Year C Easter 5
Sunday, 2 May, 2010
Ashgrove West Uniting Church
Call to Worship (Based on Psalm 148)
Praise the Lord, the creator and ruler of all.
Praise the Lord from Mount Cooth-tha, from Mount Glorious, and from Mount Tambourine.
Praise the Lord who brings sun and rain.
Praise the Lord, who fills the dams, who ends drought and brings life and growth.
Praise the Lord, curlews and bluetongues, kookaburras and possums.
Praise the Lord, businesspeople, and cleaners, doctors and labourers, everyone who shares the world.
Praise the Lord, the beginning and the end.
Praise the Lord, the giver of life and of new life. Amen.
Hymn Together in Song 166 Sing a new song, sing a new song
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
Holy God, giver and sustainer of life.
We come before you with awe and wonder, aware that we cannot begin to understand your greatness. Through your own Word and Breath, you created all that exists; a universe of time and space, and in this universe, you created life. Of the earth itself, you made human beings and breathed your own Breath into us to give us life.
You created us for a perfect existence, and placed us in a world of abundance. But, not content with all you had given, we wanted more, and gave in to the temptation to try to take your place in our own lives.
Through our own actions, we damaged the relationship with you, and as a consequence, with each other. Yet, even though we turned away from you, you never turned from us.
When the time was right, you provided us with Jesus, both truly God and truly human, the only one who could mend the torn relationship between God and humanity
We thank you that although Jesus' work was completed with the cross and the empty tomb, his work is effective for ever. The things we have done which have hurt our relationship with you, the things we have done which have hurt our relationships with each other, have already been dealt with, finally on the cross.
We thank you, for the abundant love which can overcome all our failings, and praise you that we can know that in Jesus we are forgiven. Amen.
Declaration of forgiveness
Our sins are forgiven
Thanks be to God.
Kids Time - Bec
Hymn Together in Song 699 A new commandment
There were two very different versions of the story of what happened in our house on Thursday morning.
Bumpy Cat's version, was that an incredibly brave cat at great personal risk protected his home and family from a serious danger. According to his version, being confined to the house for the rest of the day was cruel and unusual punishment for his heroism, and was totally unwarranted.
My version is that the wretched cat brought a live snake into our house. In the past, I've been able to rescue any wildlife Bumpy has tormented. This time I couldn't, because if I interfered it would distract Bumpy and increase the chances of him being bitten. So I stood by helpless, while Bumpy carried a live snake, through the dining room, to the laundry to play with it under the birdcage before eventually removing its head. According to my version, Bumpy was a very bad cat, and being shut inside away from his catnip garden is just what happens to bad cats.
There's two or more versions to lots of things. Let's look at two different versions of love.
There's what I'll call the popular version – or romantic love. This version says love is a feeling. You can fall in love and you can fall out of love, it's just a feeling that happens and it seems you have no control over it.
The other version of love I'd like to look at is God's love. This version says love is an action. It is something you make a conscious decision to do. In fact, Jesus can command us to do it. It makes no difference what we feel about ourselves or the other person.
Romantic love is selfish – it's about the effect the other person has on me, how they make me feel. This is the love lauded in popular songs and films and soap operas. A widespread belief in romantic love – that another person can consistently make you feel good, no matter what your personal issues – leads to an awful lot of divorces. In reality – the only person who can control how you feel is you. When you put that burden on to another person, they might carry it for a while, but eventually they will collapse under the pressure.
God's love is selfless, self-giving. It is focussed on the other person, on wanting the best for them, on acting in ways that will benefit them. It's the love displayed in Jesus, one with God for eternity; becoming human to meet our need; suffering to meet our need; dying to meet our need; and rising again to meet our need. It's love that gives expecting nothing in return.
Romantic love is fearful, and therefore possessive and controlling. You can't actually see another person's feelings, so you can never be truly sure they feel the same way you do. What if they fall out of love with you? What if they can't or won't meet all of your needs to make you feel good about yourself? What if they just go away and stop meeting your needs? It's the pathological, fearful, side of romantic love that can lead to some forms of domestic violence, stalking, even spousal murders. (In Australia, the most common form of murder is spousal murder.)
God's love, because it doesn't require anything in return, isn't fearful, anxious, controlling. It's grace – a gift freely given. In a marriage, if both partners are always thinking about, and trying to achieve, what is good for the other person, that marriage is far more likely to be successful, than one where each is concerned with what they personally are feeling. But God's love isn't confined to reciprocal relationships. It is possible to apply this kind of love to relationships which are only one way – to love someone who is unwilling or unable to love in return. To give food to the ecumenical pantry or for the yarn group to send blankets to people in need is this kind of love – to do what others need not because we gain from it, but because it is what they need.
Romantic love is jealous. It wants the object of love for itself and no-one else.
God's love is ever-expanding. A couple or family or community, of people who love each other in this way will not only seek to do good for each other, but support each other in seeking to do good for people outside the family as well.
Romantic love is changeable, dependent on how people are feeling.
God's love is unchangeable. It continues even when people are having a “bad day”. (Or a bad week, month, year, lifetime...) God's love stays the same, no matter how you feel about the other person at the time. You can try to do good for people even if you don't like them.
Love had always been the foremost law in Israel's law code. Even the lawyers of Jesus' day could agree with him on that. When Jesus said “love one another as I have loved you”, he was putting in place a clear definition and example of what that love meant. His was the self-giving love that was given, not to make him feel good, or to get something back, but simply to meet the others' need. It was love that was uncomfortable and costly. And this is what Jesus wanted from them, what he wants from us.
If we look at our reading from Acts, we see Peter learning about the extent of this love – and explaining it to the other believers at the Council of Jerusalem. The previous chapter detailed the story of Peter's vision, and the subsequent conversion and baptism of Cornelius and his household. And in today's reading, Peter repeats the whole story to explain why he had baptised uncircumcised people – why he had not required them to become Jews before becoming Christians.
Peter was a good Jew. As such he would have followed all of the purity laws, including the Kashrut, the food purity law. To him, this would not have been just unnecessary regulation tacked on to his life, it would have been an essential part of who he was. But it was a law that created a barrier between Jews and non-Jews. Peter's vision challenged him to a great level of sacrificial love – to give up a part of his own identity so as to be able to provide what non-Jewish believers needed. (Even if Peter didn't actually have to eat anything at Cornelius' house, just going into a non-Jewish home would have been a difficult thing for Peter to do.) It also meant that he would risk being rejected by the Jewish believers – hence his being called to account at Jerusalem.
Peter's instruction to go to Cornelius, not to try to change his culture or lifestyle, but just to tell him about Jesus and baptise him, was a command to act in accordance with pure love – God's version of love. It was to go somewhere Peter was uncomfortable, and not expect the people he went to to be uncomfortable to accommodate him. It was to share the most precious gift he had with people who did not share his background, who might not appreciate the gift he was bringing. It was to give, not to get anything in return, but as part of God's provision of what was best to Cornelius and his family.
This is a great demonstration of love, and apart from Peter's initial abhorrence of the way he was given the instruction, we're not told anything of how he felt about what he did, or how he felt personally about Cornelius and his family.
And this is the love Jesus commanded of his followers, of us. That we would do what is good for others, with no requirement for anything in return, even when it is difficult, uncomfortable or costly for us. That we would love, as Jesus loves us.
Hymn Together in Song 459 In Christ there is no east and west
Prayers of the People
Loving God, Creator of all that is,
We thank you that you have never abandoned your creation,
you have never left us without your love and guidance,
you have loved us enough to give us the greatest gift of all – the gift of Jesus.
You have loved us enough to leave your own Spirit with your church,
to give us all that we need to build up the community of faith.
We pray for this world, which you love so much.
In many parts of this world, hatred seems to overcome love.
In many parts of the world, children are growing up, so familiar with war that they will not understand peace.
We pray for our nation, our national leaders who make our laws and who influence the attitudes of the Australian people.
We are painfully aware, that there are children growing up in our nation, who are socially ostracised, whose employment and educational options are limited, not because of their ability, but because of the colour of their skin.
And we pray for ourselves, the church, in all times and places throughout the world.
At many times and in many places we have been the object of hatred, or distrust.
Throughout our times of trauma, your Word has been with us to sustain us.
Help us to learn from the trials we have been through – hyelp us to never return hatred for hatred, evil for evil.
Help us to be the body of Christ in the world- to bring the light of the love of Christ into all of our encounters with other people.
In Jesus' name
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 572 O thou who camest from above