Led by: Revd Dr Carla Grosch-Miller
Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32
Prayer before worship
You bid me welcome as I am and tenderly enfold me in your love. May your everlasting arms give me solace and strength for the living of these days. And I will praise you. Amen.
Call to Worship adapted from Psalm 25
To God we lift up our souls.
In God we trust.
We will never be put to shame.
God teaches us the way,
leads us in the truth
and loves us into life.
God is our health and salvation.
We come to worship.
Prayer of Approach and Confession
Holy God, steadfast in love and bountiful in mercy, we come before you in humility and gratitude. You are God; we are not. We are your people, those who have heard the strains of your song of love and who have taken it to heart. We long for you as a child longs for a mother or father. We desire truth in our inward being, integrity in our outward being, and courage in our living. Only you can show us the way.
The time is short; we sense it. We work out our salvation in fear and trembling [Phil 2:12b], and offer ourselves for your great work of redeeming the times and the flourishing of all life. When we falter, make us to stand. When we are tempted to despair, remind us that we are not alone. When we dare to risk, guide our words and actions. By your grace and in your strength, we will accomplish what you set out for us to do.
In this moment of quiet, we offer you the prayers of our hearts, prayers of Help me; heal me; forgive me; show me the way.
And we offer the prayer that Jesus taught us to pray together, with friends and strangers near and far: 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 trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
Assurance of Grace
Hear the good news of Jesus Christ: God is steadfast in love and boundless in mercy. When we turn towards God, we are met with open arms and lifted. We are forgiven; we are freed. Thanks be to God!
Aria, by Flor Peeters
Peter Herron, Organ
1If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
23 When he entered the Temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ 24Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. 25Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” 26But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ 27So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’ And he said to them, ‘Neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.’
28 ‘What do you think? A man had two sons; he went to the first and said, “Son, go and work in the vineyard today.” 29He answered, “I will not”; but later he changed his mind and went. 30The father went to the second and said the same; and he answered, “I go, sir”; but he did not go. 31Which of the two did the will of his father?’ They said, ‘The first.’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax-collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you. 32For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him, but the tax-collectors and the prostitutes believed him; and even after you saw it, you did not change your minds and believe him.’
Reflection Who do you think you are?
By what authority? they asked, they being the Temple authorities. Underneath they were fuming. The day before Jesus had ridden into town on a donkey, made his way to the Temple and threw out the moneychangers and dove-sellers. Now he was back in the Temple. This upstart needed a comeuppance. Who did he think he was?
Jesus did the Jesus thing, answering a question with a question. He bested them, not for the first time, not for the last. He challenged the kind of authority consumed with keeping the status quo and asleep to what God was doing, the kind of authority that talked the talk but could not walk the walk of faithfulness to a living God who does new things. In so doing he poured fuel on the fire that in a short time would lead to his crucifixion.
By what authority do we live and act? If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that we cannot be the mistresses and masters of our destiny. There are other people to consider, a greater good to contemplate, larger forces at work, not to mention people in charge who make rules for all of us.
I’m intrigued by the word authority and its links to author and authenticity. They are words of agency, an author literally is one who causes to grow, an originator, a doer. Authors write stories. It turns out we are all authors of our lives. Our brains have a storytelling obsession; that’s how we make sense of what happens to us and form our identity. But we are not solo authors, not even of our autobiographies. The story of our lives is also shaped by our experiences of others, the culture and those larger forces. Still we are authors, with authority. Authority is both the ability and the responsibility to act, to make things happen.
The question is how do we exercise our natural authority? What and who is it for? What is the story of our life about? What do we as authors cause to grow?
Paul wrote to his beloved church in Philippi, a community facing opposition and hostility, and called on them to use their natural authority to look past their self-interest to the interests of others, to walk humbly in obedience to the discerned will of God. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, he wrote. The you is plural. The Greek words he used suggest not agreement but orientation. It’s not about agreeing about everything. It’s about having the same compass…oriented towards fulfilling the will of God, as Jesus was. Paul says: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you. Church: Orient your authorship, your authority, towards God. Let God be the author of your life. That is the source of authority that is our salvation.
Now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation, Paul wrote later to the church at Corinth (2 Corinthians 6:2). These words are timeless and particularly appropriate in the apocalyptic times we are living through. (Apocalypse means revealing, not end times.) Awake to the pandemic, to climate change, to mass extinction, to economic dislocation, we may be tempted to shrink in overwhelm, to claim powerlessness, to court despair. But now indeed may be a time calling for fear and trembling and humble obedience; surely it is time for action as well as words, to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. The dangers we face as a species cry out to be met with courage, wisdom and self-giving, which is how Jesus lived. How did he do it? By the surrender of self-emptying, the humility of other-attending, the obedience of self-giving.
The dangers before us call for unified, God-oriented action. For churches and others to act with the authority, the authenticity, the divine authorship that comes from a heart and mind oriented to the Holy so that we can make a difference. As Margaret Mead said, Never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.
I ask: By whose authority will we act? Who is the author of your life, of my life? Of the book titled “St Andrew’s United Reformed Church, Monkseaton”? Who do we think we are? Will we dare to be the people of God?
These questions could sound harsh. But I don’t think they have to be. I think what is most called for now is love. Love for the earth, however we experience it, garden or seascape or hills. Love for each other and for all others. As we root ourselves in love, God is at work in us, and we will find our way together. Thanks be to God, whose love never lets us go.
Hymn From heaven you came, helpless babe R&S 522
Prayers of Intercession and Dedication of the week’s offerings
We begin by dedicating our offerings for today.
We bring before you ourselves,
That you may use us for your purpose.
We bring our talents,
That we may use them to carry out your purpose for us.
We bring before you our gifts of money,
That they may be used to further your work in this place and around the world.
Prayer’s of Concern
We bring our prayers of concern before God,
Let us pray,
As we look at the world around us,
It is easy to fixate on the suffering,
Evil and destruction that we see.
Help us to look for and value the good we find,
For random acts of kindness,
The selfless deeds of those standing up for others
And all of the joy which we find in creation.
Give us the strength and hope to help our troubled world.
Once again, we come to you with our worries about the ongoing pandemic,
That you may comfort the bereaved;
Give strength to those on the front lines
And guide our leaders.
We pray that you may empower us as we continue our role by:
Helping to stop the virus’ spread;
Following public guidelines
And supporting those around us including those who cannot be here today.
We recognise the ongoing inequality in our world.
We pray for all those who suffer:
And through discrimination;
That you may comfort all those who suffer
And drive us to actively make change in the world.
As we recognise that we perpetuate injustices in the world,
We pray that we may never view these with indifference,
Ignorance, or an unwillingness to act.
May we also earn to appreciate your creation;
To protect it from the horrors of climate change
And seek to protect our planet from the damage we cause.
Finally, we pray for ourselves as a Church and individuals,
That may we continue your work in the world.
So, in a moment of quiet reflection,
We pray for all the concerns in our hearts today
And contemplate how we may further serve you and others.
When we leave this place,
May we continue to show all we meet your love free from prejudice
As Christ taught us to do.
In his name we pray,
And now unto the one who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish far more than we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:202-1]
Bob Dylan, Gotta serve someone
 Antonio Damasio (1999) The Feeling of What Happens: body, emotion and the making of consciousness (London: Vintage Books), 219-230.
Words and Music reproduced under CCLI 213535 / One License A-632495