Jean-Francios Millet “The Sower”
The Peace of Christ be with you all.
Call to Worship –
We are like seeds on the wind, set free by the Sower.
The hand of God saves us from the rocky pathways and the thorny ground.
In Christ, we find good soil.
The Holy Spirit nourishes us as we grow.
Come! Let us worship the Sower, who plants us in the fields of life.
Great Sower, cast us like seeds upon the winds of your mercy, that we may grow in fertile ground.
Keep our lives from stony pathways, where the heat of life’s cares and strife strip our strength and vitality.
Protect us from thorny gullies, where the snares of life’s worries and fears block the sunshine of your Spirit.
Land us safely in rich soil, Master Gardener, and bless us with the kiss of gentle rain, that our faith may increase, and our joy may be complete. Amen.
AHB 59 We plough the fields and scatter (TIS 130)
Psalm 119: 105-112; Matthew 13:1-9,18-23
Prayer of Confession-
Gracious God, are you with us in the everyday complexities of our lives even when the seeds we sow might only be the best that are available to us at any given time and may not fall on perfectly fertile ground?
Are you there if our decisions are poor, our temptations confound us, our intuition is wrong, or if we are careless with our family and friends?
God, are you there when the seeds we sow are rotten?
When self-gain and ambition are what drives us; when we lie without batting an eyelid; when we are blind to injustice or contemptuous of the poor; and when we offer no hope for the future, are you there, O God?
God, are you there when we must reap what we have sown?
When the harm is done; are you there in the remorse and shame; in the regrets or in the contribution and apologies?
God, are you there for your imperfect people?
We yearn for forgiveness and renewal. Amen.
Scripture Reading- Romans 8: 1-11
Words of Assurance
God is always present in every circumstance, throwing the seeds of generous love around, letting them take root no matter the conditions. There is no place where God will not be present. Let this be our assurance – through Christ, our sins are forgiven (Romans 8: 1-2.) This is our peace. Amen.
Scripture Reading- Genesis 25: 19-34
Sermon – Struggling with opposites
You might think this is a title for last week’s Romans reading from chapter 7 dealing with inner conflicts, but Paul in Chapter 8 is writing of resolutions -decisions to set our minds on God’s way and not allowing human temptations to interfere with our confidence in God’s new life offered to us, overcoming sin and death through Christ’s work, not our human efforts to obey Law or find our own salvation.
This week the ‘opposites’ are the struggles we have with people who are different from us or with our different reactions to what we believe is God’s way forward for us – as individuals, as a church, as a nation.
Our Genesis lesson is a transition between the sagas of Abraham and Jacob (Israel) and repeats some of the themes from Abraham’s story. It can be seen as an explanation of ‘reality’ in the history of Israel – what is and has been because… but told from the perspective of Israel for the benefit of its community many years later. Note the literary devices of meanings of names – in Hebrew, Esau sounds like ‘hairy’, Jacob like ‘heel’, Edom like ‘red’. Both Isaac and Rebecca turn to God in prayer – requests to God and hearing God’s answers. It is also a cautionary tale of why favouritism in families and sibling rivalry become problematic for community. As such, it is as relevant to us today as it was centuries ago. Sadly, the rivalry of Israel and its neighbours, descendants of Ishmael and Esau, continues.
Another repetition is the difficulty of Rebecca to conceive. Walter Brueggemann notes a theme in Scripture is the barrenness of key women – Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Hannah and Elizabeth. It gives emphasis to God who allows these women to give birth eventually to key sons who will lead the descendants of Abraham. Rebecca had been married for 20 years before she gave birth to her twins. Brueggemann reminds us that it isn’t always a biological problem but a theological one in the stories – to highlight God’s ultimate care for God’s people, not a requirement for fervent prayer and bargaining. In her pregnancy, Rebecca experiences the struggle of opposites and a portend of the future in God’s answer to her prayer (Genesis 25:23). The struggle between the hunters/herders and the horticulturalists – the nomadic and the settled tribes – may reflect the history of humans more than God’s preference for human activity.
Even in the struggle between Esau and Jacob, and the tensions between Isaac and Rebecca, we find challenging truths. It is God who tells of the overturning of the tradition of primogeniture – the privileges of inheritance for the first-born. Don’t count on your ‘rights’ or entitlements for you are under God’s direction, not merely that of your human family. Esau is criticized for ‘selling his birthright’ for food when he was hungry, but it was Jacob who demanded that privilege as payment for what should have been a generous, hospitable gift to a hungry brother in that culture. Short-term gain but long-term pain results for both of them and their parents. Grace and generosity are missing from the story – rivalry and power over another engenders trouble for the future. Does it have to be this way? Wait for later instalments when God’s grace intervenes. What can you learn from this story for your family relationships?
The gospel story is probably very familiar to most of us. It is told in Matthew, Mark and Luke and is unusual because it moves from parable to allegory but for us as readers centuries later, our interpretation of the allegory turns it back to parable – an open-ended spiritual lesson to challenge us today. It is a lovely rich story for our imaginations – so try this please:
Take the rural, agricultural imagery of a farmer sowing seeds and move it into the city scape of a messenger of God working in a modern, concrete and steel city trying to interest people in hearing God’s word. There are those who are just too busy with other matters to even take the time to listen to a preacher. There are those who hear and respond for a short while, but their lives are rocky and troubled with many issues and their time runs out, too. There are those who respond but find other more interesting pursuits or ideas amidst the tantalising array offered today, and their other pursuits just take over their minds. There are those who are open and willing to hear the message and they delve deeper into it and find more rewards the deeper they listen to it and follow the directions given. Throughout it all, the preacher faithfully delivers a message from God for all the people.
The parable focuses on both the faithfulness of the preacher and on the human response to God’s word – it isn’t criticism of the quality of the ‘soil’ in different people but more about the different ways our lives at different times might be more closed or open to God’s message. Try to reflect on your spiritual path in life. When were you closed or too busy to hear God? When did other things choke off your spiritual life? When have you been fruitful or fulfilled in your service of God’s kingdom? When did you feel closest to God? When has your life been pretty barren, rocky or thorny?
The beauty of the parable is in its ending – the great, bountiful harvest depicted. Now we are told, most farming yields of that time were between 7-10 fold but Jesus tells the story of 30, 60 and 100 fold yields. This is GOOD NEWS – the response to God and the rewards are beyond your imagination. No matter how awesome the powers of evil around us seem, despite the opposition and the pain of rejections, the Christian faith reminds us that God is in control ultimately. The suffering God – God with us – in Jesus Christ struggles beside us and for us, because God’s Spirit dwells in us (Romans 8:11).
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Let us pray the July prayer by Rev David Baker: Loving God, as we move into a new world of relating and sharing life, give us forebearance with one another. May your Spirit also empower us to give practical support to those who have lost much over the past few months and face an uncertain future. Amen.
AHB 337 Your words to me (TIS 430)
- A) Cheques to be made out to ‘St Lucia UCA Parish account’ and posted to 7 Hawken Dr, St Lucia Qld. 4067, please. OR
- B) direct deposit to ‘St Lucia Uniting Church’ BSB: 334 040 acct#: 553 842 259 (St George Bank)
Master Gardener, as you have sown our lives in a rich and fertile soil,
may we bear much fruit through our giving. With these offerings, may your realm be brought to earth, as we plant seeds of hope in the fields of life.
Bless our gifts and our ministry, that the world may reap a harvest of generosity and love. Amen.
Prayer of Intercession –
God of generosity, as we live in this world, we see things going pear-shaped:
Injustices that punish the defenceless; decisions that disadvantage the poor and words that hurt the vulnerable. We realise you place in our hands seeds that can turn these things around.
May we plant peace in places of turmoil and conflict.
May we offer real alternatives to feuding and rivalry as we live in your way of justice and righteousness.
May we plant compassion in places of despair.
May we be ready to offer acts of kindness to people in need.
May we plant hope in places where hope has worn thin.
May we offer a place of safety for those who feel vulnerable and encouragement to those who have lost heart.
May we plant real seeds in the degraded earth, nurture them until they take root and grow into forests and grasslands and bushland that ring with the trilling of birds and the scuffling of echidnas.
Make us generous with your seeds of life.
Encourage us to hurl them around with great abandon, at all times and in every place. This is our prayer. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer-
Pray the Lord’s Prayer.
AHB 93 God is Love (TIS 153)
Let us go to be people of generosity, who, with great abandon, throw and sow seeds of goodwill, kindness, and peace wherever we travel.
May the seeds we sow grow and multiply to become flourishing fields of generous communities who bring hope, peace and joy to the world.
Let us dwell in the abundant love of God, the generous grace of Christ and the rich purpose of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Resources used in this service include Words for Worship year A 12th July,2020 by MediaCom (subscription of Rev Dr Elizabeth Nolan) and The Abingdon Worship Annual 2020 edited by Mary Scifres and B.J. Beu, Abingdon Press, Nashville USA (owned by EN); and The Australian Hymn Book multiple copies owned by the St Lucia Uniting Church congregation. Copyright license 217268.
Our message this week