Lord, we bring the world’s complex sadness to you. As we see your compassion in the life of Christ, so we trust to see your involvement in the lives of ordinary people in their trouble. Where else would we go? You have the words of eternal life.
Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life’.
We pray for those who are hungry: hungry because crops have failed, hungry because of war, hungry because of unfair trading arrangements, hungry because of poverty.
We pray for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
May they be satisfied.
Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world’.
We pray for those who live in darkness: the darkness of oppression, the darkness of threat or violence, the darkness of injustice.
We pray for those overwhelmed by the darkness of depression.
May they find relief.
Jesus said, ‘I am the good shepherd’.
We pray for those who have lost their way: lost in loneliness and isolation, lost in a crowd, lost along life’s journey.
We pray for those who have never truly found their place in life.
May the good shepherd find and lead them.
Jesus said, ‘I am the resurrection and the life’.
We pray for those who fear that death has the final say: fearful because a loved one has died, fearful of their own life’s ending, fearful that grief will overtake them.
May they clearly hear the promise of abundant life.
Jesus said, ‘I am the true vine’.
We pray for those with no firm hold on life: insecure because they are homeless, insecure because they have been driven from their homeland, insecure because their lives seem barren rather than fruitful.
May they find security in Christ and a sense of belonging in the Church.
We offer these prayers in the name of Jesus, the way, the truth and the life.
(Adapted from Prayers for Christian Worship, compiled by Donald Hilton.)
Hymn 543 – Christ be our light. Listen here.
Luke 6: 39–49 (NRSV)
He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, “Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.
‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.
‘Why do you call me “Lord, Lord”, and do not do what I tell you? I will show you what someone is like who comes to me, hears my words, and acts on them. That one is like a man building a house, who dug deeply and laid the foundation on rock; when a flood arose, the river burst against that house but could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not act is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the river burst against it, immediately it fell, and great was the ruin of that house.’
Photo by Dorin Vancea on Unsplash
Sermon by Rev. Robert Gemmell: A picture that is worth more than a thousand words
It has been said that one picture is worth a thousand words. In quick succession in our passage from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus uses four word pictures. One writer has described them as ‘humorous sketches’. Humorous they might well be, but Jesus used each of them to get a serious message across to his audience. The segment we are looking at is taken from our Lord’s sermon on the plain. Jesus had chosen his team of disciples. They were to be the nucleus, the starting point for what God was now going to do. In this sermon, as in the much longer Sermon on the Mount recorded by Matthew in his Gospel, Jesus sets out his radical agenda for the kingdom. God was going to do something new, as Jesus had already emphasised in the synagogue at Nazareth. What he proclaimed at Nazareth, quoting words from Isaiah, together with the content of this sermon, form the basis of our Lord’s manifesto for ministry. Our section forms a small part of his new and radical approach, attempting to turn teaching that had been long accepted upside down.
Our picture sequence begins with a riddle about the blind leading the blind, Jesus warning his listeners of following false teaching which may seem to them at the time to be offering guidance and encouragement which would result in them ‘falling into a ditch’.
Our Lord’s next word picture may seem controversial to some, that no pupil is greater than his master. How many of you are old enough to remember the original television series ‘All Creatures Great and Small’ with James Herriot working alongside Siegfried and Tristan Farnon in their Yorkshire veterinary practice? In one episode we are introduced to Richard Carmody, a student vet working alongside them within their practice. The established vets had to recognise that, despite his youthful arrogance, Carmody’s diagnosis, and not theirs, in a certain situation, was the correct one. They had got their diagnosis wrong, the student had read the situation correctly.
In one of his books James Herriot writes of how later in life, as he from time to time read learned articles written by the same Richard Carmody, he reflected on how, despite his now lofty position within the veterinary world, Carmody had once been his student. No pupil is greater than his master – something to ponder over while you are enjoying your lunch!
The third of our Lord’s word pictures is the one concerning the speck of dust we become aware of in someone else’s eye whilst all the while failing to recognise and deal with the plank of wood in our own. An illustration that is, of course, meant to sound ridiculous – a cartoon – a caricature.
Sometimes the things which we find easy to criticise in others are faults that we find difficult to come to terms with in our own lives. ‘O wad some power the giftie gie us to see ourselves as ithers see us…’. I wonder in which GOSPEL we find that particular quote!? The teachers of Jesus’ day, the Scribes and the Pharisees, had almost an unhealthy obsession towards the keeping of the Law, fine tuning it down to the last possible detail, but in the process, it would seem, neglecting other fundamental and important elements of teaching.
Does our Lord’s seemingly ridiculous sketch present us with any meaningful relevance today? Do we give too much importance to details regarding theology or worship or church government whilst neglecting the main focus of the Gospel and our Christian witness in the world?
Jeff Lucas in his Daily Reading notes of a few weeks ago referred to the fact that, through the use of social media, it is possible for someone to cause a great deal of hurt within the lives of others. Their message may indeed be ‘FAKE NEWS’ but it is presented as the uncensored truth. And this process can become even more dangerous when our world leaders use, for example, Twitter to make bold unquestioned statements, instead of employing the art of diplomacy, and when they trade insults rather than offering solutions.
Do you remember the television advert of a few years ago of the grandmother, played by Maureen Lipman, who shared with us the fact that her grandson was going to university to study an ‘OLOGY’. I suggest that there are occasions within the Church when we can become guilty of beating each other up because of our different ‘OLOGIES’, for example the place of Liberal Theology over against Conservative Theology. Or for us it may be more about our ‘ISMS’. Getting all heated up and falling out with each other over Calvinism or Christian Socialism or, to invent a new expression – ‘Charismaticism’. Maybe before we attempt to take that theological speck out of our brother or sister’s eye we should first deal with the plank in our own.
It is claimed that the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church in 1917 were having a long debate about vestments at the very moment when the Bolsheviks were launching their revolution. Whether that is true or not, the very thought of it serves as a dire warning to other churches at other times.
Moving on, we now find Jesus referring to trees, healthy and poor trees and the fruit they produced. One commentator suggests that he was deliberately setting himself up here against the Old Testament ceremonial law. Yes, God had given certain commandments to his nomadic desert people for health reasons. These had been kept with sometimes compassion and at other times obsessional zeal, while the message of the prophets for justice, mercy and love for God was deemed secondary, even optional. To quote our commentator, ‘Moral reformation that leaves the heart untouched is about as useful as tying bunches of grapes on to a briar bush.’
Jesus’ sermon ends with a stern warning in the form of another humorous story, the yarn of the two house builders and their building exploits. ‘Listening to true wisdom and not putting it into practice’, says Jesus, ‘is like building a house without secure foundations, building a house on sandy soil’, an illustration that presented a meaningful picture to his audience at the time, as it would to any visitor to the Mediterranean or Middle Eastern world today. A dried-up riverbed in summer could suddenly be transformed into the scene of a raging torrent on the arrival of the winter storms.
It is a parable that questions the foundation that we have laid and the roots we have established within our lives. Testing times come to all of us as surely as the storms of life. Jesus is challenging us to consider the quality of the foundation we have laid as to whether or not it will stand firm against that storm.
One of the many of our Lord’s attributes was his ability to tell such vivid and easily remembered stories, pictures that have spoken equally to his audience at the time and to folks across the centuries, ones with which we can readily identify, ones that challenge us at different times and through different circumstances in our lives.
Through this series of simple but profound word pictures come various challenges to us today. There may be one – or more – which speak to you more than the others. Perhaps there are days when you know you are being led by unsound ideas but it is easier to follow them than to follow what you know is right. For all of us there are days when intolerance comes more easily than tolerance. And which of us could claim that our thoughts and actions are always generous and loving? The words we have been reading and thinking about today are always timely when we find ourselves making the wrong decisions and going in the wrong direction. We are called to build our lives on a sure foundation like the wise man who built his house on firm ground and Jesus’ sermon on the plain is that firm foundation. When the rains come and the wind blows – and that happens to us all – our house will stand firm.
Hymn 737 – Will your anchor hold in the storms of life? Listen here.
Prayer of thanksgiving and intercession
God, You love all that You have made,
the world and all its creatures.
Your love gathers and enfolds all things.
Your heart breaks when any part of Your creation suffers.
So God, as our awareness grows of You present all around,
may we be so attuned that we weep where You weep
and our hearts break where Yours is broken.
We offer back this complex, crazy world,
asking for Your help to fix it.
Parent God, in love, you kneel beside us
and patiently show us how to make things better.
Affirm us and give us each
a unique part to play in changing the world,
in ushering in Your justice and Your peace.
We pray for all who live in fear today
and for those whose fears have been realised –
those who mourn loved ones,
those who see no light of dawn after darkness.
We pray too for those
who have given up hoping for different or better.
May we hold out hope and faith enough for the world
and may we live in love.
God awaken us to Your truth and Your light,
to all the opportunities we have of emerging from darkness
fuelled by new energy to make our world,
our church and our neighbourhood
beacons of hope
that is realised in our serving You
by serving one another.
Your will be done O God.
With thanks to Rev Liz Crumlish, Path of Renewal Coordinator, CoS