Reflection – 25 October 2020


Here’s my reflection for Sunday 25 October.

The online worship session will start at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week. It’s Café Church so there will be a quiz. And maybe some audience participation. You’ve still got to provide your own breakfast though I’m afraid.

If you want to join in just email me – newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com – for details. We’d love to see you.

Mark Taylor

Sunday 25 October 2020 – A Reflection

Our call to worship

Strength is commanding

the wind and sea to obey,

Strength is wielding

a slingshot in the face of a raging giant.

Strength is accepting vulnerability

from inside the boat,

Strength is standing in solidarity

with the powerless.

Strength is turning a cheek,

Strength is loving an enemy.

We come to worship

a God who redefines our vision of strength.

Let us pray

Lord, we offer you ourselves this day

for the work you want accomplished,

for the people you want us to meet,

for the word you want to be uttered,

for the silence you want to be kept,

for the places you want us to enter,

for the new ways you want pioneered.

Go with us along the way, Lord,

and enable us to realize your presence,

at all times and in all places,

our loving Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

As it’s café service here’s the quiz. Answers are at the end.

This month all the clues include the word ‘eye’.

1Who had a number one hit with the song ‘Bright Eyes’ in 1979? 
2Who played James Bond in the film ‘For Your Eyes Only’? 
3For which TV series was ‘Eye Level’ the theme tune? 
4Who is the editor of ‘Private Eye’ magazine? 
5Which airline was among the original owners of the London Eye? 
6Whose eyes did Kim Carnes sing about in 1981? 
7In the poem ‘There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of’’ where? 
8The song ’Smoke gets in your eyes’ was used to advertise which fuel? 
9Who played James Bond in the film ‘Goldeneye’? 
10Who sang about a ‘Brown Eyed Girl’? 

So after 8 weeks we are finally getting to the end of Matthew chapter 5. A piece of text that takes about 5 minutes to read. And Martin and I have managed to talk about it for 8 hours.

That says one of two things:

  • Either there’s a huge amount to talk about in that short text, or
  • Martin and I can waffle for England.

Or maybe it’s both.

So today it’s Matthew 5:33-48.

Matthew 5:33-48

Teaching about Vows

“You have also heard that people were told in the past, ‘Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.’ But now I tell you: do not use any vow when you make a promise. Do not swear by heaven, for it is God’s throne; nor by earth, for it is the resting place for his feet; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not even swear by your head, because you cannot make a single hair white or black. Just say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’—anything else you say comes from the Evil One.

Teaching about Revenge

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But now I tell you: do not take revenge on someone who wrongs you. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, let him slap your left cheek too. And if someone takes you to court to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well. And if one of the occupation troops forces you to carry his pack one mile, carry it two miles. When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something, lend it to him.

Love for Enemies

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may become the children of your Father in heaven. For he makes his sun to shine on bad and good people alike, and gives rain to those who do good and to those who do evil. Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that! And if you speak only to your friends, have you done anything out of the ordinary? Even the pagans do that! You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

We’ve still got Matthew 6 and Matthew 7 to get through before we’ve finished with the Sermon on the Mount, but we won’t be devoting so many services to those. We will get it finished by the end of November so we can start thinking about Advent and then Christmas.

Time for our first hymn. We haven’t had this one for a while – ‘Be Still, for the presence of the Lord, the Holy One, is here.’

Be still, for the presence of the Lord,

the Holy One, is here.

Come bow before him now

with reverence and fear.

In him no sin is found,

we stand on holy ground.

Be still, for the presence of the Lord,

the Holy One, is here.

Be still, for the glory of the Lord

is shining all around;

he burns with holy fire,

with splendour he is crowned.

How awesome is the sight,

our radiant king of light!

Be still, for the glory of the Lord

Is shining all around.

Be still, for the power of the Lord

is moving in this place:

he comes to cleanse and heal,

to minister his grace.

No work too hard for him,

in faith receive from him.

Be still, for the power of the Lord

is moving in this place.

Talk

So today we’ve heard the last three examples of Jesus using the pattern:

You have heard it was said … But now I tell you.

So exactly where was it that these three things were said:

‘Do not break your promise, but do what you have vowed to the Lord to do.’ Or

‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ And

‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ 

We can’t find these by looking at the Ten Commandments but the first two are quite easy:

Leviticus 19:12 says:

Do not make a promise in my name if you do not intend to keep it; that brings disgrace on my name. 

You find similar words in Numbers 30 and Deuteronomy 23

Leviticus 24:19-20 says this:

 “If any of you injure another person, whatever you have done shall be done to you. If you break a bone, one of your bones shall be broken; if you put out an eye, one of your eyes shall be put out; if you knock out a tooth, one of your teeth shall be knocked out. Whatever injury you cause another person shall be done to you in return.

You find the same sort of thing in Exodus 21 and Deuteronomy 19

There’s more of a problem with the last one. We’re OK with the ‘Love your friends’ bit. In Leviticus 19 we get:


‘Love your neighbours as you love yourself.’

Some of the most important words in all scripture.

But there’s nothing in Scripture that says you should hate your enemies. The nearest we get is probably in Psalm 139 when the Psalmist says:

O God, how I wish you would kill the wicked!
    How I wish violent people would leave me alone!
They say wicked things about you;
    they speak evil things against your name.[
c]
O Lord, how I hate those who hate you!
    How I despise those who rebel against you!
I hate them with a total hatred;
    I regard them as my enemies.

God’s response isn’t recorded!

Once again, in all these areas, Jesus is extending the reach of the law.

On the subject of vows Jesus is saying – yes you need to keep your word, but you shouldn’t need to make a vow invoking God’s name to do this. Your word should be your word. If you say Yes to something then mean Yes. If you say No then mean No. It seems to me that what Jesus is doing here is putting the same emphasis on every thing you do and say. You don’t only have to do the right thing if you make a song and dance about it, if you make a vow, – because that would imply that if you don’t make a vow then what you say can’t be taken at its word. If you’re trying to follow the law then even the little things that you say in everyday conversation should be relied upon. Yes I’ll make that phone call, Yes that’s what happened, No I won’t forget.

Easy enough isn’t it – but how difficult to live up to.

Then Jesus moves on to Revenge.

First to point out that an eye for an eye sounds like brutality – that’s not how we do things these days is it. The law doesn’t inflict injury on someone who has inflicted injury on someone else. But in one way it’s actually a controlled response – it’s saying if you are hurt in a certain way then the response shouldn’t be any more than the hurt you have suffered. It stops escalation. How useful that would be in international relations sometimes. How many wars might be avoided if the temptation to overreact was avoided?

But then Jesus goes on to ask for much more, giving 4 examples

  • Don’t react to violence with violence
  • Don’t fight to retain your clothes
  • If the Romans ask you to carry something go further.
  • Whenever someone asks you for something do it

Someone following these principles would certainly be exhibiting the meekness that Jesus referred to as a desirable characteristic in the Beatitudes – ‘Blessed are the meek.’

But one of the commentaries I referred to leaves me with this thought: are these examples chosen because they are things Jesus would demonstrate at the end of his life

  • He is beaten, but doesn’t fight back
  • His clothes are removed
  • He was made to carry his cross by the Romans
  • He was asked to give up even his life, and he did.

Time to stop for a think. Can you think about these questions:

  1. Do you have enemies?
  2. If so who are they and what would it mean to love them?
  3. If not – how does this scripture apply to you?

Finally these words ‘You must be perfect—just as your Father in heaven is perfect.’

Goodness!

Do we just give up at that point?

I think the point is that we can’t be perfect, and I have no doubt that Jesus knows that. We can’t possibly comply with these extended laws that Jesus has laid out.

And the thing is we don’t need to be perfect – because Jesus is taking it all on himself – all for us, and for all of us.

That’s the story of the Gospels.

That’s the Good News.

Our second hymn today is Brother Sister Let Me Serve You

Brother, sister, let me serve you;
let me be as Christ to you;
pray that I may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

I will hold the Christlight for you
in the nighttime of your fear;
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

I wil! weep when you are weeping;
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow,
till we’ve seen this journey through.

When we sing to God in heaven,
we shall find such harmony,
born of all we’ve known together
of Christ’s love and agony.

Brother, sister, let me serve you;
let me be as Christ to you;
pray thatl may have the grace to
let you be my servant too.

Time for Prayer

Closing prayer

Almighty, all-merciful God,

through Christ Jesus you have taught us to love one another,

to love our neighbors as ourselves,

and even to love our enemies.

In times of violence and fear,

let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts,

so that we may not be overcome with evil

but overcome evil with good.

Help us to see each person in light of the love and grace

you have shown us in Christ.

Put away the nightmares of terror

and awaken us to the dawning of your new creation.

Establish among us a future where peace reigns,

justice is done with mercy, and all are reconciled.

We ask these things in the name

and for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Before we close there’s an extra piece of music for you today.

This is ‘A Clare Benediction’ by John Rutter, written for Clare College Cambridge and performed by students of that college past and present during lockdown.

I love John Rutter’s music – I hope you like this.

Finally we will close by saying the grace:

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ

and the love of God

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with us all

evermore.

Amen

If anyone has any questions or comments about the above, or would like to talk to me about it don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Mark Taylor

07954 172823

newarkcongregational@virginmedia.com

1Who had a number one hit with the song ‘Bright Eyes’ in 1979?Art Garfunkel
2Who played James Bond in the film ‘For Your Eyes Only’?Roger Moore
3For which TV series was ‘Eye Level’ the theme tune?Van Der Valk
4Who is the editor of ‘Private Eye’ magazine?Ian Hislop
5Which airline was among the original owners of the London Eye?British Airways
6Whose eyes did Kim Carnes sing about in 1981?Bette Davis
7In the poem ‘There’s a oneeyed yellow idol to the north of’’ where?Kathmandu
8The song ’Smoke gets in your eyes’ was used to advertise which fuel?Esso Blue Paraffin
9Who played James Bond in the film ‘Goldeneye’?Pierce Brosnan
10Who sang about a ‘Brown Eyed Girl’?Van Morrison

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