Written Service for 12 July 2020,
15th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Much of the material for this service will also be used in the Zoom service I am due to lead for Lutterworth at 10.30 on 12 July. The liturgical material is from the Fourth incarnation of A Wee Worship Book, a Wildgoose resource.

Opening affirmation(please stand if possible)

Among the poor, among the proud, among the persecuted,
among the privileged,
Christ is coming to make all things new.

In the private house, in the public place, in the wedding feast,
in the judgement hall,
Christ is coming to make all things new.

With a gentle touch, with an angry word, with a clear conscience,
with burning love,
Christ is coming to make all things new.

That the kingdom might come, that the world might believe,
that the powerful might stumble, that the hidden might be seen,
Christ is coming to make all things new.

Within us, without us, behind us, before us, in this place,
in every place, for this time, for all time,
Christ is coming to make all things new.

Hymn StF 368

When morning gilds the skies,
My heart awakening cries:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'
Alike at work and prayer
to Jesus I repair:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'

Does sadness fill my mind?
A solace here I find:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'
When evil thoughts are near,
these words will calm my fear:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'



To God, the Word, on high
the hosts of angels cry:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'
Let mortals, too, upraise
their voice in hymns of praise:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'

Let earth's wide circle round
in joyful notes resound:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'
Let air, and sea, and sky
from depth to height, reply:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'

Be this while life is mine
my song of love divine:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'
Be this the eternal song,
through all the ages long:
'May Jesus Christ be praised!'

German, trans Edward CASWALL (1814-1878)

Psalm 119: 105-112

Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.
I have sworn - and shall maintain it -
to keep your upright judgements.
I am utterly wretched, LORD;
true to your promise, give me life.
Accept, LORD, the tribute from my mouth,
and teach me your judgements.
My life is in your hands perpetually,
I do not forget your law.
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I have not strayed from your precepts.
Your instructions are my eternal heritage,
they are the joy of my heart.
I devote myself to obeying your statutes,
their recompense is eternal.

Prayer

Because you made the world, and intended it to be a good place, and called its people to be your children; because, when things seemed at their worst, you came in Christ to bring out the best in us; so, gracious God, we gladly say:
Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness. Truth is stronger than lies.

Because confusion can reign inside us, despite our faith; because anger, tension, bitterness and envy distort our vision; because our minds sometimes worry small things out of all proportion, because we do not always get it right, we want to believe:
Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness. Truth is stronger than lies.

Because you have promised to hear us, and are able to change us, and are willing to make our hearts your home, we ask you to confront, control, forgive and encourage us, as you know best.

(Pause)

Then let us cherish in our hearts that which we proclaim with our lips:
Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness. Truth is stronger than lies.

Lord, hear our prayer, and change our lives until we illustrate the grace of the God who makes all things new. Amen.

Give us, we pray, gentle God, a mind forgetful of past injury, a will to seek the good of others and a heart of love, that we may learn to live in the way of your Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we pray. Amen.

The Lord's Prayer.

Hymn StF 501

Help us, O Lord, to learn
the truths your word imparts,
to study that your laws may be
inscribed upon our hearts.

Help us, O Lord, to live
the faith which we proclaim,
that all our thoughts and words and deeds
may glorify your name.

Help us, O Lord, to teach
the beauty of your ways,
that all who seek may find the Christ,
and make a life of praise.

William Watkins REID (b. 1923)

Readings: Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23&Romans 8: 1-11


Reflection

In some ways the verses from Psalm 119 say everything that I want to say today but I'd better not leave it there! I think you might feel you'd been short-changed as regards a reflection and we certainly don't want dissatisfied customers, do we!

Let's take the readings in reverse order, beginning with Paul's ongoing discussion of righteousness. To be fair to Paul we really shouldn't take snippets from his letter to the Romans and expect people to make much of them. Forgive me if you've heard or read this before, but Paul's letter is a long and carefully argued discussion of the basis of Christian belief and behaviour. In chapter 8 we're coming to the end of a carefully constructed treatment of righteousness - of being in a right relationship with God. It begins in chapter 1 and builds up step by step, point by point.

Paul knows[perfectly well that most of his original audience who received his message would do so aurally - they would have heard it being read aloud. By the time the reader reached this stage in the letter Paul realised that many of those listening would have forgotten what they had heard an hour or two earlier, so he gave them a brief reminder, and so we have the passage set for today. It's very condensed and if you don't know what comes earlier it might well be confusing and seem not to make much sense.

I've been a long-time advocate of reading whole books from the Bible and there's none that gives a better reward for doing this than the letter to the Romans!

Throughout the letter Paul makes frequent reference to 'the flesh' and also to 'the spirit'. By 'the flesh' he means purely physical human needs and desires. These aren't necessarily sinful or wrong but they are inadequate as the sole guides as to how we should live. There's nothing necessarily wrong with feeling hungry or thirsty, in need of food and drink; there's nothing wrong in feeling tired after a period of hard work and needing a rest. 'The spirit', on the other hand, is the divine power, the breath of God (in Hebrew the word is 'ruach' which is onomatopoeic) and is mentioned frequently in the Old Testament - from as early as the second verse of Genesis.

So, in verse 8 of our reading from Romans, where Paul says, 'those who live under its control cannot please God' he's referring to the inadequacy of a life that lacks a spiritual element. Such living is incomplete and therefore unsatisfactory.

Now this spiritual life isn't a hairy-fairy, wishy-washy life of dreams and wishful thinking. The parable in Matthew 13 makes this quite clear. Jesus uses an everyday example of what was good agricultural practice in his day. It makes the point that despite our best efforts there will be occasions and situations when our good intentions don't achieve their intended outcomes. All sorts of things can cause this and the important point is that the possibility of failure shouldn't deter us from making our best efforts to say and do what is right. Indeed, when the farmer in the parable is sowing the seed he hopes that in due course he will reap a rich harvest. If his thoughts are occupied with the possibilities of bad weather, stony ground, hungry birds and what not he could go a step further and not bother to sow any seed at all! However, there are plenty of popular sayings and proverbs such as 'nothing venture, nothing gain' and 'great oaks from little acorns grow' which encourage us to have a go.

And when we're thinking about outcomes, a 40% harvest is a harvest, and in some circumstances - such as bad weather - should be considered a success. This parable teaches us to appreciate what is positive rather than focus on the negative. This is very much a word in season for us during this year that's been blighted by Covid-19. While it's easy to think of things we've been unable to do since March, it's also the case that we've been enabled to do things. In my case I've not been able to play the organ for months but I've managed to watch and enjoy numerous streamings of National Theatre productions as well as opera performances from London, Glyndebourne, Paris and New York.

So, what am I saying? Surely what I've just said about organ playing and watching performances is a clear and simple example of the psalmist's observation that

'my life is in your hands perpetually.' (v.109)

In verse 105 God's word is compared to a lamp. In Old Testament times such a lamp would have enough candle power to see only one step ahead. However, the use of the word 'path' implies progression. Progression, of course, implies a sense of purpose.

The general flow of ideas and images in these psalm verses matches the ideas and images of the parable very well, though at the same time different aspects of human experience are reflected, too, so that taken together these two short biblical passages give a fuller picture than either does on its own. Paul's writing is even more generalised, thereby allowing for ever more variety in personal experience. Preachers often try to introduce particular personal experience into what they say in their sermons. I've called these observations of mina a reflection. I'm inviting you to bring your own thoughts and experiences to shed fresh light on today's lectionary passages. I ask you to take the time to read them again - maybe more than once - and think over what I've said to see whether between us we've found some food for thought which will sustain us this week and on into the future, whatever it may hold for us.

Prayers

Holy God, though this world depends on your grace, it is governed and tended by mortals.
So we pray for those who walk the corridors of power in the parliaments of this and other lands, whose judgements we value or fear.

. . . .

May they always consider those they represent, make decisions with courage and integrity, and resist any temptation to abuse the trust placed in them.
Lord hear us.
Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for those who hold key positions in the worlds of finance, business and industry, whose decisions may profit some or impoverish many.

. . . .

May they always value people higher than profit; may they never impose burdens on the poor which they would not carry themselves; and may they never divorce money from morality or ownership from stewardship.
Lord hear us.
Lord graciously hear us.

We pray for those in the caring professions, who look after and listen to kind, cruel and cantankerous folk, and for those who make decisions regarding the nation's health and welfare.

. . . .

May they always sense the sanctity of life and every person's uniqueness; may they help and heal by their interest as well as their skill; and may they be spared from tiredness and an excess of demands.
Lord hear us.
Lord graciously hear us.

And let us remember those for whom we are responsible and to whom we are accountable in what we do today.

. . . .

May we show them the thoughtfulness, tolerance and kindness of Jesus.
Lord hear us.
Lord graciously hear us.

Lord, hear our prayers, and if today we might be the means by which you answer the prayers of others, then may you find us neither deaf nor defiant, but keen to fulfil your purpose, for Jesus' sake. Amen.

Eternal God, giver of love and peace, you call your children to live together as one family. Give us grace to learn your ways and to do your will, that we may bring justice and peace to all people, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.


Hymn StF 387

This hymn is new to me; I've chosen it particularly for the sake of verses 4-6.

Into a world of dark,
waste and disordered space,
he came, a wind that moved
across the waters' face.

The Spirit in the wild
breathed, and a world began;
from shapelessness came form,
from nothingness, a plan.

Light in the darkness grew;
land in the water stood;
and space and time became
a beauty that was good.

into a world of doubt,
through doors we closed, he came,
the Breath of God in power
like wind and roaring flame.

From empty wastes of death,
on love's disordered grief
light in the darkness blazed,
and kindled new belief.

Still with creative power,
God's Spirit comes to give
a pattern of new life -
our world begins to live.

Adapted from Ann PHILLIPS (b 1939)

Closing prayer

From where we are
to where you need us,
Jesus, now lead on.

From the security of what we know
to the adventure of what you will reveal,
Jesus, now lead on.

To refashion the fabric of this world
until it resembles the shape of your kingdom,
Jesus, now lead on.

Because good things have been prepared
for those who love God,
Jesus, now lead on.

The blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with our families, our neighbours and our friends, with all those for whom we have prayed today and with all who have shared in this act of worship. Amen.


The Old Testament reading for today is Genesis 25: 19-34.