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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