Material for Worship on the Third Sunday after Pentecost

As you prepare join in worship with me, Nerys, celebrating the Eucharist in the church this morning, you may wish to listen to Hazel and David Faunce Smith singing Bless the Lord O my soul:

I am grateful to the Ven. Peter Potter the reflection and prayers below and to June and Martin Sproston for recording the readings for today: Genesis 21.8-21; Romans 6.1b-11; Matthew 10.24-39.

Today’s readings are heavy going. We have Sarah’s mistreatment of her slave Hagar and her son Ishmael in Genesis 21.8-21. After so many years of longing we might have expected her to show generosity in gratitude for the birth of her own son Isaac. But she is afraid that some of Isaac’s inheritance will go to this child of a slave girl. The institution of slavery lies behind the thinking of the passage from the letter to the Romans (6.1b-11), as a metaphor of sin’s ability to keep us captive.

Jesus’ words in Matthew 10.24-39, follow a similar train of thought but he has turned it the other way round. The disciples are not greater than their master and must therefore share his fate, which is to be a slave (see Matthew 20.26-28 and Philippians 2.7) and to be persecuted. All this resonates with recent events, which have uncovered again the shameful prevalence of slavery and racism – ‘for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered’.

Slavery and racism have existed throughout human history and in many different cultures. The two are connected because slaves were often of a different race from their owners, a feature which makes relations between races difficult. Another cause of tension is fear. Sarah was afraid of what Hagar might do and slave owners feared that their slaves might revolt. Fear of people who are different causes us to act irrationally or cruelly. Some of you have met my daughter in law Bonnie, who is Chinese-Canadian. She has told us about the hostility she encountered when she was teaching English in an Eastern European country. I was once looking after my granddaughter and we went to the local play park. After a while I began to feel uncomfortable – would someone come up and ask why I was with this little girl who doesn’t look like me? ‘Stranger danger’ can be a wise precaution but it can also have unforeseen consequences.

How can these things be changed? Uncover what has been covered up. Yes, but there is another way. “Do not be afraid” is probably the most frequent of Jesus’ sayings and it is the recurring theme of all three readings this morning. And the way to lose our fear of others is to love them and treat them accordingly. ‘Perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4.18). When that happens both we and they are set free.

Prayers of Intercession

We pray to the Father, in the confidence of his love; through the Son in gratitude for his grace; and in the life-giving power of the Spirit.

(Please add names or situations known to you)

Lord, we bring to you
• the rawness of past wrongs and today’s injustices;
• the weariness and frustration of lockdown;
• the fears and prejudices that hamper the will to love.
Stretch out your arm, hold out your hand to heal.

Lord, we bring to you
• the sick and all who are waiting for tests or treatment;
• all whose livelihoods are at risk;
• all who are vulnerable or afraid.
Stretch out your arm, hold out your hand to heal.

Lord, we bring to you
• all who are on the way to recovery;
• all who care for the sick, the weak, the disadvantaged;
• all who are nearing the end of their earthly lives;

Stretch out your arm, hold out your hand to give strength and support.
Cast out our fears, gather us together, one family made perfect by love.
Lord, hear us.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Photograph by David Faunce Smith
Picture ‘Hagar and Ishmael’ by Alan Jones