Yesterday in our service of Morning Worship Mr David Andrews introduced the Lectionary reading of Deuteronomy 34.1–12 with these words: “In our first reading we see Moses, from what is now Jordan, looking down over all of what is now Israel-Palestine. Would it make a difference to people there to be able to see the whole of the land from one place?”
There was a further deep question in our Gospel reading (Matthew 22.34–46), when one of the Pharisees wanted to try to trick Jesus, to see if he really knew what the Scriptures said, and asked Jesus “What is the most important commandment?”
David went on to say “Once again Jesus outlines the core of the good news in the Jewish scriptures as it is to be in the New Testament – love of God and each other – and in coded language talks of himself as being with God from creation. As the Law of Moses is the heart of the Jewish scriptures, the teaching of Jesus is its New Testament equivalent: both the Mosaic Law and Jesus command us to love our neighbour as ourself.
“But isn’t love an emotion we can’t control? You can’t tell someone what they must feel – you will love each other! No, for Jesus love is a conscious decision to seek the other’s well-being. The commandment is to seek that well-being as we would seek our own.
“Jesus was not the first to summarise the law as love for God and love for neighbour. It had already been used by the teacher Hillel who, when challenged to produce a summary of the law short enough for a convert to hear while standing on one leg, said ‘What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour; this is the whole law. All the rest is a commentary to this law; go and learn it.’”
David then went on to tell The Rabbi’s Gift, a very moving tale by Francis Dorff in which an encounter between two different Abrahamic religions led to renewal, before concluding:
“Loving God and neighbour implies being loved. Are we able to accept love from each other as a sign of the grace of God poured out through others? Does our church major on loving God or on loving each other – those we know well and those we have never met – or are we able to get the balance right, whereby we see God’s love and grace all round us and are able to respond in love to him and to all created people?
“In a place where attitudes to strangers both at home and abroad are becoming increasingly harsh, with increasing antisemitism and islamophobia, Jesus’ words again challenge us to show our love for him by acting and speaking for those who need our support and at the same time remember our first call to love God.
“Lord our God, give us grace both to hear and to act on the great commandments of your kingdom, that we may love you with all our heart, and love our neighbour as ourselves – today, tomorrow and always. Amen.”
You can read the whole of David’s sermon, including the tale as he told it at this link.
Our picture is found on a number of websites dating back to 2012: we found it used to illustrate Dorff’s story at https://www.fumcmanchester.org/the-rabbi-s-gift-an-untold-story. You can listen to a slightly different version of the story as used by Scott Peck and his team at https://chattanoogaendeavors.org/service/community-building/the-rabbis-gift/.
As you can read at this link, the World Day of Prayer International Committee (WDPIC) has urgently called for an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Palestine, protection of civilians, and release of hostages, has issued this statement, and urged us all to pray:
We cry out to you with broken hearts and deep anguish for what is unfolding in Israel and Palestine. It is difficult to find the words to express the weight of this moment. We rest on your Spirit, who intercedes with sighs too deep for words. We ask that you heal every wound, and you give us wisdom for how to stop this cycle of violence. We pray especially for women and children, who are particularly vulnerable in times of war. Move our world quickly towards peace and justice.
With much attention focussed on events in the Middle East, it’s not surprising that Rev Adam Stevenson’s sermon at yesterday’s Communion service also echoed a message of peace. Having shared Jane Leach’s way of exploring different viewpoints that she calls ‘Pastoral Theology as Attention’, Adam commented: “As I watch and listen to the commentary on the present situation in the Holy Land, I am reminded that what we need here isn’t grandstanding, but listening, and paying attention to a much bigger whole than is often given space to. In the days ahead, it is our duty to hold all the people of the Holy Land in our prayers, and particularly the denominational officers of our churches who work for peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land …”
His sermon continued about the brokenness of our world, the bread broken at the table, and the broken body of Christ, and ended: “If we are paying attention fully to the grace of God that comes from this table of peace, then we shall all be called out into the world to make it a better place of acceptance and kindness, not just for ourselves but for all neighbours – local and international. The God of peace be with you. Amen.” Do read the whole of his sermon at this link.
Our picture by Cole Keister on Unsplash, shows a wall at Netiv HaAsara facing the Gaza border on which have been written the words “Path to Peace” in Hebrew, Arabic, and English. Netiv HaAsara is a moshav in southern Israel. Located in the north-west Negev, it nearly borders the Gaza Strip.
We’re trying to do things differently in worship on suitable occasions, and our morning service on 20 August saw us facing each other across the central aisle (an hommage to the World Cup perhaps?!) and using a dramatic dialogue to shed new light on the Gospel reading (Matthew 15:21–28).
Listen in to the Canaanite woman as she and her husband are discussing what happened:
Joel: I still can’t believe you did it.
Ruth: What else was I to do, Joel? Nothing else has worked.
Joel: But to be so blatant about it. So open.
Ruth: Joel, it’s our daughter. Do you understand that? Our daughter. And how long has she been sick? Five months? Six?
Joel: So that makes it okay to talk to a man in broad daylight? A man we know nothing about? Some wandering teacher.
Ruth: He has a name, Joel, as you well know.
Joel: Yes, yes, Jesus. And so you nag and pester him until you get what you want – is that it?
Ruth: What is your problem, Joel? Is it that I did it without asking you? Is it that I argued with him? Arguing with a man in front of everybody, in broad daylight. That would never do.
Joel: You should have known better.
Ruth: She’s cured isn’t she?
Joel: Well I can’t deny that. But that might have happened anyway.
Ruth: You don’t believe that.
Joel: It just makes us look so desperate.
Ruth: We are desperate, or at least we were. Now, praise God, everything seems to be all right.
Joel: I still don’t like it.
Ruth: Well, Joel, you can sulk all you want, but what’s done is done.
Joel: You argued with him.
Ruth: Yes, I argued with him, and I think he enjoyed it.
Joel: What do you mean, ‘enjoyed it’?
Ruth: Well think about it. Perhaps he wanted me to fight back. Perhaps he wanted to see how far I was prepared to go, how much I felt it.
Joel: He got more than he bargained for with you.
Ruth: Joel, you know me. I speak my mind. Always have, always will. And when he made that comment about dogs, well I just saw red. I couldn’t help it.
Joel: I guess he deserved what he got.
Ruth: Once I get the bit between my teeth, I’m off.
Joel: To be honest you scare me sometimes.
Ruth: Not half as much as I scare myself. I think he really wanted to see how much this mattered to me. How much I believed that he could do something about it. And once he saw that, things changed.
Joel: He’s certainly a strange one.
Ruth: But the funny thing is, I never felt he was being cruel to me. In fact I’m pretty sure he wanted to help.
Joel: Look, Ruth, about what I said earlier. I didn’t mean to be unkind. The truth is I’m proud of you. Scared but proud.
Ruth: I’m just glad we’ve got our daughter back.
Joel: How is she?
Ruth: Sitting up in bed, demanding something to drink – just like always.
In our reading and drama today we hear about a woman who belongs to a country that was the traditional enemy of God’s ways, but is commended by Jesus for her remarkable faith, which touches his heart and impresses him. This is in sharp contrast to the ‘experts’, the Pharisees, who see Jesus at work and hear his teaching, but are still blinded to the truth. Not only does their tunnel–vision make it unlikely they will ever relate to anything Jesus says, but it also creates obstacles to other people coming to faith. It is that aspect which disturbs Jesus so much – self-righteousness, self-sufficiency and cynicism are excellent for putting out flickering flames of faith.
We see a mother who is desperate for her daughter to be healed, and her perseverance, trust and hope in the face of opposition –the disciples showed no compassion, and wanted to be rid of this woman because she was bothering Jesus with her persistent begging.
How much faith we really have in God will be shown not by what we say or claim but by the way we respond and act.
Our dramatic dialogue is one of a set devised by Paul S. Glass, and found in Volume 9 (ISBN 978-0716205678) of the 10-volume Companion to the Revised Common Lectionary. [The publisher was Epworth Press, an imprint of Methodist Publishing, named after Epworth in Lincolnshire, the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley] All are out of print, but second-hand copies can usually be located, and many of the volumes will be of interest: search at this link.
Our image is Christ and the Canaanite Woman (1594–1595) by Annibale Carracci, Bolognese painter (1560–1609): Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Did you notice the wee dog?
For his parting sermon to the congregation at St Anne’s, Dunbar on 23 July 2023, Rev Eddie Sykes continued the refreshingly different interpretation of the Parable of the Sower in Matthew 13 that he had started at Rosyth the previous week, which is why this second sermon has been posted on the Rosyth website. You might want to read his earlier thoughts at this link before reading the fragments of the second sermon that we’ve printed below:
… A question that arises for the disciples is: If good seed has been planted on the earth by God, where did the weeds come from? And they themselves are saying: “If we are doing what you tell us, planting seeds of God’s goodness, how come bad stuff is all around us? And now that there are weeds among the good wheat, what do we do? Try and uproot the weeds?” The answer given by Jesus is: Let the wheat and the weeds grow together, side by side.
In essence, this is life – where good and evil exist side by side. There are people in every neighbourhood, every school, every business, dare I say, every church, who are at times incredibly fruitful, and, at other times, seem to be incredibly destructive. Just because one goes to church doesn’t guarantee that they are wheat. Weeds infiltrate the body of the church. … When we sow good seed in the world and expect a healthy crop of praiseworthy believers, what do we do about the weeds which appear in our midst? … The advice given here is to forget about trying to judge by your own standards and leave those things to God and the angel reapers – the ones qualified to do this work.
… Sometimes the church has those persons or types that it just wants to get rid of, because it wants to be a 100% all wheat church! But you look at yourself, and if you are honest, you will admit that you are a tangle of wheat and weeds, and so is everyone else.
… Notice too when Jesus says the action of sowing the weeds happens – that the weeds were sown by the enemy when everyone was asleep. That is when many of today’s problems happen – while we are sleeping – not physical sleep because we need that – but morally asleep. The way one gets rid of the weeds is to stay awake, and remember that the one who sows the good seed is the Son of Man – who seeks to be passionately involved in all our lives to produce that which is good and righteous.
Do read the whole of Eddie’s second sermon at this link.
The farewell service for Rev Eddie Sykes and Rev Mary Patterson takes place at 3.00pm on Sunday 30 July at Grahamston United Church, Falkirk, Bute Street, FK2 7DH. All are welcome to attend. For those who cannot make it to the church, the service will be livestreamed and available to view at https://www.youtube.com/@grahamstonunitedchurch/streams
We give thanks for the ministry of Eddie and Mary and wish them every blessing on their retirement. Eddie has circulated a farewell letter (available at this link) which ends with a prayer that we will travel well, and that we may always seek to follow Jesus as our guide – adventurously, faithfully, and graciously.