Today’s reading is John 2:13-22.
13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”
18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”
19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”
20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.
The site of the temple was very historic. It was built on Mount Moriah where Abraham very nearly sacrificed Isaac. This is the same place where Solomon built his temple. The temple in the reading was one of Herod the Great’s major building projects. Construction started around 20 BC and, as John tells us, it took 46 years to build, although we know that it was not fully completed until 63 AD. The temple was comprised of the sanctuary, which housed the main part of the temple and the Holy of Holies, which contained the Ark of the Covenant. Within the precinct, the open-air Court of the Gentiles surrounded the sanctuary. It was here that Caiaphas, the Jewish High Priest, had allowed traders to set up their stalls to help with the running of the temple.
During Passover, 300-400 thousand pilgrims came to the temple to exchange their Roman Denarii or Greek drachma into coins acceptable to pay the Temple Tax of half a shekel. Roman coins featured the image of the emperor, thus proclaiming his divinity. Therefore, these coins were blasphemous and not allowed in the temple. Traders of livestock or doves were needed to sell the appropriate sacrifices. Make no mistake, the traders were doing what Jewish law demanded. Yet, the temple itself was meant to be a place of prayer.
Zechariah, writing to the Jews returning from exile, portrayed a vision that, "Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah will be holy to the Lord Almighty, and all who come to sacrifice will take some of the pots and cook in them. And on that day there will no longer be a merchant in the house of the Lord Almighty." (Zechariah 14:21) Similarly, Isaiah 56:7, written around 681 BC, reminds us, “For my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” And, Jeremiah 7:11, who wrote to the people of Judah during his ministry between 627-586 BC, protests and asks, “Has this house which bears my name become a den of robbers to you?”
Caiaphas deliberately allowed the traders into the temple precincts, whereas they usually traded outside the temple in the Kidron Vallery. Jesus, in John’s account, at the beginning of his ministry, goes to the temple and is incensed, not with the actual trading, but the fact it was happening inside the temple. So, he drove them out with a self-made whip.
It is interesting to compare the report of John with the Synoptic Gospels. All three of the Synoptics record this episode at the beginning of Holy Week, i.e. the end of Jesus’ ministry. All three suggest this was the tipping point, the reason Jesus had to die. He had control of the crowd, and he was starting to meddle in the temple economy. It seems a logical place to write this story, but John has it right at the beginning, straight after the first miracle of turning water into wine. In John’s Gospel, there are three Passovers annotated. The period of John’s Gospel is at least two years, whereas the Synoptics have one year.
This story presents Jesus as a radical person. Jesus is angry and showing his humanity. John reminds us that Jesus is fully human as well as fully divine. We also recall that Jesus wept at Lazarus’ death, again showing his humanity and compassion.
The question I ask, therefore, is when is it right to be angry? The history of this passage has influenced different responses. Origen, in the second century AD, said that the account was not historical but metaphysical. The temple is the soul of a person freed from earthly things to serve God. On the other hand, John Chrysostom, in AD 391, defended the historical account. People have used it to justify the use of violence by Christians, for example, Augustin of Hippo. In 1075, Gregory VII used it to justify his actions against the Simonic clergy. Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived 1090-1153, used it to defend the Second Crusade; and John Calvin used it to support his action against the polymath Michael Servetus when he was burnt at the stake for the heresy of rejecting the concept of the Trinity.
So, where do we stand on our thinking of righteous violence? It seems to me that the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) show a great deal about God as well as God’s people. The Israelites had just escaped from slavery in Egypt, where it was common to worship many gods. On Mount Sinai, God offers to Moses the Ten Commandments by which his people must live, the first being the very radical and scary commandment of having no other god but God. In Jesus’ time, the Romans and Greeks worshipped loads of gods, e.g. the ten Olympians, so to demand they only worship one rather than have the protection of several was a scary, totally revolutionary concept.
God revealed that the creation of the world happened in seven days: six to create and the seventh to rest. This idea of working for six days and resting for one was for our good. God cares about God's people. In a world dominated by violence, when human life went unvalued, God gave the commandments of not killing, stealing or committing adultery. God was a God of community.
So, would a God who has laid these groundworks be happy with righteous anger? I think yes, but it cannot go beyond the confines of killing or being violent toward one another. There are Bible passages to help us when we feel or witness anger.
Proverbs 12:16 tells us that a prudent man overlooks an insult
Romans 12:17-21 says " Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath ... Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
Psalm 4:4: In your anger do not sin… trust in the Lord.
James 1:19: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.
God wants us to love God and to love our neighbour. In doing so, we have to ensure that we do not uphold the status quo if people are being oppressed. Jesus cleared the temple, so we have to clear and declutter all the things that stop us from having a relationship with God. We have to cleanse ourselves and declutter ourselves from all the habits that lead us to do things that are wrong and lead us away from God’s presence. The temple was an awe-inspiring building. It spoke of the glory of God, but it is just a building. After its completion in AD 63, it was demolished in AD 70 when the Romans, after a 4-year siege, destroyed Jerusalem.
Our lives have to be built upon the foundation of a righteous God who loves justice and mercy. So, as well as decluttering ourselves to remove the obstacles preventing us from coming to God, perhaps we should look at the various laws we follow. There are many poor people in the world, but what are the systems that keep them poor, and how can we challenge those systems so that the kind of world that God wants for God's people can be fully realised? That is our challenge for Lent, that we not only look at ourselves, but we also look at society and think how it could be improved so that God's love, mercy and justice can be offered to all.
This sermon was first preached by Reverend Martin Wheadon on 7th March 2021 at Western Road URC via Zoom
The following was written and read by Linda at Trinity URC on 13th December 2020
At the start of Advent or even earlier in the shops now days, we begin to hear carols that are very familiar to us. In some instances, so familiar that we sometimes forget to listen to the message they contain. So to end our festival of carols and readings today, we are going to focus on the message of one such carol that has been sung for over 300 years “Joy to the World”.
As my colleague Anna says when we need an answer to anything we don’t know – google it, so google has assisted me here and I would like credit the following authors of articles I have read to help me prepare this message.
The High Calling
Joy to the World was written by Isaac Watts in the 1700. When Isaac was a young man he was frustrated with the music in church. He felt that the hymns had old fashioned language and were full melodies that failed to inspire. Isaac shared his frustration with his father, who was a church pastor. His father who challenged him to write different hymns for the church, so Isaac took up this challenge and started a lifelong practice of composing more than 600 hymns.
Isaac was inspired to write Joy to the World, by Psalm 98 particularly verse 4
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth burst into jubilant song with music”.
Incidentally Isaac didn’t write the song as a Christmas Carol but as a hymn to be sung all year around and it was not originally sung to the music we have come to know and love. So why is “Joy to the World” such a popular Christmas Carol and what is the message that Isaac Watts is conveying to us in this hymn?
The first verse of Joy to the World is based on verses 4 to 6 of psalm 98, and for those of you who are unable to see the screen the words are:
Joy to the World – Rejoice and Sing No 135
Joy to the World!
The Lord is come
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart prepare him room
And heaven and nature sing
Psalm 98 NRSV
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD
The first verse of Joy to the World announces the birth of Christ and is one of the reasons this song has been come a popular Christmas Carol.
The line “let every heart prepare him room” is believed to be a reference to Luke chapter 2 verse 7 “ And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn”
The second verse corresponds to verses 7 and 8 of psalm 98
Joy to the World – Rejoice and Sing No 135
Joy to the world! The Savior reigns
Let men their songs employ
While fields and floods
Rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Psalm 98 NRSV
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands;
let the hills sing together for joy
This second verse of “Joy to the World” reminds us that we should always sing God’s praise.
In verse one Isaac refers to Christ as Lord and King, however here in the second verse he refers to Christ as Saviour, which ties in with the Christmas theme, through the angel’s announcement in Luke chapter 2 verse 11 “to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Another reference in hymn to make this a popular Christmas Carol is the line “Let all their songs employ” which remind us of the 4 specific songs in Luke’s gospel that delight and proclaim the birth of Jesus.
The original lyrics of the 3rd verse of may not be that familiar as the words have been changed in some hymn books including the URC Rejoice and Sing. I was unable to establish why the words were changed, however the original words that Isaac wrote were
No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found
Whereas today we sing about pain and death instead of a curse.
Joy to the World – Rejoice and Sing No 135
No more let thorns infest the ground
Or sins and sorrow grow
Whereever pain and death are found
He makes his blessing grow
Psalm 98 NRSV
O sing to the LORD a new song,
for he has done marvelous things.
His right hand and his holy arm
have gotten him victory.
2 The LORD has made known his victory;
he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
The sins and curses being referred to in this verse is when Adam and Eve sinned in the garden by eating fruit from the forbidden tree and God put a curse on all creation, the verse goes on to say that when Christ comes a second time, the curse will be eliminated.
Moving on the last verse of Joy to the World, which correspondences to verses 3 and 9 in psalm 98
Joy to the World – Rejoice and Sing No 135
He rules the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness
And wonders of his love
Psalm 98 NRSV
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the victory of our God.
9 at the presence of the LORD,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity
In this final verse of “Joy to the World”, we are telling those around us that God judges the world in truth and fairness and yet he also gives us grace through Jesus Christ, who paid the penalty for sin at the cross.
So when we sing "Joy to the World" we are not only look backing to the first coming of Christ and celebrating his birth. At the same time, the words encourage us to look forward to the day when the impact of sin will be erased, and all nations will prove the glories of God's righteousness and the wonders of his love.
As we look forward to celebrations of the birth of Jesus Christ and to a new year - 2021, I would ask you today to look back at 2020 and think of the joys of this very different and in some cases a difficult year, for me a few of these are
“The largely Jewish-Christian audience for whom Matthew writes would appreciate the sharp debate between Jesus and the Canaanite woman – it was part of their religious culture. The woman is commended because the depth of her need is greater than any possibility of taking offence. She is acutely aware that as a non-Jew she may not deserve anything at all, but she isn’t going to give up. The story is told to strengthen our faith. Don’t take offence, don’t give up if you think you are being ignored, don’t give up when others try to put you off, and don’t take no for an answer. She knows Jesus’ reputation and knows that he could heal her daughter if only he would.”
During this current crisis we have all had to adapt, for me coming out of lockdown has proved harder than I thought it would be, one positive thing that has happened is that standing in queues has led to many diverse conversations and in a lot of cases my own beliefs have come into the conversation, I imagine that most of those that I have spoken to had some idea of their own faith or lack of it, but NO Body put me down, whether they understood well that’s another matter.
“What looks somewhat racist (calling the Canaanites ‘dogs’) is turned around. In a society in which women didn’t speak to men, a woman is heard. This foreign woman, who had the temerity to speak to Jesus, has been offered salvation. The gospel is for people of all nations. Women matter. She has been fed, and indeed can share in the heavenly banquet – a point recalled in many English-speaking Eucharistic traditions: ‘We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.’ She is one of us and we are one with her.”
How are we conformed by the church? How and why do we draw lines about who’s in and who’s out? People are easily scandalised about how other people worship and/or behave. Do we take offence? In many centuries, including our own, there has been a great deal of drawing of lines around who’s acceptable among Christian communities and who is not. Might we see this Gospel story as one that demonstrates that the Messiah has come not just for his own people – and certainly not just for ‘people like us’ – but for the whole world?
Interestingly I would ask you to ponder this, back in July at Blue Sky Mondays, we were visited by a Hindu lady, she had come to pray we welcomed her and listened intently to her stories, she then introduced us to three other Hindu ladies, excitingly telling them that they could come on Monday evening for some prayer time, initially it was slightly confusing but then I understood, I listened and new that God welcomes all – even if it was only so they could have some time in prayer or just wanted to talk. I did listen and I did understand.
We go out today, renewed and strengthened in faith
We go out today,
renewed and strengthened in faith,
ready to serve you, Lord,
and find you in the people we meet.
We go out to follow you, and our hearts.
Lead us, good Lord.
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd www.rootsontheweb.com Reproduced with permission.
The lectionary readings for today are as follows: Isaiah 56. 1, 6-8, Psalm 67, Romans 11. 1-2a, 29-32, and finally the reading I will be looking at today. Mathew 15. (10-20), 21-28
Mathew 15. (10-20), 21-28
“At first glance the two sections of this passage seem unconnected. But read together, the second story (from v.21) takes on a different hue. It all starts with the Pharisees criticising Jesus’ followers over their hygiene (v.2), to which Jesus replies that what makes people unclean does not come from what they put into their mouths, but from what is in their hearts. His disciples tell him that he has upset the Pharisees with this answer, and he tells them that he does not care – because they are blind guides. When Peter asks Jesus to explain the parable, its unclear what he is referring to – is it verse 11 or 14? Jesus explains his saying about food, and goes on to say that people demonstrate they are unclean by what they say and how they treat other people.”
This tells me that quite often we listen, we hear but we don’t understand, one of the many reasons for carrying out Bible Study is to attempt to dig deep and by doing so understand, when moved from the Vine Ilford in the mid-sixties I was a very young Junior Church assistant, I had I thought covered all bases – I had listened to all those that taught me about the Bible, but how wrong I was our head of Junior Church at the time showed me other ways of reflecting on our Bible stories it was a major thing for me it I think set me on the correct path, over the following years there have been many who guided me on the path of understanding.
“The story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman shares the thematic link of food and belonging. Indeed, the whole of chapter 15 can be seen as a collection of stories that have to do with the basis of inclusion in God’s people.
So, a Canaanite – and we might recall that there are two such women, Rahab and Tamar, in Jesus’ family tree (Matthew 1.3-4) – seeks healing for her daughter. Jesus is silent. But the woman must have persisted because his disciples implore Jesus to send her away because of her incessant shouting. Jesus tells her he has come only for those born in the house of Israel – perhaps one of the disciples had suggested that if Jesus did what she wanted, she’d leave them alone. But she persists, kneeling before him, imploring him to help. Jesus reiterates his previous answer, injecting it with typical Jewish anti-Gentile invective – ‘dogs’ – suggesting that what is meant for Israel should not be given to outsiders.
Generally, use of the term ‘dogs’ in the Old Testament is a derogatory one, a metaphor for people who are beyond the pale. It sounds like a final rejection of the woman’s request. Yet, it could be seen as a proverbial saying that offers an invitation to respond. And this the woman does, giving as good as she gets, concluding the proverbial statement by suggesting that the children, of course, are fed first – but the house dogs then get their share.”
Do we sometimes disapprove of someone because of the way they look or sound, do we pigeonhole people by their appearance even by their accent, and are we as fair minded as we should be, especially in the times we are living through. How do we feel about the person refusing for instance to wear a face mask, to not maintain social distancing. We have to always attempt to understand but as with the disciples sometimes it’s very hard.
“Jesus is amazed. Peter, listening to this, was told a short time ago that he was a man of little faith; now he hears Jesus saying that this woman has great faith. The contrast is obvious, and not just with Peter but also with the leaders of the house of Israel (15.1-9). Although Jesus has primarily come as Israel’s Messiah, his ultimate goal is to reach the nations with his saving grace.”
Come, with purpose,
into the presence of the living God.
Come to worship, and to be amazed,
to discover and learn new things.
Come, knowing that God welcomes us all with open arms.
As per my last blog for Sunday 26th July we are called to worship but for now in a very different way!
they will remain on the Heath & Havering Website so can be re-looked at any time going forward. I thought that the title of this week’s Blog was very relevant I don’t know how many of you have dipped into any of these Blogs if you have I truly hope that you have got something from them, even if that’s a prayer that you liked, a picture that you felt was relevant, a group of words that meant something to you. We that is Nelmes United Reformed Church have decided to complete two Zoom services in August, lots of other churches are doing the same or similar, including our own Western Road Church, we have been opening Nelmes on a Monday night (7-8pm) for individual prayer, as a warden on duty every other week I have been surprised and delighted at the conversations I have had on those evenings, from people actively wanting to have some quite time to those who just want to talk & those that ask what is going on, once explained those that I have spoken with appreciate the thinking behind the idea. They have listened and hopefully understood.
Sometimes we & I include myself in that number assume we listen and understand as a general rule of thumb, but do we listen properly if we don’t then how can we understand.
“Don’t be afraid to listen, don’t be afraid of what you might hear, as it says in Psalm 50: “ Our God is coming, but not in silence; a raging fire is in front of him, a furious storm is around him.” We must be always alert so we can listen and understand!”
This article by C. Hawkes was found in the January 1953 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
We have heard in our first talk [see previous article] how, often unwittingly, the way was prepared for the coming of Christ into this world, and I would like to continue from there.
During the days of His childhood His path, like ours, was smoothed by loving parents, but the time soon came when, to fulfil the plan and to do the work for which God has sent Him, He had to take the hard way. He left the smooth path and took the unmade road which led Him to Calvary, and although He Himself took that way, it was ordinary people like you and me, who were responsible for the conditions of His path through life. The friends, His disciples, who worshipped their Master, did everything in their power to make His road happy and comfortable. So many small incidents in the Gospels show of their concern for Him, when He was tired or when they thought the people were worrying Him. Yes, they tried to show their love in a practical form, as did those who opened their homes to him, where He gladly partook of the hospitality offered. Then there were the people who prepared Christ's way into Jerusalem by spreading in His path palm branches and even their own garments. What joy these little acts of devotion must have brought to our Saviour's heart. But, alas, those who were concerned about Him were few compared with those who, to put it into modern, idiom, "Couldn't have cared less" what sort of path He trod. Then, worst of all, there were those who hated Him and deliberately prepared that awful road to Calvary.
Since those days Christianity has spread all over the world, and yet how little His way has changed. There are still the friends, still the indifferent, and still the hostile, and I think each one of us here should search our hearts and ask ourselves the question: "What am I doing to Prepare the Way of the Lord and make His path straight?"
My first job on leaving school was in the drawing office of a big engineering works in Manchester. It was in the days when Crystal Sets were the wonder of the age, and the 2LO station was still in its infancy. There was great excitement everywhere when the news got round that the first provincial broadcasting station was to be in our grounds, and that Royalty was coming for the opening day and would also inspect our works. Perhaps some of you know Trafford Park, Manchester, but for you who do not I will tell you that it consists of miles and miles of factories, bordering the famous Ship Canal, and the road that ran right through the Park (why they called it that I can't imagine, because anything more unlike a park does not exist) was cobbled and in a very bad condition through the continuous heavy traffic, but immediately it was known Royalty was coming, gangs of road repairers appeared and that long road right to the gates of the works, and through them for a further half mile up to the doors of the New Station, was made straight for the coming of a man who was one day to be an earthly king. That was not forced labour. It was done joyfully and all the energy that they possessed was put into it, and yet we give so little thought to the coming of Christ and the way He has to tread.
I wonder into which category, on thinking about it, we have had to put ourselves.
Have you had to admit that you are one of the hostile, again crucifying Christ? One of the saddest things about Christ's death was that it was Judas, who had one time loved Him and lived in daily contact with Him, who first put Him on the direct road to the Cross. There are still many Judas's in this world, who are still willing to sell the Lord they once loved, and all He stands for - for thirty pieces of silver.
But perhaps you are just one of the very large crowd who are indifferent.
The majority of people nowadays wouldn't harm Him, but they don't even notice Him. If you ask them they call themselves Christians, yet they never give Christ a thought. There is no way prepared for Christ to enter their hearts, and because He is not there they cannot prepare the way in the hearts of others. For instance, it is impossible for those who do not know Christ to make His way plain in the hearts of their children. I was horrified to read, the other day, that in an Australian school a class was asked the question, "Does God really exist?" and ninety-six per cent answered "No." I hope this would not be the reply if put to a class in England but the Australians are a people of our race, a Christian - not a heathen land. How sadly the parents and teachers of those particular children have failed in the preparation for Christ's coming.
Perhaps in answer to the question we have asked ourselves, we, here, can all truthfully say "I do love the Lord, and I am trying to prepare His way." But how hard are we working? Trade Union hours and no more? Or are we like those workmen in Manchester, prepared to work long hours, joyfully, so that the work shall be done to time?
Do we go to church on Sunday and then go home feeling that we have done all that is required of us, and pleased that we are not among those dreadful people who never think of going to church? Or perhaps we teach in Sunday School and then say, "Ah, well, I've done my bit until next Sunday." How easy it is to slip into the self-righteous state.
At our church meeting recently we had a discussion on the methods a Christian should use to win people for Christ, and many seemed to think that living a good life before men was sufficient, but I felt that this was not enough. There are so many people who never give a thought to God whose lives compare very favourably with the lives of many Christians. There are thousands of these people who spend there lives in service for others, and so a Christian living a life of love and service is just classed with the others as a "good sort".
How then are we to Prepare the Way? By our everyday lives, certainly, but we must endeavour to teach as well as live our religion. Can I give you an illustration of what I mean? Perhaps you have read it already in your daily paper. Some months ago, in North London, quads were born, one of whom died soon after birth, but the other three thrived. It soon became apparent, however, that they were all blind, and the parents were persuaded that the kindest thing to do was to let them go to a home for blind children where they would be cared for, and they knew that if they agreed it would mean that their children would one day be able to make a living for themselves, but can you imagine having to make that decision, and the desolation in the home afterwards? How fortunate for them that their doctor was a Christian. Up till now she had shown to that family all the kindness and service that a Christian should, but she went further. She brought them a Bible and asked them to read it every night, and then pray for their babies' sight, even though the specialists had said that it was hopeless. She also taught a little prayer to the seven-year-old boy. The sequel - a few weeks ago one baby was noticed reaching out for a spoon. An examination was made it was found that the baby could see. It was restored to its parents, and the doctor came round and led the prayers of gratitude to God. She could have been a sincere Christian and yet left behind in that home nothing more than the reputation of being a kind doctor, but she not only lived her Christianity, she taught it, and in that home joy and hope were born, and the Way was prepared for the coming of Christ.
Such grand opportunities do not often present themselves, but if they did, would we avail ourselves of them? It takes courage and endurance, this road-making, but shall we each pray for these qualities so that when He comes our bit of road shall be well done and His Way straight?
This article by R. Harvey was found in the January 1953 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Who was it that first expected the Saviour of the world to come? It has been suggested that to answer that question we must turn back practically to the beginning of things to that other story which is, I suppose, just as well known as the Christmas story itself. I am, of course, referring to the story of Adam and Eve. They had committed the great sin of disobeying God. They had done their own will instead of God's will, and when they did that, they brought misery upon themselves and upon all who were to come after them. Adam and Eve had listened to the voice of Satan instead of to the voice of God, and they thought that they would be in Satan's power for ever. It was then that God made them His wonderful promise that gave them hope. They would not always be in the power of Satan. The Son of God would come into the world to set everyone free who wanted to be free.
Well, so much for just one idea of where the promise of a Messiah originated. But we do know that for some two thousand or more years before that very first Christmas, the work of preparation for the coming of the Messiah had been going on, and as we look back now we can see how the actions of the Israelites had a part in that preparation even although at the time, perhaps, it might not have been quite so obvious. Some of them were chosen by God to play an important part in the work of preparation and, having been chosen, they played their part without hesitation.
What a wrench it must have been for Abraham, the "father" of the Chosen Race, to leave his own home and country-folk at Ur of the Chaldees in Southern Babylonia, in the centre of what was at that time quite an advanced civilisation, and journey first northwards to Haran and then southwards to the land that was "to be shown to him", a country about which he must have known but very little. What faith he must have had to even attempt the journey, but no doubt his faith was strengthened by those great promises God made to him: "I will make of thee a great nation and make thy name great. In thee shall all families of the earth be blessed." And so the "father" of the family into which ultimately the Saviour was to be born made his way to the country which was to be our Lord's home during His short stay on earth. A great deal of preparation, however, was still needed before the land or the people were to be ready to receive their Messiah. About another two thousand years were to pass before all was ready, and during this time the people were to suffer set-backs which doubtless sorely tried their patience. How far off the coming exile in Babylon, yet Isaiah was there adding his part to the preparation by his words of comfort: "Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain ... Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand ... He shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young."
Even Cyrus, King of Persia, had his part in the preparation, for by his capture of Babylon in the year 538 B.C. he opened the way for the return of the Jews from exile and gave permission for the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, a task which took considerably longer that it need have done, but which was completed eventually about eighteen years later. Another seventy-five years passed before the city of Jerusalem had its walls rebuilt by the people under the guidance of Nehemiah.
The people whose names I have mentioned are but a few of those who prepared the way for the coming of the Messiah. Each one, so to speak, had his own particular task to do, a task for which he had been chosen by God. Some of those chosen may perhaps have seemed a little unsuited for their job, yet however unsuitable they may have been, God had work for them to do. To quote just one example, there is the story of the two brothers, Esau and Jacob. On the one hand, Esau, the hunter, a frank, open, impulsive, generous man with the much more attractive character of the two, and on the other hand, Jacob, who was crafty, deceptive, selfishly scheming and ever ready to gain a personal advantage. Yet it was Jacob, whose name was changed by God to "Israel", who was chosen by God to be one of the corner stones of the Hebrew family, to lead that family one step nearer to the time when all would be ready for the coming of the Messiah.
So the work of preparation went on. Some of it was done by those who led the nation with whom Christ eventually was to come and live; some of it was done by those who organised the building or rebuilding of the places which were to become so familiar to Him during his journeying and teaching, and some of it was done by people like John the Baptist, who made the final preparation, by speaking words of encouragement when needed, or by preaching and exhortation: "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make His paths straight."
This article was found in the November 1952 issue of Progress, the monthly magazine of the Romford Congregational Church
Notes from an address by the Rev. Ronald M. Ward, B.D.
The book of the Acts of the Apostles, as its name implies, is chiefly concerned with the work of the early Christian leaders - men called and chosen by God and endowed with special insight into the meaning of the Gospel. Without them there could have been no Christian Church. They are as essential to it as the prophets were to Israel.
But Christianity did not spread rapidly across the world only through the preaching of the Apostles. There must have been thousands of laymen too, their names now lost, who carried the message everywhere. The success of the Gospel in its encounter with pagan society was as much due to this hidden and unrecorded work as to anything.
The message which the anonymous lay Christians took with them was probably a very simple one, lacking in theological subtlety. Perhaps it could be summed up in the three words, "Jesus is Lord". And yet it was this message which had the power to turn the world upside down.
For the Jew, oppressed with a legalism he could not fulfil, hedged about with regulations and dominated by an ecclesiastical authority, the message brought a sense of joyous freedom. In the name of One who had declared Himself Lord even of the Sabbath the converted Jew dropped a religion which had become a burden for him to carry and in exchange found a faith which carried him.
Men who lived in terror of evil spirits found in the message One who was stronger than they. Millions who had been taught that the stars in their courses determined life, and who therefore felt themselves to be helpless victims of fate, learned that Jesus is Lord of the heavens no less than of the earth. The cold state of religion of the Roman Empire, which could satisfy no human heart, was undermined, because Jesus had claimed lordship over every earthly power, and taught that a man's conscience did not belong to Caesar. And the sad dignity of the Stoic was transformed into the courage of the martyr, willing to give his life not as a lonely illustration of virtue in the face of adversity, but as a triumphant vindication of the truth that Jesus is indeed the Lord.
Our situation to-day is very different from that in which the early Church found itself. Behind us are centuries of Christianity, and this constitutes both an advantage and a disadvantage. Many feel that Christianity has been weighed in the balance and found wanting, and this makes our task doubly hard. But there are points of similarity between our world and that ancient world into which Christianity came. Like the men of those times we are conscious of an increasing pessimism. Like them we are conscious, too, of a prevailing moral and spiritual decay. And like them we feel as though something massive and inhuman were weighing upon us - in their case the Roman Empire, in ours the growing power of modern industrial states which it seems no man can direct or control.
Our world knows no Imperial cult, but it knows nationalist self idolatry. It does not know physical slavery, at least in the West, but it knows desperate poverty and economic slavery. The Roman arena has gone, but much of modern life is equally vicious and unhappy.
The need today is for the same message - "Jesus is Lord". And the method for releasing the transforming power which that message contains must be the same too. It is not enough to leave the propagation of the faith to parsons and professional religious teachers. For one thing there are not enough of them. For another their work only touches a tiny fringe of life. What is needed is for every Christian to shoulder part of the responsibility for evangelism which is laid upon the whole Church. Not all are called to preach sermons. But all may do something to influence others with the truth that Jesus is Lord.
This should be felt with special force by Congregationalists at the present time. For we have now been called to enter the next phase of the Forward Movement, and this means that every Congregational Church is invited to undertake an evangelistic Mission during the coming year.
Such a task should not be entered upon lightly. It involves much more than a series of meetings conducted by special speakers. What is required is that the Church as a Church should earnestly seek to win others for the Christian faith, and every member should ask himself how best he can take a share in this.
If you are in sympathy with these aims, will you make a point of attending Church meetings during the next few months, especially if you are one who seldom comes? We need some sign that the Church has been touched in its heart by the need for evangelism. A sudden and substantial increase in attendance at Church meetings would be one way of giving a silent witness that this is so, and would be an encouragement to us all.
Nothing can be done now, however, without personal preparation and dedication, and each member is soon to be asked to subscribe to the following covenant, which will be published with our new Constitution. Let us use it as a starting point for a missionary enterprise.
"The members of Romford Congregational Church desire to live in absolute dependence upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and own in Him their only Lord, Saviour, and Mediator. Praying for strength to stand by the covenant into which Almighty God has graciously entered with the whole Church of Christ, they solemnly bind themselves to strive to love and serve Him with all their hearts, and to walk in unbroken Christian fellowship with one another."
“Today’s reading presents several different ways to think about the kingdom of heaven. The images would have been familiar to the original audience, many of them being drawn from everyday life. Together they build understanding of God’s kingdom. What would be equivalent images for today? How might we use images from our contemporary everyday life to explain what God’s kingdom is like to our friends and neighbours?
There is a dual message about the kingdom of heaven. First, it is something that seems very small to begin with but will grow. Like the yeast and the tiny mustard seed, the kingdom of heaven will grow and permeate far and wide. The other images speak to us about the worth or value of the kingdom. For both the treasure in the field and the pearl of great value, someone gives everything to acquire them; the kingdom is worth more than anything else. Which of these images resonates with your understanding of the kingdom of heaven? Which do you find the most challenging?
Describing the kingdom as treasure buried in a field suggests that the kingdom needs seeking out. What does this image of hiddenness mean in practice? Even after you have bought the field, how will you find the treasure? Can you see signs of the kingdom where you are? What are they? How do we uncover the kingdom of heaven?
Two of the images refer to giving everything up for the kingdom. What might this look like in your life today? How do we give sacrificially for the kingdom? Should we? Do we? How do we respond to this ancient image about the kingdom of heaven in modern-day Britain? Can you think of a modern parallel?”
Have a good long look at the Bible Reading from Matthew, and see if you can find something that you can connect to, we had the image of the diamond in the stone, the mustard seed, and the loaf of bread. Surely we in the year 2020 can find some comparable objects or items, how we come to understand and adapt to his words, at the beginning we touched on Forest Church, the Church doesn’t have to be in a forest – but how nice would that be, it can be anywhere we like, our Church first met in a house not far from where our Church stands, as we to some extent come out of lockdown we will all be tested, with new ways of doing things – for some of us things will not go back to how they were – but we have to continue to be inclusive to remember all as we move forward, so that no seed is dropped on stony ground. We are not asked to sacrifice our life for our God but many across the world are. We must continue to pray for all people who are oppressed and remind ourselves of how lucky we are.
Lord, it’s not up to us to sort the bad from the good,
the wheat from the weeds.
Rather, send us out to love everyone equally,
and to do everything we can to promote your kingdom.
© ROOTS for Churches Ltd (www.rootsontheweb.com) 2002-2020.
Reproduced with permission
The readings for today are listed below, I will be concentrating on the reading from Mathew.
1 Kings 3.5-12
Matthew 13.31-33, 44-52
“Here we have six parables concerning the kingdom of heaven. The proverbial smallness of the mustard seed (about 1mm), sometimes contrasted to a sizeable mustard bush (typically 2–3m tall), and is referred to in other ancient writings (cf. Matthew 17.20). This comparison stresses that although the kingdom may currently appear insignificantly small, it will grow dramatically. Trees are used as pictures of kings and their kingdoms elsewhere (cf. Ezekiel 31; Daniel 4), and it is thought that birds sometimes signified non-Jews. Jesus’ use of the mustard seed as an image of the kingdom – rather than a more ‘majestic’ species – also draws attention to the unlikely beginnings of the kingdom: in Jesus’ ministry of service rather than the work of a warrior king.”
Have we found any nuggets during lockdown, I have found it very interesting to see how local communities have worked together, how my end of the road I live in are there for each other, the kindness of strangers, as some of you may know I am a member of the Huguenot Society, we were called “ strangers” when we first came to England, it was not plain sailing at all, we were despised by some, our ways seemed alien to a lot, we worshiped in French, we had our own Churches we worked all hours and were seen as a threat to workers in our field ( in our case Silk Weaving) but if you think of us as a mustard seed then I think you can say we have grown into a large bush, no more silk weaving, no more only speaking in French but our Society is involved in a lot of charitable work.
“Yeast in dough (leaven) had to be cleaned out of Jewish houses before
Passover (Exodus 12). It is sometimes used to picture the spread of negative things from a small start (e.g. 1 Corinthians 5.6-8). However, here it is used to demonstrate again the way the kingdom starts small but has a mighty and wide-ranging effect.”
I first went to Church at the Vine in Ilford, it was a very large Gothic Church building with a very large congregation, during my time in Ilford the Church moved to a slightly smaller premises but the congregation remained large, I then moved to Hornchurch with a large congregation and Sunday School, we are now a much smaller church with a much smaller congregation but our task is more important today than it ever was, our message is the same – we can still have that wide-ranging affect.
The next two parables (vv.44-46) both convey something of the huge value of the kingdom in comparison with anything else life might offer. They also both echo, from the mustard seed and yeast, the idea of the kingdom not being easily noticed at first glance. Pearls were more valuable than gold at that time.
The parable of the dragnet that indiscriminately catches fish, both good and bad, comes with an explanation. It is similar to the parable of the wheat and weeds (last week: Matthew 13.24-30) in speaking of the separation of good from evil that will happen at the end of the age, and of the persistence of evil agency until then. It is not clear if the net signifies the whole world (in which case the separation is between those who accepted the message of Christ and those who did not), or if it refers to the kingdom (in which case it might suggest a judgement of those who consider themselves members of the kingdom).
Finally, Jesus tells a parable about teachers within the kingdom. Scribes were those who interpreted God’s instructions in the Scriptures in order that the people would know how to live God’s way. This parable may indicate that, in the kingdom, those who have been trained in kingdom ways (as the disciples have) will draw on their Jewish heritage of knowing God’s ways but also on the new things that Jesus is showing them”
Are we living in the way Jesus has asked us to live, we can take all the parables and dissect them minutely we can discuss debate and cross reference but at the end of the day we have to look at ourselves to establish what we can do in Christs name, I mentioned last time about carrying out random acts of kindness, that surely is a trait we can all follow; if we are the seeds it’s up to us to grow our Church – if we are the yeast it’s up to us to bake the loaf, we have gems hidden from site, some will rise to the surface, some have to be teased out some will remain hidden.