Sunday Worship 16 July 2023

Order of Service

Below you will find the Order of Service, prayers, hymns and sermon for today’s service.   You can either simply read this or you can
 

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Sunday Worship from the United Reformed Church
for Sunday 
16 July 2023

 
Today’s service is led by the Revd 
Nicola Furley-Smith
 

Hymn    Thou Whose Almighty Word
John Marriott (1780-1825)  Scottish Festival Singers
 
Thou, whose almighty word
chaos and darkness heard,
and took their flight;
hear us, we humbly pray,
and where the gospel-day
sheds not its glorious ray,
let there be light.
 
Thou, who didst come to bring
on thy redeeming wing
healing and sight,
health to the sick in mind,
sight to the inly blind,
O now to all our kind
let there be light.
 
Spirit of truth and love,
life-giving, holy Dove,
speed forth thy flight;
move on the water’s face,
bearing the lamp of grace,
and in earth’s darkest place
let there be light.
 
Holy and blessèd Three,
glorious Trinity,
Wisdom, Love, Might;
boundless as ocean’s tide
rolling in fullest pride,
through the earth far and wide
let there be light.

 

Prayer of Adoration and Confession
 
Generous God, 
we praise you for the generosity in giving your word of life to us.
From the pages of Scripture we read your word.
In the life of Jesus we see your word.
In the power of your Holy Spirit we live your word.
Your word that is light in our darkness,
security in our confusion, hope in our exploration.
Your word that transforms our lives.
 
Generous God
may your Word be heard in our hearts that we might love you.

Generous God may your Word sound in our souls
that we might worship you.

Generous God may your Word echo in our mind 
that we might embrace you.

Generous God may your Word speak to our strength
that we might follow you. Amen.
 
Loving God, we ask for your forgiveness for the times we have blocked your voice by refusing to listen or ignoring your call.

Loving God, we ask that your spirit of wisdom will allow your voice to flow so that we may hear and know your word and respond to your call.

Loving God, we confess that at times we are afraid of what you may ask us to do afraid that your call will be too hard for us to respond to.

Loving God, Enable us to be all that we can be, to do all that we can do, to live in response to your love. Amen.
 
The Word of God in Christ Jesus
has set us free from the law of sin and death.
Therefore there is now no condemnation for you who are in Christ Jesus.
Your sins are forgiven; be at peace.  Amen.
 
The Lord’s Prayer
 
Reading  Isaiah 55.10-13
 
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
For you shall go out in joy,
    and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
    shall burst into song,
    and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
    instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
    for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
 
Reading  Matthew 13.1-9, 18-23
 
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach.  And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow.  And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil.  But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.  Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.  Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.  Let anyone with ears listen!’
 
‘Hear then the parable of the sower. When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away.  As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.’
 
Hymn    Seed, Scattered and Sown
Dan Feiten © 1987, Ekklesia Music sung by members of the Chapel of Kristus Aman Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, Malaysia and used with their kind permission
 

Seed, scattered and sown, 
wheat, gathered and grown,
bread, broken and shared as one, 
the living bread of God.
Vine, fruit of the land, 
wine, work of our hands,
one cup that is shared by all; 
the living cup, 
the living bread of God.
 
Is not the bread we break,
a sharing in our Lord?
Is not the cup we bless,
the blood of Christ outpoured?
 
The seed which falls on rock
will wither and will die.
The seed within good ground
will flower and have life.
 
As wheat upon the hills
was gathered and was grown,
so may the Church of God
be gathered into one.

 

 
Prayer of Illumination
 
O Lord, your Word is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path. Give us grace to receive your truth in faith and love, and strength to follow on the path you set before us; may your kingdom come and your will be done.In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
 
Sermon
 
It’s all about the soil, so say good gardeners.  Without good soil worked with compost, seeds cannot flourish. This is a story about soil, not seed.
 

  • The seed that lands where soil has become a pathway hardened from being repeatedly trampled on simply sits on the surface, waiting to become food for the birds.
  • The seed that falls on rocky soil has difficulty taking root because the soil inhibits the growth of roots because the roots can’t access the nutrients in the soil.
  • The seed that falls on ground covered in thorns stands little chance also because it’s competing with plants that are already well-established and more than a little invasive.

 
But the seed that falls on the soil, that has been prepared, tended and nurtured, turned over and loosened, until it is fine and replenished, it is this soil that enables the seed to thrive.
 
That’s why I say this is a parable about soil.  With the wrong soil there is failure.  But with the right soil, success.  
 
Let’s not beat about the bush here, pardon the gardening pun.  This means that the parable is really about us – those who hear the word of the kingdom. We are the soil.
 
I’m not a gardener.  I don’t have a single green finger or thumb. If people give me plants or flowers, they tend to be of the Lego variety.  
 
Surprisingly I have plenty of books about gardening.  So, I looked up soil. 
 
Soil, like us, is shaped by its environment. So, if soil is trampled on over and over and over again it becomes packed hard and is no longer fit for planting seeds. Trampled soil, says Jesus, describes those who have been walked on over, and over, and over again often develop a hardened exterior to protect themselves. Rocky soil, says Jesus, describes those who lack the staying power to deal with – well, rocky ground. As the saying goes when the going gets rough, they get going and retreat. The soil filled with thorns easily translates into our overcrowded lives – lives where there is no room in an already overplanted plot for anything more.
And the good soil? Wouldn’t it be great if it were as simple as buying a bag of ‘good soil’ at the gardening centre. Good soil is the result of hard work. It must be cleared of stones and pernicious weeds, fertilised and watered, dug and protected from trampling. The good ground in which the seed flourishes is well prepared and cherished and replenished, as seeds grow and draw on its nutrients. 
 
But this is not accidental good fortune. But good soil takes years to cultivate and how do we assess what shape our soil is in?
 
The parable, of course, doesn’t say anything about gardeners, simply sowers. Scattering seed was a relatively efficient way to plant a large field of grain. The parable describes a contemporary sowing method, known as broadcasting or scattering, in which the sower simply walks through the field throwing out handfuls of seed. Seeds which lands on good soil will do well, the rest will not. In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is depicted as one who sows. In Matthew, it is Jesus who sows the word of the kingdom and it is the disciples, too, who in turn will become sowers of the word.
 
In our contemporary world with mechanical drills and planters, where everything is much more precise, was the sower foolish? 
 
This is extravagant sowing – sowing seed wherever there was any hope that it might grow.  And despite the well-trodden ground, rocky soil and thorns, when harvest time came the yield showed  that the sower’s work had not been wasted. Of course it’s true that seeds landing on hard or rocky ground stand less of a chance of gaining root and thriving but it does, sometimes, happen. There are remarkable pictures of trees growing out of rocks and flowers that push up through the pavement. These tenacious plants offer signs that the word of the kingdom will continue to find a way to grow even on the days when we feel beaten down, or overcome by thorns, or at our rockiest.
 
The success of God’s work is certain. 
The background to this parable is the lack of receptivity that Jesus meets. In chapter 11 we hear that many who heard him did not repent; in chapter 12 others set out to trick him, creating an opportunity to accuse him; and in the section of chapter 13 which was not read in today’s reading some had become ‘hard of hearing’ as far as the message of the gospel was concerned. This, then, is one of a series of parables which Jesus seems to have told during the first year of his ministry, a time of difficulty and disappointment for the disciples. Jesus had told them that God had begun to rule in a new way. It must have been hard to believe that God would one day rule over ALL humankind. The disciples must have become as impatient as some of the more zealous Jewish people. Jesus was the greatest and best person they had ever known, and yet they saw that he was being regarded as an enemy by their own religious leaders. He was accused of blasphemy, of madness and of sorcery. By comparison very few people had any faith in him, and some even drove him away. Could Jesus succeed in a world where might ruled. But that is not the way of the Kingdom! 
 
Which is why I say this isn’t really a parable about the sower at all. Nor is it about the harvest in a general sense. It is concerned about preparing the soil for fruitfulness.
 
In the book of Isaiah, the prophet compares the fruitfulness of the Word of God with the annual marvel in the fields. Don’t we see every year, he says, the rain and the snow watering the earth, making it yield and giving growth to provide seed for the sower and bread for the eating. Well, you can be just as sure that God ‘s Word will succeed in what it was sent to do.
 
Jesus’ parable ends with a picture of fruitfulness.  He  reminds his listeners of God’s promises that his Word will be effective and that he will restore his own people to his love and joy.  Now do you understand why the preparation of the soil is so important? 
 
They should have known very well what Jesus was talking about. The Palestinian countryside should have given them enough clues. Growth is the only evidence of life.  From the seed there is a fine yield, if the soil is right. That is the rhythm of nature. And it is no less the rhythm of the Kingdom. 
 
Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is like the smallest seed in the world which grows and becomes a plant which is large enough for birds to take shelter under its leaves.
 
It was time for the monsoon rains to begin and a very old man was digging holes in his garden. What are you doing? his neighbour asked. Planting mango trees, was the reply.
 
Do you expect to eat mangoes from those trees? No, I won’t live long enough for that.  But others will.  It occurred to me the other day that all my life I have enjoyed mangoes planted by other people.  This is my way of showing them my gratitude.
 
But God’s Kingdom does not remain static. It grows. It grows in us and because of us and despite us. The yields described, thirty, sixty or a hundredfold, are infinitely greater than the yield grown by using the farming methods of Jesus’ day. However attentive we are, we cannot yield such a great harvest through our own strength. We can bear fruit in God’s world only through and with God’s help as we prepare ourselves as soil.
 
What do we need to do for the seed to take root in us for our own spiritual flourishing?
 
What does it mean to be good soil prepared to receive the word of the kingdom?
 
If there is any hope for the unproductive soil, it is that the sower keeps sowing generously, extravagantly, even in the least promising places. The sower scatters his seed carelessly, recklessly, seemingly wasting much of the seed on ground that holds little promise for a fruitful harvest. Jesus invests in disciples who look similarly unpromising. He squanders his time with tax collectors and sinners, with lepers, the demon-possessed, and all manner of outcasts. Yet he promises that his reckless sowing of the word will produce an abundant harvest. Jesus’ investment in his disciples shows that he simply will not give up on them, in spite of their many failings. We trust that he will not give up on us either, but will keep working on whatever is hardened, rocky, or thorny within and among us. 
 
Jesus’ approach to mission is quite at odds with our play-it-safe instincts. He gives us freedom to take risks for the sake of the gospel. He endorses extravagant generosity in sowing the word, even in perilous places. We may of course wonder about the wisdom or efficiency of his methods, but Jesus promises the end harvest will be a bumper crop beyond our wildest dreams.
 
Hymn    The Kingdom of God Is Justice and Joy
Bryn Rees (1973)  © 1973, Alexander Scott sung by the Rev’d Paul Robinson
 

The kingdom of God 
is justice and joy;
for Jesus restores 
what sin would destroy.
God’s power and glory 
in Jesus we know;
and here and hereafter 
the kingdom shall grow.
 
The kingdom of God 
is mercy and grace;
the captives are freed, 
the sinners find place,
the outcast are welcomed 
God’s banquet to share;
and hope is awakened 
in place of despair.

The kingdom of God 
is challenge and choice:
believe the good news, 
repent and rejoice!
God’s love for us sinners 
brought Christ to his cross:
our crisis of judgement 
for gain or for loss.
 
God’s kingdom is come, 
the gift and the goal;
in Jesus begun, 
in heaven made whole.
The heirs of the kingdom 
shall answer his call;
and all things cry “Glory!” 
to God all in all. 
 
Prayers of Intercession
 
Life-giving God
Let your seeds be scattered among us that, 
through us, your kingdom may grow.
 
Help us to be more like Jesus…. 
Help us to grow the seeds of your compassion and love
 so that our lives may be full of the freshness and the goodness
that springs forth from the enjoyment your Spirit inspires.
 
Lord, graciously hear us. 
 
Help us to see more like Jesus…. 
Give us eyes to see our lives from your perspective. 
Make us humble in tending to those in need.  
Help us to show them the light of your love all around and within them: 
the hungry, the despairing, the lonely, the homeless.  
May we champion the concerns of old, the young, the sick 
and of those unable to cope with life 
and ask that your kingdom will grow as we work amongst those whom society has failed.
 
Lord, graciously hear us. 
 
Help us to hear more like Jesus…. 
Give us ears to hear through the commotion of our world. 
Grant us the space to hear your still, small voice. 
Give us strength in the difficulties that we face 
especially in this time of global crisis and deep uncertainty. 
May we work and pray for the renewing of this battered earth 
and ask that your kingdom will grow in justice, love and peace 
fresh in the minds of leaders and people like.
 
Lord, graciously hear us. 
 
Help us to speak more like Jesus…. 
Give us lips to proclaim your message to the world; 
words of friendship and comfort; 
words of concern and love; words of joy and peace; 
words of challenge, provoking a deep response; 
words of good news, 
words of God. 
 
We pray for the United Reformed Church 
which is grappling with new ways of speaking your word 
and sowing seeds. 
May your spirit enable us to break down the barriers 
that separate us from one another 
so that we may bring your healing love 
into the lives of the peoples of our world.
 
Lord, graciously hear us. 
 
Help us to understand more like Jesus…. 
We pray for wisdom in our decision making. 
May our empathy touch the lives of those we that meet whose priorities are not the same as ours:
we pray for those hearts that are stony ground:
may they be opened up to you;
we pray for those hearts that are rocky ground:
may the way be cleared for you;
we pray for those hearts that are too burdened:
may the snares of their cares be untangled for you;
 
Let your seeds be scattered among us that, through us, your kingdom may grow. 
Amen. 
 
Offertory
 
Generous God,
giving abundantly more than we can know or ask, 
our promise is to justly share  ourselves in celebration of your word. 
Take our gifts to use in your service Amen.
 
Hymn    All My Hope on God is Founded
 

All my hope on God is founded;
he doth still my trust renew,
me through change 
and chance he guideth,
only good and only true.
God unknown, he alone
calls my heart to be his own.
 
Pride of man and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray his trust;
what with care and toil he buildeth,
tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.
 
God’s great goodness 
aye endureth,
deep his wisdom, passing thought:
splendour, light and life attend him,
beauty springeth out of naught.
Evermore from his store
newborn worlds rise and adore.
 
Still from Earth to God eternal
sacrifice of praise be done;
high above all praises praising
for the gift of Christ his Son:
Christ doth call, one and all –
ye who follow shall not fall.

Blessing

May God sow in you the seeds of an abundant harvest;
May Christ the Word be a lamp for your steps;
And may the Holy Spirit give life to you – body and soul.
We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
in the name of Christ. Amen.

 
 

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