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Sunday 25th October 2020 – 20th after Trinity – 21st after Pentecost

A warm welcome to you, and thank you for sharing in today’s service.

The text selected for both the Introit Anthem and the first hymn today is Isaac Watts’ great hymn, ’There is a land of pure delight’. To set the scene for our opening theme, here is a lovely setting by Grayston Ives, sung by the Cathedra Schola of Saint Philip’s Cathedral, Atlanta, Georgia. If you would like to follow the words, please scroll down to the first hymn.

A Prayer for today.

God of all who wander in the wilderness,
you go before us as beacon and guide.
Lead us through all danger,
sustain us through all desolation,
and bring us home to the land
you have prepared for us. Amen.

The OLD TESTAMENT LESSON is from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 34, beginning at the 1st verse.

Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar. The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigour had not abated. The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses. Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unequalled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

The 1st hymn today is, There is a land of pure delight, sung to the tune ‘Beulah’.

1 There is a land of pure delight,
where saints immortal reign;
infinite day excludes the night,
and pleasures banish pain.

2 There everlasting spring abides,
and never-withering flowers;
death, like a narrow sea, divides
this heavenly land from ours.

3 Sweet fields beyond the swelling flood
stand dressed in living green;
so to the Jews old Canaan stood,
while Jordan rolled between.

4 But timorous mortals start and shrink
to cross this narrow sea,
and linger shivering on the brink,
and fear to launch away.

5 O could we make our doubts remove,
these gloomy doubts that rise,
and see the Canaan that we love
with unbeclouded eyes;

6 Could we but climb where Moses stood,
and view the landscape o’er,
not Jordan’s stream, nor death’s cold flood,
should fright us from the shore!

The Epistle today is taken from Paul’s 1st Epistle to the Thessalonians, Chapter 2, beginning at the 1st verse.

You yourselves know brothers and sisters, that our coming to you was not in vain, but though we had already suffered and been shamefully mistreated at Philippi as you know, we had courage in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in spite of great opposition. For our appeal does not spring from deceit or impure motives or trickery, but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the message of the gospel, even so we speak, not to please mortals, but to please God who tests our hearts. As you know and as God is our witness, we never came with words of flattery or with a pretext for greed; nor did we seek praise from mortals, whether from you or from others, though we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do we care for you, that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us.

 The GRADUAL PSALM set for today is Psalm 90, which is sung by the choir of Westminster Abbey.

Domine, refugium

  1. LORD, thou hast been our refuge : from one generation to another.
  2. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made : thou art God from everlasting, and world without end.
  3. Thou turnest man to destruction : again thou sayest, Come again, ye children of men.
  4. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday : seeing that is past as a watch in the night.
  5. As soon as thou scatterest them they are even as a sleep : and fade away suddenly like the grass.
  6. In the morning it is green, and groweth up : but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withered.
  7. For we consume away in thy displeasure : and are afraid at thy wrathful indignation.
  8. Thou hast set our misdeeds before thee : and our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.
  9. For when thou art angry all our days are gone : we bring our years to an end, as it were a tale that is told.
  10. The days of our age are threescore years and ten; and though men be so strong that they come to fourscore years : yet is their strength then but labour and sorrow; so soon passeth it away, and we are gone.
  11. But who regardeth the power of thy wrath : for even thereafter as a man feareth, so is thy displeasure.
  12. So teach us to number our days : that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.
  13. Turn thee again, O Lord, at the last : and be gracious unto thy servants.
  14. O satisfy us with thy mercy, and that soon : so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
  15. Comfort us again now after the time that thou hast plagued us : and for the years wherein we have suffered adversity.
  16. Shew thy servants thy work : and their children thy glory.
  17. And the glorious majesty of the Lord our God be upon us : prosper thou the work of our hands upon us, O prosper thou our handywork.

GLORIA

This psalm is titled ‘A Prayer of Moses the man of God’. Some commentators think this was not the same famous and familiar Moses, but the evidence is much stronger for believing that this was indeed the great leader of Israel. This is the only song of Moses in the psalms, but there are two other songs in the Pentateuch (Exodus 15 and Deuteronomy 32), as well as the blessing of the tribes of Israel in Deuteronomy 33. If we connect it with any particular time in the life of Moses, the best suggestion is the time described in Numbers 20. “The historical setting is probably best understood by the incidents recorded in Numbers 20: (1) the death of Miriam, Moses’ sister; (2) the sin of Moses in striking the rock in the wilderness, which kept him from entering the Promised Land; and (3) the death of Aaron, Moses’ brother.” (James Montgomery Boice) this psalm is divided into sections:

(verse 1) speaks of Yahweh the refuge and protection of His people.

(verse 2) talks about the eternal origin of Yahweh.

(verse 3) The judgment of the eternal God.

(4-6) God’s perception of time and our perception of time.

(7-8) God’s judgment on their open and secret sins.

(9-11) Man’s frailty understood against the eternity of God.

(13-17) Praying for mercy and blessing.

The Holy Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 22, beginning to read from verse 34.

When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”‘? If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The hymn ‘Rejoice, the Lord is King’, sung to the tune ‘Gopsal’.

Once again, we are indebted to Chris Limb for this week’s reflection on the bible readings.

Today’s Gospel reading begins hot on the heels of an altercation which Jesus recently had with some of his critics, and which ended with his opponents, a team of Sadducees, being seen off with a flea in their ear, much to the amusement of the onlooking Pharisees.

In the complex patchwork of religious and political life in first-century Judaea, the Pharisees and Sadducees were rival factions who enjoyed nothing better than being able to score points off each other. And so we can perhaps sense some of the hooting and ‘high-fives’ that were going on amongst the Pharisees as they gleefully watched their rivals storm off in a huff.

It’s against this background, brimming with back-slapping and ‘bonhomie’, that one of their number decides to ask Jesus a question. It’s not the usual trip-wire-laden ‘poisoned chalice’ type of question they usually preferred to throw at him. Not the type of question designed to explode in his face and get him into heaps of trouble whichever way he chooses to answer it. By contrast, this is a comparatively ‘soft’ question. Almost on a par with the sort of thing a government minister might ask his ‘Right Honourable Friend’, during Prime Minister’s question time. It isn’t a hard question by any means. The sort of thing anyone remotely familiar with Jewish Law could answer without breaking into a sweat:

“What is the most important commandment in the Law?”

And, not surprisingly, Jesus replies without any hesitation whatsoever:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. This is the first and most important commandment.”

He’s actually quoting from verse 5 of the 6th chapter of Deuteronomy. And then, by way of something of a bonus, Jesus throws in another piece of Scripture, this time from Leviticus chapter 19, verse 18, to describe the second-most-important commandment:

“Love others as much as you love yourself. All the Law of Moses and the Prophets are based on these two commandments.”

So there it is. ‘Love God, and love your fellow man’. This is safe ground. Nothing controversial here at all.

Our Moslem brothers and sisters would stand shoulder to shoulder with us in full agreement on this point. Often referred to as the “Golden Rule”, it is a point of commonality, and expressed in one form or another by most of the world’s great faiths.

But then, quite ‘out of the blue’, Jesus decides to mix things up a bit by ‘throwing a curve ball’ into the midst. He begins, quite innocuously, by asking their opinion of the Messiah:

“What do you think about the Messiah? Whose family will he come from?”

And, quite predictably, their immediate answer is:

“He will be a son of King David “

Of course, what other answer could there be?

And then Jesus quotes from Psalm 101, a psalm written by David himself, which describes The Lord addressing “My Lord” (meaning the Messiah).

And then he hits them with it right on the chin!

“If David called the Messiah his Lord, how can the Messiah be a son of King David?”

It must have been one of those shocked, ‘double take’ moments:

“Say. What was that again?”

In a deeply rooted, patriarchal society, which taught as second nature a great reverence for one’s ancestors and forefathers, the idea of someone as significant as King David showing such awe towards one of his descendants would have been unimaginable.

Surely this Pharisee must have read this passage before. After all, he and his colleagues prided themselves with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. Had it never occurred to him to consider its full implications?

Isn’t it true? The moment we believe we’ve got it “all sewn-up and figured-out”, that’s the same moment we’re almost guaranteed to have overlooked something very important.

The truth is, Jesus wasn’t really a descendant of King David; a fact we’ll be exploring in a few weeks’ time, as we read again the Christmas stories as told by both Matthew and Luke.

Joseph, husband to Mary, was himself a direct descendant of King David, and although he doubtless provided the boy Jesus with all the love and care which only the best of fathers could have given a son, Joseph was not Jesus’ father. Jesus had no human father. He was literally the Son of God. What do we make of that idea? What would the average ‘man in the street’ in first-century Judaea have made of this? In that culture, it was of the greatest importance for people to understand their roots; their ancestry, where they came from. This sense of inherited continuity being passed down from one generation to the next. Now, unlike anyone else who’s ever been born, Jesus came into the world directly from God. His roots, his ancestry were with God Himself.

As John wrote in the opening verse of his Gospel:

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

The Gospel writer, having a stab at trying to describe the indescribable. How Jesus “The Word” had always existed as One with God; He was, is, and always has been: God.

The moment He was born in that stable in Bethlehem, God Himself became a human being.

“The Word became flesh,” as John says in verse 14 of the same chapter.

It’s an interesting way of putting it. Words are important, aren’t they?

We’ve heard the phrase “Your word is my command”; a statement of complete loyalty (perhaps by a very eager employee to their boss, or by a soldier to his commanding officer) expressing a willingness to make real, to put into effect the spoken word; the uttered command.

Or what about the written Word? An author may have the most wonderful ideas, the most fascinating stories in her head, yet that’s exactly where they’ll remain. Unknown and unread until she puts pen to paper, or her typing fingers to a keyboard! Expressing those same thoughts and inspirations; making them real, giving them substance and making them available to anyone with “eyes to see and ears to hear”.

This is really what is meant by the Incarnation.

As the thought becomes tangible, a written word on a page, so God Himself became a human being in the form of the Lord Jesus.

Indeed, one of His titles, Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”, acts as a pointer toward this truth.

Which begs the question: Why on earth would God go to so much trouble, bearing in mind all the pain and heartache Jesus endured throughout his ministry, culminating in the anguish he suffered on the cross? Why would God go through all of that? What was His motivation?

Well, it really comes down to one word.

As the nineteenth century poet and hymnwriter Christina Rosetti so poignantly wrote:

“Love came down at Christmas, Love all lovely, Love divine, Love was born at Christmas”.

That’s it. It all comes down to Love. The Love of God given physical form in the person of Jesus.

Which brings us back to this morning’s Gospel passage, with Jesus reminding those very self-satisfied Pharisees about the two most important of God’s commandments.

During the Last Supper, as He sought to prepare His disciples for all the trauma which lay ahead, John records in verse 34 of chapter 13 that Jesus said these words:

 “But I am giving you a new commandment. You must love each other.”

Now at first glance we might question these words. Why is Jesus calling this a ‘New’ Commandment? How can it be new? Surely, it’s a very old commandment, written centuries earlier in the book of Leviticus. True, it’s not an easy one to keep, but new? It’s the next few words which Jesus says that make all the difference:

“You must love each other, just as I have loved you.”

Jesus’ entire life was about love. The love of God for a lost and floundering humanity. A love expressed in total self-giving and self-sacrifice. We talk of God’s love for humanity, yet God deals with each of us as individuals. To him we’re not merely faceless statistics. We are each of us unique and beloved by him. As the German aviator and pastor, Dieter Uchtdorf, once wrote:

“Though we are incomplete, God loves us completely. Though we are imperfect, he loves us perfectly. Though we may feel lost, God’s love encompasses us completely. He loves each one of us; even though we are flawed, rejected, awkward, sorrowful or broken.”

Such a mind-blowing, challenging love lived out by Jesus. But how can we possibly follow such an example? Hasn’t he raised the bar too high? Humanly, we’re going to fail miserably. We don’t have it in us. Yet isn’t the resounding Gospel message that with God, all things are possible? If we seriously yearn to follow Jesus’ command, then we surely need to ask him for his help.

In verses 14 and 16 of the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus describes his disciples, and therefore you and I, in these challenging words:

“You are the light for the whole world. Make your light shine so that others will see the good that you do and will praise your Father in heaven.”

Elsewhere, according to verse 12 of the 8th chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus describes himself as the “Light of the world.”

So, surely, it’s about our allowing that self-same light and love to shine through us in all the things we do and say.

Perhaps these current times of uncertainty are really presenting an opportunity for us to ask him to reveal to us fresh ways in which his love may be made known through us to those around us.

Amen.

Chris Limb

Our anthem today is Samuel Sebastian Wesley’s masterful setting of ‘Blessed be the God and Father’, with its central message to ‘love one another with a pure heart, fervently’.

Let us pray for the needs of the world, and for our deliverance from all that is evil.

Heavenly Father, we pray for the infants and children of our world. We give thanks for the joyous and happy times they bring to their friends and families. We pray that they are receiving all the guidance, protection, love and care they need, and that they may prosper and grow into adulthood freely, able to realise their full potential and enjoy the world which surrounds and awaits them.

We also pray for all young adults, workers and students, and for those about to embark on new courses and careers. We give thanks for the teachers, lecturers and employers who have helped support them in their endeavours until now. We pray that they will be able to maintain and develop a happy and just life, and enjoy the comfort and support of their colleagues, friends and relations.

In addition, we ask you to remember the needs of the more elderly members of our society. Support those who are approaching the end of their careers, who have become redundant, or who have already embraced retirement. We give thanks for the lives of anyone who has recently died, and we pray that they may enjoy a new life in your heavenly kingdom.

We remember our brothers and sisters of all ages who may be suffering from any sickness of body or mind. We pray for anyone who may be experiencing any kind of trouble, sorrow, adversity or bereavement; and for all who are suffering injustice or oppression of any kind. We give thanks for all those whose responsibilities include comforting and caring for the sick, maintaining our laws, working in one of our emergency services or leading us in spiritual matters.

Lastly, we offer the prayer that our Saviour Christ taught his disciples, as we say together:

Our Father, who art in heaven; hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses; as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom; the power and the glory; for ever and ever. Amen.

May the blessing of God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit; rest upon us all, now and evermore. Amen.

Our final hymn today is ‘Love of the Father, Love of God the Son’, sung to Song 22.

1 Love of the Father, love of God the Son,
From whom all came, in whom was all begun;
Who formest heavenly beauty out of strife,
Creation’s whole desire and breath of life.

2 Spirit all-holy, thou supreme in might,
Thou dost give peace, thy presence maketh right;
Thou with thy favour all things dost enfold,
With thine all-kindness free from harm wilt hold.

3 Hope of all comfort, splendour of all aid,
That dost not fail nor leave the heart afraid:
To all that cry thou dost all help accord,
The angels’ armour, and the saints’ reward.

4 Purest and highest, wisest and most just,
There is no truth save only in thy trust;
Thou dost the mind from earthly dreams recall,
And bring through Christ to him for whom are all.

5 Eternal glory, all men thee adore,
Who art and shalt be worshipped evermore:
Us whom thou madest, comfort with thy might,
And lead us to enjoy thy heavenly light.

The organ voluntary today Mozart’s Fantasia in F minor (for mechanical clock) played by Balázs Szabó at the Palace of Arts Budapest, from a live recital held in 2008.

At the console:

Or follow the score here (same performance):

Sunday 18th October 2020 – 19th after Trinity – 20th after Pentecost

Welcome to our Harvest Festival!

(from an anonymous 17th century Sermon)

Please be gentle with yourselves and others. We are all children of chance,

And none can say why some fields blossom while others lie brown beneath the harvest sun.

Take hope that your season will come. Share the joy of those whose season is at hand.

Care for those around you. Look past your differences.

Their dreams are no less than yours, Their choices in life no more easily made.

And give. Give in any way you can. Give in every way you can.

Give whatever you possess. Give from your heart.

To give is to love, To withhold is to wither.

Care less for the size of your harvest than for how it is shared,

And your life will have meaning; And your heart will have peace.

A Prayer for today.

Almighty and everlasting God, who has graciously provided for us the fruits of the earth in their season; We give you humble and hearty thanks for your bountiful gifts; beseeching you to give us the grace to use them for your glory, and for the relief of those in need; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Today’s worship begins with the Introit Hymn, ‘To thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise’, sung to the tune ‘Golden Sheaves’.

1 To thee, O Lord, our hearts we raise
In hymns of adoration;
To thee bring sacrifice of praise
With shouts of exultation.
Bright robes of gold the fields adorn,
The hills with joy are ringing,
The valleys stand so thick with corn
That even they are singing.

2 And now, on this our festal day,
Thy bounteous hand confessing,
Upon thine altar, Lord, we lay
The first-fruits of thy blessing;
By thee the souls of men are fed
With gifts of grace supernal;
Thou who dost give us daily bread,
Give us the bread eternal.

3 We bear the burden of the day,
And often toil seems dreary;
But labour ends with sunset ray,
And rest is for the weary;
May we, the angel-reaping o’er,
Stand at the last accepted,
Christ’s golden sheaves for evermore
To garners bright elected.

4 O blessèd is that land of God,
Where saints abide for ever;
Where golden fields spread fair and broad,
Where flows the crystal river:
The strains of all its holy throng
With ours to-day are blending;
Thrice blessèd is that harvest-song
Which never hath an ending.

We bring our prayers of Adoration and Confession

We acknowledge that God is the Lord.

Almighty God, whose glory the heavens are telling; the earth your power and the sea your might; and whose greatness all creatures proclaim: to You belong all glory, honour, might, greatness and splendour, now and for ever, world without end.

We confess that we have not always lived as the Lord’s people.

Almighty God, we admit that we have done wrong; we have lived as if we ourselves were in charge of our lives; we have gone our own way, rebelled against you, withheld our service. We have wasted your gifts, forgotten your love. This is the sin of the whole world, Father, and it is great; it is our sin, and we now confess it.

We remember that God is a loving Lord.

Just and kind as a father is to his children, so are you, O Lord, to those who honour you. You forgive the misdeeds of your people when they confess their sins, and as they return to the right path. King of all worlds, Immortal, Invisible, One and only God, all honour and glory be yours for ever and ever. Amen.

The Old Testament Lesson is from the book of Ruth, chapter 1, beginning to read from verse 22.

So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.” Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” Then she said, “May I continue to find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.”

The Hymn, ‘All creatures of our God and King’, sung to the tune ‘Lasst Uns Erfreuen’.

The Epistle today is written in the 1st letter of Paul to the Corinthians, chapter 3, beginning from the 1st verse.

And so, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but rather as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for solid food. Even now you are still not ready, for you are still of the flesh. For as long as there is jealousy and quarrelling among you, are you not of the flesh, and behaving according to human inclinations? For when one says, “I belong to Paul,” and another, “I belong to Apollos,” are you not merely human?What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labour of each. For we are God’s servants, working together.

The Gradual Psalm today is Psalm 65, from ‘A Ceremony of Psalms’, sung by the choir of King’s College Cambridge in particularly festive mood!

  1. THOU, O God, art praised in Sion : and unto thee shall the vow be performed in Jerusalem.
  2. Thou that hearest the prayer : unto thee shall all flesh come.
  3. My misdeeds prevail against me : O be thou merciful unto our sins.
  4. Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and receivest unto thee : he shall dwell in thy court, and shall be satisfied with the pleasures of thy house, even of thy holy temple.
  5. Thou shalt shew us wonderful things in thy righteousness, O God of our salvation : thou that art the hope of all the ends of the earth, and of them that remain in the broad sea.
  6. Who in his strength setteth fast the mountains : and is girded about with power.
  7. Who stilleth the raging of the sea : and the noise of his waves, and the madness of the people.
  8. They also that dwell in the uttermost parts of the earth shall be afraid at thy tokens : thou that makest the outgoings of the morning and evening to praise thee.
  9. Thou visitest the earth, and blessest it : thou makest it very plenteous.
  10. The river of God is full of water : thou preparest their corn, for so thou providest for the earth.
  11. Thou waterest her furrows, thou sendest rain into the little valleys thereof : thou makest it soft with the drops of rain, and blessest the increase of it.
  12. Thou crownest the year with thy goodness : and thy clouds drop fatness.
  13. They shall drop upon the dwellings of the wilderness : and the little hills shall rejoice on every side.
  14. The folds shall be full of sheep : the valleys also shall stand so thick with corn, that they shall laugh and sing.

GLORIA

The Gospel Reading is from St. John, chapter 6, beginning to read from verse 35.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

The Hymn, ‘We plough the fields, and scatter, sung to the tune ‘WIR PFLÜGEN’.

We are indebted to Jenny Carpenter who has chosen this week’s readings and who now provides us with this reflection upon them.

“So Naomi returned together with Ruth, the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.” Bethlehem translates as ‘House of Bread’. In the powerful book of Ruth, it justifies its name.

Naomi, her husband Elimilech and their two sons had moved to the neighbouring country of Moab, because of a local famine. But now, some years later, Naomi, desperately homesick, and seeing no future for an ageing woman on her own in Moab, has returned. Her only hope for the family’s future resides in Ruth, as Naomi is now past child-bearing age. This is a story of female love and loyalty between two gutsy women, one of whom is a foreigner; and the mixture of admiration and pity that their plight evokes in a male relative, who is prepared to go to considerable lengths to secure the happy ending. Ruth’s grandson, David, will become the celebrated king of Israel; and Ruth is cited by the gospel writers as an ancestor of Jesus himself. Do read the book of Ruth for yourself. It’s only four chapters long!

The barley harvest is pivotal. The Mosaic law requires that when you reap your harvest, you leave some grain in the corners of the field. Anything missed from the sheaves is to be gleaned by the poor and the alien. Ruth makes the most of this opportunity. Boaz is concerned not only that she gleans enough for herself and Naomi, but also that she is not harassed by the workmen and, moreover, is entitled to a lunch break. This story is an indictment of many current agricultural practices, notions of land ownership, working conditions and employment insecurity. Not least it challenges our own attitudes toward foreigners who arrive in our own country, wanting to work for themselves and their families, but who are then prevented from doing so, until and unless their applications for asylum are granted.

The second part of Psalm 65 exults in the fruitfulness of the earth. It’s all about the efficacy of rain and rivers. The psalmist recognises that human beings depend upon reliable weather patterns, and praises God for them. Again, an indictment of our intensive agriculture. Overgrazing, excessive use of fertilisers and the clearing of forests have contributed hugely to climate change and loss of biodiversity.

Jesus, in John chapter 6, claims: “I am the Bread of Life”. Bread, whether made from barley or wheat flour, was the national staple food then, and grain of one kind or another is still a basic part of most people’s diet today. When we ‘feed on him in our hearts by faith and with thanksgiving’, we are gaining essential spiritual nourishment. But we can ‘feed’ on Christ in numerous ways; not only when we gather together as a congregation at a service of Holy Communion. According to John, Jesus goes on to say, “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” There are echoes here of the welcome and encouragement Boaz gave to Ruth. Wherever bread is shared, readily and joyfully, Christ is there to bless. The couple at Emmaus, recognised the risen Christ, as invited into their home for supper, bed and breakfast, he took the bread, gave thanks and broke it to share between them. Similarly, others will glimpse Christ when the dignity of being ‘bread-winners’ is accorded to them, or when we are able to accept food or gifts graciously from those who have very little to spare. It is so important that people forced by necessity to use foodbanks are treated with respect; encouraged to give as well as receive; and to share how they have learned to make a little go a long way, and to feed a family on a tight budget. We will all need to develop resilience in the face of Covid 19 and the climate emergency, and adapt our lives accordingly.

Paul, in writing to that far-from-perfect church at Corinth, is genuinely distressed at the way they have split into factions and lost sight of the centrality of Christ. They need to get back to basics. To the milk of the Gospel. They aren’t strong enough in the faith to cope with the rich fare of the finer points of doctrine! He goes on to point out that it is dangerous to ally oneself too closely with a particular minister of the gospel. They are only servants of God after all, with specific but different functions in building up the church. “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.”

There we have it. It is God who enables growth of every kind. Therefore we offer our thanks and praise to God at this, our virtual, though rooted, Harvest Festival!

Jenny Carpenter

This week’s Anthem is a setting of ‘Nun Danket Alle Gott’ by Johann Pachelbel, sung by the Wartburg Choir.

German version (original)                  English Text written for Birkdale School’s Centenary Service by Douglas Jones, Sheffield Cathedral, 2004

Nun Danket alle Gott,                                                    Sing to the Lord our God!

Der grosse Dinge tut an allen Enden;                        Worship and thanks to the Father be given,

Der uns von Muter Leibe an lebendig erhalt          who with the Son and Spirit be ever adored,

Und tut un salles Guts.                                                   Who mighty deeds hath done!

Er gebe uns ein frohlich Herz                                        Render now with joyful voices the honour due to Him.

Und verleihe immerdar Friede, Friede                      Come and praise the King of Heaven: Alleluia!

Zu unsern Zeiten in Israel,                                             With all God’s people upon the earth,

Und dass seine Gnade stets bei uns bleibe,            May we pray now that He will bring us salvation,

Und erlose uns, solange wir leben.                            And we pray for peace among all the nations.

Nun danket alle Gott,                                                     Now thank we all our God,

Mit Herzen, Mund and Handen,                                 With hearts and hands and voices,

Der grosse Dinge tut                                                       Who wondrous things hath done,

An uns und allen Enden,                                                In whom his world rejoices;

Der uns von Mutterleib,                                                 Who from our mother’s arms

Und Kindesbeinen an,                                                    Hath blessed us on our way

Unzahlig viel zugut                                                          With countless gifts of love,

Und noch jetzund getan.                                               And still is ours today.

We bring our prayers of intercession.

 Heavenly Father, we pray for the hungry and the homeless, the broken and bereaved. For all for whom this day brings sadness and little joy. For the lonely and the helpless, and for those whose hope has been shattered, or faith destroyed.

We pray for the struggling and the oppressed. For those without the power to negotiate or bargain. For all whose work goes unrewarded or whose produce is undervalued. For any who feel unwanted, or who believe their skills are no longer needed.

We pray for all who struggle to change the system, striving for justice and fair trade. For those who try to overcome political blindness and public insensitivity. For all who influence our thinking, our buying and consuming. For all who formulate policy and manage the market. For fairness and compassion in all walks of life.

Lastly, we pray for responsible stewardship in our using of your world. For sustainable consumption as well as production. For care for creation and compassion for each other.

Merciful Father; accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour Christ taught us, we are bold to say:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name; thy kingdom come; thy will be done; on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

We say ‘The Grace’.

May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.

The Final Hymn today is ‘Come, ye thankful people, come’, sung to the tune ‘St. George’s, Windsor’.

The Organ Voluntary is César Franck’s famous, ‘Pièce Heroïque’, played by Jean-Baptiste Dupont, on the Cavaille Coll organ in the Basilique Saint-Sernin de Toulouse.

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Sunday 11th October 2020 – 18th after Trinity – 19th after Pentecost

Today’s worship begins with the Introit ‘Let thy merciful ears, O Lord’, by Thomas Mudd, sung by the choir of Clare College, Cambridge.

A Prayer for Today

God of Aaron, Miriam, and Moses,
you stayed the hand of your wrath
when we fell into idolatry and discord;
and when we forgot our deliverance,
your love for us remained unchanging.
Transform us and our world
into a place of justice, love, and peace.
Welcome us to your wedding feast
where all are invited to be gathered in. Amen.

The Old Testament Lesson is from Exodus, chapter 32, beginning from the 1st verse.

When the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said to him, “Come, make gods for us, who shall go before us. As for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Take the gold rings from the ears of your wives, your sons and your daughters, and bring them to me.” So all the people took off the gold rings from their ears, and brought them to Aaron. He took the gold from them, formed it in a mould, and cast an image of a calf; and they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a festival to the LORD.” They rose early the next day, and offered burnt offerings and brought sacrifices of well-being; and the people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.

The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshipped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'”

And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

The Hymn, ‘Praise, my soul, the King of heaven’, sung to the tune Lauda Anima.

The Epistle of Paul to the Philippians, chapter 4, beginning at verse 1.

Therefore, my brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown; stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women; for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

The Gradual Psalm is Psalm 23, sung to a chant by Douglas Jones in A, recorded at his wedding on 22nd July 1995 in All Soul’s Church, Blackman Lane, Leeds, sung by a choir of his dearest friends.

Dominus regit me

  1. THE Lord is my shepherd : therefore can I lack nothing.
  2. He shall feed me in a green pasture : and lead me forth beside the waters of comfort.
  3. He shall convert my soul : and bring me forth in the paths of righteousness, for his Name’s sake.
  4. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil : for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff comfort me.
  5. Thou shalt prepare a table before me against them that trouble me : thou hast anointed my head with oil, and my cup shall be full.
  6. But thy loving-kindness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life : and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

GLORIA

The Gospel Reading is from the book of Matthew, chapter 22, beginning to read from verse 1.

Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests. “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The Hymn, ‘Thy hand, O God, has guided’, sung to the tune ’Thornbury’.

The Reflection on today’s bible readings has been written by Elizabeth Draper. Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your thoughts with us.

Psalm 23, which we have just heard sung, is the best known of all the 150 psalms. You can see why: its neat length, the completeness of the message, the beauty of the language and the comfort of the thoughts. It is no surprise that it is the psalm that almost everyone knows, or knows of; the most quoted and referenced over the years.

Paul’s advice to the Philippians is similarly a beautiful and comforting exhortation. Think beautiful thoughts, behave honourably, and the peace of God will be with you.

The Old Testament reading, however, shows how easy it is to go off the path that we know we should follow. The Israelites in the desert, wondering what has become of Moses, their leader, and not sure that he will return to them, put their trust in something more immediate. They make, or get Aaron to make for them, an idol; and they are prepared to give up valuable possessions like gold rings to create it. 

What are the false idols that allure people today? We probably wouldn’t worship a golden calf, but there are certainly people who worship gold or wealth. Possessions, power, fame. These are, and always have been, the false idols that tempt people into harmful ways. We might call an addiction to drink or drugs a false idol too. The addict does not worship the substance but is in thrall to the habit.

There is nothing wrong with things like money or power in themselves; they can be used to do good for society. Think of Andrew Carnegie or Bill Gates who gave their vast wealth to humanitarian or social causes. Or of reforming rulers and parliamentarians, who used their position to bring about the end of slavery, or the provision of free elementary education, or universal suffrage; and of those who continue to work to reform injustices all over the world today. Neither is there anything wrong in taking pleasure in beautiful possessions, so long as it does not become obsessive or vain.  Fame, too, may come about honourably, perhaps as a result of having special talents which are recognised and admired by other people, and which give delight to them; or which encourage people to think and respond creatively. 

It is when these goals are sought for their own sake that they become false idols; the hoarding of money; the misuse of power; the vacuous ‘celebrity’; because then they stem from, and perpetuate, false values. They encourage greed, selfishness, envy, antagonism, conflict. This creates division instead of working in unity for the common good, and a narrow self-centred vision of the world instead of seeing humanity as a brotherhood and sisterhood.

Contrast this with the picture of society Paul gives to the Philippians. He tells them to let their thoughts dwell on whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, commendable; and the peace of God will guard their hearts and minds. He contrasts this with the destruction in store for those whose minds are set only on earthly things.

But it’s difficult to avoid these earthly ways of thinking. Some 200 years ago, William Wordsworth wrote, ‘The world is too much with us. Late and soon, getting and spending, we lay waste our powers’. Advertising and mass-manufacturing have created an appetite, and modern media exert even more pressure on us today. In particular, the social media seem hard to resist, especially for young people. Facebook, Twitter and the newer platforms, I can’t keep up, encourage boasting and competition, which leads to envy and lying, and the spurious notion of success by having thousands of anonymous followers. It’s an unreal world, but it can create real anxiety and distress.

I find the Matthew story difficult to interpret. The punishment of the wedding guest who wasn’t appropriately dressed seems unduly harsh. I think his offence was that he did not appreciate what he was being offered, the true nature of the feast he was invited to. We are invited to follow the pattern of Jesus. And unlike the addict who is enslaved by his damaging habit, we are invited, not compelled, to follow. Jesus tells us, ‘My service is perfect freedom.’ 

The Israelites, in the wilderness, lost their trust in Moses as their leader and turned to other gods. Paul’s letter by contrast is full of his unshakeable trust in Christ. ‘The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything. Pray and give thanks and speak to God.’ He is confident that God is listening, and the peace of God will follow. The same confidence in the guidance, support and protection of the Lord is also the essence of Psalm 23. Let us hold fast to that trust.

Elizabeth Draper

This week’s Anthem is a setting of part of the Epistle reading: ‘Rejoice in the Lord alway’, an anonymous sixteenth century setting, formerly attributed to John Redford.

Let us pray for ourselves and for God’s people throughout the world.

Lord of all, you know my every thought and action; you are there when I arise every day and when I lay down to sleep; you follow my journeyings and prepare my resting places, and are acquainted with all my ways. Thank you, Lord, for being my anchor, my compass and my guiding light. Amen.

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.

Ever-watchful Lord; guard the lives and homes of all your people. Protect those who labour and support any who are seeking employment at this time or who have become redundant. Bless them with your many gifts and your loving-kindness. Comfort those who are sick in mind or body; and be with those who care for them and treat their afflictions. Stretch your arms around the dying and bereaved and welcome the souls of the departed into the joy of your heavenly Kingdom. Give hope to all your faithful servants and reward them well as they strive to do their best for you in all things. Merciful architect, help us to build your house exactly as you designed it, so that it may become complete in your eyes, and that our labours in your vineyard shall forever bring forth the finest fruit. This we pray for the sake of our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Lord Jesus Christ, we thank you for all the benefits that you have won for us; for all the pains and insults that you have borne for us. Most merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

Before the ending of the day, Creator of the world, we pray

That you, with steadfast love, would keep your watch around us while we sleep.

From evil dreams defend our sight, from fears and terrors of the night;

Tread underfoot our deadly foe, that we no sinful thought may know.

O Father, that we ask be done, through Jesus Christ, your only Son;

And Holy Spirit, by whose breath our souls are raised to life from death. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer.

As our Saviour Christ taught us, we are bold to say:

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

We say ‘The Grace’.

May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, evermore. Amen.

The Final Hymn today is ‘The King of Love my Shepherd is’, sung to the tune ‘Dominus Regit Me’.

The Organ Voluntary is William Mathias’ ‘Processional’, played by Nick Moore on the Princethorpe College organ built by Binns of Leeds.

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Choral Eucharist – URC Order 4

Setting: Mass for 5 Voices (William Byrd)

Preacher: Revd Dr David Stec

SUNDAY 4th October 2020 – 17th after Trinity – 18th after Pentecost

Our previous communion service was taken from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, but today’s service appropriately follows the Fourth Order for Holy Communion of the United Reformed Church. As before, a suitable choral setting by William Byrd has been used, from his Mass for Five Voices, This is sung by the Tallis Scholars, and for any of you who would like to join them, music is provided! Optional spoken parts of the service have been added experimentally, read by digital voices. Please feel free to use these, or read the sections in your own preferred way.

Opening Sentences

This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord; for God’s love endures for ever.

Prayer of Approach

Let us pray. Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

HYMN: Christ, whose glory fills the skies (tune: Ratisbon)

1 Christ, whose glory fills the skies,
Christ, the true, the only Light,
Sun of Righteousness, arise,
triumph o’er the shades of night;
Dayspring from on high, be near;
Daystar, in my heart appear.

2 Dark and cheerless is the morn
unaccompanied by thee;
joyless is the day’s return
’til thy mercy’s beams I see;
’til they inward light impart,
cheer my eyes, and warm my heart.

3 Visit, then, this soul of mine;
pierce the gloom of sin and grief;
fill me, Radiancy divine;
scatter all my unbelief;
more and more thyself display,
shining to the perfect day.

Confession of  Sin

Lord God most merciful, we confess that we have sinned, through our own fault, and in common with others, in thought, word and deed, and through what we have left undone. We ask to be forgiven. By the power of your Spirit turn us from evil to good, help us to forgive others, and keep us in your ways of righteousness and love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

In repentance and in faith receive the promise of grace and the assurance of pardon. Here are words you may trust, words that merit full acceptance: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.’ Your sins are forgiven for his sake. Thanks be to God.

The Kyries

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.

Gloria in excelsis

Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth. Lord God, heavenly King, almighty God and Father, we worship you, we give you thanks, we praise you for your glory. Lord Jesus Christ, only Son of the Father, Lord God, Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: have mercy on us; you are seated at the right hand of the Father: receive our prayer. For you alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord, you alone are the Most High, Jesus Christ, with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Prayer for Today

Holy God,
you love justice and hate oppression;
you call us to righteousness and not to exploitation.
Give us generous and loving hearts,
and eyes to see the splendour of your reign,
that we may live in truth and honour,
and praise you for the transformation of our lives,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A Lesson from the Old Testament – Isaiah 5:1-7

Let me sing for my beloved my love-song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, inhabitants of Jerusalem and people of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard that I have not done in it? When I expected it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and it shall be overgrown with briers and thorns; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the people of Judah are his pleasant planting; he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!

HYMN: Judge Eternal, throned in splendour (tune: Rhuddlan)

The EPISTLE – Philippians 3:4b-14

If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.

The Gradual Psalm: Psalm 80

Hear, O thou Shepherd of Israel, thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep :  shew thyself also, thou that sittest upon the cherubims.

2  Before Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasses :  stir up thy strength, and come, and help us.

3  Turn us again, O God :  shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.

4  O Lord God of hosts :  how long wilt thou be angry with thy people that prayeth?

5  Thou feedest them with the bread of tears :  and givest them plenteousness of tears to drink.

6  Thou hast made us a very strife unto our neighbours :  and our enemies laugh us to scorn.

7  Turn us again, thou God of hosts :  shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.

8  Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt :  thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it.

9  Thou madest room for it :  and when it had taken root it filled the land.

10  The hills were covered with the shadow of it :  and the boughs thereof were like the goodly cedar-trees.

11  She stretched out her branches unto the sea :  and her boughs unto the river.

12  Why hast thou then broken down her hedge :  that all they that go by pluck off her grapes?

13  The wild boar out of the wood doth root it up :  and the wild beasts of the field devour it.

14  Turn thee again, thou God of hosts, look down from heaven :  behold, and visit this vine;

15  And the place of the vineyard that thy right hand hath planted :  and the branch that thou madest so strong for thyself.

16  It is burnt with fire, and cut down :  and they shall perish at the rebuke of thy countenance.

17  Let thy hand be upon the man of thy right hand :  and upon the son of man, whom thou madest so strong for thine own self.

18  And so will not we go back from thee :  O let us live, and we shall call upon thy Name.

19  Turn us again, O Lord God of hosts :  shew the light of thy countenance, and we shall be whole.

GLORIA

The HOLY GOSPEL – Matthew 21:33-46

“Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

HYMN: My song is love unknown (tune: Love unknown)

Today’s Reflection has been penned by our own Revd Dr David Stec

Isa 5:1-7

Ps 80:7-15

Phil 3:4-14

Matt 21:33-46

Matthew 21:33-34 “There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit”

Jesus’s parable of the Vineyard (or the Wicked Husbandmen, as it is more traditionally known) is really more of an allegory than a parable. By that I mean that each of its details represent something in particular, and has a significance for understanding the parable, whereas in Jesus’s parables usually the parable as a whole makes a more general point.

In this parable, a householder planted a vineyard, let it out to tenants, and went to another country. When the season for the grape harvest drew near, he sent his servants to collect his share of the fruit. But his tenants beat and killed those servants, and likewise a second lot of servants. Finally, he sent his own son, thinking that the tenants would respect him, but they reasoned that he was the heir, and if they killed him, they would get his inheritance, so they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. So, asks Jesus, what will the owner of the vineyard do to those tenants? He will put them to a miserable death and let the vineyard out to other tenants who will give him the fruits in due season.

Here the vineyard represents Israel, the owner of the vineyard is God, the tenants are the chief priests and other Jewish leaders, and the servants are the prophets whom God sent to his people, who were persecuted and killed. The son and heir is, of course, Jesus. Instead of receiving him as messiah, the Jewish leaders would have him killed. Thus the parable announces judgment upon those leaders: the tenants will be put to death and the vineyard let out to other tenants, just as Jerusalem will be destroyed, and the old Israel will be replaced by a new Israel, that is the early church, as God’s people.

Some features of the parable seem rather implausible. Would the owner of a vineyard be likely to keep risking the lives of his servants and even the life of his own son, as described here? And would the tenants not have realised that even if they killed the heir, the vineyard would not be theirs, as it would still belong to the father, with whom one day they would have to reckon? On the other hand, the parable does reflect the situation in 1st century Palestine, in which large estates were often parcelled up and leased out to tenant farmers. I suspect that in its allegorical details, this parable reflects in large measure how the early church interpreted the events surrounding the rejection and crucifixion of Jesus followed by the beginnings and development of the Christian community.

If we were to look upon this parable simply as an allegory of the events which it represents, it would be of some historical interest, but it would not be very relevant to us today. However, I believe that it is possible to find in this parable a message which speaks to the people of God in every age. In this respect, it is the first two verses which are of crucial importance. The parable is to be found in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, with only small differences between them.

In Matthew’s version, it opens with the words: “There was a householder who planted a vineyard, and set a hedge around it, and dug a wine press in it, and built a tower, and let it out to tenants, and went into another country. When the season of fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants, to get his fruit.”

There are three things which particularly strike me here.

The first is the great care with which the owner did his work. He not only planted the vines, but put a hedge around the vineyard to separate it and protect it from wild animals, he dug a winepress, ready for the grapes to be trodden, and he built a tower that could be used by the vinedressers and those who kept watch against thieves. Everything was there in place for the vineyard to be up and working. If he had always intended to be an absentee landlord, he need not have made such a thorough job of creating it; he could easily have left much of the building work to the tenants. But he clearly took a great pride in his vineyard, and did everything that he would have done, if he had planned to cultivate it himself.

This second thing that stands out is that the vineyard was intended as an investment for the owner and his family. That is doubtless one reason why he made such a thorough job of setting it up. The purpose of the vineyard was to make a profit, and we can infer from the parable that the lease specified what proportion of the fruit was to be kept by the tenants, and what proportion was to go to the owner. One small detail of the parable that is unique to Matthew’s version is that the owner is referred to as a “householder”, whereas in Mark and Luke he is simply a “man”. The description of him as a “householder” adds just a little support to the thought that he was a family man, and the vineyard was an investment for the benefit of his whole family. He certainly had a son and heir, whom he involved in the business by sending him to collect the portion of the produce that was due to him.

The third thing that I particularly notice here is the great trust that the owner placed in his tenants. We cannot tell how well he had known them beforehand, or whether they were complete strangers to him. But he trusted them enough to leave his brand new vineyard in their hands, and to go and live abroad, confident that the tenants would honour the terms of the lease, and deliver his share of the fruit when it was due.

One thing that is very clear is that Jesus’s parable of the vineyard was very much influenced by Isaiah’s parable, which is our Old Testament  lesson, and in which Israel is thought of as God’s vineyard. Isaiah presents his parable as a love song concerning his beloved who had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. “He digged it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it”. Do these words not remind you of the great care taken by the man in Jesus’s parable in setting up his vineyard? Isaiah’s beloved too expected his vineyard to produce a profit: “He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild (more literally ‘bad’ or ‘stinking’) grapes.” So Isaiah declares that his beloved will tear down the wall of the vineyard and leave it to be trampled underfoot. As in Jesus’s parable, the owner of the vineyard is God, and the vineyard itself represents Israel. Isaiah concludes, “For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry!”

Similar imagery is to be found in Psalm 80, where Israel is compared with a vine: “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land.” The psalmist goes on to lament that the walls of the vineyard are now broken down, and those who pass by pluck its fruit, and the wild boar ravages it.

The essential message that we can take from all these biblical passages is that God entrusts his people with some tremendous resources, then waits for them to produce the fruit due to him. He invests much in the growth of his kingdom and each one of us is a part of that investment. By living the Christian life and sharing in the work of the church we can each contribute to the growth of his kingdom. Jesus, using the imagery of the vine, once put it like this, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15, verse 5)

It is very appropriate that the readings set by the Lectionary for today should be concerned with vineyards and vines, because today should be a communion Sunday for St Andrew’s. Our tradition of celebrating communion quarterly and at Easter means that every communion Sunday is a special occasion in the life of our congregation. Unfortunately, in the present situation caused by the corona virus, because we do not meet for public worship, it is not possible for us to celebrate the sacrament. The way things are progressing as the present time, it looks as though it may well be some considerable time yet before we are once again able to gather around the Lord’s table. This only means that when the day comes (as it surely will) when we can safely come together for worship, our first communion service will be all the more of a special occasion.

At the last supper, Jesus left his disciples with the promise, “I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26, verse 29) We await that day, and in the meantime we look forward to the day when we shall again drink of the fruit of the vine in the presence of Jesus as we observe the sacrament of the Lord’s supper at St Andrew’s.

Revd Dr David Stec

Prayers for the Church and the World

Almighty God, whose Spirit helps us in our weakness and guides us in our prayers; we pray for the Church and for the world in the name of Jesus Christ. We pray for the Church throughout the world. Renew the faith and life of the Church; strengthen its witness; and make it one in Christ. Grant that we and all who confess that he is Lord may be faithful in service and filled with his spirit, and that the world may be turned to Christ.

We pray for the nations of the world, for our own country, and all who work for reconciliation. Guide the nations in the ways of justice, liberty and peace; and help them to seek the unity and welfare of all peoples. Give to our Queen and to all in authority wisdom to know and strength to do what is right.

We pray for all who serve our community. Grant that men and women in their various callings may have grace to do their work well; and may the resources of the earth be wisely used, truth honoured and preserved, and the quality of our life enriched.

We pray for the sick and the suffering, victims of injustice, the lonely and the bereaved. Comfort those in sorrow; heal the sick in body or in mind; and deliver the oppressed. Give us active sympathy for all who suffer; and help us so to bear the burdens of others that we may fulfil the law of Christ.

We pray for our families, friends and neighbours, and for all who need our prayers. Keep us and the members of our families united in loyalty and in love, and always in your care; and may our friends and neighbours, and all for whom we pray, receive the help they need, and live in peace.

We remember those who have died. Eternal God, accept our thanks and praise for all who have served you faithfully here on earth, and especially for those dear to our own hearts. May we and all your people, past, present and to come, share the life and joy of your kingdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Invitation and the Gracious Words

All those present may be invited to share in the Lord’s Supper. Hear the gracious words of our Lord Jesus Christ; Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.

The Peace

The peace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with us all.

HYMN: O thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray (tune: Song 1)

1 O thou, who at thy Eucharist didst pray
That all thy Church might be for ever one,
Grant us at every Eucharist to say
With longing heart and soul, ‘Thy will be done.’
O may we all one Bread, one Body be,
One through this Sacrament of unity.

2 For all thy Church, O Lord, we intercede;
Make thou our sad divisions soon to cease;
Draw us the nearer each to each, we plead,
By drawing all to thee, O Prince of Peace:
Thus may we all one Bread, one Body be,
One through this Sacrament of unity.

3 We pray thee too for wanderers from thy fold;
O bring them back, good Shepherd of the sheep,
Back to the faith which saints believed of old,
Back to the Church which still that faith doth keep:
Soon may we all one Bread, one Body be,
One through this Sacrament of unity.

4 So, Lord, at length when sacraments shall cease,
May we be one with all thy church above,
One with thy saints in one unbroken peace,
One with thy saints in one unbounded love:
More blessèd still, in peace and love to be
One with the Trinity in Unity.

The Offertory

If you are partaking of your own bread and wine in your home, you are invited to offer this prayer of blessing:

Eternal God, we come with these gifts to offer our sacrifice of praise and the service of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Narrative of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper

Hear the narrative of the institution of the Lord’s Supper as it was recorded by the apostle Paul. I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

The Taking of the Bread and Wine

In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and following his example, we take this bread and this cup, and give thanks to God.

The Thanksgiving

Lift up your hearts. We lift them to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord our God. It is right to give our thanks and praise.

With joy we give you thanks and praise, Almighty God, Source of all life and love, that we live in your world, that you are always creating and sustaining it by your power, and that you have so made us that we can know and love you, trust and serve you. We give you thanks that you loved the world so much that you gave your only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him may not die but have eternal life. We thank you that Jesus was born among us that he lived our common life on earth; that he suffered and died for us; that he rose again; and that he is always present through the Holy Spirit. We thank you that we can live in the faith that your kingdom will come, and that in life, in death and beyond death you are with us.

Therefore with all the company of heaven, and with all your people, of all places and times, we proclaim your greatness and sing your praise.

Sanctus and Benedictus

Holy, holy, holy Lord God of power and might, Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in the highest.

Holy Lord God, by what we do here in remembrance of Christ we celebrate his perfect sacrifice on the Cross and his glorious resurrection and ascension; we declare that he is Lord of all; and we prepare for his coming in his kingdom. We pray that through your Holy Spirit this bread may be for us the body of Christ and this wine the blood of Christ. Accept our sacrifice of praise; and as we eat and drink at his command unite us to Christ as one body in him, and give us strength to serve you in the world. And to you, one holy and eternal God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, we give praise and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

The Breaking of the Bread

The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup saying ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.

The Sharing of the Bread and Wine

Before you take the bread, you may say:

Take, eat – this is the body of Christ which is broken for me; this I do this in remembrance of him.

Before you take the wine, you may say:

This cup, of which I drink, is the new covenant in the blood of Christ, shed for me and for many for the remission of sins.

Agnus Dei

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: Have mercy on us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sin of the world: Grant us peace.

The Acclamation

Let us praise the Lord. Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Blessing and honour and glory and power be to our God for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer after Communion

Most gracious God, we praise you for what you have given and for what you have promised us here. You have made us one with all your people in heaven and on earth. You have fed us with the bread of life and renewed us for your service. Now we give ourselves to you; and we ask that our daily living may be part of the life of your kingdom, and that our love may be your love reaching out into the life of the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

HYMN: Forth in thy Name, O Lord, I go (tune: Song 34)

Dismissal and Blessing

Go in peace to serve the Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be with us evermore. Amen.

ORGAN VOLUNTARY: Fantasia in Four Parts (Orlando Gibbons) played by Roger Goodwin on the Schmitt-Erz-Johannus Organ, Walferdange, Luxembourg

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