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 line.
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. Visit our website for more information.
Today you’ll also hear music from our Worship Band. Anne MacKenzie will read Scripture for us, and Deacon Karen Hamilton will lead us in our prayers of thanksgiving and intercession.
Everything was recorded with the appropriate social distancing.
Let’s prepare for worship with a moment of silence.
Let us pray.
O God, your grandeur towers above the highest peaks;
your powers can make them tremble and fall.
Yet your love is deeper than the valleys of the oceans,
and as encompassing as the water that covers the earth.
In Christ Jesus you call us your children
and through him your Word is forever made known.
Be with us now as in Christ’s name we gather.
Accept our praises as we confess him Redeemer and Lord.
God of compassion,
have mercy upon us as we make our confession.
How often we do not do what we intended!
What we confess is not how we act.
We hear your Word preached and we give our assent,
but too often, our faith is found wanting
when it comes time to obey.
When we are confronted by conflict, and decisions are called for,
our desires are at odds with what you command
and we do not do what you wish.
O God, have mercy upon us, and in Christ forgive us.
May your Spirit give us the strength to do your will.
St Paul wrote that God has bestowed on Christ
‘the name that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus,
every knee should bend…
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.’
As we make our confession
we have the assurance that the exalted Christ
intercedes on our behalf.
As we are called to be faithful in our work, O God,
accept our gifts as we seek to respond.
May our hearts be as willing as your grace is reassuring.
May our faith be as firm as your forgiveness that frees us.
May our decisions be as deliberate as your righteousness that delivers us.
by whom the meek are guided in judgment
and light rises in darkness for the godly:
Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties,
the grace to ask what you would have us do;
that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices,
and that in your light we may see light,
and in your straight path may not stumble;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
The Question about Jesus’ Authority
23 Jesus came back to the Temple; and as he taught, the chief priests and the elders came to him and asked, “What right do you have to do these things? Who gave you such right?”
24 Jesus answered them, “I will ask you just one question, and if you give me an answer, I will tell you what right I have to do these things. 25 Where did John’s right to baptize come from: was it from God or from human beings?”
They started to argue among themselves, “What shall we say? If we answer, ‘From God,’ he will say to us, ‘Why, then, did you not believe John?’ 26 But if we say, ‘From human beings,’ we are afraid of what the people might do, because they are all convinced that John was a prophet.” 27 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you, then, by what right I do these things.
The Parable of the Two Sons
28 “Now, what do you think? There was once a man who had two sons. He went to the older one and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 ‘I don’t want to,’ he answered, but later he changed his mind and went. 30 Then the father went to the other son and said the same thing. ‘Yes, sir,’ he answered, but he did not go. 31 Which one of the two did what his father wanted?”
“The older one,” they answered.
So Jesus said to them, “I tell you: the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you. 32 For John the Baptist came to you showing you the right path to take, and you would not believe him; but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. Even when you saw this, you did not later change your minds and believe him.
‘What right have you to do these things?’, the chief priests and the elders asked Jesus. This is a question about authority. And it’s a question which still gets asked, and not just of Jesus, and not just in a religious context.
We’ve been told again, this week, that we should obey new restrictions on who we can visit, what we can do, where we can go. and as you will well know, there will be people who will complain and say. ‘What right do they have to do these things?’
This week, owners and employees in small grocers in Scotland called on the police to help enforce wearing facemasks in shops. According to a BBC report,
Abdul Majeed runs the Nisa store in Bellshill in North Lanarkshire… He said: “We have asked customers to wear masks and some say they have a medical condition and we have to respect that. Others just shrug their shoulders and say they either forgot it or it’s in the car, but there seems to be a hardcore who for whatever reason won’t wear one or refuse to wear one… That group that refuse to wear them is growing.”
In Musselburgh, East Lothian, Dan Brown at Pinkie Farm stores… told the BBC: “…There can be some quite strong opinions on wearing masks which can sometimes lead to confrontation, abuse and even violence. We have seen various levels of confrontation and abuse over the last few months. We want to make sure staff and customers are as safe as possible.” iBBC News
I don’t know about you, but I think someone who abuses someone doing their job- especially someone doing a not very well paid job, as many shop workers are- are beneath contempt. But we know that, for whatever reason, there is a core of people who maintain that the rest of us are wrong to follow the advice of the experts who tell us what we have to do to keep this virus from spreading.
Of course, we should expect a degree of complaining and moaning about all these restrictions. And it’s right there should be debate about what’s the right thing to do. In a democracy, we can always be critical of how our political leaders are handling things.
But in an age when you can read all sorts of conspiracy theories on the internet, where well-paid newspaper columnists can sit in the big houses and complain that people should be getting back to commuting into work, there are lots of versions of these ‘By what authority’ questions. It’s often coupled with the selfishness which is such a feature of our age. That BBC report quoted a man who refused to wear a mask in that Bellshill shop:
I have not heard of anyone with the virus, I got fed up doing it and I don’t believe in it any more. I feel fine, my family’s fine.
I’m all right, so I’ll ignore the experts. It’s hard to think of a more selfish (or, frankly, stupid) attitude.
Jesus was asked, ‘what right do you have?’ by the chief priests and elders- people who thought that they were the ones with authority when it came to matters of religion. Jesus responds (as he often did) with a question.
He asks them about John the Baptist, the popular prophet who’d been put to death recently: ‘Who gave John the right to baptize?’
The religious leaders are befuddled, for there are only two possible answers. If they say his authority came from God, then Jesus will ask them why they didn’t take John seriously. But they can’t say what they really think- that his authority wasn’t God given. For the ordinary people had turned out in droves to hear John preach. If the religious leaders deny his God-given authority, the ordinary people, who loved John, will turn on the religious leaders. So they reply with a sheepish ‘don’t know’. ‘OK, I won’t tell you where my authority comes from, says Jesus’.
And then Jesus tells them a parable. Just as last week, it’s about a man with a vineyard. This vineyard owner has two sons. He asks the eldest to go work in the vineyard, but he refuses, only to change his mind later. He asks the second son the same question, he says he will go, but then he doesn’t go after all. ‘So who did what his father wanted?’ asks Jesus. The elder brother, of course.
And Jesus draws out the inference in the Jewish leaders’ response to John. They are compared to the eldest son- they say they will do something, but they don’t. And he compares them to those tax collectors and prostitutes who perhaps were going their own way, but responded to John’s call to repent and be baptised, setting them on the way to the Kingdom of Heaven. What’s important to God isn’t what we say we believe. It’s that we also put our faith into action.
The rise of the internet has meant that more and more people are exposed to crazy conspiracy theories. And even the big newspapers and broadcasters give the cranks a voice.
I remember once getting into a taxi, and the driver was very chatty. For some reason, he started on about climate change, and how, in his view, it was all a hoax. I sat and listened, and wondered if he realised how ludicrous he sounded. The consensus among the scientists- the ones who have spent their life on this- is that the world is, indeed, warming up- and that human activity is the cause. But my taxi driver had never done research on board a cold and stormy polar research ship, or sat for hours analysing computer data. So I asked him, how come he knew more than all the scientists? Of course, he couldn’t answer. He was sure he was right, but he had no authority, really, that could convince me trust him.
Yet experts and leaders also earn authority by their own deeds. At the moment, even although I’m your minister, I can’t come and visit you in your house. I trust the authorities that there are good reasons why we’re being asked to make those kinds of sacrifice. But of course, the authority of those experts, and of the political leaders who are asking us to stick to the rules, is damaged when one of them turns out to have broken rules which they made for the rest of us. Authority can also be undermined by actions.
There are often cases where religious leaders turn out to have not practices what they preached- and that damages their authority. But, of course, the opposite is also the case. Those who live out their faith seem to me to have a special kind of authority.
In the years leading up to the Second World War, the German theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught theology, not in the comfortable surroundings of a university, but in an illegal seminary, set up to resist the takeover of the Protestant Church by the Nazis. Later, he lived in America for a time, and was offered an academic post in New York, but instead decided to return to Germany as war approached. During the war, he was involved with those who attempted to overthrow Hitler. Their assassination attempt failed on 5th April 1943, and Bonhoeffer, with hundreds of others, was imprisoned. He was executed on 23 April 1945 at a concentration camp which was liberated not long afterwards. For me, the fact that Bonhoeffer strove, with great courage, to be true to his faith in the most appalling situations, gives writings a special kind of authority.
When Jesus challenged the religious leaders about the authority of John the Baptist, he was, of course, really asking them what they thought of him. Where does the authority of Jesus come from? You could attempt a theological answer to that, but I think the answer comes, not so much from what he taught, but from what we know about him from the Gospels. For he spoke bravely about the goodness of God, while also healing those whom others would treat as untouchable. He spoke about the grace of God, and got himself into trouble for saying it was available to tax collectors and prostitutes. He spoke out even when it was dangerous to do so. In today’s Gospel passage, he in the Temple of Jerusalem, arguing with the top religious officials. Within a few days, he would be dead- put to death by the Roman governor at the behest of those same religious leaders.
In his prison cell, while ministering to his fellow inmates, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote essays, sermons and letters, which were collected and published after the war. In one of his letters from prison- thinking about the crucified Jesus- he wrote,
The Bible directs [humans] to God’s powerless and suffering; only the suffering God can help.
That was an insight by a man who was suffering himself because of the inhuman power of the Nazi state. He was reflecting on the powerless of Christ- nailed to a cross by the Roman Empire.
St Paul wrote that ‘we preach Christ crucified’iii; and it is a very strange thing to see authority- even power- in the figure of a man put to death for being a threat to the authority of the leaders of religion and state. The religious leaders and Pontius Pilate misused their authority to crush Jesus- a nonviolent preacher, whose message was about the universal love of God. And yet, in his powerlessness, Christ has authority.
‘What right have you to do these things?’ the religious leaders asked Jesus. And today, we might well ask, what right does Jesus have to command us to follow him? He has that right, not just from what he said, but from what he did. He didn’t just talk about God’s love. He put is words into actions, even although it meant death for him. And that, brothers and sisters, is the mysterious authority of the crucified Christ.
Thank you for joining us for worship today. Thanks to Deacon Karen Hamilton for the prayer, to Anne MacKenzie for the Bible reading, to our musicians, 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.
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