Sunday Worship – 23rd October 2022

(All our songs this morning are from Singing the Faith (StF) numbers will be given where appropriate)

Welcome to our Sunday Service, today shared on paper across our Circuit and with the congregation at Baildon Methodist Church, and led by Rev Patricia Malham, one of our Supernumerary Ministers.

Click on the blue links to follow them for Bible readings and associated links

Opening prayer by Jan Berry (from her book ‘Naming God’)

Ever-changing God, who breaks into our comfortable routines,
greet us and disturb us with your invitation to new beginnings.
Ever-changing God, who challenges our presumptions,
meet us and confront us with your invitation to new beginnings.
Ever-changing God, who calls us to broaden our horizons,
surprise us and stretch our imaginations beyond our dreams.
Ever-changing God, who invites us to a journey of discovery,
transform our lives with the promise of new possibilities. 

Hymn           StF 493 Come, Lord, to our souls come down

Reading       Joel 2:23-32

Prayer of confession

In the reading from Joel we hear God’s gracious promise that those who call on the Lord shall be saved. Let us now call on the God of love and forgiveness.
God of love, we are sorry
for the times we have forgotten you,
and forgotten to be glad for all of your gifts.
We are sorry
for the ways in which we have not shared good things with others,
for the times when we meant to help somebody
but we didn’t see their need or we turned away.
We are sorry
for the times we have judge others,
and thought that we are better than others, and our faith stronger than others.
We are sorry
for the times we have said things that hurt others,
and for the times we have have not encouraged others,
or thanked others who have helped us.
We are sorry for the times we have failed to be your prophets
keeping quiet because we were afraid to speak,
and for the times we have put aside your dreams
because we have thought they were impossible.
We thank you that you have declared that each one of us is loved by you, 
and that you never break your promise to forgive us if we are truly sorry. 
Breathe your Spirit of forgiveness into us
and through our actions and our words show your love to others.
In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Hymn           StF 370 Breathe on me, Breath of God

Reading       Luke 10:9-14


Maybe you’ve heard the saying  ‘There are only two kinds of people in this world…’
… ‘owls’ and ‘larks’  – morning people and those who find the morning people absolutely                         unbearable
… the givers and the takers – the takers may eat better but the givers sleep better.
… the good and the bad – the good sleep better, but the bad seem to enjoy the waking hours much more.
On the surface, the parable in Luke this morning seems to show that that there are two kinds of people in this world: those who are like the Pharisee and those like the tax collector.

At the beginning of the reading, the scene is set. Jesus is telling this parable to a group of people ‘who trust in themselves that they are righteous and who regard others with contempt.’ The Pharisee and the tax collector both go to the temple to pray, and the Pharisee sees the tax collector, he thanks God that he is not like other people: he is not like the thieves, the liars, the adulterers, or even that tax collector who is praying in the temple over there. He goes on bragging about how he does not just fast during High Holy Days, but he fasts twice a week and he gives away way more money than what is required of him – a tenth of all his income. The tax collector – on the other hand – can’t even look up to heaven. Completely repentant, he beats his breast and cries out to God: ‘Be merciful to me, a sinner!’

What happens next we isn’t a shock to us but would have astounded the people listening then. We are so accustomed to hearing that the Pharisees are self-righteous and judgmental of others. We even sometimes refer to other Christians as ‘pharisaical’ when they are being legalistic or hypocritical. And when we think of the tax collectors, we usually just think about how Jesus welcomed them – even though they were considered to be outsiders by the faith community. And so it is not a surprise to us that Jesus finishes his parable by explaining that it is the tax collector who goes to his home justified rather than the Pharisee…

 ‘For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

The message we are supposed to take away from this parable seems to be quite obvious. There are two kinds of people in this world: those who are humble like the tax collector, and those who are prideful, hypocritical, and judgmental like the Pharisee.

There are two kinds of people in this world: the good and the bad.  Tax collector’s attitude, good. Pharisee’s, bad.  Don’t be like the Pharisee. Be like the tax collector. End of reflection. Amen. You can stop reading now…

…but is it that simple?

Because, let’s just face it: it’s pretty easy today to point out those self-righteous, prideful, and judgmental ‘Pharisees’ we see around us, especially in times like these. While we might not have come right out and thanked God that we aren’t like …, there have been times when we have at least looked around and thought to ourselves how thankful we are that we are not like those other people over there?

Those legalistic church-goers or those un-committed Christians; those particular benefit scroungers or those get-rich quick scammers; those too-evangelical Christian or those far too liberal Christians; those in the government whose policies we don’t like or those in opposition who seem to criticise but have no alternative policies.

And as we have thought these things, haven’t we also patted ourselves on our back? I am welcoming, I don’t judge others. I am involved in church or in my community. I give my money to charity or serve others. I speak out when I hear homophobic, racist, or sexist comments or I march with community members when I see injustice.

But let’s wait just a minute… aren’t we doing the very same thing that the Pharisees are doing in Jesus’ parable in the first place?

‘God, I thank you that I am not like those other people, especially that Pharisee over there…’

‘For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

No, this parable is not quite as straightforward or as easy to hear as we might have hoped, there is or may have first assumed.

You see, too often we give the Pharisees a bad press. While they were not perfect and definitely made some mistakes (even pretty big ones at times), for the most part, the Pharisees tried to do the best they could. The Pharisees were actually progressives of their day, unlike the Saducees who were real jobsworths. They maintained a liberal interpretation of Scripture and recognised that the Law could be adapted, based on the ‘changing conditions of life.’ They cared about their faith, and they took it seriously. And they also actually cared deeply about everyone in their faith community. They believed that everyone in the faith community – not just the priestly elites – should have access to the Torah and so they advocated for and established a free, universal Jewish education system that was accessible for all – even the average everyday person. Yes, there were some Pharisees whose intentions and actions were not so great or even downright wrong. But this is the case when we look at every group of people, in all of history. For the most part, though, the Pharisees meant well and were doing the best they could.

On the other hand, while the tax collectors were outsiders and were excluded from the Jewish community, we have to understand that the Jewish people had very understandable reasons for their attitude toward them. You see, many of the tax collectors were Jews who were collaborating with the despised Roman Empire. The Jewish community viewed these tax collectors as traitors, who chose to help the oppressive government rather than fight it. Additionally, the tax collectors’ salaries were very high, which was quite a low blow to the Jewish community, who knew that the tax collectors were gaining their wealth off the backs of fellow Jews. And to make matters even worse, it was common knowledge that many of the tax collectors cheated the people they collected from – including those who were most vulnerable in society. They often took more money than they needed to take and kept the extra money for themselves. And yet, Jesus welcomed tax collectors, dined with them, forgave them, and offered them new life. And here in Jesus’ parable, we hear of a repentant tax collector going home justified. But maybe he repented and then just went back to doing wha he’d done before. We don’t know.

So let’s just say, there is a little more to the story than we might have originally assumed.

And as we start to wonder where we might fit into this parable, maybe we need to rethink the way we look at this parable. Maybe the question we should be asking ourselves is not: which of the two people might we be? But rather, maybe the question we should be asking is: when do we see ourselves as the Pharisee and when do we see ourselves as the tax collector (with all the complexities that make up their stories)?

Because maybe Tom Robbins, an American author, has it right about the two kinds of people who are in this world: that there are ‘those who believe there are two kinds of people in this world and those who are smart enough to know better.’ Because maybe, just maybe, there are not just two kinds of people in this world. Maybe there are multiple kinds of people who have complex stories and multiple parts to their identities.

Or maybe there is just one type of person in this world: human. Maybe – as humans – we are not either one type of person or another. Maybe we are both/and. Both Pharisee and tax collector. Both created good and in God’s image, and yet both sinners at the same time. Maybe we are – as Martin Luther explained it – ‘simultaneously sinner and saint.’

And while this is all true we need to remember that each one of us – no matter how great a sinner and no matter how big our mistakes – is a beloved child of God, with the ability to be redeemed and transformed, by the grace of God.

I think this is something we must keep in mind at all times… and especially in times such as these. During this incredibly difficult period of post Brexit, covid, the war in Ukraine, the threat of global warming and the financial implications of these and many other world events I have seen a lot of nastiness… and it feels like more than I have ever seen before. There has been a lot of hate being thrown around. And while there are definitely places where the hate is much stronger than in other places, the hate is not just coming from one side. It’s coming from all sides. And it’s affecting and hurting a lot people. I was saddened the other day to read a Facebook post by a friend who said he has decided to stop posting anything about politics or theology because one facebook debate got so heated and so hateful that he lost a close friend of over 30 years because of it. And I have left groups because of the hatred posted when someone disagrees with another’s post – even those groups supposedly full of Christians

While as Christians, and as humans, we are absolutely called to speak out against any and all forms of hate, we are also called to do so with love. Yes, this may be tough love at times, but it is always love. And one way to love our neighbours with whom we so strongly disagree is to try to never lose site of their humanity; to remember that they, too, are both/and, pharisee/tax collector and that they too are always – no matter what – beloved children of God.We have been granted this incredible gift of grace. And so, too, have they. May we never forget this.  For, as Maya Angelou wrote in her poem called Human Family, ‘we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.’

Hymn           StF 665 Make us your prophets, Lord

Prayers for others and ourselves

God of love,
in a time of quiet reflection we pray for your world.
For places where there is war, violence, rage and hatred,
we cry out for your peace for all.
For places where there is injustice, prejudice, oppression
we cry out for your hospitality for all.
For people who are suffering and in pain,
we cry out for your comfort for all.
For all who feel hopeless and feel that there is no way out of their troubles
we cry out for your hope for all.
For people are not welcomed or belittle for who they are, or what they have done,
we cry out for your love for all.

If your would like to, take some time to name those who need God’s love

Pour out your spirit on us that we may be the voices that speak out, the hands that reach out and the hearts that reveal your grace and love for all. Amen.

The Lord’s prayer

Hymn           StF 520 Give to me, Lord a thankful heart and a discerning mind.

Closing Prayer

Lord, you see us as we are,
Breathe into our minds and hearts, the passion of your love. Amen.

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