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Worship, Prayer and Bible resources

Ordinary 22 - Year B

Liturgical Colour - Green


Introduction

Perhaps the very worst insult which you can make of a Christian is to call them a hypocrite.  Jesus was at his most critical with the Pharisees, who he regarded as hypocrites. Yet when they criticised Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, they truly believed that they were upholding the laws of God. This is a terrifying thought, could we also sometimes be mistaken. Is it possible that things we have held to be sacred and true and not Gods ways, but just our own. Could we be hypocrites like the Pharisees, and not even know about it?

Each one of us must listen to the word of God and put God's ways into practice. Some of the most fervent Christians can be the most aggressively critical and unsympathetic towards others. Sometimes the Christians who are most dedicated to their own churches can be the most critical of others.  We must not be hypocritical, we must look to our failings, not those of others. We must learn to be tolerant of people, and try to see things from their point of view. When we view faults in others, each time we must by remember that there are few sins which we are not capable of ourselves. Our caution against hypocrisy is always to say

'there but for the grace of God go I.' 


Be doers of the word - James Opening Verses of Scripture  James 1:22

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

Collect Prayer for the Day —Before we read we pray

Almighty and everlasting God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray and to give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask but through the merits and mediation of 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.  Common Worship

God of constant mercy, who sent your Son to save us: remind us of your goodness, increase your grace within us, that our thankfulness may grow, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   Common Worship  Shorter form

God of all creation, you call all peoples of the earth into your kingdom. Grant that we, with young and old of all nations, may boldly confess Jesus Christ as Lord: to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honour and praise, now and for ever.  Amen.  Methodist Worship

Redeemer God, you heard the cry of your people and sent Moses your servant to lead them out of slavery. Free us from the tyranny of sin and death and, by the leading of your Spirit, bring us to our promised land; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.    Methodist Worship

 

First Bible Reading  Deuteronomy 4:1-2,6-9

Hear now, O Israel, the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you. Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people."
What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 

Second Reading   James 1:17-27

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created. My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Gospel Reading Mark 7 (1-8, 14-15, 21-23)

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were "unclean," that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the market place they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with `unclean' hands?" He replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: "`These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men."
Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him `unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him `unclean.' "
For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.'"

 

Post Communion Sentence

God of all mercy, in this eucharist you have set aside our sins and given us your healing: grant that we who are made whole in Christ may bring that healing to this broken world, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

Commentary

In our readings from the Gospel of John over the past 3 weeks we saw Jesus teaching in the synagogue using the structure which would have been familiar to the Jews from the Midrash. This was their equivalent to our standard three point sermon. The Midrash tradition started with a verse of scripture, in our recent readings it was Jn 6 v 31, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’ and then goes on to explain it in 2 sections. In the first part, Jn 6 v 32 – 48, He explained ‘bread from heaven’ and in the second part, Jn 49 – 58, He explained ‘to eat’. In the Aggadah tradition of Midrash often one word is taken and changed slightly in the vowel structure, easily done as there are no explicit vowels in the Torah, and a different word created which then explains the meaning of the phrase of scripture. In this example, Jesus was perhaps playing on the word manna to change it to give a word with a different meaning which explained the difference between the bread which leads to life and the bread which led to death. It’s a model we can use to give insight into today’s readings too.

Ex 32 v 16 reads, ‘The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved [graven] on the tablets’. The Jewish sages comment on this (Tractate Avot 6:2), “Do not read the word [graven] as ‘harut’, but as ‘herut’”. Herut means freedom. Thus as the Midrash explains the verse, when the Israelites received the 10 commandments in the desert they received freedom. ‘The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, freedom on the tablets’. True observance of the commandments is therefore understood to make someone free rather than to enslave them. It could also be implied that it was when the Jews received the 10 commandments that they were finally physically freed as a nation from the Egyptians.

In our reading from Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the Israelites not to add or subtract anything from the law they have been given. In so doing they will be free and go in and take possession of the land they have been promised. In the reading from Mark, Jesus accuses the Jewish teachers of doing exactly what Moses, who embodies Jewish law, had commanded them not to do. They have made significant and extraneous additions to the original precepts of the law. As a result they are now far from free. The Pharisees claimed that the traditions of their elders safeguarded the law, but in fact it these traditions have resulted in people following a law that in some cases has little to do with the law as it was given to Moses. Isaiah said that their Jewish ‘merchants mix water with the wine’, implying that the elders had mixed their watery tradition with God's strict commandment and in so doing adulterated the law. Jesus clearly agrees. But before we cheer too loudly in condemning the failings of the Jewish tradition, we need to ask ourselves how many times down the years could Jesus’ charge of ‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men’ be levied at the Christian church? Rather than being a church which is free we can become a people who are governed by the strictures we have engraved for ourselves in our personal and community life.

As a New Testament people we are no longer under the law but under the freedom of grace. Jesus was, and continues to be, the fulfilment of the law. He also gave us in His teaching, the guiding principles for our salvation and our lives as a people of God, they very way of life. Just like the Jewish teachers before us it is easy for us to dilute these guiding principles to make our faith easier and more palatable to ourselves and those around us. Similarly we can add our own interpretations and strictures so that our faith becomes more legalistic and programmed. True liberation in our faith comes from an ever closer walk with Christ and a living and love of His precepts. In the model of the Midrash, it is only by having His name engraved ‘harut’ in our lives we can find true freedom ‘herut’ in our lives. Jesus doesn’t ask us to follow a set of laws, but invites us to follow His precepts, precepts which become increasingly embodied in our lives as we grow closer to Him. As we grow in our faith, so our lives become increasingly and inextricably linked with His through His redeeming sacrifice. Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation


"The codes of Israel reflect the norms of the covenant: reciprocal responsibility, mercy, and truthfulness. They embody a life in freedom from oppression: worship of the One God, rejection of idolatry, mutual respect among people, care and protection for every member of the social body. Being free and being a co-responsible community are God’s intentions for us." US Bishops, Economic Justice for All (1986)

 
The power of one pure heart, I think, has the power to atone for many. Sophocles (c.496-406BCE, Athens

Hymns

  1. For the beauty of the earth
  2. He’s got the whole world
  3. O for a heart to praise my God
  4. Lead us heavenly Father
  5. Lord of the Dance

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer encouragement in the Christian life

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

God our heavenly judge declares you innocent, not by your own righteousness, but by that of Jesus Christ, who came to earth to save us from our sins. Amen

God does not wish us to walk in darkness; in His mercy seat He has revealed to us the way of life. His word is a lantern to our feet and a light to our paths. Amen

Set our hearts on fire with love for you, O Christ our God, that in its flame we may love you with all out heart, with all our mind, with all out soul, and with all our strength, and our neighbours as ourselves, so that in keeping your commandments, we may glorify you, the giver of all good gifts. Amen
A Manual of Eastern Orthodox Prayers

May the almighty and eternal God sanctify and govern your hearts and bodies in the ways of His laws and the works of His commandments; that under God’s protection, now and ever, you may be preserved in body and soul; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be among you and remain with you always. Amen

Additional Material


Verse of scripture
Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has power to save your souls. James Chapter 1:19
 

Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray
O God you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer
Lord of all mercy, we your faithful people have celebrated that one true sacrifice which takes away our sins and brings pardon and peace: by our communion keep us firm on the foundation of the gospel and preserve us from all sin; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 

Commentary  -  Clean and unclean hearts


Our passage today records one of the episodes in which Jesus has dispute with the religious leaders. Mark has already told us that the scribes have determined that Jesus is demonic (3:22), and the Pharisees have begun a conspiracy to kill him (3:6). This is why they have left Jerusalem, to follow Jesus and try to stop him, if necessary by murder.
It is important to try and understand the Pharisees. They were not actually bad people, they were dedicated to obeying and pleasing God.

Ritual cleansing: Exod. 30:18-21; 40:31 requires the cleansing of hands, but only for priests ("Aaron and his sons") -- and only when they go into the tent of meeting or come near the altar -- in other words, when they are attending to sacred duties within sacred space. For the Sadducees the written law of the Torah alone was authoritative. However the Pharisees, out of a desire to obey God, established rules to clarify the law, and they accepted this evolving oral law as authoritative. By Jesus' day, adherence to the unwritten oral tradition was as important for the Pharisees as adherence to the Torah itself, by the third century it was codified as the Mishnah. So it was that the Pharisees gradually adopted this practice of ritual handwashing for ordinary people and ordinary meals as a way of showing devotion to God -- and as a "boundary marker," a way for Jews to proclaim their identity as distinct from their pagan neighbours.

Food laws: The Maccabean martyrs were famous at the time for having died rather than defile themselves, they were Jewish people who had been tortured and killed for refusing to eat unclean food, particularly pork. The Pharisees wanted to maintain their loyalty to God and his laws, to remain distinct from the pagans around. The Pharisees were misguided, but let us not forget that they were deeply religious men trying to be obedient to God's law and for Jesus to break God’s food laws like this was scandalous.

Jesus response: Jesus criticises the ritual laws of washing of hands before food, and of cooking vessels. Jesus attacks this ritual cleansing which was human tradition. However, he went much further, he gives Mark, the Gospel writer, a reason to say that all foods are clean! When he overrules the food laws he is not attacking mere human tradition, but the scriptures themselves. No wonder the Pharisees were angry and quite understandably, any good Jew would have been. The Pharisees attack Jesus and show that he is outside the cherished tradition which has been passed on to define the true people of God. Jesus has a completely different agenda, showing that these laws pointed towards him and now that he has arrived they are redundant! God’s people had historically been defined within the racial boundaries of the Jewish people, Jesus was now calling all people and this included the very Gentiles whom the Jews had sought to be so distinct from. This meant that not only were all the distinctive Jewish practices redundant, they were a hindrance and Jesus had to show that they no longer had to be obeyed.

The response of Jesus is to draw upon the words of the prophet Isaiah. Jesus quotes scripture, adding force to his accusations. The quotation is from Isaiah 29:13, and is in keeping with other prophetic pronouncements (see Isaiah 1:10-17; Amos 5:21-24; and Micah 6:6-8). What God wants is conversion of the heart, not mere words and traditions.


So in what way is the new religion of Jesus different from the old?

"Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile" (vv. 14-15).

Jesus shows that in his religion it is not the foods that we eat or ritual defilement that makes us unclean, but the thoughts and feelings of our hearts. Jesus is unconcerned with the old categories of clean and unclean, he touched a leper (1:41), ate with sinners (2:15-17), and was not troubled that an unclean woman touched him (5:30-34). Jesus replaces God's old commandments with his own teaching, in effect, doing the same thing that he accuses the Pharisees of doing. The difference was that Jesus is entrusted by God to declare his new commandments directly. Jesus is not worried about eating pork, but he is angered by sins which come from within us, from the human heart. This is what really defiles a person.
Fornication, Theft, Murder Adultery, Avarice, Wickedness, Deceit, Licentiousness, Envy, Slander, Pride, Folly
 

Jesus changes the emphasis away from religious duties towards ethical behaviour. He teaches us to be especially mindful of thoughts and feelings that give rise to unethical behaviour in our relationships with family, friends and neighbours. It is those thoughts and feelings, conceived and nurtured in our hearts, that give rise to truly serious sins. What Jesus is saying is that he is offering a cure for the problems of sin in the human heart, not just Jewish hearts. Charles Royden    

 

Commentary
Are you a traditionalist or are you one of those modern people who like to shake everything up and change things? When you come to church, do you like things that are "traditional" or prefer what is "modern", or do you enjoy both? To take the question a stage further, if we are generally traditional types, is it very likely that when we come to church that we will suddenly change and become more flexible and open to different ways of doing things? I would suggest that the answer is, no. The way we are as people affects fairly drastically our picture not just of ourselves and the world around us, but also of the church and of God. O dear! If we are not careful then God will become just as stuffy as we are. If we are honest most of us will admit that we tend to like the familiar and that which we have grown accustomed to. To justify our position and give our position as much weight as possible we pretend that this is what God wants. Sadly I fear that much of what we consider to be God, is nothing more than human tradition and this is what Jesus confronts in the reading today from Mark. Just like the Pharisees we have beloved liturgies and holy practices, our hymns and biblical translations, these are our precious traditions. They are wonderful whilst they help us to draw closer to God, however they are tools of wickedness when we elevate them to such an extent that they divide Christians from each other and split churches from the unity of Christ.
 

The teaching of Jesus is that true obedience to God is something which comes from the heart and not from a ritualistic adherence to practices, laws and regulations, no matter how much we like what we are used to. In the passage from Mark today we see this in practice as a debate ensues over what people should do before they eat a meal. Jesus wanted to move people away from just rituals to consider the commitment of mind and heart. Rituals can be very important tools which enable us to move into commitment and help us to worship. But they can also be restrictive, instead of moving us further in our spiritual understanding and worship, they can become the things of worship themselves, taking the place of God. Rituals are great if they move us from here to God, but they are not God.
 

Now whilst this is understandable, if a little uncomfortable, when it challenges our traditions. What do we make of the fact that Jesus himself actually took laws and regulations and traditions from the Old Testament and was unafraid to break these laws and practices? Well of course the whole point of the Jewish faith was to point to Christ, that is why the laws and prophets of the Old Testament existed. Jesus is recorded in Matthew 5:17 saying
‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them’
People like the Pharisees thought they were doing their best to serve God, but they were so blinkered that they did not realise that in Jesus, God was standing right next to them. The laws which were supposed to point to Jesus ended up being used as sticks to beat him with. In Jesus these old laws were brought to an end, not abolished but ‘fulfilled.’ many rules which had been important before Jesus were now changed and some lost their meaning. That is why we Christians no longer keep the Sabbath as one of the ten commandments. Of course the result of this is that we are supposed to be able to draw closer to God in heart and mind, do we? Finally have we introduced other laws and traditions ourselves which prevent us from a closer walk with God.

Prayers for Sunday

Lord God, heavenly King, we bring to you our hearts, for you to make new. We want the righteousness that comes from you. We know that it costs. Help us to rid ourselves of the impurities we carry around inside us. Those impurities of jealousy and laziness, greed and deceit and pride and the foolishness that makes fun of your righteous laws as quaint inconveniences. Give us the courage and the strength, wisdom and discernment to be honest with ourselves and you. May the sacrifices we bring to you be those of a contrite heart and those that truly represent the pure religion of caring for widows and orphans in their distress. This we ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

At the beginning of time and at the end you are God and I bless you. At my birth and in my dying, in the opening of the day and at its close, in my waking and my sleeping, you are God and I bless you. You are the first and the last, the giver of every gift, the presence without whom there would be no present, the life without whom there is no life. Lead me to the heart of life’s treasure that I may be a bearer of the gift. Lead me to the heart of the present that I may be a sharer of your eternal presence. J. Philip Newell

Lord Jesus Christ, by your thorn-crowned head, receive the devotion of my mind. Lord Jesus Christ, by your nail-pierced hands, accept my daily work. Lord Jesus Christ, by your wounded feet, bless my faltering journey. Lord Jesus Christ, by your riven side, accept the adoration of my heart; for your love and your mercy's sake. Amen After George Spencer, Father Ignatius, 1799-1864


Lord God, Jesus said that he came to that we might life and have it abundantly. We praise you and we thank you for his purpose in coming and we pray to you that we might indeed experience the fullness of the life that he has promised. Take from us, O Lord, all those things that get in the way of our relationship with you --- our pride and self-certainty, our doubt and our fear, and all those things that come from our human nature that blind us to the wonders of your presence and the glory of what you are doing in our midst. Lord, you know very well how our traditions and our understandings can become instruments of judgement rather than tools of your grace.
We pray today O God for all those who have been hurt by our insistence that our particular way is the only right way. Touch the hearts of those who have turned away from you because we have caused your light within us to grow dim and brighten, we pray, our souls. Lord, we thank you for the refreshing wind of your Spirit - for how you breathe into us new life and new hope and lead us to new understandings. In you we find wholeness for both body and soul.
We pray now, O God, that this wholeness may not only not only grow within us - but that it might enter into and transform the lives of those whom we name before you at this time. We lift them up, O Lord, and also we lift up those situations and those persons, in thanksgiving, and with prayers of intercession, that you have placed upon our hearts this day.
Father of lights, in whom there is no variation or shadow, hear the prayers we offer this day and inspire us to be doers of the word, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen


Hymn for this Sunday

  1. All people that on earth do dwell 20

  2. Make Way 457

  3. Come down O love divine 89

  4. Thanks be to God (on notices– tune Lobe Den Herren)

  5. Come let us worship Christ 96

  6. I am aware that it might have been a good idea this week to have included 'Will you come and follow me if I but call your name', it fits well with the Joshua reading

  7. O Christ, the Healer, we have come (Tune Song 34 mv)

  8. Be still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One is here; (Tune: Mission Praise 50)

  9. We cannot measure how you heal (Tune: Ye banks and braes)

  10. Through all our days we'll sing the praise (Tune: Greensleeves)

  11. Praise and thanksgiving 350

  12. One more step 746,

  13. Sing of the Lord’s goodness Glory to God 25

  14. For the beauty of the earth 152

  15. Jesus Christ gives life and gladness (Tune Regent Square)