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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Ordinary 15 Year A

Opening Verse

a sower went out to sow

Flood our lives with your grace, O Lord.
Fill our whole being with your radiance,
our innermost souls with your presence,
and our very wills with your strength.

Let us shine with the light of Christ,
let us preach by example
and let us carry nothing in our hearts
but your love; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

John Henry Newman, 1801-90
 
Collect Prayer
First Reading:
Second Reading:
Gospel Reading
Post Communion Sentence
Commentary:
Meditation:
Hymns
Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead:
Intercessions from our Sunday worship
Sermon

The sower went out to sowIntroduction

The Gospel reading today tells the parable of the sower. If you are engaged in Christian ministry, and that means all who call themselves followers of Jesus, then this is an encouraging parable. Too often we feel sad and disillusioned that we are so slow to change the world, so poor at making those new disciples our churches want to see. Well slow down and listen to the words of Jesus to us this week, it is the Parable of the Sower, God is the sower and not us. The work is not our work, the work is God's and we are called to share in this work, to co-operate in order for his will to be achieved. It is true that we have the capacity within us to either work with God, or to completely do our own thing. God does not control us, he seeks to co-operate with us. We all have that free decision, 'do I accept and follow God or not'? However we should never think that God's purposes in the world will be achieved by us running faster or speaking louder, or inventing new discipleship programmes.

Opening Verses of Scripture   Romans 8:14

Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you
received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children.


Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

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 for ever. CW

Almighty God, send down upon your Church the riches of your Spirit, and kindle in all who minister the gospel your countless gifts of grace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW

 

 

 

 

First Bible Reading  

Isaiah 55: 10 - 13

Thus says the LORD: For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it. For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the LORD for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

Alternate reading

Genesis 25; 19-34

These are the descendants of Isaac, Abraham’s son: Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac was forty years old when he married Rebekah, daughter of Bethuel the Aramean of Paddan-aram, sister of Laban the Aramean. Isaac prayed to the LORD for his wife, because she was barren; and the LORD granted his prayer, and his wife Rebekah conceived. The children struggled together within her; and she said, ‘If it is to be this way, why do I live?’ So she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said to her, ‘Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples born of you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the elder shall serve the younger.’When her time to give birth was at hand, there were twins in her womb. The first came out red, all his body like a hairy mantle; so they named him Esau. Afterwards his brother came out, with his hand gripping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them. When the boys grew up, Esau was a skilful hunter, a man of the field, while Jacob was a quiet man, living in tents. Isaac loved Esau, because he was fond of game; but Rebekah loved Jacob. Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau came in from the field, and he was famished. Esau said to Jacob, ‘Let me eat some of that red stuff, for I am famished!’ (Therefore he was called Edom.) Jacob said, ‘First sell me your birthright.’ Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me first.’ So he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank, and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. NRSV

Second Reading  Romans Chapter 8:1–11

There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law – indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you. NRSV


Seed among thistles, rocks and birds

Gospel Reading Matthew Chapter 13 : 1-9, 18-23

Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!

Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’ NRSV

Post Communion Sentence


Grant, O Lord, we beseech you, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by your governance, that your Church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. CW
 

Commentary

The Gospel reading today tells the parable of the sower. It is such an important parable in many ways, which is reflected by the fact that all three Gospel writers have included it in the teachings of Jesus. Parables are really important examples of Jesus teaching, whilst there are examples of others using parables, it is Jesus who by far stands out as the master of parables. In the Old Testament prophets like Nathan used parables. Nathan confronted King David by using a parable to shame him over his adultery with Bathsheeba and subsequent murder. There were also people in other cultures in the ancient Graeco Roman world who used parables, such as Seneca. However nobody used them as much as Jesus, indeed 43% of his teaching in Matthew is in parables and in Luke it is even higher at 52%. Perhaps the most significant fact is that after Jesus the early church did not use parables to teach. This is significant because it means that they did not place these words in Jesus mouth after his death. The parables are the closest we can possibly come to the actual words which Jesus used. This is what most scholars agree to the be the bedrock of the teaching of Jesus. Historically we know that a man named Jesus lived and his life is attested to by Jewish and Roman historians outside the Christian community. Today we can assuredly say that not only did he exist, these words were his, spoken from his own mouth.

So much for the accuracy and authenticity of what Jesus taught, what did he mean when he spoke this parable?  It is important to recognise that Jesus was a Jew and he often spoke in a way which reflected his own Jewish tradition and the reading of the Jewish scriptures, what we now know as the Old Testament. If you read Ezra it speak about seeds being sown in Adam’s heart and producing ungodliness. In 4 Ezra 8:41-44 it says
‘For just as a farmer sows many seeds in the ground and plants a multitude of seedlings, and yet not all that have been planted will take root;
so also those who have been sown in the world will not all be saved.’  

Images about seeds, sowing, failure of crops or fruitful harvests are very common metaphors to describe life and judgement and God’s blessing.

The most significant reference to the Old Testament is however in the verses which our lectionary chooses to miss out ! Jesus quotes Isaiah Chapter 6 
You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’

Jesus is using words from Isaiah which spoke of hardness of heart and judgement of Israel. The language is uncomfortable and so it is understandable, if not excusable why the lectionary organisers wanted to leave it out from our readings today! Jesus appears to say that he uses parable to stop people from understanding the truth, which is clearly nonsense. Some commentators have gone so far as to try to have the words removed as not being authentic. Jesus did not tell parables to make it hard for people to understand. Like prophets before him he was unafraid to speak words which would be very unpopular to the nation of Israel. Jesus stands in this tradition and his words in this parable are a judgement against those who refuse to listen to him and set themselves up against him, not just to challenge his teaching but also to plot his death. The passage from Isaiah is all about hearing and it explicitly refers to a remnant using the image of - a ‘holy seed.’ It is impossible to resign all of this to mere coincidence.

The parable of the sower is therefore about God sowing his seed in the proclamation of His kingdom. Participation in the kingdom is open to everybody everywhere, the seed is scattered even where it might seem to have no earthly chance of survival. Once sown the fate of the seed depends upon how it is received and nurtured by those who hear it with their ears and hold it in their hearts.

There is a warning here that those who listen to the words of Jesus should respond to the message and not be guilty of a hardness of heart which prevents understanding.

This brings us to what our position will be in response to the parable. Will we like Israel harden our heart, hear and yet remain hard of heart? The parable is a description of how different people might respond to hearing God’s word through the teachings of Jesus. There is a contrast between those who hear and respond negatively or superficially and on the other hand those who receive the word and respond productively in obedience. The Hebrew word for hearing (Sama) is often translated in English as ’obey.’   The ending of the parable with the words ‘Let the one who has ears to hear, hear’ stresses the importance and encouragement by Jesus to all people to take his words to heart and move deeper into his truth and obedience. Those who heard but did not progress beyond the superficial would discover nothing more and miss the progressive revelation of the kingdom.

Parables are therefore clever ways to teach. They provide a way into the teachings of Jesus for those who wish to have faith to understand. In an odd way they actually hide the truth in order to make it known. The hard of heart will hear a story and not much more, those wanting to be drawn closer to Jesus will find that his parables have a life of their own, enlivening and quickening the soul. Parables seek a response and those who respond positively find them a start to a changed life.

Jesus places great store upon hearing, the word is spoken and our ears hear it. There is a challenge therefore to those who hear and also to those who speak. If we wish to be transformed as children of God then we must hear and take to heart the teachings of Jesus and be willing and receptive to obey them. Some will decide it is not for them, others will go along with it but only so long as it is convenient to do so. They will like Israel bring upon themselves their failure to enjoy God’s goodness. This is not about eternal judgement, which we so quickly presume, it is about inadequate and unproductive hearing ! Of course the importance of the parable is about great fruitfulness. Many will not only respond positively to what they hear, their reception will be marked by lives of growing and deeper discipleship.

Today we ask ourselves how we are hearing Jesus words. Are we taking them deep into our consciousness and seriously seeking to give of our lives in obedience? If this is what we are doing then we will put down deep roots for our lives which will sustain us.  Charles Royden   

Meditation

The Gospel today has a message. We most usually ask ourselves ‘what kind of soil am I’? Are we rocky ground into which God tries to sow his seed, are we weak and feeble Christians lacking in courage? Are we so preoccupied with cares and worries that we are ineffective and useless soil? Perhaps we should also ask ourselves, ’how effective am I as the seed which God wishes to sow‘?

The sower throwing the seed is the Creator sending out the word. We are that word, we are the seed he scatters. Planted in different communities, families, marriages, work situations, ministries, vocations, God scatters us and plants us in the midst of a variety of situations. The creator sends us forth and expects us to be fruitful. 

The question here for us is: Am I fruitful? In the midst of this community, in this marriage, as a father or mother in this family, as a Christian in this church community, as a minister, as a brother or sister, son or daughter, am I a blessing to the people I live among? Am I a fruitful word in their midst? Am I a good seed sown that raises up good fruit, great yields? What message do I carry to them, what message has God given to them through me? If God has scattered me to this place, these people, this situation, am I his word being creative and bringing forth life? Or will I return to him, barren and void?

The following prayer by Hildegard, expresses the thought that we go out as Christ and must seek to be visible expressions of his body on earth. Charles Royden

O eternal God, turn us into the arms and hands, the legs and feet of your beloved Son, Jesus. You gave birth to him in heaven before the creation of the earth, to become his living body. Make us worthy to be his limbs, and so worthy to share in his eternal bliss. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Hymns

Hymn sheet

  1. Praise to the Lord the Almighty
  2. Bind us together, Lord
  3. Lead us, heavenly father lead us
  4. Breathe on me breath of God
  5. O for a thousand tongues to sing
     

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.

O Lord, my God, grant us your peace; already, indeed, you have made us rich in all things!
Give us that peace of being at rest, that sabbath peace, the peace which knows no end. (St. Augustine)

Keep us, O God, from pettiness; let us be large in thought, in word, in deed. Let us be done with faultfinding and leave off self-seeking. May we put away all pretences and meet each other, face to face, without self-pity and without prejudice. May we never be hasty in judgment and always generous. Let us take time for all things; make us to grow calm, serene, gentle. Teach us to put in action our better impulses-straightforward and unafraid.

Grant that we may realize it is the little things of life that create difficulties; that in the big things of life we are as one. Oh, Lord, let us not forget to be kind. Amen. (Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots)

I arise today through the strength of heaven; Light of the sun, Splendour of fire, speed of lightning, swiftness of the wind, depth of the sea, stability of the earth, firmness of the rock.
I arise today through God's strength to pilot me; God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me, God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me, God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me, God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me, God's hosts to save me afar and anear, alone or in a multitude.

Christ shield me today against wounding Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.
I arise today through the mighty strength of the Lord of creation. Amen (Traditional.)

Additional Material

Commentary

The parable of the sower is very familiar and you will have heard many explications of it over the years. I must confess when I hear the parable, I think of my own little attempt to grow lettuce or sunflowers in the garden. When things don’ grow it isn’t of any importance. But Jesus was trying to tell his people that the barriers to growth, spiritual growth, were real and frightening and could mean the difference between life and death. In Jesus’ time the population as a whole were much more keenly aware than most of us now are, of the vital nature of agriculture. The people around Jesus all knew that if the seed did not flourish then starvation, illness and death would shortly follow. This brings a new urgency to the parable.

In his explanation of the story Jesus spoke of the parable as meaning that the types of soil meant different types of personality and their ability to grasp and retain the meaning of the Word. I wonder too, if Jesus’ story might be applicable to each one of us: that we are across our lifetimes quite differently able to be receptive to God’s word? What if we move in and out of being strong healthy productive plants and revert to becoming spindly or drooping plants at others?

People in this congregation often speak to me about their sense of grief about their children or grandchildren either not having any faith or not a faith which takes them to church. I do not feel we should despair. Many people return to regular worship at key change points in their lives: when they have their first child, when their children do not need them quite so much, after a bereavement. I firmly believe that God calls to us. I believe that our hearts are restless till they rest in God, and that we are pulled gently back to Him, if not in our lives then at the end. God will never let go of us, though we may not always be conscious of it. To return to the metaphor that Jesus uses. I think there are times when we are barren soil indeed. Perhaps when we are very sad or vulnerable. We become barren when we are disappointed or feeling lost.

But the sower, God, just keeps on patiently sending out the seed until we are ready to receive it aright! Rev Dr Joan Crossley

Performance Targets

From the parable of the sower we can see that even 2000 years ago Jesus had performance targets for Christians. As seed, the message of God’s kingdom is planted in your life, how do you consider God is producing a crop. What yield are you producing, a hundred, sixty or thirty times ?


Hymns

  1. Be thou my vision,
  2. After confession—When I feel the touch
  3. Beauty for brokenness
  4. Like a mighty river flowing
  5. And can it be
  6. Lift high the cross
  7. Begin my tongue
  8. He’s got the whole world
  9. As man and woman we were made
  10. Love divine
  11. May the mind

O Lord who loves us as a father, who cares for us as a mother, who came to share our life as a brother; we confess our failure to live by your principles. We have not always shown your love. We have not seen or have chosen to ignore the needs of others. Reminds us what it means to be your children. Make us worthy of you. We want you to be proud of us. Help us to see ourselves and others as you see us. Fill our relationships with compassion and love, fill our hearts with faith and hope for our world. Amen.

Eternal God, we believe your purpose is joy for all your children. And we come with our prayers and our fears for this world, where so many have no taste of joy, or have their joy knocked out of them. We pray for parents—the seeds of whose hope of joy and security in their children are never given ground in which to grow. Give us your help and healing. Help us to discover through our difficulties the grace of your Spirit and the power of his liberating love, that comes to its full strength in our weakness. Broken relationships and broken spirits are healed, new starts are made. New hope is given.

Loving God, we thank you for every family where loves nurtures, where forgiveness heals, and children grow and flourish. We remember families in trouble where things have gone wrong and need time and patience, love and forgiveness to be put right. We thank you that we are all your children, heirs to your kingdom. Your love for us is conditional and will carry us safely through fear, anxiety and difficult times; and will also share our happiness and pleasure. We are all your children; secure in the love that you show us through others, and the presence of your Spirit to guide us. Amen.

Give us confidence to learn and grow together, to take our place in your world. Fulfill your purpose in us, your children, and grant us your grace now and forever. Amen