The chosen hymns for this week, Jesus Christ is Waiting and He Came to Earth can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Less words, more deeds
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday for 1st November.
Imagine the scene. It is a school assembly, the head teacher gets up and says, ‘Some of you have been letting the school down.’ He then rips into a section of the school. You sit there just glad that you are not one of them. Maybe you are secretly pleased that someone else is getting lambasted. Maybe you even feel quite good about yourself because you’re not one of those failures that have let the school down, you are of a better standard.
And then the headmaster says, ‘And as for the rest of you...’
And you know you’re in trouble.
I think this is what this passage is about.
It was written by Matthew at a time when Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Roman Empire, the temple which was so important to both Jews and the first disciples was destroyed. Who was to blame for this?
The Jews felt the Christians were to blame as they didn’t defend the temple against the Romans. It was their unfaithfulness that had weakened the people’s resolve and let the Romans win.
Matthew counteracts this with words from Christ to show that it was the unfaithfulness of the religious leaders of the Jews; the scribes and Pharisees, that had misled the Jewish people down a road that was going to lead to destruction.
This is a passage where it is very easy for us to feel smug, until we reflect on it. Then it becomes very challenging to us.
Kay is going to lead us in prayer, read this important passage and then lead us in the Lord’s Prayer where you are invited to stand if you are able
Kay: Reading Matthew 23:1-12
There is always a blame game.
Watch the news any time and there is a blame game going on.
Watch any of the parliamentary question times and it doesn’t matter which parliament, and you see the blame game going on.
Things could have been done differently, things should have been done differently and it is the government to blame.
No they are wrong, we are working very hard, and it is the opposition undermining the good work that we are doing that is to blame.
And this blame game is international. Look at the Brexite talks.
Our government saying that they are being totally reasonable and the Europeans are being intransigent.
The Europeans are going, ‘No No No, the Britons need to compromise more for a deal to be made. The Britons are being hard hearted.’
The blame game is not only international, it is universal.
Every single one of us takes part in it at some point.
How many of you have been on a family car journey and the children in the back start acting up?
Now all the children know who is to blame...you.
You are the one who decided to take them on a long journey.
You are the one who thought this would-be a good idea.
You were the one who thought that they would just sit and do nothing for three hours cramped up at the back of the car.
But you don’t think you are to blame.
You are the one who is treating them to a day at the seaside, you are sacrificing your precious time for their enjoyment, and the least they could do is just be quiet for a few minutes.
So you shout out, ‘What are you doing back there?’
Now the children know you are to blame but you are bigger than they are so they know it’s a waste of time putting the blame back on you. So they start to blame each other.
‘He’s hitting me.’ He’s the one to blame. I wouldn’t be making a fuss if he wasn’t being unreasonable and hitting me.
‘She’s annoying me.’ No she’s the one to blame, if she wasn’t annoying me then I wouldn’t hit her.
I love the story of the man who comes into the house and it looks like a bomb site.
There are dirty dishes all over the floor, dirty nappies smelling the place out, layers and layers of dust on the furniture.
The children are still running around in their pyjamas causing chaos.
And the husband looks aghast and says, ‘What happened here?’
And the wife says, ‘You know how every day you come in and patronisingly say, ‘And what did you do today?’Well today I didn’t do it.’
As I mentioned earlier Matthew, when he wrote this passage, is trying to counter the accusation of the Jews against the Jewish Christians that they are to blame for the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.
And it looks like Matthew is just playing the blame game himself, ‘It wasn’t us it was the scribes and the Pharisees.’
But instead he is very clever.
Yes he shows how the scribes and the Pharisees were at fault for letting the people down. How they said one thing but failed to live up to it in their own lives. But then he flicks the mirror round, and asks us how we are like the scribes and the Pharisees.
I’ll admit I found this a very hard passage to reflect on.
It was hard on a personal level.
How often would my heart say we should have equality for all?
And yet I am happy to by cheap clothes.
And that willingness to buy cheap clothes creates factories in poorer areas of the world that use child labour.
There are some clothes groups on the internet that have created factories where they pay so little, that the clothes are so cheap, that if we return them it is cheaper for them to destroy the clothes than it is to launder them and repackage them.
And they get away with it because we are willing to buy from them.
I was listening to the radio and they were talking about a fashion firm that was getting praise because in their catalogue they were using non-perfect models in their advertisements. Then one of the fashion experts came on and said that they were getting praise for their ethical stance on normal people in their advertisements, but no one was commenting on the fact that when lockdown happened to save money they sacked all their workers in Bangladesh and left them to starve.
And not only in my personal life, my church life too.
This has been a very reflective time for the leaders of the church.
People like myself have been harping on about how the church is in crisis for years. We have loved to blame head office, we have loved to blame presbytery.
But it took COVID to realise how unprepared the local church was to cope with life out there.
The reason we have struggled is not because of presbytery, not because of head office, but because of us; the church, the community, the expectations that we have created locally.
We have been too willing to hold on to traditions of the past rather than find new expressions of the eternal truths we are meant to pass on.
It was more important to make sure we did things the way we have always done them, so that we felt comfortable in our faith, rather than seek out ways to reach out to those who saw nothing attractive in what we did.
And now we have a community that is so desperate for help and needs our help, and they don’t know how to touch us, and we don’t know how to touch them.
COVID has been a tough test for churches. Congregation numbers will plummet, finances will rapidly decrease. Those churches that are looking outward will survive and may even grow; those that are inward looking will fail and close.
And to ordinary members I think this is the hardest message of all.
You see at first sight it looks as though Matthew is saying that the teachers of scripture, the teachers of the law are to blame for the mess that we are in, and there is truth in that.
But he then gives the responsibility to the ordinary church member, the ordinary believer.
You must not be called TEACHER because you are all brothers and sisters of one another and have only one Teacher.
You must not be called FATHER because you have only one Father in heaven.
So if we are not teachers then we are students, and God is asking us, where are you learning just now?
What new insights of faith are changing our heart?
What are we reading or watching or hearing that is bringing us closer to God and to others?
If we are not the Father-figure then we are the child, and God is asking us, in what ways are we being obedient just now?
How are we putting our faith into practice?
Who are we reaching out to in love just now?
Those are tough questions.
And Matthew doesn’t want excuses, Matthew doesn’t want blame, not blaming of others, not even blaming of ourselves.
Matthew wants action.
We are servants; we are called to serve.
We are children we are called to be obedient.
So let us do that, let us grow through learning, let us grow through obedience, let us grow through NOT being like the scribes and Pharisees, but by putting our faith into action.
Let us pray
We ask forgiveness because we can be amazingly self-centred.
We want our church to be the way it has always been.
We want our neighbours to be just like us.
We want harmony and peace, so our life will be content and happy.
How you must weep for us.
We don’t ask if you want us to change our church so that it is more open to others.
We don’t ask you if you want us to reach out to the awkward neighbour because that makes our life more difficult.
We don’t ask you what sacrifices you ask of us so that others may have a more content life.
We accept the love and sacrifice your son made for us, then refuse to take up his cross and reflect that love and sacrifice in our lives so that others may find that love in us.
Show us a better way.
Open our eyes to the needs around us that we can help with.
Open our arms so that we might accept all the children under your care.
Open our minds so that we may accept the true depth of your teaching for our lives.
As we accept your love, may we understand how that changes us to be more like you
This we ask in Jesus name
Before we go I would just like to remind you that if you want to be part of our live services then you can book a place for our 10.30am and 3pm Sunday services by phoning me at 01259 760262 between 6-9pm Monday to Friday.
You are a Father to us, may we see everyone else as our brothers and sisters.
You are the Son who died for us, may we see everyone else as the precious child of God they are
You are the empowering Spirit for us, may we be empowered to serve where you Call us to be.