Welcome to our worship this morning.
As we enter September some of our churches are looking at reaping for worship in a limited way. Social Distancing means that we will not always be able to accommodate all of our congregation at one time and we are aware that many of them will be able to return or will not feel that now is the right time for them to return. We therefore intend to continue online worship alongside the in church services. From this morning a new line appears on our Circuit Plan allocating one of our Ministers or Local Preachers to be responsible for providing this online worship service. The service will be available on the Circuit YouTube Channel and also on the Circuit Web site where there will also be a link to the downloadable service sheet. This will enable us to worship together across the circuit and enjoy a wider range of worship leaders and resources and free us to offer different ways of engaging in fellowship together locally.
I will, however, continue to link to the weekly service here so you can find it in the same place as usual.
Today’s service is led by Rev Phil Summers and you will find the links further down the page.
Yr A Ordinary 23. Ezekiel 33: 7-11; Psalm 119: 33-40; Romans 13: 8-14; Matthew 18:15-20
The Way to Life
It has been said that it wasn’t the apple that caused the trouble in the Garden of Eden, it was the pair on the ground!
Which serves to show that whenever two or three are gathered together – there is the potential for a difference of opinion – and therefore potential for dispute. So today’s readings take a look at how we deal with conflict and wrong doing amongst members of our community and also about our responsibility for one another’s welfare and behaviour.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus confirms that we have responsibility to challenge others when they go wrong – to take the matter up with them and attempt to persuade them of the error of their ways, if necessary involving others as witnesses. The sanction for those who fail to change their ways or come to an agreement is that they will be treated the same way as tax collectors and pagans – in other words they should face exclusion from the community.
God desires that his people live according to his will and states that there are consequences for those who fail to do so. Ezekiel describes that consequence as “death” and Jesus in Matthew describes it in terms of exclusion which sounds less severe but perhaps amounts to the same thing.
We don’t tend to experience people being struck down dead in the street by God so what does Ezekiel mean by “death” in this context?
Well, perhaps its like this: if all life comes from and is given by God the creator, then God’s way is the way of “life”. The beginning of John’s gospel links God and Christ as “the Word” and as agents of creation:
“In the beginning the Word already was. The Word was in God’s presence, and what God was, the Word was. He was with God at the beginning, and through him all things came to be; without him no created thing came into being. In him was life, and that life was the light of mankind”. John 1: 1-3
So God is the one through whom all things are created and given life, and that life is vested in the Word which was and is God. And life is vested in the intimate connection between God and his creation, his people. John’s gospel goes on to tell us about how the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us in the person of Jesus Christ. So those who accept Christ as their Lord and Saviour accept the way that leads to life, in fact they accept the way of eternal life.
But if your choice is not to accept the way that leads to “life” then the alternative must be the way that does not lead to life. The only alternative to life is ‘not life’ which is the state of what we call death. So death may be seen as the state of not being with Christ, the state of remaining separated from from him. So what choice will you make – the choice that leads to life? or the choice that does not lea to life?
When Jesus begins his ministry, he announces the coming of the kingdom – and the way of the kingdom is what forms the basis of his teaching: the way of the kingdom, he says is the way that leads to fullness of life .
Jesus announces that the kingdom is amongst us now (Luke 17:21) yet it will only be fulfilled with the promise of eternal life thought resurrection in the age to come. Through Jesus, the kingdom is accessible by all who put their faith in Him and who follow him faithfully. Jesus says that this is the way to life in all its fullness (Matt 25:46).
Maybe we can see evidence of this truth in everyday life today where evidence has shown that religious faith has benefits for physical and mental health, stress levels and general well being. On the other hand a life style which ignores God and his teaching seems often to lead people into a desperate search for something in their lives that they feel to be missing.
This leads people to put their energies into filling that hole by exploring all kinds of things, some of which become very destructive to our lives and our planet.. Our focus on acquiring ‘things’ is an example. We talk about our economy being in recession – what we mean is we making and selling fewer things this month than we did last month and we re-double our efforts to make and sell more stuff. The trouble we don’t really need all the stuff we make. Most of it ends up in landfill – wasting the time, energy and materials needed to create it in the first place. We need to find a better way to measure our success, to distribute what people need to live and to protect God’s creation.
But God allows us the choice to do all this.
We are not forced to follow his will, or to have him in our lives. God allows us to go our own way. He doesn’t want us to love him because we have no other choice – because that is not really love at all. He wants us to come to him of our own free will – but in the full knowledge of the consequences of the choices we make.
And he goes to great lengths to make sure that we are aware of the consequences and that his message is heard – even to the extent of coming himself in the flesh and taking the ultimate consequence of death upon himself to demonstrate just how much he loves and cares for us. He instituted the church to make sure that message continued to be heard generation by generation.
This then is why we have a responsibility to care for each other but also to challenge each other about our behaviour.
Ezekiel is given this responsibility for the nation of Israel but Jesus certainly brings it to the personal level as he says: “If your brother does wrong, go and take the matter up with him”. Initially this is to be strictly between you and the person concerned. But if agreement is not reached then the next step is to take along a few witnesses to provide evidence. As a last resort the matter is to be brought before the whole congregation where the sanction of exclusion from the Christian community may be implemented.
This raises all sorts of issues for us today. We are often reluctant to challenge people about their behaviour because it can result in conflict or even aggression against ourselves. There is also the issue in today’s society of a lack of concrete agreement about what is acceptable and what is not. Judgement done badly can be very destructive to life but there are some areas where we are called to judge responsibly.
It is true that in some areas it is unclear exactly what is acceptable and what is not. But there are also times when the actions of someone are very clearly unjust, very clearly causing hurt to others and, times when those actions are clearly wrong. Ezekiel was clearly told that if he failed to act in such circumstances then God’s judgement would fall on him as well as on the perpetrator – and so we can see that we also have a responsibility to act in such circumstances.
It is important to note that the next part of the gospel goes on to talk about forgiveness – which should be unlimited to those who repent and return to the community. Just as God has demonstrated his great love for us by enabling us to be forgiven for our many wrong doings and by going to the cross so that we could be reconciled to him through faith in Christ, so we must demonstrate such love to those who have wronged us and fallen out with us and treat them with equal compassion, in Jesus’ name. But that’s a message for another day! Amen.
Andrew Biggs 1st September 2020
Here is the link to today’s service provided by Rev Phil Summers:
There is no downloadable service sheet today but in future weeks it will be found at the Circuit web site here: