Call to Worship
Let the people praise God;
Let all the peoples praise the Lord!
Let the nations be glad and sing with joy,
For God guide us all with justice and equity.
Let the people praise God, for how we have been blessed;
Come let us worship and offer all honour and praise.
Hymn 124 – Praise to the Lord
Prayers of Approach and Confession
God, your presence lifts us, Your grace amazes us,
Your power overwhelms us, Your love excites us.
We come to worship, expecting to hear your voice.
God, your people encourage us, Your church feeds us,
Your worldwide family holds us, Your kingdom beckons us, We come to worship, expecting to hear your voice. Draw us close to you, as you draw close to us, speak clearly into our hearts, speak deeply into our lives, speak wisdom into your church
we confess that we have not lived as you have taught us. Forgive us those times we have not welcomed others into our community; and those times we have avoided others because something about them made us uncomfortable.
Forgive us the ways we have judged people unfairly.
Reveal to us our own prejudices, and show us how to see your goodness in those who seem different from us.
While it is true that we have all sinned, it is a greater truth that we are forgiven through God’s love in Jesus Christ. To all who humbly seek the mercy of God, I say, be at peace with God, with yourself and with one another.
Readings – Genesis 45: 1- 15 (Pg 50)
Matthew 15: 21-28 (Pg 982)
Hymn – Give me joy in my heart
Father God, help us always to give our best, to work to our fullest and never be ashamed to confess your name. We pray for the those tormented by the demon of mental illness. We are reminded that although Joseph's brothers action meant it for evil purposes, God meant it for good; for "many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails". Amen
Imagine someone you know is arrested for a terrible crime, which they deny, yet the authorities seem convinced by the evidence. What do you do? Do you stand by your friend and argue their case or is there a niggle that maybe they just did it. It is part of the plot of a book I am reading, but I am conscious that this week a man was freed after years in prison for a crime for which he had been convicted, but now, because of the advances of science, the evidence has been discredited. He had always argued his innocence. Did his friends continue to plead his cause or had they accepted he was guilty as charged?
I admire those who persist in seeking justice, who show a determination to see that justice prevails. It reminds me of the Canaanite woman whom we read about this morning.
Jesus and his disciples had been to the seaside. Well, at any rate, they had crossed the border into what is now Southern Lebanon, the region of Tyre and Sidon, which are both by the Mediterranean, so conceivably Jesus could have gone to the sea. But if he was planning to have a break, get away from all the demands, then he had another thing coming! Maybe he thought he was incognito – he had crossed the border after all, but he soon learned that even there people were aware of his healings and miracles. Enter the Canaanite woman (Of course, the Canaanites were the enemies of Israel). It was a woman whose daughter was ill, was tormented in mind, and she needed healing. The woman had heard of Jesus, and here he was in the area. She was desperate.
All of us, at some time or other know or will know what it is to be desperate in small ways and large.
And when it happens we turn to God we stretch out our hands in protest. We cry out for help. It’s not hard, then, to identify with the suffering of this mother. Helpless to heal her child, she turns to Jesus as her last resort. Jesus will help.
And that is where this passage becomes interesting, for Jesus refuses to help. Yes, you heard correctly. Refuses. He completely ignores her appeal to his mercy. He ignores her. As do Jesus own disciples. In fact, they demand Jesus send the woman away. And Jesus agrees with them. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
So here we have it. Jesus, our Jesus, is refusing to help this woman and her daughter because they are foreign. They are not citizens of the house of Israel. They are Canaanite, invisible, unimportant. Outsiders. A minority. The woman is not to be the subject of his compassion and mercy. Jesus turns her off.
BUT the woman refuses to be sent away. Protesting, she kneels before him, “Lord, help me.” she says.
Still Jesus refuses her. “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” In other words: it is not fair to take what is intended for my people and give it to those who are inferior. Harsh, harsh words. But the woman is desperate and in that desperation speaks the word of truth. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus is shamed. Finally, his eyes are opened. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The daughter is healed.
It is an uncomfortable story and turns all our thoughts about Jesus on their head. Jesus the compassionate one, the welcoming one, the one who kissed the leper clean is suddenly refusing to listen even. It was a PR disaster. Commentators have said that maybe the tone Jesus used was playful, perhaps the words were not actually as offensive as they seem. But Matthew includes it in his Gospel.
We want to see Jesus as compassionate, unprejudiced, perfect in all ways, but he was also human and he was shaped by the culture he grew up in, as we all are. That culture dismissed Gentiles. A few weeks ago we read in Matthew’s gospel about the sending out of the disciples, and they were told not to go to the Gentiles. But by the end of the Gospel in the great commission, the disciples are charged with taking the Gospel to all nations. There has been a shift.
Because of the woman’s persistence, Jesus truly sees her for the first time. He hears her protest. His heart is opened, and he knows compassion. It is the right thing to do. God is not to be limited by citizenship, race, ethnicity, religion, orientation, or status. The Canaanite woman knew that. Now Jesus understood it too. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The daughter is healed.
This crossing of boundaries is there in the Old Testament in Ruth and Jonah and even Joseph in Egypt and Paul would develop it in his epistles where he declares, ‘there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.’
The Canaanite woman dug in her heels so her daughter could be well. At the heart of God is love for all. Jesus expects us to show that love to all, to gaze upon the world with our hearts, to recognize we can be wrong, that we can be too narrow, too opinionated, too fixed in our views, too eager to believe we are right. To follow the Jesus way is to accept his challenge to pursue the truth, to be open to new insights and possibilities. To love God, love our neighbour, and to love our own self, no matter what it takes.
Hymn 716 – Come and find the quiet centre
Prayers of Dedication and Intercession
Generous God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer,
to you we bring these gifts. Use them, use us, we pray, in the service of your world and to the glory of your name. Amen
Almighty God, Summoning God, ever calling, ever ready to bless, we thank you that you are without limits. You break the moulds of the past to teach us something new, You meet everyone where they live and call us to do the same. Renew our sense of purpose and commitment to sharing your love.
Teach us to treasure one another, those who are like us and those who are different. Teach us to keep the doors open, the welcome warm and the love unconditional.
In this time and place you have called us to pray for those in need. We pray today for all those who are outsiders. Those who marginalised because of their race or their gender... Those who feel ignored because of their faith, the colour of their skin, their sexuality, their age. We think particularly of the women of Afghanistan, denied the right to education and employment. And for those in Iran, where protests against restrictions on women seem to have been suppressed.
We pray for those whose voices are seldom heard, and those, who like the Canaanite woman’s daughter need others to speak up for them. We think particularly of people with disabilities. Those who are unable to speak… Those who speak out, but are ignored or silenced… Those who experience mockery or judgement in the physical or online worlds…
We pray for those whose motives are constantly questioned, those who are told that they should be more than satisfied with crumbs. We pray for: those fleeing persecution, and looking for asylum in the UK and other European countries… those whose choices in education and healthcare are limited by where they live, or their financial position…
We pray for those who are living with a sense of despair. Those who have lost everything through wildfires or floods… Those living with conflict – in Ukraine, in Israel/Palestine, in Niger… Those for whom recent exam results mean the loss of dreamed for futures…
We pray for all who speak out for a better world. For those who work for justice through politics or protest. For those who through persistence change hearts and minds.
And we pray for your Church – the church worldwide, and the church in this place. May it be a place of welcome and warmth. A place where all voices are heard. A place where worldly status is irrelevant. A place of righteous anger and of true peace. Amen
Hymn 562 – Through the love of God, our saviour
Call to Worship
Holy God of sun and wind;
Dance through this room today.
Holy God of sea and storm
Make us wonder at the glory around us.
Holy God of creation and new beginnings;
Show us again your vision of healing and wholeness.
Hymn 104 – The lord of heav’n confess (1,3,4,5)
Prayers of Approach and Confession
Surprising and mysterious God,
you come to us when we least expect it,
calling us out of our routines and plans,
inviting us to follow Christ into new opportunities.
We praise you for the many ways you come to us.
In moments of fear, you speak with words of reassurance. In moments of doubt, you reach out your hand to hold. In moments of turmoil, you bring calm to the storm. You are faithful to us through everything life can bring.
And so we place our trust in you this day and every day,and honour you as our Redeemer and Saviour,
in the name of Christ, our Lord and friend.
When we look for you in your magnificence, and fail to see you standing next to us… Forgive us and help us… When we drown your voice in noise and busyness, and forget to still ourselves to listen to you… Forgive us and help us… When we look for you in good and holy people, but fail to see you in those who make us uncomfortable… Forgive us and help us In the silence, hear us as we cry to you… Reassure us with your love, Surround us with the warmth of your grace And your ever present forgiveness, for you are a kind and gentle God, who seeks us out to bring us home.
Readings – Genesis 37: 1-4,12-28 (Pg 41)
Matthew 14: 22-33 (Pg 981)
Hymn 509 – Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
Prayer of Illumination
Gracious God, as we go out into the world, we pray that we may reflect your love in our families, our church and our community; so that the world can witness that we are followers of Christ . Still our hearts and minds as you calmed the storm and stilled the waters when you were on earth and help us to worship You the Son of the living God. Amen
Earlier this week I visited a friend in Carlisle, and we drove down the Cumbrian coast to Ravenglass, which apparently was a safe port for the Romans. But next door to Ravenglass is Muncaster Castle, which apparently is one of the most haunted houses in Britain. I can’t say I noticed. It seemed quite a happy place to me, and there were wonderful displays of owls and vultures, and the hydrangeas were wonderful. However, if you were to spend the night there it is supposed to get quite eerie. The disciples would have been terrified, for certainly in our Gospel reading today, they were convinced they had seen a ghost, who seemed to be coming right towards them. It is quite scary.
Jesus had fed the 5000 and was exhausted. Remember when the woman with the haemorrhage touched him, power went out of him, so feeding the crowd would have been exhausting work. He needed time away, so he went off to be by himself. But as he was going he told the disciples to make their way to the other side of the Lake and they would meet up there. The other side of the lake was Gentile territory, but Jesus had told them to meet him there, so they set off in their boat. But as they were travelling the weather changed, and a storm started to rage. Some of the disciples were fishermen; they were professionals, so knew what the score was. Storms didn’t happen that often, but they would have known what to do. However, it is not pleasant to be caught in storm. After I had been to Muncaster, we drove up to the Solway coast, and the water was grey and choppy. Not what you would expect in early August. But Matthew describes the disciples’ predicament in vivid detail. The wind howling, the waves surging, and the boat was tossed around. And it seemed to last most of the night, so the disciples would have been exhausted and cold – no wonder when they saw a figure appear on the water, they thought it was a ghost. They somehow didn’t recognise that it was their friend Jesus, appearing amid the storm.
Jesus was walking on the water. Jesus had come to the rescue – all they needed to do was wait till he reached the boat and take control of the situation. That is what I would have done. Just stayed put. But dear, impetuous Peter seemed to think differently from his friends. He saw Jesus and he called out. He didn’t say, Come closer to us. Rather he says, ‘tell me to come closer to you’ and he started to clamber over the side of the boat and began to tread on the water towards Jesus. But when he becomes conscious of the wind and waves, he loses concentration and begins to sink. He took his eyes off Jesus. But Jesus saves him, and the storm calms down.
But I am interested in what Peter did. He didn’t let fear control him or the darkness dictate his behaviour. He didn’t stay passively in the boat, but rather he did what Jesus was doing. That meant getting out of the boat, letting go of his fears and taking the risk of walking on the water too.
We can be surrounded by storms. The world is not in a good way with wars and displacement, wildfires are engulfing Hawaii now. There was a conference about the Amazon this week, but the rainforest is still shrinking, as loggers continue to intimidate indigenous tribes. We can have our own worries about health, about the future, and they can threaten to overwhelm us. The world can be a fearful place. But Peter’s example shows us that we can confront our fears and worries – and look to Jesus. And seek to do as Jesus is doing. We sometimes need to take the plunge, keeping our eyes on Jesus and seeing what he does.
We can strive to forgive, for that’s what Jesus does.
We can learn to be more generous, for that’s what Jesus does.
We can respect each person, for that’s what Jesus does.
We can pray for and love our neighbours, for that’s what Jesus does.
We can break down barriers, for that’s what Jesus does
Open arms wise with compassion, for that’s what Jesus does
Pick up the cross, for that’s what Jesus does.
Yes, we may take our eyes off Jesus and sometimes flounder, but Peter discovered that Jesus was at hand to save, so we know in the storms of our lives, Jesus is at hand. Joseph, sold into slavery by his jealous brothers, would discover that God was at hand to deliver him from his predicament.
For 2000 years men and women have kept their eyes on Jesus in troubled times and discovered a freedom by trusting in him. So let us take our eyes from the storm and focus on Christ and start moving towards him and do as he does.
Hymn 542– Lord speak to me
Prayers of Dedication and Intercession
Faithful God, bless the gifts we bring to you today. Use them and us to plant seeds of faith, hope and love in the world so that your goodness will flourish and your name be honoured for Christ’s sake. Amen.
Miraculous God, you calmed the storm the disciples were experiencing out on the sea, yet it is not your responsibility to fix the damage we have inflicted on our world which is groaning in pain. This summer has made many realise how much we have damaged and destroyed the natural world. We pray for those in places around the world where the ecological damage is greatest, for those in Greece, Northern Italy, Haiti, Indonesia, India, Southeast Asia, the Global South. We think of the people who suffer the most in these places; the poor, the sick and infirm, young children. Lord, we complain about the rain “spoiling” the summer, but for many the weather is a matter of life and death. Help us to open our eyes to the effect our way of life is having on the in other parts of the world and stir us to actually change.
Miraculous God, you saw how Israel’s sons treated their brother, and you stayed with Joseph and protected him, but it is not your responsibility to fix the damage we have inflicted on others through our abuse of people. We know how harmful, both emotionally and psychologically, war and conflict are to all those in the area where it is taking place. We remember those in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia and Russia, North & South Korea, Myanmar, Palestine & Israel, Taiwan, Sudan, South Sudan. Make us people of peace and reconciliation, equip us to help those physically, emotionally and psychologically hurt. Help us to remember that no matter which side of the conflict people are on, they are all your children and deserving of prayer and love, even when it is difficult to love them because of their actions.
We also remember those like Joseph who found themselves in countries other than their own, trying to make the best of it, and we remember all asylum seekers and refugees and the anguish they must endure. We remember those who are sold in our world today or exploited by sex traffickers.
Miraculous God, in Jesus you looked with compassion on those struggling with life – we pray for all who have lost people dear to them; be with them in their grieving. We also remember those in hospital or homes, those depressed or disturbed, those who are lonely. In a moment of silence we lift them before you.
We remember all who have departed this life in faith and thank you for the inspiration their example gives to us who are left to continue this life.
Hymn 737 – Will your anchor hold
May the blessing of God the Father be upon us
as we venture out into the world to live to the glory of God’s name.
May the blessing of God the Son be upon us as we step out in faith, to serve Jesus Christ as faithful disciples.
May the blessing of God the Holy Spirit be upon us
as we listen to the promptings of God’s Spirit
at one with our neighbours, with ourselves, and with God.
Call to Worship
We gather here in anticipation,
seeking an encounter with our Holy God,
who comes among us when we least expect it,
who invites us to wrestle with our questions and doubts,
who richly blesses us and calls us each by name.
Let us worship God together!
Hymn 153 – Great is thy faithfulness
Prayers of Approach and Confession
Mysterious and merciful God,
we praise you for all the ways you offer us abundant life. When the sun rises and the earth blooms around us, we are thankful for your gift of a new day.
When evening falls and we find ourselves in a lonely place, we count on your presence for comfort.
For the times you show us the way and give us guidance, we praise you.
For the healing you offer when we are broken and hurting, we rejoice.
Jesus, Enfleshed Word, we bring You ourselves this day, longing to see You face to face, we cling to You knowing You hold us fast. Yet we know, that all too often, we try to let go of You, we struggle against what is good for us, turning our back on You, and looking away from Your face. But Your arms are always held wide open in welcome.
Holy Spirit, Abiding Presence, we feel You amongst us this day, helping us to see Your face, enabling us to love even when love is a struggle, helping us to love ourselves when we’d prefer to hate, inspire us, Holy One, to return to You, to hold fast to love and justice, and wait continually for You, even as we struggle.
Like a mother eagle who tends her young; like a father who runs to welcome home the estranged; like a rock upon which we stand, God is loving and faithful, and forgives all our sins. God loves and forgives you, so have the strength to love and forgive yourself.
Readings – Genesis 32: 22-31 (Pg 36)
Matthew 14: 13-21 (Pg 981)
Hymn 348- Praise the one who breaks the darkness
Prayer of Illumination
Dear Lord, often we struggle to hear Your voice in the competing sounds of our world. Speak to us now that as we listen You will inspire us, that as we struggle You will strengthen us, and as we respond You will lead us. Amen.
John Bell, the Scottish hymnwriter, once asked a congregation which sport the Christianity could be most compared to. Is it like cricket, which from the outside looks dull, but enthusiasts are keen to assure us that it is really exciting. Is it like tennis, fairly predictable, but the word ‘love’ is used from time to time. Or maybe it is like golf, which looks easy, until you see the size of the hole and the size of the ball and the length they are away from each other. Or maybe it is like snooker, something which only a few can play really well, but there is a vast army of armchair critics. But John Bell concluded that the sport most associated with the Church was wrestling, because to be a Christian often means being involved in a struggle, whether it be a struggle with our faith or our consciences, a struggle even with life and death, as for many Christians in the world, to bear the name of Christ means persecution and discrimination.
Jacob famously wrestled with God. We have been following the story of the patriarchs, these towering figures right at the start of Israel’s history, but Jacob has not been a role model we would recommend to anyone. He wrestled with his twin brother Esau in their mother’s womb and he tricked Esau out of his birthright and had to flee for his life to escape Esau’s vengeance. He has been away for 20 years working for His uncle Laban, but even there he has put his cousins’ noses out of joint, as he has prospered at their expense. He had to make a hasty get-away. But word now reaches him that Esau is looking for him and is wanting to meet him, and Jacob is terrified. His life has reached a turning point, and he has to confront his past.
But he is still the same character, and he divides his sheep, goats, servants into two, so that if Esau grabs one lot, the others will escape. He also incredibly sends his wives and children ahead, so they are between Esau and him. He is absolutely terrified by Esau and has made him into a giant figure. Suddenly he is alone, and that night a figure appears, and wrestles with Jacob. Some commentators suggest it was Jacob’s greatest fear and rival – his brother Esau himself. Some suggest he is wrestling with his inner demons, the past catching up with him so he has to confront himself. In paintings he is shown wrestling with an angel, while Genesis even suggests he wrestles with God himself. He called the place Peniel, which means the face of God. Whoever it was, Jacob clung on until he was blessed. We are told he was even given a new name, Israel. It is as if in the wrestling match, he does confront who has been and doesn’t come through the experience unscathed, for he is wounded, he has a limp, but also has a new identity, though the new Jacob still has his faults.
The Reformer Martin Luther saw this story as one of wrestling with God – not surprising given the troubles Luther had with the Church in his attempts to reform it. John Calvin saw the story as a vision for all of us about the wrestling we have to do in life – the Lord, he said, exercises us with various kinds of conflicts. God tries our strength through these struggles. Calvin thought that it was, like Jacob, with God’s own self that we wrestle in order to be tested and strengthened. Charles Wesley, in a hymn, saw the figure that Jacob wrestled with as Christ. Wesley captures Jacob’s desire to know God “The secret of Thy love unfold; wrestling, I will not let Thee go, till I Thy name, Thy nature know.”
So many Christians go through difficult times in their faith – the ‘dark night of the soul’, including many famous Christians who have been assailed by doubts or fears, when bad things have happened to them or to those they love. But like Jacob, though wounded, they have persisted and ‘clung’ to Jesus, to God.
It is not easy to be a Christian – from the word Go, there were persecutions, and even today. The charity, Embrace the Middle east has been running a series of podcasts with figures from the churches in the Middle east. Jack Munayer is a young Palestinian Christian and he says, ‘We have seen more attacks, more harassment, more vandalism of church property over the past year, more than in the previous ten years combined’. It is a struggle to keep the faith, but like Jacob, though wounded, the Christians in Iraq and Syria and Palestine persist, show that tenacity of faith.
We struggle with wanting to live in harmony with earth and with wanting a fairer world where all have dignity and people can live at peace, but sometimes it seems like one step forward and two steps back, but we persist.
Jacob was wounded, but he persisted and was blessed. So in all our wrestling matches, let us hold on to our faith, for as we seek to be faithful to God, we too will be blessed.
Hymn – Canticle of the Turning
Prayers of Dedication and Intercession
The sacrifice that honours God is a thankful heart. So let us present our offerings with thankful hearts, grateful for all God’s goodness to us.
Blessed are you, God of all creation, for all your good gifts. Use the gifts we offer to spread your goodness in Jesus’ name. Let your Spirit work through us so that your goodness will move through us into the world wherever we go. Amen.
O Most High, we pray today for those who struggle against the earthly powers and principalities that seek to rule our world; for those who seek peace in a world at war, for those who seek love in a world of hate, for those who seek justice in a world of evil; give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on until the dawn comes. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We pray today for those who struggle because they can’t pay their bills, for those for whom work doesn’t pay, for developing countries never out of debt to the new empires of capital give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on until the dawn comes. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We pray today for those who struggle with ill health, in mind, body or spirit; for those struggling with pain waiting to see a doctor, for those struggling to make the NHS work better, for those with mental health problems for whom there seems no hope; give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on until the dawn comes. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We pray for those who have lost everything in wild fire or flooding this year, and for growers facing drought, shortage of workers and uncertain markets.
Guide the leaders in our communities and our nation
as they face these complicated problems. Give strength, encouragement and the ability to hold on until the dawn comes. Lord, in your mercy…hear our prayer.
We pray for those who walk through our villages this summer. Keep us alert to the needs of visitors and strangers and open our hearts so that your goodness will touch those we meet.
We pray for all who have lost loved ones, with loneliness, with anxiety..
Lord Jesus Christ, you walk with us through all the days of challenge and celebration. Draw near to all who face unexpected sorrow this summer and join with those who celebrate happy occasions, too.
Be our Bread for the journey to sustain us and encourage us, whatever the days ahead holds for us.
Hymn 515- Soldiers of Christ arise
May the One with whom we wrestle, strengthen you in your woundedness. May the One who has guided our past and who will guide our future, assure you of His love and nature. May the One who hears the groans of the oppressed inspire you to action. And the blessing of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, be with you and all whom you love, now and always, Amen.