Morning Service for Trinity 18

HYMN - Come down, O love divine - NEH 137

1 Come down, O Love divine,
Seek thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with thine own ardour glowing;
O Comforter, draw near,
Within my heart appear,
And kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

2 O let it freely burn,
Till earthly passions turn
To dust and ashes in its heat consuming;
And let thy glorious light
Shine ever on my sight,
And clothe me round, the while my path illuming.

3 Let holy charity
Mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart,
Which takes the humbler part,
And o'er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

4 And so the yearning strong,
With which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace,
Till it become the place
Wherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.


PRAYER OF PREPARATION
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open,
all desires known,
and from whom no secrets are hidden:
cleanse the thoughts of our hearts
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
that we may perfectly love you,
and worthily magnify your holy name;
through Christ our Lord. Amen

PRAYERS OF PENITENCE
God the Father forgives us in Christ and heals us by the Holy Spirit.

Let us therefore put away all anger and bitterness, all slander and malice,

and confess our sins to God our redeemer.   cf. Ephesians 4.30,32

Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you
and against our neighbour,
through our own fault,
in thought, and word, and deed,
and in what we have left undone.
We are truly sorry
and repent of all our sins.
For your Son our Lord Jesus Christ’s sake,
forgive us all that is past;
and grant that we may serve you in newness of life
to the glory of your name. Amen.

May the God of love and power
forgive you and free you from your sins,
heal and strengthen you by his Spirit
and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord. Amen

THE COLLECT

O God, forasmuch as without you
we are not able to please you;
mercifully grant that your Holy Spirit
may in all things direct and rule our hearts;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen


FIRST READING - Exodus 33.12-23

Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favour in my sight.’ Now if I have found favour in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

HYMN - Rock of ages cleft for me - NEH 445

1 ROCK of ages, cleft for me,

Let me hide myself in thee;

Let the water and the blood,

From thy riven side which flowed,

Be of sin the double cure,

Cleanse me from its guilt and power.

2 Not the labours of my hands

Can fulfil thy law's demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears for ever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.

3 Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress;
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

4 While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes are closed in death,
When I soar through tracts unknown,
See thee on thy judgement throne;
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.

GOSPEL - Matthew 22.15-22

Then the Pharisees went and plotted to entrap him in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

SERMON

Oil and water don’t mix - together they make a greasy mess.  Light and darkness don’t mix - the one excludes the other - together the latter cannot exist at all.  Our readings from Exodus and Matthew both consider the problem of divine incompatibility.  How does the holy live with the unholy?  

So much of the Old Testament was written or rewritten, or at least compiled, at a time of national disaster, the exile into Babylon.  The question constantly in the background must have been “why?”  For a people who considered themselves to be God’s chosen and, moreover chosen by a God who was omnipotent, who was behind everything that happened, it was just incomprehensible - such things just should not happen.  

Their answer to the problem was a profound one.  The problem did not lie with God, but with them.  It was their failure to live up to their side of the bargain, their failure to answer the demands of God that caused the problem.  

So why would their actions or inactions change the way their God dealt with them?  The answer they came up with was that God’s holiness could not tolerate man’s sinfulness - the two just could not live together.  You can see the implications of this idea being worked out in the book of Genesis.  The stories of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel and Noah and the flood are all working on the question of how does God live with man’s sin.  The extraordinary end to the flood story is that God realises that man’s sinfulness is something that he will just have to live with.

The struggle of Israel with its God in the wilderness is on similar lines.  Our passage this morning follows on from the golden calf incident that we heard last week - when God was so angry with his people that he was about to destroy them and start again with Moses and his offspring.  Moses argued otherwise and convinced God to persevere.  But the incident clearly shook Moses, he wondered whether the God that he had met in the burning bush still wanted the people that he had rescued from Egypt.  He now needs reassurance.  Moses knows that without their God his people are nothing but a helpless and hopeless rabble.  

Moses’ need for reassurance even extends to a very sight of God.  But the underline issue is the same, how will the utter holiness of God cope with the fallible humanity of Israel?  How will the light of God live with the darkness in man?  I suppose the answer the Hebrew theologians came up with was “with difficulty.”

It is the same question that hangs in the air of the Gospel.  Indeed the whole Gospel story begins with the Baptist’s cry “repent for the kingdom of God is at hand,” and it ends with the paschal  sacrifice of a lamb - the lamb of God.  How does the demand of the holy God exist alongside the demand of the unholy world?  

And this is the question put before Jesus in our Gospel reading.  The Roman poll tax was imposed on the population of Judaea, Samaria and Idumaea in AD 6, when these districts became a Roman province.  The tax enraged the people and it caused the simmering hatred of Rome to boil over in revolt, eventually leading to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.  

So the issue of whether or not the poll tax should be paid was a burning one, and the question put to Jesus was a direct challenge to him to declare on which side of the fence he stood.  The trap is obvious: if Jesus sides with the nationalists, he can be denounced to the Roman authorities and arrested as a political agitator; if he sides with the government, he will loose popular support - his acceptance of Rome’s authority would certainly discredit him in the eyes of the crowd.  Jesus’ answer accepts the demands of the Roman government, but immediately switches our attention to the far more important demands of God.

But he does even more than that, he relegates the demands of the world to an unholy image on a foreign coin.  

I think that the point here is not that politics and religion don’t mix, rather it is that the struggle to build the kingdom of God takes place first in the hearts and minds of men and women.  God’s interest is not so much in the fighting of earth’s dark empires, though that may well be necessary, as it is with leading men and women into an acceptance of his grace and love and so on into holiness - God-likeness, godliness.  God’s concern is on a radically different plane all together.

The answer to the question of how you live with the holiness of God is to accept that God is calling us, drawing us into that holiness, forgiving us and desperately willing us into holiness.  The light of God does not so much destroy the darkness which is what the Israelites both dreaded and hoped for - it transforms it - something much more difficult - and costly.  And isn’t that why we are here - looking for transformation from a God of transformation - a God of resurrection.

HYMN - My God how wonderful though art - NEH 410

1 My God, how wonderful thou art,
Thy majesty how bright,
How beautiful thy mercy-seat,
In depths of burning light!

2 How dread are thine eternal years,
O everlasting Lord,
By prostrate spirits day and night
Incessantly adored!

3 How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of thee must be,
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity!

4 No earthly father loves like thee,
No mother, e'er so mild,
Bears and forbears as thou hast done
With me thy sinful child.

5 Father of Jesus, love's reward,
What rapture will it be
Prostrate before thy throne to lie,
And gaze and gaze on thee.

AFFIRMATION OF FAITH 

Let us declare our faith in the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ:

Christ died for our sins
in accordance with the scriptures;
he was buried;
he was raised to life on the third day
in accordance with the scriptures;
afterwards he appeared to his followers,
and to all the apostles:
this we have received,
and this we believe.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 15.3-7

INTERCESSIONS - Gill MacDonald

Dear Father, Creator God, you promise to hear the prayers of those who ask in faith: 

Lord, we pray for your worldwide church, for all people of faith, for those who have lost their faith and those who have never known the love of our Lord Jesus.   We pray for all ministers and missionaries, in all their various callings.  We pray for this diocese, this benefice and our own parish of St Matthews; We thank you for the continued dedication of William and his family,  and all the team working to keep things going in  these difficult times .

Lord, in your mercy;  hear our prayer 

We pray for all that is beautiful in your world  Lord . : For the changing seasons, the magnificent colours and variety of landscapes, the colour and creeds of our brothers and sisters around the world, and for everything that builds us up.    We see the grief and pain, the terror and the ravages of war in many places,  and the devastation wreaked by this evil virus contaminating people all around the globe.   We pray for all leaders and governments, and for all who are responsible for the delicate and critical decisions being taken at this time;  we pray your wisdom, common sense and justice in all their deliberations.   We entrust all our concerns to you.  

Lord, in your mercy;  hear our prayer 

We thank you and pray for our families and friends for those we love the best and who forgive us the most.  We pray for those who have no-one to pray for them, and for those who find daily life a struggle.  We lift all doctors and nurses, social workers and care staff  to you as they  gear up to more hospital admissions and pressures at this time, and all scientists and medical professionals working so hard to find a vaccine.  We remember the children who may be anxious and alarmed and parents and teachers trying to keep them safe and re-assured

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

We lift to your tender care all those who suffer in body, mind or spirit.  Especially any known to us personally in hospital or  ill at home.  We pray for folk in residential homes; for those in prison, for the homeless, and for those who are especially anxious, lonely, or vulnerable  in these days.   

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer

We remember with gratitude and love all those who have passed from this life into your eternal glory.   Welcome them into your calm and peaceful kingdom and grant them peace.  Comfort those who mourn their passing and give them courage .

Lord, in your mercy. hear our prayer

Creator God, may every breath we take be for your glory ; May every footstep show you as our way, That trusting in your presence in this world, we may beyond this life still be with you; Where you are alive and reign for ever,   
Father, it is such an honour to be invited to your banquet, make us worthy of our calling.

Merciful Father, 
accept these prayers, for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen

As our Saviour taught us, so we pray:
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.
Lead us not into temptation 

but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, 

and the glory are yours
now and for ever. Amen.

BLESSING
The power of God be about you,
the love of Christ enfold you,
the joy of the Spirit be within you;
and the blessing of God Almighty, 
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be among you, and remain with you always.  Amen

HYMN - Jesus shall reign where’er the sun - NEH 388

1 Jesus shall reign where'er the sun
Does his successive journeys run;
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

2 People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on his love with sweetest song,
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on his name.

3 Blessings abound where'er he reigns;
The prisoner leaps to lose his chains;
The weary find eternal rest,
And all the sons of want are blest.

4 Let every creature rise and bring
Peculiar honours to our King;
Angels descend with songs again,
And earth repeat the long Amen.

Go in peace to love and serve the Lord

In the name of Christ. Amen