Welcome once again to our service this morning. Although some churches have started to open for prayer and said services, regrettably at All Saints we feel we are unable to do so yet in a safe manner. Although we long to gather together, even as part of the new ‘normal’, we feel we cannot do so in a Covid secure way and so we continue to gather together through our online services.
However, although we are apart we are still all members of one family, worshipping one God and seeking to follow Jesus’ teaching and way. But being disciples of Jesus is not always easy, even at the best of times – and being apart from one another whilst dealing with the stresses and anxieties that the current situation has brought can bring additional difficulties. This is when we need to turn to God, be open about how we are feeling and worship God for who He is and what He has done for us. With that thought I have had the following song on my mind this week especially the words of the chorus which I found to be particularly apposite.
“Cause when we see You, we find strength to face the day
In Your Presence all our fears are washed away”
So let us start our service with a song of praise.
Loving God, as we come to worship you, we recognise that we’re not always exactly what we want to be.
Sometimes we judge others, put them in boxes and don’t allow them the space to be who they are.
Sometimes we seek meaning for our lives in things that are fleeting and shallow.
Sometimes we’re full of our success and achievements and forget to be sensitive to those who’re struggling.
Sometimes we’re full of our own failures and limitations and forget to be sensitive to those who’re celebrating.
Sometimes we seek the big spiritual experience forgetting that you are there with us in the mundane, the difficult, and the boring.
Sometimes we forget that you are a God of both the extraordinary and the ordinary.
Help us to believe the fact of your love, forgiveness and grace.
Help us to find the freedom to live the Jesus way.
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2020.Reproduced with permission.
Our reading this morning is from Matthew Chapter 11 and we will be looking at two themes that are contained within the passages – judging people by the company they keep and turning to Jesus for support and rest.
There’s just no pleasing some people – or as the 15th century British monk John Lydgate wrote “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time” I’m sure from time to time we must all feel that – and the first part of our reading this morning shows that it was just as true in Jesus’ time.
Just prior to our reading, we learn that John (who was now languishing in Herod’s prison) had sent some of his disciples to Jesus to ask if he really was the Messiah. Even John, his beloved cousin who had first proclaimed Jesus, was beginning to have doubts as Jesus was not what he, or anyone else for that matter, expected to see as a Messiah. Jesus’ response is quite interesting – to tell John that the blind see, the deaf hear, the lepers are cleansed and the lame walk – a direct reference to Isaiah 35 when these acts herald the arrival of the Kingdom of God
Jesus then goes on to praise John and all he has done, making reference to the life he led and the work he had done as his messenger and goes on in verses 16-19 to compare the response of ‘this generation’ to both John and himself. And ‘this generation’ have not covered themselves in glory because it doesn’t matter how differently they lived both John and Jesus were criticised and found wanting.
John lived a harshly disciplined, aesthetic life far from people in the desert. His preaching was like the fire and brimstone preaching of old and whilst he obviously had his own disciples he managed to offend a lot of people (in that regard of course he was very much like Jesus). It was said of John, as recorded in v18 that ‘he has a demon’
While John looks like a religious fanatic, Jesus was the opposite. He seemed to not care about the nuances of the law, he was not as fastidious as some regarding his diet. He healed on the Sabbath and He defended His disciples who were not scrupulous in their own observance of the law. What is more, Jesus actually liked people but worse and much to the anger of the religious leaders, he associated with, and therefore gave tacit approval to, tax collectors and sinners. Jesus was judged not only by how he lived but also by the company he kept. So whilst John was called a demon Jesus was called a “glutton and a drunkard”
As I said, there’s no pleasing some people. John’s fate was to be beheaded – and in calling Jesus a ‘glutton and a drunkard’ the outcome could also have been death Again Matthew, who wrote his gospel for the Jews, was referencing the Old Testament, this time Deuteronomy 21 which describes how parents should deal with a rebellious son “And they shall tell the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard.’ All the men of his city shall stone him to death with stones: so you shall put away the evil from the midst of you”
Jesus was never afraid to point out people’s hypocrisy and double standards and when he says that “We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we wailed and you did not mourn” he was pointing out that neither his way nor John’s way was acceptable. They were like little children, sitting in the marketplace, each taking a side and shouting at each other. Sound familiar? Basically the people were impossible to please as neither John nor Jesus met their expectations.
And yet, Jesus finishes the first part of our reading with the observation that ‘wisdom is vindicated by her deeds’. In other words, we cannot confine Jesus to our own preconceptions, his actions will reveal his divine nature.
And so we turn to the second part of our reading today and a passage which is very familiar to many of us. ‘Jesus says: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ These must some of the most loved verses in the Bible and in their original context referred to the burden of following the Jewish law – which was almost impossible to follow to the letter and which the pharisees, as we know, spent much time criticising Jesus about – as we saw in the first part of the reading.
However, Jesus still calls us today even though we are not burdened by following the Jewish law – and that is something to grasp hold of because from time to time many of us are weary and burdened, carrying all sorts of anxieties and worries which can have numerous causes and can manifest themselves in many ways. It is part and parcel of day to day living. But on top of that we have the impact of Covid-19 and lockdown which has seen mental, emotional, physical, financial as well as spiritual impacts And as lockdown eases and brings with it additional anxieties and worries those impacts will continue to take their toll.
Jesus offers his followers rest for their souls. It is not that he is saying life is not going to be difficult or have any challenges, in fact as we know, later in Matthew he makes a point of saying that being a follower of his will inevitably bring trouble. However, Jesus does say that following him, taking his yoke, will not be unbearable.
Wearing a yoke can be interpreted as having something unwieldy and heavy and yet a yoke was often used to pair animals together. If we think of this kind of yoke then Jesus is offering to share the burden, to help carry the load, to steer in the right direction. In the Jewish context the yoke was also seen as submitting to the law – but Jesus is saying to his followers that they can learn directly from him and Jesus’ yoke is light.
As we consider these passages; how easy it is to judge people by the company they keep or their behaviour which may not align with our own standards, and the offer of Jesus to ‘Come’ you may wish to consider the questions in the response section below.
Each of these passages offer their own challenges so here are three questions that you may wish to consider:
- Judging people by their perceived affiliations and actions can be only too easy. In the light of recent events such as the overcrowding on beaches and the Peak District, or the impact of the Black Lives Matter campaign – how have our preconceptions and judgements been affected?
- Are there things about Jesus that challenge you that mean you find it easier to criticise (or ignore) rather than follow and obey
- What does ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light’ mean to you?
If we were to adhere to the maxim of ‘judging a person by the company they keep’, what would we say about Jesus? A perusal of the Gospels shows that our Lord kept company with reprobates and outcasts, the sorts of ‘sinners’ that society shuns.
A church worker and a drug dealer were talking in the coffee shop. ‘How is it,’ asked the worker, ‘that you are so successful at recruiting customers and we offer so much for no money, and get so few takers?’ ‘Ah well,’ said the drug dealer, ‘when they go to the burger van at lunchtime, I’m there and you’re not; and when they sit on the park bench, because they have nothing else to do, I’m there and you’re not.’
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2020.Reproduced with permission.
This is a challenging scenario – how does this challenge you as an individual but also as a member of the church? What would/should/could be our response?
Vagabonds – Stuart Townend
In an interview about how the song was written Stuart explained that “because of what Jesus has done all are welcome to come and know His love. And it is a tragedy for me that in places the church is not though of as a welcoming place but is thought of as a place of judgement, a place where you are not welcome because you don’t do certain things etc……. which is contrary to the message of the gospel.”
Come, all you vagabonds,
Come all you ‘don’t belongs’
Winners and losers,
Come, people like me.
Come all you travellers
Tired from the journey,
Come wait a while, stay a while,
Welcomed you’ll be.
Come all you questioners
Looking for answers,
And searching for reasons
And sense in it all;
Come all you fallen,
And come all you broken,
Find strength for your body
And food for your soul.
Come to the feast,
There is room at the table.
Come let us meet in this place.
With the King of all kindness
Who welcomes us in,
With the wonder of love,
And the power of grace.
The wonder of the love,
And the power of grace.
Come those who worry
‘Bout houses and money,
And all those who don’t have
A care in the world;
From every station
The helpless, the hopeless,
The young and the old.
Come all believers
And dreamers and schemers,
And come all you restless
Just searching for home;
Movers and shakers
And givers and takers,
The happy, the sad
And the lost and alone.
With wearied ambition,
And come those who feel
At the end of the road.
And religion haters,
The hurt and ignored.
Stuart Townend, Mark Edwards & Phil Baggaley Copyright © 2011 Thankyou Music (Adm. by CapitolCMGPublishing.com excl. UK & Europe, adm. by Integrity Music, part of the David C Cook family, firstname.lastname@example.org)
Prayers of Intercession
Loving Lord, you invite us and welcome us
whether we are singing joyfully or weeping mournfully.
To you we bring ourselves, our community and our world.
For those who rejoice and are filled with energy
give ways to express their joy wisely and compassionately.
For those who are worried and apprehensive
grant wisdom and peace.
For those who are eager to be out and about, to be with others, to be sociable,
grant sensitivity and patience.
For those who are exhausted in body or in spirit,
let the lightness of being yoked to you bring comfort and encouragement.
Enable us and all decision makers to see the wider picture
and to respond with your wisdom.
In your name we pray.
The Lord’s Prayer
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.
The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.
The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.
“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”
Blessing and Dismissal
Though the road may seem long and weary,
and the burdens hard to bear,
let us go forth with Jesus, yoked to him,
in friendship, love and prayer.
And may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
The love of God
And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
Be with us all, now and for evermore