Sunday Worship 16th July 2023

(All our songs this morning are from Singing the Faith (StF) numbers will be given where available)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our circuit and with the congregation at Bolton Methodist Church and led by Martin Bashforth, one of our Circuit Local Preachers.

Click on the blue links to follow them for bible readings and associated links

Call to worship         

Lord God, we come to you with hearts that are cold,
that they may be warmed by your selfless love.
We come to you with hearts that are sinful,
that they may be cleansed by the Saviour’s precious blood.
We come to you with hearts that are weak,

that they may be strengthened by your Holy Spirit.

We come with hearts that are empty,

that they may be filled with your divine presence,

Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

Song – StF 110 – In the wonder of Creation 

Prayers and Lord’s Prayer  

Creator God, your love is seen in the whole of creation. Season after season, in new life emerging, in your providence which sustains all your creatures, we can see beyond doubt that your love goes on.

We thank you that, throughout the history of humankind, the thread of your love is woven into every event, every relationship. Through the good times and the bad, you never forsake us. Your love goes on.

And, gracious Lord, your love was never more evident than in your great act of salvation for the world, when you sent Jesus to be our Redeemer. His life on earth was a perfect example of your boundless love. His death on the cross was the price of our salvation, which your love was willing to pay. And his glorious victory over the grave – all for our sakes and for the sake of those who loved him not. Amazing love, how can it be that you, our God, should die for us?

Thank you, heavenly Father, that we can know and feel your wonderful love in our lives, even though we sometimes allow ourselves to drift away from you. In our least deserving moments, when we have let you down and even turned our back on you, mercy comes and your love goes on.

So we ask this morning, that you will fill us anew with your Holy Spirit. Help us to understand the breadth and depth of your love for us. Pour your love and goodness into our lives. And make us worthy disciples of your holy name.

We ask it, in the name and for the sake of Your Son, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

We say together the Lord’s Prayer…….Our Father,……..

Song – StF 103 – God is love, let heaven adore him


James 2:14–24 

Song – StF 161 – Speak O Lord, as we come to you


Matthew 13:1–9; 18-23


Parables are Jesus’ trade-mark way of teaching. He chose everyday events and activities, which his hearers would readily understand and relate to, and then invited them to apply the moral of the story to their own personal circumstances. And although the circumstances, or even the culture, of the time in which he first he told them, may be quite different from our modern culture or from our daily experiences in 2023, nevertheless the truth the stories reveal has eternal value.

Donald English, who was twice the President of the Methodist Conference and a wonderful preacher, used to say that, to gain the most understanding from a parable, you must be able to see yourself in the story. The parable of the sower offers a range of people we can identify with.

As Jesus told this story, he was sitting in a boat on Lake Galilee, because the crowd of listeners was so big, there was no room for him on the hillside. If we imagine him, sitting in the boat, looking towards the shore, he could no doubt see a farmer up on the hill, broadcasting his seeds onto his field, and that prompted him to tell his parable.

Whereas these days, farmers sow seeds using a mechanical drill, towed behind a tractor, in those days in Palestine, the farmer would have carried the seeds on a big tray, from which he would scatter them with a swinging motion of his arm. Not a precise technique, and the seeds would land, randomly, on different types of ground. And of course, the yield from the seeds would depend on the type of ground onto which they fell. Jesus identified four types of ground to make his point:

First, there was the footpath, trodden down by the farmer, and no doubt, also by wanderers crossing the field, and then baked hard by the sun. The seeds could not penetrate the hard ground and were vulnerable to the birds, which quickly swooped down and ate them.

Next there was the rocky ground. This was not like my garden, where I have decent enough soil, but unfortunately it is full of loose rocks and rubble. The geology of Palestine was such that there were vast areas of solid bedrock, which lay just underneath the surface, making the depth of soil very shallow. The soil itself was OK, and the seeds sprouted, but because of the hard rock, they could not develop a deep root system and the plants shrivelled in the sun and died.

Thirdly, there was thorny, weedy ground (now, that’s more like my garden!) The soil was good, and the seeds germinated and began to grow quickly, but they got choked by the weeds and thorns and died off.

Finally, there was the good soil, deep enough to take long roots and free of weeds and thorns. The seeds grew and produced an abundant crop.

The crowd hearing this parable would know just what Jesus was saying, in agricultural terms. They had seen it played out plenty of times. But it does help us, in 2023, if we understand the conditions which applied at the time and in that country.

I guess this parable is one of the most familiar to us, of those which Jesus told. It is also one which Jesus chose to explain to his disciples. Let us now go over the message which the parable reveals:

The seed that fell on the pathway, represents those people who cannot take in the good news of the kingdom of God. The reason for this may be that their minds are closed to new truths. We all know people, don’t we, who know everything and won’t be told anything. Have you ever heard someone say: You can tell a Yorkshireman a mile off, but you can’t tell him much!

Alternatively, there are people who are mentally lazy; who can’t be bothered to work out the meaning of life and our purpose for being here. They won’t spend time learning what might be the truth about God’s kingdom. I remember a good number of years ago, the then Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, caused an earthquake in the church by suggesting that, in order to be a Christian, it was not essential to believe in the virgin birth. Many people could see where he was coming from, and respected his right to hold that view, even if they did not accept his conclusion. But there were thousands of people, who were not open to the possibility (even) that their basic beliefs might not be true and they even questioned the Bishop’s mental stability. Are we so ill-informed as to think that the understanding of theology we gained as little children in Sunday School, contains all the answers to life’s issues? Surely, it is God’s will that we should be seekers after the truth throughout the whole of our lives. We never stop learning. We must have open minds, ready to receive new ideas.

Some people have devoted much time to studying the scriptures, and have reached a point where they consider they have nothing new to learn. And so their minds are closed – like the sun-baked footpath. I guess the Pharisees were just those kind of people.

Some people’s minds are closed because they see their faith under threat from people who have different beliefs from them. Maybe their own foundation is not as solid as it should be. My Dad was one such person. He believed sincerely, but he had no desire to put his faith to the test in conversation. I remember one time, after I was married, the Mormons knocked on our door, just like the JWs do. Two American young men, called Elder Batholomew and Elder Jacob introduced themselves and asked if I would allow them to explain to me the Mormon faith. It was soon after I had taken my local preachers’ exams, and the thought of finding out a bit about what the Mormons believe appealed to me. So I invited them in. They spread a map of North America on my carpet and began to describe how God’s message had been given to the prophet Joseph Smith, via the American Indians, on tablets of gold leaf. At that point, my Dad happened to call at our house. He listened for a couple of minutes to the young men, telling us about Mormonism, and then, all of a sudden, he picked up their map, thrust it into their arms and threw them out – out of MY house! He was afraid that he might hear something which would undermine his faith, and it worried him. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

I think my Dad must be represented by the rocky ground; the shallow soil.  He did not realise it, but his faith had no depth. I was prepared to listen to alternative views, because my faith was well-established. If the Mormons’ message offered me a better way, what had I to lose? In order for our faith to grow, we must be willing to explore it and even to question it. To confront our doubts. To work out what we believe and why. We may not agree with the former Bishop of Durham, but that is what he was doing, and encouraging his flock to do the same.

Dr Alexander Finlay once said: “It is not easy to be a Christian, but it is easy to start.” What he meant was that, to be convicted of your sin and to give your life to Jesus, is only the beginning. That’s when the work starts. By Bible study, by prayer, by sharing conversation with other Christians, we must allow our faith to take roots and grow, so that it can survive the knocks and storms of life and give us the support we need. Jesus warned his disciples that they would face times of testing. The same applies to us, and to Christians of every age. How deep are the roots of your faith? Will they give you an anchor in the storms of life?

Then there were the people represented by the thorny, weedy ground. We live, don’t we, in a busy world. Some much is happening, in our personal lives and in public life, as we see on TV. People are so busy. Busy with work. Busy with church life! Before lockdown, I would often find myself attending meetings two or three times a week, to do with some aspect of church life. But when you are so busy, there is a danger you can lose sight of Jesus, who is the centre of it all.

Someone once said to me: “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy!” That is a lesson I still need to focus on.

The weeds in our life can be the other attractions and the distractions of life in the 21st century. Why has church attendance in recent decades plummeted from what it was just after the last war? Partly it is because prosperity has given folk more leisure time. Don’t get me wrong: I believe that people need to have pastimes and means of relaxation, but these days, so many leisure activities take place on a Sunday. Often Sunday is the only time a family has to share together. These conditions have squeezed Jesus out of many people’s lives.

We who are Christians must heed Jesus’ warning, lest “worries about this life, the love for riches, and all other kinds of desires crowd in and choke the message”, and as a result we don’t bear fruit.

Thankfully, there is a fourth kind of person, represented by the good soil.

Matthew, Mark and Luke all recount the parable of the sower, and at the same time, all follow it with Jesus’ explanation of what the parable means. He explained it to his disciples; but he obviously had his reasons not to explain it to the crowd. However, each gospel writer has slightly different things to say about the people represented by the good soil.

Matthew says that these are people who understand the Word. They not only hear it, but they seek out its meaning.

Mark says that these people accept the Word. They take it in. They don’t let it go in one ear and out of the other. It sinks in and becomes part of their being.

Luke says that they are people who retain the Word in a good and obedient heart. And they persist, until they bear fruit.

The over-riding message of the parable is that we, as followers of Jesus, must hear his Word; take trouble to get behind what he really means; not be distracted by worldly considerations; and act upon his word, so that we bear fruit. James in his letter says: “Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.”

And he continues: “those who keep on paying attention to the Word and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice – they will be blessed by God in what they do.”

And the measure of our success in following this guidance, will be seen in the fruit we bear.

Some scholars have suggested that Jesus told the parable of the sower to encourage his disciples, in case they were feeling that his word and his teaching were being wasted. To them, Jesus was a wonderful man, who spoke with wisdom and authority. But he was being met with increasing hostility. A lot of his message of Good News was not getting home. People flocked in their thousands to hear his stories and for their sick relatives to be healed, but what were the long-term results? It is possible that the disciples might even have asked Jesus: “Lord, why does so much effort produce so little result?” Jesus’ answer, in telling this story, is that “No matter how much seed may seem to have been wasted, in the end a great harvest is sure.”

No farmer expects every single seed to germinate. Some will be eaten by the birds, burnt up by the sun, or choked by weeds, but that doesn’t stop him sowing. And it does not make him give up hope of a great harvest. If some seed is wasted, still the harvest will come. As Jesus’ disciples, sometimes our good work will be thrown back at us. But we must never give up hope. It says in Ecclesiastes Ch 11 v 4: “If you wait until the wind and the weather are just right, you will never sow anything. And never harvest anything.”

At the end of the story, Jesus says there will be a good reward for our efforts: Some seed will produce 100 grains; some 60 grains and some 30 grains. The 30 grains will please the farmer. Whilst it is less than the 100 grains, it is nevertheless a good return on the farmer’s investment. It is an important contribution to the harvest.

God knows that some of his disciples will, through the gifts he has given them, produce more fruit than others. At the end of the day, the harvest is about souls saved, and every single soul matters to God. Someone asked Mother Teresa how she expected to help the tens of thousands of destitute people in Calcutta. Her reply was: “I start with one”. When he told the parable of the lost sheep being found, Jesus concluded: “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over 99 respectable people who do not need to repent.”

The work is the Lord’s, but we are the vehicles through whom he bears the fruit. Surely, we all want to be good soil. In order to be that, the parable is telling us, we must receive the word of the Lord, let it sink within us and change us, and then share our love of God with others, so that our lives will bear fruit. Some thirtyfold, some sixtyfold, and some a hundredfold. And we should not be discouraged if some of our efforts appear to go to waste. Amen

Song – StF 707 – Make me a channel of your peace

Prayers of intercession

(These prayers are, necessarily, being prepared in advance of the service date. Please feel free to add your own prayers for current news events and any personal concerns you have for friends or family members.)

God of peace, we pray that you will bring peace to those areas of the world where innocent people are suffering from violence. Intervene, we pray, as you did in Old Testament times, to strengthen the weak and overthrow the aggressors. Please restore harmony between and within nations. May the light of Christ drive away the darkness of enmity. Let love have the victory.

We pray for refugees around the world, especially those risking their lives to escape from intolerable conditions in their homeland. Please keep them safe and help them to find safe havens, in which they can rebuild their lives. Help us, and the people of Bradford, to welcome those refugees who arrive in our city.

We pray for people suffering from the effects of extreme weather, resulting from Climate Change. Guide the leaders of the nations to heed the scientific evidence and to take steps to reduce greenhouse gases, and so preserve the future of our planet.

And finally, Lord, as we bring to mind friends and family members who have needs at this time, we hold them before you now…….Name the needs before God…… Lord, you know the situations and needs of all those for whom we pray. We ask that you will deal graciously with them. Comfort those who suffer and those who mourn, and bring your healing to the sick.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers. In the name and for the sake of our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen

Song – StF 615 – Let love be real


From the one who was and who is and who is to come, the Almighty:
grace, light, and peace be with you all. Amen

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