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Service at Home – 22nd November

Service at Home on 22nd November 2020

for Bolton Road Methodist Church, Christ Church Ramsbottom and Edenfield Methodist Church

YouTube playlist: Service at Home 22-11-2020

As usual, the entire service can be followed on this YouTube playlist without the need to look at these sheets. However, you want to use these sheets if you prefer to read the words.

Welcome and Introduction

Watch: Welcome and Introduction

Welcome to this Sunday’s Service at Home.  This week we’re looking at Matthew 25 verses 31 to 46, in which Jesus uses the illustration of the sheep and goats to warn us. We’ll see how we can be certain that we’ll have a glorious eternal life in God’s Kingdom.

Watch: Reckless love

Watch: Good Good Father

Opening prayers

Watch: Opening prayers

Father God I thank you for your faithful love for me and for everyone.  I thank you that nothing can separate me from your love.  I thank you that you are my good Father, always wanting the very best for me and providing for my needs.  I thank you that because of your love for me I can be forgiven for the things I do wrong and have a fresh start with your own Spirit living in me to transform my life.

Take a moment to bring to mind those things you need to say sorry to God for.

Father I thank you that you always welcome me with open arms when I realise my mistake and run back to you.  Hold me in your love this day and always.  Amen.

And now say the prayer that Jesus taught us:

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 trespasses, as we forgive those that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.

Watch: In Christ Alone

Prayers of intercession and Gospel reading

Watch: Prayers of intercession and Gospel reading

Prayers of intercession by Graham from Bolton Road

You are to be praised Lord our God, for you give us life here on earth and the promise of life eternal. You give us the power to grow and to change.  You give us the freedom to ignore or turn to you. In love, you seek each of us out and desire all to have fullness of life. For this we are humbled and beg your forgiveness for our lack of gratitude.

We thank you Lord, for the Holy Scriptures and for all who preach the Word and spread the Good News. May we not be narrow minded in our views or fail to bring the scriptures to affect the way we live and the way we treat others.

At a time when the world is suffering from a pandemic which is taking much of the attention of the media, forgive us if we have taken our eyes off the millions who continue to be homeless, hungry or in medical need. Renew our compassion for the needs of all people and guide us to find ways in which we can play our part in relieving the worlds suffering. Let us pray too, for our church, that it may be a place where people are given time and attention and space to be themselves, where pain is shared and, the love of God discovered.

We thank you for the scientists working to discover a new vaccine to treat the COVID-19 virus and for the recent good news that this may have been achieved. Give us patience Lord as there is a long way to go before a vaccination programme can be rolled out worldwide. In the meantime, help us to continue to protect ourselves and others by following the safeguarding rules for sanitisation and safe distancing. Give us that daily reassurance and trust in you for your presence on the journey.

Thank you, God, for simple acts of kindness when human love reaches out towards human need. With gratitude we remember: The person who regularly calls next door to visit their elderly neighbour; our pastoral visitors who keep in contact with the members on their list to ensure they are coping and do not feel abandoned; the health care professionals who give up free time to see to the medical needs of rough sleepers at a drop-in centre; the accountant who out of office hours keeps the books of local charities; the young person who gives time sharing their enthusiasm and energy in situations of poverty and deprivation; and the many volunteers who willingly give their time freely to keep the work of our charities going. We thank you, God, for all the people we never notice but who, with quietness and grace, do the work of Christ.

Father, you are the bringer of hope. At this time of year, we remember all who gave their lives in the service of their country, and those of our church community who have died during the last 12 months. May their loved ones find peace and a reassurance that each of those who have departed are sharing in the glory of your Kingdom.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Bible reading

Matthew 25:31-46

Watch: Speak, O Lord, as we come to you

Epistle reading, sermon and prayer in response

Watch: Epistle reading and sermon

Bible reading

James 2:14-19

Sermon

When I read that passage about the sheep and goats, I can’t help wondering: what does Jesus have against goats?! I think goats are lovely and much more interesting and playful than sheep. Although it must be said that goats can cause a lot of trouble, especially as they often get into places they’re not supposed to be and eat everything in sight!

But of course, Jesus isn’t intending to teach us about the characteristics of farm animals, Jesus wants to teach us something much, much more important! Jesus is telling us we have two options: to either have an eternal life in his perfect Kingdom; or to receive eternal punishment in the fires of hell. So it’s obviously a very important passage that we should carefully consider, so that we don’t end up in the wrong place like those poor goats!

In the passage, Jesus congratulates those selected for his Kingdom (the sheep) by telling them that they’d helped him when he was in need, they’d given him food, something to drink, invited hm into their home and visited him when he was ill and when he was in prison. Except that they hadn’t, of course, so they were confused. Jesus explains by telling them, in verse 40 from the New Living Translation: “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!”. Jesus then turns to those condemned to eternal punishment (the goats) and tells them that they had not helped him when he was in need. They were similarly confused and Jesus tells them, in verse 45 from the NLT: “when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me”.

You may recall hearing the verse “when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” quite recently. That’s because two weeks ago we heard how Geoffrey Kennedy – the army chaplain in the first world war - heard Jesus say that to him in a vision. And we heard that this led Geoffrey to see Jesus in everyone who was suffering. This is of course exactly what Jesus is telling us through this passage. When you’re confronted by a smelly, unwashed person high on drugs, then see Jesus in them. When you’re confronted by someone moaning about all the problems that they’ve brought upon themself, then see Jesus in them. When you’re confronted by a violent criminal who has done dreadful things, then see Jesus in them.

It’s not easy, but it’s what Jesus tells us we should do. Just as Jesus loves us and we love Jesus, then we should love everyone, because we’re all God’s children created in God’s likeness. We won’t always succeed in loving everyone because we’re only human, but don’t worry as Jesus knows we’re not perfect and will forgive us.

However, Jesus does us expect us to try to love everyone. In fact, this is what Jesus explicitly commands us to do. Again as we heard two weeks ago, Jesus tells us in John 15 verse 17: “This is my command: Love each other”. Those who received eternal life (the sheep) were those who obeyed that command. They’d been obedient and helped others because they made an effort to love them: they’d done what Jesus had commanded. The others (the goats) who were condemned to eternal punishment, had not done what Jesus commanded. This is why Jesus used sheep and goats for the illustration. At the time of Jesus, sheep and goats looked quite similar, before sheep had been bred to produce huge amounts of wool and tasty meat. But there was a big difference between sheep and goats, which people at that time knew about. It’s that sheep were obedient and followed their shepherd by recognising his voice; and that goats were disobedient and would go off and do their own thing. This makes us ask ourselves: am I like a sheep or a goat? Do I follow my shepherd, Jesus Christ, or do I do what I think is best and do what I want to do?

When I read that passage from Matthew about the sheep and goats, one thing that strikes me is that it’s absolutely black and white. It’s either a glorious eternal life God’s Kingdom or it’s eternal fire and punishment. There’s nothing in between, not somewhere mediocre for the naughty sheep and good goats. This does focus the mind doesn’t it?! Knowing that there’s only the options of eternal life in God’s Kingdom or eternal punishment and nothing in between.

I’m absolutely certain that you want eternal life in God’s Kingdom rather than eternal punishment, and I can’t imagine why anybody wouldn’t. So that leaves the question: what do we need to do to receive eternal life? How can I be certain that I’ll be counted as a sheep and not a goat? When we read that passage from Matthew, it would be easy to start worrying about whether we’ve given food and water to enough hungry and thirsty people, and whether we’ve visited enough sick people and people in prison? Exactly how many people do I need to help before I qualify as a sheep?

For example, I’ve never visited anyone in prison, so does that automatically exclude me from eternal life?! No, of course it doesn’t! I can be sure of this because of what the Bible tells me. Listen to the words of Jesus in John 5 verse 24: “whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”. Similarly, Romans 3 verses 22, 23 and 24: “righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe”; and “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. These passages, plus others, tell us that we can be absolute certain that we’ll enjoy an eternal life in God’s Kingdom by doing just one thing: by putting our faith in Jesus. We don’t earn eternal life by helping lots of people, we receive it freely through faith in Jesus. So it doesn’t depend on how many people we’ve helped: it may be thousands, or it may be none. Even if we lead a saintly life and help lots of people, it can never be enough for us to earn our place in God’s Kingdom. Yet the most selfish and unpleasant person imaginable can gain a place in God’s Kingdom but putting his faith in Jesus seconds before he dies, having helped no one – not a single person – in his life.

However, this seems to contradict the illustration of the sheep and goats. But when we look at the passage from Matthew’s Gospel more carefully, we see that in fact there is no contradiction. The King didn’t say that the people on the right – the sheep – were receiving eternal life because of the good deeds that they’d done,  he just said that they had done the right things. And this was no doubt because, like sheep, they’d been obedient: obedient to Jesus, our shepherd.

The second reading that we heard, from James chapter 2, explains this in a different way. In verse 17, James wrote: “faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”. This doesn’t mean that our faith is useless without lots of good deeds. It means that if we have a strong and active faith, then we can’t fail to have compassion for others and want to help them. So it means that our good deeds are evidence of our strong faith, and conversely, if we do not help others then it shows that we have no real faith. This is why James went on to write, in verse 18: “I will show you my faith by my deeds”.

So what does all this tell us about needing to perform good deeds and to help people. Well actually, it tells something rather unexpected. It tells us not to help others it because a preacher tells you to or because you feel guilty if you don’t. And it tells us not to help others because we think it’s our ticket to heaven when you die, because it isn’t! Instead, it tells us that if you’ve put your faith in Jesus and are obedient to him, then you will naturally love others and help others because you want to.

So we shouldn’t be asking ourselves whether we’re helping enough people. What we should all be asking ourselves is this: do my deeds indicate that I’ve truly put my faith in Jesus? If you lack compassion for others, then it’s a sure sign that your faith in Jesus is lacking, in which case, you need to recommit yourself to him. If you fail to help those in need, then it shows that you’re not being obedient to Jesus. This is very important, because if you haven’t put your faith in Jesus, your shepherd and you’re not following him, then that makes you a goat and we heard that something very unpleasant happened to them!

So make sure that you’re counted as one of the sheep by trusting your shepherd and going wherever he leads you, so that you’ll have a glorious eternal life in his Kingdom.

Prayer

Dear Lord, I thank you so much that you offer me an eternal life in your Kingdom through my faith in your son, Jesus Christ, and the sacrifice that he made for me. I thank you so much that I don’t need to earn my place in your Kingdom, because I know that I’d fail. Lord, take away my fear that I’m not good and help me to remember that you love us me as own child. Lord in a moment of quiet, help me to feel the reassurance of your love and forgiveness in my heart and once again…………

Lord, I accept your free gift of eternal life.

Lord, help me to obey your command to love others, so that I’m filled with compassion for others so that I’ll naturally want to do what’s best for them.

Help me to always be obedient to Jesus our shepherd, so that I follow him to wherever he wants and do whatever he wants.

Lord, I pray that my deeds will always reflect my faith in you and my obedience to my shepherd. In a moment of quiet, tell me who in particular you want me to love and care for……

I pray that I’ll always be able to see you in everyone I meet, remembering that they are your child created in your likeness, so that when I love them, I am loving you.

Lord, bless each one of us in the coming week. Protect us and guide us, as you go ahead of us, leading us down the right path. Amen.

Watch: The Lords my shepherd

Watch: No longer slaves to fear