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Sunday 27th September

posted 26 Sep 2020, 00:19 by CHS Info   [ updated 26 Sep 2020, 11:37 ]

Sunday 27th September 2020

 Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

For the last 3 weeks our readings are all about judging and forgiving: the great number of readings on this theme, in both old and new testaments, indicate that this is an area we struggle with.

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 No longer should the sins of the parents be visited upon their children: instead everyone is responsible for their own actions.  No one is judged by association or misfortune but then again no one may blame anyone else either.

Matthew 21:23-32 In the parable of the two sons Jesus tells us that it is not the one who is outwardly obedient but the one who does the work of the Father who is saved.  Reputation, class, family mean nothing: everything is about how we relate to one another: in judging each other we find ourselves judged.  Judging ourselves, we find ourselves unable to live out the new life promised by repentance and forgiveness.

Readings

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

The word of the Lord came to me: What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, “The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”? As I live, says the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine: it is only the person who sins that shall die.

25 Yet you say, “The way of the Lord is unfair.” Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way unfair? Is it not your ways that are unfair? 26 When the righteous turn away from their righteousness and commit iniquity, they shall die for it; for the iniquity that they have committed they shall die. 27 Again, 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?

30 Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, all of you according to your ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions; otherwise iniquity will be your ruin. 31 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.

 

Gospel Reading: Matthew 21:23-32 

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.

 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.

The Parable of the Two Sons

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[a] 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 himGospel Reading: Matthew 21:23-32 

Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to Matthew.

 

Sermon

If you’ve been with us over the past few months, listening to a series of Gospel readings from Matthew’s Gospel, you may think this one follows straight on from the readings we’ve heard during July and August.  But there’s a real step-change here.  Last week we ended half way through chapter 20 – the rest of the chapter describes conversations as Jesus and the disciples travel towards Jerusalem; and the first half of chapter 21 describes not only Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, but also his entry into the Temple where he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the people who profited from selling sacrificial birds, telling them they were making God’s house of prayer into a den of robbers.

So that is the context in which the “chief priests and elders of the people came to him” – they’ve seen him curing the blind and the lame; they’ve seen his anger in the Temple and the crowds showing “Hosanna to the Son of David”; they’ve heard his teaching.  And they don’t like it.  “By what authority are you doing these things?” they ask.  “How Dare You?” is the subtext – and “Who do you think you are?”.  THEY are the authorities here in Jerusalem, and he has no right to be acting this way, gathering crowds around him. 

In our present context we may be asking questions about authority – the uncertainty around Covid and Brexit – by what ‘authority’ does our government tell us what to do?  Ultimately, it rests on truth – Jesus came, as he says in John’s Gospel, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” 

The Scribes and the Pharisees are so wrapped up in their own way of thinking, holding on the rules and regulations of the past that they can’t open their minds to who and what Jesus is. They recognise that he speaks and acts with authority, and they feel threatened by that.  The rules they live by help them to hold on to and exercise their own authority, and any threat to the stability and privilege they are enjoying under Roman power is unwelcome.

Jesus’ response is not just a way of deflecting the question – it’s prompting them to think a bit deeper, and it’s very effective, as we can tell by the conversation the chief priests and elders have among themselves.  Jesus could have been more direct and asked them by what authority did John baptise me?  It was at his baptism by John that the Holy Spirit was seen descending on Jesus like a dove, and a voice from heaven was heard declaring, “This is my Son, the beloved, in whom I am well pleased.”  Did they deny this?  Did they fail to understand it?  Were their minds so closed that they couldn’t see the need to repent, and to change their ways?

In telling the story of the two sons – one who says he won’t do what his father asks, but then changed his mind and went to work in the vineyard, and the other who says he’ll go, but doesn’t – Jesus is drawing attention to the fact that the Jewish leaders of the day, who think they are obeying God’s laws, are failing to do so.  It is the despised people like tax-collectors and prostitutes who have listened to John’s teaching, and responded to it in repentance, who will enter the Kingdom of God.  Sadly, the Jewish leaders failed to realise is that it was still not too late – if they could change their minds, accept the truth of John’s preaching, they might have been able to see that Jesus’ authority came from God himself.

Our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel provides words which those in opposition to Jesus should have paid attention to: “Turn, then, and live.”  Ezekiel is urging the people to repent and change their ways, as so many of the prophets did, including John the Baptist. The people of Ezekiel’s time believed their suffering was caused by the sins of previous generations, rather than accepting responsibility for themselves. It’s worth reading the whole of this chapter sometime.  The message to “Turn, then, and live” is true for us today.  What are the behaviours, actions, thoughts, attitudes of which we need to repent so that we can truly live?

We are surrounded by the uncertainty of the Coronavirus, and also, now less than 100 days away from our final “Brexit” from Europe.  And if we look ahead into the future, we see a world that is being destroyed by climate change. We can feel very unsettled, and we do.  Do we blame our forefathers for all that is going wrong, or do we accept the responsibility and look to see what we can change in ourselves, and in our behaviour? 

This is the season of CreationTide, when we give thanks for God’s wonderful goodness to us in creation.  There may be things we cannot change – like Brexit – but there are things we can do – like showing our gratitude for creation in trying harder to reduce our own impact on the environment.  The people of St Paul’s Clapham, and several other churches around the country, are celebrating Creation Sunday today, and spending this week before their Harvest Festival next week, focussing on what they can do: use less energy (don’t turn your heating up too high, even though the weather has got colder, and move to a green energy provider if you haven’t already done so); try to drive less and walk or bike more if you can; and eat less meat, or even try to have a full vegetarian or vegan died for a week!

As I reflect on the story of the two sons, I realise I’m rather more like the second one as I speak about trying to act in a more environmentally-friendly way, and yet I still buy foods wrapped in plastic, and although I bike a lot, I do jump into my car too often when I could plan ahead better and not need to rush.  I pray that during this week, we may be able to find time to give thanks for the wonder of creation and we see the season moving from summer to autumn, to give thanks for all the gifts God has given us, to reflect on how we can use those gifts more responsibly, and share what we have with others, so that we can live more fully the lives that God longs for us to live, following in the example for Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.  Amen.

Prayers

Lord of creation,

whose glory is around and within us:

open our eyes to your wonders,

that we may serve you with reverence

and know your peace at our lives’ end,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Prayers of Intercession

We close our prayer together:

Merciful God, accept these prayers for the sake of your son, our saviour Jesus Christ. Amen