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O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Eternal God, give us insight
to discern your will for us,
to give up what harms us,
and to seek the perfection we are promised
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Psalm 51.1-2, 17-20
Have mercy on me, O God, in your great goodness;
according to the abundance of your compassion
blot out my offences.
Wash me thoroughly from my wickedness
and cleanse me from my sin.
For you desire no sacrifice, else I would give it;
you take no delight in burnt offerings.
The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
O be favourable and gracious to Zion;
build up the walls of Jerusalem.
Then you will accept sacrifices offered in righteousness,
the burnt offerings and oblations;
then shall they offer up bulls on your altar.
Glory to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now
and shall be for ever. Amen.
Jesus told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” But the tax-collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Yesterday I reflected upon the two great commandments: to love God and to love one’s neighbour. As part of that reflection I considered the importance of Christians gathering together in prayer, praise and thanksgiving to reinforce their personal commitment to serving God, and to support others as they travel their path of discipleship. Today’s reading gives us an opportunity to reflect upon our personal motivations as we live the life of a faithful follower of Christ.
The path of discipleship is a perilous one. There are certainly dangers represented by the attitudes and behaviours of those who do not share our commitment. Those attitudes and behaviours can easily bully us into watering down our commitment to serve God, and they can, ultimately, water down our own faith. But … there is another danger: a danger of using the outward show of faith as a way of bullying others.
On many occasions I have heard phrases such as: too holy to be of any earthly use and holier than thou. Such descriptions, or perhaps I mean accusations, are usually levelled at people such as those described in today’s reading. They ‘enjoy’ making a show of their faith. They seem to relish showing how much ‘holier’ they are than those amongst whom they live. They thrive on being ‘recognized’ for their commitment to regular churchgoing and their participation in public prayer. Unfortunately, many of those people are only about ‘show’ when it comes to matters of faith. Jesus is cautioning us against being like them.
There is a place in God’s kingdom for all who come to him in true faith, the faith which is capable of moving mountains, the faith that might be as small as a mustard seed and yet capable of enormous potential in the way it thrives in the communities in which we live. It is not for any one of us to judge the faith of others. The right to such judgement belongs to God alone. It is only God who sees into our hearts and minds and truly knows what is going on there. All of this means that those we might consider to be unworthy may be far more advanced in their Christian journey than us.
God does not delight in the spectacle of our devotion. God wants us to travel the pilgrimage of life in humility and devotion, he does not want us to expend the energy we might use in loving and serving him in peripheral displays designed to impress others. God is ready to forgive anything and to accept anyone, providing they come to him in honesty and humility.
Jesus also gives us a warning! Jesus makes it clear that not only are we misguided if we make a practice of showing off our devotion, but we will also come to the point of being humbled by God. It is those who are prepared to accept their vulnerability and unworthiness who will be exalted in the kingdom of heaven, and not those who wear the ‘right’ clothes, say the ‘right’ things, and mumble the ‘right’ prayers.
Let us pray for humility in our service to God that he might, in our time, welcome us into his nearer presence.
Prayers of Intercession
Let us pray to the Lord, who casts down the proud and exalts the humble.
Preserve the Church from false pride. Teach us all to value our calling as by grace and not of our own goodness. May your word be made fully known through the preaching of your chosen ministers.
In a world where people put their trust in themselves and their own works, bring us the humility that is the only offering acceptable to you. Give the joy of human fellowship to those who in pride set themselves apart from others.
Strengthen us in service to you and to one another. Make us open to all in our community, welcoming those whose lives are different from our own.
Have mercy on the outcasts of the world, who are despised fro their social position or way of life. Comfort all who have been forsaken by those whom they trusted.
We give thanks for those who have fought the good fight and are now at rest. Grant them the crown of righteousness prepared for those who have loved you to the end.
We pray through Christ for mercy on our sins and on all sinners.
Prayer for the week
Lord, we offer you ourselves this day
for the work you want accomplished,
for the people you want us to meet,
for the word you want to be uttered,
for the silence you want to be kept,
for the new ways you want pioneered.
Go with us along the way, Lord,
and enable us to realize your presence,
at all times and in all places,
our loving Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord’s Prayer
Let us pray with confidence as our Saviour has taught us
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name;
thy kingdom come;
thy will be done;
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation;
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
the power and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
and the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all evermore. Amen.
O for a heart to praise my God,
a heart from sin set free;
a heart that’s sprinkled with the blood
so freely shed for me:
A heart in every thought renewed,
and full of love divine;
perfect and right and pure and good –
a copy, Lord, of thine.
Charles Wesley (1707–1788)