Trinity 20 Cheryl will celebrate Holy Communion at the 10am service in church.

Collect: God, the giver of life, whose Holy Spirit wells up within your Church: by the Spirit’s gifts equip us to live the gospel of Christ and make us eager to do your will, that we may share with the whole creation the joys of eternal life; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings:  1 Thessalonians 2:1 – 8 ; Matthew 22: 34 – end

Cheryl’s sermon   

Ordering  priorities

God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. 1 John 4: 16

If I asked you to order your top five priorities, what would they be? Would you have a list in descending order from 1 – 5? Would some share joint place? Would they relate to relationships / finances / ambitions / security?

In the Gospel reading, Jesus is asked by a Pharisee, “an expert in the law”, to do some prioritising: “Which is the greatest commandment?” You and I might have had to think about that one, but Jesus’ apparently instant reply is to quote from the Scriptures – Deuteronomy 6:5 “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.” This is the top priority. The second is to “Love your neighbour as yourself”. Probably not the answer the Pharisee was expecting. Jesus says our first priority is to love God with everything that we are. This is not simply intellectual assent – ‘I think I love you’. I would be left very cold if someone said that to me. But if someone said to me ‘I love you with my very being, heart, mind and soul’, what a wonderful relationship that would be! First thought today: God invites us into a relationship of love not a relationship of rule keeping. It is a love where each party gets to know the other more as they prioritise the relationship, therefore it is a living, growing, developing relationship, not something that is static and limited unless we choose to put limits on it and be half hearted, unwilling to engage with our mind and soul and all that we are. I am reminded of the vows in the wedding service at the giving / receiving of rings: “With my body I honour you, all that I am I give to you and all that I have I share with you, within the love of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” Marriage is seen as self giving to the other. God’s love is continually self giving. Are we prepared to give ourselves to God in love?

Joint second priority according to Jesus is to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Matt 22: 39. Here we can get our ideas muddled up. Some people only hear ‘love your neighbour’. Some people are only interested in loving themselves.  But this is a joint priority. It is not one or the other but both equally. Some if us find it much easier to love others and not think about ourselves. However, this can come from a place of devaluing and not respecting ourselves, of thinking other people are more valuable, acceptable and more worthy than we are. THAT IS NOT WHAT JESUS SAYS. To be able to love others appropriately and effectively, each one must be able to love ourself appropriately and effectively. To do this we have to accept that each of is a unique and special individual, precious to God, no matter what we have been or done. Remember God loves the sinner and hates the sin. We can judge ourselves more harshly than God does and condemn where he doesn’t. This can lead us to aiming to please people – more about this later! I wonder if we have placed self care in our list of priorities? Does ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ feature as a joint priority in your list?

Every Common Worship Communion service includes the summary of the commandments that Jesus pronounced and concludes “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” I don’t know how many times I have said those words and mentally focussed on the love for God, neighbour and self without thinking about the concluding sentence – sometimes it takes a long time for the penny to drop………….. The expert in the law had asked Jesus to make a judgement about the greatest commandment. The experts in the law would continually discuss the nuances and interpretations of the original commandments and all the 600+ laws developed around them, and had tied people up in rules to prevent them breaking the laws. In so doing they had lost sight of what the law was for – it was there to protect and enhance relationships, not to become an end in itself – not to become a human endeavour in perfection in an attempt to please an unpleasable God. Jesus refocuses the attention on relationships not rules. The foundation for all of it is love and all the laws, interpretations of law and words of prophecy follow on from love. Love comes first and foremost, then other things fall into line. The ‘experts’ had it the wrong way round. Do we find our security in rules and effort or in our relationship with God?

People pleasing When we get our confidence, acceptance and validation from humans instead of God – looking to people first for our own needs instead of looking to God, we will always be adrift instead of anchored, because we try to fit what we think they want / approve of, and we lose our essential identity as the individual God has created us to be. People pleasing skews our view of the world and ourselves and allows us to be blown about according to the differing and varying views of other people. Only God truly knows us – our thoughts, motivations and experiences. When we know our identity in him and seek to live as he would have us live, we can then meet other people’s needs from the overflow of love we ourselves have received. People pleasing leads us to be inconsistent and invalidates who we are as unique, God created and chosen individuals. People pleasing undermines love because it comes from a place of inadequacy, fear and insecurity. This does not mean that we can’t do things that please people – but it is about the reason why we do things – whether consciously or unconsciously. So for example, when I am faced with making a difficult decision about church life, am I most motivated by keeping people happy or by doing what I believe God is calling me to do, in the course of which some people may be unhappy and provoke uncomfortable feelings and situations for myself? Aligning ourselves with God’s love, his will and his purpose means we can then choose to act lovingly towards others. Our actions may sometimes be pleasing and sometimes not, however, the origin must be love and the application should be loving – but just remember we are all forgiven sinners whose sharp edges can hurt one another even unintentionally!

 “We are not trying to please men but to please God, who tests our hearts.”2:4  “We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else.”2:6

Look again at Paul’s ordering of his priorities: God first. Ultimately God is the only one who has the right to be pleased by our love for him and others and our obedience to his plans and purposes in the world. This is a bigger and eternal focus rather than the temporary and shifting focus of our fellow human beings.

Masks When we think about masks now we think of the face coverings we wear in public places, whether, the disposable medical type, reusable fabric ones of different styles and colours, visors or ‘buffs’, all intended to help us keep our germs to ourselves and not pass on infection to others.

You may have seen the carnival masks of Venice or the mask symbols used to represent drama in scout / guide badges. Paul most likely had in mind the masks used by actors in dramatic presentations intended to convey the emotions or characteristics of the person portrayed. They were used to conceal the reality and direct attention elsewhere. They are about pretence and artifice and a way of hiding a person’s true motivations. Paul is saying that what the people of Thessalonica got was the ‘real thing’ – what they saw was what they got, Paul and his companions did what ‘it said on the tin’.

One of the things we have discovered about wearing our face coverings in Covid times, is that it is more difficult to hear what people say and harder to read people’s faces. We are recognising how much of our understanding of communication involves the whole face and not just the words expressed; of being able to identify expression and perhaps to lip read unconsciously. When we don’t have the whole communication package, we can be tricked, misled or we can simply misconstrue what is said.

What is Paul’s motivation? Love “We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” v8. This is going beyond the completion of a function to living relationships where both sides give of themselves- not just a job done but ongoing personal commitment – an outworking of God’s love for us.

Paul’s experience of God’s love for him a forgiven sinner, overflowed into love for those to whom God sent him. He didn’t see it as boxes to be ticked, or nameless people to be herded into God’s kingdom and the case closed. There is integrity in the words he said and wrote and the actions of loving the people God called him to meet.

Are we people of integrity? Are we people who integrate love for God, love for others and love for ourselves into the framework and pattern of our lives? Do our thoughts on the inside match our words and actions on the outside? Do we hide behind a mask presenting one thing to others whilst being something else within? Yes we need to have discernment and wisdom in how we may trust some people with all that we are, but are we able to look honestly at how we live and recognise where we live with integrity and where we are presenting a false front?

I conclude with the verse from 1 John that I started with:

God is love and those who live in love live in God and God lives in them. 1 John 4: 16

We have a God of love who invites us into a relationship of love where we are known as the precious individual we each are. From this point each of us are required to love ourself and to love whoever is our neighbour in the same way and to the same extent. Today, where we have not loved God, or we have not loved our neighbour, or we have not loved ourselves, may we come to our loving heavenly Father in trust to find forgiveness and security in him that will enable us to live for him and to reflect his love according to his priorities. Amen.

Song: Hillsong I am who you say I am https://youtu.be/k-rjczm7uCo

Prayers 

We pray together as a church family, whether at home or in our church building:

Lord God, we pray for those who have brought us to faith, who have shown us your love, who have tended to our needs, physical, emotional and spiritual. We pray for those who have put themselves in harm’s way for us and others. We pray for those whose lives have been made harder because they have sought to serve you and help their fellow human beings.

We pray for those whose selfless acts have caused them distress.

We pray for those who have at any cost shared the gospel of Christ.

We pray for those imprisoned and tortured for their faith and witness.

May they be blessed in abundance with your love and care. Amen.

(Roots 25th October 2020)

Holy God, give us the courage to tell out your truth without fear, and to work for your kingdom with joy. Thank you for the support and love of other Christians, and the richness of our varied traditions. May we focus on you with such love that all unnecessary divisions between us crumble. Amen

(Susan Sayers Living Stones A p228)

Communicating God, we pray for the work of Christian broadcasters and all Christians involved in the media. Give them wisdom and discernment in their words and actions. We pray especially today for Premier Christian Radio and UCB radio that they may reach people who need to know Jesus and that they may encourage those who know Jesus in their life and witness.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Almighty God, we bring to you the nations of the world with all their joys and sorrows, struggles and successes. We pray for the outworking of a trade agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union; we pray for the outcome of the election in the USA that it may be the best possible result for that nation and for the rest of the world; We pray for all peoples struggling as a result of the careless actions and consumerism of the first world; we pray for all economies to be based on integrity, respect and the valuing of human life.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Heavenly Father, we pray about the impact of Covid-19 on people, health services, economies and governments around the world. We pray for a sense of personal and corporate responsibility and a recognition that the actions of each member of society impact on others. We ask for your protection on life, and on the resources of the health service. We pray for all who have the virus, all recovering from the virus and pray for the family and friends of those who have died because of the virus. We pray that people may take this opportunity to stand back and consider the spiritual aspect of life and open their hearts to the good news of Jesus Christ.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Gracious God, we bring to you those who have particular needs at this time; our families and friends; ourselves and those situations that bring rejoicing and those that bring difficulties.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ. 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 and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.

Blessing: The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you, now and always. Amen.

Sign an online petition for the release of a kidnapped pastor in Malaysia to stand with our brother in Christ and his family and congregation: www.releaseinternational.org/releaseraymond