Holy giver of life and love, you work in us and around us and through us.
As you walked among the people in Jerusalem, you healed the sick and taught through parables and stories.
As you move in and through our worship today, you offer yourself to us and to all the world.
Unite us in love and service, that we may bless the world in the name of Jesus, who teaches us what it means to do your will. Amen.
Jesus was in Jerusalem, teaching in the temple courtyard. Around him was gathered a disreputable crowd listening to his every word: Beggars in their rags, tax collectors notorious for their thieving ways and prostitutes easily recognised with their uncovered heads and cheap perfumes. These and many other ordinary folk sat at the feet of the teacher enjoying his stories and his company. It was the temple priests who intruded on this happy scene, and the chief priest who launched the assault on Jesus.
"By what authority are you doing these things and who gave you that authority?" He demanded.
Jesus paused for a long while before he answered. He gazed steadily at the intruders and recognised in the hard set faces the righteous self interest of those with a position to maintain. These were the same men who had shunned the amazing ministry of John the Baptist. They would never recognise the true work of God, even though it was near enough to bite them on the nose. In the end Jesus replied with a story about a father and two sons. The father told both sons to go and work in the vineyard. The first son said 'no', but later changed his mind and went to work anyway. The second son said 'yes', but when the time for work came, he did not go.
"Which son" said Jesus, "did what the father wanted."
"The first" the priests answered, "the one who actually did the work."
"Yes," said Jesus fixing them with a hard look. "Now take a look at the crowd gathered here around you. See the tax gatherers and the prostitutes. These are the ones who are responding to their heavenly father. These are the ones who listened to John and repented of their sins. But you priests and leaders didn't did you? These people were spiritually sick and John cured them. Now it is I who continue God's work. And I'll tell you something else," said Jesus, "God welcomes such as these into his kingdom."
It is here that the bible narrative ends. We can only imagine the impotent fury on the faces of the priests as they realise that Jesus has turned the story against them. We can only imagine the look of wonder on the faces of the tax gatherers, as they realise that Jesus is saying that it is never too late. They can be part of God's family too if they turn to him with faith and humility. And today the same is true. For it does not matter who we are or what we have done, each of us can belong to God's kingdom and work for him in the world. Like the tax collectors and prostitutes of old, Christ calls us to gather round his feet and listen to his word. Then he sends us out to demonstrate his love and grace as we live and work for him.
Lord Jesus Christ, we are healed through your abiding presence. We are accepted by you and drawn into your open arms. We come to you with deep thankfulness and we receive your gift of salvation and new life. We give ourselves into your hands and dedicate ourselves to your service this day. Help us to know your way and to share your love with others, for your name's sake. Amen.
God our Father fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Christ Jesus. And may the blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, be upon you, now and always. Amen.