Service for 4 September 2011
Year A Sunday 23
Exodus 12:1-14, Psalm 149, Romans 13:8-14, Matthew 18:15-20. Green.
Call to Worship (Psalm 149:1-4 – Responsive - from Uniting in Worship)
Hymn Together in Song 147 To God be the Glory
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
God, our Saviour,
You created us, and all things, to your glory.
You could have created us and left us on our own
But, instead, you have watched over us constantly
Again and again you have saved your people and promised your love.
You saved Noah and his family from the waters of the flood
and you gave the rainbow as a sign of your covenant to sustain all life in the future:
You saved the Israelites from Egypt
and gave the Passover meal
as a sign of your covenant of salvation for your people.
You saved us from sin and death in Jesus
and gave us the sacraments of baptism and communion
as the signs of your covenant with us.
Over and over again; you have re-told us your promise:
that you will be our God
you will never abandon us
you will love us always.
Over and over again; you have invited us
to be your people
to accept your love
to stay with you always.
You are faithful to the covenant you have made with us
but we are unfaithful.
You are always our God as you have promised
we are not always your people
We think, speak and act which do not honour you
We turn our backs on you and on your covenant
on your call to us to be your people
not slaves, but your own family, your friends.
We are sorry for our sins,
and once again return to hear your covenant promise.
Knowing that you will always be our God,
we seek your help in being your faithful people.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Declaration of forgiveness
Hymn Together in Song 622 I know someone who watches over me
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God.
“Take off your sandals,” the voice from the bush told Moses, “for you are on holy ground.”
Today, we are on holy ground. We have gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, to worship the God he worshipped as Father. And Jesus has promised that as we gather in his name, he is here among us. So this is a holy place, and we are a holy people – just as the people of Israel were a holy nation.
“Holy” means “set apart”. The people of Israel were set apart from the nations around them by the covenant they had with God. The covenent was an agreement or contract, more binding than any modern legal document. We, too, are set apart through a covenant with God.
The covenant came in the words of God: “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
Each new generation of Israelites joined the covenant at seven days of age,w ith special ceremonies to celebrate that they were set apart as part of God's holy people. Offerings were given to thank God for the new child; and baby boys were circumcised. The child didn't have to be old enough to understand what was happening, and didn't have to respond. The covenant was always a part of God's promise, it was a gift that did not have to be earned.
But the covenant did not end there. There were things people were asked to do in response to God's promise. Those responses, taken together, were known as the Law. The Law was made up of the first five books of our Bible, but could be summarised in the ten commandments. It had a special place in the life of the nation of Israel – this was the means by which they were put right with God. If they obeyed the law, they were reassured they “belonged”.
The covenant also came with a ceremonial meal, which wasn't just a dinner, but a way of remembering, of telling the story and acting it out, of God's salvation of the people. Each year, at Passover, they would put themselves in the place of their ancestors escaping slavery in Egypt.
It wasn't a way of remembering just for the adults – but a vital way of passing the faith on to children. Children always took full part in the Passover meal, indeed the youngest child had one of the most important parts of the ceremony – asking the set questions which prompted the telling of the story of the rescue of the slaves from Egypt.
It was a meal of belonging. Every member of the Israelite community took part. Rich or poor, young or old, they were involved. If they couldn't afford a lamb for one family, they shared with their neighbours. Not just a simple remembrance of the flight from Egypt, each person present claimed God's salvation as their own. So they say “I was a wandering Aramean.....” It's not just history – it's a living covenant affecting life throughout all time.
We are a part of the Holy People as well. We are set apart from the rest of the world through the New Covenant in Jesus. Our covenant comes in God's promise that all who believe in Jesus will receive eternal life.
Just as each new generation of Israelites joined the Old Testament covenant through circmcision – so each new generation of Christians joins this covenant through a symbolic ceremony. We join the covenant through Baptism, sometimes as infants, sometimes at a later age. Just as the circumcision of infants was a sign that the covenant applied because of God's action, without any conscious response from the person being initiated into it – so infant baptism particularly reminds us that the covenant God forges with us is also based on God's action, not on ours. The person being baptised doesn't have to be old enough to understand what's happening, and doesn't have to be able to respond. The covenant is a gift of God's promise. It is not something we can ever earn.
Our covenant calls for a response, just as the ancient covenant called for a response. It's God's initiative to be our God. But we are asked to respond by being God's people. Our response is given to us in fewer words than the ancient law – but with much the same intent – that we love God above all else, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
And the new covenant has its ceremonial meal as well. As with the Passover, when we come to Holy Communion, we hear the story, we act it out and we put ourselves there. When we gather around the Communion Table, we are the disciples who gathered with Jesus on the night when he was betrayed, we are part of the story. Jesus will die, not just for them, but for us. This is our salvation being worked out for us.
With the bread and the wine, we recall the Passover story – it was a Passover meal Jesus was sharing with his disciples.
But we also recall the part of the story that was especially for us – the new meaning Jesus gave to the bread and the wine.
So, just as the Israelites sharing in the Passover meal, were taken back to that night before the angel of death passed over Egypt; when we share in Holy Communion we are taken to the night before Jesus died. We celebrate that, for us, God brought life out of death.
Holy Communion isn't just a way for us to remember this central story of our faith. It's also an important way for us to pass this precious story on to the children in our church, to help them learn their place in the story, just the same as the Israelite children were included in the Passover.
Holy Communion is a meal of belonging. Every baptised Christian, whatever age or denomination, is invited to take part, just as everyone initiated into the Jewish faith is invited to take part in Passover. Sharing in our part in the story, is part of what makes us the Christian community.
So we are a holy people: people of the New Covenant. This is not something that just fell out of the sky on us – it has strong links with the Covenant of the Old Testament. And like the Old Covenant, it begins with God, it has an intitiation point, and a response that is expected of us, and a ceremonial meal helps to place us in the history of the covenant.
All of the New Covenant, not only reflects the old, but ties us into the history of the Israelite people. It reminds us that we are part of God's action, not just through the past 2000 years, but throughout all of history.
When we share the sacraments of baptism and communion, we celebrate that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. We are a part the promise that goes thoroughout all of history: that God will be our God, and we will be God's people.
Hymn Together in Song 690 Beauty for Brokenness
Prayers of the People
We pray for all of your people in this world
that we who've begin the journey of faith in baptism,
that we may all learn the wonder of all that your promise means.
For we who regularly recall your promise through Holy Communion that your promise will constantly remind us who you are, and who we are. That we will see ourselves as part of a whole – all of your people, beyond the constraints of geography or time or culture or race. That we would be one.
For we who try, not always successfully, to respond to your promise in our lives – that you would give us wisdom, grace, and courage, to love you ahead of all things, and to love our neighbours as ourselves.
Prayer points from notices
We pray all these things, in Jesus' name. Amen.
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 650 Brother, sister let me serve you,