Reflections Sunday 20th September
Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Lord, may this time of worship be a time of appreciating afresh your wonderful grace.
‘Be still and know that I am God’: The risen Christ present with us by the Spirit is our ‘temple’, our true and lasting place of worship.
Our readings today both show us how there are options for us as to how we ‘see’ things, and as to how it is possible to be so far away from seeing God’s sense of rightness, whilst defending a sense of personal rightness.
Jonah 4: But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, “Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” But the Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered. When the sun rose, God provided a scorching east wind, and the sun blazed on Jonah’s head so that he grew faint. He wanted to die, and said, “It would be better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?“ It is,” he said. “And I’m so angry I wish I were dead.” But the Lord said, “You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?”
Matthew 20: 1, 8-16: “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard…. “When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever.
Jonah was angry, fizzing, he was really annoyed. Why? Well, God was showing grace and mercy to the people of Nineveh! How dare he? And the workers who had borne the burden of the work grumbled against the landowner for paying everyone the same no matter how long they had worked. ‘That’s nae fair’, they complained.
But listen to the other side of the story: Should not God be permitted to do what he does? And neither Jonah nor the workers have been treated unfairly. What’s the problem then? How do we see it?
As we pause to consider all this, and let its truth think in, spare a thought for the elder brother of the prodigal son. He also is a Mr Angry, and launches into his father, with a blistering tirade. Oh dear, it can be painful when we think on how it’s so easy for us to see things our way, in a way that accuses others, even accuses God of being so unfair. ‘This son of yours’, says the big brother, not ‘my brother’.
But God is big enough to take all this on the chin. He sits there, listens to all this anger and complaint, and says ‘no-one is losing out here folks!’ From his grace and love for all people, the LORD thinks and acts in a different way. Again, it’s counter-intuitive to us, and we as church do well to sit and listen and take it all on board. ‘But we had to celebrate’, says the Father to the elder brother, ‘for this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’. There’s plenty folk out in our communities who might think, ‘the church is nae for the likes of us’. Our task, friends, is to show, them otherwise. The first step is for us to see how God sees them.
God of all, and all loving and merciful in nature, Three-in-one, and One-in-Three.
As we come today, we take time to listen to your word. You are above our ideas of right and wrong: our wayward thinking about who and what is other to us, and as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are your thoughts higher than our thoughts.
Father God, the world can feel so angry, with clash of nations, of dictators seeking to hang on to self-aggrandisement, at the cost of just rule. Clashes of race, and religions, of empire building; anger at all levels: from the international down into nations, into communities, families and eating away into ourselves. Forgive us.
‘What are we like’….. yet even to see this, can be the beginning of redemption, as we sit and see ourselves in the light of who you are. And we have been made in your image, your beloved children, capable of great things beyond our imagining.
Help us to find our true self, which self which can see generosity to others and not be jealous, can see others not getting what they deserve. And which sees your beauty.
In our prayers today, we pray for a greater compassion to inhabit your church. May you speak to the church as you reasoned with Jonah, purging her from thinking exclusively, and opening her eyes to seeing the Ninevehs of our present day, throughout the world, and for us here in the East Neuk.
And we lift up all those today who are angry: about something at home, at work, in the community. Yet Lord Jesus, the overturner of temple tables, we remember those who are burning with a zeal for your kingdom to come on earth: who want to do something about matters of justice and putting things right – in government, in the legal system, in education, finance; in the area of climate change: to bring relief to those who are abused, prejudiced, persecuted, excluded. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayers.
And for those for whom recent days have brought loss and pain, who feel the future is bleak, with no colour. Who struggle with mental and physical suffering, who feel they are a burden to others. Lord, shed your light and give new hope.
Lord, in all our darknesses, be to us and to all who look to you, as a bright morning star; bringing a new dawning into our lives. May we look to you and anticipate you doing a new thing in our lives: through Christ our Saviour and Lord, Amen
May the grace of Christ our Saviour
And the Father’s boundless love
With the Holy Spirit’s favour
Rest upon us from above: Amen
Reflections for the week
The attached image is of the stemmed candelabra which the Jewish faith uses in the festival of Hanukkah. It signifies the never ending flow of God’s light and power, and speaks to us of God providing constant light and energy: most noticeable in challenging times of change. Was Jesus thinking of this image when he said, ‘I am the light of the world’?
In the Old Testament book of Zechariah, at chapter 4, Zechariah the prophet is given a vision of a 7 channelled lampstand blazing out light. Then the angel speaks: ‘This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord.
God supplies the light and energy for his work to be done. Let’s go forward on that
I AM with you, says the LORD.
Give me oil in my lamp…
Oil from the olive tree is mentioned much in the Bible. It was a multi-purpose resource that gave energy for heat and light, was a perfume and ointment base, and was a symbol for kingship and a calling for a religious purpose. ‘Gethsemane’, is Hebrew for ‘oil press’ and was a garden of olive trees.
Ps 23: 5: You anoint my head with oil, my cup overflows
Ps 133: How good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity. It is like precious oil…
Pause sometime this week, and think about what gives you energy and light, brings a fragrance into your life, and health and healing. Jesus was anointed by God to be the one through whom you can receive all these things.
Consider how he was pressed hard in the garden of Gethsemane and from that pressing there flows the oil which keeps us. Take time this week to thank God for Jesus in the Garden and all that has come to us from his being pressed: (Mark 14:32-42)
….Keep me burning, seeking, serving, singing.