OT 17: 9th Sunday after Pentecost

July 30, 2023

Lectionary Texts

Genesis 29.15-28. Jacob works seven years for Laban to marry Rachel. Laban tricks him and gives him Leah; Jacob works another seven years for Rachel.

Psalm 105.
Praise God for God’s wonderful deeds.

Romans 8.26-39.
We don’t know how to pray, but the Spirit intercedes…. All things work for good …. God has predestined us to be loved, to be like Christ, to be glorious with love. Nothing can separate us from God’s love.

Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52. Parables of the mustard seed, the yeast, hidden treasure, the precious pearl, the great net. The householder brings out what is new and what is old.

Preaching Thoughts

       We take the Bible so seriously that sometimes we forget that sometimes it has a rollicking good tale to tell. This is one. Sure, it’s about God continuing to provide… and it’s also about trickery. Jacob is a scheming, self-serving dude… but here’s a sweet side to him: his love for Rachel. Imagine working 14 years for something you really want.

       Paul really does believe in God’s grace. God saves us when we’re sinful, forgives us when we don’t deserve it, and prays for us when we can’t. Faith isn’t something we have but something we receive. God is not some far-off stranger requiring us to get their attention and explain things to them. God is within us, and knows us better than we know ourselves. When we “don’t know what to pray” we’re just aware of what’s always true: we don’t actually “know how” to pray. We’re not actually doing the praying. We’re just letting the Holy Spirit speak up. Real prayer is letting God pray in us. And listening.
      This passage is often used to justify some notion of predestination, as if God has already decided your life. Paul does not say God has predestined the events and trajectory of our lives; he says we are predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. And we are destined to be called, justified and glorified. There’s no plotting of our future here: this is not a predetermination of what we’ll do or what will happen to us, but of who we are. We’re God’s Beloved. That’s a given. Or, in Paul’s language, predestined.
       Here’s is the Good News. Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing. Not even our own sin. (Remember Rom. 5.8: “Christ died for the ungodly.”) Faith is not earning that gift, but receiving it. Think of all the things we think, at one time or another, can separate us from God’s love. Go ahead, name them. And add them to the list of things that are not able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

      Jesus tells various parables about the Realm of God being valuable and fruitful treasures hidden among us. They are stories about seeking, finding, paying attention and honoring God’s presence.
     •Mustard seed. God’s grace is life-giving, not demanding; sheltering and welcoming, and seems to rise out of nothing. There’s no measuring grace. The smallest and seemingly insignificant act of love may be huge in God’s realm. You are a mustard seed of God.
     • Yeast. The word for “three measures” of flour isn’t like three cups, but more like three bushels. God’s grace is invisible but has a huge impact. And a little bit affects the whole lump. Your little acts of love change the whole world. Musicians get this: In a choir if only one person changes the note they’re singing it changes the whole chord. (You can demonstrate that in your sermon with singers or handbells.)
      • Treasure. So often we’re looking for God in certain places when God actually is everywhere. Because of the treasure the whole field is valuable. Because God is everywhere and in everything, everything is blessed. God is present, even in evil situations. We’re invited to buy the whole field, to love the whole world. And God buys the whole field of you because you hold the hidden treasure.
      • Pearl. Imagine what is worth the total of everything else in your life put together. What would you give up everything for? Imagine seeking God, loving God like that. I don’t think it means to abandon your life, friends, career, and all that. I think it means paying attention to what you most care about in your day to day (or year to year) life. What if that pearl is to be loving? Say you’re in an argument with a family member or co-worker. What’s the fine pearl you’re after? To win? To look smart? To be right? Or to love? What are the other less valuable things you have to give up to really love?
      • Great net. The realm of God is inclusive. Jesus welcome everybody to the table. And God welcomes all of you, your whole self. You are not all good or bad. You are made up of fish of every kind. God gathers all of who you are, the fish of every kind that make up you, and sorts out what’s fruitful and what’s not. The fish that’s tossed out is not you, it’s your faults and foibles. God will sort out what’s valuable and what’s not. But God takes the whole package. Isn’t that how we love our friends? We take the whole netful, the good with the bad, and love them whole.
      •New and old. Paradox. Balance. Heritage and reform. Found and created. A tradition of transformation.

Call to Worship

Leader: God, your love is a fine pearl:
All: beautiful, and perfect,
worth more than everything else.

Your grace is the treasure we seek:
lovely, and hidden in the field of our lives.
So we sell all we have and buy the field.
We leave all else aside and worship you,
shovels in hand, seeking your Word.

Leader: Creator God, we praise you!
All: Risen Christ, we greet you!
Holy Spirit, you are the treasure that we seek.
And here you are, within and among us!
Spirit of love, we do not know how to worship as we ought.
But you live within us; you pray in us. You are the heart of our worship.
Alleluia! Come, Holy Spirit, and transform us by your grace. Alleluia!

Leader: God of love, your grace is the mustard seed
that grows in us, that gives life and beauty.
All: Your love is the net that gathers us in in all our diversity.Christ, you are the treasure hidden in the field of our lives.
You are the fine pearl we seek.
Holy Spirit, you are the yeast that leavens us with love.
You are new and old, eternal and always coming anew.
In awe, in gratitude, in joy,we worship you.

Leader: Loving God, we are yours; and we praise you.
All: Crucified and Risen Christ, we are made new, and we thank you.
Holy Spirit, we live by your power alone, and we serve you.
Holy God, we come to tell the story of your grace and to sing your praise.
We come to hear your love, and to sing you love.
We come to worship. Alleluia!

Collect / Prayer of the Day

Loving God, you are the treasure within, the pearl we seek. In the grace of this morning we quiet our souls and open our hearts to your presence; we still our minds to listen for your Word. Speak your grace to us, and create us anew. Amen.

Gracious God, we do not know how to worship as we ought. But you are in every moment and in every place; and your Spirit in us helps us worship even now. Open the eyes of our hearts to be mindful of your presence and to allow you to live fully and powerfully in us, by the Spirit of Christ. Amen.

Gracious God, we confess that we give value to so many worthless things; yet the only treasure we truly have is your love. Forgive us for our idolatry and help us to turn our hearts to you alone. Give us the faith to love you with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. We pray in the spirit and the presence of Jesus, your Christ. Amen.

Listening Prayer

(suitable as a Collect, preparation for hearing scriptures, or invitation to prayer)

Loving One,
we do not know how to pray as we ought.
But the yeast of your love
lives in us, works in us,
leavens us with your grace.
You pray in us,
with sighs to deep for words,
and we listen.

Prayer of Confession

God, we do not know how to live as we ought.
But your Spirit intercedes for us,
with sighs too deep for words.
In your mercy forgive our sin,
heal our fear, and empower us
to change our habits
for the sake of love.
May your grace leaven our hearts. Amen.


Matthew 13.31-33, 44-48 —a meditation

“The realm of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.”

         [Imagine God’s grace as a tiny seed in you, a tiny seed among all of us, growing great.
         Where do you see those seeds bearing fruit in your life?
         Where do you see it in this church?

Jesus told them another parable: “The realm of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three bushels of flour until all of it was leavened.” Jesus told the crowds all these things in parables; he told them nothing without a parable.

         [Imagine all of your life, even the plain, heavy parts, are leavened with God’s grace.
         What does that feel like? How does it change how you see those parts of your experience?

Jesus said, “The realm of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in her joy she goes and sells all that she has and buys that field.”

         [Imagine buying the whole field of your life, and everything in it,
         because God’s love is hidden there. Your whole life, even the hard parts.

         What might you have to embrace to really own your life?
         What might you have to give up— to “sell all you have”—to fully possess your life?

“Again,” Jesus said, “the realm of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

         [What is that one pearl of great price for you? What is the one thing you treasure the most?
         Are you willing to give up everything else for it?

Again, the realm of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad.

         [When God’s grace enters your life it leads you to make new choices.
         What are the new things you are called to embrace?
         What are old things you need to let go of?

Romans 8.26-39 — a paraphrase

The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit prays in us with sighs too deep for words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, understands, because the Spirit speaks for God’s holy people according to God’s desire for us.

We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to God’s purpose. For God has chosen people from the beginning to share the image of the Only Begotten, so that Christ would be the firstborn in a large family. And when people are chosen they are called, and when they are called they are made right with God, and when they are made right with God they shine with God’s glory.

So then here’s what this means: If God is for us, who could be against us? God did not hold back the Only Begotten, but gave Christ up for all of us; so trust that God will also give us everything else. Who will bring any charge against God’s chosen ones? Since it is God who justifies, who has the power to condemn? Our judgment is in the hands of Christ Jesus, who died, and yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who is on our side.

Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or poverty, or danger, or violence? As scripture says, “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are looked on as if we are sheep to be slaughtered.” No! In all these things we are more than conquerors through the One who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus the Beloved.

Response / Creed / Affirmation

(Romans 8.26-39)
     God, we give you thanks, for you have called us according to your purpose. You have destined us to be conformed to the image of Christ, to be called, to be justified, to be glorified.
     Christ, we give you thanks, for you have died and been raised and intercede for us. You have given up everything for us, and justified our lives, so that no one may condemn. In you nothing can separate us from the love of God: not life or death, hardship or distress, persecution, poverty, danger, suffering or violence. No earthly powers or choices or anything else in Creation can separate is from God’s love in you.
     Holy Spirit, we give you thanks, for through you all things work for good to those who love God. We do not know how to live as we ought, but you intercede for us in ways deeper than words. You empower us to live as more than conquerors, through the love with which you love us. We love you, and we entrust ourselves to you. A,men.

Prayer of Dedication / Sending / after Communion

[Adapt as needed.]
Gracious God, we thank you for (the mystery that you give yourself to us / this mystery in which you have given yourself to us.) Dear God, for all of the treasure that you have given us we thank you. Receive these gifts of our hearts. Through our giving, help us to treasure you alone, and to give of ourselves freely in love of you. Use our gifts to bear your blessing to the world, that all may know of the unsurpassed wonder of your grace. Amen.

Suggested Songs

(Click on titles to view, and hear an audio clip, on the Music page)

All of the Gifts I Have (Tune: Fairest Lord Jesus)

All of the gifts I have, all that is within me,
you give to me, O God, with care;
all of my prayers and skills, passions and energies
you grant to me to freely share.

Here are my hopes and dreams, attitudes and deepest loves,
all of the treasure to which I cling.
I will not hold them in, stilling my ardent song,
but serving you I’ll freely sing.

In all I keep or give, may I do my very best
in everything I say and do,
in harmony with you, only to love and bless,
with joy, to serve and honor you.

The Heart of Heaven (Original song)

There’s a heart in heaven that knows you,
and speaks your name in love from heaven’s throne,
that has laughed and labored here beside you,
and says, “I know your journey as my own.”

There are eyes in heaven that adore you,
and weep with joy at the beauty of your soul,
for they see the courage of your living,
and share your deepest yearnings to be whole.

There’s a tear in heaven that remembers,
there’s a deep, weary sigh that understands;
there are gentle, wounded hands that know the struggle
to do the work of God with human hands.

There’s a voice from heaven within you,
a spring of life-giving water flowing free.
Let it flow, let grace and peace shine in you
with heaven’s loveliness for all to see.

Oh, the heart of heaven is within you,
the universe embraces you in love,
for the humble One who walks beside you
is the One who rules the sun and stars above.

With Open Hands (Tune: The Water Is Wide)

O God, we come with open hands for grace we do not understand.
We simply take, and we are blessed that you receive us as your guest.

We open all our treasure stores in gratitude that freely pours
from open hearts that you have healed, so in our love, yours is revealed.

You open wide great heaven’s doors; your love includes, heals and restores.
We share your feast, and we are called with open arms to all the world.

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