O give thanks to the Lord, call on his name, make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wonderful works.
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually.
Opening Hymn: Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine
“Echoes of mercy, whispers of love – this is our story, this is our song”
These lines from the hymn are going to be running through our service today – talking about songs and stories. First, however, let us prepare ourselves – warm ourselves up spiritually by looking back at the week that has past.
Let us pray.
We are all here together again. We have been in different places, but we are now here.
Think of the week you have had. Where was the goodness in your week? The friendship, the love, the mercy, the forgiveness? Where was God in your week?
Where was the hurt, the neglect, the loneliness? Where did you want to see God in your week? Where did you keep God out of your week?
The Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God. I am the Lord that heals you.” Let us in turn say, “In you, O Lord, I put my trust.” Amen.
Last week we asked you to give us your favourite hymns and songs. I’ve tried to put them in in a variety of forms, such as ‘Be Still and Know’ just then. For now though, let us reflect on reflect on our weeks and lives by singing, “My Song is Love Unknown”
Hymn: My song is love unknown
I was very pleased to see that hymn in the list that people had chosen, as I think the words provide an amazing reflection for us – for when we feel unloved, unlovable or unloving – friendless, or full of friendship – full of praise, full of hurt or full of anger.
Music does have that potential, to get to our feelings and speak in ways we just don’t have the words for. A great film, for instance, has a good soundtrack because the music is composed to tweak your heartstrings or get your pulse racing to the beat. In our first reading however we’re going to hear of another use of music in the New Testament.
First Reading: Acts 16:16-34
You’ve been falsely accused, stripped, beaten and fettered in prison, and yet still you’re singing. This is unbelievable enough without then your song causing the bonds to be loosed and prison doors to be opened. Then you stay in that prison, and tell the guard! It’s three of your six impossible things to do before breakfast, I suppose.
So what is there for us to get from this story, other than a knowledge that if ever we end up doing porridge, we can sing for our supper and be satisfied? Well, I could pull out a number of lessons from this passage – first, that if we keep trusting in God then we’ll be saved, second, that if we’re set free, we should still observe the law of where we are, or third that singing sometimes breaks more than wine glasses.
We can feel like prisoners to many things in our lives – our minds, other people’s expectations, our own expectations; or perhaps jobs, relationships or domestic arrangements. When this happens, we as human beings have a remarkable capacity to put up with it – to let our spirits get slowly crushed and our hopes get ground down to nothing. I’ve certainly had a job (or two) like that in the past. If we were given the opportunity to run away from the problem – from that prison – I would, and have done, only to end up in another dead-end, or to be recaptured and re-imprisoned for escaping.
The lesson I take from this first reading is that when we are caged in our heads or in our lives – the answer is not to thrash around and then run away, however tempting that may be. The answer is to look inside – to keep singing – and then when the bonds become looser, to stay and show courage. We have to learn how the bonds and doors work – what causes us to get into those prisons – so that we won’t get locked up so easily next time. We also need to know our triggers – why we do what we do, and what we can do to keep singing when we’re locked away, and what songs will open our cages and our hearts.
Sometimes, we are victims of our own circumstances, locking the doors from the inside and then ignoring the key – prison cells are safe, albeit uncomfortable. It takes a lot of courage to stand up to ourselves and forgive ourselves, unload our own baggage and step out into the world, but it’s possible. It’s difficult, mark you, but not impossible – and this is where we need love and support, not least of ourselves.
One of the hymns that were requested today is Lord of the Dance – and instead of singing it I’d like to pick out one line: “It’s hard to dance with a devil on your back”. It’s very hard to sing when you’re imprisoned, beaten and hurting, but that’s what we must do – to reach inside and do things differently – not to give in to circumstances, and be at peace.
Our next hymn is Make me a Channel of your Peace – to remind us that we are called to sing when we’re losing, dance when we’re tired of life, and hopeful even in despair.
Hymn: Make me a Channel of your Peace
Please stay standing for our gospel reading.
Second Reading: Matthew 13:31-32, 44-46
Another impossible thing to do before breakfast – believing that someone would sell everything he had for one pearl, or one field, or one mustard seed. It might as well be a cow for some magic beans, for all the gospel tells us there. In fact, it runs contrary to all popular knowledge, such as not putting eggs in one basket or all that glisters not being gold.
There are many times where we may feel that we’ve found something amazing – there are any number of people who have fallen victim to selling what they have and then finding out that what they prized so highly has turned to dust in time. When we’ve been let down before – or dumped, or dumped on, or let down, or just plain failed, it can be very easy just to give up, stop looking and lock ourselves away in that prison cell of self-doubt and self-pity.
My message from the gospel is exactly the opposite – first, it gives me hope that our prize is nearby, waiting to be found, but secondly, and crucially, it tells me that what we seek is not always what we expect. Let’s just look at these three ideas of the kingdom of heaven:
Firstly, the Kingdom of Heaven is a small mustard seed that grows into the tree where everyone finds shade and shelter. This tells me that when we expect something amazing, it can be found in something small, unassuming and unexpected. If our heads are too much in the bigger picture, we miss the small detail that makes it happen.
Secondly, the Kingdom of heaven is like the treasure buried in the field – we may have to dig, whether it be in ourselves or elsewhere in life, to find things of value. The man who buys the field to own the treasure in the parable may have spent ages looking for his treasure, but once found, does not let it go. He guys the whole field, not just the treasure, so he takes the dirt with the gold, the good and the not-so-good together. Treasure is rarely found on the surface, otherwise everyone would nab it.
Thirdly, the Kingdom of Heaven is a pearl beyond price that is spotted by the man who knows his pearls. There may be many things that look similar, or have similar value, but discernment – testing – will be needed to realise which one is the true one.
Finally, it is my belief that that mustard seed, the Kingdom of Heaven, is in each and every one of us. We carry the potential for greatness, but like in the parable of the sower last week, we choke it with our own doubts, our baggage, the devils on our backs, our chains and prisons. Paul and Silas were able to reach inside and use that seed to keep them going, and it is my belief that everyone here also has that ability – we’ve either covered it up or forgotten where it is.
This is our story – finding our value and worth, taking the rough with the smooth and standing firm against our circumstances. This is our song – that we will keep moving forward, and when we have our treasure, to enjoy the harmony this provides us. It may seem impossible, like finding some treasure in a field, or not running away when given the chance, but when we can do it, that’s when we will be free. Amen.
Our next hymn reminds us that with God as our vision, we go a long way towards finding that seed.
Hymn: Be Thou my Vision
Intercessions and Lord’s Prayer
The next choice of hymn is one that some might find unusual for a Sunday morning, but when I looked at the words, I realised that it could be seen rather as a reminder that our prayers and thoughts are for the world, that half the world is in darkness, even if we are currently in light.
Hymn: The day thou gavest, Lord is ended
We’re nearing the end of the service, and have sung our faith throughout – that last hymn picking up on our gospel reading of the Kingdom being the mustard seed: “Thy kingdom stands, and grows for ever”. I hope you have enjoyed the choices, and if you have, then we’ll try and get the PCC on board for doing more crowd-sourcing for future services!
Final Hymn: Jesus put this song into our hearts
May we have the courage today
To live the lives that we would love,
To postpone our dreams no longer,
But do at last what we came here for
And waste our hearts on fear no longer. ((c) John O'Donohue)
Go in peace to love and serve the Lord!