Here’s my reflection for Sunday 14 February.
The online worship session will start at 11.00. I will be leading worship this week.
If you want to join in just email me – firstname.lastname@example.org – for details. We’d love to see you.
London Road Congregational Church Reflection 14 February 2020
An opening question. (It may seem bizarre but it is relevant to what follows):
How much of the DNA of humans is shared with a banana?
- About 0.5%
- About 5%
- About 15%
- More than 50%
You’ll need to read on to find the answer!!
Call to Worship:
God, Father of the poor,
your Son Jesus was born among us
poor, humble and dependent.
Open our eyes and our hearts and our hands
to honour him now as our Lord and King
by welcoming him in those who are hungry and thirsty,
in all who are abandoned and lonely,
in refugees, in the poor and the sick.
Let our love become free and spontaneous,
like the tenderness you have shown us in your Son.
Welcome us in the everlasting Kingdom
prepared for us through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Let us say together 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.
Hymn: Take my hands, Lord by Margaret Rizza
Take my hands, Lord, to share in your labours,
take my eyes, Lord, to see your needs,
let me hear the voice of lonely people,
let my love, Lord, bring riches to the poor
Give me someone to feed when I’m hungry,
when I’m thirsty give water for their thirst.
When I stand in need of tenderness,
give me someone to hold who longs for love.
Keep my heart ever open to others,
may my time, Lord, be spent with those in need;
may I tend to those who need your care.
Take my life, Lord, and make it truly yours
So last week Martin threw away the worship rule book and did something different.
Letting us reflect on our lives in silence. What a great opportunity he offered us. We can learn a lot when we stop talking for a while and listen to what God is whispering to us.
So let’s see where we go this week.
First we’ll have our readings. Starting with the Parable of the Sheep and Goats again.
The Final Judgment
“When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left. Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Away from me, you that are under God’s curse! Away to the eternal fire which has been prepared for the Devil and his angels! I was hungry but you would not feed me, thirsty but you would not give me a drink; I was a stranger but you would not welcome me in your homes, naked but you would not clothe me; I was sick and in prison but you would not take care of me.’ Then they will answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and we would not help you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you refused to help one of these least important ones, you refused to help me.’ These, then, will be sent off to eternal punishment, but the righteous will go to eternal life.”
And then Chapter 2 from the letter of James.
Letter of James 2
Warning against Prejudice
My friends, as believers in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, you must never treat people in different ways according to their outward appearance. Suppose a rich man wearing a gold ring and fine clothes comes to your meeting, and a poor man in ragged clothes also comes. If you show more respect to the well-dressed man and say to him, “Have this best seat here,” but say to the poor man, “Stand over there, or sit here on the floor by my feet,” then you are guilty of creating distinctions among yourselves and of making judgments based on evil motives.
Listen, my dear friends! God chose the poor people of this world to be rich in faith and to possess the kingdom which he promised to those who love him. But you dishonor the poor! Who are the ones who oppress you and drag you before the judges? The rich! They are the ones who speak evil of that good name which has been given to you.
You will be doing the right thing if you obey the law of the Kingdom, which is found in the scripture, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” But if you treat people according to their outward appearance, you are guilty of sin, and the Law condemns you as a lawbreaker. Whoever breaks one commandment is guilty of breaking them all. For the same one who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not commit murder.” Even if you do not commit adultery, you have become a lawbreaker if you commit murder. Speak and act as people who will be judged by the law that sets us free. For God will not show mercy when he judges the person who has not been merciful; but mercy triumphs over judgment.
Faith and Actions
My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you? Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them, “God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!”—if you don’t give them the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone and includes no actions, then it is dead.
But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.” My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions. I will show you my faith by my actions.” Do you believe that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe—and tremble with fear. You fool! Do you want to be shown that faith without actions is useless?How was our ancestor Abraham put right with God? It was through his actions, when he offered his son Isaac on the altar. Can’t you see? His faith and his actions worked together; his faith was made perfect through his actions. And the scripture came true that said, “Abraham believed God, and because of his faith God accepted him as righteous.” And so Abraham was called God’s friend. You see, then, that it is by our actions that we are put right with God, and not by our faith alone.
It was the same with the prostitute Rahab. She was put right with God through her actions, by welcoming the Israelite spies and helping them to escape by a different road.
So then, as the body without the spirit is dead, also faith without actions is dead.
Today we’re going to start with a quick quiz that I found.
Here are 5 pictures. All you need to do is say which are sheep and which are goats.
The answers are at the bottom– but have a go before you look at them.
(Answers – Numbers 1 and 4 are goats. Numbers 2, 3 and 5 are sheep)
Not always easy to tell the difference is it?
I’ve been thinking about this parable of the sheep and the goats.
On the face of it it’s quite easy to understand isn’t it?
It’s a story of the final judgement – you’ve either been good, like the sheep, in which case you’re in.
Or you’ve been bad – like the goats – and you’re out.
Very black and white
But you know me by now. I’m not so sure that tells the whole story.
Here are some of my reasons.
First – let’s look at the opening to the parable.
It says Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
‘Just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’
This means the shepherd is caring for both the sheep and the goats isn’t he (or she)? He may well want to sort them out but it doesn’t mean that he’s going to get rid of the goats – to discard them – to kill them. Be a strange sort of shepherd if he did that.
Secondly – the sheep and the goats are very similar. We’ve already seen that they can be quite difficult to tell apart. And if a human being has 60% of its DNA in common with a banana how much do you think a goat shares with a sheep. Well I haven’t been able to find that out actually, but if you think that a human shares 99% of its DNA with a chimpanzee and you can usually tell them apart quite easily I think we might be looking at a high proportion. Sheep and goats aren’t completely different, aren’t so far apart that they are particularly good examples of species that should be singled out for such different treatments.
Thirdly – it’s not even as if sheep are ‘better’ than goats. Granted if you’re a farmer with lots of quality grazing grass the sheep will do better than the goats. And you get some wool. But if the land is a bit lower quality scrubland then the goats will thrive much better. In Israel today there are more goat farms than sheep farms.
But finally there’s this point. And here I think I’m going to be even more daring and non-conformist than Martin was last week. We’re going to think about this.
Well actually we’re not – at least we are – but only in as much as the title of the book is concerned.
It’s more that we’re going to think about this:
Ok there are only 49 shades of grey here but it doesn’t matter.
Because the point is that you can’t just split people into two types, say to one type you’re very good and to the rest you’re not very good – and on that basis reward or condemn them forever.
Because none of us are entirely good and none of us are entirely bad. This diagram shows that there is huge variation. Yes there’s white – and yes there’s black (and by the way neither one or the other of these should be associated with good or bad – it works the same either way. Phrases like ‘whiter-than-white’ can give offence on racial grounds.) White and black are complete opposites – but between them there are not just 50 but an infinite number of shades of grey. Each human being is a different shade of moral grey. None of us are perfectly good and none of us are wholly bad (at least so far as I know). I’m certainly not a paragon of all the virtues (Deborah will speak to you later about all my faults if you have a few hours to spare). But I may have some redeeming qualities. We don’t always do the right thing – but we don’t always do the wrong thing either. As Christians I hope that we might sometimes have a better understanding of what the right thing might be – but still we don’t always do it.
Let’s look again at the virtues Jesus mentioned in the parable
I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.
We might sometimes donate to the Foodbank – but we don’t always remember.
We might sometimes give money to someone who is sleeping rough – but sometimes we pass by on the other side of the street.
We might sometimes donate to a charity that helps the sick in the developing world – but can the charities rely on us to give every month?
So I don’t think that this parable is all about the final judgement. You can read it that way if you like – that’s up to you. If you’re someone who thinks the gospel is all about achieving personal salvation, all about what will happen when we die then you certainly won’t be alone in that.
But if, like me, and like James the author of our other reading earlier, you think the meaning of the Good News is mainly about what we do here, now, on this planet, in this time, to make things better, then you might think the parable is a reminder of what we should be trying to do to live as Jesus would want us to.
And also a reminder that none of us are clearly sheep, none of us are clearly goats.
Which shade of grey are you?
Let us pray
Open my eyes
to see as you see and weep as you weep
Open my heart
to love the broken and care for those without hope
Open my hands
to hold what I have lightly and to share cheerfully
Open my mouth
to speak for the voiceless and to shout for mercy
Open my ears
to the gentle whispers of your Spirit and to obey what you say
Open up my life
to the call of your voice and the needy cries of the dying
Our closing hymn today is You Shall Go Out With Joy. Feel free to clap along.
You shall go out with joy
And be let forth with peace,
And the mountains and the hills
Will break forth before you.
There’ll be shouts of joy
And the trees of the fields
Will clap, will clap their hands.
And the trees of the fields will clap their hands,
And the trees of the fields will clap their hands,
And the trees of the fields will clap their hands,
While you go out with joy.
Let’s close by saying he grace to each other.
May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ
and the love of God
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit
be with us all