Service of the Word: Sunday 27th September

Gospel Reading

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to St. Matthew, chapter 21 beginning at verse 23.

Glory to Christ our Saviour

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.

Give thanks to the Lord for his glorious gospel. Praise to Christ our Lord.

Sermon

May I speak in the name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

As someone married on the 4th of July, and who got engaged on the Coast of Texas, it should be no surprise to hear I’ve always had a fascination with America. But one thing that always puts me off moving across the pond is their politics. Politics which, as any of you keen observers will know, is starting to heat up as they move towards an election this November. Imagine the sense of anticipation building over there even now as stadiums and Zoom meetings are filled with loyal supporters for either Democrats or Republicans, all until one emerges as a victor and takes to the stage in the capital, Washington DC. These big events – with their loud music and impassioned speeches – mark the start of a presidency. A start which is symbolic the leadership style that will mark the entire presidency. It will tell us something about what the leader’s priorities are, where their power lies and most of all: what kind of person they are behind it all. It all helps us build a picture which will help us decide: will I put this person in power over my life by voting or keep my vote to myself.

Today we’ve heard Matthew’s gospel which is very much about leadership – the leadership of Jesus. Matthew presents Jesus in Jewish terms, always relating him back to Old Testament characters. Jesus is a presented as a New Moses, leading the people of Israel to trust God and obey not only the letter of the commandments but the goal of those commandments which is love. He’s a New and better David, a strong leader who will deliver, judge and rule the nation with God’s wisdom – this time without the problems of integrity that David lacked towards the end of his reign. He’s also a new prophet, gathering the people of Israel back to God through turning them away from the spiritual darkness they had slept walked into and through baptism he turns them back to God.

Chapter 21 of Matthew’s gospel, from where our reading comes from today, has all the drama of an american presidential race and more. It begins with Jesus arrival into the royal city of Jerusalem, the seat of political and religious authority, and like we said, beginnings can be symbolic. Jesus arrives to the crowds singing the campaign song, songs of the long awaited replacement for king David. By arriving humbly on the back of a donkey, he is showing who he is, his style of leadership and more than that, the way power works in God’s kingdom and how different it is to the shows of power we’ve come to expect in presidential campaigns, military parades, or violent uprisings.

Having arrived into his royal city, announcing that God’s authority is taking root again in Israel and the world, Jesus first visits the temple. The place where God is said to live and connect with and receive worship from humanity. The grand cathedral of his day. But it’s also the place where Roman guards and corrupt high priests and taxation officials looked on nervously in case anyone dared challenge their little earthly kingdoms. The overturning of the money changers tables, who ripped off the devoted poor in the name and place of God, was another of these big symbolic starts to what life under Jesus was going to look like. Jesus puts God first by riding humbly on a donkey, but also by making the temple a place of prayer once more. God’s power operates in the world first of all to bring about humility and prayer. It’s how we hand our power over to God and see his power transform our lives, and bit-by-bit, the world.

But, as with any election or presidential race, there are opposing views and camps. Jesus didn’t just think he could waltz in and change things and get away with it did he? In today’s gospel reading in Matthew 21, Jesus still occupying the Temple is challenged and questioned by forces that would prefer things to stay the same.  “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” they ask. Who gave you the right, Jesus, to come into Jerusalem like a king, occupy the temple and restore worship – calling people to turn from sin towards God. What makes you better than us, who have settled for less and are content. What makes you a credible candidate to be in charge, compared to us.

If we hit the pause button for a second here. This is the very same question Jesus – his person, his life, his resurrection – raises for people today. Then, just as now, people are asking: what makes Christ any better than me – why offer your power, your time, your pride to follow Jesus rather than lead yourself.

Faced with these questions, the elders and priests know that truly thinking about it and giving an honest answer might lead them to actually agreeing with Jesus.  Jesus had done miracles revealing him to be divine; Jesus had arrived as a human, on a donkey, showing he was fully human. His credibility is beyond doubt. And, so instead of even engaging with the questions Jesus raises for them, they sit on the fence. ‘We don’t know’. Many, most, the majority of people in our culture too: sit on the fence by saying we don’t know if Jesus authority comes from God.

But the reason we don’t know is because we’d rather not know. Knowing the truth, then in Jesus time and in our own time, costs too much. To discover the truth means having to obey the truth, obey Christ, and people would prefer not to know because they want to obey themselves.

But before we think this means we’re doing great and non religious folks are doing badly, know that Jesus is still looking to turn over tables and rule over parts of your life that don’t match his humble yet divine authority. If there are areas of your decision making, voting, spending, speaking that you don’t know God’s will for, and don’t particularly want to know Gods will for, then that’s where Jesus is asking you to question. The story Jesus tells at the end is sobering. The people truly in danger of missing out on God’s gifts are the religious people of Israel, unwilling to respond to the question of Jesus in their actions and wills. Whereas it’s the newcomers, taxcollectors and sinners, who go on in front of them to what God is doing in this world and the next. Yes, It’s easier not to know God’s will. But then you miss out, you miss out on God’s kingdom taking root and growing through your life and then into the life of others. Whereas those with no background or Christian culture, who, when confronted by Jesus allow him to question their beliefs, and more than that, their actions and free choices, it’s they who go before us into the abundant life God has invited all of us to. Be courageous enough to answer Jesus questions, not only of Sunday or Wednesday services, but the whole of life, for this is the will and power of God to change you and change our world, bit by bit, person by person, decision by decision. What questions must you answer?

Intercessions

Jesus, you examine the motives and virtues of those in leadership, calling them to reflect your concern for creation and the poor. We pray for our governments to share those concerns, particularly as peoples lives and livelihoods are weighed up on the scales of decision. In the search for a vaccine, may people come before profit, in order that all may receive the help they need to thrive as you intended.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Father, your kingdom reaches from the heavens to embrace the whole of creation. Give us willing hearts, hands and voices with which to respond to your summons. Help us to answer the call of Jesus to share the good news with our neighbours in word and deed, and bless our bishop Kevin as he discerns your will for this Diocese of Glasgow and Galloway.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer

Spirit, you know our needs and concerns before we know them ourselves. Hear us as we bring before you all who’s needs weigh heavily on our hearts, praying for their health and peace of mind: Christine, Ian, Les, Sam, Olive, Chris, Bill, Joyce, Ann, John, Avril, Helga, Colin, and Margaret.

Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Lord your care for us knows no end, so we give thanks for those who have gone before us into your eternal kingdom, who’s year’s minds fall this week. Matka & Anna.

All of these prayers we offer in the name of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.