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If you prefer to listen to an audio-only version of the service, you can do so here, but for copyright reasons, the words of the hymns are not reproduced in the Order of Service.
Order of Service
Call to Worship Isaiah 44: 6:
‘Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and His Redeemer, the LORD of hosts:
I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.’
Great is thy faithfulness
Text: Thomas O. Chisholm (1866–1960)
Tune: Faithfulness – W. M. Runyan (1870 – 1957)
Father God, we come today as your children, to give you our thanks and praise. We praise you for all that you are, the changeless one, our rock, the one who is always there. We praise you for all you do for us each and every day. We pause a moment to think of all we have seen and known of your love and faithfulness to us this week… We give thanks. We praise and thank you too for Jesus, through whom we can come to you and know that your presence is with us, in each of our homes. So we give this time to you, we offer all that is in the coming week to you; and we offer you our lives. As we worship you, help us to worship in spirit and in truth, and to listen to what you have for us in this short time of worship. Bless us we pray. For we ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Introduction to the first reading
This is the second of the Kingdom parables in this gospel, the parable of the weeds. This time the parable and its explanation are separated by two more Kingdom parables, that of the mustard seed and of the yeast. But in our reading from the lectionary, the parable of the weeds is followed straight after by the explanation.
Reading – Matthew 13: 24 – 30 and 36 – 43
Organ interlude: Prelude on Angels’ Song – Charles V. Stanford (1852 – 1924)
Introduction to the second reading
Our second reading is part of a larger section about how we live as Christians. Previously, the writer, Paul, has spent a Chapter on how a believer should live, and this Chapter is about life in the Spirit. These verses mainly show us how the Spirit works within us, with the powerful image of the Spirit sealing our adoption as God’s children. The last half of the passage connects that to the whole of creation.
Reading – Romans 8: 12 – 23
During lockdown our older son, like many, decided to grow vegetables. As I was down there in Brighton the other week, he has cabbages, kale, 3 varieties of lettuce and potatoes, tomatoes, peas, runner beans and sweetcorn, all growing well. He’s grown a little once before, but this time, as work wasn’t on, he went to town, and has helped the Food Bank in Brighton and Rainbow Junktion up here.
But of course, as in the parable, the weeds grew up too. I helped him with a little weeding, and found that some were growing just too close to the veggies to dare to pull them up, a scenario I’m sure all gardeners know.
This is the situation Jesus describes in the parable, that if you’re not careful, you’ll accidentally pull up the wheat along with the weeds. Jesus must have had first hand experience, or observed this very thing happening in the fields. And He uses this image to tell us something more of the Kingdom of God, which He has come to proclaim.
The conclusion of this image may be a bit disturbing. Jesus gives the idea of good and evil people, the one lot gathered into His Kingdom, the other thrown into the fiery furnace. It’s a scary image which hell-fire preachers have used for centuries. Yet it doesn’t have to be.
Following on from what Alex Walker said last week, we remember that there is good and bad in all of us. Sometimes we may be like the weed, a completely different plant to the wheat, and sometimes we may be a strong growing stalk of wheat with an ear full of good grain. We often get it wrong, but as we follow Jesus, we try to do the right things in God’s eyes, and show that by how we live.
Taking the whole of Scripture, and the readings we’ve had, we can think about the parable as Jesus intended, as being about the Kingdom of God. The parable is addressed to the crowds, and the later verses in the Chapter, the explanation of the parable, to the disciples. As it follows on from the parable of the sower, the seed falling on good soil are those who hear God’s message and take it on board; so, in this parable, the disciples are the seeds in the good soil. They are the ones who have believed Jesus and are following Him.
What’s it going to be like then, being part of the Kingdom, in the good soil, yet in the world? Romans 12.2 says, ‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Like the wheat in the field, we are in the world, but not of the world. We are Kingdom residents.
In the passage we heard read from Romans 8, Paul talks about us not living as our human nature wants us to, but by the Spirit. He says the Spirit makes us God’s children. The Good News Bible puts what Paul goes on to say in v17 like this, ‘Since we are His children, we will possess the blessings He keeps for His people, and we will also possess with Christ what God has kept for Him; for if we share Christ’s suffering, we will also share His glory.’
That to me is saying something very similar to what Jesus is saying in His explanation of the parable, v43, ‘Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.’
This parable for us then is not a railing against those who do wrong, knowing our own sinfulness. It is not an ‘us and them’ situation. We are in the world, influenced by the world. We can’t avoid it, but we can proclaim Jesus as our Lord and try to live as He wants us to. The good soil produces weeds as well as wheat. It’s like in the world where the forces of evil get into everything and try to destroy.
Another way of looking at it is that the weeds are those things which we take on from the world, they grow within us and are in danger of taking over, and taking us away from our faith in Christ. And yet we are in Christ, and that makes all the difference.
This means we can see this parable as a re-assurance to us, as we follow Jesus, that we are God’s children, counted in His Kingdom. God knows us and loves us, and will never let us go.
To conclude, I’d like to read one of the other passages set for today, Psalm 139: 1 – 12 and 23 – 24, a Psalm of David, reading from the NRSVA:
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.
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.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to 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, and 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.
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.
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.
How weighty to me 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.
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.
Let those words speak to your hearts, that you are known and precious to God.
It is a thing most wonderful
Text: William Walsham How (1823 – 97)
Tune: Tune: Herongate – arr. R. Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958)
Prayers of intercession
Father God, we thank you so much that we are yours, in the world yet of your Kingdom, counted as your children, precious to you.
Yet we know, Lord, that you love your world just as much, and you desire all to come to you and the world to be renewed.
As we see your earth ravaged, not just by this coronavirus but by climate change, we look to the day when it will be free once more. We pray that as humanity, we will learn to tread lightly on this earth, and respect nature and the natural order. Help us in our own lives to think of the ways in which we can reduce our impact on the environment. We pray your Kingdom come.
We remember all those who are suffering because of the virus, those fighting it in hospital the world over, those recovering and those who have lost loved ones to it. We pray your comfort and peace.
We pray for governments the world over, as they tackle not just the virus issue, but so many issues, not least the financial impact on the poorest of their citizens from this virus. We pray for our own Government and the Royal family. We pray your Kingdom come.
We think too of places where there is war and conflict even in these times, and people who are victims of aggression and hatred, racial hatred, terror or persecution. We pray too for those who have been caught up in natural disasters. In all these places and for all these people, we pray your comfort and peace.
We pray for the Church world-wide as everyone grapples with coming back to worship and what that means. We pray for our own Church in this too, especially for our Elders making the difficult decisions. We pray your Kingdom come.
As we think of our Church, we lift to you those known to us who are unwell, those struggling still with shielding, those who are unable to get out, those struggling in our community, and those known to us among our family and neighbours who are in need of prayer. For them all, ourselves among them, we pray your comfort and peace.
May your Kingdom come, your Kingdom reign, in the name of Christ we pray, Amen.
We pray as Jesus taught us to pray, saying the Lord’s Prayer . . .
Fight the good fight with all thy might
Text: John S. B. Monsell (1811 – 75)
Tune: Duke Street – John Hatton (1710 – 93)
An offering prayer and blessing by Margaret Madill
We offer to You Lord the household task thought about in Week One and the determination to do it this week; we offer to You the extra purchase on the shopping list for this week so as to keep somebody employed; we offer to You a gift to church or charity out of the plenty You have given us; and we offer to You our service in whatever way You show us this week.
May the blessing of the Lord God Almighty be upon all that we do and say and upon all those whom we love and care for this day and forever more.
Organ voluntary postlude: Toccata in Seven – John Rutter (1945 – )