St Mary’s West Acklam
September 27th (16th Sunday Trinity) 2020
(Holy Communion Service in Church 10 a.m.)
O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers
of your people who call upon you;
and grant that they may both perceive and know
what things they ought to do,
and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
FIRST READING: Ezek 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.
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? 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. Again, when the wicked turn away from the wickedness they have committed and do what is lawful and right, they shall save their life. Because they considered and turned away from all the transgressions that they had committed, they shall surely live; they shall not die. 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?
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. 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? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God. Turn, then, and live.
SECOND READING: Phil 2: 1-13
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
GOSPEL READING: Matthew 21: 23-32
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.
Our prime minister, Boris Johnson, stood up in the House of Commons the other day to tell the nation that more stringent regulations would be issued in order to ‘break the circle’ of the ever-widening Coronavirus. The next day some MPs protested that the government had sought to deal with the virus by diktat rather than by deliberation in Parliament. They questioned the way Mr Johnson had exercised his authority. Boris Johnson is a man, and so has limits of mind that occasion questions. But are questions always in place?
The chief priests and elders questioned our Lord after He had entered Jerusalem, cleansed the Temple of money lenders and healed the blind and sick. Who was he to do these things? Jesus did not answer them directly. A commentator remarks that His response was masterly because it both was and was not a straight answer. He directed them to John the Baptist. Anyone who had heard of him would know that he had called for repentance; that he had baptised Jesus; during that baptism the Holy Spirit had anointed Jesus; and that God had signified that this was His beloved son in whom He was well pleased; in short, that Jesus was the Messiah, and so entitled to do all those things for which the priests and elders questioned His authority.
If they had truly known God, they would have understood all this. Their confusion and embarrassment attests that they knew enough to know that they fell short. Truly, they were like the first son who answered ‘yes’ to his father’s request, but did not do the work it required. By contrast the second son, though initially he refused the task, later changed his mind and did what his father wanted him to do. In other words, Jesus warned those religion leaders who were supposed to be the people who knew God better than others and who were qualified to interpret divine laws, that in truth they were neither better nor more favoured in their Father’s eyes than those whom they despised, the tax-collectors and prostitutes.
In our own time, challenge to authority is a normal activity. We are encouraged to question what we are told. Certainly, many would ask what authority the Bible or Jesus have to direct our lives. Do we need to accept the diktat of God? Can’t we talk about this? Deliberation is here mostly a euphemism for hesitancy, tepidness, or a downright unwillingness to absorb what God is telling us. Too often we are like those hierocrats of Judaism: we know something about God, we may even hear His call, we know what we should do and we even are willing to do it: yet we never grasp the one thing that is needful now - to turn these acquisitions into action.
PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION
Lord, as you came down to lift us up, help us to show compassion and sympathy to others. Give to us, your churches, a sense of service and humility. May we be obedient to you, seeking to do your will at all times.
Lord, we pray for this troubled world which is ravaged by the pandemic, and for this country and for our town. As there are more restrictions to stop the spread of the virus, we pray that for the good of other people, communities and the world, we are able to follow our government’s guidance.
Lord, give us the perseverance, fortitude and strength in this time as the activities that we took for granted so recently have to be restricted; give us compassion and patience to look after those who are in need and are vulnerable; bring us hope that in your mercy light will shine through darkness, and evil will be conquered.
Lord, help us to put trust in you, that in this difficult and dark time we may seek you. Make yourself known to us and to the world, to those who are suffering, who are afraid, who are in pain, who are angry or frustrated. Send us your spirit as on the day of Pentecost, inspire us, equip us to be your light.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
As our Saviour taught us so we pray:
Our Father, who art in Heaven …
The power of God be about you,
the love of Christ enfold you,
the joy of Christ be within you
and the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.