Call to Worship (Psalm 65: 1-2)
Praise awaits you, our God, in Zion;
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
HYMN 130 Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim
The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
long-suffering and ever faithful.
The Lord is good to all;
his compassion rests upon all his creatures.
God our Father,
your love is at work in all that you have made.
In your grace,
you renew us in the likeness of your Son.
Through your Spirit,
you touch our lives with hope.
Receive our worship,
setting us free to honour you today.
Holy God, giver of light and grace,
we have sinned against you
and against our fellow men and women,
through ignorance, through weakness,
and through our own deliberate fault.
We are sorry, we are ashamed,
and we repent of all our sins.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
forgive us all that is past,
and lead us from darkness
to walk as children of light.
Jesus died and rose again for us.
With humble hearts,
we receive his pardon,
and know his peace.
God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
from you alone come everlasting joy and peace.
Fill us with joy in your promises,
and send us out to be bearers of your peace;
through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Lord’s Prayer
Isaiah 55: 10-13
As the rain and the snow
come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
it will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.
You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper,
and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown,
for an everlasting sign,
that will endure for ever.’
Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23
That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. Such large crowds gathered round him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop – a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’
‘Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: when anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.’
HYMN 562 Through the love of God, our Saviour
Have you ever noticed how quick we are to rush into things? Humanity likes to charge ahead, rushing headlong on a course of action without pausing to think things through. As a species we are often guilty of the kneejerk reaction. It’s nothing new. At times we’ve even tried to legislate against it. The Kirk has also tried to mitigate against this reactive approach. Back in the seventeenth century it even passed an act to stop the General Assembly reacting impulsively, making sweeping changes, in response to current events. If you are curious it’s called the ‘Barrier Act’ (1697), and it is remains in force today.
It is said that, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”. That’s a particularly helpful phrase as it reminds us that the spiritual dimension of life is not exempt from this striving to do everything yesterday, if not sooner. In a sense that quote should serve as a warning to us that the church needs to slow down, or pause, to reflect before reacting. If we hasten into potentially ‘quick-fix’ approaches to attend to our perceived ills then there is the danger that the outcome will be worse than the initial problem. We need to learn to take our time. Our Bible readings today point us toward a longer term, slower, approach.
For many years we have been witness to a declining number of folk attending services within our congregations. We’ve seen the proportion of our membership who are of working age steadily reduce until we have reached the point where we are often seen as something for “older folk”. In some congregations that is truly the case while for others it is most certainly not. But is that really a problem? We have tried all kinds of programmes to address this issue. There have been a multitude of activities and courses that seek to draw people in. Many of these have been successful, especially when well used, and done in the right context. However, there is a significant weakness (isn’t there always?). Folk who come from without any Christian faith background, who then over a very short time find faith, tend not often to last for long. Joining the church and engaging in many of its activities keeps them busy but it misses something. If we may refer to such as ‘converts’ then we will find that they have a ‘shelf-life’! Research from one of the largest churches in the USA has shown that after around three years these folk move out, never to return. Perhaps that’s because we believe our role is to fill seats or pews, making converts along the way. Rather, our role is to make disciples, and that takes time. It takes lots of time.
This is where our readings from the prophet Isaiah and the Gospel of Mathew become relevant. In the writing of the prophet we have this striking image of mountains and fields “breaking forth in joy”, and the trees clapping “their hands”. It’s not to be taken literally as it’s to be taken as a metaphor. As such it is quite powerful. Mountains and trees do not spring up overnight. Geology teaches us that mountains are created, and changed, over a period of time beyond human experience. Botany also shows us that trees evolve and develop over the millennia, even if any individual tree lives for only a tiny fraction of this time. .These things do not happen overnight. The natural world does not exist as an instant reaction. If we turn to the Gospel we find the parable of the sower. Here we find that the seed that grows successfully is the one that needs nourishment and time. The seed that sprouts too quickly or is not nourished soon perishes. The parable reminds us that growth is not an overnight reaction.
This truth, that God takes time to grow each disciple into a mature believer is something we need to apply to each congregation. It requires great effort and many resources. More than these it requires time. We need to learn to take our time to prepare the ground, sow the seed, and nourish it. We need to take the lead from scripture and not from models of instant business success. Like the sower in another Bible story we may not see the harvest as perhaps that’s the role for others. Yet if we act in this way we will be acting in trust in God. Remember that the timeframe in which God operates is not the same as hours. We need to slow down, pause, and reflect. So, why the rush? Amen.
we rejoice in your blessings,
and trust in your love for all.
We now bring our prayers for the world.
We pray for the created world:
for those who rebuild
where things have been destroyed;
for those who fight hunger, poverty, and disease;
for those who have power
to bring change for the better and to renew hope.
We pray for our country:
for our Queen and her family;
for those who frame our laws
and shape our common life;
for those who keep the peace
and administer justice;
for those who teach,
those who heal,
all who serve the community.
We pray for people in need:
those for whom life is a bitter struggle;
those whose lives are clouded
by death or loss,
by pain or disability,
by discouragement or fear,
by shame or rejection.
We pray for those
in the circle of friendship and love around us:
children and parents;
sisters and brothers;
friends and neighbours;
and for those especially in our thoughts today.
We pray for the Church
in its stand with the poor,
in its love for the outcast and the ashamed,
in its service to the sick and the neglected,
in its proclamation of the Gospel,
in this land, in this place.
we give thanks to you
for the great community of faith
into which you have brought us:
for those who have kept safe our Scriptures,
gathered our songs,
built our sanctuaries,
and taught us to know and trust you.
Grant us grace in our day
to live as faithfully as they did,
and to provide as generously for our children,
until you bring us with all your people
into the fullness of your eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
to whom, with you, and the Holy Spirit,
be all praise and glory for ever.
HYMN 804 You shall go out with joy and be led forth with peace
Let us go in the peace of God.
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all
now and evermore
Scripture verses from: Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
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Prayers base on Church of Scotland Book of Common Order (1994), second morning service.