Call to Worship
Psalm 107 v 1-3 and v6
1 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures for ever.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story –
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
3 those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.

6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.

Hymn: In Christ Alone                                                                                                                                   (Please quietly reflect on the words as we are not allowed to sing under Covid restrictions.)

Prayer of Adoration and Confession
Heavenly Father,
You are God and you are in control. You created the vast expanse of the universe and your power sustains everything. Through all this, you care for each and every one of us. You hold us in your hands, keeping us safe. You know every thought, word and action and you still love us. Many of our thoughts, words and deeds we don’t want to think about because they are sinful and shameful before you. But you have sent your dear Son to earth to suffer for our sins. Jesus paid the price. In your mercy forgive us for all that we have done. Help us to have hearts which love your goodness and hate the sins that we commit. Through your Holy Spirit, give us clean hearts to worship you and receive your mercy and strength to stay close with you.
We will now say 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 debts, as we forgive our debtors,
And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever.

Reading: Matthew 23 v1-12
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practise what they preach. They tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.
‘Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the market-places and to be called “Rabbi” by others.
‘But you are not to be called “Rabbi”, for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth “father”, for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.

Heavenly Father, please speak through me as I share this address. Help us to receive your truth and to give glory to you in our hearts. Amen.

The first time I came into a Christian environment was when I was 16. I went to a church youth meeting on a Sunday night after the evening service at Christ Church, New Malden. There were about 50 to 60 young people in their late teens who took God seriously without being overwhelming and they made me feel welcome and accepted. There was an authenticity about their Christian lives and I could see them trying to live lives pleasing to God but being open and honest about their failings as well.

In Matthew Chapter 23, Matthew is identifying some of the pitfalls and traps of religion which the Christian community could become ensnared in. He wants to establish the fact that Christians will need to live differently, especially from the religious leaders of the day. Matthew did not want the early church to go the same way as the Jewish leadership and so this passage (Chapter 23 v 1-12) is warning us of the kinds of religiousness which can creep into any Christian church or group of Christians.

The problem of the Jewish leadership was not so much what they taught but the way the leadership practised their faith. It was a problem of religiousness and, in particular, a problem of showing off. They were practising their faith for people to see. Their religion involved performing works to try and bring themselves into a right relationship with God. Consequently, this led them to try to prove that they were in a right relationship with God. They performed all the rules and regulations to prove that their relationship with God was perfect, or at least better than others.

The Pharisees wore phylacteries which were little boxes on their foreheads containing pieces of scripture so that the teaching was always on their minds. They had tassels on their coats which were there to remind them of the commandments. Rather than these symbols acting as reminders, they became signs to show how pious and exemplary the wearers were, and instead of drawing their attention to God and the commandments, they drew their attention and other people’s attention towards themselves.

The religious leadership loved the places of honour. They sat at the front of the synagogue which were the places of highest importance and where everyone could see them and notice how pious they were. They loved tiles of honour such as ‘Teacher’ and the title came with the idea that they were giving spiritual life to people. The titles and honours exalted the religious leadership and give rise to pride. When people accept titles such as ‘teacher’ they are robbing God of his role of teacher. It is the word of God which must rule, not the person preaching it. Titles in the church can also set people apart from their brothers and sisters in Christ.

In Luke 18 there is the story of the tax collector and the Pharisee.
10‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
The Pharisee effectively makes up his own rules about how he is acceptable to God. The first rule was by comparative obedience: “I’m acceptable because I’m not like other men: I’m not a murderer or adulterer or a breaker of covid restrictions.” That was why he saw himself as acceptable. Then there was the legalistic obedience: “The reason, Lord, you should accept me is because I fast and I give 10% of my money.” He felt he was good enough for God and he was better than other people.

Christ’s solution is service (Verses 11 and 12): “The greatest of you will be the servant.” Any form of Christian ministry is a chance for service and in any Christian community leaders should be looking to serve. By Christian ministers, I mean all of us are involved in Christian ministry in some way, whether it is to our friends and families, small groups and within the church, as elders and even out and about in our daily lives when we are looked upon as Christians. Serving should not be to gain recognition or as a place to try out our own management skills but as a place to serve Jesus and his people.

This makes me feel nervous and examine myself. I’m sure many of you can tell if someone is ministering because they are after self exaltation or if they are want to serve God and His people. Not only can people see through us, but God sees it all entirely. God can see self serving behaviour and this passage gives us all signposts to help us recognise it in ourselves.

How does someone in Christian ministry remain humble? We always have a duty to be humble.

Thankfulness is the first of two important keys to humility. A couple of weeks ago, the church address spoke about how thankfulness helped to relieve anxiety by focusing on what God has given us. This week we can see another benefit of thanking God. Thanking God often and in all situations helps to dispel pride and to acknowledge that all good things come from God. All the good gifts and talents that I have come from God and we need to give the honour back to him. It is good to remember that He is the potter and we are the clay and that God has created us all with different qualities so we all fit together like pieces in a jigsaw.

The second key is confession. We have to criticise ourselves in God’s presence and invite Him to reveal our sinful natures. We must be suspicious of our sinful hearts.

Our Christian service should be rooted in confession and thankfulness. Humility is honesty and we need to be honest about our own hearts. Honesty will lead to confession which will lead to repentance and mercy. Mercy leads to thanksgiving which helps us to live in humility. As confession and thankfulness become a larger part of our lives, we will concern ourselves more with what God thinks and less on what other people think.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to see ourselves as you see us. Help us to confess our faults and mould us into the people you want us to be. Help us to look out for the ways you work in our lives so that we can be continually thankful and walk in humility. Amen.

Hymn: Oh, For a Thousand Tongues to Sing

Prayers of thanksgiving and supplication
Father God, we thank you for all our families and friends and for those around us who care. Help us to look out for our neighbours as we go through further lock-down restrictions. Help us to share our lives in whatever ways we can within the guidelines of keeping safe from Covid 19. Help us to share and live out your gospel with those around us and open our eyes to see you at work so that we may thank and praise you.
We pray for those who are lonely and isolated at this time. Help us to recognise people’s needs and bring your comfort to them.
We thank you for all the work our NHS and research teams are doing at this time. Grant them all the wisdom and strength through hard times to save lives.
We pray that governments and medical researchers will work closer together to ensure that treatments for Covid 19 are accessible to all people, rich and poor across the world.
We pray for those people who are hit with financial problems due to the virus. Give them hope, wisdom and comfort during these troubled times.
Father God, we pray that through all these difficult times, people will turn to you for help and thanksgiving and that they may receive your love and mercy.

Offering Prayer:
Finally, we thank you for all the good gifts you give to us and we pray that you take our offerings and use them to your glory.
We ask all these prayers in Jesus’s name.

Hymn: Lord, the Light of Your Love is Shining (Please reflect on the words)

May the God of peace, who raised Christ from the dead, strengthen your inner being for every good work. And may the blessing of God Almighty Father, Son and Holy Spirit rest upon you and dwell within you this day and evermore. Amen.