Guide for Worship
July 26, 2020
Welcome to worship!
What is the Kingdom like? The answer is many-faceted and at times, even defies explanation. This week our worship explores that question through six parables of Jesus found in Matthew 13:31-33 and 44-52. This section of scriptures is illustrative, as if Jesus takes a prism and looks through it, turning it in the light and then trying to describe what he sees. There is much to ponder, and each of these stories highlights practical aspects of living faith.
Centering Reflection and Preparation
We begin our time of worship by centering ourselves and becoming aware of the mix of simplicity and complexity that play in patterns or images around us. Our method for that this week is to use a visual reference of a kaleidoscope. They are beautiful, they are dramatic in their patterns that never exactly repeat, and they defy our ability to describe them with accuracy. The more we search the images, the more layers of color, shape and patterns we discover.
- When you are ready, begin the video of the kaleidoscope. Note the changing colors and patterns. Breathe deeply and listen to the music as you gaze at the changing images.
- Next, allow of moment of the video to emerge by pausing the playback. See the image as it has stopped. Reflect on the whole image for a minute or so.
- Notice the patterns, shapes and colors on the screen. See where they repeat across the image. See where the colors blend and where they separate. Try to notice details.
- Turn away from the image and try to keep it in your mind. Think of how you would describe what you saw. Where would you begin? If someone is worshiping with you, compare how each of you might describe the image and notice where differences emerge.
- Consider the following questions:
- What emotions does this image evoke in you?
- Why is this image hard to describe?
- Does this image lead you into an attitude of prayer? If so, let these prayers take form in you. Write them down if you desire.
- Finally, offer your prayers to God in a time of silence.
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Maddy, Marley, Myles and Ella Grace read to us six stories or parables that Jesus told of the Kingdom. Note the patterns and similarities and note also the differences that emerge though Jesus is describing the same thing with each parable.
Open Our Eyes, Lord
This simple chorus is a prayer, asking God to grant us clarity to see and hear God’s presence and to increase our devotion. Sing along with Anna Moxley as she leads our musical worship.
Open our eyes, Lord,
we want to see Jesus,
to reach out and touch him,
and say that we love him.
Open our ears, Lord,
and help us to listen.
Open our eyes, Lord,
we want to see Jesus.
Response Through Giving
How Great Thou Art – Nyssa Collins
We encourage you to give your offerings online through Pushpay here, through the Yates app, or by mail (2819 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, NC, 27707). We are growing into new ways to be the church together and your giving allows us to keep being the church, even in the absence of our physical presence.
Your Life a Parable – Christopher Ingram
Listen to the sermon audio above, or click here to read along.
When Jesus first began his ministry, he went throughout Galilee preaching, teaching, and healing. Matthew sums up his message in chapter 4, verse 17: “Repent (that is, “turn around”), for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Now, a statement like that is sure to invite a lot of follow-up! “Kingdom” and “heaven” are words that are wrapped up with expectations. They are words that make us think of things like power and authority or blessedness and perfection. Jesus’ followers knew full-well what a real empire looked like and acted like.
At that time, no living person could speak of a time when they weren’t all under the boot of the Roman emperor. That was their daily, lived reality. If another empire was at hand, what would it mean to live there? How would you know you were under the dominion of God and not the great powers of the world? How would you know the difference when the stuff of daily life pretty much looked the same as it did before you heard the news?
Well, Jesus’ “answers” don’t seem like answers, at least not the way we like our questions answered. In response to questions, he tells them stories, parables. Jesus takes the stuff of ordinary life and shows them transformed in some surprising or startling way.
The kingdom is like a mustard seed. The kingdom of heaven a bit of yeast stashed in the dough, a hidden treasure, a pearl of great value, a net catching fish. Instead of stories wrapping God’s empire up in the trappings of worldly power, kings and armies and victories, he explains the kingdom of heaven by talking about farming and baking and fishing and being about your daily work.
In the midst of all these images that come at a fast and furious pace, Jesus is teaching one of the most remarkable truths that emerges from the gospel: the truth of the unexpected hiddenness of the kingdom of God.
Jesus always made clear that the kingdom of God was going to save and rescue this world because of its being so very different from the powerful, flashy political kingdoms that otherwise capture our attention. The kingdom of heaven, Jesus said, looks small. It might lack influence, maybe even look foolish. In fact, the kingdom can even disappear completely the way a seed gets buried in the soil. A mustard seed weighs about 4.409 millionths of a pound. Imagine finding one of those again after you drop it in the dirt! The same is true of yeast in dough: once it’s mixed into the water, flour and oil, the yeast disappears—you couldn’t separate it back out again (much less locate it) if you tried. But these tiny things can do great work.
That’s the kingdom of heaven Jesus proclaims. It’s not about political influence, or fearsome armies or a stunning capital city. If that’s what you want, God’s kingdom looks as insignificant as a grain of mustard or unhelpful as a lump of rotting dough.
But we know that where God reigns, hearts are changed. The kingdom of heaven can change this world. It has changed the world.
The kingdom is here, and it is modest. It’s hidden. It’s quiet. In fact, those who discover it seem almost to stumble upon it. The kingdom is a great treasure, but you’re not going to find its value traded or grown on Wall Street. But once you’ve found it, your joy will be so great, you’ll do whatever it takes to secure it for the rest of your life.
Tiny seeds, invisible yeast, a woman at work, a risky purchase – had it been left up to us, this is not how we would have pictured the most powerful, meaningful, joyful reality in the universe! But it is how Jesus did it. This is the kingdom Jesus has given to us. It is the kingdom he asked us to pray for. It is the kingdom in which he commanded us to live out the will of God on earth every day.
If we follow lead of the Scripture here, maybe we see that both our kingdom living and our kingdom proclamation will be more about quiet acts of loving faithfulness than about grabbing a headline or shouting through a megaphone. The kingdom of heaven is the place where the most powerful force in the world resides. But we’ve got to let the kingdom grow and rise in its own quiet, humble ways if hearts are really going to change.
As those who bear that kingdom to the world, we Christians keep doing those things that look a little silly or meaningless or forgettable in this world. But we believe they hold the very stuff of a new creation. We gather (online, I’ll grant you). We worship. We sing songs, some of them very, very old. We share well-worn prayers and teachings. We turn to and stand on the ancient words of the Bible. We come alongside the bedsides of the sick and dying and pray prayers for God to be with us in our living and our dying. We keep on inviting those who would choose this life in God’s dominion to come into the water. Together, we’ll share bread and cup at a common table – all in the earnest belief that by the God’s holy power, our baptism and our communion point us to the more important things. We keep pointing people to an old, rugged cross, and we proclaim that the one who died on that cross is now the risen Lord of all creation.
And we keep working, working for Jesus in this upside-down world. We carry out our jobs, raise our children and tend our relationships in the belief that God has designs for those things and it’s our job to live into them.
In his very important book, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard wrote that a kingdom is a place where one person’s influence determines what happens. In the case of the kingdom of God, that kingdom is not a geographic spot you could find on a map. What Jesus wants us to know is that the kingdom of God is present any – and every – place where the influence of Jesus’ living presence forms the shape of life. Wherever and whenever Jesus’ words and love determine the words, actions, thoughts, and patterns of someone’s life (or some group’s life), then there is where God’s kingdom, God’s empire, God’s reign, God’s dominion is revealed to be.
And that is our part – to show the world the reality of God’s dominion by how we conduct our lives and our life together. It’s hard to trust that living the quiet, faithful, humble, service- oriented life of Jesus is what it takes, but maybe todays reminders of hidden surprises remind us of the differences our lives can make when we are willing to pay the cost of discipleship each and every day.
We do this because after all these hidden and subtle gestures of the kingdom, Jesus finishes with an image that is anything but subtle. There will come a reckoning, when the kingdom is so fully present that each and every one will either be a citizen of that kingdom or not. We witness to the kingdom in the way it shows itself to us, lovingly and humbly and compassionately, but we must be witnesses. The stakes are too high to stay quiet.
“Have you understood all these things?” Jesus asked them.
“Yes,” they reply. I’m doubtful they’re really speaking truthfully here!
Have you understood all these things? I’m not sure I do. Not completely, at least. But even as incomplete as our understanding may feel to us, we need to comprehend the glory of the kingdom’s hidden nature and the absolute urgency of our pointing the world to it every chance we get.
Though we can’t always plan when, or how, it is in our witness that our lives will tell their own little stories that speak volumes more than thousands of our words ever could. How will your life tell the story? How will your life be a parable of the kingdom of heaven this week?
Prayer of Dedication
Jess Gaul leads us in prayer and asks us to recognize who we are before God and how we are vessels for God’s care. Pray along with her.
Watch the prayer video above, or click here to read along.
God of a love that comforts, embraces and surprises us:
You have called us to be your treasures and ambassadors in the earth to be those who love and serve you by helping to meet the needs of others.
Jesus reminded us that we were like tiny mustard seeds that could grow into mighty shelters for those who felt abandoned;
that we were like yeast placed in flour which causes the whole dough to rise and to be fruitful for the nourishment of God’s people,
that we are also nets, cast into the unknown sea, gathering people for the Lord that they might be healed and saved.
You give us this gift of caring for your people. Please guide and direct our efforts by your Spirit. Reveal to us those who need a healing word or hand, and those who are in physical need. We bring before you this day persons and situations which need your healing love.
Help us to be vehicles of your grace for these dear people, people made in Your image. People who you created. Give us courage and empower us to serve you boldly and joyfully, for it is in the healing love of Christ that we offer this prayer. AMEN.
We began our worship with a visual image of a kaleidoscope. Another form of image that demonstrates the same tendencies in patterns and that plays between simplicity and complexity is a mandala. A mandala is a circular design in art that many spiritual traditions have used to focus or capture reflections or to integrate thoughts and symbols. Some people use mandalas with predrawn designs as a type of journaling or reflective expression. Others create their own from a blank piece of paper with a simple circle drawn on it to begin.
Below you will find several documents to use in your own mandala exercise. For a simple and quiet experience, turn on some relaxing music, find some crayons or colored pencils, and choose a design. As you color, consider this: do you choose the colors, or do the colors begins to choose themselves? How does the pattern start to emerge in your design?
For a more intensive experience, choose the document that is the blank circle. Try to remove any distracting sounds or actions from the space where you are. Look carefully into the empty circle and imagine what could fill the space. It may help to think of a guiding theme: “what’s on your plate?” or “what needs a safe place to be expressed?” Or, perhaps you might begin drawing in the circle with your wrong hand or a scribble; then take note of the lines or marks and see what you can turn them into. As you fill the space within the circle, allow the images and colors in your thoughts to become like a prayer to God.
Blessings to you for this day of worship!