To assist you in this worship, you may wish to light a candle, and gather some symbols that might help you to worship, reflect and pray. A green cloth for the current church season, something that inspires your imagination, a cross or an icon may be useful to help you reflect on today’s theme. Some paper and pens or pencils will needed for the reflective exercise.
As this Sunday would normally be communion, I suggest you have before you an empty glass or wine glass and an empty plate on the cloth, for the liturgy of the empty plate and cup.
Opening Prayer (adapted from Spill the Beans Iss.35)
Jesus, teacher of life’s lessons to we who are but life’s students,
gather us to sit at your feet and learn from you today.
You are the one who holds the words of eternal life,
the one who feeds and heals, forgives and loves,
even when we do and say unlovable things.
We are here to worship you
with our songs and words and prayers.
as we seek your grace and mercy and peace.
When we are tempted to think we know more than we do,
have mercy upon us.
When we are tempted to live in anxiety and fear,
remind us to not be afraid.
When our daily needs and wants make us worry,
remind us we are precious in the sight of God.
With eyes closed in prayer,
open our imaginations to the mystery of the spiritual realm
that there, guided by your Spirit, we may learn to see as you see.
So we offer ourselves anew today with open hearts and open minds,
receptive to all you can reveal to us.
We pray that our time with you now
will be a time of growth and inspiration;
a time of blessing and finding. Amen.
Matthew 10:24-39 (NRSV)
24 “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; 25 it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!
26 “So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. 27 What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. 28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.[a] 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted. 31 So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
32 “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; 33 but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.
34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.
35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother,
and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.
37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.
Reflecting on the Word: “Take up your cross”
This is one of Matthew’s ‘difficult’ passages. It presents the cost of discipleship as enormously high, with seemingly impossible choices.
Jesus surprisingly speaks of coming not with peace but with a sword. What does this mean? The answer may surprise you. The Greek word used here, ballo (βάλλω) means to cast, such as casting out demons or casting workers into the harvest field. The sense is that Jesus brings a metaphorical sword which divides, rather than a weapon of war. Jesus is suggesting that his ministry and his words can divide people, cast off from one another, where people choose to follow his way.
This reflects on what the text says one can expect to happen within households.
It should be noted, however, that all the difficult household relationships mentioned in this passage with one person against another would be extreme examples, as the norm is for the household to stick together, a clear tradition in the New Testament and Old.
The passage concludes with the phrase about taking up the cross. Matthew, writing from the perspective of the post-resurrection years, has placed it here to remind his community that the way of Jesus is costly. It may well involve persecution and division, or that there both in families and between the Judaism and the growing Christian followers. Do we follow Jesus and this new understanding of faith of do we hold to the older, establish Jewish religion?
Sadly, we still find division in the church today. How many people feel themselves in the same divisive situation because of sexuality, lifestyle, culture, age, gender?
What about those on the margins of the church who have been placed there by the church itself? Yet Jesus promises that God is always with us, and grace and redemption can be found in the stories of the good news. Allow my way to shape your reality and give you space to grow in wisdom and hope, Jesus is suggesting. Be kind to others, and care for one another.
For no matter what happens, I will be with you, always.
Reflecting on the passage: what can we learn from this story?
Jesus asks listeners to do things. Where Jesus whispers, we should shout; where Jesus talks in the dark, we should speak in the light. Jesus also says that it will be hard to do and potentially divisive. He is ending with a bit about family relations. Family relations are very close to us all as our living conditions are changed, happily for some people, not so for others. The early church used the symbol of an Ichthys fish to indicate to each other that they were followers of the way.
If you were to draw a symbol to represent this time as it relates to the passage, what would it be for you today? On your paper, draw a symbol that for you, represents your church family at this time. Reflect on why you chose this symbol and how it might help you relate to others around you, or how it might help you reflect and pray for the time we find ourselves in.
Prayer for ourselves and others (adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)
Lord, we want for very little materially in our western world,
But others are in great need worldwide.
Though the sparrow may not fall without your knowledge,
many of our brothers and sisters fall unnoticed
through the lack of many ordinary, everyday needs.
We take our daily needs for granted,
yet lack of food or lack of water brings too many to their untimely end.
We take our homes for granted,
yet lack of home or lack of security brings death by the thousand.
Oh Lord, how long must it be so that good people,
children, parents, grandparents,
must tolerate and endure such an unfair world?
How long will it go on that billions go without the basics,
whilst billionaires increase their wealth year on year.
Hear our cries, oh Lord, for justice.
Hear our cries, oh Lord, for fairness.
Hear our cries, oh Lord, for the forgotten people
of our modern world,
your children, members of our human family.
And amongst us too, God, there is pain and plight.
We think of our community where food banks are in use,
or where homes are threatened by financial constraint.
We think of the strain upon our health services,
or those who feel isolated and alone.
We think of those who have lost loved ones to death,
and feel lost in their grief now themselves.
For your Church, and the world and its people we pray.
In your mercy, Lord, hear our prayer.
In silence, make your own prayer for the world.
Yes, Lord, we are taught that all are worthy in your sight.
May it be that all will be worthy
in the sight of the powerful and in our sight too. Amen.
Liturgy of the empty cup and plate
This Sunday, as a church, we would have normally gathered to celebrate communion. At this time, we are unable to do that, so this liturgy has been written to help you reflect on communion and its place in your worshipping life.
This earth is not our earth.
This is God’s earth.
This time is not my time.
This is God’s time.
This table is not my table.
This is God’s table.
God’s earth, God’s time, God’s table…
It is God who provides this place and this time.
Provision is made for us all to be part of God’s story.
In this time, we rededicate ourselves and our surroundings
for God’s good purposes.
Though we/I cannot come to your table
to receive the bread and wine,
we/I know that you still meet us/me here;
you embrace us in our brokenness,
you pour out your love upon us/me,
name us/me as your disciples, and claim us/me for an eternity.
And we/I can still remember, as you commanded.
We/I lament that we/I will not share
the bread and wine today.
We/I lament that we/I cannot grasp
a hand in fellowship today.
We/I lament the suspending of this sacrament.
We/I can remember that the Lord is with us/me.
We/I can remember to lift up our/my hearts.
We/I can remember to give thanks to the Lord our God.
Blessing and praise still belongs to you,
God of promise and of covenant.
Through your living Word
you created all things,
the majesty of the heavens
and the glory of the earth.
In your wisdom and goodness
you have made all people
in your image and likeness.
We/I remember the story
that on the night of his betrayal
your Son Jesus took the bread
and took the wine, blessed them
and shared them with his closest friends,
saying: “Remember me.”
Come now, Holy Spirit;
bless us/me here today.
Pour out the Holy Spirit on this empty plate and this empty cup,
that they may be for us/me – even in their emptiness
– the body and blood of Christ,
so that we/I may take his life into our lives,
and be taken ourselves to be blessed, broken and given for the world.
THE LORD’S PRAYER
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Blessing (adapted from Spill the Beans, Iss.35)
The sparrow has value to God and creation.
The worm has value to God and creation.
You, we, are cherished by God.
Every moment of constructive conversation
teems with value and possibility.
Every reflective silence is rich in potential.
This time, this creation, this life needs us.
No holding back, no holding in, no waiting.
Enter your week, to live, to be counted, and to serve God,
today, tomorrow and always.
Written by Rev Elizabeth Raine
Elizabeth is minister at Tuggeranong Uniting, beginning her ministry here in December 2018.
Over the years, she has had a number of diverse and interesting placements, such as a school chaplaincy, a tenancy worker with UnitingCare, a congregational minister, a lecturer at UTC, a Presbytery minister, and as an Intentional Interim minister.More from Rev Elizabeth Raine