Material for Worship on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Thank you to the Ven. Peter Potter for preparing this week’s Material for Worship:

When we lived in Switzerland it was my birthday treat to take a ride on a mountain railway. Some people might say that was cheating but the experience and the views were quite something, even if I did once get caught in a blizzard – in August!

There is something exhilarating, mystical even, about standing there at the top of the world, as it were. It is easy to understand why God revealed himself to biblical characters on mountain tops. In today’s Old Testament reading the prophet Isaiah is made aware of God in a new way. He realises that previous conceptions of God were too small. It is no longer enough to see God as an exclusive deity, for the Israelites alone: “I will bring [the foreigners] to my holy mountain”. Isaiah is not necessarily standing on a mountain himself when he receives this revelation but it is significant that it is where “salvation will come and deliverance … revealed”. We are to imagine a vast gathering on the mountain, rather like a pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick or other holy sites. What is important in Isaiah’s vision is that, first, God’s will is done, that is achieved by people’s actions (“maintain justice and do what is right”) and, second, that this is a call to all people, not just to the Israelites.

Listen to Anthony Birch as he reads Isaiah 56.1, 6-8.

Then listen to another of Isaiah’s descriptions of God’s will being realised on his holy mountain (Isaiah 2.1-5), sung to the tune Glasgow, played by David Sawyer. I think this hymn deserves to be better known in Episcopal/Anglican churches.

Behold! the mountain of the Lord
in latter days shall rise
on mountain tops above the hills,
and draw the wondering eyes.

To this the joyful nations round,
all tribes and tongues, shall flow;
up to the hill of God, they’ll say,
and to his house we’ll go.

The beam that shines from Zion hill
shall lighten every land;
the King who reigns in Salem’s towers
shall all the world command.

Among the nations he shall judge;
his judgements truth shall guide;
his sceptre shall protect the just,
and quell the sinner’s pride.

No strife shall rage, nor hostile feuds
disturb those peaceful years;
to ploughshares men shall beat their swords,
to pruning-hooks their spears.

Come then, O house of Jacob! come
to worship at his shrine;
and, walking in the light of God,
with holy beauties shine.

Scottish Paraphrases, 1781

The story of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15.21-28), read by Anthony, makes the same two points but in a rather roundabout way. In the previous verses Jesus had been telling his disciples that our ingrained attitudes shape our actions. Now they are presented with a real case study. How should Jesus deal with the woman’s plea? Should he ignore the stranger, tell her to go away? This would be the normal reaction, especially as she is making a nuisance of herself. Jesus’ initial reaction sounds like a parody of this attitude and examples are not far to seek in our day. Perhaps he is testing his disciples: is this really what you want me to do? The woman’s quick-witted reply exposes the hollowness of this attitude: “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”. Those of us who are well-off have more than enough, in fact so much that we throw away some of God’s bounty.

What the woman has, is faith and she is a stranger. Matthew was writing his account for a community of Jewish Christians at a time when the possible admission of Gentile believers was a live issue. Some wanted to send them away, as happened in some British churches when the Windrush immigrants turned up for worship. This episode of the Canaanite woman, like Isaiah’s vision of the holy mountain, show that people from many backgrounds have faith and are to be welcomed amongst the saved. And they will receive more than the crumbs from God’s bounty.

The psalm set for today is Psalm 67, which has the refrain “Let the peoples praise you, O God: let all the peoples praise you”, which again shows that God’s call is for all the peoples of the world and that he bestows his blessings on the peoples of all nations. For this to happen, however, we all need to follow his guidance and do his will. If we do, then his bounty will be fairly distributed and his creation respected.

Listen to Mary Birch singing “God whose farm is all creation” based on this psalm.

God, whose farm is all creation,
take the gratitude we give;
take the finest of our harvest,
crops we grow that we may live.

Take our ploughing, seeding, reaping,
hopes and fears of sun and rain,
all our thinking, planning, waiting,
ripened in this fruit and grain.

All our labour, all our watching,
all our calendar of care,
in these crops of your creation,
take, O God: they are our prayer.

John Arlott


For your prayers of intercession:

Lord, may the richness of your creation
and the wonders of your heavenly kingdom
bring all your people together,
that we may make known your grace
and live out your ways of peace and love. Amen.

Let us pray
– for a removal of the barriers that divide us, consciously and unconsciously;
– for a just distribution of the earth’s resources and for the will to respect the fragile balance of creation;
– for a willingness to examine ourselves for harmful attitudes and assumptions;
– for a readiness to work with people of other faiths and none for the good of all;
– for the sick, the anxious and distressed, for all in any kind of difficulty;
– for the departed.

Joining our prayers with those of Mary (whose feast day was yesterday) and all the saints, we give you our thanks and praise, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.