A Home Service for 4th October ‘20

Opening Prayers

Creator God, who calls us to follow,
we are on journeys,
individual journeys and shared journeys,
experiences that are ours alone and ours together.
Guide us on our journey this day
and help us to keep our eyes on the goal.
Amen.

Lord God,
as we journey towards the goal you set before us,
we see glimpses of who you are,
often too deep and unimaginable
to grasp fully the depth of your being.
What we see and feel spurs us on
in our journey to discover more of you.
Amen.

Music: One more step along the world I go (R&S 549)

Readings:

Isaiah 5:1-7
Matthew 21:33-46

Introduction:

Isaiah tells a familiar story, but with a twist – the people may not be as right with God as they had thought. Jesus begins a similar story – perhaps things are going to be all right now? But no! Listen to how Jesus adds yet another twist to Isaiah’s twist. Not only are things just as bad, they are getting worse.

Music: God in his love for us lent us this planet (R&S 85)

Sermon/Reflection

Jesus tells a familiar story about a vineyard owner and his tenants to the priests and Pharisees, but there is a twist at the end which challenges their certainty. They probably thought they knew where Jesus was going with it since he begins in much the same way as the parable in Isaiah about a vineyard and they would have recognised the scriptural symbolism. The nation of Israel was often compared to a vineyard and the story told about the vineyard bearing bad fruit and being destroyed would have reminded them of the time of Israel’s defeat and exile to Babylon.

Jesus’ hearers may have been confident therefore that he was going to tell them that it’s alright now that God has saved them and brought them back and God is going to continue to look after them. The dark events of the past are behind them and everything is different now. But is it? Israel, and in particular it’s leaders, is not just the vineyard any more, they are the tenants with whom God has entrusted the care of the vineyard. And whereas the lack of justice and righteousness in Isaiah’s story led to the vineyard being abandoned now the tenants are going to be replaced.

I wonder at what point the chief priests and elders, who no doubt sympathised with the owner of the vineyard, and were confidently judging those tenants, realised that Jesus had set them up and that he was highlighting their poor stewardship of Israel. The parable is all the more disturbing because it is aimed at the people who are listening to it. It is about the moral failings of the ‘Pharisee class’ in relation to the values of the kingdom of God and Jesus pulls no punches in denouncing them for their abuses of power.

Unfortunately this parable has in the past been used as an excuse for anti-Semitism – the Jewish people have forfeited their place as God’s chosen people, have been thrown out and replaced by the more faithful Christians. That is not however what the parable is saying. It is rather about the danger of falling into the trap of a belief in one’s own superiority and a complacency which takes God’s approval for granted. It is a challenge to all who see themselves as God’s people, in every place and time. Are we good stewards of all that God has entrusted to us, as individuals and as a society?

The world in which we live is very troubled, especially at this present time, and leaders often seem to be a loss as to how to respond. There have been so many stories in the news this week on which there are confusing and conflicted views, from the steep rises in cases of corona virus in many areas, to Brexit legislation, to climate crisis, ‘black lives matter’ and ongoing protests over racism, prejudice and refugees, international relations, and what effect the US presidential elections will have on it all. It sometimes seems that the good of the many is put at risk for the interests of a few and actions are taken that damage or destroy people and environments. No matter how well-meaning we are we can never make assumptions about our standing with God, and even less that human beings will always choose the best way,

The question for all societies is how far should we curtail everyone’s freedoms in order to protect the rights of some of the people? For God’s people there is always an expectation of justice and of lives lived according to kingdom values. However we need to recognise that we are not immune from arguments, mistaken priorities or ideas, and failure to respond to the needs of others. As human beings as well as Christians we have to ask ourselves;

  • Where does our own freedom clash with the freedom of other people?
  • What is the ‘right’ balance between rights and responsibilities?
  • How should we respond to situations where we feel at risk?

The parable of the vineyard challenges us to look at our relationships and to guard against complacency.

Music: Brother, sister, let me serve you (R&S 474)

Prayers of intercession

We pray for those whose work is pleasing to God.
We remember those who work for peace and reconciliation:
for the United Nations; for ACAS; for Bridge Builders; for Relate…
Lord, look with kindness
on those who live in righteousness.

We pray for those whose work is pleasing to God.
We remember all who seek to feed the hungry:
those who work for aid agency projects;
those who raise money to fund projects;
those who work for food banks, for the Trussell Trust…
and all who give that others may eat.
Lord, look with kindness
on those who live in righteousness.

We pray for those who live in faith:
for those who quietly keep an eye on their neighbours;
for those who go shopping for others;
for those who visit and those who offer lifts.
Lord, look with kindness
on those who live in faith.

We pray for those who live in faith:
for those who pray without a fuss;
for those who give generously of themselves;
for those who quietly witness to the love of God within them.
Lord, look with kindness
on those who live in faith.
Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer

Music: O Lord all the world belongs to you (R&S 90)

Blessing.

Lord you have called us to follow the way of Christ.
Help us to do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit but to strive for justice and peace for all.
As we live for the kingdom may your blessing live in us.
Amen.

Rev. Janet Calderley

Prayers adapted from ROOTS.
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd. Used by permission.

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