O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
Almighty God, by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Psalm 50.8, 16-24
‘I will not reprove you for your sacrifices,
for your burnt offerings are always before me.’
But to the wicked, says God:
‘Why do you recite my statutes
and take my covenant upon your lips,
‘Since you refuse to be disciplined
and have cast my words behind you?
‘When you saw a thief, you made friends with him
and you threw in your lot with adulterers.
‘You have loosed your lips for evil
and harnessed your tongue to deceit.
‘You sit and speak evil of your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.
‘These things have you done, and should I keep silence?
Did you think that I am even such a one as yourself?
‘But no, I must reprove you,
and set before your eyes the things that you have done.
‘You that forget God, consider this well,
lest I tear you apart and there is none to deliver you.
‘Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honours me
and to those who keep my way
will I show the salvation of God.’
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 said to the crowds and to his disciples, ‘The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practise what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’
Today we hear Jesus endorsing the authority and power of God’s law, whilst also criticizing those who administered that law in his time, the scribes and the Pharisees. Jesus tells the crowd to heed what they are being taught, and to put it into action. But … Jesus is also cautioning the crowds against adopting the ways of their religious leaders: do not do as they do.
In a less enlightened educational climate it was not uncommon to hear an adult say to a child: ‘Don’t do as I do, do as I tell you!’ This pernicious doctrine was never anything more than a way of establishing and maintaining power over a weaker person. This irrational doctrine is condemned utterly by Jesus in today’s reading.
In the life of the Church there is often talk of the ‘Good Old Days’. Similarly there can be an over-abundance of influence from those who espouse the mythology of those ‘Good Old Days’. In reality a census of church attendance on Mothering Sunday 1851 reveals that, as a percentage of the population, engagement with the Church of England was at an alarmingly similar rate to attendance today. Yes, there were spikes during and immediately after major world conflicts but, basically, there never were any ‘Good Old Days’ of perpetually filled pews. There was a time of greater respect for and generosity towards the Church. There was a time of local social condemnation for non-Churchgoers. But, as in every other aspect of our lives, there were no ‘Good Old Days’. Demanding that we behave as they did in earlier times is to behave as the scribes and Pharisees condemned by Jesus today.
In today’s reading Jesus is urging us to follow the path of faith with total commitment and sincerity. He is warning us of the dangers of mindlessly copying our predecessors because ‘it worked for them’. They lived in a different time, and their relationship with God was no less problematic. Yes, we learn from our ancestors and from those more knowledgeable than ourselves, but we then need to bring that learning into our world. God has not changed, but we certainly need to. We need to constantly ask ourselves whether our preferred way of carrying on is God’s way, or are we just dreaming of those ‘Good Old Days’ that never really existed?
Prayers of intercession
In penitence and faith let us make our prayer to the Father and ask for his mercy and grace.
For your holy people, that they may triumph over evil and grow in grace, we pray to you, O Lord.
For candidates for baptism and confirmation, that they may live by every word that proceeds from your mouth, we pray to you, O Lord.
For the leaders of the nations, that you will guide them in the ways of mercy and truth, we pray to you, O Lord.
For the needy, that they may not be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be taken away, we pray to you, O Lord.
For the sick in body, mind and spirit, that they may know your power to heal, we pray to you, O Lord.
For the poor in spirit, that they may inherit the kingdom of heaven and see you face to face, we pray to you, O Lord.
Let us commend the world, for which Christ suffered, to the mercy and protection of God.
Prayer for the week
Lord Christ, who came to call
not the righteous but sinners to repentance:
help us in this season of Lent
to hear and respond to your call;
that by your grace
we may turn from whatever in our lives
is at variance with your will,
and walk in the way of holiness and love,
to the glory of God the Father.
The Lord’s Prayer
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.