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Weekly Bible Notes

Ordinary 11 Year A


Introduction

Be careful what you pray for .....

Our prayers are not like magic spells, they are best answered when we allow God to turn our own prayer thought and concerns into active service. This understanding of prayer was surely behind the request by Jesus that the disciples should ask God to send out workers into his harvest field. Jesus knew that there was an important work to be done and God needed willing workers. If nobody came forward, then it would be like having fields full of wheat, with nobody to go out and harvest it. Such a waste would only be avoided if the disciples were prepared to ask God to provide the labour, and then be prepared to answer that call themselves.


Once again this suggestion that there was a great harvest and few workers was a bit of a criticism of the existing religious system. Jesus thought there people were not being cared for, or shown the love and compassion of God. That is why he went around and healing and teaching and showing in practical ways just how much God loved ordinary people.
 

So what do you pray for and how can you be a part of God's answer to your prayer?
 

Opening Verses of Scripture   Psalm 100:5

The Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations.
 

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, you have broken the tyranny of sin and have sent the Spirit of your Son into our hearts whereby we call you Father: give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service, that we and all creation may be brought to the glorious liberty of the children of God; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen  Common Worship

Generous God, you gather your people and lavish your gifts upon us, day by day. Grant that each experience of your pardon may enlarge our own love, until it meets the measure of your extravagant forgiveness, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   Methodist Worship

God our Saviour, look on this wounded world in pity and power; hold us fast to your promises of peace won for us by your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Common Worship Additional Collects


First Bible Reading  Exodus 19:2-8a

After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain.
Then Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain and said, "This is what you are to say to the house of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites." So Moses went back and summoned the elders of the people and set before them all the words the LORD had commanded him to speak. The people all responded together, "We will do everything the LORD has said." So Moses brought their answer back to the LORD. (This is the word of the Lord—Thanks be to God)
 

Second Reading  Romans  5:1-8

Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.
(This is the word of the Lord - Thanks be to God)


Gospel Reading  Matthew 9:35-10:8

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field." He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: 'The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give."
(This is the word of the Lord—Thanks be to God)

 

Post Communion Sentence

O God, whose beauty is beyond our imagining and whose power we cannot comprehend: show us your glory as for as we can know it, and shield us from knowing more than we can bear until we may look upon you without fear; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Commentary

Putting theory into practice
There is a story of a student who being so anxious to capture everything that his lecturers would teach him at university, when the professor in his very first lecture said, 'Good Morning', he wrote it down. In Matthew's gospel there are huge chunks of teaching where it's as if Jesus is going through the theory of the Kingdom of God. But there are also large sections where it is clear that Jesus is putting into practice what He has just taught, and encouraging the disciples to do likewise. Similarly in Romans, Paul has just given a lengthy explanation of justification by faith to the recipients of his letter and in today's reading which follows that discourse; he now begins to discuss what that means and what are the implications for the believers in their lives. Whether we take the example of Matthew or of Paul the message is clear. The Christian life is about hearing and understanding the work of God and then living out the reality in our lives. Earlier on just after the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that anyone who hears His words but does not put them into practice is like a man who builds his house on sand. Alternatively, those that hear His words and put them into practice are like the man who builds his house on rock. Putting God's word into practice is therefore tied to having a solid foundation in our spiritual lives. Failure to do so would seem to indicate the opposite, that our faith becomes dry and academic and does not empower our daily lives. Jesus was clearly aware of the temptation the disciples would have to do nothing with the teaching but to reflect on the meaning of His words. But he wanted them to get active, with the dual benefit of strengthening their own faith whilst service God and their fellow men and women. He wanted them to step out in faith and be his active ambassadors in the world. He does not want his followers to adopt the Jewish trait of the time of dissecting the minutiae of the words He had spoken, rather then trying to live out what they meant. He sent them out as workers in the harvest. Did the disciples get everything right first time? Scripture would seem to indicate otherwise but they pressed on with the task, encouraged and empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Likewise, Paul underlines that the concept of justification by faith, a key doctrine of the church, is not just an academic theory, it has a fundamental significance for our lives in that it gives us an eternal hope and future. A hope borne out of a restored relationship with God and an invitation to share in His glory. As we open ourselves to God's love being poured into our hearts, we are enabled to put our faith into action and step out in faith. Both Jesus and Paul know that the Good News would spread not just be people talking about it and debating its meaning but by the believers demonstrating God's love to the world around as justified, redeemed and empowered people, people who care for the world and those around them. And as the disciples and believers put their embryonic faith into action and stepped out into the harvest fields so they were encouraged as they saw God's promises to them fulfilled as the lives that they touched were changed. We too are challenged and encouraged to step out into our harvest fields, the places where we live, study and work, so that we can put God's words into action. As we do, so our faith is strengthened. Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation


The opening verse of today's gospel reading sets out Matthew's perspective on the three key strands of Jesus' ministry; firstly teaching about the Kingdom of God, often in the Jewish synagogues; secondly preaching and proclaiming by word and deed the Good News of the Kingdom; and thirdly making the Kingdom a reality on earth by healing every disease and sickness. Three facts of ministry which would turn the Jewish and Roman world upside down and each strand of which critical to the God's Kingdom breaking through on earth. How strange then that Jesus entrusted such an important mission to the disparate bunch of disciples we read about just a few verses later. The ambitious James and John, nicknamed the Sons of Thunder, not exactly the names of people you'd necessarily want on your pastoral team. Judas, the traitor, Simon Peter, enthusiastic but impetuous, Matthew, someone who had given up on his religion and people to serve the occupying Romans and make money through tax collecting. And so the list goes on. We all know when you're building a team it's critical to get the right people on the team and then get them into the right roles. But Jesus doesn't seem to care. Perhaps He was demonstrating in His words and actions that the Kingdom of God really is open to all, and all are welcome to join in the mission of making His Kingdom a reality here on earth, irrespective of their background, personality traits, strengths or weaknesses.
 

Hymns

  1. Awake my soul, and with the sun, 632 (Tune Tallis Canon)

  2. Will you come and follow me (on Partnership News)

  3. Thy hand, O God, has guided (Tune Thornbury)

  4. 784; Forth in thy name, 381 (Tune: Song 34)

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.

 
 

God our Father, you sent your Son to us: grant that filled with your Spirit we may be renewed in faith, and inspired in hope and love, to spread the Gospel of your kingdom to all people; through Christ our Lord.  Amen

Heavenly Father, we pray for those who have gone to other countries with the good news of Jesus; when their work is difficult and tiring, make them strong; when they are lonely and homesick, remind them that you are with them; when they are uncertain what to do, guide them.  Keep us all diligent in our prayer for them.  Amen

When we forget you love and your grace. loving God, and live our lives as though you are not here, relying on ourselves, forgetting to be thankful; speak to us, challenge us, nudge us and help us to remember that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Amen

Christ the good shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep, draw you and all who hear His voice to be one flock within one fold, and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you always.  Amen

 
O great Lord of the harvest, send forth, we beseech thee, labourers into the harvest of the world, that the grain which is even now ripe may not fall and perish through our neglect. Pour forth thy sanctifying Spirit on our fellow Christians abroad, and thy converting grace on those who are living in darkness. Raise up, we beseech thee, a devout ministry among the native believers, that, all thy people being knit together in one body, in love, thy church may grow up into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; through him who died, and rose again for us all, the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Robert Millman 1816-1876
 

Additional Material

 

Meditation

One theologian (Barclay) has commented, "The Pharisees saw the common people as chaff to be destroyed and burned up; Jesus saw them as a harvest to be reaped and saved. The Pharisees in their pride looked for the destruction of sinners; Jesus in His love died for the salvation of sinners". Jesus' observation that the sheep have no shepherd is a damning critique of the Pharisees, who should have been their shepherds. Whose shepherds should we be?

For our meditation this week

The Franciscan blessing:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart. Amen.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace. Amen.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy. Amen.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.

 

Commentary

Be careful what you pray for

'When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them,
because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd'

Jesus looked around him and saw the crowds and he had compassion (GK. splagchnizomai) on the people. The word used for compassion is a powerful one, it means that Jesus had something like a blow to the stomach. It is a strong word, not something which means a mild pity, Jesus had a stomach churning response to the plight of ordinary people. Jesus understood that the people were harassed and confused and he hurt and agonized over the lost, the wounded, and the excluded.

Of course these words which Jesus spoke must have angered the religious authorities deeply. Jesus was criticising the religious system. When Jesus said the people were like 'sheep without a shepherd,' he was criticising the religious leaders who believed that they were very good shepherds and that the people didn't need anybody else. Jesus was angry at the lack of spiritual provision which was being made for the people and he was angry at the beliefs which were held at the time. The Pharisees saw the poor and the sick as those who were being punished by God for their sins, they should be kept away and excluded. Jesus welcomed the sick, the poor and the sinners and saw them as children of God.

Of course Jesus was motivated by the helplessness of the people into direct action and we need to be reminded that Jesus shows just how much God is not a distant unconcerned observer in our lives. God is distressed when he sees the lost and is prepared to give completely of himself, even to death on the cross. I am sure it is true that if Jesus had compassion on those people he met during his earthly ministry, then that compassion remains undiminished today. Jesus must be moved with pity as he looks upon so many people with deep spiritual need.

Jesus spent a great deal of time healing and making people well, that was an important part of his ministry to show that God did not want people to be ill. However Jesus is clear that the most important need is not to make people physically well, but rather to meet the great spiritual needs. In our society and in many places across the world, people have much better medical care now than 2,000 years ago. We can easily cure physical diseases which were life threatening only a short time ago. However, we delude ourselves if we think that people today are more spiritually satisfied, more comfortable with their place in the universe. For many people life is aimless and the pursuit of material wealth as a source of spiritual satisfaction continually disappoints and leaves people dissatisfied.

In this context we can see that the most important work of the followers of Jesus, is to bring the medicine of the Gospel to an ailing world. This is the greatest work which we can do to bring healing to the nations. The teaching of Jesus is Good News to a world in which there is so much emptiness and only the message of God's love in Christ Jesus can bridge the void which separates us from understanding the deep love of God for us.

Undoubtedly the crowds and the disciples who followed Jesus wanted their immediate needs met. When they were hungry they wanted Jesus to feed them, when they were frightened by the storms they wanted Jesus to bring calm, when they were sick they wanted to be made well again. Jesus showed that he was concerned about these things too, but Jesus realised that the really important needs which all people have were not so obvious. People do not live on bread alone, they have a spiritual hunger which requires just as much attention if life is not to loose its real meaning.

This lays upon us all a serious burden, to recognise that the gift which we have in the Gospel of Christ is not ours to keep. We are called upon to ask God to send out workers to share the Good News, and we should be in a state of some desperation. The word which is used by Jesus (deomai) doesn't mean, “to ask,” it literally means “to beg.”

“Beg God for workers in the harvest.”

As we beg of God to send out people who will help the fallen and distressed sheep, we should immediately recognise that each one of us has a part to play in this mission. This may seem an onerous task, it is not supposed to be. Jesus tells disciples that the harvest is 'plentiful' and it is surely a privilege to be able to share in the important work of God. The work which the disciples and all Christians are called upon to carry out,  is not our own work, it is the work of God. We are told to pray, but it is God who will send us out to do the tasks which he requires. God will give to us freely, we in turn must freely give.

 

Sheep Without a Shepherd
 

The phrase, sheep without a shepherd, is reminiscent of many Old Testament passages that portray God's people as a flock neglected by its shepherd. Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel present 'David' as the future good shepherd of Israel. In the gospel reading we see Jesus being presented as the promised 'David', the Messiah and, as the agrarian allegory continues, He calls others to assist Him in the task of bringing in the harvest.
The disciples are to pray for labourers. Our instincts might be very different. How would we set about building a team to achieve great things? Would we pray for labourers or would we look to recruit great preachers, sharp thinkers, competent administrators, visionaries who could lead the church forward?
 

How interesting then, that Jesus calls us to pray for common labourers. What a great reminder that while God can use talented people, most of His work gets done by ordinary, nearly anonymous, behind-the-scenes, faithful disciples. We know nearly nothing from the scriptures about many of the early disciples. Legend and tradition fill some of the gaps, but we have no way to judge their reliability. Most of the apostles were probably very ordinary. If we're not careful we might conclude that the lesser-known apostles achieved little, but that is unwarranted. Today, ordinary, unsung Christians do most of the church's work, and it is quite possible that ordinary, unsung apostles served both faithfully and effectively in the work of the early church.


After detailing Jesus' teaching on the sermon on the mount, Matthew devotes 2 chapters to Jesus' message of proclaiming and extending the kingdom through healing and wholeness. Jesus then authorises, commissions and sends out the 12 to declare the Kingdom of God is at hand and that through Him healing and wholeness and a restored relationship (peace) with God is possible. To declare that just at the right time, while we were still sinners, Christ died for all. Not everyone that Jesus encountered was hostile; many were inquisitive, misinformed or uninformed people looking for freedom, healing, wholeness, hope and purpose. They were like sheep without a shepherd. And there were many of them.
Bringing in the harvest was a labour intensive task. If not enough workers could be found for the work then some of the harvest would be inevitably lost. Jesus commands that we should ask the Father to send out workers into the harvest field of our society. Bringing in that harvest is a labour intensive task too, one to which we are all called. Called as ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
 

 

Hymns

  1. Rejoice the Lord is King, 575

  2. God forgave my sin, 181 (after confession)

  3. Come on and celebrate, 99

  4. Amazing grace, 31

  5. I cannot tell, 266

  6.  City of God how broad and far 809 Hymns and Psalms (Tune:Richmond) (Mission Praise 814)

  7. After Confession God forgave my sin (181 Mission Praise)

  8. All I once held dear (Mission Praise 799 Music copy) On Partnership News

  9. Will you come and follow me (In Glory to God) On Partnership News

  10. Forth in thy name 381 Hymns and Psalms (Tune Song 34) (Mission Praise 159)

  11. Thy hand O God has guided 784 Hymns and Psalms (Tune Thornbury) (Mission Praise 705)

     

Prayers


God our Father, you sent your Son to us: grant that filled with your Spirit we may be renewed in faith, and inspired in hope and love, to spread the Gospel of your kingdom to all people; through Christ our Lord. Amen

Heavenly Father, we pray for those who have gone to other countries with the good news of Jesus; when their work is difficult and tiring, make them strong; when they are lonely and homesick, remind them that you are with them; when they are uncertain what to do, guide them. Keep us all diligent in our prayer for them. Amen

When we forget you love and your grace. loving God, and live our lives as though you are not here, relying on ourselves, forgetting to be thankful; speak to us, challenge us, nudge us and help us to remember that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Amen

Christ the good shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep, draw you and all who hear His voice to be one flock within one fold, and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you always. Amen
 

Blessed Jesus, Lord of the harvest, send forth, we beseech thee, labourers into thy harvest, and by thy Holy Spirit, stir the hearts of many, that they may be ready to spend and be spent in thy service, and if it please thee, so to lose their life in this world, that they may gather fruit unto life eternal; Lord Jesus, lover of souls.  Amen. Robert Millman 1816-1876
 
O God of all the nations of the earth, remember the multitude who, though created in your image, have not known you, nor the dying of your Son, their Saviour Jesus Christ; and grant that by the prayers and labours of your Holy Church they may be delivered from all ignorance and unbelief, and brought to worship you; through him whom you have sent to be the Resurrection and the Life of all people, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. Francis Xavier 1506-52
 
Words of Dismissal
Christ has no other hands but your hands to do his work today;
no other feet but your feet to guide folk on his way;
no other lips but your lips to tell them why he died;
no other love but your love to win them to his side.  Teresa of Avila 1515-82 
 
Alternative Blessing
"The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few."
I send you forth in the name of Jesus Christ:
Proclaim the good news,
cure the sick,
raise the dead,
embrace the outcast.
Freely you have received; freely give.
And the blessing of.....
 
A Confession
We confess the blindness that is not even aware of sinning;
the pride that dares not admit that it is wrong;
the selfishness that can see nothing but its own will;
the righteousness that knows no fault;
the callousness that has ceased to care;
the defiance that does not regret its own sins;
the evasion that always tries to make excuses;
the coldness of heart that is too hardened to repent.
God, we are sinners; be merciful to us.



 

 

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