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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Ordinary 13 Year A


Introduction

Churches across the world are in a time in the religious calendar called ' Ordinary Time'. There is nothing special going on like Easter or Christmas and in our own churches here in Bedford the next things of any excitement are Harvest and Remembrance Sunday. Sunday Bible readings from now on will focus on the teachings of Jesus about living our ordinary Christian lives. Whilst there might not be anything special going on, perhaps for the next weeks this is the really important stuff, getting on with being disciples, living out the teachings of Jesus day by day. I suppose this is the time which really matters, where we show we mean what we say, by doing the things Jesus commanded.

Our image this week is that of a cross. It has been made for an altar frontal by Jean Kirk and is entitled, 'The Cross is the Way.' It is a reminder to each of us when our daily life gets tough, that we should fix our eyes upon Jesus and his living example. He loves us so much that he gave us everything, even his life on the cross. We walk in his way to find life and peace.

Opening Verses of Scripture Romans 12:11

Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality.


Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Lord of heaven and earth, you sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and power of your Church. Sow in our hearts the seeds of your grace that we may bear the fruit of the Spirit, in love and joy and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading  Genesis 22: 1-14

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!"  "Here I am," he replied. Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about." Early the next morning Abraham got up and saddled his donkey. He took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac. When he had cut enough wood for the burnt offering, he set out for the place God had told him about. On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance. He said to his servants, "Stay here with the donkey while I and the boy go over there. We will worship and then we will come back to you." Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, "Father?" "Yes, my son?" Abraham replied. "The fire and wood are here," Isaac said, "but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?"  Abraham answered, "God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son." And the two of them went on together. When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. But the angel of the LORD called out to him from heaven, "Abraham! Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, "On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided."

Jeremiah 28:5-9

Then the prophet Jeremiah replied to the prophet Hananiah before the priests and all the people who were standing in the house of the LORD.  He said, "Amen! May the LORD do so! May the LORD fulfill the words you have prophesied by bringing the articles of the Lord's house and all the exiles back to this place from Babylon.  Nevertheless, listen to what I have to say in your hearing and in the hearing of all the people: From early times the prophets who preceded you and me have prophesied war, disaster and plague against many countries and great kingdoms. But the prophet who prophesies peace will be recognized as one truly sent by the LORD only if his prediction comes true."

Second Reading  Romans 6:12-23

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Don't you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slavec to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness. When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death! But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. 


Gospel Reading Matthew 10:40-42

"He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me. Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward."

Post Communion Sentence

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Commentary

The passage from Matthew this morning is a simple one, but it has a powerful message. Previously in this chapter we have heard how Jesus sends out his disciples.

  • Jesus has summoned the disciples and given them authority over unclean spirits to cure disease and sickness. (10:1-5)
  • He then sends them out on the mission to proclaim good news. They are to travel light, look for supporters and if they are not found move on. (10:5-15)
  • Jesus warns them that not everybody will welcome them, they are engaged in a spiritual battle. They are vulnerable because they are surrounded by religious people who will attack them physically even in places of prayer (synagogues). However as they travel they are not alone because the Holy Spirit is with them. (10:16-25)
  • Jesus tells them not to be afraid of anybody because they have very limited powers, God is on the side of the disciples and God holds power over life and death. (10:26-28)
  • Jesus reassures the disciples that as they speak for him , so he will always speak for them before God (10:32)
  • There is a use of language reminiscent of war, the disciples need to know that this is high risk, Jesus isn’t bringing peace but a sword. (10:34)
  • The message which the disciples have to share isn’t great on the face of it. They are calling people to give their lives to follow Jesus, but the reward will be the discovery of a new way of living (10:34-39)

So then we come to these short verses today as the conclusion of this speech by Jesus. The disciples as they go about their mission are representatives of Jesus. However they are more than just messengers, when people welcome them it is as though they are welcoming Jesus himself, and because of who Jesus is, they are welcoming God the Father. Put bluntly when the disciples come to your home to visit, it is as though God was walking through the door. This means that people should be very wary of how they treat the disciples, since dishonour shown to them is dishonour shown to God. Likewise, should the disciples be treated kindly, then there would be reward because this is a sign of respect and an act of love shown to God. This is the principle of Shaliah, a Jewish concept which the disciples would understand. In Hebrew a Shaliah is an emissary or legal representative who has powers of attorney, to the extent that the one sent is regarded as the very person themselves. It is similar to the way in which we treat ambassadors from other countries. If we insult them, then it is not just a personal insult, we insult the country which they represent.

Jesus is clear, kindness shown to his disciples is kindness to him, because they are acting on his behalf. And of course if they act on behalf of Jesus they act for God himself. This is a serious warning to those who might offer hospitality, it is also a reminder to the disciples that they are not out campaigning for themselves, it is not like selling vacuum cleaners, they are nothing short of the visible presence of God himself.

Nobody could say that Jesus tried to give a rosy picture of discipleship to his followers. He is overt in making the point that the world will be a hostile place. It is better for them to go in pairs rather than alone, they need support wherever they go.

One question which is raised for us is this,
‘who do we regard as the agents of God today, who does Jesus send today as his agents?

The answer must be , those who are willing to speak his words and make his presence known in both friendly and hostile places. Those people will be the ones who have heard his words and have taken up the cross of discipleship. In short it is all of his followers, there are not supposed to be any secret undercover agents in the service of Jesus. There is no covert surveillance department sent into the war zone by Jesus, he needs nobody to go behind enemy lines and ’blend in.’ The followers of Jesus are commissioned to walk straight and bold as brass and declare their mission even in the face of a hostile and unforgiving enemy. For this reason the mission could easily be regarded as a suicide mission. Indeed by using the phrase last week of ’taking up the cross’ an instrument of death, that is exactly what Jesus meant ! This mission of Jesus, for those who decided to take it, is dangerous and potentially suicidal, but the success should be judged not in human terms of life and death but the eternal significance of God’s kingdom. This was a mission where it never mattered whether or not they made it back alive.

So there we have it, in a nutshell, if you want to be a follower of Jesus, then you are called to active service. You are expected to be a proclaimer in word and deed of the one who sends you, and wherever you go - it is as though God were going. Little wonder then that we must set a good example by our word and deed.

It seems that everybody will be judged by the way in which they treat the disciples. Jesus does not just consider how kings will change government policy. Rather he uses the example of how an ordinary person might respond by offering a drink. It is only a small thing, it does not require great affluence, and so the point is made, we do not have to be rich to help, and poverty is no excuse because we all have something to offer. To provide a cup of cold water to a thirsty person is not costly, but it might be extremely welcome, indeed it might be the gift of life itself.

We do not know what reward Jesus has in store for those who help and offer support, but we do know that the reward is guaranteed. In Acts 20:35 we read the following words of Paul

‘In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"

Paul quotes Jesus and speaks of the importance of helping those less fortunate. He states what has been discovered by those who give, that we gain blessing in helping others. Perhaps that is sufficient reward in itself.

It is important to remember that Jesus is not commending general hospitality, but rather hospitality to his disciples. Providing hospitality to the disciples shows support for their message. But we fail to do justice to the ministry of Jesus if we fail to recognise the importance of showing kindness to any vulnerable person. Jesus healed freely, he fed freely, he cared for all without distinction.

This was a message and pattern of behaviour which Jesus would have known from the Scriptures. Proverbs tells,

Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31: 9

As the Christian church across the world we must go and preach as those early disciples preached. As we go we must recognise that things have changed since those first disciples went out. The church is no longer in the position of needing to ask for water. Rather we know of all too many people in countries where there is no water and the church now represents many who have power and wealth. In this the church has a prophetic voice to raise. We want to make the proclamation of the Good News to the poor, but the good news which the poor are waiting to hear is that they are poor no more.

If we are to take the commission by Jesus to all his disciples that we should go out and reveal who he is, then we need to consider how we might best do this. If we copy the example of Jesus then we will show the love of God in acts of kindness and speak words of compassion indiscriminately. Charles Royden

Meditation

Saint Alban

Last week we mentioned the feast of St Alban, Britain’s first Saint and martyr, who died and was buried 1700 years ago at the place where St Albans Cathedral now stands. Alban was converted to Christianity while sheltering Amphibalus, a Christian priest. The Roman Emperor had ordered a period of persecution for Christians and soldiers sought them out. Alban exchanged his clothes with the priest and gave himself up to the Romans for martyrdom in Amphibalus' stead.

Standing trial and asked to prove his loyalty by making offerings to the Roman gods, Alban bravely declared his faith in "the true and living God who created all things". This statement condemned Alban to death. He was led out of the city, across the river and up a hillside where he was beheaded. Sadly Amphibalus was later caught and also martyred. It is a wonderful story to accompany our Gospel reading today which speaks of rewards for those who welcome God’s people and care for them. Perhaps Alban is the perfect example.

When we were considering using our churches for community use many years ago, some of us travelled to St Albans Cathedral dedicated to the memory of this first Christian witness. We wanted to consider how this sacred space was now being used for fashions show and events which were supposedly ’secular.’ Is there a clash between the sacred and the secular? After our visit we decided that God was not going to be upset if we did things in church which we felt entirely comfortable about doing somewhere else - like bowling. Writing in the annual review of St Albans Cathedral this year, The Very Reverend Dr Jeffrey John writes this.

‘Is there a clash here between the sacred secular? No. The Incarnation means that God is involved in absolutely everything, whether we see it or not. Time and again supposedly ‘secular’ visitors and tourists turn out to be pilgrims too; and that’s why the Church, and especially the Cathedral, must be porous - open to serve all who come, for whatever reason.’

Hymns

  1. O Christ, the Healer, we have come To pray for health, to plead for friends.  Tune Song 34 mv
  2. Lord of all power, I give you my will, Tune Slane
  3. Lord, we come to ask your healing, Tune Ar hyd y nos
  4. O for a heart to praise my God, Tune Abridge

 

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.

Lord God you love us with a generous love, you welcome us with open hearts, as a parent would welcome a lost child. Give us such generosity in our love, that we would welcome others and embrace them with arms as wide open as your arms. Give us a love as accepting as the love which welcomed us when we far off and which reassured us of forgiveness and mercy.

Lord Jesus, you healed freely, you fed all who came to you and shared your love and forgiveness even with those who persecuted and killed you. As you have shown us how to live in this extraordinary way, so may we your people live differently and seek to follow your example. May your church be a place of welcome, where your goodness is reflected in all that we speak and do. Help us so to practice our faith that compassion would be shown to all without discretion. Forgive us when we limit your grace and create boundaries around ourselves and others. Through daily acts of simple kindness, help us to be a part of building your kingdom here on earth.

God our heavenly Father you have made people of all nations and hate nothing that you have made. Help us to break down the barriers which divide nations and communities. Give to us a love of friendship and peace, a desire to put aside words of violence and to put down instruments of war. Remove from our minds all that causes hardness of heart towards others and diminishes their worth. We pray for countries where religion politics or nationality have become excuses to hate and kill.

We pray for all of those who carry burdens. Those who are worried about life, those who fear death, and those who are lonely following the loss of somebody they love. May those who lack completeness in their lives find their wholeness the knowledge of your unfathomable love.

Additional Material

Meditation

‘Poverty is not natural, it is man made’ Nelson Mandela

Meditation

My treat this week was to pop into an exhibition on the Orient in European Art. The show was all about how travellers perceived the Middle East from the seventeenth century onwards. These intrepid travellers braved disease, bandits and  hostile terrain to go to the Holy Land. When they arrived there, they encountered a dramatically different landscape, bright, arid, practically treeless. The Holy Land was a huge shock in every way. The traveller from Britain and France also encountered an entirely new religion, in Islam which they struggled to understand. . They were at once attracted and repelled  by the people  and focussed on the decadent  life style of the Pasha with his harem. Middle Eastern people were caricatured as being lecherous (why else would they not allow their women to show their faces?); they were portrayed as being cruel (there are several images of slave markets in the exhibition). In short, although the travelling artists thought they were being honest when they painted Middle Eastern subjects, they were influenced by the ideas they brought to bear on the place and its people. I can only compare this to being introduced to someone whom you have had described to you as being rude,  sarcastic and critical. You might find it hard not to interpret every word from their mouth in the light of this prior “knowledge”. In our daily lives we often experience this problem, of pre-judging a situation or a set of people. We know what we expect to find and so we do find it. I will admit that it is very hard not to make assumptions and have prejudices, especially as we get older. With experience and weariness we take short cuts to sum up people and situations and we might well jump to the wrong idea. It is right as Christians to continually re-evaluate. It is important that we allow the Holy Spirit, always moving and directing us to change us. God cannot work in us if we are entrenched in our ideas. We must be faithful but not bigoted. It is a balance that we need to continually strike in ourselves. Rev Dr Joan Crossley

Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.

Proverbs 31: 9

Meditation

It is not from your own possessions that you are bestowing alms on the poor, you are but restoring to them what is theirs by right. For what was given to everyone for the use of all, you have taken for your exclusive use. The earth belongs not to the rich, but to everyone. Thus, far from giving lavishly, you are but paying part of your debt. (St Ambrose, 340-397)

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked how it was that she could continue to tend the sickest and most wretched of the poor in the slums of Calcutta, India. Mother Teresa said that as she looked at each person for whom she was caring she tried to imagine that she was tending the Lord Jesus’ wounded body – His nail-scarred hands, feet, and side. And so it was that in each act of caring, the Kingdom of God embraced and even reached out through Mother Teresa as she welcomed Christ in her neighbour and as she embraced the neighbour as if that person were the Lord Himself! God remembers each act of hospitality.

Prayers

Grant to us, O Lord, ears to hear your voice, eyes to see your beauty and hearts to love your name, so that hearing, seeing and loving we may come at last to the joys of your kingdom; through Christ our Lord. Amen. Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)

Christ who has nourished us, is our peace. Strangers and friends, male and female. Old and young have broken down the barriers to bind us to him and to each other. Having tasted his goodness, let us share his peace. Amen

O God, we bring you our failure, our hunger, our disappointment, our despair, our greed, our aloofness, our loneliness. We cling to others in desperation or turn from them in fear. Strengthen us in love. Teach us, women and men to use our power with care. We turn to you, O God, we renounce evil, we claim your love, we choose to be made whole. Amen (Monica Furlong)

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face. May the rains fall softly upon your fields until we meet again. May God hold your in the hollow of his hand. Amen, (Gaelic Blessing)

We see you in the compassionate ways of those who accept us
no matter how inadequate or different we may be.
We see you in the loving ways of those who love us unconditionally.
We see you in the sacrificing ways of those who give of themselves.
We see you in the forgiving ways of those who forgive our unforgivable ways.
We give thanks that you have revealed yourself to us and that the You we see in Jesus we can also see in those around us in our daily lives.

O God, you give us life, you call each of us into faithful service, discipleship in Jesus Christ. Open our hearts in ways that we might reach out to those-especially those who are so different from ourselves-and in so doing, may the world be transformed through your love, enlivened through our lives. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.


While I have a thought to think, let me not forget thee; while I have a tongue to move, let me mention thee with delight; while I have a breath to breathe, let it be after thee and for thee; while I have a knee to bend, let it bow daily at thy footstool; and when by sickness thou confinest me to my couch, do thou make my bed, and number my pains, and put all my tears into thy bottle. Amen. From The Saints' Everlasting Rest, Richard Baxter (1615 ...

O Lord Christ, who became poor that we might be rich, deliver us from a comfortable conscience if we believe or intend that others should be poor that we might be rich; for in God's economy, no one is expendable. Grant us instead the riches of love. (World Alliance of Reformed Churches) Peter Williams/WCC

I dare to pray: Lord, let the world be changed, for I long to see the end of poverty;
I dare to pray: Lord, let the rules be changed, for I long to see trade bring justice to the poor;
I dare to pray: Lord, let my life be changed, for I long to bring hope where good news is needed.
In the strength of your Spirit and inspired by Your compassion,
I make this promise to work for change, and wait confidently for the day
when You make all things new. Amen (Peter Graystone, Christian Aid)

Give us, O Lord, churches that will be more courageous then cautious;
that will not merely "comfort the afflicted" but "afflict the comfortable";
that will not only love the world but also demand justice;
that will not remain silent when people are calling for a voice;
that will not pass by on the other side when wounded humanity is waiting to be healed;
that will not only call us to worship but also send us out to witness;
that will follow Christ even when the way points to a Cross.
To this end we offer ourselves in the name of him who loved us and gave himself for us.
(Christian Conference of Asia)

God of Justice, manifest in a carpenter’s son, we pray for all who labour and toil and for those charged with protecting the conditions of their work. Grant to these stewards of economic justice an abiding and untiring commitment to the rights of all workers and to the protection of international labour standards throughout the world. Amen. (Source unknown, pp119 Harvest for the World compiled by Geoffrey Duncan © Canterbury Press 2002, 2004)

God of the just weight and the fair measure, let me remember the hands that harvested my food, my drink, not only in my prayers but in the market place. Let me not seek a bargain That leaves another hungry. (Janet Morley Christian Aid; pp149 Harvest for the World compiled by Geoffrey Duncan © Canterbury Press 2002, 2004)

We shall not be crushed; we do not despair; we know you will not abandon us; or let us be destroyed: for you are the God of life, and we carry your life in us. (Christian Aid; Hunger for Justice (ed) Martin John Nicholls © 2004 Kevin Mayhew Ltd)

To the countries where food is scarce, mercy Lord, while there is still time.
To the countries where crops have failed, rescue Lord, while there is time.
To countries where people are fearful, security Lord, while there is time.
In the countries where we have plenty, set our hearts on sharing this time.
In countries where we feel in control, set our minds on justice at this time.
In countries where we forget those in need, set our prayers on Africa at this time.
Amen (Peter Graystone/Christian Aid; pp 133 Blessed Be Our Table; compilation © 2003 Neil Paynter)

Hymns

  1. Praise my soul the king of Heaven
  2. When I needed a neighbour were you there
  3. Be still for the presence of the Lord 
  4. Tell out my soul Tune Woodlands
  5. O for a thousand Tune Lyngham
  6. Praise to the Lord
  7. For the healing of the Nations
  8. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
  9. Forth in thy name