yellow, green,
blue, indigo, violet,
and the whole spectrum in between;
colourful, dynamic God,
revealed in us,
the people of God.

Sending

Leader: Go out in the world,
reflect God's love on others,
be the love God is,
and let the light shine.

All: We will go,
we will reflect God's love,
letting its light shine
wherever we go.

Musical suggestions

Our online music resource is on the Church of Scotland website; you can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship. You will also find playlists for this week and liturgical seasons and themes on the Weekly Worship and Inspire Me tabs.

You can find further musical suggestions for this week in a range of styles on the Songs for Sunday blog from Trinity College Glasgow.

  • CH4 110 – "Glory be to God the Father"
  • CH4 159 – "Lord for the years your love had kept and guided"
  • CH4 261 – "Father Eternal, ruler of creation"
  • CH4 264 – "Judge Eternal, throned in splendour"
  • CH4 511 – "Thy hand O God has guided"
  • CH4 533 – "Will you come and follow me"
  • CH4 540 – "I heard the voice of Jesus say"
  • CH4 544 – "When I needed a neighbour, were you there"
  • CH4 551 – "In heavenly love abiding"
  • CH4 557 – "O love that wilt not let me go"
  • CH4 685 – "For everyone born, a place at the table"
  • CH4 695 – "Your love, O God, has called us here"
  • CH4 702 – "Lord in love and perfect wisdom"
  • CH4 715 – "Behold the mountain of the Lord"

Reflecting on our worship practice

Since the start of the pandemic in 2020, the way we worship has changed and we need to reflect on the changing or newly established patterns that emerged and continue to emerge as a result of the disruption.

We can facilitate worship for all by exploring imaginative approaches to inclusion, participation and our use of technologies in ways that suit our contexts. This is not an exhaustive list, but some things we could consider are:

  • Framing various parts of the worship service in accessible language to help worshippers understand the character and purpose of each part. This is essential for creating worship for all (intergenerational worship) that reflects your community of faith.
  • Holding spaces for reflection and encouraging prayer to be articulated in verbal and non-verbal ways, individually and in online breakout rooms
  • In online formats the effective use of the chat function and microphone settings encourages active participation in prayer, e.g. saying the Lord's Prayer together unmuted, in a moment of ‘holy chaos'
  • While singing in our congregations is still restricted, we can worship corporately by using antiphonal psalm readings, creeds and participative prayers
  • Using music and the arts as part of the worship encourages the use of imagination in place of sung or spoken words
  • Use of silence, sensory and kinaesthetic practices allow for experience and expression beyond regular audio and visual mediums.

The following questions might help you develop a habit of reflecting on how we create and deliver content and its effectiveness and impact, and then applying what we learn to develop our practice.

  • How inclusive was the worship?
    Could the worship delivery and content be described as worship for all/ intergenerational? Was it sensitive to different "Spiritual Styles"?
  • How was the balance between passive and active participation?
  • How were people empowered to connect with or encounter God?
    What helped this? What hindered this?
  • How cohesive was the worship?
    Did it function well as a whole?
    How effective was each of the individual elements in fulfilling its purpose?
  • How balanced was the worship?
    What themes/topics/doctrines/areas of Christian life were included?
  • How did the worship connect with your context/contemporary issues?
    Was it relevant in the everyday lives of those attending and in the wider parish/ community?
    How well did the worship connect with local and national issues?
    How well did the worship connect with world events/issues?
  • What have I learned that can help me next time I plan and deliver worship?

Up-to-date information for churches around COVID-19 can be found in our COVID-19 (Coronavirus) advice for churches section.

You can listen to samples of every song in the Church Hymnary 4th edition (CH4) and download a selection of recordings for use in worship in our online hymnary.

You can find an introduction to spiritual styles in our worship resources section

You are free to download, project, print and circulate multiple copies of any of this material for use in worship services, bible studies, parish magazines, etc., but reproduction for commercial purposes is not permitted.

Please note that the views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.