Reflection – 31 January 2021


Here’s Thomas Dodd’s reflection for Sunday 31 January.

The online worship session will start at 11.00. Thomas will be leading worship this week .

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

Mark Taylor

Reflections 31.1.21

Good morning, may I add my own welcome to that which has already been given this morning to you all. It’s great to be back here with you on this zoom, the last time I was with you, I was single, now I am engaged to Sarah who I met at church, (St Peters in Eastgate) and we are preparing to celebrate married life on Saturday 6th March.

Let’s begin with a call to worship.

This is the place and this is the time, here and now, God waits to break into our experience. To change our minds, to change our lives and to change our ways. To make us see the world and the whole of life in a new light. To fill us with hope, joy and certainty, for the future.

This is the place as are all places; this is the time as are all times. Here and now let us praise God.

A short reading of praise

After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. 10 They cried out in a loud voice, saying,

‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’

11 And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, 12 singing,

‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom
and thanksgiving and honour
and power and might
be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.’

Lord direct our thoughts, teach us to pray, lift up our hearts to worship you in spirit and in truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Our readings for today. First from Revelation 9:4-9

Then the twenty-four elders and the four living beings fell down and worshiped God, who was sitting on the throne. They cried out, “Amen! Praise the Lord!”

And from the throne came a voice that said,

“Praise our God,
    all his servants,
all who fear him,
    from the least to the greatest.”

Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder:

“Praise the Lord!
    For the Lord our God,[b] the Almighty, reigns.
Let us be glad and rejoice,
    and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
    and his bride has prepared herself.
She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
    For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”

Secondly from Luke 14:12-24

12 Then Jesus turned to his host and said, “When you throw a banquet, don’t just invite your friends, relatives, or rich neighbors—for it is likely they will return the favor. 13–14 It is better to invite those who never get an invitation. Invite the poor to your banquet, along with the outcast, the handicapped, and the blind—those who could never repay you the favor. Then you will experience a great blessing in this life, and at the resurrection of the godly you will receive a full reward.”

15 When they heard this, one of the dinner guests said to Jesus, “Someday God will have a kingdom feast,[b] and how happy and privileged will be the ones who get to share in that joy!”

16 Jesus replied with this parable:

“There was a man who invited many to join him in a great feast. 17 When the day for the feast arrived, the host instructed his servant to notify all the invited guests and tell them, ‘Come, for everything is now ready for you!’ 18 But one by one they all made excuses. One said, ‘I can’t come. I just bought some property and I’m obligated to go and look it over.’ 19 Another said, ‘Please accept my regrets, for I just purchased five teams of oxen[c] and I need to make sure they can pull the plow.’ 20 Another one said, ‘I can’t come because I just got married.’

21 “The servant reported back to the host and told him of all their excuses. So the master became angry and said to his servant, ‘Go at once throughout the city and invite anyone you find—the poor, the blind, the disabled, the hurting, and the lonely—and invite them to my banquet.’

22 “When the servant returned to his master, he said, ‘Sir, I have done what you’ve asked, but there’s still room for more.’

23 “So the master told him, ‘All right. Go out again, and this time bring them all back with you. Persuade the beggars on the streets, the outcasts, even the homeless. Urgently insist that they come in and enjoy the feast so that my house will be full.’

24 “I say to you all, the one who receives an invitation to feast with me and makes excuses will never enjoy my banquet.”

We’re going to sing our first hymn together. Praise my Soul the king of heaven

1. Praise, my soul, the King of heaven; To His feet thy tribute bring.
Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven, Who like me His praise should sing?
Praise Him, praise Him,
praise Him, praise Him,
Praise the everlasting King.

2. Praise Him for His grace and favour To our fathers in distress.
Praise Him still the same forever, Slow to chide, and swift to bless.
Praise Him, praise Him,
praise Him, praise Him,
Glorious in His faithfulness.

3. Frail as summers flower we flourish Blows the wind and it is gone
But while mortals rise and perish God endures unchanging on
Praise Him, praise Him,
praise Him, praise Him,
Praise the high eternal One

4. Fatherlike He tends and spares us; Well our feeble frame He Knows.
In His hands He gently bears us, Rescues us from all our foes.
Praise Him, praise Him,
praise Him, praise Him,
Widely as His mercy goes.

5. Angels help us to adore Him; Ye behold Him face to face;
Sun and moon, bow down before Him, Dwellers all in time and space.
Praise Him, praise Him,
praise Him, praise Him,
Praise with us the God of grace.

We’re now going to hear our main bible reading, or should I say watch it. If you’ve got children nearby grab them as well. It’s done by saddleback kids, and there are loads of bible stories on YouTube to watch in a very accessible way.

Sermon part 1.

Jesus has already been teaching on the invitation that he has extended to them to be apart of his family, he links this to the idea of a marriage feast, and who you choose to invite or not as seems the case. God hasn’t called those who are already together in themselves, or who have status and therefore believe it is their right to be a Christian, on the contrary, Jesus came to this earth for people like me, who admit they are far from perfect, but who will accept Jesus’ love and welcome, and his grace to forgive our sins and let him change us so that he can use for his glory.

To claim God’s approval as a right on the grounds of your position in the church, or your reputation in the community, or even your good opinion of yourself, is a positive disqualification. There is no entry through the narrow door for the one who has all the status symbols, and a sense of their own importance. Paul says to the Romans in Chapter 2 v 11 – in distinction between Jew and Gentile, “For God does not show favouritism”.

In fact, there is a great reward in not just inviting your friends and family, and those who will invite you back, but there is an even greater blessing in inviting people who won’t be able to, because those who think they will be first will be last and those who are lower and think they will be last will in fact be first.

And so, whilst all reclining at the table, someone, probably a pharisee makes a statement, probably a blameless sentiment, but a thoughtless one none the less. I am usually passing silly comments a lot of the time, my fiancée always tells me so. “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast of the kingdom of God”.

That statement whilst probably said to catch Jesus out and trick him into saying something that these Pharisees could use to bring a charge against him and have him killed, actually holds a lot of truth, because if you do accept the invitation to this wedding banquet as we will discover later you will be blessed.

So, Jesus told them a parable. To unpack the statement that has just been made about how one will be blessed when they eat at the feast of the kingdom of God. The statement which prompted it is key, the man in verse 15 looks forward to dinging in the Messianic kingdom, probably thinking to himself that only Jews would be part of that kingdom. This parable that Jesus told is aimed at debunking that notion.

The Parable in itself is an allegory, it’s meaning goes much further than just a man inviting some people for a dinner, it’s a story which is interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning.

The first we can see is that the man holding the banquet is God, he has prepared everything from the foundation of the world back in Genesis, and the servant he sends to tell people about it, is Jesus. He is the one who gave up all of heavens riches and splendour and for our sake he became poor.

Jesus said to his disciples, in John 14: 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Jesus himself has been going around Galilee, showing them the kingdom and summoning them to God’s great banquet. This is the moment Israel has been waiting for. At last the time has arrived; those who were invited long ago must hurry up and now come! The people Jesus has been telling about the coming kingdom, believed in the long foretold Messiah, they believed in Jesus and yet they refused to acknowledge that Jesus was the one who had been promised, they refused to believe he was the servant sent from the Master to prepare the way for the great banquet.

Song – You were the word at the beginning

You were the Word at the beginning One with God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation Now revealed in You our Christ

What a beautiful Name it is What a beautiful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a beautiful Name it is Nothing compares to this
What a beautiful Name it is The Name of Jesus

You didn’t want Heaven without us, So Jesus, You brought heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater, What could separate us now

What a wonderful Name it is What a wonderful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King

What a wonderful Name it is Nothing compares to this
What a wonderful Name it is The Name of Jesus

Death could not hold You, the veil tore before You
You silenced the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring the praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival, You have no equal
Now and forever, God, You reign
Yours is the Kingdom, Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names

What a powerful Name it is What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
What a powerful Name it is Nothing can stand against
What a powerful Name it is The Name of Jesus

Sermon part 2

As with all parties comes an invitation and require a RSVP to respond to by a certain date.  In Jesus’ day the invitations would have come through word of mouth, or maybe a man riding a horse or donkey to deliver some parchment but this would’ve been expensive, so word of mouth was how things got out. In the first century, someone throwing a feast would send out invitations for an RSVP. When the meal was ready, the host would send a servant around to collect the guests. It would be considered a great insult to turn the down the meal after it is prepared.

This party was different, the servant had been sent to invite the guests, the highly distinguished guests which the host had wanted at the party. Those invited begin to make excuses, they are lame, they are laughably equally bad and yet all were unanimous in their rejection of the invitation to the party, and the three Jesus uses here, are representative of the rest.

Lets be honest, the first who has just bought a field and must inspect it is a pretty lame excuse, who buys a portion of land without seeing it first? The second has just bought five pairs of oxen and must try them out, who buys a herd of cows without even testing them out first. Both men indicate their status of wealth in light of their excuses, purchasing property shows a wealthy man’s luxury, five yoke of oxen are for an estate, one or two pairs of oxen would have been adequate enough for a small farm. So these excuses are pretty flimsy on the surface.

The third excuse is also pretty lame, I mean who on earth would accept an invitation to a banquet knowing it would have impeded on his wedding plans, he would’ve known it in the first place. That was the time to politely decline, but to back out at the last minute is an act of calculated rudeness.

The interpretation is that the Jews of Jesus’ day had no valid excuse for spurning Jesus’ message; in fact, they had every reason to accept him as their Messiah. We don’t want to attach too much significance to the reasons the guests give for not attending. Suffice it to say that, after telling the host they’d attend, they prioritized other tasks over meeting their obligation. This put the host in a predicament. And something had to be done to remedy this. Let’s be honest about it though, you can’t blame the host for being angry when he hears the rude affront and unanimous rejection of the invitation, he is livid.

The solution to this predicament, in the masters unsatisfaction with a partially filled banquet hall: he wants every place at each table to be filled. John MacArthur’s comment on this fact is that “God is more willing to save sinners than sinners are to be saved.”

So instead of cancelling the party, the master decides it will proceed. The invitation is opened up, this would have been social suicide had he not have already been rejected himself, he invites the lower classes, these people never get an invite to parties. These people were considered unclean by the Pharisees and under God’s curse. Jesus, taught that the kingdom was available even to those who society at the time, considered unclean. His involvement with tax collectors and sinners bought severe condemnation from the Pharisees, yet it showed the extent of God’s grace.

It’s an act that says, I’ll show, the host will not have an empty house at his feast, he will have guests. The list of those invited is identical to the list Jesus suggested to his Pharisee host in verse 13, those who could not repay him by inviting him in return.

Prayers –

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,
for ever and ever.
Amen.

Sermon part 3.

And yet there is still room at the party, infact as the master says, there is plenty of room, there is so much room that the servant is sent out into all the countryside, into the hedgerows, into the highways and by ways to compel them to come in. At first it’s an invitation to people off the road so to speak, these travellers may have never even intended to step into the town, but now they’re being encouraged to come for a luxurious banquet.

The first sweep of a town in Jesus’ day would include broad main streets or public squares, and narrow streets, lanes and alleys. The second sweep was outside the town in the rural areas, the highway and fences and hedges. Inside the town would be the poor and the beggars. But outside the town would be the vagabonds those who were shunned and unwelcomed in the towns.

Such people would have felt very uncomfortable at the feast of a rich man, socially out of place in fact. It was custom to politely refuse to come until pressed to, abit like politely refusing to take a second helping at a meal until the hosts says, oh but you must, and then passing your plate happily to receive more. The rich man hasn’t sent out soldier to sweep the area, to round up every and march them to his house, no, he hasn’t done that, but has instructed his servants not to take no for an answer. To encourage and strongly urge everyone they meet to accept this invitation. The host’s house must be full and he will not be made a fool of, he will have a full house.

The fact that the master in the parable has sent his servant far afield to persuade everyone to come indicates that the offer of salvation would be extended not just to the Jews but to the Gentiles and as Acts 1:8 says, “to the ends of the earth”.

It is true that some Jews were part of Jesus’ kingdom movement from the beginning, but the majority of the Jewish nation, those in Palestine and those in the scattered communities in the rest of the world, were not. God’s messengers had gone out into the roads and hedgerows of the world, getting all kinds of unexpected people to join in the party, not just Jews and Gentiles, but people with every kind of moral and immoral background, people quite different from them culturally, socially, ethnically and ethically.

The party to which the original guests were invited was Jesus’ kingdom-movement, his remarkable welcome to all and sundry. If people wanted to be included in Jesus’ movement, this is the sort of thing they were joining. Once, again the challenge comes to us today, Christians must work out in their own churches and families what it would mean to celebrate God’s kingdom so that the people at the bottom of the pile, at the end of the line, would find it to be good news.

God’s invitation to the banquet hasn’t been just extended to those who think they need God, or in fact those who think they have it all together, the invitation is for people like you and me, who realize we don’t have it all together, we don’t know all the answers, but we realize we’ve messed up sometimes and we accept God’s offer of his Grace towards us in Christ and as a result of that we now belong to him and are apart of his family.

It isn’t enough to say we ourselves are the people dragged in from the country lanes, to our surprise, to enjoy God’s party. That may be true; but party guests are then expected to become party hosts in their turn.

Final song

One day You’ll make everything new,

Jesus One day You will bind every wound

The former things shall all pass away No more tears

One day You’ll make sense of it all, Jesus One day every question resolved

Every anxious thought left behind No more fear

When we all get to heaven

What a day of rejoicing that will be

When we all see Jesus

We’ll sing and shout the victory

One day we will see face to face, Jesus Is there a greater vision of grace

And in a moment, we shall be changed On that day

And one day we’ll be free, free indeed, Jesus One day all this struggle will cease

And we will see Your glory revealed On that day

Yes, one day we will see face to face, Jesus Is there a greater vision of grace?

And in a moment, we shall be changed

Yes, in a moment, we shall be changed In a moment, we shall be changed

On that day

Blessing-

May the road rise up to meet you.

May the wind be always at your back.

May the sun shine warm upon your face;

the rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,

may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all, now and evermore. Amen.


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