Archive for October, 2011

Sermon for 9th October 2011

Does Dress Matter?

When there is a wedding in the family, many people spend a huge amount of time and energy, not to mention money, making the preparations. One of the most difficult tasks is to agree who to invite from your huge list, doing your best to avoid diplomatic gaffes in the family if possible.

 

How you would feel after all your efforts, if your specially selected guests turned you down flat despite being asked over and again? You may well think what a fine bunch of friends they turned out to be and go ahead with the celebrations anyway; inviting instead the people that were on your original list of possible guests, but had to be set aside at the time.

 

In the two parables from the gospel reading this morning, Jesus addressed the chief priests and Pharisees directly. And there can be little doubt that they understood that they were in the firing line yet again.

 

Jesus pulled no punches in the first parable. He is close to the end of his ministry on earth and he intensified his efforts to make the message of God’s kingdom very clear. Jesus attacked the chief priests and Pharisees in their home territory, the temple; and he must have been aware that his attacks would infuriate them. His continued actions as a troublemaker reinforced the Jewish leader’s intention to be rid of him.

 

The invitation by the king to his selected guests for the wedding banquet for his son had been accepted. When the banquet was ready, it was the custom for the host to send a second invitation for the guests; however, when the king’s slaves went to bring them to the banquet, they refused to go and sent the slaves away. The king sent more slaves, giving the guests another chance, but they ignored the invitation. Some went off to their own farm or business whilst others assaulted and murdered the slaves. To put it bluntly they were insulting the king.

 

In his fury, the king took vengeance against the murderers and then sent his slaves out onto the streets to gather up anyone they could find, and bring them to the wedding banquet. These new guests included the good and the bad, the tax-collectors, the prostitutes, the scruffy and the unclean, and the Gentiles that would have been in Jerusalem.

 

This would have come as a shock to them – an invitation to feast with the king – unimaginable, what would they wear! However, it was the tradition that the king provided the wedding clothes, solving that particular concern.

 

If the chief priests and Pharisees had not already understood Jesus’ message, they must have done from this parable. The leaders of God’s chosen people, the Jews, had rejected Jesus and his invitation to the Kingdom.

 

Their minds were closed, God would judge them, and they should expect that judgement to be harsh. Those whom the slaves gathered from the streets represented the Gentiles, and Jesus made it clear that whilst the Jews and their leaders had rejected him, the kingdom was to be open to all.

 

The invitation was, and remains, open to everyone, regardless of race, sex, colour, age or intellect, the only qualification being a willingness to come with an openness of heart.

 

The message remains the same for us today. Jesus’ message is an invitation to us all to join in the infinite richness of God’s kingdom, ALL OF US, it is our own free choice.

 

However, the message of the second, parable is one that brings us up short if we think that it is an easy option to accept Jesus’ invitation.

 

The king spotted a man who was not wearing the wedding clothes that would have been offered to him, and when the man did not explain how he had managed to get into the banquet without respectful clothes, he was unceremoniously thrown out into the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.

 

If we receive an invitation to a formal event, most of us try to work out what we ought to wear, what is appropriate for the occasion.

 

Not many of us would opt for jeans, tee shirt and muddy trainers to go to a dinner at Buckingham Palace; I wonder if you would even get past the gates, far less get as far as being thrown out by the guards!

 

Nonetheless, there are those who would say that what they look like or dress like does not matter; they should be accepted as they are; in other words, on their own self serving terms.

 

The man at the king’s banquet had accepted the invitation, but he wanted to be accepted on his own terms and therefore rejected the wedding clothes. He had abused the honour and privilege of a place at the table and paid the price.

 

When we accept Jesus’ invitation to the kingdom, we are also indebted to accept the price. We need to change our ways, to set aside our old lives and put on the clothes of a new life in Jesus’ image. We must put our trust and faith in God, move away from our self centred materialistic existence, help others rather than ourselves, and open ourselves to all the possibilities that God’s grace through the Holy Spirit offers.

 

Our actions must follow our words, it is not good enough to accept the most gracious of all invitations and then turn up on our own terms, wearing the rags of our old life.

 

So does dress matter?

Well, maybe it does. What is infinitely more important is that we accept a change in our lives. In the parable, Jesus portrays clothes as an outward symbol of inward life; and it is our inward life that matters to God.

 

Are we too pre-occupied with our own busyness in this world to accept God’s invitation? Or are we ready to receive his open-hearted welcome?

 

And if we have received his welcome, are we ready and grateful to do our best to act out our whole lives with God as our priority?

 

We can choose to follow Jesus or not, we can choose whether to change our lives or not; but if we DO choose to follow, it is a choice that commits us utterly to be changed.

CAN YOU MAKE THAT CHOICE?

WILL YOU MAKE THAT CHOICE?

HAVE YOU MADE THAT CHOICE?

AMEN.


Sermon for 25th September 2011

Exodus 17 vs 1 – 7  Phillipians 2 vs 1 – 13  Matthew 21 vs 23 -32

The Chief Priest and Elders of the people came to Jesus and asked him a question. Jesus, not unusually for him, responded with another question.

THE JEWISH LEADERS WERE ALWAYS VERY KEEN TO CATCH JESUS OUT AND JESUS WAS ALWAYS VERY CAREFUL NOT TO BE CAUGHT OUT.

But his questions in response were never negative, in the sense that he always tried to make the questioners think about the implications of what they had asked.

IF JESUS HAD ANSWERED THAT HIS AUTHORITY CAME FROM GOD HE WOULD HAVE BEEN ACCUSED OF BLASPHEMY AND LIABLE TO BE STONED TO DEATH, SO HE MADE THE QUESTIONERS THINK AGAIN.

When I listen to Radio 4 in the morning they quite often interview politicians and very rarely do they get a straight answer.

THERE MUST BE A REASON FOR, OR PROBABLY SEVERAL REASONS FOR THIS, NOT THAT THEY ARE GOING TO GET STONED BUT USUALLY BECAUSE THEY HAVE AN AGENDA THAT THEY WANT TO GET ACCROSS, WHICH MIGHT WELL HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH THE SUBJECT ON WHICH THEY ARE BEING QUESTIONED.

Some of them will employ all sorts of subterfuge to get away from the point the interviewer is trying to make and the interviewer often has an agenda of their own and is keen to score points off the politician being just as keen to assert their personality over the interview.

SOMETIMES IT CAN MAKE FOR A FASCINATING VERBAL CONTEST BETWEEN TWO EXPERT PROTAGONSISTS OF THE ART OF INTERVIEWING AND OF BEING INTERVIEWED.

However, sometimes it can become a slanging match when both parties end up talking or even shouting at the same time. In which event neither side get their point across and it leaves us listeners frustrated, especially if we are interested in hearing the arguments being put forward.

THIS SORT OF CONFRONTATION IS USELESS BECAUSE NEITHER SIDE IS LISTENING TO WHAT THE OTHER PARTY IS SAYING, SO NO-ONE GETS ANY BENEFIT FROM THE CONVERSATION.

In a radio interview it is probably not important, but in a proper debate it really does matter.

Usually we admire people who stick to their guns even if we do not agree with them. But if we listen to other peoples’ opinions it will help us to expand our outlook and give us a better view of the whole picture. We may decide that we were right in our first thoughts, or we may adjust our ideas in the light of new knowledge gained.

BUT, EITHER WAY WE SHOULD HAVE A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE OTHER PERSONS VIEWPOINT; OR TO USE VERNACULAR, WE WILL KNOW WHERE THEY ARE COMING FROM.

After all we all have our own agendas and find it difficult to come to terms with fresh ideas, new approaches and changes of direction.

AS MOST OF YOU WILL KNOW THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND IS LOOKING TO CHANGE THE LEGISLATION SO THAT WE CAN HAVE WOMEN BISHOPS.

In the Deanery Synod the other night we were asked to give our opinions, not on whether the Church should appoint women bishops, but whether provision should be made for those who cannot come to terms with such a radical change.

THIS IS ONE OF THE CONTENTIOUS ISSUES IN OUR CHURCH TODAY. BUT STATISTICS SHOW THAT AN OVERWHELMING MAJORITY OF PEOPLE IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND ARE IN FAVOUR OF WOMEN HAVING THE SAME OPPORTUNITIES TO SERVE GOD AS THE MEN DO AND CONSEQUENTLY SHOULD BE ABLE TO ATTAIN THE SAME POSITIONS OF AUTHORITY WITHIN THE CHURCH.

As a consequence of this some people argue “Why bother with the minority?”.

That, in my view, is a very dangerous path to go down. After all, we church goers are a minority ourselves.

BUT I DO NOT THINK THAT WE IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH SHOULD BE ABOUT DRIVING PEOPLE OUT OF THE CHURH OR AWAY FROM GOD.

The Church of England has a lot of faults, after all it is managed by people, but its greatest asset is that it has a broad spectrum; it is an inclusive church that ministers to paupers and millionaires and anyone who wishes to worship God and follow Christ in accordance with the scriptures.

CHRISTIANITY IS SIMPLE, NOT IN PRACTISE, I AGREE, BUT IN PRINCIPLE. JESUS CAME INTO THE WORLD TO SAVE SINNERS, TO MINISTER TO THE SICK AND TO THE POOR AND TO BRING BACK TO GOD AND INTO THE WAY OF TRUTH AND LOVE. THOSE WHO HAVE WANDERED FROM THE PATHWAY

I am sure he must jump up and down in anger when people like us divert our energy from serving the Lord into arguing among ourselves about side issues.

GOD IS LOVE. HE LOVES YOU, HE LOVES ME, HE LOVES THE TALABAN, THE PALESTINIAN AND THE JEW. HE CREATED EVERYONE AND HE LOVES EVERYONE. HE DOES NOT LOVE WHAT THEY DO MOST OF THE TIME, BUT HE LOVES WHAT THEY SHOULD BE, WHAT THEY WERE CREATED TO BE.

If anyone turns to him with a humble, sorrowful heart he will forgive them for the hurt they have caused in the world and to him, as long as they repent of their wrongdoing.

THE RESPONSE JESUS GAVE TO THE JEWISH ELDERS WAS NOT JUST A CLEVER WAY OF AVOIDING THE TRAP THEY HAD SET FOR HIM.

It was also a way of making them think about the things that really mattered. What was John the Baptist’s authority? Where did that come from? If they could answer that question for themselves they would know where Jesus’ authority came from too.

SO OFTEN IN MY LIFE I HAVE GOT THINGS COMPLETELY WRONG. I HAVE JUDGED PEOPLES ACTIONS WITHOUT KNOWING THE FULL FACTS AND IN HINDSIGHT HAVE BEEN VERY ASHAMED OF MYSELF.

I have learnt that it is not our place to judge people. That is the privilege of God and no one else. We never know the full facts of any situation, we cannot look into other people’s hearts, but God can and does, so his judgement will be righteous while ours will not be.

TAKE THE SIMPLE EXAMPLE THAT JESUS GAVE IN TODAY’S GOSPEL READING. IF WE HAD HEARD THE FIRST SON TELL HIS FATHER THAT HE WOULD GO INTO THE VINEYARD TO WORK WE WOULD HAVE SAID “GOOD LAD.”

We would have condemned the second son for refusing to go. But we would have been wrong because the first son did not go and the second one did.

SO MY MESSAGE THIS MORNING IS TO URGE YOU TO BE TOLERANT, TO TRY AND UNDERSTAND OTHER PEOPLES’ POINT OF VIEW EVEN IF YOU CANNOT AGREE WITH THEM.

Do not judge, it is not our place and we will rarely know the full facts of any situation.

JESUS WAS PREPARED TO ACCEPT PROSTITUTES AND TAX COLLECTORS, THE DREGS OF SOCIETY, THE LOWEST OF THE LOW WHEN THEY SAW THE ERROR OF THEIR WAYS AND CAME TO HIM.

He often railed against the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders because their agenda was not God’s agenda. So let us try to be simple and straightforward with our faith and full of love for whoever we meet for such is the Kingdom of God.

Amen

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