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Worship, Prayer and Bible Study

Ordinary 12 Year A  (Trinity 2)


Introduction

Christians were fiercely persecuted in the first centuries after the ascension of Jesus. They gave their lives for the truth which they believed and their sacrifice challenged others to question their own belief. It has been said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church. In our Diocese around this time of year we remember St Alban, Britain first saint and martyr who gave his life 1700 years ago when Christianity was unlawful in England with the words

'I am Alban and I worship and adore the tue and living God, who created all things'

Great acts of witness like this are said to have been a catalyst for church growth, the bllod of the martyrs was the seed o of the church. When Jesus called his followers to take up their cross he meant it. Many would literally have to suffer the same fate of crucifixion which Jesus suffered. So where does that leave us today. In some parts of the world, Pakistan, Africa and the Middle East, Christians still today give of their lives for their belief. However most Christians do not have a tough time for their faith. This is good, but Christians have to be careful not to become complacent or lazy. Perhaps most importantly in a time when our faith is often treated as irrelevant in a secular society, we need to have the confidence to live and speak our faith and proclaim with confidence that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Opening Verses of Scripture   Romans 6:11

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

O God, the protector of all who put their trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that with you as our ruler and guide we may so pass through things temporal that we lose not our hold on things eternal; grant this, heavenly Father, for our Lord Jesus Christ's sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.   Common Worship

Creator God, in the beginning your word subdued the chaos and in the fullness of time you sent Jesus, your Son, to rebuke the forces of evil and to make all things new. By that same power transform our fear into faith that we may have courage to follow in the way of your kingdom; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen   Methodist Worship

Gracious Father, by the obedience of Jesus, you brought salvation to our wayward world: draw us into harmony with your will, that we may find all things restored in him, our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen. Common Worship Additional collects


First Bible Reading  Jeremiah 20:7-13

O LORD, you deceived me, and I was deceived ; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the LORD has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, "I will not mention him or speak any more in his name," his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot. I hear many whispering, "Terror on every side! Report him! Let's report him!" All my friends are waiting for me to slip, saying, "Perhaps he will be deceived; then we will prevail over him and take our revenge on him." But the LORD is with me like a mighty warrior; so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail. They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced; their dishonour will never be forgotten. O LORD Almighty, you who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you I have committed my cause. Sing to the LORD! Give praise to the LORD! He rescues the life of the needy from the hands of the wicked.

Second Reading  Romans 6:1-11

What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin-- because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 


Gospel Reading Matthew 10:24-39

"A student is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the student to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household! "So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs. Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny ? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. "Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven. "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn "'a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law-- a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.' "Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Post Communion Sentence

Eternal God, comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken, you have fed us at the table of life and hope: teach us the ways of gentleness and peace, that all the world may acknowledge the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord Amen.

Commentary

God is with us
The story of Hagar sometimes seems to sit a little uncomfortably in the Old Testament, recounting as it does the shunning of one of Abraham’s sons, Ishmael and his mother Hagar apparently at the whim of Sarah, Abraham’s first wife who was to bear him Isaac. This is especially so as it was Sarah that had ‘offered’ Hagar to Abraham as a second wife as a way of fulfilling God’s promise that Abraham would father a great nation and have offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky when she herself could not bear him the son and children they so wanted. So Abraham take Hagar and she gives birth to Ishmael who some in the Islamic tradition consider as the father of most of the Arab people and it is from Ishmael that the Israelites are descended. Some Rabbinic traditions have Hagar as a daughter of Pharaoh who he gave to Sarah to saying ‘…it is better that my daughter should be a slave in the house of such a woman than a mistress in another house’.

Initially it appears that Sarah treated Hagar well but that relationships turned sour when Hagar was pregnant with Ishmael and began to look down on Sarah, who now ‘counted as nothing in her eyes’. This must have been hard for Sarah, who yearned for a child of her own, and understandably Sarah reacted to this and treated Hagar so badly that ultimately she ran away into the dessert. It was here, by a spring in the dessert on the road to Shur, that an angel found Hagar and instructed her to return to Sarah, name her son Ishmael and promised her that her descendants too would be too numerous to be counted. It’s a profound experience for Hagar who declares that she has ‘seen the God who truly sees her’. The experience is so deep that despite all she has experienced she does return. Sarah, who laughingly had not believed she would bear a son, even when told so by God Himself, now gives birth to Isaac and the next phase of the story begins.

In today’s reading we read that as Isaac grows and is weaned, Ishmael, who by now may be around 14 years old, mocks him. This rekindles Sarah’s anger and resentment against Hagar and her son, which has possibly been smouldering away for all the past 13 or 14, presumably uneasy, years between the two women. Sarah demands Abraham send mother and son away and, after consulting with God, Abraham does so, even though this was very much against the cultural norms of the day, again Hagar finds herself in the dessert where, once again, she encounters an angel of God just as she had the first time. The angel not only reveals a well to her so that she and Ishmael can drink and live, but also confirms that the boy will be made into a great nation, echoing the words that God has spoken to Abraham about them when Abraham enquires of the Lord whether or not he should agree to the demands of his wife to send them away.

It’s perhaps difficult for us to imagine the depths of Hagar’s misery, loneliness and sense of isolation and of being used and abused over many years. It would seem her life has been one of hardship and uncertainty. One where she never seems to be in full control of her destiny or her life. Even when she has Ishmael, the choice of becoming pregnant is not hers – but at least then it would appear she feels as if she has an advantage, perhaps for the first time in her life. Little wonder then that she does not quite know how to handle it. For the first time it appears she has become of value. But soon, it all turns sour and she believes her only option is to run away. But God does not let her go. He meets with her and assures her that He knows of her oppression. She is of value to him, as is Ishmael. God looks after them in a way in which she did not expect. After a life of powerlessness and mistreatment, of running away and being outcast she encounters a God who will not let her go. When she is sent away some years later, perhaps full of confusion and wondering what God is doing and whether her first encounter with God was real or in her imagination, God meets with her again and confirms His promise. Paul refers to the story of Hagar and Sarah and their sons in his letter to the Galatians, speaking of those born into slavery and those born into freedom. We, like Isaac, are children of the promise and live in the freedom and identity of Christ. But we do well to remember that the story of Hagar, with all of the challenges and difficulties she faced, reminds us that God can meet with people anywhere, in whatever state they find themselves in, however lonely, isolated, confused and lost they feel and reveal Himself to them so that all those who encounter Him can see Him as He sees them. It’s also a reminder of God’s great concern and compassion for the people who are powerless. Those we would see as the outcasts, the poor, the mistreated and those who themselves feel valueless and feel far from any faith and well outside the covenantal love of God. God’s love always was, and always will be, completely indiscriminate and He will continue to show it to a world for which He cares without end! Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation

All of our readings today pose a question regarding identity and personal value. Jesus challenges the believers to live out the new identity they have in Him rather than merely take on the one they inherited through their Jewish kinship. He’s not calling for people to be anti-social, but to realise where their true identity lies. As part of this identity our loyalties too are defined. Jesus questions where His followers’ deep loyalties lie - with the society in which we live, with our families and friends? These loyalties can be very important but should not override our loyalty to God, in whom we have our true identity and value. The reading from Romans speaks too of a new identity we have in Christ, where the old sinful ways are transformed into the way of truth and light as we die to sin and ‘are united with Him in His resurrection’ and are alive in Christ. Throughout his writings Paul sees the Christian life in the light of the wanderings of the Jews in the Dessert after they have come out of Egypt through the Red Sea. Unlike the Jews who enter into Sinai and are given the law, believers in Christ come into the new Pentecost and are given the Holy Spirit as a true mark of their identity. When the Israelites had been taken out of Egypt they needed the Egypt taking out of themselves, so we, as we live our new life and identity and have been taken out of our life of sin and death, so we need to continually to have the sin and death taken out of us, as we live in the life of the Spirit, ever open to Christ and His moving and guiding of our lives no longer hankering for or drawn to the apparent seduction and attraction of our former lives and identity.

 

Hymns

  • He who would valiant be (Monk’s Gate)

  • come on and celebrate

  • Lord for the years (Lord of the years)

  • Seek ye first (we sing during communion)

  • Fight the good fight (Duke St)


 

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.

Heavenly Father, we hold before you the world of which we are a part. We thank you for its diversity and richness. We thank you for the many different peoples with whom we share this planet. We are sorry that we have created a world where there is so large a gap between the rich and poor. We ask for the grace to work for change. Amen (Jo Penberthy)

Give us grace, Lord, to give ourselves to you. Amen

Gracious Father, by the obedience of Jesus your brought salvation to our wayward world: draw us into harmony with your will, that we may find all things restored in him, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

Love of the heart of Jesus, inflame me; strength of the heart of Jesus, uphold me; wisdom of the heart of Jesus, teach me; will of the heart of Jesus guide me; zeal of the heart of Jesus, consume me.  St John Eudes, 1601-1680

Additional Material

Meditation

Let us work as if success depended upon ourselves alone; but with heartfelt conviction that we are doing nothing and God everything. Ignatius Loyola

Commentary

The passage from Matthew today begins with both warning and reassurance. Matthew uses the words of Jesus to warn disciples that as surely as night follows day, commitment to him will lead to persecution. This is important, following Jesus does not mean that life will be ‘hunky dory.’ 
There are some distortions of Christianity which proclaim material blessing will follow those who have faith. Some other faiths teach that as spiritual faith grows so physical and material blessings will follow as a reward. 
Jesus has no part with this at all. Followers must recognise that committed disciples walk into the fire of persecution. The phrase ‘the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church’ was coined to express how those early Christians spilled their blood for faith in Jesus. For us these words may sound ridiculous, we do not have to suffer for our faith, indeed Christianity for some means a good social life and new friends. But, this is not the case everywhere. There are Christians today who are persecuted and killed for their faith. The words of Jesus from today’s reading ‘Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul‘ might ring a little hollow for us, but we should be aware of the fact that many Christians are today killed for nothing more than faith in Christ. 
We should work even harder for understanding and tolerance between different faiths when we realise that for Christians around the world persecution is a daily reality as they are regularly persecuted for their faith by fundamentalists of other faiths. However we will most likely face persecution when we expose evil, challenge power, demand change or undermine the status quo. Christians should be those who are unafraid to rock the boat, and if we are faithful, there is a good chance that we too will at times will face opposition. When that happens, we share Christ's cross, and we are like our Master.
Do not be afraid. 
Firstly, fear in the face of persecution is natural, but Jesus tells us not to be afraid even in frightening circumstances. One reason why they should not fear is that, "nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered." I am often comforted by the fact that even when our motives and actions are deliberately twisted by others, history will one day vindicate the righteous deeds of us all. Perhaps it is only looking back that we realise where truth lay and who our true friends have been. 
Secondly, we should not fear the limited power of our opponents. They can kill the body, which dies all too soon anyway, but have no power over the soul. Only God has power over eternity. The scriptures never suggest that we should fear Satan. Evil has no power over the Christian, which is a truth which makes such a mockery of those false Christian teachers who claim to cast out demons weekly in their churches. Afraid of evil we should not be, fear of God is far more important. 
Finally we should not fear because of God's compassionate love. In Luke 12:6, Jesus speaks of five sparrows sold for two pennies. Matthew speaks of two sparrows sold for one penny. This is like Tesco, ‘buy four get one free’ The person who spends two pennies receives an extra sparrow thrown in, as if it had no value at all. God cares even for that apparently worthless sparrow. The God who cares for a trivial bird also cares about our trivia -- even the number of hairs on our head, surely a helpful thought for those with receding hairlines!
Next in our passage, we are asked to imagine a courtroom setting. If we acknowledge Jesus before other people, Jesus will acknowledge us before the Father in heaven—he is our advocate, surely there could be no better representation. If Jesus is our advocate, we cannot lose, without him we cannot win. 
Of course we acknowledge Jesus by deeds as well as by words. As Christians we have to seek to make what we sing about on Sundays, what we live out for the rest of the week. The words of our mouths and the works of our hands need to be consistent if our witness is to be effective. Faith in Christ impacts every aspect of life. The First Commandment (Exod 20:3) calls us to serve God to the exclusion of all other gods. Jesus tells the disciples that he requires loyalty to himself even above loyalty to family. Jesus' point is not disloyalty to family but even greater loyalty to God.
Jesus calls his disciples to "take up the cross and follow me." For us this is a remote metaphor, but Jesus' hearers had seen men take up their cross. They knew that when this happened and the man went off with a group of Roman soldiers, he was on a one-way journey. He would not be back. Thus, for them, taking up the cross stood for the utmost in renunciation of the claims of self.’ By the time that this Gospel was written, Christians were familiar not only with the cross of Jesus but also with crosses borne by Christians on their way to martyrdom. Jesus' promise is that "those who lose their life for my sake will find it."
We live in a "What's in it for me!" kind of world where the focus is on what we can get rather than what we can give. Truly happy people are those who are who live for something larger than themselves. The endless pursuit of happiness achieves only broken relationships and unfulfilled dreams. Jesus promises that it will be quite different for those who "lose their life for my sake."

Commentary

You cannot help feeling sorry for the Disciples as Jesus outlined what they could expect as they went out on their mission to evangelise the whole world: no pay, hand to mouth living, endless journeying through hostile country among often hostile people. The passage ends with a very frightening warning, echoing Micah 7:6, that the Gospel will not immediately bring in peace and harmony but will be damaging and divisive. Even those who should love and respect one another will become enemies because of the Gospel. Why should that be? Why should the assurance of God’s love bring disagreement and enmity? Why should being shown the way to salvation cause rows even in close families? Because The Way isn’t all puppies and sunshine! It causes trouble because it is vitally important, not a bland bolt-on to people’s lives. It is a faith which can change us to our very core. The Gospel contains tough commandments and tells us that we should seek justice, be truthful and share resources, so of course Christianity means strife. The passage would have been deeply upsetting to Jesus’ first hearers. In His society the extended family was the basis of all order. Members of the family knew their place within the hierarchy and owed obedience and loyalty to their senior members. What Jesus is suggesting is that anarchy may be the result of following Him! The idea of a child opposing the views of his or her parent was not only upsetting but wicked in their eyes. I believe that we might also read Jesus’ words in terms of the internal conflict that we humans face, when we try and live the Way that Jesus taught. If we do as Jesus tells us then we will need to be in a constant state of war with our baser selves, our selfish desires. The implication of Jesus’ commands is that we each of us stage a permanent revolution within ourselves, as we attempt to root out our own faults and failings. I believe that that the last two lines of the passage are, in part, about the willingness to give up the self in order to gain the kingdom of Heaven. Re-read them and see what you think.  Rev Dr Joan Crossley

Meditation

It is time to put my hands up and admit I may have been wrong, (yes it can happen!). I used to be very mocking about Victorian “Muscular Christianity”, with its emphasis on manliness and Imperial mission. But I may have been too quick to dismiss the other virtues within the writings of people like Dr Thomas Arnold and G.H.Henry the poet (author of “Play up and play the game!”) While it is true that they were often laughably bigoted and sexist to our eyes, they did demand that individuals take responsibility for their actions, that they try and endure dangerous and demanding situations with courage and determination and asked that people try their best. Above all they taught that we should place our trust in the Lord. These Victorian tough guys would have been mystified by our “blame culture” in which people are encouraged to blame everyone but themselves. Maybe we should try harder to emulate our Lord, who was generous, honest and forgiving to everyone else but was disciplined and courageous (even hard) on Himself? Rev Dr Joan Crossley


Hymns

  1. See how great a flame aspires
  2. God’s spirit is in my heart
  3. God is working his purpose out
  4. Go forth and tell
  5. Revive thy work, O Lord

 

Prayers

Grant to me, O Lord, a humble, lowly and quiet heart. Give to my waking hours patience, kindness and tenderness of soul. Let all my words, my works and my thoughts be overshadowed by the gift of your most Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen. 
Thomas More, 1478-1535 
 

Holy and loving God, in Jesus you walked the hills of Galilee and the busy streets of Capernaum; you addressed multitudes and had time for individuals. Renew in us each morning the light of your presence, that whatever the day brings we may be channels of your renewing Spirit, and share in your good purposes for the world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
Robin Hutt, former Chair, Newcastle District