By Whose Authority? (27 Sept 2020)

27 Sep 2020 by Jan C (Service), John McK (Sermon) in: Online Services

WELCOME TO WORSHIP today, whether watching zoom or reading at home or listening to the recording.

This is a time for knowing and growing,
For seeing and freeing,
For sharing and caring,
For restoring and adoring,
For bringing the cream of our love
And singing or listening our hearts out with praise.

 

LIGHTING THE CANDLE

As the candle is lit, we once again wonder at what one little light can do in a dark place and when the light is multiplied it brings so much more light, beauty and with that light, beauty joy and peace.  Let us share that light in our daily lives.  Amen

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT OF COUNTRY

Let us acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land. We pay our respects to people past and present as they hold the knowledge, language and spiritual connections to this country.

We Acknowledge,

Our love for this land we share,
Our sorrow for the cost of that sharing,
Our hope that together in the spirit of Reconciliation,
We can all move to a place of justice, equality and partnership,
As together we walk gently on this land

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH

Most wonderful God, the beauty we see in Jesus is your beauty veiled in human flesh, the love we witness from Bethlehem to Golgotha is your love contracted to a span. If Christ’s life is so holy as to fill us with wonder, how much more would your unveiled beauty leave us overwhelmed and trembling? You are more than the eye could bear, more than the mind can ever fathom.

 

Yet you have so carefully made us that although we cannot fathom you, we can yet love you. Gratefully we bring our little lives to you, asking that our worship may arise from love and be shaped by love, and be directed towards that larger loving which is our soul’s desire. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

God does not seek to condemn but to save.

 

Let us confess our sin.

Most merciful God, we are not completely useless sinners, devoid of all light and love.

 To loathe ourselves would be to blaspheme your name as our Loving Creator

Nor are we hopelessly locked within our flawed genes and the vicious circles of world evil

To cynically settle for repeating old mistakes without hope of change, would be to blaspheme your name as our Loving Saviour.

Yet we know we have been seduced by the evil of the world, and to some degree we have added to the frustration and pain of life.

 

But you have never ceased to love us,

never forgotten our names,

never ceased to recognise the potential for greatness

that lies within each of us,

never stopped working for our rescue

and for our healing and fulfilment.

 

 Please continue your work of redemption. Forgive our sins cleanse us from the taint of evil, and deliver us from our individual weaknesses. In the hour of temptation help us to be aware of what is happening and to name evil for what it is.

 

Abiding in the love of Jesus,

may we withstand evil’s insidious pressures,

and take delight in small victories.

May we be both the recipients of salvation

and the gracious agents of it.

To your endless glory, through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

My sisters and brothers, embrace your salvation. Once you have honestly made your confession, don’t insult God by returning to past sins and poring over your shame. Let the past go. Embrace the future without burden or anxiety. For you know in whom you have believed, and that he is able to keep safe all you have committed to him

Thanks be to God!  

Amen!

 

HYMN    And Can It Be

 

 

  1. 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, should die for me?
    • Refrain:
      Amazing love! How can it be,
      That Thou, my God, should die for me?
  2. Tis mystery all: the Immortal dies:
    Who can explore His strange design?
    In vain the firstborn seraph tries
    To sound the depths of love divine.
    Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
    Let angel minds inquire no more.
  3. 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!
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

BIBLE READINGS and POEM     

 ONCE A FATHER

Once a father told his children,
“Go and do your daily chores.

Go and work out in my vineyard;
All that’s mine will soon be yours.”
One responded, “I won’t do it!”
Then he changed his mind and went.
One said, “Yes! Just send me to it!”
But he went back home again.

Once a church was filled with Christians
who were proud and feeling blessed.

“God has called us and we’ve answered!
We have truly answered, “Yes!”
On a chilly Sunday morning,
when a homeless man came by,
They said, “Go! It’s not yet storming!
God is love—he will supply.”

Once a woman, quite the sinner,
struggled deep in pain and doubt.

As she passed that church in winter,
there she saw that man walk out.
He was homeless, worn and weary,
so she stopped her car and said,
“I’m no saint but you look hungry—
let’s go buy some soup and bread.”

God of love, you call your children;
some say, “No!” and some say, “Yes!”

Lord, forgive us for our judging
who will be among the blessed.
For your kingdom is surprising;
some you call will not obey;
Those we find ourselves despising
may be those who seek your way.

 

PSALM 78: 1-4, 12-16

Listen you lot, give me a hearing!

Get an earful of what I have to say!

My mouth is full of our faith-story,

 recalling things from the Dreamtime.

We have all heard and known these tales,

told to us by our mothers and fathers.

 

We must not let our children miss out,

But pass on the news to each generation;

the stories of God’s energy and glory,

the wonderful things our God has done.

 

In front of our ancestors God worked miracles,

In the land of Egypt, on the plains of Zoan;

Dividing the sea and letting them walk through,

 holding back the waters that piled up.

In the daytime they were led by a cloud,

and through the night by a blazing light.

 

God split open a rock-face in the wilderness,

and let them drink water from the depths.

Yes, from the desert rock streams gushed,

the waters flowed away like a river.

  ©Paraphrased from  B.D. Prewer 2001

 

Matthew 21   28-32

23When 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?” 24Jesus 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. 25Did 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?’ 26But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” 27So 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.’ 29He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. 31Which 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. 32For 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.

Through these readings we hear God speak -- thank you, God

 

REFLECTION by John McKinnon

 

On Tuesday 8th September, just over 2 weeks ago, a group of 8 school children launched a legal action against the Federal Environment Minister seeking a court injunction against a coal mine expansion up in the Gunnedah region. It was an audacious, bold and provocative move.  When these school children first began the climate strike movement in Australia, the Prime Minister told them to go back to school and let the politicians deal with climate change. In other words: you have no place doing this. Get back to where you belong. You have no authority to act like that.

 

Today’s gospel readings are about authority. Who has authority? Who has the right to claim God’s imprimatur for the work they do. And if the wrong people are acting with God’s authority, then it begs the question, who in fact are the real people of God anyway, which is what the parable in the 2nd part of our reading addresses.

 

Jesus, like those children, had got above his station. He paraded into Jerusalem on a donkey in a parody of the successful Roman military leader. He had crowds cheering him on. How dare he? Who gave him authority? Then he cleared the temple. He stopped businesses from operating. Legitimate businesses, people just trying to make ends meet. How dare he? Who gave him authority?

 

The people questioning Jesus were the chief priests, the scribes and the elders. They were the Jewish elite, they formed the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body under Rome. They were God’s people, God’s leaders with God’s authority. How dare Jesus act like he does!

 

The passage today asks the question: who is really acting for God or with God’s authority – the leaders or Jesus and his followers? For Matthew and his audience, the key point is the identity of the true Israel. Who really makes up God’s people?

 

This is then made very clear in the next story - then story of the 2 sons. The scribes, priests and elders who made up the Jewish ruling class were those who said yes but didn’t do God’s work of justice. Jesus followers – the masses, the poor, the women, the tax collectors, etc were those who never promised but were doing the work. Who is the true Israel? Those who said or those who did?

 

My formative Christian years were spent in a fairly fundamentalist Baptist church. Baptist churches have a tradition of altar calls. Particularly on Sunday evenings, it was common to ask people to come forward as a public statement of their faith. This culminated in adult baptism, which was the ultimate public declaration of faith. The person being baptised would promise before the congregation to follow Jesus and turn their back on sin. While that church did have a strict moral code of acceptable behaviour, it was clear that one’s belonging to the people of God, one’s being a Christian, was determined by this public declaration of faith. We see this across many churches still where saying a sinners’ prayer is the doorway into the people of God. Either way, the emphasis is on words and promises, not deeds or a life lived.

 

Jesus seems to suggest the reverse is true. He suggests that it doesn’t matter what you promise to do. What matters is if you do it.

 

Just as in Jesus’ day there are those in our society and church who say they will do the right thing, but don’t. There are those who publicly declare their faith but don’t live like it. Just after Donald Trump was elected some old friends of mine were quite happy because Trump was a Christian. How did they know this? Because Trump said so. There is probably no better example in our time of the truth of Jesus’ story. It doesn’t matter how much Trump declares his faith, his actions scream out the opposite. We all remember him holding the Bible for a photo in front of the church during the BLM protests, violently removing peaceful protestors in order to do so. That is an extreme example but illustrates Jesus’ point very well. It is not words that matter, that determine membership of God’s people, but actions.

 

Then there are also those we don’t expect to do the right thing, they are not church people, not civic leaders but they do practise prophetic actions that are God’s work. I have already mentioned the school strikers. What about the extinction rebellion protestors? Saving God’s good creation and ensuring a world in which all can thrive is clearly God’s work. Our politicians promise to act but in practice have just subsidised further fossil fuel projects with the so-called “gas led recovery”, condemning the world to higher emissions, higher temperatures and more suffering. Our PM loves to publicly declare his faith but is clearly acting against the interests of creation and the people of the world.

 

Today’s story leads us to ask: who are the true Christians? Who is acting with God’s authority? Who is doing God’s work?

 

Our church faces a similar question. As we adopt and implement our new plan, seeking to live our faith more publicly within the community, extending beyond our own comfortable worship and becoming people for the wider world, we will be forced to face the distinction between saying and doing. Which one will we be?

 

For further reflection

I suspect that you might come up with 1 or 2 objections to this message. Let me pre-empt those and offer some suggestions for further reflection.

  1. Didn’t Jesus tell us not to judge others (Matt 7:1-5) and haven’t I just judged some political leaders in the message? Jesus teaching “do not judge” means “do not condemn”. It does not mean: “do not try to discern the difference between right and wrong”. Jesus constantly practised such discernment. Jesus’ teaching in Matthew is directed towards an attitude of “ignorance of ourselves and arrogance towards others”. Jesus asks that we examine ourselves and our own biases (taking the logs out of our eyes) before looking at others. But, as Jesus often does, we still must look at others and discern injustice so it can be challenged and corrected (See Kingdom Ethics by Stassen and Gushee).
  2. Doesn’t this message teach a salvation of works (saved by what we do) rather than salvation by grace (God’s gift apart from what we do, Eph:2:8)? It is true that if I had preached this message at an Anglican church while I was working for TEAR I would have cast out as a heretic. However, I believe that would have been partly unfair (not what I am saying) and partly due to a very narrow understanding of salvation and the gospel on their part. When we think of salvation, we usually think of who is in or out, who is going to heaven or hell (perhaps that is a caricature but has some resemblance to the traditional protestant view). However, Jesus does not talk in these terms. He talks about who is doing God’s work on earth and who is not. In fact, there is a good argument that Paul’s emphasis in Ephesians is not on how one is saved, but that Jews and gentiles together are equal before God. One of not advantaged before God by being a Jew – both are “saved” by God’s free gift. This quickly becomes a very complex argument and the meaning of words like “saved” and “salvation” become quite technical. I won’t delve more deeply into that here except to say that we should be careful about simplistic notions like that above.

A better way to think about God’s people is perhaps to dispense with “in or out” thinking and consider what we might call a “centred” approach. Rather than draw a hard line around Christians and divide the world into those on the inside (the saved) and those on the outside (the unsaved), lets think about Jesus at the centre and everyone in relative proximity to Jesus and whether they are moving closer or further away. What Jesus did was to look at those society thought were far away and say they were actually close and vice versa. By calling people to follow him he was seeking to draw them closer to himself. In terms of today’s story, those who do God’s work are those who are close to God, rather than those whose words or positions merely  suggest closeness to God. In our day what does mean? We should be striving to be closer to conformity to Jesus, with our lives aligning more and more to the ethics he lived and the mission he carried out. Doing that ourselves and helping others draw closer to Jesus is what is important; not drawing boundaries.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hymn        Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah

  1. Guide me, O Thou great *Jehovah]
    Pilgrim through this barren land;
    I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
    Hold me with Thy powerful hand.
    Bread of heaven, Bread of heaven,
    Feed me till I want no more;
    Feed me till I want no more.
  2. Open now the crystal fountain,
    Whence the healing stream doth flow;
    Let the fire and cloudy pillar
    Lead me all my journey through.
    Strong Deliverer, strong Deliverer
    Be Thou still my Strength and Shield;
    Be Thou still my Strength and Shield.
  3. When I tread the verge of Jordan
    Bid my anxious fears subside;
    Death of death and hell’s Destruction,
    Land me safe on Canaan’s side.
    Songs of praises, songs of praises,
    I will ever give to Thee;
    I will ever give to Thee.

PRAYERS

Thank you loving God for the wonder of the thread of hop which you weave through all creation.

Thank you for small signs which you offer to us each day, if only we look:  for magnificent fragile flowers in parks and city streets and in the bushland, for the colour of our diverse cultures and backgrounds, for the smile of a stranger in the street, for gifts which wait for us everywhere

Lift up your glass

So, we toast the glorious beauty of life today.  Mindful of the Spirit of Jesus at work in our lives.  In the ordinary and the everyday.  In our desire to love as generously as he loved.

And as we drink, we proclaim his life, death and resurrection re-enacted in our world a million times each day in magnificent and routine demonstration of divine love.

To you Jesus         

Now come, life-giving Spirit of God, renew our minds, refresh our lives, and may not part of us or of the world be lost to your transforming love.    Amen 

PRAYERS FOR OTHERS

That the meek may be encouraged and the proud may be humbled,

That the suffering may receive relief and the unthinking and heedless may be made more aware

That the drug addicts may find release and the power-freaks may be kept in check,

That the dying may see God’s face in the darkness, and the grieving may find Christ in their tears and loneliness

That those who feel sorely tempted may be held safe, and those who don’t even recognise temptation be given a wake-up call

That those thirsty for faith may permit Christ to find them, and that believers may permit Christ to regularly invade their comfort zone,

Source of all light and life and holy joy, bless all who pray to you this day, and bless also those who do not know how to pray. Through Christ Jesus our Lord.