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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Ordinary 17 Year A


Introduction

People will give up almost anything to get what they want, they give up major things in the pursuit of career. How many times have you heard somebody regretfully say, ‘I wished I had spent more time with the kids.’  There are some dreadful examples of men and women giving up their families, leaving their children, because they have found a lover.  People will give up everything if they find something which they want, really want. 

So today in our parables Jesus asks a question, 
1. What will you give up? 
2. What do you consider to be most important ? 
3. Have you got your priorities right? 

Opening Verses of Scripture Romans 8:38-39

Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

God, you have poured the Spirit of your Son into our hearts so that we call you father. Give us grace to devote our freedom to your service that we and all creation may be brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For the kingdom the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Gracious God, your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of life and the word of your kingdom. renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Methodist Worship

God you have poured the Spirit of your Son into our hearts so that we call you Father. Give us graceto devote our freedom to your service that we and all creation may be brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen. Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading  1 Kings 3: 5-12

At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, "Ask for whatever you want me to give you." Solomon answered, "You have shown great kindness to your servant, my father David, because he was faithful to you and righteous and upright in heart. You have continued this great kindness to him and have given him a son to sit on his throne this very day. "Now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David. But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?" The Lord was pleased that Solomon had asked for this. So God said to him, "Since you have asked for this and not for long life or wealth for yourself, nor have asked for the death of your enemies but for discernment in administering justice, I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be.

Second Reading  Romans Chapter 8: 26-39

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God's will. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:  "For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered. "No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gospel Reading Matthew Chapter 13: 31-33, 44-52

pearl of great priceHe told them another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all your seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and perch in its branches." He told them still another parable: "The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough."

44-52 The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. "Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. "Have you understood all these things?" Jesus asked.  "Yes," they replied. He said to them, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." 

Post Communion Sentence

Holy Father, who gathered us here around the table of your Son to share this meal with the whole household of God: in that new world where you reveal the fullness of your peace, gather people of every race and language to share in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
 

Commentary

A Collection of Parables
From Matthew today we have a series of pictures which describe the kingdom of heaven and what our response and attitude should be to it. Matthew uses the term ‘Kingdom of heaven’, but it means the same as ‘Kingdom of God,’ it is simply that he does not want to write the word ‘God’ out of a respect for the holiness of God's name.
 

The mustard seed and the yeast - parables of growth
These two short parables contrast the small beginning of the kingdom with the greatness of its effects. Our faith came out of the birth of a baby in a manger, failed disciples who ran away and death on a cross. We need to remind ourselves of this fact when we are tempted to feel small and insignificant. God’s kingdom has secret power which confounds the wisdom of the world. The parables remind us that in humility God’s kingdom is established. Jesus disciples faced daunting odds, you would not have thought it was possible for them to achieve the promises of Jesus.
We need to consider why Jesus choose a mustard seed. The mustard seed is tiny, but is not, in fact, the smallest of all seeds. The shrub that grows from the tiny seed is great by comparison with its beginnings, the mustard shrub typically grows to between 8 and 12 feet, but this is hardly comparable to the mighty cedars of Lebanon, with which Israel preferred to liken itself. Why would Jesus not compare the kingdom of heaven to a great tree instead of a shrub that a farmer might consider a weed? Perhaps the lesson of the mustard shrub is that Christians should live expectantly, knowing that God brings great things out of small beginnings, but that we should not expect the kingdom to be great as the world counts greatness. The parable of the leaven also encourages us to avoid seclusion and to be involved in the world. Leaven works as it is worked into the dough. So as Christians we are encouraged to go into all the world and have an effect for good.
 

Treasure and Pearls - The Kingdom is worth everything
The Parable of the Hidden Treasure and the Parable of the Pearl are parables which underscore the unique value of the kingdom. The discovery of things of great value produces joy and a willingness to give up everything for that which is best. The merchant is actively looking for pearls, while the other man just stumbles onto treasure in a field. Both, however, recognize the overwhelming value of their discovery, and sell everything so that they might buy it. In neither case is there any hint of sacrifice -- of giving up something precious -- of having to make a difficult decision. Neither man is sad to sell everything, because they are both overwhelmed with the joy of discovery and the prospect of possessing such treasure. They are like the disciples, who left everything to follow Jesus (4:18-22; 19:27-30). It is worth remembering the rich young ruler who "went away grieving," because he could not bear to part with his many possessions (19:16-26). This young man understood how radical the demands of following Jesus were. He begrudged loosing what he already had, he had become attached to other things than Jesus and was not overwhelmed by a spontaneous gesture to give it all up and follow..
We have to decide whether the price is worth paying and make the appropriate response of total commitment. We cannot serve two masters (6:24). If we are unwilling to pay the price of commitment then we will not gain the treasure. The men who gain the treasure do not sell everything and buy the treasure because they feel it is something which they should do out of duty. Rather they are prompted by the conviction that it is worth it the sacrifices. They are so overjoyed at the prospect of what will be theirs that they freely give everything.


The parable of the net - Judgement will follow
This parable is very similar to the parable of the weeds which we read last week. The message is that judgment belongs to God and nobody else. In this parable, a dragnet scoops up all sorts of fish, both good and bad. Jews were prohibited (Lev. 11:9-12) from eating certain types of sea life, creatures without scales or fins, so the fishermen would discard unusable fish. The message for the disciples is clear, the net will be sorted but not yet. The timetable for God’s judgement is not ours, and be careful, the measure of God’s judgement is not ours. God will decide not us. Be careful in judging others, if we really want somebody to judge then we can have a full time job dealing with ourselves. Charles Royden
 

Meditation

How can I explain the riches and treasures and delights found when the soul is united to God in prayer? Since in some way we can enjoy heaven on earth, be brave in begging the Lord to give us his grace in that he show us the way and strengthen the soul that it may dig until it finds this hidden treasure. The truth is that the treasure lies within our very selves.
Teresa of Avila 1515-1582 The Interior Castle 

Hymns

  1. He is Lord Tune: He is Lord
  2. Tell out my soul Tune: Woodlands
  3. God of grace and god of glory Tune: Rhuddland
  4. Lord thy word abideth Tune: Ravenshaw
  5. Thine be the glory Tune:Maccabeus

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, Your Son left the riches of heaven and became poor for our sake: when we prosper save us from pride, when we are needy save us from despair, that we may trust in you alone; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Common Worship additional collects

Almighty God, who sent your Holy Spirit to be the life and light of your Church: open our hearts to the riches of your grace, that we may bring forth the fruit of the Spirit in love and joy and peace; 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

Most gracious God, you are mindful of us through all the years of our life. Pardon our sins and fashion in us those virtues which are acceptable to you. Grant that in serenity and we may serve you faithfully in the days to come, that our lives may be a reflection of your infinite love.


Additional Material

I am pleased that Jesus said the Mustard seed was the smallest of your seeds, because it gives me licence to exaggerate when I preach, if Jesus did it then it is OK for me too. But the point is valid, we have a tiny seed which grows into a big bush, and yeast which acts in the whole loaf. If Jesus was alive today in Bedford he might use the illustration of an acorn and say look how a tiny acorn, the smallest of seeds grows into our biggest tree. The kingdom may be small but nevertheless have great effects. This parable offers hope, promising great outcomes from small beginnings. 

The Parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl have to do with objects of great value which spark great commitment.  They are both parables of discovery, joy, and action. The merchant is actively looking for pearls, while the other man just stumbles onto treasure in a field.  Both, however, recognize the overwhelming value of their discovery, and sell everything so that they might buy it.  

In neither case is there any hint of sacrifice -- of giving up something precious -- of having to make a difficult decision.  Neither is sad to sell everything, because they are both overwhelmed with the joy of discovery and the prospect of possessing such treasure.  They are like the disciples, who left everything to follow Jesus (4:18-22; 19:27-30) -- and Paul, who regarded all else as loss "because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:8).  They are unlike the rich young ruler who "went away grieving," because he could not bear to part with his many possessions (19:16-26).

Last week we heard about the "weeds and wheat" in the same field. Today it's a net which collects "fish of every kind." The "bad" are thrown out, eventually; as were last week's weeds that an enemy sowed in the field. We can tell that the church felt it was experiencing influences from good and bad people, we know that this was the case. But the message here is not to be judgemental. The slaves wanted to rip up the weeds right away (13: 24-30), the householder orders them to wait. They really don't know what they are doing and will rip up the valuable grain in its early stages. Let things wait until another group who will know better, the "harvesters," do the sorting. 

It's the same with the net that gathers both acceptable and unacceptable fish. When the full net is finally pulled in, then sorting will happen by God, not us! We perhaps want to protest that we know now who the trouble makers are, who the immoral ones are. But Jesus spells out his plan and his assurance quite clearly, leave it to God. The lessons is that judgment belongs, not to the disciples, not to us but to God. Later, at the end, when God directs the sorting process, we might be surprised at who, after all, were the truly acceptable disciples. Maybe not the "fish" we had in mind. Charles Royden

Commentary

People will give up almost anything to get what they want, they give up major things in the pursuit of career. How many times have you heard somebody regretfully say, ‘I wished I had spent more time with the kids.’  There are some dreadful examples of men and women giving up their families, leaving their children, because they have found a lover.  People will give up everything if they find something which they want, really want. 

So today in our parables Jesus asks a question, 
1. What will you give up? 
2. What do you consider to be most important ? 
3. Have you got your priorities right? 


Most people have not recognised the treasure which is the Christian gospel. The vast majority of people have not got their priorities right. Most people have great excuses not to come to church. They tell me that you do not have to go to church to be a Christian, but they are not at home on a Sunday morning doing bible study by themselves. They are not involved in serving God, they have chosen that other things are more important. Usually they have made a choice that other things, not spiritual things, are more important to them. 

They make a choice for themselves, sadly they also make a choice for their families too. The choice has an effect which rebounds down the generations. When you stop church and you stop taking your children to church, you have effectively stopped your grandchildren and great grandchildren going to church as well. So that today we have several decades of people who have no had any contact with Christians teaching whatsoever, and that means no spiritual grounding in their lives at all. And that is where we are as a country, with people largely adrift in terms of a spiritual anchor to inform their ethical, moral and life decisions. A university chaplain was speaking to a group of us the other day and saying that the students he deals with have absolutely no Christian background whatsoever. They know nothing of the Bible or the Christian stories. 

As a church we have to do our bit to encourage and welcome to church those who feel that it is not for them. Some of them might have a good reason to think we don’t want them. They might have had a contact with a bad vicar or a bad churchgoer, who put them off and they thought well if that is what being a Christians is like I don’t want to know.  They might have wanted a baptism for their child and the vicar said no, or they might have had a breakdown in the marriage and instead of compassion the church pointed the finger and they thought well me and my family are not welcome. Whatever reasons we have to do our bit and lets pray that God will bless that work with children and that Christians will feel able to volunteer to support that work. 

What we can do as a church might seem small. It may seem insignificant but of course the message of the parables which we have heard this morning is that it might seem small, you might not even notice the effect, but this is how the kingdom is grown. 

Mustard seed and leaven 

Hiddenness and smallness, these are words which summarise the parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast. There is an important lesson to be learned here. Jesus took an example of smallness, the mustard seed, and made the point that it would grow hugely. But it does not grow into anything ostentatious. It did not produce the mighty cedars of Lebanon which the Jews so liked to speak of. The mustard seed grew into a large shrub, about 10 feet tall. 

Jesus did not choose something which spoke of grandeur in human terms. This surely challenges our expectations of greatness. I wonder if you have visited the Vatican, and walked around St Peter’s in Rome. It is huge, the columns and domes are vast and magnificent. Strangely it did nothing to communicate the kingdom to me. It spoke of a gospel which I found difficult to relate to the carpenter from Nazareth. I see Jesus speaking of something which judged by the worlds standards is much more humble.
We might want to think of the Kingdom as being great in human terms but Jesus is cautioning against that. If we think of the Kingdom as a car we would want it to be a Rolls Royce, Jesus tells us it would be more like a Mondeo. Because the kingdom is not imposing. It’s like buried treasure - 

Buried treasure 
People used to bury treasure in fields all the time. Remember this was before metal detectors were invented. If you wanted to keep something safe you would be unwise to keep it in your house, locked doors and safes were not invented. So you buried it in a field and it was safe. It was a bit like your pin number, as long as you didn’t tell somebody and only you knew it was unlikely to be discovered.

Of course sometimes this meant that buried treasure was left. A person could be killed or die And their buried treasure was undiscovered. 

And the point is that somebody could walk over the field, they could be right next to the treasure and not know it was there. Something of enormous life changing value can be under your feet and you have not a got a clue. The kingdom can be present and be unperceived. 

The Kingdom is not overwhelming to everybody. Some people are given the gift to recognise the kingdom for what it is and for them, for those who see the treasure, any price is not a sacrifice, it is a price worth paying for something of infinitely more value. 

Like the most magnificent pearl it is out of this world and the merchant will gladly give up everything to possess it. 

Jesus is reassuring us that the kingdom is absolutely worth everything. Jesus is not calling upon us to make sacrifices, he is saying that those who have truly recognised the kingdom will not feel a sense of duty or of sacrifice, they will feel only joy and a recognition that they are the lucky ones. They will not need to have a heart hearted approach. 

That is why Christians realise the futility of not getting our priorities right. No matter what we achieve in our earthly lives we cannot take our wealth with us when we die. Who was it who when asked of the deceased at a funeral ‘What did he leave’ said, ‘he left it all.’ All of our materials wealth dies with us, but our spiritual wealth increases. 

The man who buys the field does not need to keep a little money back in case the treasure turns out to be of less value than he thought. The treasure and the pearl are of such overwhelming value to them that they do not need to take precautions. Some people are lucky enough to see the kingdom for what it is and for them the joy of the kingdom is already something which they have begun to experience. 

So it is true that by seeking first the kingdom of God, by putting all else aside, we discover that the kingdom is all that we really need. 

God’s kingdom is the greatest of treasures, worth more than any one of us can ever fully understand and far more than earthly considerations. Jesus is making the point that full and unreserved commitment, an unrestrained response is that which comes from an appreciation of God’s kingdom.

The net 

Jesus concludes his telling of the parables with a warning message. He tells the parable of the fish in the net. Jesus speaks of a seine-net which had floats on the top and weight on the bottom. It was thrown on the water and indiscriminately encircled the fish in that area. Then it was dragged up on the shore with all the different kinds of fish in that area. 

The conclusion is that righteous and unrighteous are mixed up and it is not until the end of time that God will judge. There is an important lesson for our prayers here. What do we pray when we are faced with situations where we want God to judge people and punish them? The disciples believed that Jesus would overturn his opponents and establish his rule on earth. Jesus was a massive disappointment, so much so that they left him. They wanted Jesus to give them power to go out an uproot the weeds and sort them out now. Jesus said wait. 

The net will be sorted but not yet. The timetable for God’s judgement is not ours, and be careful, the measure of God’s judgement is not ours. 

Conclusion

So today we are asked to consider ourselves and where our treasure lies. Have we devoted our time to the right things, have we invested in a field which holds lasting treasure ? Jesus encourages us to put everything else aside, no half measures. 

The Christian life is often thought of as a sacrifice, a cross to be carried, and that is right. Yet this message has to be balanced as well by the parables today which remind us that Jesus considers the kingdom of heaven to be a treasure so wonderful that we can joyfully sacrifice everything to possess it and not end up being disappointed.

Meditation

Forgiveness is understanding and holding the pain of another; it is compassion.
Forgiveness is the acceptance of our brokenness, yours and mine.
Forgiveness is letting go of unrealistic expectations of others,
and of the desire that they be other than they are.
Forgiveness is liberating others to be themselves, not making them feel guilty for what may have been…
Forgiveness is peace-making:
struggling to create unity, to build one body, to heal the broken body of humanity.
Jean Vanier, ‘Forgiveness in Community’

Meditation - Love's secret

Love's secret is to be doing things for God, and not to mind because they are such very little ones. Frederick W. Faber

And now I had discovered the good pearl. To buy it I had to sell all that I had; and I hesitated.-Augustine

The world does not say: "blessed are the poor." The world says: "Blessed are the rich. You are worth as much as you have." But Christ says: "Wrong. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, because they do not put their trust in what is so transitory." Blessed are the poor, for they know that their riches are in the One who being rich made himself poor in order to enrich us with his poverty, teaching us the Christian's true wisdom. -Oscar Romero 1917-1980 The Violence of Love


Hymns

  1. Praise to the holiest in the height
  2. Seek ye first
  3. Thy kingdom come O God
  4. Be thou my vision
  5. Immortal invisible God only wise

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead 

Gracious God, your Son Jesus Christ fed the hungry with the bread of life and the word of your kingdom. Renew your people with your heavenly grace, and in all our weakness sustain us by your true and living bread, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God you poured the Spirit of your Son into our hearts so that we call you Father. give us grace to devote our freedom to your service.

Gracious God, you call each one of us to different types of ministry in your service. We pray for Rowan Williams who has been called to a most difficult ministry. We ask that you would strengthen and encourage him in the days ahead. When he reads hurtful things about himself on the radio or in the newspapers, help him to hear instead your voice. Reassure him of the knowledge of your love and commitment, that as he has been called in your service, so you will sustain and empower him with your strength. Give to him wisdom and patience, and a sense of humour. Amen.

1 Sing of a God in majestic divinity,
seeding the heavens with numberless stars,
forming our dust and our dreams of infinity,
God of our genes and the judge of our wars.

Sing of a child who was cradled so tenderly,
sing of a boyhood by Galilee's lake;
sing of a cross and a Saviour who wondrously
suffered and died for humanity's sake.

Sing of a Spirit who daily addresses us,
lives in our sciences, nature, and arts;
moving through all of creation and blessing us,
guiding our minds and engaging our hearts.

Sing of this God who in glory and mystery
chooses to lie in humanity's womb,
enters the prison and pain of our history,
rises triumphant and opens the tomb.
Tune was lebet

2. Tell out my soul

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings, give my spirit voice;
tender to me the promise of his word;
in God my Saviour shall my heart rejoice.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his Name!
Make known his might, the deeds his arm has done;
his mercy sure, from age to age the same;
his holy Name, the Lord, the Mighty One.

Tell out, my soul, the greatness of his might!
Powers and dominions lay their glory by.
Proud hearts and stubborn wills are put to flight,
the hungry fed, the humble lifted high.

Tell out, my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
to children's children and for evermore!

Tune: Woodlands


 

3. Seek ye first the kingdom of god
and His righteousness,
and all these things shall be added unto you.
Allelu, alleluia.

Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word
that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Allelu, alleluia.

Ask and it shall be given unto you,
seek and ye shall find;
knock and the door shall be opened up to you.
Allelu, alleluia.

4 Listening God, you hear us when we cannot speak,
when despair and turmoil leave us faint and weak.
In love you call us back to you again
and your grace reminds us how you feel our pain.

Searching God, you find us when we go astray,
as self-centred living takes us from your way.
In love you seek us, show us what we've lost,
and your tears remind us what forgiveness cost.

Suffering God, you lift us from our deepest grief,
when emotion blinds us to our own belief.
In love you touch us with your nail-torn hand
and your wounds remind us why you understand.

Risen God you show us love too strong for death.
Evil deeds defeated by your living breath.
In love you teach us never to despair,
your new life reminds us, hope is always there.

Tune Noel Nouvelet

5. Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son;
endless is the victory thou o'er death hast won.
Angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.
Thine be the glory, risen conquering Son:
Endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom.
Let his church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting.
Refrain

No more we doubt thee, glorious prince of life!
Life is nought without thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
Bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above.
Refrain


Tune:Maccabeus