On Sunday September 28th I led worship at Starbeck Chapel. We began worship as we sang, ‘Ye servants of God, your Master proclaim’ before I led the opening prayers. A member of the congregation read the first reading from Matthew 21v28-32. I then played a form of Simon Says with the children and I got a wonderful response from the children. One 3 year old boy was particularly vociferous and made the whole children’s time extra special. I asked them if they moaned when their parents asked to help or tidy up and whether they agreed to tidy and then did not, or refused then later changed their mind. I reminded them that Jesus was obedient to his mum and dad as he grew up. I asked them if Jesus was their friend and companion as He would help them do what their parents asked and even help them to love everyone including their brothers and sisters, especially when they were being most annoying! We then sang, ‘Brother, sister let me serve you, let me be as Christ to you’ before I blessed the children as they left for their groups. I and members of the congregation took part in a dramatised reading based on Ezekiel 18v1-4, 25-31 where Ezekiel told them that the Lord did not as the proverb suggested visit the sins of the father on their children: each person would only be accountable for their own sins, not those of their father or those of their son. Each person needed to repent for their own sins and receive new minds and hearts. The second reading was from Philippians 2v1-13, the example of Jesus’ obedience to death on the cross. We then sang ‘Meekness and majesty, manhood and deity, in perfect harmony – the man who is God,’ before the sermon.
The parable of the two bad sons showed both made wrong choices; the first son in refusing to go and work, although he changed his mind and did go, as he did not show respect for his father, the second son who agreed to go and work, then failed to do so. Neither was the kind of son to bring joy to their parents, although the first son did change his mind later. The first son represented those who were tax collectors and sinners who went their own way at first but then recognised their sins and repented and then followed God’s way. The second son represented the Jewish religious hierarchies who said they would obey God but did not. Saying fine words was no substitute for being obedient. Neither was it good to do the right thing but in an ungracious way as the first son did. The Christian way is to keep our promises by obeying courteously and graciously.
Personal prestige was a greater temptation for many a Christian leader than wealth and such a leader was called like Jesus to be humble giving glory to his Father in heaven and not himself. There was at that time a danger of disunity in the church at Philippi and Paul pointed out that they should not be fighting in factions if they were truly united in Christ. The power of Christian love and the Holy Spirit could enable them to love those they could not naturally love and work together in unity. To help them to seek unity he gave the example of Jesus that Jesus whose very nature was God had laid down that nature to become a human being to become a completely humble obedient servant even to death on the cross. Such self sacrificing love drew a response from the believers in love and obedience to God and that overwhelming and accepting love of God shown through Jesus continues to lead us to worship and serve our Father in heaven. God relies on us to be Jesus’ hands and feet in today’s world revealing his sacrificial love and acceptance to a needy world. Such love calls us and also supports us through the trials and sorrows that come our way in life. Even when that call seems too daunting, we recognise that Jesus never gives up on us and continues to welcome us into his loving arms, even though we frequently let him down. May we grow closer to Jesus as we learn to serve, love and accept others as he did, remembering that we can only do so through his strength.
We sang ‘May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day, by his love and power controlling all I do and say’ before I led the prayers of intercessions. Worship concluded as we sang my favourite hymn, ‘And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Saviour’s blood? Died he for me who caused his pain? For me, who him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that thou, my God, shouldst die for me?