An act of worship at home
27th September 2020
Reading Matthew 21 vv 23-32
When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.
‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.
It does my heart good to read again that story of the two sons because, even after 2000 years, their reactions come across as so typical and familiar. When the father asks his sons to help him, you can almost hear one boy replying, “Yeah, alright, I’ll go.” While the other, I suppose busy doing whatever he wants, just says, “No, I’m not going. ” The father seems to be very patient and just leaves his sons to make their own decisions for good or for ill.
The Pharisees are forced to admit that the rebellious, defiant son who initially refused but then went, was the son who did what his father had asked and not the one who initially looked to be the virtuous, obedient son but who completely failed to do what he’d said he would do.
Lifestyle and appearance and attitude have nothing to do with living the Christian life, which is solely about love. People who appear to be the worst people in the world to human eyes, may know much more about God’s will than those who appear to be practically saints. Because those who learn how to love, can’t help but live in the open, accepting, non-judgmental way Jesus advocated.
Jesus sees straight past outward appearances into the inner being. An inner being which knows how to love will be close to God, living and loving with him, but an inner being that has never discovered how to love will struggle to experience God.
And God, the father in the story, is gentle and accepting of whatever choices people make. The father didn’t berate the boys, either to admonish the rudeness of the lad who refused to obey him, or to admonish the slackness or indolence of the lad who failed to keep his promise.
God allows us to do as we wish, without comment, without pressure, and without blame. The choice is ours, and it’s simple. Either we open our hearts and minds and souls to God, in which case we can’t help but respond with love, or we spend our efforts worrying about appearances and lifestyle but forget how to love. And put in simple terms, that may simply be a choice between the authority imposed by human beings and the authority which develops from within and which comes from God.
So often we want to pray for others. But sometimes, God, we don’t know how. We can’t remember names or numbers; other issues weigh heavily on our hearts.
Thank goodness, God, that you know what we mean when we pray.
So, we bring in this moment those names and faces, images and desires for others that pop in and out of our minds throughout the day: the old lady at the bus stop who needed a hand up the step; the young mum at the checkout trying to contain her four kids; the chap up the road who’s lost his dog and is calling for him; the teachers struggling to understand the needs of those in their class; the doctors who wants to give us more time but who simply can’t; the young families who can’t make ends meet; those without work, who can’t find new jobs; those helping people to find work, knowing it is an uphill struggle; those with mental health issues and seeking help, or who are afraid and ashamed to seek help, or who are ignored and can’t get help.
So, God, for all these people and countless others, we offer our prayers. We know you do not need reminding, but you do need willing workers – even us – to help them know your love and have their needs met. Hear our ramblings, O God. Amen.
And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me, who caused his pain;
for me, who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be
that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
He left his Father’s throne above—
so free, so infinite his grace—
emptied himself of all but love,
and bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free;
for, O my God, it found out me!
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light,
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living Head,
and clothed in righteousness divine,
bold I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.
And so may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, rest upon us and remain with us this day and forever more. Amen.