A Shorter Communion Service for Trinity 15

HYMN - O for a closer walk with God - Caithness - NEH 414

1 O for a closer walk with God,

A calm and heavenly frame;

A light to shine upon the road

That leads me to the Lamb!

2 Return, O holy Dove, return,

Sweet messenger of rest;

I hate the sins that made thee mourn,

And drove thee from my breast.

3 The dearest idol I have known,

Whate'er that idol be,

Help me to tear it from thy throne,

And worship only thee.

4 So shall my walk be close with God,

Calm and serene my frame;

So purer light shall mark the road

That leads me to the Lamb.

PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
God the Father forgives us in Christ and heals us by the Holy Spirit.

Let us therefore put away all anger and bitterness, all slander and malice,

and confess our sins to God our redeemer.   cf. Ephesians 4.30,32

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,

we have sinned against you

and against our neighbour,

through our own fault,

in thought, and word, and deed,

and in what we have left undone.

We are truly sorry

and repent of all our sins.

For your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,

forgive us all that is past;

and grant that we may serve you in newness of life

to the glory of your name. Amen.

May the God of love and power

forgive you and free you from your sins,

heal and strengthen you by his Spirit

and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

THE COLLECT

God, who in generous mercy sent the Holy Spirit

   upon your Church in the burning fire of your love:

grant that your people may be fervent

   in the fellowship of the gospel

that, always abiding in you,

they may be found steadfast in faith and active in service;

through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen


FIRST READING - Exodus 16.2-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaining against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.’ ” And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. The LORD spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’ ”

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.

HYMN - Faithful Shepherd feed me - Pastor Pastorum - NEH 282

1 Faithful Shepherd, feed me

In the pastures green;

Faithful Shepherd, lead me

Where thy steps are seen.

2 Hold me fast, and guide me

In the narrow way;

So, with thee beside me,

I shall never stray.

3 Daily bring me nearer

To the heavenly shore;

May my faith grow clearer,

May I love thee more.

4 Hallow every pleasure,

Every gift and pain;

Be thyself my treasure,

Though none else I gain.

5 Day by day prepare me

As thou seest best,

Then let angels bear me

To thy promised rest.

GOSPEL - Matthew 20.1-16

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the labourers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went. When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same. And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’ When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the labourers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’ When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”

SERMON

“The Israelites... looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.”

To learn something from the story of the Israelites we must enter into it. I shalln’t be worrying about whether it happened as the writer tells it. Instead I will concentrate on what it might teach us about ourselves and our God.

Those poor children of Israel, a tribe of people forced into slavery, they’ve fought for and won their freedom, they’ve fled their tormentors, they’ve also fled the only life they knew, and here they stand on the edge of the wilderness, what is past is instantly idealised and the future is an abyss.  

This is a moment that the psychologists call a point of crisis, all is disturbance and change, the past certainties are gone, the only option is to begin again.  New home, new job, severe illness or sudden disability are all points of crisis, as is the death of someone very close, someone on whom we have built our world.  The foundation of our life has been ripped apart, and we feel helpless and lost.  

And this is where we find the Israelites, no food, no water, no home, standing defenceless in the wilderness.  So of course they complain, and why shouldn’t they?  But Moses does not follow the psychotherapeutic model, he doesn’t say “I hear your pain, tell me about it”, he says what many heartless people have said since, “what are you complaining for?” He also says what leaders of people have always said, “it’s not my fault.”

If Moses fails as a compassionate counsellor, or even as a humane listener, then he succeeds as a prophet, because he knows that God will sustain his people even in the wilderness.  And the paradox is that it is right there in the wilderness that God’s sustaining presence can be most clearly seen - not always as we would choose, no hampers from Harrods, and sometimes only just enough for the day, but nevertheless there is sustenance.  

It is interesting to note that it was only when the Israelites stopped looking back at what had been, and faced the wilderness that was to come that they perceived the glory of the Lord.  I suppose you could say that God works with the reality of the situation, not the fantasy.  The desert must be faced if it is to be crossed.  

It may also be significant that when the Israelites found the manna, they begged for sustenance from God, they didn’t recognise it, they didn’t know what to do with it.  It's understandable, but rather sad, it’s just as well that they had Moses, a poor counsellor but a good prophet - recognising the help that God can offer isn’t always easy, doesn’t always match our specifications.

Manna was pretty useless stuff – you couldn’t store it, it didn’t taste of much, and you couldn’t serve it with chips – but it was what God provided and it was enough – just enough – to get the Israelites to where they had to go.  It was sustenance for the journey through the wilderness, not so that they could stay there, but so that they could reach the promised land, with the daily providing of their God.  The great failure of the Israelites in the desert was to take their eye off their goal, to forget what it was all for – to reach the land of promise – that the deprivations on the way, the lack of food, the lack of water, the lack of any security whatsoever, was all to be seen in the context of the promise of a faithful God.

The Gospel reading tells us another story of complaint and sustenance - labourers complaining that pay differentials had not been respected, and a wage that was only a denarius, just enough for one day, no more and no less.  God’s providing, it would seem, is enough, but not necessarily more than enough - but it is open to all who will turn up to collect it.

The story was told for people who thought they knew how their God should behave - and that’s all of us.  We all think we know how God should behave, we can’t help telling God his business, what’s fair and what isn’t, what should be allowed and what shouldn’t.  This story is for us, and it tells us not to presume that our necessary ideas of fairness and justice have any claim to be God’s. 

How often have our children said to us, “but it’s not fair,” and we have replied, “and who told you that life was fair.”  But we just can’t help thinking that it should be.

But this world is blatantly not fair, biological life and the operation of natural laws do not allow for justice - from the randomness of disease to the pitilessness of natural disasters not to mention the perversity of human wickedness – it isn’t fair.  But God has never offered us a world without danger and deep sadness, only a world with the guarantee of his constant presence……. and sometimes enough manna for the day - if we will collect it. 

The God that Jesus talks of acts with grace not justice, generosity not equity – his concern is for everyone to be at work in his vineyard, everyone to receive enough for that day’s sustenance. He has no concern that one should be before another. Hard work, good fortune, physical strength, natural ability, none of it confers any advantage in the eyes of this Lord. All receive the same - the grace of God makes all equal. This is not our measure of justice – but it is grace.

I wonder how we would fair before a God of our justice?  I, for one, am rather depending on the fact that God is more generous than just.  For myself what I seek is grace – not what I justly deserve.

HYMN - Lights abode, celestial Salem - Regent Square - NEH 401

1 Light's abode, celestial Salem,

Vision whence true peace doth spring,

Brighter than the heart can fancy,

Mansion of the highest King;

O, how glorious are the praises

Which of thee the prophets sing!

2 There for ever and for ever

Alleluya is outpoured;

For unending, for unbroken

Is the feast-day of the Lord;

All is pure and all is holy

That within thy walls is stored.

3 There no cloud nor passing vapour

Dims the brightness of the air;

Endless noon-day, glorious noon-day,

From the Sun of suns is there;

There no night brings rest from labour,

For unknown are toil and care.

4 O how glorious and resplendent,

Fragile body, shalt thou be,

When endued with so much beauty,

Full of health, and strong, and free,

Full of vigour, full of pleasure

That shall last eternally!

6 Laud and honour to the Father,

Laud and honour to the Son,

Laud and honour to the Spirit,

Ever Three and ever One,

One in love, and One in splendour,

while unending ages run. Amen.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 

Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

INTERCESSIONS - Val Etteridge

Dear Father, help us to pray and to think at this time only of you, guide us in what we should ask for and give us faith to accept your will. We pray for the Church of Christ, the whole family of God’s people across the world, all those with faith in Jesus Christ. We pray too for our benefice and our three churches, and our diocese and all those who work and serve in these places and area.

Bless those who preach, teach, heal, reconcile and bring hope, may their message be the means of salvation to those who hear, and grant that your Church may grow and increase in the knowledge of your divine love.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember Lord our world and all its nations. We thank you for this earth and its beauty and wonder and diversity, may all people cherish and protect our planet. We live in a world though in which your presence is easily hidden and we reflect on the horrors man has inflicted on the world, strife and war, homelessness and refugees.

O God,  the refuge of the poor and needy and the comforter of all who suffer, we commend to your mercy, the unfortunate and needy in whatever land they may be. Look down on all those suffering from war, disaster, hunger, disease and other severe trials and spare them O Lord.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We thank you Lord for the place in which we live and for the many blessings we receive. We thank you for our families and friends. Here too there are those that suffer, many are anxious in the current situation, some are lonely and despondent and some are ill in care, in their home or hospital. Father we pray for those who are sick in body, mind or spirit and especially we pray for...............

Please bring them your peace in their pain, your strength in their weakness and your comfort in their sadness.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We remember too those who have died and left this world. We thank God for their lives and the joy and love they gave us. 

Almighty God, giver of all comfort, deal graciously with those who mourn, may they know the consolation and comfort of your love.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

We beseech you O Lord to enlighten our minds and to strengthen our wills,  that we may know what we ought to do and be enabled to do it through the grace of your Holy Spirit.

Merciful Father, 

accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
Our Father in heaven, 

hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, 

your will be done,
on earth as in heaven. 

Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive 

those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING
The power of God be about you,

the love of Christ enfold you,

the joy of the Spirit be within you;

and the blessing of God Almighty, 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

be among you, and remain with you always.  Amen

HYMN - Glorious things of thee are spoken - Abbot’s Leigh - NEH 362

1 Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Sion, city of our God;

He whose word cannot be broken

Formed thee for his own abode:

On the Rock of Ages founded,

What can shake thy sure repose?

With salvation's walls surrounded,

Thou may'st smile at all thy foes.

2 See, the streams of living waters,

Springing from eternal love,

Well supply thy sons and daughters,

And all fear of want remove:

Who can faint, while such a river

Ever flows their thirst to assuage?

Grace, which like the Lord the giver,

Never fails from age to age.

3 Saviour, if of Sion's city

I through grace a member am,

Let the world deride or pity,

I will glory in thy name:

Fading is the worldling's pleasure,

All his boasted pomp and show;

Solid joys and lasting treasure

None but Sion's children know.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord

In the name of Christ. Amen