At 3pm on Sunday October 23rd I led worship at Kearby Chapel. We read Psalm 84 responsively for our call to worship. We sang ‘Father of heaven, whose love profound’, before I led the prayers of praise, thanksgiving and confession. We then had a dramatised reading based on Jeremiah 14.7-10, before we sang, ‘It passeth knowledge that dear love of thine.’ I read
2 Timothy 4.6-8 and 16-18 and we had a dramatised reading based on Luke 18.9-14. We sang ‘Hark my soul! It is the Lord;’ before I preached.
Jeremiah was only too aware of the sinfulness of the people but he does not stop pleading with God on behalf of his people. Jeremiah was a prophet when Nebuchnadnezzar held Jerusalem under siege before the fall and destruction of Jerusalem and the subsequent exile to Babylon. Jeremiah was not in a comfortable position as he had been called to be a messenger from God to the people. Even though there was no evidence of God giving his people a second chance, Jeremiah kept on believing that God’s essential nature is forgiveness. He knew how the people had let God down, but he persisted in pleading on behalf of the people for him to be merciful.
The tax collector too was aware of his sinfulness and unworthiness so he stood at a distance. He did not even raise his eyes to God, but just called on God for mercy. He was heartbroken, recognising that he did not deserve forgiveness, but God saw into his heart and accepted him. In Palestine the devout kept three prayer times daily; 9am, 12 Midday and 3pm. Prayer was regarded as being extra special if it was offered in the temple. Many people would then go up to the Temple to pray, as the tax collector and the Pharisee did. True prayer is offered to God alone but the Pharisee did not really go to pray to God, he prayed to himself in a self congratulatory way. His prayer was a catalogue of negative virtues and pieties. Unlike the humble man, who put his trust in God, the Pharisee trusted in his righteousness and religious achievement; therefore he despised those who failed to reach his own standard. Pride came between the Pharisee and God. The Pharisee did do all he had said, but he thought that he could earn acceptance from God; he did not realise that his acts of righteousness were like filthy rags in comparison with God.
Paul knew his life was drawing to a close and he had fought the fight, kept the faith and completed the race. He encouraged Timothy to keep the faith, and fight the fight as he had done. Times had been hard for Paul, but he had persisted in the fight. Now he was ready to receive the promise God had made with his people of a relationship and that they would receive mercy.
We can easily be critical of the Pharisee without realising we too can feel superior to others as the Pharisee was. The church of which we are a part can be seen by those outside as looking down on everybody else, expressing dogmatic and pompous opinions. As Christians we are not called to look down on others but to serve them and share Jesus’ unconditional love and acceptance with a needy world. The church is there for us as sinners, in need of Jesus and his love and acceptance and each day we need to renew our commitment to follow him, recognising that without Him we can achieve nothing.
We sang a favourite hymn of mine, ‘Just as I am without one plea’ before I led the prayers of intercession and the Lord’s Prayer. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘Jesus lover of my soul’.