August 4, 2021

Sunday Worship Service 8th August 2021

Passage: Jonah Chapter 3 Matthew Chapter 9 verses 9-13

A prayer of thanksgiving
We thank and praise you, Lord God,
that despite our assumptions and judgements
and the way we sometimes treat others,
you never stop loving us.
Bread of life, you are always with us.
We praise you that as we draw near to you,
you quench our thirst and satisfy our hunger,
so that we never need hunger or thirst again.
Thank you that you equip us and resource us
with everything we need for this journey of life.
We thank and praise you, Lord God.
Amen.
Read Jonah Chapter 3
Matthew Chapter 9 verses 9-13
Sermon by Rev Peter Lyth
The story of Jonah is one of the most familiar in the Old Testament – at least one part of it is – the story of the “big fish”! Yet actually, the story is much more than that. It shows us what I would like to describe as “The God of Second Chances” because there are several along the way. Indeed, I would argue we all need second chances because we don’t always get things right. Whether it’s someone who has committed a crime and has been convicted and has served their sentence, to a couple whose marriage has failed and each have the chance of another relationship each may have a second chance. Maybe it’s a business failure or maybe even it’s the relationship with God that’s the problem, we want a second chance don’t we? After all, that’s what forgiveness and reconciliation is all about – the opportunity to start again.
In a nutshell, the story so far is that Jonah was called by God to preach to the people of Nineveh that their ways were unacceptable. His response is to run away – in the opposite direction as fast as possible and even to put as much distance between himself and God as possible by putting to sea to sail from the port of Joppa to Tarshish – a place thought to be in modern day Spain. But there’s a flaw in Jonah’s thinking – that he can outrun God. A storm is whipped up and the other people on the boat reluctantly throw him overboard. Usefully, he is swallowed by the famous big fish. Whilst in there for 3 days and 3 nights, he has time to re-think things and after saying a lament that sounds a lot like a psalm, he is regurgitated on dry land with a chance to give things another go. This is where the story is picked up by our earlier Bible reading.
But why did Jonah run? It’s worth remembering the reputation that the city had in those times – the people for whom this was originally written. The prophet Nahum, writing about the city’s demise put it this way, “Woe to the city of blood, full of lies, full of plunder, never without victims!” and later, “Nothing can heal you; your wound is fatal. All who hear the news about you clap their hands at your fall, for who has not felt your endless cruelty?” For a long time, Nineveh had been the capital of the Assyrian Empire until it was overrun by the Medes and Babylonians. They had defeated then captured and deported many of the Northern Kingdom and had almost captured Jerusalem. It was also a huge city for its time (though probably not as big as was described here). No wonder that they were regarded as the ultimate baddies and struck fear into the heart of Jonah!
But this time, when confronted with the command, Jonah sets off in the direction of Nineveh. Even though he has disobeyed God, even though he underestimated God, he is given a second chance.
So what of the people of Nineveh? These are bloodthirsty and warlike people who are concerned with building their empire. You would think that they would be beyond the pale. Not a bit of it! Jonah is told to preach to them that they will be overturned in 40 days. And what happens next is extraordinary – they take notice of Jonah’s teaching! Instead of booting him out of the city or perhaps putting his head on a stick, the King covers himself in sackcloth and tells his subjects to do likewise. He tells them to change their ways in the hope that God will give them a second chance. And God does just that – he spares them. Because God is the God of the second chance. Even though they have the reputation that they have, it is not too far gone to have another go.
Turning for a second to the New Testament, to the Gospels, we heard of another example of a second chance – this time that of Matthew the tax collector. Now I quite often get stick when I mention Tax collectors in this context. After all, Joanne, my wife, works for HMRC! But the tax collectors of those days were very different from now for a number of reasons. Firstly because they collected taxes on behalf of the Romans. They were the occupying force, but also they were Gentiles which made them even worse! And then the coins had pictures of the Emperor on them – the Emperor was regarded by the Romans as a god and so this was a graven image prohibited by Jewish laws. But as if that were not enough, the Romans ran the tax collecting like a franchising system and the tax collectors would also take their cut. They would employ people and so the amount that they would add on could be considerable. No wonder they were hated if they were fleecing their fellows! Yet here Jesus is, calling Matthew to follow him! Here is Matthew being given a second chance to be one of God’s people and turn his back on his corrupt past. Jesus saw his potential to be one of the twelve that would go on to be the foundation of the church.
So here we have three instances of the God of the second chance. Jonah, the reluctant prophet who runs away, but is given another chance to redeem himself. Nineveh the city that turns its back on its old ways and turns to God and finally Matthew the tax collector who is given a fresh chance to leave his old life behind and served God.
Which leaves us with a couple of thoughts. The first is this – maybe there are those among us who feel we need a second chance. Maybe their lives have not panned out the way that they had hoped and maybe God can help them to start over again. Maybe they can have a new relationship with God.
And secondly, if God can give people a second chance, then maybe there are instances in our own lives when we can give people another go. That’s what reconciliation is all about.
This week, as we pray for other people, let us ask God to help us see them from his perspective, rather than making assumptions.
All-seeing and ever-loving God,
help us to see others as your children, cherished by you.
Lord, we lift to you our world leaders. It is so easy to be critical of them, to believe what we read in the papers or on social media rather than seeing them as people just like us with needs like ours. In an increasingly unstable world we ask you to give them wisdom and integrity. Help them to put the needs of their country before their own desires. We pause for a moment of silence now, as we try to imagine what it must be like to walk in their shoes.
All-seeing and ever-loving God,
help us to see others as your children, cherished by you.
We pray for countries at war or suffering long periods of unrest, particularly Afghanistan and the Middle East. It’s so easy for people to take sides and fight rather than try and see the world from the perspective of others. We pray that a new desire to love and treasure others may sweep this planet, bringing in a new reign of peace.
All-seeing and ever-loving God,
help us to see others as your children, cherished by you.
In our country, Lord, we thank you for the example given to us by the Queen and continue to uphold her in prayer. We ask that you will give her comfort as she mourns the death of Prince Philip and as her grandchildren are the focus of so much public scrutiny. We pray for our government, as the problems of Covid-19 continue to beset us all. Help us not to be critical of the rules and regulations and the people who make them but, instead, to do our best to keep others safe.
Lord, we pray for our communities and all who live and serve in them. We thank you for those who sweep our streets, empty our bins and clean our shops, workplaces and hospitals. We pray for your strength and reassurance for our over-stretched NHS and for tired teachers trying to have a summer break. We pray for the unemployed and those on zero hours contracts struggling to make ends meet. And, Lord, we pray for the ‘onlys’, the people overlooked by society or considered insignificant. We ask that we, as a church, may find ways to help the disadvantaged in our communities in the short-term whilst praying that our government may have the courage to find long-term solutions.
All-seeing and ever-loving God,
help us to see others as your children, cherished by you.
We come before you, Lord, in sorrow that so many people in our world are abused or neglected because of their race, colour or gender. We ask your forgiveness for any part we have played in preventing your world from being a place of harmony and stability. We lift up the millions of refugees fleeing unsafe homes. We pray for the migrants trying to cross the channel and we pray too for those who exploit them. We ask you to give strength and courage to all those fighting for justice in our world. We ask you to give us all the eyes to see everyone as made in your image with equal worth.
All-seeing and ever-loving God,
help us to see others as your children, cherished by you.
Finally, Lord, we commit to you those who live around us. We picture them in our minds now as we bring them to you for blessing: our friends, our neighbours, the people who walk their dogs past our house, those we say ‘hi’ to in the street or at the station or on the bus but don’t know their names. We pray for those who live behind closed doors that we never see, those we used to spend time with who, for whatever reason, we don’t see anymore. And we pray for those whom we avoid... Lord, you know them all by name and we thank you for each of them and for the way they touch our lives. Give us the grace to be good neighbours, willing to go the extra mile for all these people who are, underneath it all, just the same as us.
All-seeing and ever-loving God,
help us to see others as your children, cherished by you.
Help us to serve one another
because we are all made in your image.
Help us to bring your love to everyone we meet this week.
Amen.
Prayers are © ROOTS for Churches Ltd 2002-2021. Reproduced with permission. www.rootsontheweb.com

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