Call to Worship (from Psalm 99)
The Lord reigns,
let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
let the earth shake.
Great is the Lord in Zion;
he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name –
he is holy.
HYMN 470 Jesus Shall Reign Where’re the Sun
Loving Lord, Jesus,
we come into Your presence to worship and praise You.
We come from different places,
and different circumstances.
However we have come here today –
whether the last week has been good or bad,
whether we have known joy or sorrow,
let us leave our cares and concerns aside
and come united in our faith and hopes for the future.
We bring our skills and our talents which You have given us,
and we promise to use them to help others
and to reach out in love
showing others what it means to be a child of God.
Help us not just to listen to Your voice but to obey.
Help us not just to talk, but to put our words in to action,
so that all we do is done in Your name.
Gracious and merciful God,
we are sorry that we seldom live up to Your expectations.
We are sorry that our promise to follow Your example
and to share Your never-ending love
are too often promises made in vain.
So, forgive us, Lord.
We are ashamed that we fail You so often.
We are ashamed that we do not always follow in Your footsteps.
We ask You to guide us and set us on the right path.
When we are weak, make us strong.
When we are discouraged, encourage us.
When we take for granted all You have given us
and do not share what we have with those who live in poverty,
forgive us, Lord.
Remind us that everything we have comes from You
and everything we do is done for the work
and the glory of Your kingdom. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
I Thessalonians 1: 1-10
Paul, Silas and Timothy,To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace and peace to you.
We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.
For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake. You became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you welcomed the message in the midst of severe suffering with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia – your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead – Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
Matthew 22: 15-22
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. ‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the poll-tax to Caesar or not?’
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax. ’They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, ‘Whose image is this? And whose inscription?’
‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.
Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’
When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
HYMN 192 All My Hope on God is Founded
Which side are you on?
So goes the opening line and title of one of the most famous protest or union songs of the twentieth century. From its creation in 1931 until very recently it has been a staple of many folk singers in the English-speaking world. The background to it is the violent disputes between the unions and mine owners in depression era Kentucky; against this setting it says that there can be no neutrality. In other words, you are either on one side or the other.
The song raises issues of loyalty and allegiance, as do both our scripture readings today.
As we continue our journey through the Gospel of Matthew we find that the conflict between Jesus and the religious leaders of his day continues to develop. This time around, though, the Pharisees seem to have asked an unanswerable question. In a society divided along lines of tribe, politics, and faith, matters of loyalty or allegiance are paramount.
The Pharisees have taken quite a lot of criticism from Jesus, and not surprisingly they are keen to get their own back. The question about paying taxes is intended to force him into antagonizing either the crowds or the Romans with his reply. Jesus’ answer might appear evasive, but it shows how nuanced an answer must be given to what is quite a complex question. The question of loyalty to the state vis-à-vis loyalty to God is always a difficult one, and in general the New Testament writers advocate compliance with the worldly authorities. This is largely because they thought that with the end of the world being imminent, spiritual reform was more important than political or societal reform. Jesus’ saying is compatible with this sort of outlook; it implies that there is a duty to the state that is not necessarily incompatible with duty to God. On the other hand, the two are not the same; at times they may overlap, and at times they may clash. In the end, it depends on the individual circumstances where the duties to God and Caesar begin and end.
If you look closely at our reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica you will not find the word ’loyalty’, though the idea is there. Paul congratulates his audience on their faith, hope, and love, and it is the former of these that we should look at more closely. The word used in the original Greek can also be translated as ‘allegiance’, which is a form of loyalty. What Paul is flagging up for praise is not the abstract idea of ‘faith’ but the very concrete practice of loyalty. Surrounded by opportunities and incentives to turn from Christ, and to follow other gods, they chose to remain faithful. In other words, the Thessalonian Christians remained loyal. It is this allegiance, or loyalty, that matters here. It earns them praise but, more importantly, it illustrates the underlying depth and strength of their faith.
Paul refers to how their loyalty to Christ is reflected in how they live life, and for this they are to be praised. However, he immediately goes on to say that the Thessalonians have been chosen by God, and that their joyful reception of the gospel in the face of persecution was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is not just a matter of the Thessalonians’ own excellence, but a case of God working in them to inspire such praiseworthy responses. Both divine initiative and human response are important components in any Christian endeavour, and we need to hold on to the sense of balance between them.
What about us?
Today, we face many of the same challenges as the people of both the time of Jesus, and the church in Thessalonica. We are expected to show multiple loyalties, not all of which are in harmony. Likewise, our allegiance, or loyalty, to Christ is also challenged as we find ourselves enticed or distracted by other gods, both ancient and modern. Like the listeners and readers of these stories when they were first told, we need to learn to walk a fine line between our faith and the world in which we live. We will be challenged to stray; our loyalty to Christ will not meet the approval of all, especially where it inconveniences them. However, like Paul’s readers we must remain firm. Like them we are not alone, for the God who chose us also inspires us to continue. That loyalty, allegiance, or faithfulness is what will be noticed and remembered. It is this that will draw others to Christ more than fine words or ceremonies. It is this that will bring us the praise of God.
We bring to You now our prayers for others and for ourselves.
Lord we ask that You bless and guide Your church
here in this parish and throughout the world,
helping us to reach out to others,
sharing with them the good news of Christ
and standing with those who are most in need of our help,
love and support.
Guide us in our relationships with others,
within our families, with friends, neighbours
and those who we struggle to love or try to avoid.
Fill our homes and communities with the warmth of Your love,
may we learn to love and accept all.
Pour out Your Spirit into the world,
bless those struggling with poverty and homelessness,
evil and war.
Help us to reach out to those who are in need.
Bless those who are ill at home or in hospital,
those who are feeling anxious or low,
feeling like they would rather just give up than live on.
May they know Your love and sense Your presence with them
and may we as a church
reach out to them in their time of need.
Bless the leaders of nations and people.
Guide them in the decisions that they make,
ensuring they work hard and fight for the people they represent.
Lord, may we always sense Your presence in our lives
and in the lives of others.
Transform us to be the people that You would have us be.
All of this we ask in the name of Jesus Christ,
our Lord and Saviour.
HYMN 562 Through the Love of God Our Saviour
As our time of worship closes
let us go out into the world
loyal to Him who died
and rose again for us,
Christ our Lord.
And as we go,
may the blessing of God,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
be with us all,
now and evermore.
Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV®
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®
Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Prayers from the Church of Scotland, Weekly Worship for 18th October 2020.