Readings And Sermons or Talks

The Readings for Today, the Sixteenth Sunday After Trinity

The Collect

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear the prayers of your people who call upon you; and grant that they may both perceive and know what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to fulfil them; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Today’s Psalm is Psalm 25:1 – 9

To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust; do not let me be put to shame; do not let my enemies exult over me. Do not let those who wait for you be put to shame; let them be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. ead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; or you I wait all day long. Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for your goodness’ sake, O Lord! Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. e leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way. Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning is now and shall be forever. Amen

The First Reading : Philippians 2: 1-13

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy,make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Gospel Reading : Matthew 21:23-32

When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus said to them, “I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?” And they argued with one another, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘Of human origin,’ we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things. “What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ He answered, ‘I will not’; but later he changed his mind and went. The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir’; but he did not go. Which of the two did the will of his father?” They said, “The first.” Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

Today’s Talk is by Vanessa

I am sure that many of you can relate to the feeling of disappointment or even annoyance when someone who has agreed to do something for you then lets you down.

For example, when someone says I’ll phone you back (but they don’t), someone accepts your invitation to lunch (then cancels at short notice), or someone schedules a delivery and you wait at home all day only for them not to turn up. I read somewhere recently:

People with good intentions make promises -

People with good character keep them.

I do endeavour to always keep my promises - or not to make any promises that I cannot keep! But I know that there have been occasions in my life when I have not fulfilled a pledge that I have made. I once recall verbally accepting an invitation to a friend’s big birthday party knowing full well that I would not attend - it was just that the invitation caught me unaware, and the date was so far in advance that I could not think of a plausible excuse not to go. I didn’t want to disappoint her by saying ‘no’. The truth is that the reasons why I didn’t want to attend were because the venue was not local and the guests were required to dress in accordance with a particular theme - which did not appeal to me, and would have either incurred the unnecessary expense of buying an outfit that I would probably never wear again or having to find a costume to hire and not to mention sorting out childcare! It would have all been too much trouble for one evening. Closer to the date, I gave an excuse as to why I couldn’t go. To this day I still recall how I did my friend a disservice by not being honest with her upfront.

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew 21, Jesus tells the Parable of the Two Sons. We hear of a man who had two sons - he approached the first, asking him to go and work in the vineyard. This son replied that he “would not” - but later he changed his mind and went. The father then went to the other son and made the same request. This son replied that he would go - but he did not. Jesus asked the question which of the two sons did the will of the Father and we too would agree that it was the first son.

The Father asked his sons to go and work for him. He did not praise the one who offered to go immediately, or chastise the son who refused to go initially. There was no suggestion of a reward or penalty in respect of the request. Rather the appeal was made and the sons were left to choose for themselves to accept the invitation or to reject it. Our Heavenly Father calls us to serve and follow him and it is up to us as individuals as to how we respond to God’s calling. God is both loving and patient with us and is understanding of our human nature. He knows that our enthusiasm can quickly wane and our good intentions can suddenly take second place to the demands of this world, causing us to fall away. Equally our defiance, stubbornness and reluctance to serve God can be reversed when there is a realisation that it is not God who is dependent upon us, but rather how in need and dependent we are on Him and His great mercy and grace.

God has a purpose for each one of us. He calls us to serve Him. In our hearing today of the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes: “..work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.’’

So how do you respond to God’s call to serve Him? Which of the sons in the parable do you feel that you most relate to? Unlike the friend I spoke of earlier who accepted my apology at face value, God knows fully our hearts, minds and intentions and we cannot deceive him.

From my own personal experience, I would say that I have felt God’s presence since I was a child. However it was not until about 16 years ago that I began attending church. I thought that this would be enough to satisfy God that I was serious about following Him. But it soon became apparent that God demanded more of me. A physical ‘yes’ response is not the same as spiritual commitment. And so during this time I have been both baptised and confirmed and taken on various roles within this church. I have at times found it easy to accept God’s call without hesitation, but there have been other occasions when I have needed more thinking time, or a persistent nudge from members of the church family to take on various new responsibilities in service. I have made promises and commitments to serve God - that a good many of you here will also have made. We may consider that by simply turning up at church every Sunday we will tick the ‘yes’ box, but in truth this falls short of our commitment to serve God. So what have we been called to do and what promises have we made? At my baptism service for example, I promised to repent of the sins that separate us from God and neighbour and also to submit to Christ. During my confirmation my promises included ‘acknowledging Christ’s authority over human society, by prayer for the world and its leaders, by defending the weak and by seeking peace and justice’. And finally, at my ALM Commissioning Service I was asked:‘Do you promise, by the grace of God, to continue to give yourselves to his calling with diligence, energy, and love and to be guided by the Spirit and the Word of God.’

These are BIG promises to which I answered ‘yes’ and vowed to undertake. But I know that like the first son, I have at many a time fallen short on delivering these promises. However, like the second son, I constantly have a change of heart when I am reminded of God’s love and calling for me, and by His grace my Heavenly Father receives me back in his service despite my transgressions. I’m sure that you can recall the same or similar promises that you have made to God personally or promises you may have made on behalf of someone else, such as the responsibility as a Godparent. We are called to live lives that are God-serving not self-serving.

At the beginning of Chapter 21 of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, stirring up the crowd who cry out:...“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (v 9)

We heard how in the verses preceding this parable the Religious leaders had challenged Jesus’s authority. They questioned him saying:“By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” (v 23)

Their intentions were to try and trick Jesus. If Jesus had replied that his authority had come from God then they would have accused him of blasphemy. Alternatively, if Jesus had declared that he was acting on his own authority, the people would not have accepted his self-proclaimed authority over the authority that was held by the esteemed Pharisees. These were influential people who rejected Jesus’s claim to be the Messiah because he did not follow all of their traditions and he associated with the marginalised and sinners. They were ‘yes’ men, outwardly religious and respectful, but their motives were false and self seeking, not God seeking. Jesus directed this parable at them and said:“Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.

God seeks a change in heart, not lip service. The tax collectors and the prostitutes changed their hearts like the son who changed his heart. At one time their lips said ‘no’, but later their hearts would say ‘yes’ in hearing the word of God and their actions followed their heart change. The idea of repentance is a turning toward God and away from evil. It isn’t just lip service, it isn’t just about asking for forgiveness - but it is also the act of receiving forgiveness and turning to Jesus as our all sufficient everything.

Examples of those people, who in humble obedience have responded to God’s call, are to be found throughout the Bible. Before becoming a disciple of Christ, Matthew himself had been a tax collector and was most likely despised by others because of this. Peter, Andrew, James and John were fishermen, sitting in their boats when they were called by Jesus in person to become his disciples and follow him (Matthew 4 v18-22). John the Baptist’s ministry was to prepare the way for Jesus: For sure, I baptize with water those who are sorry for their sins and turn from them. The One Who comes after me will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. He is greater than I. I am not good enough to take off His shoes. (Matthew 3).

And what about Paul’s amazing conversion on the road to Damascus. If anyone ever thought that they were not worthy enough or that some hearts are beyond transformation to fulfil God’s purpose - then read Acts 9. Paul, by his own admission, imprisoned and persecuted Christians (the Way) to the point of death, until his encounter with Christ (Acts 22).

In his letter to the Philippians, we heard his words: Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.

But it is by far as Christians, that we should choose to follow Christ’s example of humble and obedient service to God. Jesus is understanding of both the difficulties we will encounter in our service to God and our weaknesses. He himself prayed in Gethsemane: Then he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and stay awake with me.” 39 And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matthew 26).

God’s own son was obedient to the will of his Father and suffered death for our sakes. As the Apostle Paul proclaimed: Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Please take some time this week to reflect on those promises that you have made to God. Take time to ask God to continue to reveal His purpose for your life. And then consider how you will respond. As God’s sons and daughters will you choose to offer your Heavenly Father lip service or life service?

Let us pray

Heavenly Father, I pray that as each of us comes to a point in our lives where we dare to ask You to reveal Your will for us, You would put us in a place of acceptance of what You reveal to us. It may not be what we want, but it will surely be what we need in order to live a life fully invested in You. Help us to realize that anything You bring into our lives and anything You reveal to us is for our good. Give us a spirit of acceptance and a heart open to Your movement in our lives. Allow us to let Your love, surround us and cast out any fear or doubts. Help us to live in love with You, accept Your will for our lives and give us the proper response to Your revelation. May we trust in the way You push us to go. In Jesus’ Name, Amen. (Megan Bailey, Beliefnet).