Sunday 21 August

1ST SERMON

MORNING PRAYER                      TRINITY  13             Preacher:  Fran Powis

Jonah   Chapter 2                                        
Revelations    Chapter 1

 

Opening Prayer

As followers of Christ we are called to pray. We have prayed this morning and we have listened, in our first reading, to Jonah’s prayer to God to rescue him from the belly of the big fish, let’s look at the background to this prayer.

God spoke to Jonah, one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament, telling him to go to the wicked city of Nineveh, where, whatever you read in your newspapers today was already happening there; whatever you hear of on the internet was a well established practice in that wicked city; no-one, man, woman or child was safe from the depravity that went on there.

Jonah did not want to go to Nineveh, the capital city in Assyria, enemies of the Israelites; whether he was afraid or just felt that he would be wasting his time; he did not want to go to that wicked city to tell the people that God wanted them to repent and change their ways otherwise they would be destroyed.

Jonah thought that the people were so wicked that they were beyond redemption and so, instead of going where God directed Jonah headed to the seaport of Joppa, in the opposite direction. God had a plan and dealt with Jonah severely. Jonah had been thrown overboard during a storm, as an offering to the god who had sent the storm, thereby putting the ship in danger of sinking. The storm calmed and the ship continued on its way, with the crew worshipping Jonah’s true God; leaving Jonah to be swallowed by a great fish and Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and three nights.

I am sure the fish was ready to give up Jonah, when we eat something that doesn’t agree with us we have uncomfortable stomachs until we get rid of whatever ails us and so it was for the fish who couldn’t digest Jonah.

So we come to this morning’s first reading and Jonah’s prayer to God from inside the fish.

Jonah was distressed and afraid, he called to God who heard his cry, in verse 7 he said, “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple”.

Do you find yourself behaving similarly when the chips are down, do you then turn to God in prayer?  Why do we leave this until a last resort?  We all do it, instead of turning to God in the first place we try to resolve issues ourselves and when we have tried everything, then we turn to God who graciously forgives us and gives us a solution, it may not be the one we were hoping for but if it comes from God then it is probably the best to suit the circumstances.

When the seaweed is wrapped around our heads, when everything seems hopeless, then God gives us hope when we cling to him in our despair. It is too late to bargain, we merely thank God for his intervention and his gifts of love and mercy.

Jonah vowed to God that he would make good, accepting that Salvation comes from the Lord. And God saved him, commanding the fish to vomit Jonah on to dry land. Jonah learnt to admit that he was wrong, he had to say sorry and he had to ask for God’s help, then he experienced the Salvation that a close relationship with God gives to us.

So Jonah lived to obey God’s instruction to preach to the people of Nineveh who in their turn repented and you can read the rest of the story, with its twists and turns, later!

But what can we learn from this story so far? Do we recognise God’s Salvation or do we still think that we can find our own way out of our problems. When God gives us an answer to our troubles do we show gratitude by saying ‘thank you’, or do we find it easier to pray and ask for help rather than to say thank you, recognising and accepting God’s help?

Do we still think that our rescue comes about by coincidence? A little boy began falling out of a tree and cried, “Lord, save me, save me!” There was a pause and then he said, “Never mind, Lord. My pants just caught on a branch.”

Let us look at our reading from Revelation for further enlightenment.

The Life Application Bible summarises the life of Jesus in these words, “with tiny wrinkles and cries, Jesus entered the world and, wrapped in strips of cloth, he slept on a bed of straw. Subject to time and to parents, he grew to manhood in Roman-occupied Palestine, his gentle hands becoming strong and calloused in Joseph’s workshop. As a man, he walked through the countryside and city, touching individuals, preaching to crowds, and training twelve men to carry on his work. At every step he was hounded by those seeking to rid the world of his influence. Finally, falsely accused and tried, he was condemned to a disgraceful execution by foreign hands. And he died—spat upon, cursed, pierced by nails, and hung heavenward for all to deride. Jesus, the God-man, gave his life completely so that all might live.       That is not the end though, at God’s appointed time, the risen and ascended Lord Jesus will return”.

Revelation is a book of hope but also a book of warning, Christ will come again to rescue his people and settle accounts with those who deny him.

John, the Apostle, exiled on the island of Patmos wrote, as instructed in a vision, to seven churches in Asia during the reign of Emperor Domitian. A.D.90-95.

John wrote in the form of a letter to seven churches, listed in sequence that the messenger would most likely travel after disembarking ship at Ephesus. The letter centres on Christ, the risen Lord, reigning in majesty, whose appearance reveals his glory. Can we picture this crucified, risen Jesus now shown in royalty, priesthood, holiness, purity and light?

This letter contains a lot of symbolism, images to try to give us a vision of the New Jerusalem as we attempt to distinguish between physical and spiritual realms.

If we try to interpret each part of Revelations we may get bogged down in the many references to the number seven, considered a number of perfection, we may be frightened by some of the images given later on which don’t seem to reflect a loving, forgiving Jesus, we may be diverted by the many confusing images of creatures with multiple heads and of seven plagues spreading over the earth.

Rather we will see more in John’s vision if we concentrate on the promises of hope in chapter 1, today’s reading.

Jesus, the first-born from the dead, the one who conquered death as a promise to all those who believe that death need hold no terrors, pain and tears will be no more.  Jesus, the Son of God, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the one who is, who was and is to come, the Almighty who created the world and loves it and his people.

In verse 17 we see the promise and the instruction, “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever!”

This revelation was sent for our comfort, it was sent at a time of great persecution for the followers of Christ by Roman oppressors, and even today there are those who are persecuted for their faith by people who fear what they do not understand or comprehend.

This revelation is sent to comfort those who are afraid, those who fear the future, and we should find peace in the promises made to those who love the Lord Jesus and have a close relationship with him, and that close relationship is strengthened through prayer.

Amen.

 

2ND SERMON

EVENING HOLY COMMUNION                  PREACHER    REV LYNN MCKEON                    

Matthew 21: 23-32
2 Corinthians 9

God gave Jesus authority. The Pharisees and chief priests were rabbis, and they could not believe that Jesus’ authority was greater than theirs. They forgot that God is the ultimate authority. He gave the Jews the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees expanded them with all of their rules and regulations because they were obsessed with not breaking any of the Ten Commandments. The Pharisees considered themselves to be so righteous that they thought they were doing God’s work, but Jesus pointed out in the parable of the sons in Matthew 21:28-32 they were sadly mistaken.

But Jesus uses this trick question to teach the Pharisees about the Kingdom of God. You see, they were living examples of the second son in the parable. Self-righteous Jews were the ones who always gave the appearance of serving God.  They followed all the picky religious rules;  rules about what they should eat, and what they should wear, and how they should say their prayers. They looked and sounded very religious. But when it came to issues like loving their neighbour, or showing kindness to the poor, or showing compassion to the lowly, they never showed up in the vineyard! They said they would; their religion was very impressive when they were at the synagogue, but they did not live it out in their daily lives.

If we profess that Jesus is our Lord, we must do what he tells us to do. The religious people were the ones who were a problem for Jesus. They were oblivious to the true demands of God’s righteousness. They just didn’t get it. They did not see that God was not so much interested in the pious rhetoric and ceremonial formality. 

When Jesus asked the Pharisees if the baptism of John came from heaven or from man, he was really asking them if they thought John was a true prophet or a false prophet. They were caught between the proverbial “rock and a hard place”. If they said that John’s baptism came from heaven, they would be faced with John’s witness to Jesus and their failure to respond to John’s preaching. If they said that it was from man, they would risk upsetting the crowd, many of whom believed in Jesus and John. The Pharisees had the responsibility to know who was and who was not a false prophet. They had the duty to protect the people from false prophets. Their final decision, which was the refusal to answer Jesus, compromised their own authority.

Jesus also indirectly asked the Pharisees if they thought that his authority came from heaven or from man. If Jesus authority is from heaven, then his messianic claim is valid, and the church must stake claim to a unique mission, a mission that relinquishes power in bringing Christ to the world, just as Christ relinquished power in bringing himself to the world. The church living under Christ’s present, heavenly authority will embody Christ’s own ministry as a gracious transformation, a divine reclamation of the world. 

Tax collectors and prostitutes were prepared to change their ways, but the religious leaders were not, even though they had time to change. In the parable of the two sons, the older son represented the religious leaders and the younger son represented outsiders such as tax collectors and prostitutes. The faithful son represents the faces of people such as a recovering alcoholic, a small band of worshippers in a storefront, a church that reaches out to the needy in the community, a church member who decided to tithe-all of whom, however reluctantly or painfully, obey Christ. The second son is the person in the pew who refuses Christ entry to the deepest recesses of his or her heart - a preacher whose sermon is designed to please people rather than to please God; the Christian who refuses to obey God in the sensitive areas of sex, money or power; a church that ignores issues of justice and mercy. In other words, they are the people who appear to be faithful but, deep down, are not.

The parable of the two sons means that those who are not religious may sometimes respond to the good news of God’s forgiving love more readily than

those whose self-serving religious superiority makes them immune to its appeal. The main key is a person’s sense of self-worth which can deceive even the most perceptive to think of ourselves more highly than they ought to think. The truth is that even keeping the rules can lead us astray if we end up with the attitude that we're good and righteous people, pure as the driven snow. To believe this is a dangerous deception. It can cause us as much grief as if we dive headlong into living an immoral life.

When we believe ourselves to be good and righteous people, then we ignore a large part of who we are. We overlook our dark side, what some psychologists call the shadow. The shadow then acts on its own, swallows us up, and takes others along with us. This can happen without us even recognising it.

Jesus’ parable asks us how we will respond to the Gospel. Will we change our minds and believe, or not? Will we be the son who says he will obey and does not, or will we be the son who turns around and changes his mind? The parable is an example of the old adage that “actions speak louder than words”. We will be judged not by what we say, but by what we do. The religious leaders wrongly thought that they were better than they really were, and they imagined that they did not need to repent. How many times have we made commitments to God, only to fail on the follow through? How many times have we made promises to God that for one reason or another, we have not kept? How often do we find ourselves responding to God when we have already told God “no”? What we believe needs to be evident in the way we live and relate. There must not be any break between our words, actions and faith. We must be able to discern God’s voice in those expected and unexpected places. We must not only listen but be willing to change as we grow in our personal and corporate faith.

Most of us have been pretty religious for most of our lives. Still, there are those whose religion seems to be lovely when they are surrounded by other religious persons. They can quote scripture verses by the boatload. They know all the  religious language, all the religious rituals. But they don’t go to work in the vineyard.  And all the love, and all the kindness, and all the compassion that they speak of in church…tends to stay at church. But there are also those whose lives are laced with sin, whose language would make a sailor blush, and who wouldn’t know a bible from a dictionary if it were handed to them, but they are kind, and generous, and compassionate to no end. They don’t get it when it comes to religion, and yet they are walking examples of the very people Jesus came to love.

Which of those people is doing the will of God? It’s a trick question because neither of them is. But here is the word of grace: Which one of them is God’s daughter or son, which one of them does God want to nurture, and mould and change into walking examples of righteousness in the vineyard? All of us.

Jesus says that it isn’t the religious folk who are first in the kingdom of heaven. It is those who are most open to turning their lives around who are first in line, those who take action when Jesus says, “follow me”. We need to be careful lest we get to feeling that God owes us something. God sent Christ into the world to die for our sins, because we are sinners, and we are in need of redemption. That applies to all of us --- Sunday school teachers, choir members, clergy, and members of the congregation. God does not owe us anything. Our hope for heaven is based on one thing and one thing alone---and that is the grace of God. This parable comes with the flame of Jesus’ Spirit to quicken our resolve to try again to change what needs changing. We have hope that this time, in some small or large way, change is possible because we have heard God’s word and experienced the living Christ through it.

When we look over our recent past and notice the trend our lives have taken, with the thoughts and deeds that speak of our lukewarm disciples, we want the second chance this parable offers us. We want to be able to change our minds, repent and do the good things we know we are called to do - and do them with the wholehearted “Yes” the gospel requires of us.