Sunday 19th July 2020

brown wheat in tilt shift lens

Service sheet

Call to worship (based on Psalm 100)

Come before the Lord with joyful songs,
because he is good,
because he is generous,
because we lack nothing.

Let us enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.

Serve the Lord with gladness,
because of his greatness and justice,
because he puts an end to war,
and to all forms of violence.

Let us enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.

Come before the Lord with joy
because he is faithful to his promises,
because his Word is eternal.

Let us enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.

Know that the Lord is God,
and we are his people,
his community, his family.

Let us enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.

It is he who has made us to the praise of his name,
and therefore today, in the same spirit,
we have a festival to celebrate his peace.

Let us enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise.

— from Fourth Sunday in Advent: Living Together in Peace, from the World Council of Churches website.  http://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/

Hymn: Immortal, invisible, God only wise (Singing the Faith 55)

 A prayer of thanksgiving

Thank You God for all that You are.

My maker

My parent

My friend

My saviour.

Thank You that You are all these things, all the time.

Thank You for Your Spirit who helps me know which face of God to seek and when

– today do I need Your comfort, Your challenge or Your company?

Thank You that I find myself in You just as You dwell in me.

Thank You that my identity comes from who You say I am,

not from the world and not through my own broken lens.

Thank You for the holy scriptures that tell me that I am Your child

I am Christ’s friend

I am united with You Lord and one spirit

I am redeemed and forgiven of all sin

I am a saint, a holy one

I am a co-heir with Christ.

Thank You for all the building blocks You used to make me who I am.

Thank You for my past.

Thank you for what I learnt.

Thank You for Your daily provision – for my now.

Thank You for the peace I receive through knowing You

and the moments of joy in my life.

Thank You for my future hope.

Thank You for the gift of works to do for You

here on earth and the promise of eternal life.

Thank You for all I inherit because You have adopted me as Your child.

Help me to inhabit my inheritance. Help me live out my identity in Christ for all to see.

Amen

A prayer of confession

I confess Lord that sometimes I feel lost

Find yourself in me.

I confess Lord that sometimes the questions are too many

Concentrate on how much I love you.

I confess Lord that sometimes the answers don’t come

I have the answers, don’t worry about that.

I confess Lord that sometimes I know what is right and don’t do it

I know, I forgive you.

I confess Lord that sometimes I don’t even know what is right

That’s ok, my Spirit will guide you.

I confess Lord that sometimes I listen to other people more than I listen to You

Humans tend to do that. Thank you for saying sorry. Please keep trying.

I confess Lord that sometimes it is easier to be moral than it is to be holy

Look to my Word, it will be a lamp to guide you.

I confess Lord that sometimes I want to give up – what difference can I make?

You are the difference, you are my plan to love the world.

I confess Lord that sometimes my choices don’t match my words

I will give you new strength every morning.

I confess Lord that sometimes Your mystery scares me

Fear and awe is probably the correct response.

I confess Lord that sometimes I forget that You are a God of action

Don’t worry, I will remind you.

I confess Lord that sometimes I feel lost

I have found you, I am with you and I love you

Psalm 139: (to be read slowly and reflectively)

O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away

God has examined you and knows you inside out. God sees whatever you do and hears your thoughts. This is not a Big Brother God, storing up our wrongs to use them against us; this is a God who is ever-present. A companion who delights to share everything we do.

You search out my path and my lying down, you are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.

God is deep within you and understands your subconscious. God is the ultimate psychologist and knows why you act as you do, even when you don’t. You might hate yourself for those dark thoughts and careless words, but God loves you just the same

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it

The knowledge that God is watching should not prompt any fear in you; this is not the purpose of God being behind and before. Think of the person you love most in the world; now imagine you heard all their thoughts, saw all of their actions, they were naked before you. Now imagine that that knowledge created even more of an outpouring of love for that person, despite their flaws and mistakes. This is what God does for you; God’s love for you is extravagant and spills over. Those places we’d rather keep hidden, God knows about and loves you anyway. This is beyond the capacity of our minds.

Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.  If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, your right hand shall hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night”, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.

God made the whole of creation and is to be found in every part of it, including you. God delights to celebrate the good times with you, but also understands what it is like to descend into the depths of hell; it’s what happened to Jesus when he was crucified. Jesus reached the lowest point of despair and is with you when it happens to you. The love God has for you is unconditional and doesn’t stop, even when you want to shut out the world and hibernate.

For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

All of those little imperfections; the bits that now sag, the hair that has changed colour and sprouts where you’d rather it didn’t, the extra pounds…all of this, taken as a whole adds up to a person of perfection. You are fearfully and wonderfully made! So give up your body-image hang-ups and try to see yourself as God sees you.

Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

Your cells, nerves, muscles and organs collectively make up an incredible machine, developed in the perfect environment. And yet the formation of you is more than just a collection of cells; it is the development of what makes you unique. Your choices, your emotions, your spirit. And God is present for the whole of this process.

How weighty to be are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! I try to count them – they are more than the sand; I come to the end – I am still with you.

God knows every part of you, from your 80 trillion cells and the 206 bones in your body, to exactly what makes you tick. What makes you laugh or cry. And what is incredible is that God knows your neighbour just as well.  God knows the 900,000 in Gloucestershire and the 7½ billion people on earth and the 107 billion people who have ever lived. It can blow your mind thinking like that, but don’t be worried that there might not be enough love left for you – there is. God is right here and will be with you until you take your last breath.

O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me – those who speak of you maliciously, and lift themselves up against you for evil! Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with perfect hatred; I count them my enemies

It’s easy to get angry, and sometimes that’s ok. Anger at injustice, anger at those who do damage to creation. But do you sometimes think yourself better than others just because you come to church? Do you see the people out drinking on a Saturday night, or those who shout and swear and feel just a little bit smug that you’re not like them? It’s good to want everyone to know God, but not so good for you to feel any moral superiority over them.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting

God looks into the very heart of you and despite your flaws and mistakes, loves you like none other. Look inside yourself right now; expose those things you’d rather be kept hidden. Tell God about them; tell God you’d rather not have them weigh you down… God knows you are hurting because of these things and would much rather you’d leave them behind. Do that now in the knowledge that God forgives you. Let them go and you’ll find a new freedom to live life in abundance.

Hymn: O God, you search me and you know me (Singing the Faith 728)

Reading: Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43

Reflection

I wonder whether you have ever heard this reading using the word ‘tare’ rather than ‘weed’? Most translations use ‘weed’, but ‘tare’ is much more accurate – a tare is a Eurasian ryegrass that looks remarkably like wheat, but it is poisonous causing nausea and drowsiness. It is a weed that is difficult to remove because it is difficult to identify. Tares are dangerous and can cause death if ingested.

Many of you, I know are gardeners, and are skilled at knowing which plants will thrive in which parts of your garden. Over the years you will have built up experience of knowing which shoots are weeds to be pulled up, and which to leave to grow. A weed is just a plant growing in the wrong place of course – you probably don’t want poppies sprouting in your vegetable patch for example. You’ll also know that some weeds come up easily and others are much more tricky. Dandelions, as I’ve mentioned before, are the ultimate resurrection flower – just when you think you’ve killed it, it springs back to life.

This is a confusing story Jesus tells about enemies and burning and evildoers and wailing and gnashing of teeth and the end of the age. It’s no wonder the disciples ask for an explanation. But there are a couple of things I want to focus in on. Firstly, in verse 29, Jesus tells us the householder instructs the slaves not to uproot the weeds, but instead, let them grow up with the wheat. Now why would he do that? Well, the tare gives us a clue – it’s not easy to spot the difference. In other words, it’s not up to us to judge.

God throws us together, desires for us live in community with us other, to celebrate our differences and not to create our own distinct ghettos. I cannot believe it is God’s desire that we segregate ourselves – it’s one of the many reasons why I resist the government’s aggressive immigration polices. We love to claim we belong and therefore that others don’t. Uproot them, is the cry, deport them is the policy. I think this story might challenge some of these assumptions.

How often do we notice other people’s behaviour and compare it to our own? We all do this, both positively and negatively and either way this can be toxic to our spiritual life. Psalm 139 tells us that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. One of my tutors at college, Eunice Attwood, told us the story of when she was a teenager and feeling pretty miserable about herself and her dad said to her, “God doesn’t make rubbish.” How often do we notice someone doing something amazing and immediately think, ‘but I’m not like them.’ No, you’re not – you’re amazing in a completely different way. Or do you sometimes notice someone and thank God you’re not like them? Human life is not a competition – we’re not given the objective of becoming better than those around us in order to win some prize at the end. That is not what life is about. Life is about growth with God, growing in relationship, growing in love.

Recently, the rapper Kanye West announced his intention to run for the US presidency. He’s declared a couple of policies already, including his intention to ban any vaccine for coronavirus. He’s not keen on any vaccine as it happens, suggesting that those who are vaccinated will not be allowed through the gates of heaven. I was left unusually speechless at this. Some elements of the church are unhealthily preoccupied with who will and won’t get into heaven. Karl Marx had a point when he claimed religion was the opium of the masses, a form of social control, because his example of religion was one in which people were controlled by being told their behaviour would determine their afterlife – and given a choice, who would choose the fiery pit when angels and harps were on offer? (Since originally writing this, I now gather Kayne West has already withdrawn his nomination for the presidency. And perhaps we should give thanks to God for that.)

This story of the wheat and tares suggests to me that judgment is for God alone. It’s not for us to say who God favours. And when I read about the story of creation, the story of the covenant God makes with the people of God, the story of the renewal of that covenant, the story of liberation from all that oppresses us, the story of love triumphing over death, I can only conclude that God’s love and mercy knows no limit. God’s judgement is not like our judgement. We need to stop telling people they won’t get into heaven, or that God might stop loving them, or that God will punish them. That’s for God, not for us to decide.

In his play, The Tempest, Shakespeare writes, “Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” If am persuaded that there is a hell (and I’m far from being convinced), I can only think it is empty, standing as a testimony to the extraordinary capacity God has to love and forgive. It’s one of those matters where I just don’t know, where I have to accept the limits of my own understanding on these matters, and to leave it to God. And I’m happy with that. I’m relieved it’s not me that has to do the deciding. Because I can be horribly judgemental. ‘Vengeance is mine’, we are told God says in Deuteronomy – maybe we need reminding of the character of God when we speak of God’s judgement and vengeance, and put this in the context of grace. Grace, freely given, never earned, available to us all.

The fact that there are tares around us, should not stop us from continuing with our discipleship. The householder in our story looks at these weeds, but doesn’t give up on the whole thing, saying, well everything is ruined now. How easy is it for us to get despondent just because things are not quite perfect?

I’ve heard arguments about why we shouldn’t give to charity for work in developing countries because of the corruption and potential for some of the money to be squandered. It’s a valid point. I’ve listened to friends and former colleagues tell me that they distrust the church, every church, because of the sexual abuse that has perpetuated. It’s an understandable point of view. I read that trust in politicians is pretty low because when the public hear lies, they assume all politicians are self-serving. It’s a compelling opinion. Charities, churches, politicians are all vehicles for goodness, but none of them are perfect. We deserve to be scrutinised, to be held to account, to be transparent in our activities and intentions, but we will all make mistakes. There are tares amongst us – personally I don’t define this as the devil, I think we each have the capacity to ruin things on our own, but one of the things I take from this story Jesus told is not to throw in the towel when things are looking bleak. As a community of faith, when we pull together, we can repair what has been damaged in the past. The presence of weeds will not destroy us and the presence of evil will never thwart God’s good intentions. God works amongst us and doesn’t give up on us. God sees the bad stuff that happens and weeps that it causes fracture, but in all things God works for the good. In Romans 8:28 we read, ‘And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’

Finally then, we need to ask ourselves, what weeds threaten the abundance of life? What are the weeds that are currently stifling the capacity for growth and love? There are systemic evils such as racism, sexism, homophobia and prejudice of all kinds – prejudice that makes us judge one another, making one group superior over another. These prejudices entangle themselves in the roots of all of our institutions. We may not be responsible for rooting out these evils, but we can be honest about their presence and give name to them. To be aware of our own privilege and not to pretend these evils do not exist. Anthony Reddie recently said that black people do not need white people to speak for them, but he does need white people to be an ally, an advocate, when there are no black people in the room. The weeds of racism and all kinds of prejudice can make us sleepy and ignorant of the reality of the danger they pose. In order that we all may grow and thrive, we can act collectively, just as a harvest pulls in everyone in the community.  

Jesus ends his explanation to the disciples with that famous quote: ‘let anyone with ears, listen.’ Who doesn’t have ears? He means all of us, of course. No exceptions. Because God’s love and mercy is infinite and indiscriminate. Amen

Hymn: God bless the grass. This hymn has been written by Malvina Reynolds and seems to sum up the power of growth and persistence. The lyrics are below:

God bless the grass that grows thru the crack.
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back.
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do,
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the truth that fights toward the sun,
They roll the lies over it and think that it is done.
It moves through the ground and reaches for the air,
And after a while it is growing everywhere,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that grows through cement.
It’s green and it’s tender and it’s easily bent.
But after a while it lifts up its head,
For the grass is living and the stone is dead,
And God bless the grass.

God bless the grass that’s gentle and low,
Its roots they are deep and its will is to grow.
And God bless the truth, the friend of the poor,
And the wild grass growing at poverty’s door,
And God bless the grass.

(Malvina Reynolds)

Intercessions

I invite you to spend time in silent prayer, praying for those on your heart, those who you compare yourself to either favourably or unfavourably, those who experience prejudice, those in the news, and for your own needs. When you are ready, say the Lord’s Prayer out loud.

The Lord’s Prayer

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.

Hymn: Come, sinners, to the gospel feast (Singing the Faith 401)

Blessing

May you trust in God’s promises to God’s people:

  • peace
  • security
  • blessing

even when they are difficult to believe.

May you know that God’s news is good news,

  • nourishing
  • true

even when people tell you it is not.

And when you encounter doubt,

may you strengthen your belief

guiding you in God’s perfect wisdom and counsel.

~ posted on Jeff’s Blog. https://blog.wisch.org/category/benedictions-and-prayers/

Some material from The Church of Scotland worship resources

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