Opening music Come all you people
Call to worship
This is the day that the Lord has made
Let us be glad and rejoice in it.
God is Love: let heaven adore him;
God is Love: let earth rejoice;
let creation sing before him,
and exalt him with one voice.
He who laid the earth’s foundation,
he who spread the heavens above,
he who breathes through all creation,
he is Love, eternal Love.
God is Love: and he, enfolding
all the world in one embrace,
with unfailing grasp is holding
every child of every race.
And when human hearts are breaking
under sorrow’s iron rod,
then they find that selfsame aching
deep within the heart of God.
God is Love: and though with blindness
sin afflicts each human soul,
God’s eternal loving-kindness
holds and guides and keeps them whole.
Sin and death and hell shall never
o’er us final triumph gain;
God is Love, so Love for ever
o’er the universe must reign.
Timothy Rees (1874–1939) (alt.) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 103 Words: © Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd, The Tower Building, 11 York Road, London SE1 7NX. Permission applied for.
Prayer of approach
God Eternal, we come into your presence worried and distracted by many things. Calm our thoughts and our hearts: help us to fix our minds on you; that we may praise and worship you aright; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Prayer of confession (including Wisdom of Solomon 12: 13, 16-19)
For neither is there any god besides you, whose care is for all people, to whom you should prove that you have not judged unjustly; For your strength is the source of righteousness, and your sovereignty over all causes you to spare all.
For you show your strength when people doubt the completeness of your power, and you rebuke any insolence among those who know it. Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose.
In the stillness and silence we confess our sins
Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Life-Giver, Pain-Bearer, Love-Maker.
Source of all that is and that shall be.
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo
through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed
by all peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done
by all created beings! Your commonwealth of peace and freedom
sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen.
Reading Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” ’
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples approached him, saying, ‘Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.’ He answered, ‘The one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man; the field is the world, and the good seed are the children of the kingdom; the weeds are the children of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Let anyone with ears listen!
Reflection part 1
Interestingly the parable that we have just heard read (read for ourselves) also comes with an explanation attributed to Jesus. I say, attributed because there is some uncertainty as to whether it is Jesus’ explanation or that of Matthew or the Christian community he was writing for. So, on one level the preacher’s task is already done.
However, the challenge to ask how this parable, about the opposition faced my Jesus and the early Church to the good news of the Kingdom of God, speaks to us in the 21st century.
For some Christians, especially those facing real persecution, as opposed to those who live in the UK and USA and just don’t like a modern, open accepting world and therefore see the Devil at work in anything that they can’t or won’t understand, there is in these parables of the Kingdom some reassurance and hope that in the fulness of time God’s will prevails and all will be well. Evil will be punished and good triumph!
But for most of us that is just too binary.
The interesting thing about wheat and tares is that they are not easily distinguished from each other:
So even if you could uproot one without damaging the other, it is not entirely clear which is which. And surely that is one of the essential parts of the story?
Keith and I are often to be found in the pub late Friday afternoon enjoying a drink and talking. The conversation ranges quite widely from the sublime to the ridicules, from the highly technical to the light and irreverent. The other week we were talking about how we are products of all the things that have happened to us, the good and the bad. How it seems that God works with who we are rather than directing our lives like chess pieces on a board.
If those things we consider unfortunate or distressing hadn’t happened to us, would our lives have turned out differently? I suppose I was in a reflective mood as it is 50 years since Mum died.
And can we ever be certain how people’s lives are going to turn out? Those who we might have thought of as tares destined for the fire furnaces, turn out to be amongst the most remarkable of the saints.
Then there are those perfectly respectable people who turn out to have a whole other side to them – abusive, predatory, hiding a criminal life. It’s interesting that when we do the safeguarding training we are warned not to offer or be persuaded to appear as character witness for those accused. We have after all only seen the side of them they want us to see, which is how they have managed not to get caught before.
Don’t they say judge a book by its cover. Telling the difference between wheat and tares is not easy.
The most hated character in the Harry Potter books and films is said not to be Voldemort but Dolores Umbridge, because her nastiness (evil?) is so much more relatable than Voldemort’s quest for world domination.
One of my friends used to relate the story of the bomb dropped in the second world war that blow his aunty off the loo. Dignity hurt, and thereafter it was That Mr Hitler! – the war was personal.
Which really leads me to ask the question is there really such a thing as an evil person? Is anyone so bad that they are beyond redemption? Deserving of the fires of hell?
A few years ago, I watched a clip on You Tube of a mid-twentieth century leader playfully interacting with a small child – it seemed natural and un-staged. You might have gone ah that’s nice, expect the world leader was Adolf Hitler.
Then there’s the question of what we mean by evil and hell. In the old local preacher’s text book, the Groundwork of Christian Theology, John Stacey recounts the story of C S Lewis being asked about nature of hell. Lewis conveyed an understanding that it was being apart from God for all eternity, giving a sense that it is somewhere one condemns oneself to.
In the final analysis faced with the enormity of God’s love does anyone ultimately turn their back on God? Is hell full or empty?
We don’t know how peoples’ lives will turn out, whether they are tares or wheat and unlike plants people have the potential to be changed and transformed by life, by circumstances and by the work of the Spirit.
Son of God, if your free grace
again has raised me up,
called me still to seek your face,
and given me back my hope;
still your timely help afford,
and all your loving-kindness show:
keep me, keep me, gracious Lord,
and never let me go!
By me, O my Saviour, stand
in sore temptation’s hour;
save me with your outstretched hand,
and show forth all your power;
O be mindful of your word,
your all-sufficient grace bestow:
keep me, keep me, gracious Lord,
and never let me go!
Give me, Lord, a holy fear,
and fix it in my heart,
that I may from evil near
with timely care depart;
sin be more than hell abhorred;
till you destroy the tyrant foe,
keep me, keep me, gracious Lord,
and never let me go!
Never let me leave your breast,
from you, my Saviour, stray;
you are my support and rest,
my true and living way;
my exceeding great reward,
in heaven above and earth below:
keep me, keep me, gracious Lord,
and never let me go!
Charles Wesley (1707–1788) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 336 .
Reading Psalm 86: 11 -17
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name for ever. For great is your steadfast love towards me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
O God, the insolent rise up against me; a band of ruffians seeks my life, and they do not set you before them. But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Turn to me and be gracious to me; give your strength to your servant; save the child of your serving-maid. Show me a sign of your favour, so that those who hate me may see it and be put to shame, because you, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
Reading Romans 8: 12-25
So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
When I came out, Romans was one of those difficult books in the Bible because for so long it had been used erroneously to condemn gay and lesbian Christians. Paul being concerned not with loving committed same sex relationships, but the use of sex in cultic practice and in exploitative ways. But it takes some time to work that out. In the meantime, what seemed to save this book was the passage we read this morning:
“…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved.”
There seemed something gloriously freeing and hopeful about that image, and indeed in some translations it reads “the glorious liberty of the children of God”!
Paul is writing about how we are saved, are being saved and will be saved. It is at the end that we achieve our full adoption as children of God. He is writing at a time when the Church fully expected Jesus to return at any time and there is an urgency and breathlessness about his writing.
Like the parable from Matthew’s Gospel that seeks to explain why the fulness of the Kingdom has not yet come and while the Church faces setbacks and difficulties, Paul seeks to capture something of the struggle of the church to share the good news in often hostile conditions. He reminds his readers that they have the presence of the Holy Spirit to help them in all things.
Paul is also concerned about those who have joined the church and feel superior to other members because their root to faith and/or background – whether they be Jewish or Gentile converts – has been different. He sets out to challenge anyone who thinks themselves the superior Christian. Which I suppose helps to remind us that it doesn’t matter how many or how few generations our family goes back in the Church or in a particular Christian community, or how or when we came to faith – we are all equal citizens in the Kingdom of heaven.
Paul also sets a context in which all is not perfect and the struggle goes on – even creation itself is subject to decay and bondage.
But for 21st century Christians this image of the state of creation not only sets the context for the work of God’s redemption of us, collectively and individually, but sets the challenge for the way in which we care for creation.
There are those who would take Paul literally, creation is in bondage to decay because it is willed by God, therefore we can nothing about it. Well yes everything decays but that’s not the same thing as being actively destroyed by the actions of others.
Creation, the Earth, is adversely affected by the actions and inactions of humanity. We are responsible for its pollution and the loss of species – animals and plants.
We have it in our power to contribute to its liberation.
I’m currently working for the United Reformed Church and hardly a week seems to go by without us receiving news that another church has received its bronze, silver or even gold Eco Church award. It struck me that it is one thing to achieve the award but another to maintain the standard going forward.
I’m a qualified accountant but I cannot rest on my laurels – I need to keep up to date and go on courses. Local Preachers become accredited, but we need to continue to develop and grow, to read and to study.
So as churches committed to the care of the Earth, we need to monitor our actions and maintain our commitment.
Having watched call the mid wife, I have a greater understanding of the dangers and pain (agony?) of child birth. But often it leads to a new life, to joy.
Creation groaning in labour pains is a challenging and hope filled image. What will be the outcome? What part will we play in a successful birth? Amen.
1 There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in his justice
which is more than liberty.
2 There is plentiful redemption
in the blood that has been shed;
there is joy for all the members
in the sorrows of the Head.
3 There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this;
there is room for fresh creations
in that upper home of bliss.
4 For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
5 But we make his love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify his strictness
with a zeal he will not own.
6 If our love were but more simple
we should take him at his word;
and our lives would be illumined
by the presence of our Lord.
Frederick William Faber (1814–1863) Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 416 .
Prayer of thanksgiving
“Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me, bless his holy name”
Let us pray
It is good to give thanks to you, O God,
to praise your name O Most High
You created the heavens and the earth and saw that they were good.
You made us for yourself and when, in our folly and disobedience, turned away from you, you did not abandon us but sought us in your love.
We give thanks for the victory which you give us Jesus Christ: for in his life and death and resurrection he has conquered sin and death for us, and through our baptism we share in his risen life.
We thank you for our place within the Church, for nourishment in word and sacrament, and for our calling to be servants of Christ and stewards of your mysteries.
We give thanks for the Holy Spirit at work within us moving us to worship and witness.
All praise and thanks be given to you through Jesus Christ your Son, and in unity with the Holy Spirit now and for ever. Amen.
Prayers of intercession
Spend time thinking about the people an places on your mind and in your heart. The things you have heard on the news or read in the paper.
Offer these to God and listen for how God is calling you to be part of the answer.
We pray for
For all in authority
That they may seek justice
For all in need
That they may know hope and healing
For the Church
That it may proclaim the Gospel in word and deed.
That we may have strength to follow Christ
For all who have died in the faith
That we may honour their witness. Amen
Prayer of dedication
Giving thanks for all your goodness we offer our gifts…
we offer ourselves in you service.
Help us to be faithful and fruitful in this life and by your mercy bring us with your saints to your eternal Kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Lord of creation, to you be all praise!
Most mighty your working, most wondrous your ways!
Your glory and might are beyond us to tell, and yet in the heart of the humble you dwell.
Lord of all power, I give you my will,
in joyful obedience your tasks to fulfil.
Your bondage is freedom; your service is song; and, held in your keeping, my weakness is strong.
Lord of all wisdom, I give you my mind,
rich truth that surpasses my knowledge to find; what eye has not seen and what ear has not heard is taught by your Spirit and shines from your word.
Lord of all bounty, I give you my heart;
I praise and adore you for all you impart,
your love to inspire me, your counsel to guide, your presence to shield me, whatever betide.
Lord of all being, I give you my all;
if I should disown you, I stumble and fall;
but, led in your service your word to obey, I’ll walk in your freedom to the end of the way.
Jack Copley Winslow (1882–1974)
Reproduced from Singing the Faith Electronic Words Edition, number 449
Words: © Mrs J. Tyrrell
May the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit be upon you now and for ever. Amen.
Closing music – The Prayer – Y Gweddi
All the readings are from the NRSV.
The prayer of approach, thanksgiving and dedication are from Companion to the Revised Lectionary Vol 10.
The Lord’s Prayer is © Cairns Publications
Other prayers ©Peter Smith