Prayers of Approach
Lord, we come together to worship you. Still our minds from all conflicts and tensions caused by the rush and bustle of our journey here. Burn away all distractions so that we may focus on you. We approach in humble adoration, May our praise and worship be pleasing to your ears.
Wake us from our sleep of the night; wake us from our dreams of pure fantasy, where the world is how we want it to be; wake us from our nightmares, where all hope is lost and you are far from us. Rouse us from the pale light of night into the glorious sunshine of day, where hope is alive to your vision of a better world, where people are free to rejoice in the wonders of creation, and where you are known to all as maker and saviour, source of goodness and love. Amen.
Hymn Judge eternal, throned in splendour (R&S 626)
Readings: Jeremiah 23:23-29
Jeremiah struggled throughout his career with court prophets who said what they thought the king wanted to hear, and refused to accept Jeremiah’s word as coming from the Lord. Here, the word of the Lord condemns such prophets, who dress up their false messages with the language of dreams. Because God has ‘God’s eye vision’ (vv.23-24), there is no escape for deceitful prophets. Prophets who speak God’s word faithfully gain God’s approval, whatever the human response may be.
In our Gospel reading two images of judgement – fire and water – lead into an exploration of how faith can divide families, and a challenge to the crowds to recognise the implications of Jesus’ ministry as clearly as they recognise changing weather. Jesus warns that following his way is likely to bring conflict and division, even within a family. He also encourages people to see and understand what is really going on in the world, just as they understand that a cloud usually means rain.
Hymn Not far beyond the sea, nor high above the heavens (R&S 318)
How can you tell the difference between a true or a false prophet? How can you tell whether anything is true or false? There seems to be a great paradox in modern life that we have become both very cynical and very gullible about what we see, hear, read or are told about things at the same time! This is especially true when it comes to science or statistics. If we don’t understand the complexities of the science how can we trust it? And of course when it comes to statistics they can be used to prove anything, to say whatever you want them to say, hence the old saying, ‘there are lies, damned lies and statistics!’
During his time as Prime Minister Tony Blair was widely ridiculed for saying, ‘I only know what I believe.’ But that could be said of many of us. Christians are often challenged over what evidence we have for our beliefs and it is impossible to provide empirical, scientific proof for the existence of God, ‘we only know what we believe.’ The secular world would want to put that the other way round, ‘we only believe what we know,’ what we can prove unequivocally! Yet all too many are willing to believe something if it is said often enough, if it is repeated and ‘retweeted’ and ‘shared’ on social media and the internet. We are often less critical of things if they are said by a celebrity we admire, or if something fits with our own inclinations, feelings, desires or world-view.
The false prophets of Jeremiah’s time pandered to this all too human failing. They only prophesied what they thought the king and the people wanted to hear and ignored the uncomfortable or bad news. They seem to think that God is too far away to see what they are doing. There is a popular song recorded by Bette Midler, Cliff Richard and others entitled ‘From a
distance’ which says that God is watching us from a distance. (You can listen to it here – https://youtu.be/lN4AcFzxtdE or here https://youtu.be/7szTsK7e4NQ ). It’s lyrics talk about how beautiful and peaceful the earth is ‘from a distance’ where there is no hunger, no need and no war. Is this the sort of view that they think God has? God reminds them however that he sees everything they do, ‘I am a God who is everywhere and not in one place only. No one can hide where I cannot see them. Do you not know that I am everywhere in heaven and on earth?’ (Jeremiah 23:23-24).
We too need to keep reminding ourselves that God is not a distant God but is ever present, with us and within us. Jesus came to show just that. But as with those who Jeremiah railed against, and as with those of our time who still want proof, people of Jesus’ time too asked for signs and miracles and doubted his word. In today’s reading we see an emotional, even angry, Jesus. Knowing what he faces and that his message inevitably brings division we see his anguish and distress, almost despair even, why can’t they see? We can almost hear his plea, ‘you can read the signs of the weather, why can’t you read the signs of the times?’
As opinion is divided over him there is a sense of urgency – they have got to see what’s happening before it’s too late. Judgement is coming but the verdict has not yet been handed down. They could still change the outcome if only they would open their ears and listen, open their eyes and see. Today we live in a very visual world. We are good at reading signs, road signs, hand gestures, emojis, facial expressions and body language, as well as weather signs. What are the signs of the time?
The biggest sign that faces our generation is probably climate change. We know about red skies at night but what about polar ice-caps melting and deserts expanding? However, nothing is solved merely by a reading of signs. Only lifestyle changes make a difference. It must be among the purposes of the Church to address this urgent sign of the times, and act as a community to change the way we live, just as it is incumbent upon us to speak out against violence and injustice and stand alongside the disadvantaged and those who are discriminated against. There are two Greek words for time: chronos, which is the time ticking by, and kairos, which is the ‘now’ time. How often do we miss the kairos because we are too caught up in the chronos?
Hymn God came in Jesus, human life sharing (R&S 237)
Prayers of Intercession
Lord, you care about the weak and the needy. Be with the vulnerable, with those exploited by others for selfish gain; rescue them from the clutches of wicked, heartless people. We ask that your hand be with judges and all in authority within the legal system; may they work with integrity to defend those in need. We ask that your hand be upon the oppressed in society today. We pray for all those who are suffering stress and division in their lives – or rejection, condemnation and the heartbreak of broken family relationships – because of their commitment of faith. Lord, we pray for all those who as yet do not know you, and are walking around in darkness. Send faithful witnesses to shine your light into their lives. Lord, lead us. Show us how we can be effective witnesses for you. Amen.
Hymn Great is thy faithfulness (R&S 96)
May we focus on the future and find God waiting there; may we watch the horizon and know the sun will rise; may we see clouds gathering and know there will be laughter after the rain; and may we trust in God’s promised future as we live through our present world.
And God’s blessing rest on us, now and always. Amen.
Prayers and other material © Roots for Churches Ltd. Used by permission