Sunday 4th July 2021
Surely the Lord is in this place; this is none other than the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven.
Almighty God, you are immortal, invisible, the only wise God. Though our eyes cannot see you, nevertheless, reveal yourself to the eye of faith that we may come to know you. In this hour of worship, we offer up our praise. We seek your blessing and pray that our hearts and minds will be open to your guidance.
O God who is the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you; help us so to know you that we may truly love you; so to love you that we may fully serve you, whom to serve is perfect freedom.
Eternal Father, we have to acknowledge our faults and our failings. We do not always seek to know you better, but instead seek to go in our own ways. We allow ourselves to be distracted so that we too easily set aside your will. We not only forget the needs of others but forget the claims our God has on us. Be pleased to forgive what we are for Jesus’ sake and through the Holy Spirit direct what we shall be.
Most gracious God, who sent your Son to be our Lord and Saviour, let us come to him. Our hearts are cold; May he warm them with his selfless love. Our hearts are sinful; may he cleanse them with his precious blood. Our hearts are weak; may he strengthen them. Our hearts are empty; may they be filled them with your divine presence. O Lord our God, our hearts are yours; possess them always and only for yourself.
Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power and the Glory, Forever. Amen.
St Mark 7:1-23
A thought for today
Thanks to the Gospels the Pharisees have something of a bad reputation today. We think of them as hardliners regarding the Law. Men who were often unreasonable, pedantic and blinkered. They were always ready to reject out of hand any other interpretation of the Law and to criticise any who might disagree with them.
No doubt there were Pharisees who deserved such a reputation but not all were like that. There were Pharisees who were good and faithful, like Nicodemus whom we meet in John’s Gospel and Gamaliel who urges caution when Peter and the apostles are brought before the Sanhedrin. Wisely he warns his colleagues of the need for care in coming to judgment for if this new teaching is from God it cannot be opposed.
Today we are familiar with ‘spin’ and ‘fake news’ and tend to think of them as new, belonging to our modern media age. The reality is that spin has always been around. Most historical accounts need to be treated with care for those who write it have a view on what happened. Usually history has been written by the victors. Those who lost were seldom as they have been pictured..
This is how it is with the Pharisees. The evangelists were what today would be called the spin doctors of their time. They were always putting a gloss on things, not telling lies, but certainly being economical with the truth. We have to remember that they had little cause to love the Pharisees for they held them responsible for the death of Jesus.
If we are to understand the Pharisees properly we need to be aware of a little of their history. Alexander the Great conquered Palestine as he spread his empire to the east. After his death his conquests were divided amongst his generals. Palestine came under the rule of Antiochus along with Syria. The last of the Syrian kings to rule over Palestine was Antiochus IV who has gone down in history as a lover of all things Greek. He made the fatal mistake of trying to impose the ancient Greek gods on his kingdom, banning all other worship. Placing a statue of Zeus in the temple provoked a Jewish rebellion under Judas Maccabeus, who overthrew Syrian rule.
As is usually the case there were those who abhorred the resort to force. Their response to the desecration of the temple had been to withdraw into the Judean desert and set up communities where they could continue to worship God and observe his Law.. They were given the name Pharisees, a word that literally means ‘the separated ones’.
After the success of the rebellion many of them returned to Jerusalem, but soon found that not everyone shared their views. This time, rather than leave, they remained separate spiritually if not physically and resolved the problem of how they could best serve God by cutting themselves off from anything they deemed not to be holy. The only problem that posed was what is and what is not holy.
The obvious answer was that this was laid down in the Law but for some what the Law said was not specific and over the years the Law was expanded and amplified by the addition of detailed rules and regulations for every conceivable circumstance. It was when these rules were taken to extremes that they became questionable. From what we read in the Gospels there is little doubt that by the time of Jesus there were Pharisees who had become pedantic and intolerant. Their conduct had become hidebound by traditions such as the ritual washings that provided the point of conflict we read about.
The disciples are castigated for eating without washing their hands, perhaps a serious offence now in these Covid times. What we need to realise is that this complaint has nothing to do with hygiene. It was simply about the breach of a religious regulation.
Jesus’ response to their comments seems devastating as he brands them as hypocrites. This suggest that he is accusing them of dishonesty and insincerity, but the true meaning of the word is play acting for it comes from the Greek word for an actor. What he is really doing is attacking them for, in the words of Isaiah, “teaching for doctrine the commandments of men”. It is always dangerous to seek to justify our views by ascribing them as the will of God.
The separation of the religious and the secular that the Pharisees maintained is not the keynote of true religion. God’s way is always the way of fellowship. While loving God might be the first commandment, loving our neighbour is the second. The Letter of John reminds us that we love God by loving our neighbour. That is what the Pharisees would not do.
That can still be a danger today as we find ourselves confronted by a world that has little time for God. We can seek to withdraw and like the Pharisees separate ourselves and let the world go its own way but that is to deny the reason for our calling. We could seek a way to compromise, hoping to take the world with us even if it means abandoning some of Biblical teaching which the Church has been only too ready to do in some areas.
Let us not forget that there is a third and better way. Jesus told a little parable about the leaven in the lump. Without yeast the dough will not rise. If the Church is to be the leaven in the lump we must seek ways of being involved in the world and its affairs. That, indeed, is what God did when he sent his Son to live in the world and that Son commanded his Church to “go into all the world and teach”. This is a commission that cannot be fulfilled by separation nor by compromise but only by a willingness to be involved.
A closing prayer
We bless and praise you O lord our God, for you work out all things for good for those who love you. You ae ever merciful and gracious, abundant in goodness and truth, and the Rewarder of those who diligently seek you. In your grace you have created us in yout own image and given us minds to know you and hearts to love you. To help us to live according to your will you have given your Son to be our example and strength. For all his teaching and gifts, we give thanks. We rejoice in the amazing gift of the Holy Spirit through whom we are empowered to walk with Christ all the days of our life.
Lord, save us from being self-centred in our prayers and teach us to remember to pray for others. May we be so bound up in love with those for whom we pray that we may feel their needs as acutely as our own, and intercede for them with sensitivity, with understanding and with imagination.
We remember the Church, especially this congregation to which we belong. May we never forget that we are set here to be a light in the darkness of the world, revealing something of the glory of the love of God for his people. May we by what we do and say in the Name of Christ be able to draw others into his fellowship. Through our endeavours and those of your faithful children throughout the world, may your Kingdome come, and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
We pray for peace in this troubled world. May all the hatreds and prejudices that divide us be set aside and in their place sow love and fellowship so that all warfare and strife may be brought to an end. Bless the peacemakers and crown their endeavours with success.
God bless our country and our Queen. May she long continue to be a blessing to her people. Be with all who bear authority under her. Guide them by your Spirit that they may know what is right to do and more importantly what would be wrong because it could never be in accord with your will.
We remember before you those who suffer in these hard economic times; those who seek work but cannot find it; those who have work but who cannot earn sufficient for their essential needs; those who cannot work because of illness or disability. Make us never to forget the example of our Lord who reached out helping hands to those in need and to know that it is our Christian duty to be like him.
Grace, mercy and peace, from God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit be with you now and always.