Sunday 31 October 2021
Has God not chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith, and to possess the kingdom he has promised to those who love him? James 2: 5
Hymn 189 Be still
We haven’t done awfully well at keeping your commandments:
Love you with all our heart, soul, mind and strength?
No, we haven’t managed that
We have tried, some of the time,
but we have been distracted by other things
To be honest, we have forgotten about you
and taken you for granted
we have neither thought of your teaching nor Jesus’ example
Sometimes we knew exactly what we should do
but it was easier to do something else
Love our neighbours?
Again, we have tried – some of the time
but at other times we have thought unloving thoughts
done unloving things
said unloving things
And you told us to love ourselves
sometimes we don’t value ourselves as we should
sometimes we put Self in the driving seat
but all too often we don’t love ourselves with a Christ-like love
We admit that we have got things wrong
we want to change
we want to be different
to be Christ-like
We are sorry for what we have done
Fill us anew with your Spirit
that it may work in us and change us
so that we do truly love you, others and ourselves
Through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen
All age time (for ages 0-100)
*In case you have missed all the decorative ghosts, skeletons, witches and pumpkins festooning shops and houses, today is Hallowe’en. [OWK SS Hallowe’en party] It is more Americanised and commercialised than it used to be, but there is still the same emphasis on the unexplained, the spooky and the frightening.
If you Goggle Hallowe’en you can find all sorts of theories of how it started, though backing up the theories with hard contemporary evidence is harder. It does seem though to have very ancient (possibly pre-Christian) origins, to mark a formal end to summer, and to involve some kind of offering to spiritual forces that were capable of causing hurt or harm, disease or death.
*At some stage the church took it over and used it as the eve of a great Christian festival celebrating the work and influence of faithful Christians who had gone before. Their influence was said to be very powerful at challenging the harm caused by ghosts, witches and the rest.
Nowadays we understand much more about what causes disease: viruses, bacteria, poor standards of cleanliness etc, and can address them with vaccinations, medicines and public health and hygiene (hand-washing and all the rest). But we can still give thanks to God for those who went before us in the church, and we know that whenever there is something that worries us, something that is wrong that needs changed, we can talk with God about it, he will listen and he will help us.
Hymn JP73 He brought me into his banqueting house
Mark 12: 28-34
There are lots of times in life when we really aren’t sure what to do: what is the best course of action, or a better course, or the least bad course? So often we wish something or someone would give us guidance on what to do.
As an example, let’s think for a moment about behaviour on roads and pavements, whether you are a driver, a rider or a pedestrian. If you are a driver you know that you are not supposed to go through a red light or park on double yellow lines, and could face penalties if you do either. But apparently although the paint may be on the road, you can only be prosecuted if the local authority has issued an appropriate regulation. What about cycling on the pavement: is it legal or illegal, is there an age consideration to factor in? And if you are a pedestrian, do you always wait till the wee green man appears before you cross the road – in some countries it is illegal to cross when the wee red man is showing.
Or what about the rules, regulations and guidelines about Covid? In some ways the height of lockdown was the easiest time to know what you could and couldn’t do. Once lockdown restrictions started to ease, and we went through a host of Phases and Levels, most of us became thoroughly confused about how many could meet for what sort of activities – especially when West Dunbartonshire might be completely different from Argyll & Bute, and the media kept talking about the situation in England, which was even more different. Politicians spoke about using your ‘common sense’ but everyone has a different interpretation of ‘common sense’, and where one person sees an opportunity to do what they always used to do, someone else believes that a more cautious approach is needed. Both believe they are right, and the different approaches can cause friction in families, between friends etc.
Jesus grew up in the Jewish faith. At its core is a belief that God took the initiative and freely called the Hebrew people to be his own special people, not because of anything they did (indeed, in spite of how they behaved), but because of his choice and love for them. In return he asked them to keep his Law. We often picture the Law as being the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, but it included a large amount of material added over the years, some of it found in the Bible (parts of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy). It covered rules for everyday living in an Iron Age farming community, to the operation of the religious sanctuary (firstly at Shiloh and then the Temple in Jerusalem), to general principles for dealing with other people and practical steps for supporting the most vulnerable in the community.
Some of the 10 Commandments are a bit woolly: Honour the Sabbath Day and keep it holy – what does that mean in practice? Or Honour your father and your mother – again, what do you do to make sure that you don’t break it, even inadvertently? By the time of Jesus a vast body of legal opinion from rabbis and teachers of the law had built up, and over the centuries it has expanded greatly. But of course, they don’t all agree. So it would be quite usual and reasonable for someone to ask Jesus his opinion on understanding and applying the Law.
Jesus does not give the man a complete run-through of his opinion on the arguments of different rabbis. He simply refers the man to two passages in the Jewish Law that for him sum up what God expects people to do, much more succinctly than all the great libraries of rabbis’ opinions, debates and thoughts:
- firstly he refers to an item from the book of Deuteronomy. From that passage Jewish people developed a prayer that they still recite very regularly [*Shema] Going on from it, the passage says [*] It is something that observant Jews will still tie to their arms and foreheads, their doorposts and gates. It is a declaration of their faith and their commitment to God in response to his call to them. The passage in Deuteronomy also challenges them, in their response, not just to recite words and perform ceremonies, but to commit themselves wholeheartedly to God
- then he refers to another passage in the book of Leviticus. The book is a bit of a hotch-potch of regulations:
- much of it concerns the operation of the Temple, and priests and people carrying out the necessary procedures to be ‘holy’ enough to share in worship there
- some deals with what seems to us strange practices, not wearing clothes made of mixed fibres, not planting two types of seed in the same field
- but some is also about how to treat and support vulnerable people in the community, the poor, the widow, the fatherless and the foreigner. In the chapter Jesus quotes there has already been discussion about not harvesting all your crops, but leaving some for the vulnerable groups to gather in for themselves; not stealing or cheating, making false promises, taking advantage of someone or robbing them, mistreating people with disabilities, showing favouritism, holding grudges, taking revenge, or continuing to hate someone
Then comes the line ‘love your neighbour as yourself’.
Jesus takes these two Old Testament verses as key guidelines/rules for life, living by them is what he wants his people to do, so that they live lives pleasing to God:
- God is not to be an add-on in life, but the foundation and core of it. Jesus wants his followers to be wholeheartedly committed to God, to remind themselves regularly both of God’s love and commitment to them and their response to that
- inspired by God’s love for them (for us), his followers are to treat others (especially the vulnerable in the community and world) as he would do. We are to be ready to go the extra mile, do the things that we may not ‘have’ to do, that it’s not fair that we do but others don’t, because that is what Jesus wants of us
The expectation that we should behave in that way may not be found in the law of the land, and even if it were, it may be impossible to enforce. But those are the laws issued by the King and Head of the church for his people to follow day by day, and he has given us his Spirit to help us to apply them.
Hymn 211 Today I awake
Prayers for others
Thank you that you are always close to us
that we may talk to you at any time
that you will listen to us
and help us to cope with any fears or challenges we have
help us to be whole-heartedly committed to you
and to treat other people as you would like us to do
the way that Jesus would treat them
we pray for all who are ill,
those who look after them
and those who worry about them
those waiting for or receiving treatment
and those for whom there is no treatment
those who are lonely, feeling down, or grieving a friend or loved one
those who are worried about home, work or money
a friend or a relative
those who are living with the after-effects of natural disasters
those who do not have enough to eat, or somewhere to call home
those who long to live in peace and safety
those who have fled from their homes seeking safety
We pray for the Queen, the Government
all in positions of leadership in this and every land
for all who have gathered for the Cop26 conference
that they will be inspired by you to take bold decisions
for the good of the planet and creatures you created
and the generations yet to come
and we pray too for all those whose lives will be disrupted by Cop26
help them to cope and to be welcoming to visitors and strangers
We pray for you church
the worldwide church
the wider church in Dumbarton
our own congregation
help us always to be faithful to Jesus our Lord
We bring to you our prayers for people and situations of special concern to us
And we sum up our prayers in the words of the prayer Jesus gave us
Hymn 252 As a fire is meant for burning
Blessing (3-fold Amen)
And the blessing of God Almighty..