O Lord, open our lips
and our mouth shall proclaim your praise.
God of constant mercy,
who sent your Son to save us:
remind us of your goodness,
increase your grace within us,
that our thankfulness may grow,
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
then were we like those who dream.
Then was our mouth filled with laughter
and our tongue with songs of joy.
Then said they among the nations,
‘The Lord has done great things for them.’
The Lord has indeed done great things for us,
and therefore we rejoiced.
Restore again our fortunes, O Lord,
as the river beds of the desert.
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed,
will come back with shouts of joy,
bearing their sheaves with them.
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, ‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
‘Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, and you say, “If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.” Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors.’
Do you remember the days when people would dress up in their ‘Sunday best’ before going to Church? Do you remember the way in which people only ever behaved in Church with deference and good manners? Do you remember the time when talking about faith was considered to be something ‘polite’ people did not do? Do you remember when going to Church, for many, had very little to do with believing in God and far more to do with being seen as doing the ‘right thing’? I always find it interesting when such times are held up a the ‘good old days’ of Church membership. I am told that it is a great pity that such times are so far in the past. Similarly, I rarely hear those who speak of the ‘good old days’ recounting their experiences of sharing the Christian faith with others. I do hear that such work is my responsibility alone, as I hear of my impertinence in presuming that others should also be following Jesus’ Great Commission to: Go and make disciples of all nations …
Too often the Church wraps itself in a mantle of display and mystery. The different ways in which Church communities come together in worship are often very ‘exclusive’ (and ‘excluding’) in nature. When the metaphorical doors are flung open to welcome potential new disciples, the old guard so often dash out claiming that their beautiful church is being desecrated. We fit Jesus’ picture of those who on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
The message of today’s reading is stark, and urgent! The Church is called to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ, AND it is called to live out that message. Living the life of true faith is not just the work of the parish priest, it is the work of all who claim to be Christian. It is so easy for those on the outside to see our hypocrisy and lawlessness. As they look in on our congregations they hope to see the light and joy of Christ radiating out, too often they see beautiful buildings that are lifeless and joyless.
Let us pray that we might heed Jesus’ words today and repent, that is turn around and follow the path he has journeyed first. Let us pray that we might live the life of faith and hope in a way that dazzles others with the light of Christ. Let us pray that we might stop trying to impress those around us and focus on God’s will alone.
Prayers of intercession
Let us pray for the Church which Christ has built and for the world which he has saved.
Preserve your Church in strength and stability, by your promise that no evil shall prevail against it. Make its members zealous in their callings, to work in all things according to your will.
Give to all people the desire to work together for good. As they recognise their calling, may each come to know Christ as the Son of God.
Bless us in our daily work and bless those who work with us. Use in your service the abilities of all who live and work in this community. Grant wisdom and discernment to those who are called to special responsibility.
Strengthen with hope those who think themselves of no worth. Give them light to understand their part in your purpose and grace to fulfil it.
We commend those who have died in the faith of Christ, true to the Church which he built. Keep us constant in the same faith now and at the last.
Confessing Christ as the Son of God, we pray in his name.
Prayer for the week
God of glory,
touch our lips with the fire of your Spirit,
that we with all creation
may rejoice to sing your praise;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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.
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.