Written Service, 1st August - 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Call to Worship Almighty God, your Son has opened to us a new and living way into your presence. Give us new hearts and constant wills to worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

One of the strands of thought in today's readings is God's provision of nourishment down the ages. With this in mind, we reflect on the words of our first hymn.

Hymn StF 576

1. Bread is blessed and broken,
wine is blessed and poured: ,
take this and remember -
Christ the Lord. .

2. Share the food of heaven
earth can not afford.
Here is grace in essence - -
Christ the Lord.

3. Know yourself forgiven,
find yourself restored
meet a friend for ever
Christ the Lord

4. God has kept his promise
sealed by sign and word:
here, for those who want him
Christ the Lord

John Bell (b.1949) & Graham Maule (b. 1958)

Prayers

Loving God, in whom all things are made whole, you sent your Son our Saviour to heal a broken world. Visit us with your salvation, that we may be blessed in body, mind and spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:Anyone who comes to me I will never turn away.
In the presence of God, let us confess our sins.

Silence

Lord Jesus, you came to reconcile us to God and to one another.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you heal the wounds of sin and division.
Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, you offer us a new beginning.
Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Silence

God is love. Through Jesus our sins are forgiven. Let us live in the power of the Spirit. Amen.

Holy God, you give life to all; you meet us in our need and bring hope to those who look to you. Give peace to our hearts and minds as we pray to you with confidence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reading Psalm 78: 23-29

He gave orders to the skies above,
he opened the sluice-gates of heaven;
he rained down manna to feed them,
he gave them the wheat of heaven;
mere mortals ate the bread of the Mighty,
he sent them as much food as they could want.

He roused an east wind in the heavens,
despatched a south wind by his strength;
he rained down meat on them like dust,
birds thick as sand on the seashore,
tumbling into the middle of his camp, all around his dwelling place.

They ate as much food as they wanted,
he satisfied all their cravings.

Hymn StF 669
Verses 1-3 reflect today's reading from Ephesians which follows the hymn.
"STF0669 The Saviour, when to heaven he rose"

1. The Saviour, when to heaven he rose,
in splendid triumph o'er his foes,
scattered his gifts on us below,
and wide his royal bounties flow.

2. Hence sprung the apostles' honoured name,
sacred beyond heroic fame;
in lowlier forms, to bless our eyes,
pastors from hence, and teachers rise.

3. From Christ their varied gifts derive,
and, fed by Christ, their graces live;
while, guarded by his mighty hand,
midst all the rage of hell they stand.

4. So shall the bright succession run
through the last courses of the sun;
while unborn Churches by their care
shall rise and flourish large and fair.

5. Jesus our Lord their hearts shall know -
the Spring whence all these blessings flow;
pastors and people shout his praise
through all the round of endless days.

Amen.


Philip Doddridge (1702-1751).

Reading Ephesians 4: 1-16

As God's prisoner, then, I beg you to live lives worthy of your high calling. Accept life with humility and patience, making allowances for each other because you love each other. Make it your aim to be at one in the Spirit, and you will inevitably be at peace with one another. Just as you all belong to one Body, of which there is one Spirit, just as you all experienced one calling to one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God, one Father of us all, Who is the One over all, the One working through all and the One living in all.

Naturally there are different gifts and functions; individually grace is given to us in different ways out of the rich diversity of Christ's giving. As the Scripture says: When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
(Note the implications here - to say that Christ 'ascended' means that He must previously have 'descended', that is from the height of heaven to the depth of this world. The One Who made this descent is identically the same. Person as He Who has now ascended high above the very heavens - that the whole universe from lowest to highest might know His presence.)

His 'gifts unto men' were varied. Some He made Special Messengers, some prophets, some preachers of the Gospel; to some He gave the power to guide and teach His people. His gifts were made that Christians might be properly equipped for their service, that the whole Body might be built up until the time comes when, in the unity of common faith and common knowledge of the Son of God, we arrive at real maturity - that measure of development which is meant by 'the fullness of Christ'.

We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the crafty presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love, and to grow up in every way into Christ, the Head. For it is from the Head that the whole Body, as a harmonious structure knit together by the joints with which it is provided, grows by the proper functioning of individual parts to its full maturity in love.

Address

If we're reading right through Paul's letter to the Ephesians we reach a point in today's lectionary passage where everything changes. Paul begins today with the Greek word, 'parakalo', I exhort. Now I ask you, how often do you use that word? Rarely, I suggest. It's rather old fashioned and quaint but don't let this put you off! Old fashioned, quaint language has its uses, attracting our attention, perhaps because we are puzzled or maybe amused! Throughout the whole Bible the word 'exhort' and its related words such as 'exhorted' occurs only 34 times - all of them in the New Testament. Anyway, less common words may well cause us to pause and think for a moment about the fuller significance of what is being said to us, or of what we're reading.

So, what is Paul exhorting his readers to be or to do? Answer: to live lives worthy of our high calling.

In other words he's urging his readers to show integrity. And, you may ask, what does that mean? My dictionary tells me to refer back to the word 'integer', a word that I associate with maths lessons! Higher up the page in my dictionary I see that 'integer' means a whole number (as opposed to a fraction), an undivided quantity, a thing complete in itself. Reading on, I'm told that the Latin origins of the word are rich in shades of meaning including undiminished, blameless and irreproachable.

Perhaps we'll do well to pause for a while, maybe re-read the previous paragraph and allow these words and what they express to settle in our minds. The words of Singing the Faith 312, verse 6 might help this thought grow and settle in your heart and mind.

Spirit of purity and grace,
Our weakness pitying see;
O make our hearts thy dwelling place,
And worthier thee.

Paul urges his readers to have integrity - to be at one. First of all, we need to be at one with ourselves.

I wonder what you wanted to become when you were young. Did you have dreams of becoming a famous singer or dancer, perhaps or dreams of travelling the world seeing all sorts of things? In my day lots of boys aspired to become an engine driver, driving steam trains across the length and breadth of the country.

Now, what did you become? Do you regret not fulfilling childhood dreams and fantasies? Do you acknowledge they were foolish and inappropriate, that the way your life has turned out has proved altogether more satisfactory and successful than it would have been if your childhood dreams had come true? Using words from earlier in this address, are you now at one with your life? If so, your life has integrity; it is, as our reading puts it, worthy of our high calling. Praise the Lord!

Paul goes on to say that the gifts people have vary. If you're sharing this service with one or more people spend a few minutes comparing one another's gifts. (If you're on your own then think of someone you know well and use your knowledge of that person/those people.) Perhaps there's someone whose gifts feel to be way beyond anything you could do, and maybe your gifts cause amazement to someone else. Speaking for myself I'm hopeless at any activity that involves one or more balls; throwing, catching and kicking aren't for me (though I watch tennis - especially Wimbledon - and I watched the semi-finals and the final of the European football competition). I'm absolutely spell-bound by the skill of a Federer, a Djokovic or one of the Williams sisters to smash a ball so it lands only inches from the corner of the court.

Yes, gifts vary and very greatly, but we all have them and if we are to respect God's generosity to us, we must use them honestly and completely, i.e.with integrity. Remember that an integer is a wholenumber, one that's complete; our acceptance and use of God's gifts must be complete!

In all probability people's gifts aren't fully developed in their early years; quite the opposite, in fact.We need to learn and develop to allow our gifts to mature - just as we become mature in other ways. My own gift, as you probably know, is music. Although I turned 80 last February I'm still learning in all sorts of ways regarding music: new compositions, old compositions that I haven't previously come across, new insights into how to play particular repertoire, how to get the notes into my fingers and feet.

This sort of thing goes not only for physical skills and intellectual knowledge; it goes for every aspect of our life (integrity again!) including our spiritual life. As we grow olderand, I hope, wiser does our prayer life blossom and mature? Do we still read the Bible with the same limited insights that we had in our teenage years? Do the sacraments mean no more than they did way back in the 20th century? The heading in our reading at verse 14 is 'True maturity means growing up "into" Christ'. Have we been growing this way? It's the only way that has integrity; that is undiminished, blameless, irreproachable.

We may be challenged by this and left feeling inadequate. However, if we stop and reflect more positively, we may be spurred to do as an old song urges us:

Keep right on to the end of the road,
Keep right on to the end.

Hymn StF 685

Verse 1 in particular might help draw together the threads of the address.

1. In Christ there is no east or west,
in him no south or north,
but one great fellowship of love
throughout the whole wide earth.

2. In him shall true hearts everywhere
their high communion find;
his service is the golden cord
close-binding humankind.

3. Join hands then all the human race,
whate'er your nation be;
all children of the living God
are surely kin to me.

4. In Christ now meet both east and west,
in him meet south and north;
all Christlike souls are one in him,
throughout the whole wide earth.

John Oxenham, pseud. (1852-1941)
Copyright © Desmond Dunkerley

John Oxenham, pseud. (1852-1941)

Prayers

After each petition the phrase, 'Lord, hear us' is followed by the phrase,'Lord, graciously hear us'.

Let us pray for the Church of God throughout the world, for . . . and for . . .

Let us pray for those who have power and influence and for all who govern the nations, for . . . and for . . .

Let us pray for the powerless, for all victims of famine and war, and for all who strive for justice and peace, for . . . and for . . .

Let us pray for the afflicted and sorrowful and for all who need our prayers, for . . . and for . . .

Let us remember before God those who have passed from this life in faith and obedience, giving thanks for . . . and for . . .

Eternal God, through the self-offering of your Son you have filled our lives with your presence. Help us in our sufferings and trials and strengthen us in our weakness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

Hymn StF 712

A poignant summary of the thoughts which have flowed through the service.

1. Put peace into each other's hands
and like a treasure hold it,
protect it like a candle-flame,
with tenderness enfold it.

2. Put peace into each other's hands
with loving expectation;
be gentle in your words and ways,
in touch with God's creation

3. Put peace into each other's hands
like bread we break for sharing;
look people warmly in the eye:
our life is meant for caring.

4. As at Communion, shape your hands
into a waiting cradle;
the gift of Christ receive, revere,
united round the table.

5. Put Christ into each other's hands,
he is love's deepest measure;
in love make peace, give peace a chance,
and share it like a treasure.

Fred Kaan (1929-2009)
Copyright © 1989, Stainer & Bell Ltd

Blessing

Choose your own words of blessing, either for yourself or for those with whom you have shared this service.


The prayers in this service have been adapted from The Methodist Worship Book.
The reading from Ephesians is taken from JB Phillips' version.
Other readings set in the lectionary for today are:

Exodus 16: 2-4; 9-15
John 6: 25-35

The current rota for preparing written services expires at the end of August. I don't know what plans are in hand beyond that date and maybe this is the last written service I shall prepare. I have greatly enjoyed sharing my thoughts with you all and thank you for your generous and kind-hearted comments which have encouraged me to continue.

God bless you all.

Bill Tomkins, Lutterworth.