12 July 2020

This week, we are grateful to Alex Walker, lay leader at the URC in South Leeds, for his sermon. All the music has once again been recorded on the Headingley St Columba organ. The arrangement by R. Vaughan Williams of the tune Sussex is used under the terms of PRS LOML Licence LE-0020656

Order of Service

Organ prelude: Voluntary in C – John Stanley (1713 – 86)


Call to Worship
This is the day which the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.
It is good to give thanks to the Lord;
for God’s love endures for ever.

Tune: Carlisle – Charles Lockhart (1745 – 1815)

Stand up and bless the Lord,
you people of His choice;
stand up and bless the Lord your God
with heart and soul and voice.

Though high above all praise,
above all blessing high,
who would not fear His holy name,
and laud and magnify?

O for the living flame
from his own altar brought,
to touch our lips, our minds inspire,
and wing to heaven our thought!

God is our strength and song,
and his salvation ours;
then be his love in Christ proclaimed
with all our ransomed powers.

Stand up, and bless the Lord,
the Lord your God adore;
stand up, and bless his glorious name
henceforth for evermore.

James Montgomery (1771 – 1854)

Opening Prayer beginning with Psalm 65: 1 – 4 (NRSVA)

‘Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion; and to you shall vows be performed, O you who answer prayer! To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us, you forgive our transgressions. Happy are those whom you choose and bring near to live in your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, your holy temple.’

Father God, as we come before you today, we praise you and thank you for all your goodness to us. We give thanks that our sins are forgiven in Jesus. We bring our offerings of worship to you today, asking that we may worship in spirit and in truth. Open our hearts to hear your Word to us, and to take all that moves us in our worship today to our daily living in your Kingdom. For your glory we pray, Amen.

Introduction to the first reading
This reading comes in a section of assurance and comfort to Israel, when Assyria had taken over the Kingdom, and a time of exile. Isaiah looks to a time when they will be repentant and return to God, and in this passage we hear that assurance in a promise that God’s Word will not return empty.

Reading: Isaiah 55: 10 – 13

Organ interlude: Trio – Josef Rheinberger (1839 – 1901)

Introduction to the second reading
This parable and its explanation begin a series of Jesus’ parables in Matthew’s gospel, often called Kingdom parables, as they are about various aspects of the Kingdom of God. This is a familiar parable, and it’s easy just to look on the surface. Today we will delve into it in a different way.

Reading: Matthew 13: 1 – 9 and 18 – 23

Sermon Reflection
from Mr Alex Walker, lay pastor of the United Reformed Church in South Leeds

It is a great pleasure to be able to share with you all the word for today. I am buoyed by the knowledge that even though we cannot see each other face to face or share fellowship together we can still grow as a people of God through these means.

Today’s gospel passage is a very familiar one. I have memories of performing short plays and sketches at my Methodist church in Worcestershire on this very reading, indeed it is one I have used recently at a parade service at South Leeds not long ago.

It tells the story of Jesus leaving the house he is staying and going to the shore where he climbs in a boat and sits before addressing the crowds that have come to listen to him. His first lesson takes the shape of this parable. The parable of the sower.

I won’t waste time going over the parable again, instead I would like to hang on one of the words used to describe the scene in front of us. That word is in verse two. Crowds.

I find it interesting that the writer of the passage has chosen to emphasize that the groups listening to him were separate, possibly divided groups. Over the years I have been gifted many different stories from members of congregations all over the place as to why they are at the church that day. Most are happy stories or stories of servitude and duty. Many are stories of longing for the word of God, for a lesson or a sentence to get them through the things they have going on or coming up that week and they need the strength to face it. For some it is because they have always gone to that church, sat in that pew and sang with great gusto to their favourite hymns. On this day, at the side of this lake it didn’t matter why they had come, Jesus was going to reach out to them and show them something of the kingdom of God.

It can be hard being a long-term Christian and church attendee. The same stories get told every three years on the lectionary so we probably only hear about maybe a third of bible regularly unless we choose to study it at home or with others, and some of it is quite impenetrable as to stop us, so what new thing can we learn about the sower.

The first thing we need to establish is that we are often more than one character in this parable. On one hand we are the seeds, but equally called to be like soil. Let me explain. The first state is the stony ground where the seeds cannot penetrate. I have found myself distracted during church, perhaps by the noisy heater, perhaps by my rumbling stomach after getting up late and not eating breakfast, perhaps by my seven year old who has decided to go for a walk and I’m not sure where he has gone. I’m not too proud to admit that more than once I have been distracted by my hangover after celebrating a friend’s birthday or having just stayed in and watched a movie with a few beers. Whatever distracts us, it makes us the dry, stony ground and the word of God does not get sown.

The second state is perhaps the one we find ourselves in most of the time. Shallow ground. We sit and listen, patiently hanging on every word the preacher shares. Taking in the lessons and theology shared so beautifully and masterfully by our ministers and preachers and been moved by the testimony, prophesy and challenges they’ve made and yet, by the time we’ve had coffee after the service, or lunch once we’ve gotten home or watched a bit of Sunday night telly with our families or gone back to the weekly routine on Monday morning the lessons have gone, and so has the spirit we felt.

This is one reason I wish to ban church business from the fellowship directly after the service. If we are moved to love or to talk or to pray but we get caught up in making sure the heating is set or the cheques are signed or the right person has a key for the meeting on Thursday or whatever business needs to be done then we become the brightest light that burns the quickest. The biggest flash with little bang. The hare running the race against the tortoise.

Then there’s the third seed that lands on good soil and grows, producing fruit and more seeds. This is what we should aiming for. This is where the wisdom of God’s kingdom is found on Earth.

But here’s the rub. Plants don’t grow well unless they are cared for and tended to. This year at home we have had a bumper crop of tomatoes grow in our pots, but if we’d left them to do their thing once we’d planted them, we wouldn’t. We have cared for them, brought them in when it’s been cold and taken them out when it’s been warm. We have watered and fed them and protected them from bugs and insects. We have loved those plants and invested ourselves into them to help them grow.

This is our calling from God. Are we nurturing people into a deep seated and strong faith or are we letting them grow quickly when we have the chance then watching them fall away just as quickly?

In our parable God is the soil and we are the seeds. But equally us committed Christians have a duty to double up as the farmer too.

It is easy for us to start a new initiative in church and to be excited for it, only for it to stop it when we don’t see the instant results we want in return for our hard work. It is just as easy to welcome someone new to faith and expect them to grow and be nurtured in the same way we have been to find that actually they weren’t quite ready for that level of church or commitment and now they’ve been scarred away. It is easy to forget in our confidence that we too are often the seed thrown on the stony path and the shallow ground.

We can take comfort in the words from Isaiah we heard earlier that the word of God is as constant and refreshing as the rain to the earth and that we will be nurtured in our faith as we should aim to nurture others in theirs.

So be the best gardeners you can and tend to your seeds as best you can and go out with joy.

In the Love of Christ, Amen.

Tune: Ebenezer – Thomas John Williams (1869 – 1944)

Come thou fount of every blessing
tune my heart to sing thy grace:
streams of mercy, never ceasing,
call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious measure,
sung by flaming tongues above;
on the mountain-top I’ll treasure
signs of God’s unchanging love.

Here I place mine Ebenezer:
‘Hither, by thy help, I’m come’;
and I hope, by thy good pleasure,
safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger
wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
interposed His precious blood.

O to grace how great a debtor
daily I’m constrained to be!
Let that grace, Lord, like a fetter
bind my wandering heart to thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
prone to leave the God I love;
take my heart, O take and seal it,
seal it from thy courts above.

Robert Robinson (1735 – 90)

Prayer for thanksgiving and intercession from Margaret Madill
In the early days of Spring Lord, our horizons were narrowed to the views from our windows. Then some were able to stretch out into the local streets and see gardens slowly change from winter hues to glorious Spring blossoms. Steps changed to tentative strides into local shops and then to places further afield for those who could return to work. For those benefits we thank and praise You, Lord.

We also thank You for the changes recent days have brought for many Lord but and it is a big but, many cannot, as yet, take even one step over their threshold. We pray for the sick and the bereaved; we pray for the housebound and the hospitalised; we pray for the anxious and the scared.

Help us to cope with how the experiences we have lived through have changed us we pray. Help us to be brave enough to step out when we feel we can, Lord.

God of love, God of the broken we call to You with our prayers each day. In Your name we pray.

Lord’s Prayer

Tune: Sussex – arr. Ralph Vaughan William (1872 – 1958)

Father, hear the prayer we offer
not for ease that prayer shall be,
but for strength that we may ever
live our lives courageously.

Not for ever in green pastures
do we ask our way to be;
but the steep and rugged pathway
may we tread rejoicingly.

Not for ever by still waters
would we idly rest and stay;
but would smite the living fountains
from the rocks along our way.

Be our strength in hours of weakness,
in our wanderings be our guide;
through endeavour, failure, danger,
Father, be thou at our side.

Love Maria Willis (1824 – 1908) and others

Blessing Philippians 1: 6 (Good News Translation)
‘And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus.’

May the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with us all, and with those we love, now and always,

Organ voluntary: Postlude – Alexandre Guilmant (1837 – 1911)