Please join us for Worship.
The music this week is from the Music Group. The Communications Team, AV Team, Music Group and Piggery Brae have all contributed greatly to the production of these videos. We hope you enjoy. Auto-generated Closed Captions are available.
Hello, I’m Peter Nimmo, the minster of the Parish of Cambuslang. Welcome to this Sunday’s church service. It’s great to have you join us, whether you’re watching on the internet, if you’re listening on CamGlen Radio, or if you are using our Dial-a-Service telephone service.
We are still offering this online service, even although we have restarted 10.30am Sunday services in our church building. If you want to join us in the building, you have to book a seat online, due to the necessity for social distancing.
Today you’ll also hear music from our Worship Band. Lorna Morrison will read Scripture for us, and Deacon Karen Hamilton will lead us in our prayers of approach and confession.
Everything was recorded with the appropriate social distancing.
Let us worship God.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go to him and show him his fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If he listens to you, you have won your brother back. 16 But if he will not listen to you, take one or two other persons with you, so that ‘every accusation may be upheld by the testimony of two or more witnesses,’ as the scripture says. 17 And if he will not listen to them, then tell the whole thing to the church. Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector.
18 “And so I tell all of you: what you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and what you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.
19 “And I tell you more: whenever two of you on earth agree about anything you pray for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.”
Forgiveness is at the very heart of the Christian message. St Paul summed up the life, death and resurrection of Jesus when he wrote to the Corinthians that ‘God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself’. For it is through Jesus that God has dealt with the sin, the selfishness, the pride which prevents men and women have a relationship with God. The cross of Christ is the great symbol of God’s forgiving love. And the empty tomb of Easter is the promised new life which comes from being forgiven by God.
Jesus, during his ministry, went around assuring people who thought they couldn’t be forgiven, that they were forgiven. He taught his disciples to pray ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us’. It can be very hard to forgive, but it is essential if you want to be reconciled with someone you have fallen out with. So we ought to try forgive, for God, in Christ, has forgiven us. Forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel, and it’s central to a Christian way of living.
But it is easy to say we should be ready to forgive. But it can be very hard to put that into action. In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus doesn’t shy away from those difficulties.
Jesus says to us, imagine your brother has sinned against you- what should you do? Now, it’s really interesting that the word ‘brother’ is used here, for brother is a relationship word. The word ‘brother’ in this case means, not a member of your natural family, but a member of the church family. It means ‘your brother, or sister, in Christ’.
For when you join the church, it is like being part of a new family. Those with whom we share faith, with whom we worship together, with whom we are church members together, can rightly be referred to as our ‘brothers and sisters in Christ’. For in Christ, we have become sons and daughters of God. You’d likely not call another member of your bowling club or golf club, ‘brother’ or ‘sister’. But I often think that we ought to refer to each other more often as ‘brother’ and ‘sister’ in church. For in Christ, we are all related.
So, in a way, the church is a family. We belong together, because of have Jesus in common. And so church can be family for people who don’t have natural families, or whose natural families live far away, or even for those whose natural families have fallen out with them.
But like natural families, being part of the church is not always easy.
A few weeks ago, I was delighted to preside, in this building, at my first wedding in my new parish. During the service, I used a prayer for the couple, for Heather and Sean, from the Church of Scotland’s wedding service, which includes these words addressed to God:
Confirm them in their happiness;
keep them faithful and true to one another,
ready to forgive and be forgiven.
I love that prayer. Every time I pray it at a wedding, it makes me think of my own marriage, that has only endured because my wife and I have found ways to forgive one another, and to accept forgiveness from one another.
‘Don’t let the sun go down on your anger’ is an old piece of advice for a newly married couple- and it’s good advice for us all. Learn to forgive, and to be forgiven- for the alternative, of course, is that you bear a grudge forever. And we all know families where that has happened.
There is something particularly poignant and tragic about families where there is no forgiveness. People who we think ought to be bound together, because they are brother and sister, or even husband and wife, who for some reasons cannot forgive. Where family love has been poisoned because of a word, or an act, which means that different members of the one family no longer speak to one another. Sometimes the matter is very trivial, but the longer not speaking to one another continues, the harder it is to get the relationship rebooted.
And, of course, we know that such things can happen in church families, too. I know town where they have a church which started because about a hundred years ago, a rich landowner found that someone had taken his pew in the parish kirk. He asked the interloper to move, and when he refused, the heritor stormed out, and built a brand new church where he and his family would worship. Both congregations get on with each other, a century or so later. But because nobody would speak to the other, they now have two churches.
When people stop talking, that’s when church splits and new denominations start. And so, the advice of Jesus about what to do when you think a brother or sister in Christ has sinned against you, is very good advice indeed. As we heard his advice to us is
If your brother [or sister] sins against you, go to [them] and show [them their] fault. But do it privately, just between yourselves. If [they listen] to you, you have won your brother [or sister] back.
A quiet word can prevent things getting out of hand. An explanation, and honest discussion, can ensure help us find a way for people to accept what has happened, and to ensure forgiveness and reconciliation takes place.
And yet, as we have been reminded in recent decades, some sins can be so terrible that the quiet word won’t do. Church leaders have done terrible harm by trying to deal with sexual abuse, violence, or other inappropriate behaviour, by just having a quiet word. But Christian love- and justice- demands that we protect the defenceless and look after the weakest of God’s children. The quiet word is no substitute for justice.
Or, what if we feel we have fallen out over a matter of principle, or ethics, or belief? Well, these are occasions for the wider church to take an interest. ‘If he will not listen to you…’ says Jesus. If the quiet word isn’t working- then it comes to the wider church to deal with. And Jesus quotes the Bible about how these processes should work- there should be ‘testimony’ and ‘witnesses’, as we try to resolve our differences.
One commentator on this passage says something very interesting about it:
This section of Matthew’s Gospel is often called “the church discipline manual.” Others call these verses “the church reconciliation manual.”
Now, that seems to me to make all the difference. You can read this as a legal text- the process which might end in someone being excluded from the church. For Jesus says that, if the sinner won’t listen, then we might reach the end of the line with discussions:
Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector.
Maybe there is a point at which further discussion is pointless. Maybe there are times when it is just impossible to see how someone can be forgiven.
But what if this is really a manual of reconciliation? What if this is Jesus giving us some pointers to living out our call to be people who will always try to forgive? Because the message of this passage seems to be- keep talking. Find out what has happened. Confront the wrongdoer. Try to get them to see the harm they have done. Try to find reconciliation, it at all possible.
And yet, in the end, perhaps no reconciliation will be possible.
I read some words of an American pastor this week, sharing her pain because she had had an email from someone to say that they were leaving the congregation. No pastor likes to get that sort of message. But the reasons were very much of this time, and an insight into where America is. This man objected that his church was closed to worship, due to coronavirus. He had been persuaded that the virus wasn’t such a bad thing, and that lockdown and closing churches wasn’t necessary. He thought that the decision to stop worship in the building was a political decision. And for that reason, he was leaving the congregation.
I read that and wondered what I would say if somebody wrote to me to object to our having closed the church, or, when we are in church, observing social distancing, mask wearing etc. Could Matthew’s church reconciliation manual help me? I hope I would be able to begin with a quiet word, as I explained that we were following expert advice. But more than that- I believe our caution about using our churches is also based on our faith.
So I would try to say that we have closed our churches with great regret, because Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with our all heart, mind and soul, and one way we do that is by praising and worshipping God together with other Christians. But we did it anyway because Jesus tells us there is another commandment that is like it: we are to love our neighbours as ourselves.
And if that person disagreed, and said we should open up when it isn’t safe, or came to a service if we were opened and refused, for no good reason, to wear a mask, then I would say: you are not loving your neighbour. You are putting others at risk. And scripture tells us that we cannot truly love God without also loving our neighbour.
And if that person said they didn’t care, because of something they read on the internet or something his favourite politician said, then perhaps I wouldn’t be too sad that they decided to leave my congregation. For they clearly had not understood how absolutely essential it is to a Christian that they love their neighbours.
‘Finally, if he will not listen to the church, treat him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector’, says Jesus. Yet that is a very interesting way of putting it. Matthew, the Gospel writer, had been a tax collector once- a class of people hated and despised by his fellow-Jews. But Jesus had said to him ‘Follow me’, and when Matthew followed Jesus he found himself part of a family that made room for people like him. And as time passed, Jews like Matthew were joined, in the church by people who had been pagans.
‘Teach him as though he were a pagan or a tax collector’- and we may end up doing that sometimes, when our efforts at reconciliation hit a brick wall, because we find it so hard to forgive, or because someone finds it so hard to repent.
But Jesus says, ‘With God, all things are possible’. For God can bring into his family even pagans and tax collectors. God might forgive what we find hard to forgive. After all, God forgave us.
What I’m missing just now is not just worship, but also having meetings with you, face to face. It’s not quite the same over the phone, or on a video call. For we Christians are meetings people. It is when we meet and talk and discuss that we come to a common mind, try to listen for God’s guidance, and talk through the things that we feel hurt about or disagree about. And so Matthew’s church reconciliation manual ends with wonderful words of hope. Jesus reminds us about how important it is we pray together about what’s concerning us, and assures us that God listens.
And then he says:
For where two or three come together in my name, I am there with them.
And I believe that is true, whether our meeting is of the General Assembly, or the smallest country Kirk Session. It’s true when we gather for worship in church, but it’s also true when we gather to hear the Word and to pray and to praise in our homes, and our gathering is done via technology.
Forgiveness and reconciliation are not easy. Yet forgiveness is the heart of the Gospel, for it is what God has done for us. So let us strive to keep talking, to keep in touch, however it is we do it. For it is when we struggle to find ways of disagreeing well, or work hard to overcome our differences, when we pray together for God’s guidance on difficult issues, then we find that, indeed, Jesus Christ is there with us. Amen.
Let us pray.
Creator God, we pray
for this wonderful planet Earth on which we live.
We see the miracle of your creation-
your love revealed-
in the ripening fields
and the promise of a good harvest.
We pray that the dream
of us all living in harmony with one another
and our environment will one day become reality
For the healing of the nations,
Lord, we pray with one accord;
for a just and equal sharing
of the things that earth affords.
Lead us forward into freedom,
from despair your world release,
that, redeemed from war and hatred,
all may come and go in peace.
We pray for peoples and nations
where suffering the ravages of war and violence.
Bless those who work to build bridges
between various ethnic and national groups.
Comfort those still traumatised by war,
and still nursing suspicion and hatred.
We pray for all displaced persons and refugees.
And those who try to help them.
Bring reconciliation, peace, and justice, where they are needed.
We pray for
We ask your blessing
on our congregation of Cambuslang Parish Church,
this “touching place” as we know it;
for those of us who have been touched
by the love and care extended to us
through sickness and health,
in times of joy, and in the sorrow of bereavement.
We pray especially
for the children and young people of our congregation.
They have returned to school,
but school is a different place than it was before
and many of them are unsettled,
with worries they can hardly put into words.
Bless them, and their parents and carers.
Help our congregation find new ways
to involve all our young people
including those in our Sunday Club
and all the members of our various youth organisations.
May we find ways to assure them
of the love that God has for them
so that they will feel confident and strong
for the days ahead.
We remember those or our congregation and community
who are housebound,
or living in care homes;
and all who are sick, at home or in hospital,
and those who care for them and are anxious about them;
We remember in silence the needs
of those who are facing up
to illness, uncertainty, or distress;
and those who have been bereaved.
We pray for our church’s commitment
to following the example of our Saviour,
to bring the glad tidings of Jesus Christ;
to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless,
and help bring peace and justice to the world.
We pray for our community and our nation
and for the guidance of our leaders.
We pray that the decisions of those in power
would be guided by respect for the dignity of every human being,
especially the poorest and most vulnerable
in our society.
Lord, give us generosity of spirit
that Christ, the ‘Light of the world’
may be reflected through our commitment
to faith in action
towards building a world of justice and of peace.
God Creator of all, we ask your blessing
on these our prayers said and in silence.
Open our minds and hearts
to your ways of love, peace and hope.
Be with us when we question you;
be with us when we are challenged by you
and on the occasions when we might drift away.
Though we stand as different people,
may we share the unity
of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
And we bring all our prayers together
in the family prayer of the Christian Church:
Thank you for joining us for worship today. Thanks to Deacon Karen Hamilton for the prayer, to Lorna Morrison for the Bible reading, to the Cambuslang Worship Band for the music, and to Fraser Hamilton for filming and editing.
Remember you can get in touch with me any time- for prayer, to have a chat, to ask questions about what you have heard today. My phone number is on the Cambuslang Parish Church website, or contact me via social media.
As we gathered today, Christ was among us.
May he continue to walk with you
as you go from here.
Go in peace,
and the blessing of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
be with you all. Amen.