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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church for Sunday 15 October 2023
Today’s service is led by the Revd Wayne Hawkins
Call to Worship
No matter your name you have a place here. Every name equally valuable. Every name holding the sacred. No name is greater and no name is less important. Every name is spoken and heard and the one behind that name loved and held dear. Let us worship.
Jesus calls us here to meet him as, through word & song & prayer, we affirm God’s promised presence where his people live and care. Praise the God who keeps his promise; praise the Son who calls us friends; praise the Spirit who, among us, to our hopes and fears attends.
Jesus calls us to confess him Word of life and Lord of all, sharer of our flesh and frailness, saving all who fail or fall. Tell his holy human story; tell his tales that all may hear; tell the world that Christ in glory came to earth to meet us here.
Jesus calls us to each other, vastly different though we are; creed and colour, class and gender neither limit nor debar. Join the hand of friend and stranger; join the hands of age and youth; join the faithful and the doubter in their common search for truth.
From the moment we awake to face the day ahead, you are with us, through good times and bad, Your presence enough for our needs.
Through the hours of the day, in our travels, study and work, you are with us; in decisions and choices we must make, Your wisdom enough for our needs.
At the end of the day when we lay down to rest, you are with us, as we lay our fears at your feet, Your peace enough for our needs.
God of all creation your love present in the beginning of all things, reaches throughout all history and touches our lives. Your love sees failings and forgives. Your love feels pain and wipes away our tears. Your love knows grief and comforts the sorrowful. When we fail to live lives that reflect your love. Or we take for granted all that you have done for us. When we trample over others in order to get our own way. Through your Spirit, transform and empower us to live lives full of love, Amen
Hymn I’m Not Ashamed to Own My Lord Isaac Watts sung by Nathan C George and Family and used with his kind permission.
I’m not ashamed to own my Lord, or to defend his cause, maintain the honour of his Word, the glory of his Cross.
Jesus, my God! I know his name, his name is all my trust; nor will he put my soul to shame, nor let my hope be lost.
Firm as his throne his promise stands, and he can well secure what I’ve committed to his hands ’til the decisive hour.
Then will he own my worthless name before his Father’s face, and in the new Jerusalem appoint my soul a place.
Reading Matthew 22:1-17
Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
“Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
“But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city. “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. So go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ So, the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, the bad as well as the good, and 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 wedding clothes. He asked, ‘How did you get in here without wedding clothes, friend?’ The man was speechless.
“Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
HymnFor Everyone Born a Place at the Table Shirley Erena Murray (1966) Hope Publishing Co sung by the Beyond the Walls Choir
For everyone born, a place at the table, for everyone born, clean water and bread, a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing, for everyone born, a star overhead.
And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace: yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice, justice and joy.
For woman and man, a place at the table, revising the roles, deciding the share, with wisdom and grace dividing the power, for woman and man, a system that’s fair.
For young and for old, a place at the table, a voice to be heard, a part in the song, the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled, for young and for old, the right to belong.
For queer and for straight, a place at the table, for trans and for gay, a welcoming place, a rainbow of race and gender and colour, for queer and for straight, the chalice of grace.
For everyone born, a place at the table, to live without fear, and simply to be, to work, to speak out, to witness and worship, for everyone born, the right to be free.
Beyond our understanding You alone are God; You speak to a world of brutal rule and shallow indifferences, of arms fairs and reality shows: may the one who came to sit at table with the victimized and excluded disturb our barren peace and call us to another feast where only love may rule; through Jesus Christ, the bridegroom. Amen 1
Frequently in film, literature and drama, weddings are the setting for a joyful resolution, when lovers overcome the many hurdles on their journey to the altar, or the final scene in an unfolding tragedy. The same in scripture – in the Hebrew Scriptures Isaiah imagines a feast of fine wine and choicest food where God overcomes death and invites people from every nation to one table. And Jesus, when he imagines God’s reign will end history, it is a story of a king hosting a splendid wedding feast. The banquet is ready, everything is prepared and the king, perhaps somewhat self-contented, summons the guests to attend. Surprisingly, some simply ignore the invite and head out of town. Others beat the king’s messengers and so the king sends an army to wipe out the invited guests. And in their place, he invites guests from the highways and byways, both good and bad.
Matthew, Luke and the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas recount this same parable but with different outcomes. In Luke, the stand-in guests are the poor, disabled, blind and lame, the epitome of Luke’s Jesus. In the Gospel of Thomas there is nothing very elaborate but a simple dinner. The guests refuse the invitation because it conflicts with their business interests and offshore investments.
A number of years ago my wife and I were invited to attend a garden party at Buckingham Palace. The invitation came “The Lord Chamberlain is commanded by Her Majesty…” Along with the invitation came instructions about what to say if you are greeted individually, where to park and importantly the dress code for the day. As you can imagine the dress code necessitated some serious shopping, not least for a new hat. The day was sunny and warm as we parked along the Mall and my wife held on to her new hat. In the garden party itself we stood on the grass, while members of the Royal Family walked along the paths towards the marquee where they too would have tea. We watched as the late Prince Philip came our direction and we overheard his conversations. “Where are you from?” “What do you do?” I had already nudged my wife to point out someone not conforming to the dress code and the Duke noticed too. “Where’s your hat?” he asked, “has it blown off?”
Thankfully no-one was asked to leave the Buckingham Palace garden party and the day went off smoothly. The helpful thing about parables is that they rarely answer our questions, or certainly not directly. However much we want to read them like a divine version of the Morse code, they behave more like dreams or poems instead, delivering their meaning in images that talk more to our hearts than our heads. Parables are mysterious, and their mystery has everything to do with their longevity. Left alone, they teach us something different every time we hear them, speaking across great distances of time and place and understanding.
A parable washes over you like a wave full of life and light, but an explanation lets you know where you stand. An explanation gives you something to work with, a tool with which to improve yourself and the condition of the world.
No one can say for sure how accurate a reporter Matthew is, but one thing is certain: He warms up to any parable that has to do with judgement and decision! Matthew is the street preacher with a sandwich board shouting at passers-by “the end of the world is coming!” When compared to the simpler – perhaps earlier – versions of this parable Matthew’s uncomfortable re-telling may point to his intention.
Of all the gospels, Matthew is the only one who waxes eloquent about the end of the world, the only one who mentioned furnaces, weeping and gnashing of teeth. His is the only gospel that tells the story of the foolish and wise virgins, or the separating of the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the weeds. It is Matthew who adds the details about war against those who reject the invitation and the party-pooper who gets turned out of the party. Matthew is the only gospel writer who appears to want a clear-cut creation, in which things are black or white, good or bad, faithful or faithless, in or out. The conflict with the original guests and reference to fire might allude to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD. So Matthew tries to pull Jesus’ teaching forward into the new circumstances that for his community have been hard to handle. And in making the simple parable into an allegory stretches the time frame so that the banquet is served in the midst of the smouldering ruins.
On one hand the parable makes us apprehensive and on the other gives us reassurance. We read into the parable that not all who believe themselves to be guests at God’s banquet belong there. We see that the host will go to great lengths, and look in improbable places, to extend an invitation. This host is the same farmer who had a sheep that got lost. They left the ninety-nine in the wilderness and searched for the one. This is the same host as the farmer who scattered seed on the path, among the thorns, on stony ground and in good soil. This is the same host who when the harvest needed bringing in and everyone – whether they worked all day or just an hour at the end of the day – was paid the same. This is God’s table… We understand that the only credential good enough for life in the kingdom is transformation. We find comfort in the promise that the images of a destroyed city, a torn down holy place; a crucified messiah are replaced and overcome with images of wedding feast.
Life in God’s kingdom begins with an invitation, but that is not the conclusion. Accepting the invitation leads to a changed and transformed life. The unrobed guest does not show the changed life at the banquet, his downfall comes when asked by the host to explain his appearance and he has nothing to say. We are invited to find our place at the table in the words of Colossians “clothed yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”
HymnGreat is thy Faithfulness Thomas O Chisholm 1923 BBC Songs of Praise
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; as Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed Thy hand hath provided: great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest; sun, moon, and stars in their courses above join with all nature in manifold witness to Thy great faithfulness, mercy, and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow: blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
Prayers of Intercession
A prayer entitled “On earth as in heaven” from the 1986 URC Prayer Handbook, which focuses our attention on the gospel reading in Matthew.
Where are you, Jesus? Enthroned in glory? Receiving the alleluias of the saints?
Yes, Lord, that’s where you are for you are worthy to receive all honour and power.
Where are you, Jesus? Still washing our feet? Still in prison, still hungry, still without a home?
Yes, Lord, this is also where you are, for you have promised never to abandon your humble and poor.
Lord, whilst still longing to be with you as those who hunger no more and thirst no more; whilst cherishing the time when you will wipe away all tears from our eyes; help us never to lose sight of the vast need on earth for food, for shelter, for health and peace.
As in heaven one shout of praise resounds so on earth may we act as one to destroy the evils of greed and injustice, allowing your kingdom to come and your will to be done.2
When labels of traditional or progressive blind us to seeing the wisdom in others, clear our vision until we are open to change. As you call us; Lord, we come.
When powerful influences distract us or lead us astray, may we hear the quiet whisper of your wisdom. May our homes and routines be the territory of your kingdom, where your purpose guides, and your love rules. As you call us; Lord, we come.
When we stand against cruelty and unfairness or disease, we pray for the comfort and healing of your presence. As you call us; Lord, we come.
Thank you for the honour of being invited to your feast; transform and change us as by your grace we take our place.
We join together in saying the Lord’s Prayer:
Creator God, we bring to you what is already yours, for you to use our gifts and each of us as the givers to make your love known in your world. Amen
Hymn O Jesus, I have Promised John Earnest Bode 1869 sung by members of the Somerset Mendip Methodist Circuit
O Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end; be Thou forever near me, my Master and my Friend; I shall not fear the battle if Thou art by my side, nor wander from the pathway if Thou wilt be my Guide.
O let me feel Thee near me, the world is ever near; I see the sights that dazzle, the tempting sounds I hear; my foes are ever near me, around me and within; but, Jesus, draw Thou nearer, and shield my soul from sin.
O let me hear Thee speaking in accents clear and still, above the storms of passion, the murmurs of self-will; O speak to reassure me, to hasten or control! O speak, and make me listen, Thou Guardian of my soul!
O Jesus, Thou hast promised to all who follow Thee that where Thou art in glory there shall Thy servant be; and, Jesus, I have promised to serve Thee to the end; O give me grace to follow, my Master and my Friend!
God – Creator, Redeemer, Keeper, You have made us in your image.
Though we are many, through Christ we are one: each of us bringing gifts, skills, and passions, our individual selves in response to your call.
Bless us, this day, as we seek to be your people, loving and serving you, our neighbours, and all creation, as we pray your kingdom come.
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