Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before God. (Psalm 96:9)
We join together, wherever we are, as the people of God. We open our hearts and minds to God’s word as we listen and meditate on the scriptures, we pray for the world in great turmoil and for people everywhere, and we praise God, because God is good, and in his great mercy, he gives peace to all who turn to him in faith.
Prayer of adoration
Let us glorify and adore the one true God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit:
Almighty God the Father,
gracious Lord of all,
whose glory knows no bounds:
we worship and adore you.
Lord Jesus Christ the Son,
eternal Word of God,
whose mercy never ends:
we worship and adore you.
Most good and loving Spirit,
source of power and life,
whose goodness lasts for ever:
we worship and adore you.
Father, Son and Holy Spirit: one eternal God,
resplendent in brightness,
radiant in purity,
inconceivable in majesty,
to you we give all blessing, glory, honour and power,
always, now and ever, and to the ages of ages.
Prayer of confession
Compassion and forgiveness belong to the Lord our God,
though we have rebelled against him,
and have not obeyed the voice of the Lord our God
by following the laws which he set before us. (Daniel 9:9-10)
And so we pray:
Almighty God our Father,
we have sinned against you and one another;
we have sinned in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
In your mercy forgive what we have been,
help us to correct what we are,
and direct what we shall be;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Assurance of forgiveness
God sent the Son into the world,
not to condemn the world,
but that the world might be saved through him.
Those who believe in him are not condemned. (John 3:17-18)
Hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Prayer of Intercession
As we continue to meet in isolation away from our regular friends in the Congregation, we ask that You will make us alert to your presence in our time of worship on this day.
Our world is so different today to what we are used to. Many of the certainties that we have grown up with are no longer there. We accept that change is necessary, but when that change is forced on us unexpectedly, or not in ways that we may have envisaged, we feel uneasy and unsure of what lies ahead. Loving God, give us comfort, a sense of security and confidence that You are in control.
We look at the world around us and might be lulled into a false sense that peace is hovering over many of the world’s trouble spots. And yet, despite the threat of coronavirus, conflict continues unabated. At the international level, we name the instability in the India/ China border area, events in the Middle East, growing tension on the Korean Peninsula, Yemen and many other sites. We pray that peace will come to these areas and the sanctity of human life pursued ahead of personal or national ambitions.
The world continues to struggle with containing the Coronavirus pandemic. Loving God, we pray that the multitude of researchers be guided to a vaccine that will lead to the removal of this scourge from our society. We pray for responsible government and leadership in those countries where the virus is still running wild. We pray for those who are ill with the virus and those medical personnel providing wonderful service in the most difficult of circumstances. We uphold before You those families who have suffered loss and ask that they might feel the arms of your love surrounding them.
We pray for our Joint Nominating Committee as they wrestle with some serious questions relating to the future ministry to be exercised here at Carlingford. We ask that they have wisdom as together they discern the way forward for our Congregation.
We pray for our Congregation in this unusual time. May it be a time of renewal; a time of reconnection; a time of reflection; a time for renewing our life of faith. Help us to discover new ways of reaching out in friendship and support for others.
We offer this prayer in the name of Jesus, who taught us when we pray, to say:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Jeremiah 20:7-13 (NIV)
7 You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived;
you overpowered me and prevailed.
I am ridiculed all day long;
everyone mocks me.
8 Whenever I speak, I cry out
proclaiming violence and destruction.
So the word of the Lord has brought me
insult and reproach all day long.
9 But if I say, “I will not mention his word
or speak anymore in his name,”
his word is in my heart like a fire,
a fire shut up in my bones.
I am weary of holding it in;
indeed, I cannot.
10 I hear many whispering,
“Terror on every side!
Denounce him! Let’s denounce him!”
All my friends
are waiting for me to slip, saying,
“Perhaps he will be deceived;
then we will prevail over him
and take our revenge on him.”
11 But the Lord is with me like a mighty warrior;
so my persecutors will stumble and not prevail.
They will fail and be thoroughly disgraced;
their dishonour will never be forgotten.
12 Lord Almighty, you who examine the righteous
and probe the heart and mind,
let me see your vengeance on them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
13 Sing to the Lord!
Give praise to the Lord!
He rescues the life of the needy
from the hands of the wicked.
Matthew 10:34-39 (NIV)
34 “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
“‘a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
36 a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’
37 “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.
Not peace, but a sword
A few weeks ago, I commented that if we were asked what our favourite bible verse was, it wouldn’t be the same for all of us, and it probably wouldn’t be the same for each of us over time, either.
As we look at our reading for today from Matthew’s gospel, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no-one’s favourite bible verse is going to be in this passage. Because the words of Jesus in today’s reading seem not to be words of comfort or reassurance. And they don’t seem to be words of hope, either.
In fact, what Jesus says here seems to go against what most Christians would say Jesus was about. Yet, here it is – and not just in Matthew’s gospel either – there’s a similar passage in Luke’s gospel (Luke 12:49-53).
When we read things like “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth” and “I have come to set a man against his father and a daughter against her mother” – it is disturbing and scary. At the very least, I think, it makes us uncomfortable.
There’s a tendency, when people come to parts of the bible that make them uncomfortable, to skip over – ignore – them, or to dwell on them. It seems that is particularly true of considering the “end times”, when we’ve seen groups of Christians who are absolutely focused on the end of the world.
I hope that we can find somewhere in the middle: that we don’t routinely skip over bits of the bible that make us uncomfortable – because a bit of discomfort or a bit of disturbance can actually help us realise where we’re going wrong and it can help us to grow as well.
We know Jesus often challenged people – he told them things that disturbed them.
I also hope that we can not become preoccupied by these particularly disturbing things. Paul wrote to Timothy “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) – it’s all scripture – the wholeness of scripture – that we need to take into account. So yes, today’s reading is disturbing, but what do we make of that in the context of the scriptures that tell us of God who loved the world so much he sent his son to save us?
Today’s reading from Matthew’s gospel, really doesn’t fit with the image of “gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, or the image we sometimes have of Jesus sort of guru-like figure passing serenely through the gospels.
The reading opens with “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”
Hang on - Jesus said, “I have not come to bring peace”?
How does that work?
We know Jesus is the prince of peace. Don’t we?
Blessed are the peacemakers and all that. The gospels portray Jesus as a bringer of peace, and Jesus’ teaching bears that out.
But – and it’s a big but - Jesus says here is that his peace is not unqualified. It’s not peace as the world understands it. It’s not simply the absence of conflict between people. Instead the peace that Jesus brings is peace between God and people – between God and us. The peace that Jesus came to bring is salvation. Reconciliation with God.
The effect of that is peace among people, but we can’t have that without Jesus being involved.
So, for people to receive Jesus’ peace, they need to accept Jesus. Those that reject Jesus don’t have peace. And the result of accepting Jesus is the sword – cutting off – division, division from any and all who are not in harmony with Jesus.
Now that can be a scary thing to contemplate. But I think it is reflected in our experience, we know people who don’t accept Jesus. Or people who think he was merely a wise teacher, or whatever.
Paul sets it out clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians, where he says “…the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18)– and unless we have that spark of faith, the message of the cross is crazy – that an all-powerful God, would give up his only son to die for sinful people. But if we have that spark of faith, Paul says “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.
So people are going to always be divided. Those who think the gospel, the message of the cross is foolishness on one hand, and those of us who know it as the power of God on the other.
As Jesus says in verse 32 and 33 – just before today’s reading: “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.”
Acknowledging Jesus – following Jesus – is a choice: his grace is there for every one of us – indeed for all of us, but we each make our own choice. And that choice has a consequence: That choice determines what side of the sword – what side of the division – we’re on.
And in today’s reading, Jesus graphicly describes the extent of the division: “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.”(10:35-46)
He’s telling us about a change in the order of things – the way the nation of Israel at the time viewed their relationship with God.
The nation of Israel, we know from the Old Testament, were God’s chosen people. The promises made to Abraham – father Abraham – in Genesis, and summed up in Exodus 6:7 “I will make you my own people, and I will be your God.”
So for the Jewish people of Jesus’ time, it was a matter of claiming that inheritance. They believed they were ‘right with God’ because they were descendants of Abraham. But they’d become arrogant in that knowledge: God was their God, and God would look after them. They were either forgetting or ignoring the parts of the promises to Abraham that said the whole world would be blessed through them.
By the time of Jesus teaching though, they’d already had John the Baptist’s preaching which warned them about this. You might remember it from Luke 3 “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? […] Do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham!” (Luke 3:7-8)
And here Jesus warns that families would be divided: Fathers against sons. Mothers against daughters. And so on. Divided by the metaphorical sword.
Those that accept Jesus. And those who don’t.
And just like the nation of Israel couldn’t rely on inherited rights, neither can we. When we think about our relationship with God, it is just that, and that only that counts. Do we trust Jesus? Do we put our belief and faith and hope in him? Or do we not. Do we believe that he died and rose again for us? Or do we not?
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been going to church for, or which church you go to, or how many times a week you go to church, or how much you put in the offertory or whether you’ve been baptised or confirmed, or whether you’re on every roster. (Don’t get me wrong – all those things are good things to do, but the key is: do we put our faith in Jesus?).
So that was a huge change for the nation of Israel to come to grips with. A change that John the Baptist preached, and Jesus confirms here. Now, it’s not a change in what God intended and it’s not a change in what God promised. What Jesus and John before him taught was the fulfilment of the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
So they should have known. They had the Old Testament. They read the scrolls of the law and the prophets regularly, they sang the psalms together. They should have known. The signs were all there.
We shouldn’t be too harsh on them, though, because it’s easy for us to see: We know the whole story now, we have the gospels and we have the Holy Spirit who helps us understand. But even so…. They should have known.
And I think it can easily be the same for us. There are things that we should know, but we don’t always get them right.
I did SRE teacher training a few years ago, and at lunchtime, as good Protestants, we got talking about salvation by faith, not works. Half the people there were pastors, and the rest were people who were actively sharing faith in school scripture settings. So we all had a good scriptural understanding and we all absolutely knew that we didn’t earn favour with God through doing things… but if you stood back and looked on that we were all doing and telling each other about, well it seemed we were all pretty keen on works.
Hey, I went home afterward and updated my Linked-in profile to show that I was an authorised scripture teacher!
As part of the discussion, the course leader offered the observation that people were human beings not human doings. So we were called to be Christians, not simply do Christian things.
There are things we should know, but we don’t always get them right. We regularly confess our sins, and we are regularly reminded of God’s forgiveness, aren’t we? But how often to those sins continue to weigh on us?
And so it is with the peace that Jesus came to bring. True peace. Reconciliation between God and people. But so often we dumb that down to the world’s version of peace, something warm and fuzzy, where what is wrong with the world is simply ignored or glossed over.
But the peace Jesus came to bring does something about what is wrong. And that is God’s judgement. Ultimately things can’t be made right, without doing something about what is wrong.
And so we find that Jesus presence was divisive two thousand years ago. Jesus presence is still divisive today. It is not Jesus’ purpose to disturb the peace, to cause division, but it is the result of people’s response to him.
For Jesus - and for his followers then and now - peace is not merely the absence of conflict, because we can still be at peace with God, amidst great conflict in our lives and in our world. Peace is not a truce or a period of quiet or not talking to others. Peace is the presence of God, even amidst all the noise and tension conflict brings. Christ’s peace is lasting peace, not merely temporary truce.
That peace is there for us all, in the face of all the problems and trials of our lives.
Our challenge then, is to put our faith in Jesus, to discern Jesus’ way in the world. To remember that in this age there will always be division not peace in this world, division between those who accept Jesus, and those who reject him.
Jesus warned that those who chose to follow him would have trouble relating to those who did not so choose. And it’s a tough thing, and I’m sure we’ve all experienced it in many ways in our own Christian journeys.
In verse 37 we read that Jesus said “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;” And that doesn’t sit well with the 21st century, where it seems that the love of our children is the most important thing there is. But here, Jesus says, no, you need to love me more. (But note he’s not saying “don’t love your children”). If you think about it, he’s really just restating the great and first commandment … “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your mind and with all your spirit”.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t love your child. Love isn’t something to be rationed out.
It’s a tough thing. And the Christian journey will be – at least sometimes – hard going.
“…whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me.” (10:38) God’s plan is that all people should be saved, but people need to respond to the grace of God shown in Jesus.
And similarly, “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for [Jesus’] sake will find it.” (10:39)
Jesus warned that those who choose to follow him in life will have trouble relating to those who did not so choose. The result of being a Christian is that we stand in opposition to the many of the values and practices favoured by modern society. However, there is always a price to pay for standing on principle. Jesus paid it with his life. But in doing that, he opened the way to true and everlasting peace, for us, and for all who turn to him in faith.
Prayer of offering
All that we have, we have received from you,
And so we ask you to receive and bless the offering of our worship, wherever we are,
and consecrate our bodies, minds and spirits, so that we may give ourselves to you, as a living sacrifice,
dedicated and fit for your acceptance;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The apostle Peter wrote:
Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.
Rejoice in so far as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 2:21; 4:13)
And now, know that you have the blessing of God almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Hymns for this week:
Looking Out: Something strangely biblical
Next week (28 June):
Lectionary: Psalm 13 or Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18; Genesis 22:1-14 or Jeremiah 28:5-9; Romans 6:12-23; Matthew 10:40-42
For worship: Genesis 22:1-14; Matthew 10:40-42
Theme: “Abraham and Isaac”