Materials for Worship on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

Nerys writes: It is appropriate that on the first Sunday of the school year, our Old Testament reading is about a young boy who feels very inadequate and unprepared to respond to God’s call. As you read Jeremiah 1.4-10, I invite you to use your imagination to enter into the story.

What a challenge the young Jeremiah was given! To speak for God to his own people would be onerous enough but he was called to take the message to the people of the whole world. Can you imagine how he felt being asked to undertake such a huge task? It’s no wonder he objected. But God’s answer to Jeremiah is a reminder to us all that we’re never too young or too old to do God’s work. We might not feel that we’re ready, we might not feel that we’re clever enough or experienced enough, or good enough but we won’t be doing it alone. God’s promise to Jeremiah is a promise made to each one of us. God says, ‘I promise to be with you and keep you safe.’ There’s no need to be afraid or worried. We can speak for God wherever we are. God will give us the right words to say just as she did for Jeremiah. We can speak for God in our strength and in our weakness.

I invite you to use your imagination once more as you read today’s Gospel, Luke 13.10-17. Can you picture what life was like for the woman who shuffled into the synagogue to see Jesus?. She had been bent double for eighteen years, a good portion of her adult life. It is not difficult to imagine how it would have limited her enjoyment of life – no longer able to work or even to walk around freely, no longer able to easily see the stars by night or the clouds by day, no longer able to look into the eyes of her friends and neighbours and converse with them as she used to. People would have talked about her rather than with her, avoiding her, blaming her for her condition. Think how miserable her life would have been, struggling with hardship and loneliness on the margins of her community, trapped in a body that didn’t work, feeling cut off from everyone, even God.

It is obvious that everybody knew who she was and what was wrong with her but no one had reached out to her – not until Jesus came to town. Not until he noticed her among the crowd, called her to him and, without asking her a single question, realised what she needed and set her free. Can you imagine how she felt as she stood up straight and burst out into praise of God? The physical restriction that prevented her from living life to the full has gone, and so has the emotional and spiritual chains that had prevented her from worshiping. She is now free to respond with joy and thanksgiving.

Jesus and the bent over woman by Barabara Schwartz

The reaction of the crowd is very different, however. Instead of going wild with astonishment and delight, they fall silent, all eyes on the leader of the synagogue. He must have been the one who had invited the popular new rabbi to teach there on that particular Sabbath, but now he is furious with him. Here was someone who thought that rules were more important than people, someone who wasn’t able to hear God’s spirit calling him to respond with kindness to this ‘daughter of Abraham’. His mind and spirit were just as trapped as the woman’s body had been. We aren’t told what became of him, but Jesus was to meet plenty more like him on his way to Jerusalem.

The crowd eventually join with the woman in celebration, realising perhaps that what they had witnessed there in the synagogue, was the presence of the God who loves all his children. Perhaps what they had seen had given them hope that they also could be set free to worship and serve Him without constantly worrying about religious rules and regulations.

I wonder what you make of this story?
I wonder if there is anyone you need to reach out to with kindness this week?
Remember that you’re not too young or too old and that God has promised to be with you and give you the words you need.
You may wish to pray: Loving God, give me the courage to respond to your call, trusting that in spite of my limitations your grace is all I need.

At the beginning of a new school year, pray especially for children who carry with them a burden of anxiety or grief, the children of refugees and asylum seekers, children of families living in poverty or dealing with physical or mental ill health.

Pray that our schools would be places of learning, creativity, encouragement and discovery for all our young people, asking that your peace and joy would fill classrooms and playgrounds.

Pray that staff rooms would be places where words of encouragement, support and hope are spoken and where friendships grow and that in challenging moments, you would give teachers and support staff patience, energy and a sense of your presence

Pray for headteachers and those who make decisions about education at local and government level, that they would lead with integrity and that they would be influencers for good.

Pray for school chaplains and those who lead Christian events that they would speak for God with wisdom and sensitivity.

Pray for wisdom for our yourself, asking that God would help you bring encouragement to the children in your own family and in St Mary’s both practically and through ongoing prayer.