A Morning Service for Trinity 7


HYMN - Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost - Capetown NEH 367

1 Gracious Spirit, Holy Ghost,
Taught by thee, we covet most
Of thy gifts at Pentecost,
Holy, heavenly love.

2 Love is kind, and suffers long,
Love is meek, and thinks no wrong,
Love than death itself more strong;
Therefore give us love.

3 Prophecy will fade away,
Melting in the light of day;
Love will ever with us stay;
Therefore give us love.

4 Faith will vanish into sight;
Hope be emptied in delight;
Love in heaven will shine more bright;
Therefore give us love.

5 Faith and hope and love we see
Joining hand in hand agree;
But the greatest of the three,
And the best, is love.

6 From the overshadowing
Of thy gold and silver wing
Shed on us, who to thee sing,
Holy, heavenly love.

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
Lord of all power and might,

the author and giver of all good things:
graft in our hearts the love of your name,
increase in us true religion,
nourish us with all goodness,
and of your great mercy keep us in the same;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen

FIRST READING - Genesis 29.15-28

Then Laban said to Jacob, “Because you are my kinsman, should you therefore serve me for nothing? Tell me, what shall your wages be?” Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the elder was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. Leah’s eyes were lovely, and Rachel was graceful and beautiful. Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than that I should give her to any other man; stay with me.” So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.

Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife that I may go in to her, for my time is completed.” So Laban gathered together all the people of the place, and made a feast. But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. (Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah to be her maid.) When morning came, it was Leah! And Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Did I not serve with you for Rachel? Why then have you deceived me?” Laban said, “This is not done in our country—giving the younger before the firstborn. Complete the week of this one, and we will give you the other also in return for serving me another seven years.” Jacob did so, and completed her week; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife.

HYMN God moves in a mysterious way - London New NEH 365

1 God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants his footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.

2 Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill
He treasures up his bright designs,
And works his sovereign will.

3 Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.

4 Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust him for his grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

5 His purposes will ripen fast,

Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

6 Blind unbelief is sure to err,
And scan his work in vain;
God is his own interpreter,
And he will make it plain.

GOSPEL - Matthew 13.31-33,44-52
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

“Have you understood all this?” They answered, “Yes.” And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

SERMON

More parables for us to ponder, parables we have known from our childhood, and heard countless sermons on, I am sure. Most of you will know my thoughts regarding the interpretation of the parables - how I believe their re-telling by the gospel and pseudo-gospel writers to have have been much influenced by the writers’ own situations and the audiences they were writing for. This is not revolutionary stuff - all academic biblical scholars would hold this position. 

But how can we tell what Jesus meant by his parables if they were so susceptible to being changed and reinterpreted? Having four gospels helps enormously, where there is common ground each writer’s perspective becomes visible and so may be taken into account. Discovering Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s own understanding of Jesus’ teaching and mission is worthwhile in itself. But freeing the parables to speak to us less encumbered by the straitjackets put upon them by others can allow them, and therefore Jesus, to speak to us afresh from across the millennia.

The parable of the mustard seed I have spoken about many times, but without repeating myself too much it is interesting to look it alongside the parable of the yeast. Both the mustard seed and the yeast are difficult substances for the Torah. The Torah required order in all things - this lead to the stipulation that crops must not be mixed (Leviticus 19.19). It is hard to avoid some mixing of crops with the self seeding mustard plant, so there were elaborate rules where you could and couldn’t plant mustard seed. The fact that yeast must be cleared out of the kitchen during the days of passover, and that it is very difficult to get rid of prior to cooking the unleavened bread for passover, ranks it with mustard as a polluting commodity on the borders of acceptability. Both must be contained and proscribed. So likening them to the kingdom of heaven, the rule of God on earth, present in simple acts of kindness, compassion and forgiveness, said a lot about the subversive and insidious working of the kingdom in the margins of what men [sic] regarded as unholy.

If we can find commonality in the first two of our parables, we can do the same with the second pair. The peasant buying a field to secure the treasure buried in it, and the merchant buying the pearl of great price both seem to point to one clear message - that the kingdom of heaven is worth not less than everything. But it is also worth noting a feature common to both stories - that both the peasant and the merchant both have to sell all they have in order to buy their respective treasures. And here we are reminded of Jesus’ words to the rich young man, ‘go sell all you have and follow me’ - a challenge he couldn’t meet, alongside most of us. These two stories make the same claim, not less than everything. Not to buy a ticket to the kingdom of heaven, but to live fully in the service of the kingdom of heaven, here and now.

Our last parable again seems rather straight forward, if more than a little unpleasant. The net is an often used simile, with stories finding morals in different directions. Matthew seems very sure where he wants his version to go: judgement. The good fish and the (literally) rotten fish are divided - quite how the fisherman caught fish that were already rotten he doesn’t worry about. Matthew employs his usual warning phrases, to the usual effect. 

But the net of fish can take us in other directions. The Gospel of Thomas talks of choosing between the biggest of the fish and all the rest, leading to a similar conclusion to the stories of the treasures. The price of the best fish is throwing all the others back. Another ancient version tells of a net full of wonderful fish, but the smaller fish were able to escape through the mesh, whereas the larger were taken and stretched out in the boat. The followers of the kingdom, being insignificant in society, could slip the net and work their deeds of kindness, unnoticed under the brasher, louder voices claiming their larger place, and risking being stetted out on the deck of the metaphorical and not so metaphorical ship.

Would Jesus recognise any of these ‘retellings’ I wonder? Possibly, but it is unlikely - there are many ways to tell them, I haven’t scratched the surface. The important thing is to hear the stories, ponder them, find ways to apply them in the call for us to live kinder, more generous, compassionate lives - and to persevere in this even in the face of discouragement and opposition. If it takes freeing the stories from their gospel moorings, then let us liberate them to fly free once more.

 HYMN Thy kingdom come on bended knee - St Cecilia  NEH 499

1 Thy kingdom come on bended knee
The passing ages pray;
And faithful souls have yearned to see
On earth that kingdom's day.

2 But the slow watches of the night
Not less to God belong;
And for the everlasting right
The silent stars are strong.

3 And lo, already on the hills
The flags of dawn appear;
Gird up your loins, ye prophet souls,
Proclaim the day is near:

4 The day in whose clear-shining light
All wrong shall stand revealed,
When justice shall be throned in might,
And every hurt be healed;

5 When knowledge, hand in hand with peace,
Shall walk the earth abroad:
The day of perfect righteousness,
The promised day of God.

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 - Sheila Forbes

God our father, in this rush and noise of life we still our hearts to pray. 

We know there is no place where God is not, for wheresoever we are - so God is there and thus we bring our thanks for the blessings of the past week and our cares for this world.

God our father, your kingdom like yeast in dough permeates through all the world. We pray for respect and trust between nations whose curdled relations have soured the exchanged of words. We pray for our nation where the need to take care of the feelings of others at times becomes intolerance. May our roofs, like those of your kingdom, be wide enough for opinions that do not match our own and our tables, places where others may speak freely. 

Lord in your mercy…….

God our father, we pray for the people of Yemen in the midst of a humanitarian crisis and now threatened by the virus. We ask that you move the hearts and minds of all leaders of influence to perceive this suffering as if it were that of their own people. To see not a political situation but children, mothers, fathers starving. 

Lord in your mercy…..

God our mother, with schools now closed for the long holiday, we pray for the families where parents must work and if grandparents are not there to provide support, childcare can become a constant anxiety. We pray for households facing financial hardship as the virus robs so many of their livelihood forcing them to turn to the diminishing resources of the food banks. Lord bring relief and generosity from all around.

Lord in your mercy…..

Heavenly Father, we bring to you in prayer those who are suffering in mind or spirit. We remember also those facing long and incurable illness. We remember family and friends struggling with the burden of the virus, separating them from the outside world and social contact. In your mercy maintain their courage, and like a balm bring ease and the peace that will follow. 

Lord in your mercy….

God our mother, gather up into your loving arms those who have recently died and comfort all whose memories fill them with a deep sense of loss.

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
May you find in Christ crucified a guide in times of darkness,
a strength in times of weakness and the assurance that life is eternal;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always.  Amen

HYMN He who would valiant be - Monks Gate NEH 372 

1 He who would valiant be
'Gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master.
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.

2 Who so beset him round
With dismal stories,
Do but themselves confound--
His strength the more is.
No foes shall stay his might,
Though he with giants fight:
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim.

3 Since, Lord, thou dost defend
Us with thy Spirit,
We know we at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies flee away!
I'll fear not what men say,
I'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord

In the name of Christ. Amen