Sunday Worship – 12th February 2023

All our songs this morning are from Hymns & Psalms (HP)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our Circuit and with the congregation at Calverley and led by Roy Lorrain-Smith, one of our local preachers.

HP 15 Praise the Lord! Ye Heavens, adore him

Today we’re going to look at what Jesus said about the way we should behave, but first a story.

The gardening competition
Once upon a time there was a competition for the best-kept garden. There were two stages. First, the Judge made sure each garden met basic standards, and those that did went into the finals. One day the Judge had two new gardens to look at. From the entry forms they sounded very good. The Judge was looking forward to seeing them and meeting the gardeners.

The first garden belonged to a man called Strive, William Strive. (His friends called him Will.) He welcomed the Judge, and took him at once to the garden, which was a treat to look at. Everything was even better than the entry forms had suggested. There were flower beds and lawns, a vegetable garden full of the most perfect produce, and fruit trees. There was just about everything you could wish for. It was well laid out, well looked after, and it was growing well too. “There’s no problem about this garden getting through to the next round,” said the Judge, smiling with appreciation. “It’s lovely. Tell me the secret of your success?”
“Well,” said Will, “What I did first was think about what the soil was like, and where each bit of the garden was in relation to the house. And I thought about the frost and the heat, and the wind and the rain. And I planned it all out. Then I built the garden round the plan, with good seeds and a lot of hard work, mulching and weeding and so on, you know.”
The Judge did know, and he spent a long time chatting with Will about gardens and gardening. When he came to the second house he looked at the entry form and saw that it belonged to a man called Harry Havalack. When the Judge knocked at the door, he heard Harry shouting through the letter box. “Who is it? What do you want?”
“I’m the Judge from the gardening competition.”
“Oh,” said Harry. “Well, I’ve lost the key. Go round the back.”
So the Judge went round the back where Harry was waiting.
“I’ve come to look at your garden, that you’ve entered in the competition,” said the Judge. “Can you show me where it is, please.”
“Show you?” said Harry. “Well you’re in it. This is it.” And he waved his arm expansively.
Well, you never saw such a garden in your life. The grass in the lawn was about two feet high, where it hadn’t been trampled flat. There were trees in the flower beds. Paths were overgrown. Hedges hadn’t been cut for years. And the vegetable patch was a dank forest of thorns and thistles. The Judge even got bitten by a stray dog and stung by a wasp. Trying to avoiding the thorn bushes, he stumbled into a bed of nettles, and cut his hand when an old greenhouse fell on him. He staggered back to the house and found Harry.
“You’re not serious about entering this… this… in a gardening competition, are you?”
“Yes I am,” said Harry, “and I mean to win too.”
“But,” said the Judge helplessly, “what sort of a garden do you call this? The weeds…” His voice trailed away as he gazed around at the wilderness.
“Weeds?” said Harry. “No weeds here. My garden has plants. And all plants are welcome. This is a natural garden. That’s what I call it. “And Great Scott!” he went on, “I’m not going to
pull out plants that have grown here naturally.”
“But a garden is supposed to be a pleasure to be in, and this one’s horrible. I’ve been stung and pricked and cut and bitten.”
“Ah, well, yes. You do have to take a bit of care here and there. That I do admit. But then that’s nature for you, isn’t it. Nature’s like that.”
“It’s not like that in the other gardens I’ve been looking at,” said the Judge. “People keep the weeds under control.”
“Well that’s not my way,” said Harry firmly. “Weeds is natural, and this is a natural garden.”
“Don’t you plant anything?”
“Plant things? Of course not. There’s no need. Things plant themselves here. You can see that for yourself. And it saves a lot of money, I can tell you. Never could understand people spending money on seeds when nature gives you them for free.”
“But this garden’s full of rubbish,” said the Judge. “What about fruit and veg and potatoes and other things to eat? And what about all the lovely blooms you can grow?”
“Ah, well. No, I’ll grant you, I don’t get many of those things here,” said Harry scratching his head, “and I’m not sure why. I’ve never done anything to stop them growing here, but they just don’t seem to. It’s odd.”
“Well they can’t,” wailed the Judge. “If you don’t weed out the rubbish it chokes up everything. It’s obvious. It’s like letting selfish bad habits take over and wreck your life. Surely anyone knows that!”

HP 330 – All things bright and beautiful

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Deuteronomy is in the form of a long sermon by Moses to his people: his final words to them. They were shortly to enter the Promised Land, and he had been forbidden by God to go with them. He could only climb Mount Pisgah and look at it, from afar, as the penalty for not obeying God’s clear and express command to speak to a rock to obtain water. Instead,
impatient and angry, he struck it (Num 20:7-12). He had led the people out of slavery in Egypt, through the desert to Mt Sinai (= Horeb) where the people were invited to enter into a covenant with God, a special relationship: if they would follow his laws in the land chosen for them, then they would be his chosen people and he would bless both them and their land. They were “chosen” to show other nations the blessing of worshipping and obeying God. They accepted the offer, and God became the LORD (Yahweh), their covenant God.

That’s the basis of this appeal by Moses: you have a choice: life or death – obey God and find life, or perish and lose the land. Moses urges them, choose life. They were to express their love for God by obeying his commands, statutes and rules. That’s what it means to hold fast to God, and much the same is true in the New Testament: we are Jesus’ friends if we do what he tells us (Jn 15:14; cf Lk 6:46). Old Testament history shows the relationship
worked out: the people so frequently turning to idols; and God never forgetting them, but
always holding them, his people, to account.

We share together from Psalm 119:1-8

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.
Blessed are those who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart –
they do no wrong but follow his ways.
You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

Sovereign Lord, who has given us your law to show us how to live good and blessed lives in your created world – laws both good and wise, reflecting your great goodness and infinite
wisdom – we thank you.
Thank you for all of them, from the Ten Commandments onwards, to be followed in faith , guiding our ways, with you, and to you.
Thank you for having them written down for us, to read and refer to, to learn and take to heart, and to remember.
But Lord, however well we learn them and know them, we are frail in our resolve and endlessly tempted to be wayward. We need your help to keep them. Please give us a real heart for your laws, your rules, your guidelines; and give us also strength of character to obey them as we should.
When we think we know a better way, give us faith in you.
When the going gets hard and temptation is strong, or others mock us for even trying to
keep your word – give us inner conviction that they are your truth.
When the road is not only tough but long, give us endurance, stickability – and, all the while,
peace in your presence, and joy in our forward-looking expectations of your greater blessings yet to come, through Jesus. Amen.

HP 478 O word of God incarnate, O wisdom from on high

Reading: Matthew 5:21-37

Jesus is spelling out the inner meaning of God’s law, demanding that his followers (us) obey the spirit, not just the letter. I suppose it’s a bit like how we are with speed limits, which are set to make driving safer. But often it would be highly unsafe to go as fast as the limit, even though we might not be breaking the letter of the limit. The Ten Commandments should be viewed in the same way, and that is what Jesus is teaching here. He covers seven items, of which today’s passage includes four:

  • Murder: To comply with the spirit of the law it’s not just the act of murder we must avoid, but murderous thoughts, and these arise from anger. Not all forms of anger are wrong – eg, righteous indignation at evil, at which Jesus himself got angry (Jn 2:14-17; 11:33, 38). But selfish anger at not getting our own way (the adult form of a toddler tantrum) can all too easily get out of control and do much lethal damage.
  • Adultery: Again, it’s not just the act of adultery, but lustful looks which are the trigger. It’s not wrong to admire good looks, but it is very wrong to covet what is not ours to possess. This is addressed to men: the women among you can decide for yourselves whether it also applies to you! Jesus stresses the importance of this command by saying that it’s better to lose an eye or a hand (or a foot – Mt 18:7-9) than land in hell. I suggest this means don’t look at, or touch, or go to, what you know may cause temptation which may get the better of you.
  • Divorce: His point here is that God intended the marriage commitment to be lifelong, despite inevitable ups and downs. It had become too easy for men to get rid of their wives, and it was not a casual matter (cf Mt 19:3-12).
  • Oaths: Words matter. Our word should be our bond: and that goes for all words, not just those backed up by a formal oath. God’s word is truth (Jn 17:17), and ours should be too, whereas lies and deceit are one of the main tools of the devil (the other is murder – Jn 8:44; see also Jas 3:1-12).

Two things to say about this teaching:

  • It does not give us the right to point the finger, as if only others were in the wrong. If we ever think that, watch it!
  • It is not simply a call to pull our moral socks up and do better, but reasons to draw close to God for help, for ourselves and others.

Lord God, heavenly Father, some of Jesus’s teaching is so challenging, making us feel uncomfortable and threatened: anger; adultery and divorce; and the need for total honesty and integrity. Please help us face up to his words.

Human anger does not produce the righteousness of God (Jas 1:20).
We excuse so much of our own anger, and perhaps sometimes it is right to get angry, at evil, say: but never when it’s just because we’re not getting our own way; so Lord, help us to tell the difference.
If it’s wrong, help us to exercise self-control.
If it’s right, show us what you want us to do about it.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s spouse (Ex 20:17).
We open ourselves before you, Lord, and ask that you will help us to repent and turn
away from wrong, and stay away. Please purify our hearts and minds from all perverse and untoward leanings and affections: may we be true to your standards, and to your leading on right paths, away from temptation.

Because of your hardness of heart divorce was allowed,
but from the beginning it was not so (Mt 19:8).
O Lord, soften our hearts that we may love truly, but at the same time stiffen our resolve to keep our promises and honour our carefully considered commitments – both to you and each other. And help us not to point the finger.

The tongue is a fire … set on fire by hell (Jas 3:6).
Lord, with our speech more than anything else is the need for self-control: please help us to be honest and trustworthy, bound by our words, as you are.

In all these matters we ask of you two things:
That we learn to see our own struggles and failures as you knocking on our door, offering to come in and help (Rev 3:20). Please do come in to our lives and put right whatever is wrong, and send your Holy Spirit to cleanse the dark corners of our lives, getting rid of all that you don’t like.

That others who suffer hurt from these sins may be comforted and strengthened within, and learn to forgive, as you forgive us for the wrong we do, to you and to others.

In the name of Jesus, amen.

HP 764 Christ, from whom all blessings flow

Before today’s passage, Jesus had made clear that he had not come to abolish the law, or any part of it, but to fulfil it (Mt 5:17). What does this mean?
Some of the Old Testament law was about blood sacrifices of animals, which were necessary for obtaining forgiveness. But Jesus fulfilled this requirement once and for all by his death on the cross. It is now through Christ and him crucified that we can be forgiven and come to God as our heavenly Father. We do not now have to comply with all those old requirements, but we do have to rely wholly on Jesus as our Saviour (Eph 1:7).
Other laws distinguished carefully between clean and unclean animals for food, and they served the purpose of emphasising the holiness of God. But now God’s holiness is revealed through Jesus, who has made God known to us. Thus he could declare all foods clean, and no part of God’s creation is to be shunned as profane (Mk 7:19). So we don’t need to observe those laws, but we do have to be holy as Jesus was.
A third group was civil law, ie, how to run the country. But, useful though these wise laws still are as guidelines for civic society, they are subsumed in Jesus who is our Lord. Once we
come to believe in Jesus, he sends us his Holy Spirit to be with us, and within us, for ever. He
can now lead us in an infinitely more detailed way than any set of laws ever could. So, once
again, we don’t need all those old laws, but we do need to obey Jesus at Lord, taught, guided and helped by the Holy Spirit (Lk 6:46).
But the fourth set of laws still remains in full force: This the “moral law”, ie, what we’re like inside and how we relate to and deal with others – our day-to-day behaviour as followers of Jesus.

That is what Jesus is teaching about here in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt 5 – 7). Not only the four items we have just looked at, but also how we should deal with people we’re at odds with, and who perhaps harm us; and, more generally, how we behave ourselves with others, like curbing our sense of self-importance (not swanking and showing off).
The whole Sermon and much else in the Bible is about this. And here Jesus is showing how deep and far-reaching God’s moral laws were, and still are, for those who follow him, and how radically different our standards should now be from those of the world, and how differently we ought to live – so that others can see the blessing of coming to Jesus, and be drawn to him.

As we make our offering, let us also rededicate ourselves to God, and to Jesus as our Saviour and Lord, with the help of the Holy Spirit.

HP 704 O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end

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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.