4 October 2020

Music for this service has been recorded at Headingley St Columba URC. Music not in the public domain is used under the terms of our PRS LOML Licence LE-0020656

Order of Service

Organ prelude: Trumpet Voluntary – John Travers (1703 – 58)


Call to Worship
‘ . . . above all bless your Maker, who fills you with his good gifts.’ Sirach 32: 13 (NRSVUK)

Tune: St George’s, Windsor – George Elvey (1816 – 93)

Come, ye thankful people, come
raise the song of harvest-home!
All is safely gathered in,
ere the winter storms begin:
God, our Maker, doth provide
for our wants to be supplied;
come to God’s own temple, come,
raise the song of harvest-home!

All the world is God’s own field,
fruit unto his praise to yield,
wheat and tares together sown,
unto joy or sorrow grown:
first the blade, and then the ear,
then the full corn shall appear;
grant, O harvest Lord, that we
wholesome grain and pure may be.

Even so, Lord, quickly come
to thy final harvest-home;
from thy field upon that day
all offences purge away:
gather thou thy people in,
free from sorrow, free from sin,
there for ever purified,
in thy glory to abide.

Henry Alford (l8l0-7l) altd.

Opening Prayers and Lord’s Prayer
Lord God almighty, maker of heaven and earth, we do indeed give thanks and praise for the beauty of all you have created.
We give thanks for all we may be able to see, hear, touch, smell or taste, and the memories of those things so precious to us. We give thanks for our families and friends, for the shared times and those moments which we cherish. We give thanks for all your goodness to us, realising how blessed we are.
Yet we remember how many are not able to have an abundant share of the earth’s resources, and how greedy humanity is to take what we want, so we ask your forgiveness:

For the abundance of food that is taken for granted, forgive us.
For the abundance of wealth that is not justly earned, forgive us.
For the abundance of land that is held by a few, forgive us.
For the abundance of resources that are over extracted, forgive us.
For the abundance of life that is denied to too many, forgive us.

Believing that in Jesus our sins are forgiven, Lord, inspire us with your kind and generous love to work for a world where abundance is shared.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

We say the Lord’s Prayer together . . .

Introduction to the first reading
The first few chapters of Isaiah’s prophecies are mainly to the Jewish Kingdom of Judah and Jerusalem, but also to Israel. These verses are like a parable of what will happen to these Kingdoms because of their unfaithfulness to God. In my study Bible it’s entitled, ‘The parable of the vineyard.’

Reading – Isaiah 5: 1 – 7

Organ interlude: Fughetta – Georg Sorge (1703 – 78)

Introduction to the second reading
This is Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, and continues a section in the gospel of conversations with the pharisees and chief priests, and a couple of parables related to their lives of faith. It is still on the theme of the Kingdom of God, as we’ve been looking at in some previous weeks.

Reading – Matthew 21: 33 – 46

I love the way Jesus tells these parables. It says in this one, the chief priests and pharisees, ‘realised He was talking about them’. They must have had some inkling of the differences between His teaching and their own way of following the Law, with all the restrictions that entailed.

Today is our Harvest Festival. It is very different, with no produce on display because we are still not back in the building. However, our gifts of money are the same. This year we are giving to the Food Bank and Caring for Life, both worthy causes which we support regularly.

How do our readings then for today speak to what is happening in our world and especially with these charities in mind?

Isaiah speaks of the people as God’s vineyard – or rather God does, speaking through Isaiah. That’s a picture of care: tending the vine, nurturing it, how God cared for the people of Israel and expected them to bear fruit. Instead, God says, they just bore wild grapes, as if God hadn’t put any effort in at all. Those wild grapes, we read at the end of the passage, are the injustices, the bloodshed of their own people, the cry God heard of the downtrodden.

That image of wild grapes immediately struck a chord with me. In our garden in Brighton, a vine has been growing up the past 3-4 years. It produces what I would call wild grapes, small and a bit sour. I thinned out the grapes this year when down in June, hoping that the rest would grow bigger, but it seems they haven’t done so at all.

What did I do wrong? Maybe a keen gardener or two can tell me.

The image of the vine also brings to my mind, from John’s gospel especially, that image of pruning. I thinned out the grapes but didn’t prune our vine when I should have done – well, I wasn’t there, or able to be there with lockdown.

We may wonder if God didn’t prune the house of Israel sufficiently, although in my reading of the Old Testament, if that’s what some of the passages are about, I think he did. Yet our God is slow to anger and abiding in steadfast love (Psalm 103: 8). God’s love was, and is, to nurture.

But in Isaiah, we’re told God decides now, not just to prune, but threatens to tear down the people of Judah of the house of Israel because of the injustices practised there.

We may say we’re not guilty in the Church of injustice. In fact, of course, we give generously to various causes, Caring for Life and the Food Bank just two of the many. Yet I was challenged in an online meeting I was involved with last week. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was to the effect that if we get on with life as we are, we are guilty of injustice, each and every one if us. Many of the products we buy so easily in our supermarkets are, without us knowing, built on injustice.

That sounds harsh, but that’s the point. In Isaiah’s day, the people were getting on with their lives, enjoying their lives, not worrying about what was happening around them. In Nazi Germany, many didn’t realise what was happening to the Jewish people under their noses. In South Africa under apartheid, the white Church afterwards were shocked at what had been happening – because they were told, and therefore believed, that the black communities were being looked after.

What is happening under our noses that we turn a blind eye to or just aren’t aware of?
Do we need to seek to be more aware?

In Matthew’s gospel, it seems to be more about how the house of Israel have treated the prophets and now are treating Jesus. And yet verse 43 gives an inkling that it’s really about how the chief priests and pharisees, like the people of Judah in Isaiah’s day, haven’t produced the fruit of the Kingdom, in other words, acting in a just and righteous way to all. Jesus says, ‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.’

So we have that sense of unfairness and injustice in their actions, maybe using the courts for their own advantage and thereby causing more poverty and hopelessness.

As we look at our own world, it is easy to see injustice and abuse at a distance, but less easy to see it on our doorstep. During the pandemic, it has been those in our society who are in lower paid jobs who have borne the brunt of the disease, job losses and spiralling into debt.

Again at the meeting I attended online last week, someone spoke of how those in well paid jobs have been able to save money as they can work at home and have no travel or eating out costs. Most of those with credit card debts have been able to pay them off. Meanwhile, the numbers who need the Food Bank have increased by a third. That’s added to the already significantly increased numbers of users because of austerity measures, which again have hit those with lower incomes the most, and with the roll-out of Universal Credit had a big impact too.

We can see the injustice of that. We can see too how it affects charities like Caring for Life, whose beneficiaries are those who are on benefits and have health issues. Those charities exist because, like in Isaiah’s and Jesus’ day, there is still so much injustice in our world.

What does our faith say to that, for us, for ourselves?

We have already thought about how we might need to seek to be more aware of the injustices around us because of God’s call through the prophet Isaiah to be just and fair in our actions to those who have a harder life than ourselves. We know the love of God for us, who nurtures us, and whose love is continually faithful to us. Yet as we follow Jesus, we must hear God speaking against injustice and calling us to do something about it.

When Jesus came face-to-face with injustice in his time on earth, he always did something practical for those He encountered. That came in the form of physical healing, so people could work to earn a living. That then had an effect on their spiritual lives as they were freed to worship in the Temple.

What we do practically to reach out to others, ourselves, and through the charities we support, has a bearing on their spiritual lives too. As we reach out, others are touched by the love and grace of God, through us as Jesus’ hands and feet in our world, and we bear the fruit of the Kingdom of God in that way.

Tune: Wir pflügen – Johann Schultz (1747 – 1800)
Last verse arr. Noel Rawsthorne (1929 – 2019)

We plough the fields and scatter
the good seed on the land,
but it is fed and watered
by God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter,
the warmth to swell the grain,
the breezes and the sunshine,
and soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
for all His love.

He only is the maker
of all things near and far;
He paints the wayside flower,
He lights the evening star;
the winds and waves obey Him,
by Him the birds are fed;
much more to us, His children,
He gives our daily bread.

All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
for all His love.

We thank thee, then, O Father,
for all things bright & good;
the seedtime and the harvest,
our life, our health, our food.
No gifts have we to offer
for all thy love imparts,
but that which you most welcome,
our humble, thankful hearts.

All good gifts around us
are sent from heaven above;
then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord,
for all His love.

Matthias Claudius (1740 – 1815)
tr. Jane M. Campbell (1817 – 78)

Prayers of Intercession
Lord God, Creator of all and giver of all good gifts, we lift to you all who are struggling at this harvest time.

We pray for all those whose harvests have failed, both at home and in countries where drought or flooding and climate change has hit them hard, and those who year on year, struggle to grow enough to eat.

We pray your provision for all who work hard to supply food for others and for their families, working against the odds, and pray for all those charities working with communities who are struggling, and those who work to help us all redress climate change.

We pray in our own country for farmers who are struggling because of flooding followed by extra warm weather earlier this year, and pray for them as they prepare the land for next year’s harvest.

We lift to you our offerings to those charities we’re supporting this year, and ask your blessing on both Caring for Life, with all the good work they do, and for the Food Bank helping so many people.

We pray for all who are finding themselves in financial difficulties this year. We pray for those struggling with debt, those who have lost jobs, and those who’ve suffered domestic abuse and find themselves in a bad place at this time. We also pray for all those who are homeless, and for refugees here and in other countries, suffering so much more because of their situation.

A prayer written by Margaret Madill:
We thought we had done so well Lord – we have come through the months since March more or less intact and we thank you for all the blessings received from you but recent developments have rocked us – we are now having to adjust our lives again. Did we do something to bring this about, Lord? Did we not wash our hands, sanitise our hands enough? Did we not wear our masks quite correctly? Did we step in front of somebody and not move aside? Did we visit too many people? Small acts of omission; big acts of contravention – this virus seems to love them all.

Father, we ask for your help to do the right thing each and every day. Father, we ask that you would comfort the grieving, strengthen the sick, give wisdom to all the decision makers and grant us all courage to face whatever is coming into our lives.

We pray for our families and our friends at this time and ask that we can accept that it may now be some time yet before we can be with them again.

Lord, hear our prayers. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,

Tune: Nun danket – Johann Crüger (1598 – 1662)
Last verse arr. Noel Rawsthorne (1929 – 2019)

Now thank we all our God
with hearts and hands and voices;
who wondrous things has done,
in whom his world rejoices;
who from our mother’s arms
has blessed us on our way
with countless gifts of love,
and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God
through all our life be near us,
with ever joyful hearts
and blessed peace to cheer us;
and keep us in his grace,
and guide us when perplexed,
and free us from all ills
in this world and the next.

All praise and thanks to God
the Father now be given,
the Son, and him who reigns
with them in highest heaven,
the one eternal God,
whom earth and heaven adore;
for thus it was, is now,
and shall be ever more.

Martin Rinkart. (1586-1649)
tr. Catherine Winkworth. (1827-78)

God of the first fruits, let your rain dance on us,
your sun shine on us, and your love and justice grow in us.
May your blessing be on the poor and on the rich,
May your blessing be on those far away and those near,
May your blessing be on us, in the peace of Christ,

Organ voluntary: Chorale-Improvisation on Nun danket alle Gott – Sigfrid Karg-Elert (1877 – 1933)