A service for worship at home – 6th September 2020 – prepared by Rev. Christine Coram

As you begin this time of worship, I invite you to offer the time to God who gives us life. Ask him to enable you to give all you are to him.

Hymn Angel Voices ever singing

Picture a tiny baby in your mind – remember that life is a fragile miracle – a gift from God who creates us and all we know. We praise you and offer you our love.
Picture the night sky – the thousands of stars – and recall all you know about the universe. God who lovingly formed the tiniest atom, the smallest form of being, the very beginnings of human life is the same God who created the universe. We praise you and offer you our love.
Picture the best moment of your life – your most joyful moment. God was full of joy with you. Picture your worst moment. God wept with you and help you to him. We praise you and offer you our love.
Confess to God the times when your actions denied his live in your life – the times when your life has not reflected his love and when love has not been the mark of the Christian community.

Thank you, our only God that you choose to forgive us because of Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. O God of life, our only creator, the architect and builder of our lives, the initiator of love, we give you thanks and praise. Teach us to love as you love and to live as people loved by you. In Jesus’ name. Amen
Matthew 18:15-17 (NIVUK)
‘If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.  But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that “every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.”  If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

Romans 13:8-10 (NIVUK)
 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.  The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’  Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfilment of the law.

In the 60s (I can’t remember back further than that!) if you turned on your television, you would not have to watch for long before you came across a Western series – High Chaparral, The Virginian and Bonanza to name but a few. You would often see the Sheriff with his shiny badge of office dispensing justice. But by the 70s, those programmes were giving way to contemporary detective drama – Randle and Hopkirk (Deceased), Kojak and Columbo, Softly Softly. And there still seems to be a fascination with bringing criminals to justice and the process of detective work, although it has shifted to the science and evidence side – CSI, Silent Witness and documentaries about forensic science for example.
The Good Guys still search to prove the Bad Guys ‘did it’ and have them ‘put away’ – but perhaps in a more sophisticated way than the Sheriff and his deputies! They are all about the Law of the land – breaking it, bending it or upholding it.
Our readings are about the law – God’s Law – but not about the strong-arm tactics of maverick ‘cops’ or the genius forensic scientists and pathologists. These passages are about how God’s people understand his law, deal with those who break it and uphold it by imitating God’s love, as seen in Jesus.
In Jesus’ society ‘law’ meant two things. The first was the rule of the occupying Romans which was foisted upon the Jews and often conflicted with their way of life, culture and beliefs.
The second was the Law of Hebrew Scripture interpreted in the Talmud. It included the very way of life that Roman law rode rough-shod over and a framework for practical living as God’s people.
The essence of Jewish Law was the Ten Commandments (quoted by Paul in our reading from Romans). And Paul says that the essence of the Commandments is LOVE.
To break God’s Law is to sin – and this is what Jesus addresses in the passage from Matthew:
What do we do if a member of the faith community breaks God’s law?
And… How do we do it?

God’s law can be summed up in the word LOVE and Jesus states elsewhere that the two most important commandments are about love of God and love of others. The way we deal with our brothers and sisters in Christ who slip into sin (as we all do at times in our lives) must also be ‘love’.

How many times have you cringed at a parent yelling at a child ‘Don’t you …..ing swear at me’ or at a slap following the words ‘Don’t hit your brother’! Or, in other words, “Do as I say and not as I do”. Jesus will have none of that.
My mother used to say “Two wrongs don’t make a right” and I think that Jesus would have whole heartedly agreed. His ‘Complaints Procedure’ is as much about what we shouldn’t do as what we should.
Step 1 – privately point out the error of our fellow Christian NOT publicly attack, accuse them or talk about it behind their backs).
Step 2 – if that has no effect, go back to them with others who can help to persuade them of their mistakes – NOT ‘send the boys round to sort them out’, haul them before the authorities before all the facts are known or create a ‘he said / she said’ argument.
Step 3 – if all else fails, take the issue to the church community– NOT to humiliate them or punish them but still loving them(and out of love for the rest of the community who may be affected by their actions) ask them to correct their mistakes.
Step 4 – tell them that they must comply, or they will no longer be welcome – NOT as revenge or in anger, but in sadness and love.
Okay, I admit there’s quite a lot of poetic licence here – but I’m trying to get at the sense of what Jesus is saying in our own context. In other words, we need to respond in a loving way, remembering the example of extreme love that Jesus modelled for us, whilst protecting the vulnerable members of our community. Jesus suffered and died according to Roman law – but he did it for us, according to God’s law of love.
Jesus was God the Son and even he needed to remain in ultra-close contact with God the Father in his earthly life. How much more do we who are just human, need to look to God for guidance. We have to balance the need to represent God in the actions of the community (and each member of it) with the humility to know that we only ever know half of a story and that none of us is perfect.
Paul says: ‘Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfilment of the law.’

It is not loving to ignore behaviour that harms others. We have a duty to stand up for the truth. But we can be loving in doing so.
The law is the law and cannot be ignored when it suits us.
God’s law is God’s law – and it is love. Love does not mean a sort of soft and over-lenient attitude. Love means actions that are strong and prepared to face the difficult issues. We cannot ignore God’s Law when it suits us.
Let’s pray for wisdom and strength to act in love and within God’s law and to uphold it in love.

Hymn – May the mind of Christ, my saviour
Prayers of intercession
God of love, in faith we lift to you those who are in need today.
We pray for children and teachers as they become accustomed to the new measures to keep safe in schools. We pray for those who are anxious or vulnerable. We lift to you children who are disadvantaged and those who had little home-schooling during lockdown. We pray for their well-being and for those responsible for their education.
We pray for people across the world who are treated less favourable because of their ethnicity. We pray for justice and an end to white supremacy including unconscious white bias. Challenge us all to root out our attitudes that negatively affect the lives of others.
We pray for all who are suffering from Covid 19 and those who care for them. We cry out to you for those whose poverty make social distancing impossible and for those who cannot afford the treatment they need.
We pray for the Church worldwide and locally particularly where issues divide and wisdom is needed to hold the community together in love. And, as the wider impact of the Coronavirus pandemic become evident, may we understand your call to serve our neighbours and stand alongside those in need, sacrificially working to meet the social needs. Give us strength and love beyond our human limitations and speak to us as we open our hearts and minds to discern your guidance.
God of love, make us more like you as we celebrate and share your love in Jesus’ name. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever.

Hymn Father, whose everlasting love

Lord, we have consciously been in your presence as we have worshipped you – but you remain with us wherever we go and whatever we do.
God our creator, may we live your love.
God our saviour, may we walk the way of the cross with you.
God our advocate, may we hold justice and peace in perfect balance.

The blessing of Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us now and always. Amen