Seventh Sunday after Trinity - Sunday 26 July 2020

Collect

Generous God,

you give us gifts and make them grow:

though our faith is small as mustard seed,

make it grow to your glory

and the flourishing of your kingdom;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

Jesus put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.’

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.’

‘The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

‘Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

‘Have you understood all this?’ They answered, ‘Yes.’ And he said to them, ‘Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.’

This is the Gospel of the Lord
Praise to you, O Christ

 

Sermon  Revd Dr Fiona Haworth

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity:  26th July 2020
Sermon:  Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
‘The kingdom of heaven is like…’

I wonder what words you associate with the kingdom of heaven?  Words that are weighty and significant?  Words that are rich and brilliant?  Words that speak of abundance and opulence?  Words that speak of grace and fullness? 

Or do you instead think of words that speak of secrets and mystery?  Words that speak of chance and deviance?  Words that speak of effort and humility?  Words that speak of division and rejection? 

I suggest that the descriptions of the kingdom of heaven in the parables we have heard today fit in the latter collection of words rather than in the former. 

This is not an easy collection of parables to enter in to.  There is no narrative.  We are not settling down to listen to a story.  There is no inviting opening, ‘Once there was a man…’  There is no cast list.  They are not images that fit readily with our experience today.  Instead Jesus piles image on image, metaphor on metaphor.  It feels almost like a tower constructed by a child from uneven blocks, teetering somewhat.  Push too hard at any one image, and the whole edifice might come tumbling down.  Jesus is not inviting analysis, but rather attempting to catch us by surprise, knock us off balance, invite a visceral response that will transform our thinking from the inside out.  And by offering so many different perspectives he invites us to consider that no one idea of the kingdom of heaven will ever do it justice.

We probably have little experience of mustard seeds or making a bakery’s worth of bread in one go, three measures of flour would produce enough bread to feed a hundred people, this is the stuff of celebrations.  We might never have laboured in a field or cast a net into the sea.  These are not stories from our lives, but they would be familiar images to those Jesus spoke to from the boat pushed a little way out into the sea of Galilee, the setting for this collection of parables. 

So, what might the crowds have made of these parables, and how might we reconfigure them for today?

Let’s think about what the crowds might have heard when Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven.  Mustard seed was a pernicious weed.  No one in their right mind would go out and deliberately sow it.  It starts out small but if left unchecked takes over the whole field.  It might feed the birds of the air but offers little to a human diet.  Similarly, yeast is almost always associated with sin in the bible, regarded as a pollutant that contaminates food and causes it to go off.  Part of the preparations to celebrate the Passover involves removing everything that might contain yeast from the house.  So, the kingdom of heaven is invasive, hard to contain, difficult to eradicate, found in the things that are of no consequence or actively avoided?  God is at work out in the world in inconsequential, mysterious ways, concealed in the ordinary stuff of every day.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, found by sheer chance that prompts a labourer to sell everything to acquire it.  The kingdom of heaven is like a rare pearl that a merchant of great skill finds selling everything to purchase it.  The kingdom of heaven is of such great value that every effort should be bent towards acquiring it, yet it is also both a matter of luck and of learning, of accident and effort, a paradox that cannot be explained, only experienced.  Finding the kingdom of heaven, finding God at work in the world, requires us to take ourselves out into the world, out into the field of human labour and human endeavour, opening our eyes to the possibilities, bending our time, our energy, our efforts to the pursuit of God.  Notice that none of these parables locate the kingdom of heaven in a religious setting, instead they direct our attention outwards, force us to engage with the world.

The kingdom of heaven is like a drag net thrown into the sea catching fish of every kind, all jumbled together, good and bad, living in the ocean sustained by God’s grace.  The kingdom of heaven is here, now, in the ordinary and every day, in the unconsidered, disregarded things of the world, in the choices we make and the lives we lead, in the good we do and the harm we avoid.  And we may never recognise all the varied ways that God is at work in the world.  All we can do is be open to the signs, ready to be surprised by the mysterious imperceptible ways in which the kingdom grows, as we shape our lives in the way of Christ. 

The kingdom of heaven is like a scribe, who has studied long and diligently to recognise God at work in the world who is able to recognise both the new ways God’s mercy is springing forth, and the traditions that still hold life and offer them to the world.

What is the kingdom of heaven like?  Where have you glimpsed the kingdom of heaven in the ordinary and every day?

The kingdom of heaven is like wildflower seeds in ground disturbed by heavy traffic that bloom with vivid colour and scent, providing food for pollinating insects and beauty in a drab cityscape.

The kingdom of heaven is like the birdsong, heard again when the traffic was stilled by lockdown, that may, if we have ears to hear, call us back to the beauty of God’s world.

The kingdom of heaven is like a beggar at day’s end, sifting through the coins tossed on his coat and finding there a rare gold coin.

The kingdom of heaven is like a nurse who at the end of her 12 hour shift stays to sit with an elderly person dying alone on a Covid ward, holding a hand in her gloved one, and an i-pad to allow the family to say goodbye.

The kingdom of heaven is like a mother who, on discovering a dozen eggs in her foodbank box, says to her children, ‘Wonderful, we can have omelettes tonight.’

The kingdom of heaven is like an investigative journalist, who, at great personal cost, diligently researches human rights abuses and brings them into the light where justice might be done.

The kingdom of heaven is like a city filled with people, whose lives and decisions affect all those around them for good or for ill, and who will one day see God and recognise the impact of their choices and actions in this interconnected earth we call home. 

The kingdom of heaven is like those who seek God at work in the world and join in, building justice, peace and reconciliation to the glory of God and the flourishing of all life. 

What is the kingdom of heaven?  Look around you, look within you, listen for the pulse of God and let it quicken you with abundant life.

 

Intercessions, written by Leila Threadkell

In this time of uncertainty, let us come before our heavenly father, whose arms are ever outstretched to bring us comfort.

Loving God, our lives are constantly changing, and it is sometimes hard to see what even the next few weeks will bring.  Forgive us if at times our faith is weak and doubt sets in. We thank you that by your unfailing love, faith which may be as small as a mustard seed, can be nurtured and grown.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

As the restrictions on our lives start to ease, let us remember and hold up in prayer those countries where the Coronavirus is still increasing or where a second wave is being experienced. Loving God we bring before you the people of Brazil, India and the USA.

We give grateful thanks for Doctors, nurses and careworkers throughout the world who have worked so tirelessly to save lives, resulting in many losing their own.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

Loving God we pray for your Church worldwide, and for all church leaders who bring comfort to their people in these troubling and frightening times.

At Mancroft we thank you for the ministry of our clergy, Edward, Fiona, Lorna and Graham, and that of Gill our reader. We give thanks too for the contributions made to our church life this year by Michael and Becky. We ask for your special blessing upon Becky as she prepares to take up her place at University.

We thank you that our beautiful church is now open again and that services have begun there once more. We pray for that time when it will be safe to be fully operational again.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

Loving God, we pray for our Government, asking that you give them the wisdom to find the right way forward in balancing health and the economy. We pray for the owners of the many businesses small and large that will not reopen again as a result of the pandemic.  We pray too for all who have become unemployed as a result.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

God of compassion we lift up to you all, both young and old, whose mental health has suffered as a result of the lockdown. We think in particular of those who feel isolated and lonely and in need of a human touch.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

Loving God we pray for all families where lockdown has resulted in broken relationships, thinking especially of children caught between two unhappy parents.  We pray too for all families affected by domestic abuse, giving thanks for all organisations and charities who give help in these desperate situations.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

Healing God, we pray for all who are sick whether in body, mind or spirit. From our congregation we lift up to you Pam, Simon, Janet, Angela, Martin and Val.

We ask that you comfort them with the certain knowledge that you are with them and will not forsake them. We lift up to you also those who are known personally to us and are on our hearts, who need your healing touch.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

God of eternity we bring before you all whose earthly life has come to an end this week.  And at their years mind we remember, with love, Charles Sword, Dorothy Barber, Jack Gibson, Jennifer Billings, Robina McNeil, Valerie Salisbury, John Turner, Rebecca Tuddenham, Audrey Sunderland, Nick Galpin, and Albert Eagle. Bring comfort to those who mourn with the assurance that their loved ones are now safe with you.

Lord, hear us; Lord, graciously hear us.

Loving Father, as we face the aftermath of this terrible pandemic and enter into what for the foreseeable future will be the new normality, help us not to forget the good things that have come out of it: the kindness of strangers, the coming together of local communities and our increased appreciation of the world around us. Help us to see we have been given a second chance and show us what changes we need to make to our lives, what we should keep and what discard. Help us to appreciate what we have and to be satisfied. May we open our arms, our hearts and our lives to all in need.  Help us by the power of your Holy Spirit to make a real difference today and always.  Give us the desire to work to make our world a better and kinder place for future generations.

Heavenly Father. we ask that you accept these prayers in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Amen.