Service for the Seventh Sunday after Trinity
[Keep a moment of silence, calling to mind that, though we are unable to gather together, we share fellowship as a Church family as we offer this short act worship in our own homes]
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: graft in our hearts the love of your name, increase in us true religion, nourish us with all goodness, and of your great mercy keep us in the same; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Matthew 13. 31-33,44-52
A reading from the Gospel of St Matthew.
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.’
We have not just one but five parables in today’s Gospel reading. Each story begins with the words, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like...’
Kingdom and kingship are important theological concepts in the scriptures. Among the many names of God in the Old Testament ‘King’ is one of the most important. It proclaimed his sovereignty as creator and ruler of all.
The ‘Kingdom of heaven’ has a special prominence in St Matthew’s Gospel. Luke and Mark refer instead to the ‘Kingdom of God’, which means the same thing. But Matthew, whose Gospel is addressed to a mainly Jewish readership, chose not to write ‘God’ out of a deep reverence for the divine name.
The parable of the mustard seed has echoes in the English proverb, ‘Mighty oaks from little acorns grow’. Mustard seeds weren’t the smallest seed that the people knew about, but it epitomised smallness in common speech. People would talk of something tiny or insignificant as being as ‘small as a mustard seed’. Our modern day equivalent would be to say, ‘as tiny as an atom’. The mustard plant referred to in the Gospel was different to the one we know today. It produced a large shrub and attracted birds that would feast on its small black seeds. The parable also echoes Ezekiel’s great vision of God’s kingdom as a great tree that draws the nations of the world into its branches. [Ezekiel 31.6]
The parable of the yeast, or the leaven, draws again from everyday life. Bread was a staple part of the diet and was almost always baked at home. The ‘leaven’ was a piece of dough that was set aside. It then fermented to provide the yeast for the next day’s bread. A family would need at least three daily portions of leaven. Here the leaven is likened to the life giving power of Christ and his kingdom. It’s why St John, in his Gospel, has Jesus claiming to be ‘The Bread of Life’.
The story of the treasure in the field refers to the age old practice of hiding money or treasure in the ground, for there were no high street banks in the Bible lands of the first century. But if the owner died or forgot where the treasure had been buried it was lost until someone chanced upon it. In the story it was of such value that the person who found it sold all that they had to buy the field, becoming its legal owner.
The parable of the costly pearl follows a similar theme. Pearls were very much prized at the time and the trader in the parable, on seeing an exceptionally beautiful one, again sold all that he had to own it for himself. He was not anxious, for he had found the greatest treasure of all. To paraphrase some words of a famous Passiontide hymn, the treasury of love revealed on the cross ‘demands our soul, our life, our all’. In finding the kingdom of heaven we are never disappointed.
The final story takes up the theme of judgement. The net in question was a ‘drag-net’, which was trawled through the Sea of Galilee by fishing boats. The resulting catch would inevitably contain fish that could be eaten and fish that would have to be thrown back into the sea. The parable is similar to last week’s ‘Wheat and the darnel’ story. It reminds us that, ultimately, the response we make to the kingdom of heaven is something that we will be judged for. In the meantime, as the wheat co-exists with the darnel, the good fish with the inedible fish, the kingdom has to coexist with the world. In a similar way, during these challenging days of pandemic, we are learning to coexist with Covid 19, until the time we are liberated from it.
We often think of Christian discipleship as a cross to be carried, for it’s the way of saving love. But our parables today also remind us that the kingdom of heaven is a treasure so wonderful that it calls us to surrender our all in order to possess it. If we dare to do this we will become like the Scribe who recognises treasure in what is both new and old. It’s why our Lord said, ‘I have come to give you life, life in all its fullness’ [John 10.10], and why he invites us to be his kingdom people.
Father in heaven, we reflect today how your kingdom is revealed to us in the common and everyday things of life: a mustard shrub, someone baking bread, someone digging up a field, a fisherman casting a net. Help your church to witness to the ways you encounter us in daily life and to reveal the riches of your kingdom of sacrificial love.
Lord, hear us.
Father, when your word is opened, it gives light and understanding. Increase our understanding and awe of your creation; guide the work of scientists and researchers, especially those seeking a vaccine or treatment for Coronavirus. May we live as grateful and healing stewards of the earth.
Lord, hear us.
Father, as the birds of the air nest in the branches of trees, gather the nations of the world into the welcoming shade of your merciful reign. Direct the leaders of nations to build trust with each other, to respond wisely to the challenges of the global coronavirus pandemic and to walk in the ways of justice and peace.
Lord, hear us.
Father, your Spirit helps us in our weakness. Give comfort to the dying, refuge to the weary, justice to those who are oppressed, and healing to the sick/
Lord, hear us.
Father, in you our lives are never lost. We bring to you those who have died recently and all who mourn. Strengthen us by the inspiring witness of your people in all times and places. Embolden our witness now and one day gather us with all your saints in light.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.
Prayer for those who are unable to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion
In union, O Dear Lord, with the faithful at every Altar of your Church, where your blessed Body and Blood are being offered to the Father, I desire to offer you praise and thanksgiving. I present to you my soul and body, with the desire that I may ever be united to you. And since I cannot now receive you sacramentally, I invite you to come spiritually into my heart. I unite myself to you, and embrace you with all my soul. Let nothing ever separate me from you, and let me live and die in your love. Amen.
[Keep a moment of silence for spiritual communion with the Lord and with our brothers and sisters]
God is working his purpose out, as year succeeds to year:
God is working his purpose out, and the time is drawing near:
nearer and nearer draws the time, the time that shall surely be,
when the earth shall be filled with the glory of God,
as the waters cover the sea.
A C Ainger [1841–1919]
Keep us, good Lord, under the shadow of your mercy in this time of global pandemic and uncertainty. Sustain and support the anxious and fearful, and lift up all who are brought low; that we may rejoice in your comfort knowing that nothing can separate us from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The Lord bless us and keep us; the Lord make his face to shine on us and be gracious to us; the Lord look lovingly on us and give us his peace; now and for evermore. Amen.
Bible Readings: New Revised Standard Version  - Word of the Lord: Church in Wales - Intercessions: Lutheran Church [adapted] - CCL Parish Copyright Licence: 753662