Call to worship
Come among us, Jesus
You whom the angles worship
and children welcome
Come among us Jesus,
You who hurled the stars into space
and shaped the spider’s weaving
COME JESUS, AND MEET US HERE
Come among us Jesus
You who walked the long road to Jerusalem
and lit a flame that dances forever
COME JESUS, AND MEET US HERE
Hymn: God with us: Creator, Father (Singing the Faith 8)
Opening prayers (by local preacher, John Rainbow)
We come to worship our king, the Lord God, who rules the world in love and with great power.
We come to worship our brother Jesus, who shares our joys and sorrows, and brings us freedom from darkness.
We come to worship the Holy Spirit of God, who strengthens us for service and brings heaven close to us.
We come to worship you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit – receive our offering of prayer. AMEN
And now, before God and with each other, we remember how little we deserve to be allowed to approach his throne.
We remember how we have not hoped in God, but given ourselves to despair.
We remember how we have not trusted in God’s power, but in our own strength and wisdom
We remember how we have not looked for a future with God, but allowed our past failures to be our master.
Lord Jesus – as by your death you defeated the power of sin, grant that we might truly repent of our failings, and be with us as we strive to be your disciples. AMEN
Psalm 99 (Singing the Faith 821)
1 The Lord is king;
let the peoples tremble!
He sits enthroned upon the cherubim;
let the earth quake!
2 The Lord is great in Zion;
he is exalted over all the peoples.
3 Let them praise your great and awesome name.
Holy is he!
4 Mighty King, lover of justice, you have established equity;
you have executed justice and righteousness in Jacob.
5 Extol the Lord our God; worship at his footstool.
Holy is he!
6 Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
Samuel also was among those who called on his name.
They cried to the Lord, and he answered them.
7 He spoke to them in the pillar of cloud;
they kept his decrees, and the statutes that he gave them.
8 O Lord our God, you answered them;
you were a forgiving God to them,
but an avenger of their wrongdoings.
9 Extol the Lord our God,
and worship at his holy mountain;
for the Lord our God is holy.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved
Reflection (John Rainbow)
I expect that you know of the festivals they have in various Catholic countries, where they parade a statue of some saint or other round the town, and then into the church – the whole town has a good time. You imagine Psalm 99 was written for a similar sort of event, everyone walking up to the temple mount, singing something like Psalm 99 (no statues, of course – the second commandment put the damper on that).
We have rather lost the confidence of those temple worshippers. We talk about the Lord God Almighty in prayers, but don’t seem interested in what that means for our everyday lives. In part, I guess, it’s because it’s easy to get the feeling that we live in an environment where nobody is in control. Mercifully, we don’t live in the perilous areas that many have to endure, but we often find ourselves at the receiving end of some horrid weather system – and that’s before we think about the danger from viral attack. And then there is all the misery caused by our fellow human beings. No-one is firing guns at us, but there’s plenty of less dramatic nastiness around – maybe some of it we’ve caused.
Various people think they have a handle on this. You know that the legal theory is that we live in a land owned by a little old lady in London, and whose bidding we all obey. But the psalmist is clear. Forget the Queen – or for that matter the Prime Minister – we are living in a world ruled by God. The Lord is in charge – and those who call themselves rulers need to know that!
And just in case you think this is too fanciful, look to the Gospel stories. Matthew, Mark and all tell a story that leads up to Jesus’ trial and execution. At Calvary, we see Jesus as the focus of every sort of brutality and evil – a promising mission brought to a horrific end. And yet, that’s not what Good Friday is about. The writer to the Colossians looks at the cross, and sees it like a great victory – a celebration of the sort that victorious Roman emperors enjoyed when they came back from battle.
The cross is a reminder of who is really in charge. It tells us that the cruelty of the Romans, the envy of the Pharisees and the finality of death all have to make way for the power of God. Psalm 99 tells us that in poetry – the cross gives us the reality.
I know this can sound horribly trite if you are at some personal Calvary. Perhaps some of you have hit a train-crash moment, and the last thing you need is some old bloke in his bedroom telling you that all will be well. All I can say (since I can’t be with you, and give any comfort) is that Easter starts with a tale of suffering and pain. Jesus trust – and ours – is not in a God who insulates us from a world of difficulty, but who holds us safe within it.
The most important message that we have to give to the world is one of hope. We probably won’t do it by processing down the Gloucester Road singing about Moses and Aaron. A good start might be for us to try to make the message of hope a reality in our lives.
We rest our hope for the future in all sorts of things. When I was 18, I signed up for a college course that said on the brochure “many of our graduates earn more than £2,000 a year”. Education gave me a hope. Today, of course, many people are pinning their future on the makers of anti-viral vaccines. Now, I’m not suggesting that we shouldn’t be trying to plan for the future.
But “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley” – put your trust where you will, there is unstoppable, indomitable power from only one place, and that’s the throne of God. in a passage from Romans that is sometimes read at funerals, because it gives us hope when all else has failed, Paul says that there is nothing – neither death nor life, neither the present nor the future – there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God.
So, like those ancient Jews, we will face our futures with certainty – the power of God is present not only in Zion, but with each one of us. We put our hope in the greatest ruler of all.
Hymn: Rejoice, the Lord is King! (Singing the Faith 335)
Reading: Matthew 22:15-22 (Phil Summers)
Jesus is asked an impossible question – should we pay taxes. If he answers yes, he’s siding with the brutality of the Roman occupation. If he says no, he’s encouraging unrest and revolt. His reply is not only clever, avoiding the pitfalls expected by the questioner, it draws attention back to God. If everything is from God and of God, then what we give to the Emperor, we actually give to God. I could stop there, because that’s the thrust of this reflection: all we have is from God, therefore everything we give is a response to God no matter who we give it to.
There is, of course, a highly political dimension to this and it echoes what John has talked about in his reflection from the Psalm, and that is, that we build up our notions of power and authority in leaders, but our true leader is the one who will never let us down. The one we should follow, put our trust in, put our ‘X’ in a box for, give our unwavering loyalty to, is God. Those of us who are members of political parties, who support particular leaders, who decry their opponents, we risk putting them on a pedestal and ignoring their imperfections. Because ultimately of course, they are flawed human beings. Jesus was talking into a context where to say such a thing about the Emperor was treasonous. The Emperor was ‘lord’, god-like in their perfection and any criticism was seen as insurrection.
October 17th is the United Nations’ International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. Last week we learned that billionaires have seen their wealth increase on average by 27% between April and July 2020, at the height of the global pandemic. We have also learned that Donald Trump has paid a grand total of $750 in tax the year he entered the White House and paid no federal tax in 10 of the previous 15 years. Taxation may be seen as a civil issue and there are some people who endorse Mr Trump’s business acumen in avoiding taxation. But if we all ‘rendered to Caesar’ what was due then perhaps the global issue of poverty would not be so great. Church Action for Tax Justice is an ecumenical organisation which seeks to raise awareness throughout the Churches and faith communities of the fundamental relationship between taxation, equality and public service, and the urgent need for Tax Justice at national and international levels. Taxation, I would argue, is a spiritual matter, because how we spend our money, whether personally or collectively, speaks of our values, particularly about how we value the most vulnerable.
You may be thinking, this is another sermon with Rachel banging on about justice. Well I make no apologies for that, because when I open scripture I find it saturated with our requirement to ‘do justice’. If we think that our allegiance to God is a choice, we are making a false assumption. Accepting God’s authority is not a choice but a truth. It is not a question of loyalty, but a statement of reality. Rather than aspiring to be like those we admire, Jesus shows us that we are made in God’s image. Bearing that image means we can behave like God in our desire to see justice, to act with compassion. Everything we have comes from God; our life, our breath, our resources, our relationships. In acknowledging this fact it then becomes imperative we give all we have to God.
God seeks the flourishing of us all, so God is in favour of good governance that sees the widows, orphans and foreigners fed. Good governance is a holy act because it seeks what God seeks, that we all live fulfilled lives. There can be no separation between our faith-filled lives and our political ones – this should not be a controversial statement. The God we worship is a ‘lover of justice’, the psalmist writes.
Jesus takes a coin – on it is the imprint of the head of the emperor. If we were to take a coin from British currency we would see the same – an imprint of the one who rules over us, the Queen. Jesus reminds us that we bear a similar imprint. If we look inside ourselves we see the imprint of God left on us at our creation. Jesus reminds us to take a closer look at ourselves; what are we holding back? What are we refusing to acknowledge as God’s? Can we recognise the imprint of God’s holiness on our lives?
Hymn: There is no moment of my life (Singing the Faith 482)
Questions for your own reflections:
- “Forget the Queen – or for that matter the Prime Minister – we are living in a world ruled by God”. How do you feel when you hear God is in charge?
- Do you think paying taxes is a Christian duty?
- Can you think of examples when we should not “render to Caesar”?
Prayers of intercession
God of the nations, we praise you.
You are high above all – you are sovereign over all.
You are the King of kings and the Lord of lords.
Who is like you?
Who is there besides you?
Who compares to you?
From the beginning of the day to the end of time – your name is to be praised.
What are the nations beside you?
Who are the powerful compared to you?
You are the champion of the poor, and the one who sets things right –
Turning everything back to your upside-down right-way-round kingdom’s order.
You lift poor communities out of ashes and sit them high up with princes.
You are not impressed with those who swagger and use their power to get still more.
You are not frightened by those who threaten or bribe.
God of the nations, we praise you.
Build your kingdom in the earth we pray.
Challenge world leaders with your priorities,
Remind powerful nations what is right
And lead companies, financial institutions and governments to reform unjust systems.
Deliver oppressed nations from debt, unjust trade systems, and all forms of exploitation
And convict the powerful of their greed.
Fill rich nations with your justice and mercy
And lead them to create new, righteous practices which protect the poor.
God of the nations we ask these things in your name, and for your glory. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
you loved the world into life.
Forgive us when our dreams of the future
are shaped by anything other than glimpses of a kingdom
of justice, peace and an end to poverty.
you taught us to speak out for what is right.
Make us content with nothing less than a world
that is transformed into the shape of love,
where poverty shall be no more.
Breath of God,
let there be abundant life.
Inspire us with the vision of poverty over,
and give us the faith, courage and will to make it happen.