A Short Service for Sunday 13th September

Kilmorack and Erchless Church

 

Prayer

God of creation, God of life, God of eternity, with you is love and hope and a sense of beauty which creates with infinite variety.  With us is wonder and mystery and surprise, as we discover more and more of the rich diversity of your works.  Your ways are not our ways, and your thoughts too far beyond our knowing for us to begin to understand.  Yet we come as we are, simple and uncertain, humble, and hoping.  We come with the faith that we have to offer you the worship that we are capable of.  And while we know that falls so far short of what it might be, still we believe that you are pleased to accept us and to receive our praise and our prayers.

Forgive our shallow thinking and our closed minds, all which keep us from discovering more of you; forgive our enjoyment of comfort which keeps us from taking risks for you; forgive our selfish attitudes which makes us reluctant to share the blessing we receive from you.  Lead us on, in your way - in the way mapped out for us by Jesus.  Lead us on to the new blessings, the new inspiration, the new hope, that is always ahead of us.  Be among us now, and bless us as we share in this time of worship.  Heal us and restore us, comfort us and challenge us.  Amen

Introductory Talk

If you want to do something good in the world, what better than to raise money for charity.  And if you want to raise money for charity, what better way to do it than with a sponsored parachute jump!  Not only would it be a great adventure, but you get to be a hero and you would be helping a good cause.  No, don’t worry, I’m not going to ask you to do it!  I’m just using a charity parachute jump as an example of something which is obviously a good and positive and helpful thing to do. 

Except that the reality is not that simple.  In 1999, three experts working at Perth Royal Infirmary carried out a survey of parachute related injuries in the Tayside area over the previous five years.  These were not the spectacular moments when the parachute fails and great drama follows.  They were mostly twisted ankles or worse when the landing is awkward.  Let me quote from their report…  “Of 174 patients with injuries of varying severity, 94% were first-time charity-parachutists.  Sixty-three percent of casualties required hospital admission, representing a serious injury rate of 7%, at an average cost of £5781 per patient.  The amount raised per person for charity was £30.  Each pound raised for charity cost the NHS £13.75.  Parachuting for charity costs more money than it raises….”  A parachute jump for charity seems like such an obviously good things to do, except that the reality is not simple.

Well isn’t that just like life.  It is easy to have opinions which we can spout about government policies or Covid 19 restrictions or some new scandal that hits the news, but if we have the opportunity or the interest to look a little closer, to study the facts, to hear both sides of the argument, we usually find that the reality is not as simple as the opinion that we so readily jump to.  The same is true in our opinions about the church, where it is perfectly obvious that it should be doing this, or doing that, but certainly not doing that, until you understand all of that factors involved and nuances of the possibilities.  The same is true of our faith, where it can be perfectly plain what we believe, until we listen openly to some other opinion and discover that there may be more mystery here than we had settled for before.

I for one find that exciting.  To discover that once I stop assuming and start questioning, once I stop arguing and start listening, once I stop knowing and start learning, there is so much more waiting to be opened up for me.  If we could stop jumping to conclusions, stop judging without knowing the full story, if we could question ourselves rather than questioning others, who knows what we might discover, how we might grow, what we might become.

This, what we are doing now.  The experience of worship that is all about letting go of our pride and our arrogance, siting humbly in the presence of one who understands so much more and listening for things we may not have considered before.  It is where we let God judge us rather than judging one another, and that can be a fantastically insightful thing to do, for reality is rarely as simple as settle for.

 

Bible Readings
 
Romans 14:1-12

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but do not argue with them about their personal opinions. Some people's faith allows them to eat anything, but the person who is weak in the faith eats only vegetables. The person who will eat anything is not to despise the one who doesn't; while the one who eats only vegetables is not to pass judgment on the one who will eat anything; for God has accepted that person. Who are you to judge the servants of someone else? It is their own Master who will decide whether they succeed or fail. And they will succeed, because the Lord is able to make them succeed.  Some people think that a certain day is more important than other days, while others think that all days are the same. We each should firmly make up our own minds.   Those who think highly of a certain day do so in honour of the Lord; those who will eat anything do so in honour of the Lord, because they give thanks to God for the food. Those who refuse to eat certain things do so in honour of the Lord, and they give thanks to God.  We do not live for ourselves only, and we do not die for ourselves only.  If we live, it is for the Lord that we live, and if we die, it is for the Lord that we die. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For Christ died and rose to life in order to be the Lord of the living and of the dead.  You then, who eat only vegetables—why do you pass judgment on others? And you who eat anything—why do you despise other believers? All of us will stand before God to be judged by him.  For the scripture says, “As surely as I am the living God, says the Lord, everyone will kneel before me, and everyone will confess that I am God.”   Every one of us, then, will have to give an account to God.

Matthew 18:21-35

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, if my brother keeps on sinning against me, how many times do I have to forgive him? Seven times?”   “No, not seven times,” answered Jesus, “but seventy times seven,  because the Kingdom of heaven is like this. Once there was a king who decided to check on his servants' accounts.  He had just begun to do so when one of them was brought in who owed him millions of dollars.  The servant did not have enough to pay his debt, so the king ordered him to be sold as a slave, with his wife and his children and all that he had, in order to pay the debt.  The servant fell on his knees before the king. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay you everything!’  The king felt sorry for him, so he forgave him the debt and let him go.   “Then the man went out and met one of his fellow servants who owed him a few dollars. He grabbed him and started choking him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he said.  His fellow servant fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay you back!’ 30 But he refused; instead, he had him thrown into jail until he should pay the debt.  When the other servants saw what had happened, they were very upset and went to the king and told him everything.  So he called the servant in. ‘You worthless slave!’ he said. ‘I forgave you the whole amount you owed me, just because you asked me to.  You should have had mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you.’  The king was very angry, and he sent the servant to jail to be punished until he should pay back the whole amount.”   And Jesus concluded, “That is how my Father in heaven will treat every one of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart.”

Sermon

Every one of us, then, will have to give an account to God”.  Paul, who wrote those words, was brought up as a strict Jew, and the religion he learned as a child and practiced as an adult was all about rules.  Most of those rules would have been good and sensible; the kind of thing we all need to follow if we are live happily and safely together.  They would be the basic things about not lying or cheating or stealing, about treating people with respect and, well, not murdering each other.  Yet along with such basics, many other rules had also come to be seen as equally vital, like there being certain things you shouldn’t eat, certain rituals you need to practice, certain kinds of people you shouldn’t associate with.  All of those things blended together into, not only a set of rules, but something which came from God himself.  Perhaps you knew something similar as you grew up: a lot of good values based on proper common sense, mixed in with other things which you were not encouraged to question.

What a relief it seems to have been for Paul when he discovered Christ on the Damascus Road.  Then he found a wholly different perspective on life, on what is important, on what it is that God looks for in us.  From that moment, he moved into a form of religion that was all about compassion and forgiveness and humility.  He moved into the faith as taught be Jesus.  So he now says very plainly that it does not matter what we eat or what we don’t eat, whether we treat one day as special, or we don’t.  Such things might be important to people, and if they are that is fine.  Others might not see them as important, and that is fine as well.

Yet already, in Rome, the old human tendencies are again showing through.  People are taking what is important to them and judging others for not meeting up to their standards on those matters, and it was causing predictable division and hurt and bad feeling.  The judgement game has gone on through all of human history.  It is a game that continues whenever we look at the way other people live, or dress, or drink, or go to parties, and think, ‘dear me, if only they could do things properly.  if only they could more like me’.  It is a game which Jesus regularly and openly condemned.

Every major form of religion finds itself frequently veering towards this trap, and in the common perception it is one of the hallmarks of religion.  Commandments, usually in the form of prohibitions, seem to be an inevitable consequence of having faith.  Paul simply reminds us of the one all-encompassing reason why such judgmental attitudes should have no place in a church, for he reminds us that we are not the judges, but the judged.  Talking of God as a judge might sound harsh or even frightening, but that is clearly not what Paul has in mind.  This judge is the one who understands our weaknesses and who came among us in Christ to suffer and die in order to save us.  If I’m going to be judged by anyone - I’ll opt for him.  Certainly it seems that he will be fairer and more compassionate in his judgement of us than we tend to be with each other.

That is the real message here.  That is the good news, and that is the challenge to us.  It is that he is in the position to judge, and we are not.  So Paul writes, “Welcome those who are weak in the faith, but do not argue with them about their personal opinions”.  “If we live then it for the Lord that we live, and if we die then it is for the Lord that we die”.  “All of us will stand before God to be judged by him”.   Despite this being stated so plainly in the foundational text of the church, it hasn’t exactly put an end to the judgement game.  Our beliefs and attitudes come to be so deeply engrained within us that it gets hard to see beyond them, it becomes hard to believe that others’ opinions and outlooks might also be valid.  Of course we can justify our standards and values, but it doesn’t always help, and judging others might just be a way of not facing up to our own faults and imperfections.

In the previous chapter Paul said that if we love one another, that will be enough.  In the following verses of this chapter he says that the only limitations we should apply is to avoid doing anything that might hurt our brother or sister, or make life more difficult for them.  That is the only guidance we need.  If Church is to work, it has to be centred in Him, not on us.  And when we arrive in his presence, we will not be questioned on whether we ever did our washing on a Sunday, or bought tickets for the lottery, or drank more than was good for us, or always wore facemasks in the supermarket.  The talk will be about how much we have trusted Jesus, and how well we followed his ways, and how much we have cared for one another.  And the judge, well we have firm promises that he will be fully on our side.  Thanks be to God, who calls us together to celebrate such a great gospel.  May he always keep us together in his love.

Prayer

Creator, who has made us in every hue and shade, each to play a part in your rainbow coloured Kingdom, set us in the place where our gift will offer the most colour, and lead us to the greatest adventure.  Open our eyes to see you in every face: your imprint in every look, your signature in every expression; and allow us to take from the diversity your gifts for a brighter, fuller world.

Challenge us to make peace out of our differences; friendship out of our misunderstanding, and love out of discord.  Challenge us to turn prejudice into hospitality, fear into laughter, and bitterness into reconciliation.  Challenge us to become a rainbow community, a church that grows through sharing your love, a place where all may discover their true value.

Your Son opened his arms for us on the cross and welcomed us into your kingdom.  While we were still sinners he died for us, and our sins, though scarlet, became as white as snow.  May your saving power be among us, and in all your churches.  We pray for a sense of mutual respect among the nations of our world, that we might have leaders who understand compassion, and promote peace and harmony.  We pray for our own communities that forgiveness may be known and encouragement shared.  We give thanks for what you have given to us.  We pray that what we have may neither be hoarded nor squandered.  That we may give help to those who need it, and be a blessing to those going through dark times.

We give thanks for all who have been generous to us, and we pray that our homes, and our families, may be places where your grace and generosity are known.  Almighty God you call your church to witness that in Christ we are reconciled to you.  Help us so to proclaim the good news of your love that all who hear it may turn to you, through Jesus Christ Our Saviour, Amen