You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be happy; it shall go well.
“Have you understood all this?”
Jesus of Nazareth
The Invitatory and Psalter
V. O Lord, open thou our lips,
R. And our mouths shall show forth your praise.
V. Glory be to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
R. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Alleluia
Jubilate Psalm 100
1 Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; *
serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
2 Know this: The LORD himself is God; he himself has made us; we are his *;
we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.
3 Enter his gates with thanksgiving; go into his courts with praise; *
give thanks to him and call upon his Name.
4 For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting; *
and his faithfulness endures from age to age.
The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.
129.Your decrees are wonderful; *
therefore I obey them with all my heart.
130.When your word goes forth it gives light; *
it gives understanding to the simple.
131.I open my mouth and pant; *
I long for your commandments.
132.Turn to me in mercy, *
as you always do to those who love your Name.
133.Steady my footsteps in your word; *
let no iniquity have dominion over me.
134.Rescue me from those who oppress me, *
and I will keep your commandments.
135.Let your countenance shine upon your servant *
and teach me your statutes.
136.My eyes shed streams of tears, *
because people do not keep your law.
The mercy of the Lord is everlasting. Come let us adore him.
The First Lesson: 1 Kings 3:5-12
5At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” 6And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. 7And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. 9Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”
10It pleased the LORD that Solomon had asked this. 11God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: The Lord will come and not be slow John Milton Hymnal 1982 #462
The Lord will come and not be slow,
his footsteps cannot err;
before him righteousness shall go,
his royal harbinger.
Truth from the earth, like to a flower,
shall bud and blossom show;
and justice, from her heavenly bower,
look down on us below.
Rise, God, judge thou the earth in might,
this wicked earth redress;
for thou art he who shalt by right
the nations all possess.
The nations all whom thou hast made
shall come, and all shall frame
to bow them low before thee, Lord,
and glorify thy Name.
For great thou art, and wonders great
by thy strong hand are done:
thou in thy everlasting seat
remainest God alone.
The Second Lesson: Romans 8:26-39
26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
28We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
31What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Spread, O spread, thou mighty word J.F. Bahnmeier Hymnal 1982 #530
Spread, O spread, thou mighty word,
spread the kingdom of the Lord,
that to earth’s remotest bound
all may heed the joyful sound;
Word of how the Father’s will
made the world, and keeps it, still;
how his only Son he gave,
earth from sin and death to save;
Word of how the Savior’s love
earth’s sore burden doth remove;
how forever, in its need,
through his death the world is freed;
Word of how the Spirit came
bringing peace in Jesus’ name;
how his never-failing love
guides us on to heaven above.
Word of life, most pure and strong,
word for which the nations long,
spread abroad, until from night
all the world awakes to light.
The Gospel Lesson: Matthew 13:31-33,44-52
31He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; 32it 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.”
33He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.”
44The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
45Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; 46on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
47Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; 48when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. 49So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
51Have you understood all this? They answered, “Yes.” 52And he said to them, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”
The Gospel of the Lord. Praise be to you, Lord Christ.
Sermon: Like Tiny Seeds, a Pearl, Treasure Hidden in a Field
It must be maddening to know something so well that every time you try to explain it, you realize you left something out, some key detail, some important element, feature, component, principle, or purpose. The various ways that Jesus describes, in parable and metaphor, the kingdom of God / kingdom of heaven often strike me as this sort of thing. He, as he is at pains to tell us quite often, alone among humanity knows the mind of God, and also apparently knows how hard it is to share it adequately and accurately. Several Christian traditions, mostly now suppressed, held that Jesus had secret teaching which only those disciples closest to him could be trusted to hear, and even then only on pain of not telling anybody until they and he were ready for them to hear it.
Mary of Magdala, Thomas Didymus, Peter, James, and John – and, by some accounts, even Judas – heard things straight from Jesus’s lips that he deemed that others, even among the Twelve, were not ready for. Imagine being Bartholomew or Nathaniel or Levi, and knowing that when push came to shove you were, in the eyes of the Lord, a second-rate follower, not quite ready for the strong meat and mead of the faith, the heady wine and most viscous oil of the true, deep knowledge of what God is and what God wants, and how you fit into the larger plan.
One of our non-canonical gospels, the Gospel of Mary of Magdala, actually has a reflection from Levi himself, on the point. When the others were debating whether or not to let her speak and hold authority with the men, he said, Why not? The Lord trusted her and loved her more than us. Who are we to doubt his wisdom and his choices?
You can see why those advocating for a male-only priesthood and the subordination of women to men worked so tirelessly and, it appears, dishonorably to suppress this gospel.
Yet mindful of Levi’s point, if we are not to doubt Jesus’s wisdom in bringing Mary so close to him, we ought also not doubt his wisdom in shrouding in parables his words about the kingdom.
The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed…
The kingdom of heaven is like yeast…(wait: I thought it was early money that is like yeast, as Emily’s List said – E-M-I-L-Y, early money is like…yeah, that’s it).
The kingdom of heaven is like hidden treasure or a pearl, which you find and then get by what means you can, fair or foul, not telling anyone why…
The kingdom of heaven is like a haul of fish – some good, some rotten…
Mix them, and you’d get…a hot mess – flavorful, if dubious, fish with a tendency to get bigger over time, with a treasure inside far better than that in a Cracker Jack box. But even taken one by one, they have their challenges. Mustard seeds are small but grow a plant a little bit bigger than anyone really needs, but birds nest there and if your faith is small-but-enlargeable, you can move mountains. And yet no mountains move, except of the earth’s accord or that of the mining companies. (Oh, wait; that’s from the parable about what faith is. What we’re talking about right here is the kingdom of heaven – which exits whether or not you believe in it, or ever even heard.)
Yeast, like early, money, gets everywhere that matters fast and makes all kinds of things blossom, bloom, and grow, expanding as they do so with what the yeast has no more use for, leavening the dough to make it rise and soften and be bread instead of crackers. Like Anakin’s sand in Star Wars, it gets everywhere, but in a good way – and you don’t need much to make an impact. The kingdom of heaven is surely like that; a little goes a long way.
Pearls and gold and wealth untold that one finds, hides again, and surreptitiously gains – ah, the kingdom is like that? Amazing. In the kingdom are both rotten fish and whole fish, one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish – as I said, the bad and the good. Little seeds, leaven, gold, jewels, questionable seafood – yeah, I mean, it all makes sense. Who among us cannot see the leaven in the pearl or the mustard in the gold, or see jewelry that could also be iffy cod, skate, or haddock? I mean, it just stands to reason. I can see exactly what Jesus is on about.
Let’s try again. The kingdom of heaven starts as the wee little seed-of-a-tree but ends with birds nesting in it, so large has that tree grown. It makes things grow inside, expanding outward with more space to breathe inside yet becoming more, and better, versions of themselves. When you find it, it is amazing in the promise of its fineness and its wealth, but half of it is rotten, at least until the cull begins – and, as we learned last week, come the Last Harvest, the reapers will be angels. Small, valuable, hard to find but yet not as hard as you might think, and in need of careful, critical evaluation before it is useful or at its best – ah, I see it now: the kingdom of heaven is like diamonds, bitcoin, a vaccine against (perhaps against a pandemic-causing virus), or anything else we either want, need, or find useful as a source of health, wealth, and safety. Ah, yes, you might hear Jesus saying, had he lived in a different region: the kingdom of heaven is like diamonds, or maybe a diamond mine…
He never saw a diamond, I’d wager. He might never have seen anyone who’d seen a diamond, a tear of the gods, a shard from a falling star, as this little shiny thing was imagined in the Mediterranean world of his time. Thus, he’d not have had occasion to reach for that image, or found any ears to have understood what he meant. Yet the kingdom of heaven is like a diamond: a super-bright, clear but not empty light-refracting rock that can cut anything, shine more brightly than anything and be harder than anything. It is, thanks to the DeBeers syndicate’s marketing campaign, readily recognized as the objective correlative of true, everlasting love. Yet it is not quite that naturally, since before a diamond can shine at its best, all that is not it, not the pure it-ness of it, not elemental carbon in this particular form of itself, the quintessence, the quiddity of it, must be removed, cut away, cast aside, before it can shine or cut as it ought, as it was meant to, if anything can be said to be meant to be or do anything. You’d give all you had just to find one that filled the palm of your hand, or a mine that produced them, somehow brought them to the surface. These little bits of metamorphosed coal, and the land and works that bring them from the earth, have a way of making everything else around them seem a little less pure, and little less valuable, or perhaps a lot less pure and valuable. This happens whether or not it should, whether or not we want it to or even choose that it will. Yet that is our reaction, not the diamond’s. It couldn’t care less what we think of it or what we do with it. It will be as it is, or it will not be at all. The kingdom of heaven is, one can imagine, very like that indeed.
It cannot, I should emphasize, by like a diamond mine itself. From what I have read and seen, such places, like gold mines, are among the most miserable places on earth in which to work. May God’s grace inspire any who can help make them better to do so, and soon.
A diamond is a little piece of what the earth has made and remade countless times, and perhaps the stars as well – the hardest thing we know, and one that won’t stop shining. Hardness is not strength, however; diamonds can be broken, split, and crushed. Since they are pure carbon, they can also like coal be burned, go literally up in smoke to choke the sky, along with the rest of the carbon dioxide we’ve emitted, or the earth has, or the things upon it. One hopes that the kingdom of heaven is not like that, but maybe it is. We can, after all, easily lose even an earthly paradise, though in the kingdom we seek what is lost until it is found.
Which brings up another point: diamonds can be easily lost, and are not easily replaced. They can be stolen or hoarded, hold value when other exchange media go to pot. If you give one or more to someone, however, it says something, makes a statement, and often that statement is one of love, fidelity, devotion, and passion. ‘Put a ring on it’ is a command often obeyed by making sure on or more of these little things is on that ring, cradled by and firmly bound to the gold that makes the ring, making it shine all the brighter, as love is always supposed to do. Yes, the kingdom of heaven is certainly like that, and you’d give your all for it if you had to, which, Jesus is often at pains to tell us, we probably will.
By a stretch, one can see the diamond as a symbol of light, of the sun, and hence not only of love but of wisdom, the gift for which we heard in the first lesson this morning Solomon prayed and which, it is said, he received because the prayer was so pleasing to the Lord. He got all the other stuff, too; perhaps even diamonds, though the treasures of Solomon were taken from Jerusalem so long ago that it is hard to know. Solomon, whose mother apparently decided at his birth that she had born him to be king, to succeed his father David by leapfrogging over David’s other, older sons, prayed early for the understanding heart he knew he’d need to govern well, and got it. The treasure of wisdom and discernment that he sought, he found, as well as the field it was in. The child’s prayer became the adult’s skill in holding together a nation in peace and prosperity against all manner of folks, inside and out, though none who succeeded him could ever quite get it right, perhaps because they did not pray as he did for the ability to do so, recognizing that they didn’t have it and that it doesn’t come easy.
Would that all who rule or reign would pray Solomon’s prayer – and mean it.
There is diamond-hard wisdom in what we heard this morning in Romans, as well. Paul is writing to reassure people who had begun to wonder, to doubt, to question whether all that he said, and they learned, Christ had done and said actually mattered. It’s the love, always the love, that’s the key. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, the love of God – and resting in the surety of that promise is peace indeed, no matter what or who comes against us. Love, when it is real and solid and good, is peace indeed, as is having faith in it and because of it – and realizing all that, dear people of God, is wisdom.
When we cannot find that peace but realize all too readily that we need it, the Spirit, Paul says, “intercedes with sighs too deep for words.” There is wisdom in that as well – in sighs and in silence, for, as other sayings have it, “Silence is the best reply to a fool” and, “The wise one once said nothing.” Listening for the sound of silence – as well as to “the roar which lies on the other side of silence” that comes, George Eliot writes, when we understand what it truly means to live and how people actually do live, which are not the same – may well be the act and sound of wisdom we need right now in our troubled and, in many ways darkening, times.
None listening to me will need much reminding of the darkness gathering, and the uncertainties, injustices, and fears they bring. I can spend my spirit in worry and rage at federal police being sent in to terrorize our cities and divide our people, or at public health officials totally silenced and maligned for trying to keep the coronavirus from getting fully out of control. These things and many others are of deep concern – but I, confident that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, can and should seek in the diamond-shining and diamond-hard security of wisdom the peace that passes understanding but also grounds it. I, filled with the Spirit’s sighs, can and should let myself relax, set my burdens down, exhale, and be at peace. May we all do so, and hold each other accountable for doing so, lest we let the darkness overwhelm the light that is in each of us, and that the kingdom of heaven would, as a diamond, gather and send forth in all the colors of the sun and the rainbow. All we have to do is to want it to and expect it to, and it will.
Like mustard seeds, pearls, gold, yeast, fish (mostly), and the wise, diamonds are silent. One can make noise with them or upon them, but on their own they simply abide, quiet as an empty church or an empty tomb. The kingdom of heaven may be like that as well – quiet, peaceful, self-contained, and comfortably at rest with itself, our destination, our haven-home, shining like a city on a hill or a light on a stand, for all to see, a place where sorrow and sighing are no more. May our world know a little, or a lot, more of that peace, and soon – we need it. Let it be said among us as Jesus said to his closest followers: the kingdom of heaven is within you as light, a light or even a stone that shines. Those who let that light shine, light up the whole world. May we ever do so while we live. Amen.
A Statement of Faith, A Song of God’s Love (1 John 4:7-11)
Beloved, let us love one another, *
for love is of God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, *
for God is Love.
In this the love of God was revealed among us, *
that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God, but that God loved us *
and sent his Son that sins might be forgiven.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, *
we ought also to love one another.
For if we love one another, God abides in us, *
and God’s love will be perfected in us.
A Collect for 8th Pentecost (Proper 12)
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
A Collect for Grace
Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Collect for Guidance
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A Prayer after St. Alphonsus
O Jesus, you are present to us in the blessed sacrament. We love you above all things, and desire to receive you into our souls. Since we cannot at this time share your sacrament, let your spirit dwell within our hearts. Let us welcome you as one already with us, making us one body and one spirit, never to be parted from you. Amen.
Hymn: If Thou but trust in God Georg Neumark Hymnal 1982 #635
If thou but trust in God to guide thee,
and hope in him through all thy ways,
he’ll give thee strength whate’er betide thee,
and bear thee through the evil days.
Who trusts in God’s unchanging love
builds on a rock that nought can move.
Sing, pray, and keep his ways unswerving;
so do thine own part faithfully,
and trust his word, though undeserving;
thou yet shalt find it true for thee;
God never yet forsook in need
the soul that trusted him indeed.
The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you.
The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.
Hymn: Spirit of the Living God Daniel Iverson, alt.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
Melt me, mold me, fill me, use me.
Spirit of the living God, fall fresh on me.
About Episcopal Worship and this Service
The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost leads us through yet more of our most beautiful and beloved scriptures, including the Parables of the Mustard Seed, the Pearl of Great Price, and the Haul of Dubious Fish, Paul’s continued meditations on sin and salvation in the Epistle to the Romans, and the source of Solomon’s wisdom: the faith to ask for it, and the humility to want nothing more. There is much food for thought and reflection, and we hope that you enjoy our Morning Prayer service, and find it nourishing, engaging, and good.
Christian worship is designed to have the congregation gather for prayer, lessons, the Eucharist, and song. In times of contagion and quarantine, the community may not gather or share the Eucharist. We have adapted this service to the conditions of the time, celebrating Morning Prayer in the Presence of the Reserved Sacrament, honoring God with our daily office prayers, thanksgivings, lessons, canticles, and hymns.
We give thanks this morning for our reader, Olivia Lee, for our organist and music director, Beresford Coker; and for our video compiler and editor, Gabriel Wilkins.
Resources (available for free online)
Book of Common Prayer, www.bcponline.org
Enriching Our Worship 1, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-1/enrichingourworship1.pdf
Enriching Our Worship 2, https://www.churchpublishing.org/siteassets/pdf/enriching-our-worship-2/enrichingourworship2.pdf
These resources contain the prayers and worship services used in The Episcopal Church and by Episcopalians in their daily devotions.
The Revised Common Lectionary and Daily Office, https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/
This source shows the readings assigned for use in Sunday worship and for daily office use for each day of the year, with links to online biblical texts.
Hymnal 1982: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/EH1982
Hymnal 1940: https://hymnary.org/hymnal/HPEC1940
The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org
Episcopal News Service: www.episcopalnewsservice.org
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington: www.edow.org
St. Mark’s, Fairland: www.stmarks-silverspring.org
A Prayer in Times of Sickness and Contagion
Heavenly Father, giver of life and health, source of all wisdom and peace: Comfort and relieve your servants who suffer from sickness or fear, give your power of healing to those who minister to their needs, and let your grace be with all those who work to protect us from contagion and disease. May we be strengthened against any weakness, sickness, fear, and doubt, and place our confidence in your loving care through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.