Written Service for 12 July 2020,
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)
Hymn StF 368
German, trans Edward CASWALL (1814-1878)
Psalm 119: 105-112
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:
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:
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.
Then let us cherish in our hearts that which we proclaim
with our lips:
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
William Watkins REID (b. 1923)
Readings: Matthew 13: 1-9; 18-23&Romans 8: 1-11
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
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.
Holy God, though this world depends on your grace, it
is governed and tended by mortals.
. . . .
May they always consider those they represent, make decisions
with courage and integrity, and resist any temptation to abuse the trust
placed in them.
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.
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.
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
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.
This hymn is new to me; I've chosen it particularly for the sake of verses 4-6.
Adapted from Ann PHILLIPS (b 1939)