O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
whose steadfast love never ceases
and whose mercies never come to an end:
grant us the grace to trust you
and to receive the gifts of your love
new every morning,
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvellous things.
His own right hand and his holy arm
have won for him the victory.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
his deliverance has he openly shown in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his mercy and faithfulness
towards the house of Israel,
and all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
Sound praises to the Lord, all the earth;
break into singing and make music.
Make music to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the voice of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
sound praises before the Lord, the King.
Let the sea thunder and all that fills it,
the world and all that dwell upon it.
Let the rivers clap their hands
and let the hills ring out together before the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
In righteousness shall he judge the world
and the peoples with equity.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
When the crowds were increasing, Jesus began to say, ‘This generation is an evil generation; it asks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah. For just as Jonah became a sign to the people of Nineveh, so the Son of Man will be to this generation. The queen of the South will rise at the judgement with the people of this generation and condemn them, because she came from the ends of the earth to listen to the wisdom of Solomon, and see, something greater than Solomon is here! The people of Nineveh will rise up at the judgement with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the proclamation of Jonah, and see, something greater than Jonah is here!’
We live in an age that prides itself on its scepticism. We like to think that we are not easily ‘taken in’. We often hear people say something like: No one is going to get one over on me! But, they do. The distance we create between ourselves and others so often works against us. Just look at how many people are taken in by telephone and internet fraudsters. People lose vast amounts of money to such plausible people … we are told that at the present £4million per day is stolen by such people in the UK alone. We live in an age that prides itself on its scepticism, but we are not very good at spotting the signs and we fall into the trap time and time again.
This is the picture that is painted for us in today’s reading. The crowds gathered around Jesus because they wanted to see his signs of power and his works of miraculous healing. But where was their faith? In the same way that stage magicians and those who create cinematic special effects leave us in a state of open-mouthed wonder, so the crowds gathered around Jesus. We know there is trickery involved in that which amazes us; those first-century crowds believed the same. But, of course, Jesus was not working magic tricks; it was definitely not a case of the swiftness of the hand deceiving the eye. Jesus was the genuine article. Jesus was the Son of God come down to earth bringing all that divine power with him.
This was not the first time in which the Jewish people backed their earthly wisdom ahead of the divine wisdom spoken through God’s messengers. To point out their mistake Jesus quoted the story of Jonah. Jonah was sent to the city of Nineveh, a city renowned for the way it had distanced itself from God. Jonah went to Nineveh as God’s messenger. Jonah warned the people of Nineveh of the terrible fate that awaited them if they did not repent and turn back to God. Despite Jonah’s uncertainty, Jonah’s scepticism, the people of Nineveh did repent, thus averting their fate.
Jesus quoted the well-known story of Jonah as a warning. Jesus was warning us to set aside all that ‘worldly wisdom’ and trust him as he showed us the way that would bring us closer to God, and would fit us for eternal life.
Jesus’ message was not just for the growing crowds that gathered to see him work his ‘magic’. Jesus’ message is for us as well. Sometimes we are sceptical because of the simplicity of Jesus’ message … ‘Surely it cannot be as simple as that!’ Of course, the words of Jesus’ message are simple, but living out that message in this sceptical world can be very difficult indeed. Let us pray that we might find the strength to remain faithful and true as we live that message of love and service to all.
Prayers of intercession
In the power of the Spirit let us pray to the Father through Christ the saviour of the world.
For forgiveness for the many times we have denied Jesus, let us pray to the Lord.
For grace to seek out those habits of sin which mean spiritual death, and by prayer and self-discipline to overcome them, let us pray to the Lord.
For Christian people, that through the suffering of disunity there may grow a rich union in Christ, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who make laws, interpret them and administer them, that our common life may be ordered in justice and mercy, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who still make Jerusalem a battleground, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who have the courage and honesty to work openly for justice and peace, let us pray to the Lord.
For those in the darkness and agony of isolation, that they may find support and encouragement, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who, weighed down with hardship, failure, or sorrow, feel that God is far from them, let us pray to the Lord.
For those who are tempted to give up the way of the cross, let us pray to the Lord.
That we, with those who have died in faith, may find mercy in the day of Christ, let us pray to the Lord.
Prayer for the week
Give peace in our time, O Lord:
peace and reconciliation among the nations;
peace and unity within the churches;
peace and harmony in our communities and homes;
peace and love in all our hearts;
for the sake of Jesus Christ our Saviour.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.