Worship Service for Sunday 25 September 2011
Year A Sunday 26
Exodus 17:1-7, Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32; Green.
Call to Worship
Wherever we have been
whatever we have done
whatever has led us to be here
God welcomes us into worship
God welcomes us into relationship
God accepts us and loves us
and wants us to stay.
Hymn Together in Song 217 Love divine, all loves excelling,
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
we come to meet you in worship,
amazed at the depths of your love,
astounded at your accepting us so freely,
awed by the wonder of being invited into your presence.
We thank you that you come to meet us -
accepting that we aren't perfect
lovingus despite our faults
wanting the best for us, no matter how we arrange things for ourselves.
We confess that we do have faults
and we do arrange our lives badly
We confess the past
the deliberate misdeeds
the things we wish we'd done differently
the things we thought we were getting right – but turned out all wrong.
Forgive us all of it we pray.
Help us to start again
Guide us through the present
and into the future
in Jesus' name we pray. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
Kids' time “The Parable of the Pinkie” from Wriggle:Tracing around an invisible, wriggling God, by Tom Kerr, Brisbane: Uniting Church in Australia, Queensland Synod, Youth and Children's Ministry Unit, 2001.
Hymn Together in Song 662 He's the children's saviour
This is the word of the Lord:
Thanks be to God.
Sermon: Better late than never
The temple officials weren't making casual conversation with Jesus, when he came to teach in the temple, in their territory...
Asking “By what authority” Jesus was acting wasn't just a matter of who said he could do it – acting under someone's authority meant acting as their agent representative. It meant people had to treat him in the same was as whoever he was representing. If he was God's a, they would have to treat him like God.
That was never going to happen, but maybe they could trip him up into saying he was God's agent, and they could shout “blasphemy” at him, and kick him out of the temple.
Jesus turned this around on them, by answering their question with a question that could get them into trouble. (Remember, they might have had the authority of the temple behind them, but Jesus had public opinion with him on this one – the crowds around him had all supported John – he'd been seen as the latest in a very long line of prophets who had been rejected by people in authority.) Jesus asked what authority John had used. Yes, evading the question and asking something even more awkward in response isn't just a tactic of 21st century politicians.
And, of course, they could evade the question just as well as Jesus could. “We don't know,” they said.
It wasn't the “I don't know” of a genuine struggle with issues of faith. It was the cynical “I don't know” that meant “I don't want to give my opinion if it's going to put me in a tight corner.” Whatever they said, they would be in trouble. (The same as if Jesus had answered their question, whatever he'd said, he'd be in trouble.)
So, Jesus said, we're even. You're not going to answer me and I'm not going to answer you.
At this stage, it looked as if both sides were pretty smart – neither was going to get themselves into trouble. No-one lost face in front of the crowd. No-one got kicked out of the temple.
Then Jesus went on. He told the parable of the man with his two sons.
It's straight from real life. All the parents here know what it's like. You tell both kids to clean their rooms. One says, “I'll get right on it.” But then she goes out with her friends and her room's still a pigsty at dinnertime.
The other says, “Can't do it today I've got a boss fight in a dungeon on WOW, and the whole guild's relying on me.” But after the guild wins the boss fight, he picks up his dirty clothes and tidies his room, and fixes the problem you've been having with the DVD player for three weeks.
Then Jesus asked his audience, “Which kid did what Dad wanted?”
The guys who'd been smart enough to evade the question before, were a bit slow on the uptake here. They gave the obvious answer. “The kid who said 'no' but then did the right thing.”
“OK,” said Jesus, “now you've answered your own question about authority from before and you've condemned yourselves.”
While they were trying to work out what he meant, he told them what they'd missed.
The “sinners” prostitutes, tax collectors, pretty much everyone who wasn't a temple official, were getting into heaven first. They'd done the right thing.
They'd said “no” to God by some of the choices they'd made in their lives. But when it came down to the crunch, they had done what God had really wanted. They had accepted Jesus – and accepting the messenger or agent was the same as accepting the one who'd sent them. In accepting Jesus, and John preparing the way for him, they had accepted God.
The “good people” - that is the temple officials, were going to get there last. They'd made a big show of saying “yes” to God. But they had rejected God's agents – they had said “no” when it came to actually responding to God among them.
Jesus did not exclude the possibility that the “good people” would get to heaven. Let's face it, parents, you may shake your head and grumble about the kid whose room is a toxic wasteland – but you love the kid anyway. And you desperately hope they'll get themselves sorted out.
In the New Testament the condition for entering heaven is accepting Jesus – so they're not ruled out, but they've got a way to go before they get there.
So what's the message for us today – apart from that Jesus would have made an excellent politician?
It takes more than being a “good” person to be acceptable to God. In fact you don't have to have a perfect or even particularly “good” history.
What matters to God, is whether or not we accept God as he comes to us in Jesus, and whether we act in accordance with that.
We don't have to be perfect – because God knows we're human.
We don't have to be strong – because God knows our weaknesses.
We don't have to be socially acceptable or part of the “in crowd” - Jesus chose the misfits over the social elite.
And we don't have to be “religious” in terms of living by lots of rules and formalities. (Although we do need to be “religious” in the sense of having a relationship with God.)
For many years, through the historical period of Christendom, people equated being a “good Christian” with being a “good citizen”. Sometimes the two coincide. Sometimes they don't. You can follow all of the laws of our society and never have a relationship with Jesus. You can have a relationship with Jesus that leads to civil disobedience (and it has done for people more than once in history.)
If you think about it, what Jesus said was an incredible insult to the priests and elders who'd tried all their lives to be “good enough”.
And it can be just as offensive to people today who try and try to be “good enough.” To have enough faith (as in “if you have enough faith, you'll be healed, be rich, be......”) To give the right amount. To sacrifice enough. To put themselves last. To do enough work. To get caught in the problem Martin Luther had, that helped lead to the reformation, of not knowing when he'd “repented enough”. This is the problem. If you're relying on being good – no-one's that good. If the measure is God, the absolute best of people aren't good enough.
God's not concerned about how good we are, or how hard we work at it.
God's concerned with why we want to try to be good in the first place. If our motivation is that we are trying to show our love for Jesus (not because we're trying to fulfil a set of rules) – what God sees is that love. Yeah, we'll mess up. But if we truly love Jesus, we'll keep trying to get things right – not for any reward for our own goodness, but because if we love Jesus we'll want to show that love.
If the why of what we're doing is Jesus – then whether we succeed or fail – at least we're trying for the right thing. (That's not an excuse for persecuting non-Christians, or excluding people who think differently. In the Gospels, Jesus' reaction to people of other cultures and faiths was to treat them with respect and love.)
And one last thought: In saying that the “unacceptable” people were getting into heaven ahead of the “good” people – he didn't say they couldn't make it. It is never too late for anyone.
God didn't write them off – and still today doesn't write any one of us off. Whatever we've done, wherever we've been, God never gives up hope for any one of us.
Hymn Together in Song 677 Christ's is the world in which we move
Congregational meeting this morning – election of elders. Nominations are Julie Hultgren and Marella Jenkins.
Prayers of the People
Loving God we pray for our world, with all of its pains, fears, needs and hurts.
Lord, Hear us,
Lord, Hear our prayer.
We pray for your church in all the many places it gathers
Lord, hear us
Lord, hear our prayer
We pray for our own congregation, and for the business of our congregational meeting today
Lord, hear us
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for all of the needs that weigh on our hearts and minds at the moment
Lord, hear us
Lord, hear our prayer.
We pray for ourselves, that we may truly love you, and share that love with the community you have placed us in.
Lord, hear us,
Lord, hear our prayer.
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 599 Take my life and let it be