|Lectionary||1st Reading||Psalm||2nd Reading||Gospel|
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
1 Kings. 3:5, 7-12
119: 57,72, 76-77
SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS
It is love at first sight for Jacob and Rachel when he first arrives to stay with his uncle Laban. But the relationship between Jacob and Laban could be described as ‘passive aggressive’ – family warmth and loyalty on the surface belied by secretive self-centred actions. Despite this, God blesses both families and eventually Jacob returns to Israel triumphant, with four wives, a daughter and eleven sons (tragically Rachel dies the following year giving birth to Benjamin). However, the family continues to be marked by the pattern of discord and trickery, which continues into the next generation who take it out on Joseph.
Today’s reading covers the 14 years it takes Joseph to earn first Leah (much to his dismay!) and then Rachel in marriage. In our time we struggle with the tradition of marriage as property rights. Why do we think it is fine to purchase land, but not OK to purchase people? Individual land ownership is a foundation of capitalism, but it still feels foreign to indigenous people. In Aotearoa New Zealand we have plenty of stories of colonists buying land from Māori tribes where the deal was underhand and promises not kept. Trickery casts long shadows of injustice. Genesis 29 is a glimpse into the relational impacts of bad-faith negotiation. What stories of injustice continue to shape life in your area?How do you understand the connections between our relationships with land, with one another, and with God?
The ‘eco’ line in Psalm 105 is verse 7: “He is Yahweh our God – ”
“His judgments govern the whole earth.” (HCSB)
“His judgements are in all the earth.” (NRSV & NIV)
“bringing justice everywhere on earth.”
This begins a set of three ‘history Psalms’ which retell the story of the people of Israel. 105 accentuates the positive while 106 and 107 are a litany of woe and disobedience. Through all our history, no matter what, God is our God, God is faithful and keeps covenant with us. Verse 7 is important because it takes God’s faithfulness and covenant commitment wider than just people. All the earth is under God’s justice and compassion.
This could be a powerful entry into prayers of intercession. Show images from around the world, including places and creatures of great beauty as well as images of environmental degradation and disaster. Pray for God’s judgement which is already alive and well in every corner of Planet Earth.
Romans Chapter 8 stands among the greatest texts of all time, and has a special place in Christian faith. A vast amount that has been, and could be, written on these words. For this brief comment I would like simply to sit with Paul’s description of the Spirit of God interceding for us with wordless emotion. The Greek word ‘groaning’ is also used for the cries of the slaves in Egypt in Acts 7:34, and is similar to word for the pain of childbirth (the King James used ‘travail’, e.g. John 16:21). In Romans 8 Paul tells of creation (v22), “we ourselves” (v23) and the Holy Spirit (v26), all groaning.
Eco Theology draws attention to the nearness of God and invites worship of a God passionate about all created beings, including the human ones. This is an important counterbalance to the dualism that sets the spiritual over and against the tangible. Our Reformed heritage placed the Word in the highest place, elevating logic expressed verbally, and devaluing the body and the earth. Paul’s theology of groaning is a window into God’s heart which is so very with us, so very present in our pain and our wordless cries. This is where “deep calls to deep” (Ps 42:7). This affirms the prayer of whales and sparrows, oak trees and lava. This affirms the prayer of infants (Ps 8:2), the disabled, and the forgetful who no longer make much sense when they talk; God still knows and God still hears, even without our words.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Kingdom Stories, Kingdom Secrets
In the middle of the Gospel of Matthew is Chapter 13 which is a ‘storehouse’ of Jesus wisdom. It tells and reflects on eight stories. It is worth reading the whole chapter, especially Jesus’ explanation of why he spoke in parables. If we are puzzled by his stories, Jesus seems to say – that’s the point! “Looking they do not see, hearing they do not understand” (13:13). I think we do wrong by Jesus when we try to ‘get’ his stories and sum them up in a neat ‘point’. These 8 stories are told to confuse us, to tease us. From the birds nesting in the tree to the weeping and gnashing of teeth they tantalise us with possible meaning.
Today’s reading includes 6 short stories, far more than anyone could possibly cover in one sermon. I’m guessing that when Jesus told them he filled them out as a master story teller would, and all Matthew gives us is the ‘potted summary’. Do they have anything in common? Taken together as a group of stories, what do we notice?
They’re a bit ‘Over The Top’. For goodness sake, no woman would make 50 pounds of bread, that’s outrageous! No one would sell everything just for a pearl, no matter how pretty it is. They contradict each other. The fish in the net story seems to say that God only wants some people and throws the rest away, while the storehouse story seems to say that everything is a treasure, old or new.
There’s a theme bubbling away about little and big; the seed, the yeast, the pearl are tiny things with a big impact. Which is perhaps our point of connection back to Solomon. Perhaps the little thing with the big impact is wisdom.
Some ‘eco’ questions to engage these stories:·
- What kind of wisdom do we need in 2023 to care for the planet?
- What is Jesus inviting us to ‘see and hear’ in the world around us?
- What are the small actions that have a big impact?
- Each story describes a dynamic ecosystem: a tree with birds nesting, a fizzing batch of yeast, fish and fishers. Where is God in the system? Explore an ecosystem approach to faith.
- Jesus describes the stories as expressing the “secrets of the kingdom” (13:11). In our care for the environment, what are the ‘kingdom secrets’ that the Spirit uncovers for us?
SECTION TWO: SERMON SUGGESTION
‘Little can be huge’
Focus Bible verses: the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, Matthew 13:31-33, “The kingdom of heaven is like …”
Key idea: Little things can have a big impact, such as seeds and yeast
Personal/Local connection: Tell a story of a local group or from your own experience of doing something small for the environment which has had a larger impact, e.g. an enviro school project, or a tree you planted, or a conversation you had. How are you seeing God at work in this? How might this experience become a parable of the Kingdom of Heaven?
– A children’s talk with yeast and making bread
– A children’s talk with seeds and plants
(e.g. photos to match the plant with the seed it grew from)
– Invite the congregation to discussion and/or write down a commitment to one action to care for the environment, e.g. writing a letter to their local supermarket asking about their policies to reduce plastic
SECTION THREE: ADDITIONAL MATERIAL
Call to Worship: Psalm 105:1-4
Give thanks to Yahweh, call on His name.
Shout about God to everyone!
Sing to God, sing praise!
Tell about all wonderful things God has done!
Honour God’s holy name;
You who seek Yahweh, rejoice and celebrate!
Lean in to the Lord and rely on God’s strength
Live every day in God’s presence.
Bi-lingual Call to Worship
Choose a language that is spoken by some members of your church. Look up Psalm 105:1-4 in Bible Gateway (or other online Bible) in that language. Copy and paste this into the Call to Worship, so that each line is said in both English and the other language.
When using another language in worship, keep sections short and people will enjoy the richness this brings.
Prayer of confession from Romans 8: 26-28
Spirit of God, help us in our weakness. We confess that we do not know how to pray. Spirit of God, pray for us. Groan for us when words run out, sigh for us when words are not enough. In this time of silence we let go of our words, for you hear our heart. (silent prayer)Spirit of Jesus, you know us. Deep calls to deep in your love. Bring us into the mind of God until we rest, forgiven, in God’s great purpose. Friends, we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Halleluia. Amen.
The Smallest Seed
A litany for children and all ages.
Should include actions.
Read it twice, so that people are confident with the actions the 2nd time.
The smallest seed, the mustard seed,
a tiny dot, it’s nothing much!
Can God use this, this tiny speck?
What could God do with nothing much?
Cup your hands, hold it tight.
Dig a hole, plant it well.
Give it love, give it light.
What will grow? Do you know?
Day by day, week by week
month by month, year by year.
Watch it grow, green and strong,
up and up, out and out.
God at work, God at play!
A bush, a tree, a home.
Come, birds! Make your nest.
Come, people! Sit and rest.
God is good! God is great!
A Children’s Talk on the Storehouse Parable : Matthew 13:52
Prepare: You need a box with something old (a rock, or a fossil if you have one), and something new (e.g. a flower bud. Talk about how old things are: ask the children how old they are, their parents are, and to guess how old you are! Ask the congregation how old the church is.
Tell the Jesus story:
You are learning. I am learning. Everyone here in the church is learning. We are learning the ways of God. Jesus called God’s ways the Kingdom of Heaven. And he told lots of stories to help people learn the ways of God. And he said that as we learn to live the Kingdom we are like someone who has a storeroom with cool things inside. Some of the things in the storeroom are really old. And some things are really new.
Bring out the box and get the children to open it and take out what’s inside. Discuss.
God’s incredible world is a treasure house. There are things that God made long, long ago, that are very old (you could name the oldest person in your church as an example!) and there are some things which are brand new. This rock is enormously old, millions and millions of years old. This flower is so new that it has not even been opened yet. What will it look like inside? We don’t know, it’s that new!
God is like that. God is older than the universe, and God is new every morning. And living in God’s ways means honouring the treasures that have been passed down through many generations, as well as the things that are bursting out brand new.
What new idea will you have today?
What new thing will you create today that has never existed before?
Pray for the children.