Armadale Uniting Church
Sunday 26 July 2020, 9:30 am
The 8th Sunday after Pentecost
Call to Worship Micah 6:8
Our call to worship is from Micah 6:8:
God has told you, O mortal, what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
It is good to be together, God,
in this place, with these people, at this time,
together listening for your voice.
In this hour of worship
tell us about your kingdom of kindness
so that we can seek it.
Show us your justice.
We want to walk with you,
humbly, closely, daily.
The great love of God is revealed in the Son (TIS 164) DT Niles, Tune: Thailand
The great love of God
Is revealed in the Son,
Who came to this earth
To redeem everyone.
That love, like a stream
Flowing clear to the sea,
Makes clean every heart
That from sin would be free.
It binds the whole world,
every barrier it breaks,
The hills it lays low,
And the mountains is shakes.
It’s yours, it is ours,
O how lavishly given!
The pearl of great price,
And the treasure of heaven.
Prayer of adoration and confession
Let us pray:
We bow before you, O God, in awe of your creation. Its vastness staggers our imagination. Its beauty kindles our excitement. Its mystery defies our understanding. As Jesus spoke to the crowds in Galilee in parables, sometimes you speak to us in parables. Your words are loud and powerful, but their meaning is not always clear.
Yet we sense the heartbeat behind your handiwork. In Jesus you have revealed your face, and we are delighted by what we see. We see power restrained by goodness. We see nature guided by humanity. We see purpose directed by love. We thank you, O Great Communicator, for the revelation of yourself in Jesus. At first, we thank you for lowering yourself to our level. But as we look more closely at Jesus, we see that, instead, you raised us up to your level.
We grow uncomfortable in your company. Our humanity drags us down again to the level from which we ascended. We break under the weight of today's problems. We are constantly on the lookout for the quick fix. When our neighbour speaks to us harshly, we answer in kind without pausing to ask why. When given a chance to make a deal on dubious terms, we promise to be more ethical next time. When some foreign people opt for a system different from our own, we are quicker to denounce their choice than we are to study their history.
For this rush to judgment, we ask your forgiveness, O God. We pray for the rebirth of patience, that we might think beyond our present circumstances. Give us the grace to weigh our actions in light of their consequences on people yet unborn and on people in other lands. Let us hope for a world that we cannot yet see; a world in which we are as quick to bestow freedom as we are to claim it—and grant us the courage to labour for the world of our hope.
When we think of the degree to which our hope exceeds our grasp, we also remember the multitudes who cling to hope because hope is all that remains. We pray, O God, that you will move us to act in their behalf, that both we and they might obtain the liberty of the children of God.
Prayer of confession:
God of life, Lord of mercy, we confess that, like Esau and Jacob, we selfishly make decisions that do not honour you or others. Believing ourselves wise, we foolishly follow our own way, falling short of your glory. Our pride keeps us from being honest about ourselves, our sin, and our needs. Forgive us, we pray, and grant us the gift of your healing grace. Restore again both the joy of knowing you and the freedom of being known by you. Make us new and lead us in the way of life everlasting.
Declaration of Pardon
Minister: Friends, hear the Good News! All who are moved by the Spirit of God are children of God.
People: We are heirs of God's splendour with Jesus Christ.
Minister: Friends, believe the Good News!
People: In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven.
Words of Assurance
Our gracious and loving Lord is the essence of generosity and patience. Rest in and rely on God’s love and forgiveness.
Old Testament: Genesis 29:15-28
Psalm: Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Epistle: Romans 8:26-39
Gospel: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
31 He put before them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32 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." 33 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."
44 "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. 45 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it. 47 "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48 when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 51 "Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." 52 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."
"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes."
Today the Lectionary offers to us a collection of Jesus’ parables:
- The mustard seed
- The leavened bread
- The treasure in the field
- The pearl of great value
- The sorting of the fish
- The scribe
"Have you understood all this?" They answered, "Yes." (Verse 51)
Well, lucky them! Have we, two thousand years later, understood all this? In a way it would be surprising if we have. We have a double problem. We not only need to understand the context in which Matthew was reporting what he understood Jesus to have said, but we have inherited the legacy of centuries of preaching that have “explained” these, and other, parables, with varying degrees of success. All of this means that we can’t just take the parables, or any scripture for that matter, at face value. We need to work at it. We need to put “the little grey cells” to work. These are not the simple moral tales they seem to be. The more we “unpack” them, the more problematic, and challenging they become.
Some of these parables seem easier than others. The meaning of the mustard seed seems pretty obvious - little things can produce big results. We have a similar saying: from tiny acorns great oak trees grow. The leavening of the bread seems pretty straight-forward too - a little bit of yeast makes the loaf grow. Seems obvious enough. But wait a minute; Jews are not keen on yeast, and this parable was told to an audience of Jews. At Passover Orthodox Jews go to a great deal of trouble to rid their houses of yeast. And what sort of bread is used at the Passover meal; why, unleavened bread, of course. So, the parable makes a good point about the influence of small things, but it also seems to make a more obscure point about the result not always being good and pure. It’s a mixed message. Yes, yeast makes the bread rise, but it is a substance disapproved of. Therefore, the yeast is also a metaphor for the growth of evil in the soul. Take the meaning of the parable in its “normal” sense if you like, but know that there as another darker side to the story.
Then there is the treasure in the field. Who is this “someone”, who finds the treasure? Our quick answer is that it is you, or me. We have found the Kingdom, and we should invest in it, and make it our own. But surely this “someone” is being a bit sneaky and devious and grasping. In our society, we would be encouraged to take the treasure to the police who would try to find the owner, and only if an owner does not show up should we be allowed to take possession - and should the owner turn up, we might get a reward. Would we not prefer to see that as the model for The Kingdom - a place where honest and open dealing is the order of the day, rather than secretive opportunism?
So, what about the pearl of great value? The parable paints a picture for us of a dealer in pearls, who finds a particularly good one, and risks all to get it. A wise man, surely. A risk taker. Maybe what we might call a venture capitalist. Today, he might get together with some others and buy Virgin Airlines. We can reasonably be expected to wonder what the pearl-dealer will do with the pearl. Will he hide it away? Will he boast about it? Will he hang on to it waiting for the market in pearls to rise? Which of these behaviours would truly reflect what we might expect of those who take up residence in “The Kingdom”?
I have recently been reading a book on the economics of First Century Palestine. The author points out that Jesus was, essentially, a boy from the bush. Rarely did he enter a city, and when he did, he either expected trouble or made trouble. The author goes on to argue that, paradoxically, the places that early Christianity took root, was in the cities. The Epistles and the Gospels were written by people with an urban mind-set, it seems. Perhaps that explains this interest in entrepreneurs and risk-takers. These were not behaviours available to the rural classes, nor were they behaviours to which they might aspire.
Then we move on to the parable of the sorting of the fish. This, surely, is an agricultural theme! But, argues my commentator, it is a particularly urban view of what fishing is like. It probably doesn’t matter too much. The point is that the parable metaphorically tells of what will happen to bad folk. It’s what we want to hear, particularly in urban settings which we understand as hotbeds of wrong doing. Will there be weeping and gnashing of teeth? Who amongst us does not from time to time hope so. But our urban setting has been the location of much weeping and gnashing of teeth of late, and it is not because of evil.
Furthermore, there is a serious question to be asked concerning the net-full of fish. We assume too easily that the net represents The Church, which scoops up the shoal of fish which, in turn, stands for the company of the redeemed. But hang on. The fish die, and are all destined for the table - except the bad fish, which are rejected. And hang on again, the fish were content before they were caught, doing their fishy thing. And without the net there were no bad fish. Just fish! Do we enter The Kingdom of our own accord, or must we be caught, and then sorted? And whose plate will we end up on, anyway.
And finally, there is this business of the scribe. Surely the scribe is a servant. He is trained. He is educated. In many households in the first century he is a slave. But Jesus portrays the scribe as a master. I get that. In my time as manager in a large bureaucracy, I developed the opinion that whoever managed the web site had power way above their salary level. The webmaster controlled the information and the image, and did so by being in possession of a body of esoteric knowledge available to just a few. The scribe/webmaster controls the message.
I suppose that we who preach stand in a situation rather like the scribe. We have a position of privilege. We analyse. We unpack. We explain. We proclaim. When we are at our best, we announce the Good News. There’s no great mystery about what that Good News is: it is that Jesus Saves! That’s it! The rest is cream on the cake. So, when we read the scriptures, including the parables, we need to approach them with this good news in mind. Where is the saving Grace of Jesus in the image of the mustard seed? What good news should the investor or the entrepreneur or the labourers in the field be hearing about the saving Grace of Jesus. Of what relevance to our complex society is the notion of sorting the good from the bad. Can the Church rid itself of the notion that it is God’s sorting machine? Can we be part of the solution to the ills of the world rather than judgmental gatekeepers?
This little bunch of parables is not a collection of cute moral tales. We ought not to come to the end of them feeling that we now know what life in The Kingdom is all about. Rather we should read them as excerpts from real life. They portray the good and the bad. They show us at our worst and at our best. They offer us a critique of our actions. They challenge us, again and again.
Prayer of the People
Let us pray…. Dearest Lord, we come before you this morning with thanks for your many blessings, and for your promise that nothing can separate us from your love. Yet Lord.... In the midst of the everchanging situation thrown up by the Global Corona Virus Pandemic, we can find ourselves confused and stressed. Economic, social and political inequalities seem to be magnified and distressing for so many! .. We can then feel that you have abandoned us. Merciful God, we pray for courage, for hope and for your Enduring Love.
Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer
Lord we give thanks for the faithful witness of St. Paul to your love in Romans chapter 8 despite so many years of enduring great hardship!
We can also reflect on the flawed behaviour of Old Testament heroes such as Jacob and David and marvel that you did not abandon them but continued to love and guide them.
Lord, despite our best intentions we still must often sadden you by our unloving behaviour. Guard us and guide us by the power of your Holy Spirit and by the power of your love for us.
Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer
Lord we pray that you will be with all who have contracted Covid 19 and are struggling for their lives in Intensive Care Units throughout the world. We pray also for the doctors and nurses who, at great personal risk are caring for them.
Loving lord we pray that you will be with all who are suffering both directly and indirectly from the affects of this global pandemic.
Lord, May we be enabled to appreciate small daily blessings and perhaps in the slower and quieter lockdown time have a deeper sense of your presence on our faith journey.
Lord in your mercy…hear our prayer
We give thanks for our church family, for our minister Fiona and for the ministry of Ian and Karel and our church council. We are thankful also for our happy alliance with Arrow Health.
We pray for all who are going through a difficult time in addition to the stresses imposed by the Corona Virus… Be with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one or some other loss in their lives. May all who are suffering in any way know the comfort of your Holy Spirit and be given the hope and courage they need.
We pray especially for Pat Tolson, Mary Turner, Cheryl Mason, Keith and Lyn Ferguson and all our young people…
We now pray the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples....
The Lord’s Prayer
This day God gives me strength of high heaven… TIS 642. Tune Bunessan (156)
1. This day God gives me
strength of high heaven,
sun and moon shining,
flame in my hearth,
flashing of lightning,
wind in its swiftness,
deeps of the ocean,
firmness of earth.
2. This day God sends me
strength to sustain me,
might to uphold me,
wisdom as guide.
Your eyes are watchful,
your ears are listening,
your lips are speaking,
friend at my side.
3. God's way is my way,
God's shield is round me,
God's host defends me,
saving from ill.
Angels of heaven,
drive from me always
all that would harm me,
stand by me still.
4. Rising, I thank you,
mighty and strong One,
king of creation,
giver of rest,
threeness of Persons,
oneness of Godhead,
May the beauty of God
be reflected in your eyes,
the love of God
be reflected in your hands,
the wisdom of God
be reflected in your words,
and the knowledge of God
flow from your heart,
that all might see,
and seeing, believe.
Go into this day in faith.
And may every step you take,
and every moment of living and moving.
Be blessed as though you walk with God.
Go in Peace to love and serve,
In the Name of Christ.