Sunday Worship Service 3rd October 2021
A prayer of adoration
God the Father, we adore you.
Male and female,
each one made in your image,
yet every single one unique.
God the Son, we adore you.
You are with us every step of the way,
you are our going out and our coming in.
God the Spirit, we adore you.
You are in us and around us,
we are never alone with you in our lives.
A prayer of confession and an Assurance of forgiveness
Lord God, sometimes we find it so hard to come to you,
to confess our sins to you.
Sometimes our relationships – with you and with each other – aren’t right.
It can be all too easy to let other people, or things, keep us away from you.
And sometimes we try and keep others away. Please forgive us,
Lord, and teach us what truly matters to you.
Assurance of forgiveness
God takes us in his arms and blesses us.
God loves us and protects us.
When we come to God in a true spirit of repentance,
from the littlest ‘sorry’ of the youngest child,
to the biggest ‘Father forgive’ of those old enough
to know better,
God hears us and welcomes us with open and loving arms.
We are blessed.
Read Luke 19 verses 1-10
Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth
There are certain characters in the Bible that cause me matrimonial disharmony. Or rather, it’s not the characters themselves, but how they are portrayed. Let me explain…. My wife, as many of you know works for HMRC – Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. The Tax people. Now tax Collectors don’t get a good reception in the New Testament. They are portrayed as sinners and all round bad people. Hence, when they are mentioned at a time like this, I am likely to get a hard time. However, whereas today, HMRC are the model of probity, tax collectors of 2,000 years go were different altogether.
There were a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the taxes were being collected on behalf of the Romans, the hated occupiers. So, they were seen as collaborators. Secondly, they operated on a sort of franchise system. They would bid to collect taxes and were allowed to skim off some for themselves. In essence, they were overcharging and pocketing the difference. They would employ “heavies” to extract the tax and so the overheads would increase further. And finally, there was the whole question of the Roman coinage. Each coin had the image of the Roman Emperor on it, rather like the Queen today. However, the difference was that the Roman Emperor was regarded as a deity in his own right. So Jewish Law was being broken as these coins, containing the graven image of a god, changed hands. So, given that the process meant that they were ritually unclean on a number of counts, it’s no wonder that the tax collectors were so reviled.
In the case of our Gospel reading this morning, the tax collector is Zacchaeus. He is only mentioned in Luke’s Gospel but it is a powerful story. Previous to this, Jesus had encountered the rich young ruler. To recap, he had asked Jesus what he had to do to gain eternal life. Jesus had asked whether he abided by the Law (he did) and then challenged him to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. The young man walked away saddened because he couldn’t do that. Jesus followed it up with his saying that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God. In other words, only if a miracle were to occur could such a thing happen. But such a miracle happens here. Zacchaeus, like the rich young ruler, is also a seeker. He also is conscious that his life is incomplete and that Jesus may indeed have the answer. So he seeks him out. How he does so is more comical as he abandons the dignity that he might have sought in favour of climbing up a Sycamore tree in order to get a better view. In a way, it’s a bit like children trying to see the queen, it’s best on the parent’s shoulders. But the tiny tax collector takes the initiative. He will not be put off.
Whether by repute or other means, Jesus knows him by name and demands to dine at his house – dining signifies fellowship. The tax collector is only too happy to oblige and indeed rejoices at the prospect. And there is a contrast in the response to Jesus between Zacchaeus and the young ruler (respectable though he was). In this case, Zacchaeus is happy to be distanced from his riches. He responds, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” This is despite the “great and the good” muttering that Jesus was to be the guest of a sinner. Here Jesus illustrates a greater truth. The miracle can occur and that the wealthy can gain freedom from the possessions that possess them in the same way that the blind come to see, the lame can walk and the demon-possessed can be restored. Many people have their prisons, Jesus can bring freedom from them all.
The second thing is that Jesus brings salvation, not some time in the distant future, but in the here and now. Jesus keeps using the word “today”. Why? Because Jesus is telling his audience that the hope that he brings is not for some end-time in the future but is in the here and now. As Zacchaeus welcomes Jesus, showing him hospitality, he is cooperating with the will of God. (Jesus must dine with him). The mood of it all is joy. But the main thing is that Zacchaeus is restored. The crowd had him condemned. They labelled him as a sinner – not surprising given that he fleeced them as he collaborated with the Romans and collected their unclean coins remember. He was therefore excluded from polite society and shunned by most of his compatriots. But then Jesus restores him. He describes Zacchaeus as “a son of Abraham”, making him a part of the community once more.
Zacchaeus for his part makes restitution and gives to the poor. He is no longer a prisoner of his riches. But it is important to realise that he does this as a response to God’s grace. It is not part of some kind of pre-condition or bargain. The restoration is offered freely.
The story contains two kinds of seeking. The seeking of a man who felt lost to God and God’s people, throwing away his dignity as he desperately tries to see Jesus and make contact. Yet Jesus is also motivated to seek out the lost – that after all is his mission. And this is another story of Jesus’ mission to seek out the lost following on from his parables.
And this leaves us with the conclusion that no-one is beyond the reach of Jesus. And if we seek him out we will be welcomed. God’s grace is open to all – all we have to do is to accept it- and it is immediate. A message for us and for others too as we seek to spread the gospel.
Prayers of intercession
Loving God we bring into your tender care all families in which there is discord. We pray for those who live with tension and distrust, with faithlessness and abuse. Bring healing to broken relationships and reconciliation to those who feel hurt. Help us all to accept the variety of family models which make up our world and not to judge one another.
Loving God we pray for those who grieve a loved one especially those who have been killed. We remember the family of Sabina Nessa and all those whose loved ones have been victims of street violence. We pray that all people will respect one another and that everyone may be able to walk the streets in safety.
Loving God we thank you for the family of nations. Today we pray for the people of Germany for those negotiating to form a new government. May they rule in justice and compassion. We pray for the leaders of Afghanistan that they will respect the human rights of their citizens and foster tolerance and peace.
Loving God we pray for the victims of the earthquake in Crete, for the family of the man who died, for those who were injured and for all whose lives and well-being have been affected. May your love give peace to those who are suffering and give vision and determination to those who seek to rebuild homes and communities.
Loving God we bring to you the crisis concerning gas prices and its impact on our communities. We pray for those who are concerned that increased gas prices will reduce them to food poverty. Guide the companies and the government that a fair and equitable conclusion may be reached. Comfort and strengthen those who are worried about their future.
Loving God we pray for all who are sick. We continue to pray for those who are suffering as a result of Covid-19 for their families and for all health professionals. We pray that the vaccination programme may be successful in minimising the number of people who catch the virus.
Loving God, unite us as your family: may the stronger offer support, the wealthier share what they have, the church offer hope and all your children live together in peace.
God of all, in your name we pray.
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