Sunday Worship July 19th 2020
Opening words Psalm 86:12-13
I will praise you, Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths, from the realm of the dead.
Lord, we gather and we pause to think about your world: such a beautiful place. We want everything to be perfect, but we accept it is far from that. So, bring us together to learn from you how to be your presence in the world, how to create a right environment and be fruitful for you in all we do. Keep us always watchful and prayerful. Amen.
Guided by your Spirit,
we have made the journey through the wilderness and desert,
trekking across rocky paths and dirt tracks,
and crowded city streets.
We have travelled alone.
We have travelled with those we love.
We have jostled with those whose company we have not always enjoyed.
But we have made it here, to this place, this moment.
And now we wait.
We wait upon you,
We wait for rest, for inspiration, for forgiveness, for hope, for love.
Receive us afresh, renew us and inspire us, Lord.
Isaiah 44.6-8; Psalm 86.11-17; Romans 8.12-25; Matthew 13.24-30,36-43
Comments on the bible readings:
It’s hard not to feel like we are lost in a forest of bad news at the moment. Just one glance at the headlines and we are propelled into the chaos of our new Covid-19 world order: ongoing loss and sadness for many, many families; the possibility of a coronavirus resurgence in the winter; confusion about masks; recession; and the impending disaster of the virus rampaging through already war-torn countries. And that’s all before you get to the non-Covid articles on the American election, the underside of British gymnastics, and the murky world of Jeffery Epstein and his associates – to name just a few of the unsettling, sad, and bad stories we’ve been confronted with just this week.
It feels like goodness and light is being smothered by something much darker, or to use the imagery in Matthew’s parable, it’s as if someone has come into a field of wheat and sowed weeds everywhere. A field turned into a muddle, healthy wheat lost in a sea of wild, uncontrollable weeds.
It seems the bad is overwhelming the good, and mentally this is making people afraid. My Bible reading notes today were about Stephen, who spoke openly about Jesus, even though he had specifically been told not to. He was not afraid to carry on speaking even if it meant this death – by stoning, as he was being stoned his face shone like an angel and he followed in the footsteps of Jesus by praying for forgiveness for those who stoned him. His death led to a whole scale persecution of the early church – many fled, but in fleeing the word of Jesus was carried far and wide as the disciples continued to speak about Him. In the face of fear and death the disciples became more and more bold.
Those countries where Christians face persecution are growing at a faster rate than where we don’t face persecution. Out of the bad, comes good, God will always find a way for His people to tell others about Him. In Jesus there is no fear, the worst has already happened and Jesus overcame that for Himself and for us. The bad will never overcome the good, God is in control, it may not seem like that, but in faith we believe He is.
This parable that we look at today goes some way to showing how we can be sure that this is the reality. Jesus tells a parable about a field of wheat that also contains weeds – and specifically, a weed that looks much like the wheat. The servants ask their master if they should pull up the weeds, but the master says the two must grow together. Until both are fully grown it is hard to identify the weeds from the wheat. Pulling up the one will almost certainly damage the other. So good and bad have to exist together until …… until a time in the future when we can determine the one from the other.
Jesus tells us to wait – to wait upon the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 says
"But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint."
It is interesting that the workers are told not to try to gather in the weeds, but to leave them until harvest, when they can be separated from the wheat. Jesus explains that this means that good and evil will coexist until the Son of Man intervenes at the end of the age.
The parable is not suggesting that we should try to deal with the evil, but that we should wait for God. Do we truly believe that God has a plan for the difficulties we live with? Yes we know He has, as I said above – He is in control of all creation. What reassurance do we get from this parable? The assurance that the time we will in now will end, COVID will be dealt with – a vaccine will be found, many of those who have had the illness will be immune and we will be able to live again as we did before, albeit in a slightly different way.
For me, one of the hardest things is not being able to hug my family and friends. As a tactile person this has been hard. Then when we could see others to stand 2m apart just seems so impersonal and now masks are a barrier to seeing who the person is and communicating with them in every sense of the word. What is the message of hope here? The message of hope is the same every time, Jesus came to save us, to redeem us, to die for us, in His resurrected power we have the hope of eternal life lived in His presence, where there is no illness and no fear and no division. Let your heart soar as you take in all that means for you.
It can be easy to overlook the ‘wheat’ around us and see only the ‘weeds’. But the parable speaks of both growing. The wheat still bears grain even with the weeds surrounding it. The good with the bad growing together, sometimes we can only see the bad, the good is more hidden, but it is there. On one of my twitter feeds today, Leicester, still in lockdown has created #togetherinhope and #weareleicester put together by University of Leicester Vice-Chancellor, Susan Wheelan CEO of LCFC and the Bishop of Leicester. The idea is to create positive aspects around Leicester, to focus on the good, that which makes us strong, that which makes us united. Looking for the good in the bad. Do you look for signs of the kingdom or concentrate on symptoms of evil? What signs of God’s kingdom are in evidence where you are? Look around and see God’s goodness and give thanks for it.
There is a necessary tension within this parable, which is also reflected in Paul’s words to the Romans – a sense of living in both the ‘now’ and ‘not yet’. We have the first fruits but wait patiently for our full redemption. We will be heirs to God’s promise of a future as His children in His presence.
These passages all have something to say about the power of God and God’s action in the world. But they also all testify to the ongoing presence of evil and suffering. Jesus preaches that the kingdom is near, and Paul says that believers are now children of God, but both describe situations where the kingdom of God coexists with other incompatible elements that still cause ‘stumbling’. The master’s response in the passage is helpful, as it reassures the reader that he knows what is going on and has a solution to bring about a healthy and full harvest.
It is a fact of our existence that good exists alongside evil and ongoing temptations, until the end of time. But this reading reminds us that we are not in charge, and that we are called to live together in hope until the Kingdom of God comes.
Like Stephen and Paul we are to be the good among the bad, we are called to tell others of the faith we have, the hope we have, the joy we possess in living with Jesus. We will sometimes be silenced and ridiculed but without fear we are to continue to serve Jesus and He will never leave us, forsake us or abandon us. Rest in His presence so that you will be strong enough to run, walk and not faint as you continue to serve Him.
Activities – see the chart of the right of this page