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Christian teaching, worship, prayer and Bible resources

Ordinary 23 Year A


Introduction

In our reading from Romans today we are reminded that love is the fulfilling of the law. If there was enough love about, then there would actually be no need for most laws we can think of. We only need laws to protect us from things like greed, which makes us steal, or anger which causes us to hurt others. If we were all more loving, then we would inevitably be law abiding, without even having to think about it.

Love has an amazing power to transform and change us, as we love we become less selfish, as our hearts become enlarged and more open to the needs of others. Love enables us to forgive and be forgiven, we are people who look for the good in others, rather than seeing their faults.

What a place this world would be if it was ruled by love, no more wars between nations, no need for high tec security and no more computer viruses. Could it be possible to live a life ruled by love. We have our example in the life of Jesus. He lived a life of love so transforming and challenging and upset the vested interests of the ruling authorities so much that they killed him for it.

Now it is up to us to use the life of Jesus as our model of a different way of doing things.

Opening Verses of Scripture  Matthew 18:20

For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."  


Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Almighty God, you search us and know us: may we rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness, now and in all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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.

O Lord we beseech you, mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you. and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have the grace and power faithfully to fulfill them; Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen. Common Worship

Lord of creation, whose glory is around and within us: open our eyes to your wonders, that we may serve you with reverence and know your peace at our lives' end, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Common Worship, Shorter Collect

 O God, you bear your people ever on your heart and mind. Watch over us in your protecting love, that, strengthened by your grace and led by your Spirit, we may not miss your way for us but enter into your glory, made ready for all in Christ our Lord. Amen. Methodist Worship

Go before us, Lord, in all that we do, with your most gracious favour, and guide us with your continual help, that in all our works, begun and ended in you, we may glorify your holy name, and finally by your mercy obtain everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Methodist Worship

 

First Bible Reading  Ezekiel 33:7-11

The word of the Lord came to me: So you, mortal, I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked ones, you shall surely die,’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but their blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from their ways, and they do not turn from their ways, the wicked shall die in their iniquity, but you will have saved your life.

Now you, mortal, say to the house of Israel, Thus you have said: ‘Our transgressions and our sins weigh upon us, and we waste away because of them; how then can we live?’ Say to them, As I live, says the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?

Second Reading  Romans 13:8-14

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Gospel Reading Matthew 18:15-20

Jesus spoke to his disciples. ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

 

Post Communion Sentence

Almighty God, you have taught us through your Son that love is the fulfilling of the law: grant that we may love you with our whole heart and our neighbours as ourselves; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
 

Commentary

John Kavanaugh, S. J. of Saint Louis University in the US writes that community life, whether in a family, intentional grouping, religious congregations, or the church itself, is the great testing ground of faith. St. Teresa of Avila thought that relationships in community were often a greater indication of one’s relationship to God than the heights of mystical prayer. And Jean Vanier, as committed to marginal people as anyone might be, has often observed that it takes greater charity and humility to get along with a co-labourer than with a handicapped stranger.

In our Epistle reading Paul reminds his Roman audience that love, tested in immediate relationship with our neighbour, is the fulfilment of all laws. Even dramatic sins of adultery, murder, and stealing are variations of the more domestic betrayals of deception, manipulation, and egotism. In each case it is a lack of love, a harming of the neighbour that occurs. This is why our one duty, our sole “debt,” is to love one another.

Today’s gospel provides a practical scenario on community relations: “If your brother should commit some wrong against you, go and point out his fault, but keep it between the two of you . . . . If he does not listen, summon another, so that every case may stand on the word of two or three witnesses.” Only after these careful encounters is the conflict to be referred to the entire church. Then, if recalcitrance persists, there is apparently separation. Sounds simple enough. The problem is, it depends upon behaviours that do not come easily. As Christians don’t often enjoy directly confronting another person, especially someone with whom we are having difficulties. Indeed, some families will go years before addressing a problem. Grudges or resentments within a community more often die with those who hold them rather than come to resolution in quiet conversation. Misdeeds of friends or relatives are usually discussed with anyone but the accused.

Encountering the truth with another person daunts us because it makes us face another being who cannot be reduced to our own desires or projections. We may try to make others a function of our egos, but it fails. Rather than enter the struggle, we ignore it. If, however, we seriously love another person as an “other,” and not a mere instrument of our wills, we experience the kind of self-transcendence that is required in our relationship to God. Is it any wonder, then, that what we bind and loose on earth is somehow bound and loosed eternally? Our human relationships mirror our relationship with God. Whenever we encounter each other—not only in prayer—Jesus is in our midst.

The central theme of the reading seems not to be about separation but reconciliation. We are not to work for separation but for reconciliation, often in what seem extremely difficult circumstances. Paul sums this up in his words of command to ‘love one another’. For Paul, it’s as if the Ten Commandments are examples of this principle at work. Examples of what loving one another and building reconciled families and communities is all about. It’s not an intellectual exercise, it’s a practical application of the faith we profess, the living out of the words we say each week in church.

Matthew’s passage is also an encouragement to us; the very fact that he writes these guidelines for the early church would seem to indicate that there has never been a perfect and harmonious Christian community and that our unity is something that we need to work at, even when there are differences among us. As Jesus’ followers we will always be engaged in the struggle to demonstrate that we live a life governed by Jesus’ command to love one another and to be reconciled to those around us, often people with very different views and standards to our own. It’s not a question of sweeping differences under the carpet or pretending differences don’t exist but to love those who are different from ourselves, whether we agree with them or not. We are, in the words of the Old Testament reading, a Passover people, a redeemed people and as such we should live out that redemption in our lives. Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation

Today’s passage from Exodus comes at the defining moment in the life of Israel, the exodus itself, after Moses has followed God's many instructions, delivering God's demands to mighty Pharaoh to "Let my people go." These exchanges between Moses and Pharaoh are the classic "speaking truth to power" that's become a description of any apparently weak person standing up against oppressive, overwhelming authority. The story itself is even more chilling than any film could depict (even with today's special effects), and it moves quickly, with Pharaoh's heart hardening every time he seems to relent. But right in the middle of this drama, the action slows down and the narrative takes on a different tone and feel. Even though horrible danger looms (what could be worse than The Angel of Death?), God takes time to instruct the people about how to remember what is about to happen, how to worship properly not just that night, but in every age to come. That ritual would remember what God did for the people that terrible night, the protection God provided, and the cherished people they had become. Their worship, then, would serve to remind the people not only who God is in the life they share, but who they are as a people, as God's "first-born child." What had seemed like a time of despair is transformed into a new beginning. Whatever the future looked like, it changed with the intervention of a God who is ever present in the lives of the Israelites and still is ever present with us today.

 

*******************

'But that said I would argue that genuine engagement rather than
confrontation and repression is the key to avoiding violence” 

a quote by Oliver McTernan a contributor to the BBC’s Radio 4 religious slot at 7.50am ‘Thought for the Day’. Oliver McTernan is one of my contemporary Christian heroes he is director of ‘Forward in Thinking’ and spends much of his time working for reconciliation between different faith groups in the UK and Middle East.  When I listen to his mellow Irish voice on the radio I find myself inspired and moved by his commitment to peace and reconciliation. If someone can be assessed by voice alone I find myself not at all surprised that God has led him into this role.  A role which surely has at its heart the ‘Jesus approach’ that Matthew advocates.  In this passage Jesus’ target audience are Christians but the principles are equally applicable to a wide range of adversarial situations.  How different our personal lives and communities might be if we all used this approach to minor conflict. The media constantly reports on small disputes that escalate out of all proportion between neighbours; sports enthusiasts; people of different ethnic origins; and many more. It is encouraging that there are number of people, often those who have been personally affected by crime, who are trying to build bridges between communities and their adversaries.  Let us all pray for these courageous people and ourselves that we too will find the openness of heart and mind to ‘go and do like wise’. Wendy Waters

Hymns

  1. He who would valiant be

  2. Moses I know your'e the man

  3. Make me a channel of your peace

  4. Lord of the church we pray for our renewing  (See below)

 

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 Jesus Christ, you are among us even when we feel few in number. Strengthen all those who profess your name and empower them through your Holy Spirit to live a life of reconciliation and love. Amen

Father God, you are among us in our petty disputes and disagreements. Open our hearts to your reconciling grace and heal the hurts in us and in others that our divisions, evil intentions, injuries and harsh words bring. Amen

O Lord, whose way is perfect, help us always to trust in your goodness, to walk in the way of faith, and to follow in the path of simplicity. Teach us to cast our cares on your providence, that we may possess a quiet mind and a contented spirit; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Holy Spirit, you are among us in sickness and in health. Strengthen us in our frailty and give us faith to know your presence with us, holding us in your hands as you lift us up to see your face. Amen

May the Holy Trinity make you strong in faith and love, defend you on every side, and guide you in truth and peace; and may the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen

Help us, O Lord, to conquer anger with gentleness; to subdue greed with generosity and to overcome apathy with fervour. Help us to forget ourselves and reach out to others. Teach us to be courageous in risk-taking, patient in suffering and attentive in prayer; grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen. Clement Xl, 1649-1721

Lord of boundless energy, you refuse to be beaten; always you reinvent yourself to achieve the impossible. Give us such confidence in your life running through us and through the world, that nothing will stop you achieving your joyous purposes of love, life hope and justice. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Additional Material

Commentary

Our passage from Romans contains that most wonderful statement ‘The commandments ….. are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbour as yourself." This statement makes explicit the fact that the Christian life is expected to be a life which is distinguishable by its practice. We have to be people who are characterized by love and forgiveness and we have to treat other people as we would want to be treated ourselves. However as we live in the real world we know that all is not so easy. In our personal and communal lives there are difficult situations. Fortunately the reading from Matthew seeks to give to us some helpful guidelines.

Matthew's gospel teaches how to behave in a very practical situation of conflict. This wasn’t any old conflict, this was conflict inside the church. Conflict is a difficult thing and it has to be dealt with very carefully. It is damaging to the body of Christ when the members fall out. The passage from Matthew puts this clearly when the word ‘brother’ is used. Disputes in the church are not like disputes in a political party or even at work. Disputes in the church are like family disputes, if they are not dealt properly then the wounds can go very deep. When there is conflict in the church people stay away, or leave, so it is not appropriate for this kind of situation.

Now some would say that in a church there should not be conflict, but it is transparently obvious that there always has been conflict in churches and there always will be. Sometimes things go seriously wrong in the church and whilst the best thing is usually to let issues go and ignore them, on occasions this will not suffice. 

This is not new to the church today it has always been a problem and Matthew wrote out of the experience of the early church, in which inevitably, differences and conflicts arose. He saw a need for guidelines for the difficult work of resolving conflict and restoring broken relationships. Matthew does not advocate sweeping real conflict under the carpet. Honesty in confronting issues properly can resolve the conflict. If we avoid dealing with some conflicts then the wounds grow deep and infection sets in making matters worse. Sometimes it is because we are Christians that we fail to take action, sometimes Christians are just too nice for our own good.

So we are told that if something really does need dealing with the first thing to do is go and talk with the person concerned. There may be occasions where this is not the preferred action, sometimes one must go directly to the police or the body skilled to handle the issue (such as sexual abuse complaints). Sometimes our role will be to refer people to such authorities. But whenever possible the first step towards reconciliation is communication privately, do not disturb everybody else! 

Employ all possible means to achieve mending of broken relationships and ultimately, healing and forgiveness. If the first consultation fails, only then involve with one or two others fails, then finally seek the wisdom of the whole community. 

There is a lot of communication provided for, communication is at the very heart of creation's relationship with the Creator, communication is also essential in the human family if we are to live with one another as brothers and sisters. Defective communication leads to alienation, it drives us apart from one another and increases the experience of human suffering. However, loving communication is one of the most important means of reconciliation, of coming back together. Learning to listen carefully to one another as, together, we listen attentively to God, can bring us closer to one another, fulfilling the vision of the Scriptures and God's deepest intentions for the human family---that we learn to live in peace, harmony and unity with one another and with God. Charles Royden

Commentary

In truth, it is easier to get on a soap box and call for world peace, than it is to have happy and peaceful relationships with those around us. Calling for peace is easy, living peacefully with other people requires great courage and prayer. The sad thing is that often religious people are the very worst at this. They sometimes take matters so much to the heart, and become so fervently convinced of their own beliefs, that they judge and condemn those who are different. That is the message of history. There have been some fantastic religious people who have worked for a better world and set wonderful examples of good living, but all too often religion is a bad things and causes people to hate and murder. Frankly, religion is not necessarily a good thing. Indeed it can bring out the worst in people.  In the passage from Romans today we see that the measure or the worth, the value of religion, is judged by the necessary demonstration of that religion in actions of loving kindness. When we ask how good is our religious faith the answer is 'as good as your love for your neighbour.' The words and the deeds of those who seek to worship God should be characterized by a ruling principle which is that we 'love our neighbour as ourselves.' That principle is the scale upon which we weight the true value of religion.

God teaches us throughout the pages of scripture that life is valuable. Often religious extremists consider their causes more important than human life which is worth sacrificing. Some of the very worst crimes against humanity have been committed by religious people, in the name of their god. Religion does not always make people good people. Often people will use religion to gain divine blessing or authority for acts of terrible human greed and aggression.

The Christian life is expected to be a life which is distinguishable by its practice. Acting the quality of love, the absence of evil and this done through the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Christian and the Christian community is to be recognized as special. That is why in our reading from Matthew we hear of instructions for daily living to enable people to settle disputes inside the church privately, one to one.

We might not like our neighbour, we may believe that there are all sorts of barriers between us, social, political, religious, moral  - whatever. We have to be able to transcend these barriers: remember that when Jesus was asked for an example of who a neighbour was, he chose a Samaritan, somebody who a good Jew wouldn't even condescend to speak with. So it is down to us to show how deep our religion goes. It is no use calling for change in the world, we have to be the change which we want to see in the world. 

Remember   'Love is the fulfilling of the law'    Romans 13  Charles Royden

Meditation

Community means caring: caring for people. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says: "He who loves community destroys community; he who loves the brethren builds community." A community is not an abstract ideal. We are not striving for perfect community. Community is not an ideal; it is people. It is you and I. In community we are called to love people just as they are with their wounds and their gifts, not as we would want them to be. Community means giving them space, helping them to grow. It means also receiving from them so that we too can grow. It is giving each other freedom; it is giving each other trust; it is confirming but also challenging each other. We give dignity to each other by the way we listen to each other, in a spirit of trust and of dying to oneself so that the other may live, grow and give.

Self discipline never means giving up anything, for "giving up" is a loss. Our Lord did not ask us to give up the things of earth, but to exchange them for better things. -- Fulton Sheen

Meditation

"The German Pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892–1984), who protested Hitler's anti-semite measures in person to the fuehrer, was eventually arrested, then imprisoned at Sachsenhausen and Dachau (1937–1945). He once confessed, 'It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.'"

Hymns

  1. Soldiers of Christ arise 719
  2. All earth was dark (On notices)
  3. All praise to our redeeming Lord. 753
  4. Lord of the church - on notices (89 Glory to God)
  5. Lord enthroned in heavenly splendour 616

Prayers

Vulnerable God, God of the vulnerable, God who we see in the Cross of Jesus Christ, today we remember those so terrifyingly killed, those so violently bereaved, those so cruelly injured in body, mind and spirit last 11 September; as in Christ's wounds we find our salvation, so lead your suffering people through perplexity and pain to peace; show us how to overcome evil with good and, in the name of good, to rid the earth of all that disfigures your creation, all that sets at naught the value of human life, all that disables us from the love of neighbour; So help us on this terrible anniversary day to know the power of our crucified and risen Saviour and, in his power to seek the victory of love, Amen 
A special anniversary prayer for 11 September by the Rt Revd Dr Finlay Macdonald

God the compassionate one, whose loving care extends to all the world, we remember this day your children of many nations and many faiths whose lives were cut short by the fierce flames of anger and hatred. Console those who continue to suffer and grieve, and give them comfort and hope as they look to the future. Out of what we have endured, give us the grace to examine our relationships with those who perceive us as the enemy, and show our leaders the way to use our power to serve the good of all for the healing of the nations. This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord who, in reconciling love, was lifted up from the earth that he might draw all things to himself. Amen
The Most Reverend Frank T. Griswold XXV 
Presiding Bishop and Primate The Episcopal Church, USA

Loving God, help us to realize that true peacemaking can only become a reality in our world today if it is first a matter in our hearts. Help us to use our resources wisely in the service of others. We ask for the gifts of civility and charity so that we can treat others with respect and love. We ask for the gifts of faith and hope to strengthen our spirits by placing our trust in You rather than ourselves. We ask for the gifts of courage and compassion that will move us into action to help those in need throughout the world. We ask for the gifts of humility and kindness so that we may put the needs and interests of others ahead of our own. We ask for the gifts of patience and perseverance to endure the long struggle for justice. We ask for all of this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

God, unto whom all hearts be open, and unto whom all will speaks, and unto whom no privy thing is hid. I beseech you so for to cleanse the intent of my heart with the unspeakable gift of your grace, that I may perfectly love you, and worthily praise you.  From Cloud of Unknowing 14c

O Lord Jesus, acknowledge what is yours in us, and take away from us all that is not yours; for your honour and glory.  Amen. St Bernardine, 14&15century

Give us, O Lord, steadfast hearts that cannot be dragged down by false loves; give us courageous hearts that cannot be worn down by trouble; give us righteous hearts that cannot be sidetracked by unholy or unworthy goals. Give to us also, our Lord and God, understanding to know you, diligence to look for you, wisdom to recognise you, and a faithfulness that will bring us to see you face to face. Thomas a Kempis

God, if there be a God, if you will prove to me that you are, and if you will give me peace, I will give you my whole life. I'll do anything yu ask me to do, go where you send me, obey you all my days.  Isobel Kuhn 20th century

Selected Hymn

1 Lord of the church, we pray for our renewing:
Christ over all, our undivided aim.
Fire of the Spirit, burn for our enduing,
wind of the Spirit, fan the living flame!
We turn to Christ amid our fear and failing,
the will that lacks the courage to be free,
the weary labours, all but unavailing,
to bring us nearer what a church should be.

2 Lord of the church, we seek a Father's blessing,
a true repentance and a faith restored,
a swift obedience and a new possessing,
filled with the Holy Spirit of the Lord!
We turn to Christ from all our restless striving,
unnumbered voices with a single prayer:
the living water for our souls' reviving,
in Christ to live, and love and serve and care.

3 Lord of the church, we long for our uniting,
true to one calling, by one vision stirred;
one cross proclaiming and one creed reciting,
one in the truth of Jesus and his word!
So lead us on; till toil and trouble ended,
one church triumphant one new song shall sing,
to praise his glory, risen and ascended,
Christ over all, the everlasting King!

Timothy Dudley-Smith (b.1926)
Text © Timothy Dudley-Smith in Europe (including UK and Ireland) and in all territories not controlled by Hope Publishing Company.
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