O Spirit of God speak your peace
Oh merciful God forgive us
For all the things we have done and left undone
Oh Son of God rescue us.
Welcome to the gathering of St. Mark’s Church (Sunday worship under one roof) Sunday, September 27th 2020.
Ezekiel 18:26-29, 31-32
When the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. 28 Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” O house of Israel, are my ways unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair?
Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.
So together, gathered by our Loving God, we worship the God of Jesus Christ to turn and live. By the Spirit that resonates within the depth of our being, Christ’s call is that we re-turn. For we have come from the love of God, molded and breathed into being, to this place of love, God calls us to re-turn. For there is life, from this place of love, life that is for one another, life together. Therefore, as we worship, let us be re-turned to God. Spirit, renew our heart and spirit to live in love, in Christ.
I invite you now to a time of prayerful reflection.
O Spirit of God speak your peace
Oh merciful God forgive us
For all the things we have done and left undone
Oh Son of God rescue us
Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt van Rijn
Music: Now and at the hour by the Brilliance
Song: ‘Lead Us, Heavenly, Father, Lead Us’
Welcome and Notices:
Praying the Psalm:
We will pray a psalm together. Before we do, let me give an explanation. Here the psalmist, the writer of the psalm, is in the midst of trouble. There are those who plot against him to bring him down. In the midst of this, God is implored to look upon his troubles from the place of God’s steadfast love rather than from his past sins, for this is the goodness of God. It is for this God, the psalmist waits. It is from this God, the psalmist seeks instruction for his life’s journey. It is by the truth of this God, that he shall be saved, this God who is love.
When we are in the midst of trouble, when we seek to help people from their troubles, from where do we act? Is it from the place of love? Which God do we wait for to save us, save our neighbours? For it is tempting to help from the place of power, influence, position. It is tempting to quickly throw weight around to move things. What does it mean to wait for God whose ways are from the place of love? How will this transform us as we find the path of love and walk in it? What will it mean for us to move and have our being in love, in Christ Jesus? Let us pray this psalm together for God’s goodness’ sake, that we and our neighbours find salvation from our troubles by God who remember us in his steadfast love, in the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, our brother and Saviour.
Please respond with the words in bold.
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
God, in you I trust;
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame;
let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous.
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy,
O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
Good and upright is the Lord;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way.
He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.
Prayer for others:
We respond by singing the Lord’s Prayer together [offering to be brought up during the chorus “Amen”]:
Offering and Dedication Prayer:
Song: ‘Take My Gifts’
Scripture: Matthew 21:23-32 New Revised Standard Version
23 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?” 24 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. 25 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?’ 26 But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27 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.
28 “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30 The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31 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. 32 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.
This is the Word of the Lord
Thanks be to God
Sermon reflection: “What do you think?” Jesus says. Jesus invites us to consider and answer for ourselves what is true. He continues: “A man had two sons…” Jesus will ask us to discern which of the two sons represent the way of God and therefore the path that must be chosen if we claim to believe this God, the God of love and truth.
In the scriptures, there is a pattern at work, a pattern of wisdom of truth. Can you recall stories in the bible referring to two sons? The famous prodigal son and the elder son. Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers, Aaron and Moses, and David and his brothers— these are laden with motifs of envy and betrayal, struggles for power, and sometimes reconciliation.
More often than not these stories break down assumptions and expectations of how things are and ought to be maintained. They not only challenge but, if we take it to heart, alter our views and therefore how we see and live life. One of the assumptions it challenges is the question of legitimacy of the first. For instance, in the ancient world, the priority was given to the first born son.
Cain was the first born. Abel was the younger. Esau and Jacob were a twin but it was important to establish who was born first and Esau was the first and Jacob the second. Joseph was down the list, second to last, out of 12. David was the last of 8. Despite the tradition of giving priority to the first born son, in these stories, the outcome is that the last becomes first and the first becomes last.
So when the people heard Jesus begin a story with “A man had two sons,” they would have heard the call of the deep pattern of Scripture, that they are being invited to a careful consideration of truth rather than settling for what is presumed to be normal and right. They would have heard the call of the deep truth to make a stand on the place from which journey with the God of love and truth begins.
So let us also heed to the call of the deep today and carefully consider the truth in order that we may begin our journey with God from the place of love and truth.
Jesus has just ridden a donkey into the heart of the nation with the people shouting in hope “Save us, Hosanna!” Jesus now begins a long sit-in occupation of the central symbol of governance, the temple, called the “House of Prayer of all nations.” The institutional authorities of the temple arrive. So begins a struggle for legitimacy and authority for who represents the truth of God and the destiny of the people of God.
The high priests and elders of the people challenge Jesus: “By what authority are you doing these things?” What kind of authority legitimises your action of occupying the temple? Who gave you this authority? By the virtue of the question, the managers of the temple are claiming that they did not give him the authority, the powers that give them their position certainly has not.
Jesus, as he often does, refuses to answer the question put to him. Rather he puts the question to them. Have you wondered why Jesus would do this? It isn’t because Jesus is avoiding to answer the question. For Jesus, what is most important when dealing with people who challenge him is a matter of honesty and integrity on their part. Where are you coming from? From which place are you approaching Jesus?
So Jesus puts the question to them giving them the opportunity to approach from the place of integrity so that their conversation is true and real. “Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another. How strange it is that the high priests and the elders of the people would need to debate about this question among each other. Why do they need to debate the issue? What are they afraid of?
They weigh up the options: “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.” Their inability to answer Jesus is revealing of their original intention. Their question to Jesus from the beginning had an ulterior motive. Trying to play off their position against his for political gain.
In other words, their question to Jesus from the beginning was manipulative. They know how vulnerable it is to front up with what is behind them, what backs them up. They know very well how risky it is to be honest, to be transparent of the place from which they claim their legitimacy. They know well being truthful, fronting up with the truth has consequences. And they are not willing to accept those consequences yet they demand it on others.
They will seek to distract the people from the truth. So, rather than speaking of themselves, they would talk about others. They would avoid the very question that the high priests and the elders of the people must answer for themselves first. So they seek to hide, deceive, while uncovering the other. If they are not willing to front up, if they are not willing to come face to face, if they will not coming out from the shadows into the light, without hiding, covering up, without deception, what right do they have to uncover the other?
So, it becomes apparent that from the very beginning, their question to Jesus had nothing to do with the truth. The high priests and elders of the people had neither the desire for truth nor the willingness to be transformed by it. Their authority, then, actually, comes neither from God nor the people. Isn’t it very hypocritical and ironic that they are known as high priests representing God and elders of the people representing the people? Then what is behind them? From which place do they stand?
The high priests and elders of the people are coming from the place of power. They like where they are. It’s good to be the high priest up there with all class and privilege rather than down there with the people in their predicaments and pressures. It’s good to be the elder of the people, to be at the front rather than being in tow, trailing behind. They like being “first” because anything after that, is to them, the last – worthless.
So Jesus tells them the parable of two sons laden with deep truth. A man goes to his first born son. At the request to tend the vineyard, the first son refuses. But later he returns to his father’s request and considers it again. Finally, he changes his mind and fronts up and actually tends to the vineyard. The man goes to his second son. This son says “yes” immediately to the request. Only to turn his back on his own words to show his hypocrisy. Which of the two sons did the will of his father? The first.
The first is first because one does the will of God according to his ways of love and truth. The priority of the first is not a given. There is neither fatalism nor absolutism in the kingdom of God. The priority of the first cannot be taken or earned for whatever we do is a response to the God who loves us and opens the gate for us to walk in the way of truth and life in Christ Jesus.
Then Jesus turns the table around, puts the whole thing on its head. Jesus then proclaims that the tax collectors and the prostitutes who responded to the call for transformation are first in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus names those whom the high priests and elders of the people looked down upon, blamed all their social problems on, whose dignity they robbed, to scale up to be first and to be on top. They will go into the kingdom of God ahead of you.
In other words, in the way of God, there is a place for a return, a place for a new beginning, a place for a transformation, a place for reconciliation, a place for repentance, a place for forgiveness, a place of new opportunity. The first place in the kingdom of God is given to those who respond to the call of love and truth, those who are open to the claims of truth and those who are willing to become vulnerable – to come face to face with love, in order to be transformed by it. The first place in the kingdom of God belongs to those who will not settle for what has been, but who walks humbly with God into the new horizon.
Friends, what do you deem to be normal and right? Could it be that there is something in us that is other than love that we want to keep it this way? What are your firsts? Could it be that those firsts are in fact things that are in fact last? Are you open to the Spirit of Jesus to invite you to a real conversation, letting go of our ulterior motives, so that we approach Jesus and receive his words of truth and love for the sake of truth and love?
People of God, what do you think? Who do you look down upon? When do you feel your feathers ruffled? Be honest to God. From which place are you approaching God of Jesus Christ and therefore from which place are you approaching one another? Be redirected. Will you respond to Christ’s call to love rather than position, to love rather than power, to love rather than ulterior motives? Take a stand. This is the call of the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Song: ‘These Hills Where The Hawk Flies Lonely’
Sharing the Peace of Christ: Peace of Christ be with you
Song of Sending: ‘Like a Rock’
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, the Communion of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and forever. Amen.