Sunday October 26th Worship at Bilton Area Chapel

On Sunday October 26th I led worship at Bilton Area Chapel. We began worship with the chorus, ‘Give thanks with a grateful heart.’ After the singing of the hymn I gave a blessing to the children who left to go to Sunday school before I led the opening prayers. I told a short story of a minister getting caught up in and protecting a man who got into an argument with a gang of lads who were giving him grief; this illustrated how difficult it can be to be a neighbour to someone in need. We then sang, ‘Brother, let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you.’ We had the readings from 1 Leviticus v 19 v 1-2, 15-18 and 1 Thessalonians 2 v 1-8 and we sang, ‘There’s a wideness in God’s mercy like the wideness of the sea,’ before I preached the sermon.
Leviticus gave the Israelites instructions on how to be holy as God was holy and that holiness was to be shown through their impartial justice to others. They were not to bear grudges towards others but talk the matter out with them, treating them as they themselves would like to be treated. Justice had to be administered in a disinterested way without partiality being shown to the poor and weak or deference to the rich and powerful. They had to love others as themselves.
Matthew introduced the Pharisee’s question as a way of trying to trap Jesus, as he had just silenced the Sadducees. There were a group of Pharisees who had gathered together to tackle Jesus. Jesus answered well that the greatest commandment was to love God with all your heart, your whole soul and your whole mind and the second greatest commandment was to love your neighbour as yourself. It was part of the Shema which every Jewish child learnt. They were to love God totally in such a way that the love dominated their thoughts and actions. Such love could only been really shown through their love for others, who like us are in God’s image. If we do not love God we can lose patience with people who seem never to learn; we can fail to believe people can improve and fail to recognise other poor and vulnerable people as worthy of value. Instead we are called to love God in such a way that the love leads us to love and serve others, whether they appear deserving or not.
Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians was refuting the slanderous talk being spread about the missionaries and in particular Paul. At that time there were many itinerant philosophers and charlatans so it was easy to imply that the Christian missionaries were no better. There was the suggestion that the gospel of the crucified Messiah was nonsense and Paul delusional. The rumours such as Christians sharing a kiss of fellowship in a love feast insinuated that there was not much to choose between paganism and Christianity. Orators at that time spoke in such a persuasive way to wheedle money out of the credulous audience. Some had even implied that his imprisonment at Philippi proved he had a criminal record.
However Paul was quick to point out that his message was not his own invention; it was based on the Word of God and he was not seeking popular acclaim, but rather he was following God’s commands. Paul did not preach to make himself into a celebrity, nor was he seeking financial gain. He was simply a commissioned apostle of Christ and as such he cared for his flock like a nurse cared for her children; they had devoted themselves to serving them. Paul preached the gospel God had given him in the face of great opposition and hardship. In the next verse 9 Paul reminded the Thessalonians that they had not been a financial burden to the congregation as they had worked to support themselves. In verses 10 to 12 Paul reminded them that he was like a father in his care of them and he encouraged them to behave as those worthy of God.
As the Pharisees had gathered as a group to ask about the greatest commandment, Jesus asked them a question. The question seems obscure to us, but it was important for Jesus to find out what sort of Messiah the Pharisees expected. When they said the Messiah would be the Son of David, a great military leader like King David and implied that he would shatter Israel’s enemies and lead the people to the conquest of all nations. Jesus argued that David in the psalms addressed the Messiah figure as Lord, so he could not be his descendant. Jesus did not see the definition of Messiah as Son of David as being adequate; it was not enough to see the Messiah as an earthly conqueror and military leader in the line of David; that implied that Jesus was more than a military leader; he was the Son of God. What did this mean? The Messiah was not to be a military leader but a leader who served with sacrificial love all those around him and that love would inevitably lead to the cross. There was no answer the Pharisees could give to that and no one dared to question him any more.
How can we respond to such love? Such love draws from us a response of love and when we recognise the great love and sacrifice of Jesus we want to serve and please him. When we experience that love surely we want to share that love with others, so they too can experience the unconditional and accepting love of Jesus in their lives. Albert Schweitzer summed that up in the words; ‘The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.’ May we be gentle, loving and caring for one another as a mother cradles her baby so that the good news of Jesus is shared more through our deeds than our words? We then sang, ‘Jesus, lover of my soul, let me to thy bosom fly’ before I led the intercessions. Our worship concluded as we sang ‘Behold the servant of the Lord, I wait thy guiding eye to feel.

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