Sunday 12 October, 2010
Call to Worship
God calls us to be here
and welcomes us home
no matter where we have been
no matter what we have done.
God calls us to be here
and welcomes us home
not because we have earned our place
but because we are loved.
Hymn Together in Song 223 How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
we thank you for your boundless love for us
love which is greater than anything we can know or understand
love which seeks us out no matter how far we stray from you
love which would give anything for us – even your own Son.
We confess that we have done nothing to deserve your love.
We have turned away from you
We have failed to love you with our whole hearts, souls, minds and strength.
We have failed to love our neighbours as ourselves.
We do not deserve your love – yet you love us anyway.
Help us to repent, to turn back towards the life you would have us live.
In Jesus' name. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
….Our sins are forgiven
Thanks be to God.
Hymn Together in Song 229 Jesus loves me
1 Timothy 1:12-17
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God!
What is grace? We talk about it. We sing about it. But do we stop to think what it is?
Jesus ate with outcasts, and those who were never in danger of being outcasts objected seriously, so Jesus gave them some pictures of how God acts, pictures of grace.
In the first picture, God is a shepherd. In the Old Testament, kings were like shepherds of Israel, and God was seen as being like a shepherd. But in the days of Jesus, shepherds weren't so well accepted among those who were particularly keen on being ritually clean all the time. Who knew what shepherds got up to out in the fields? For all anyone knew, they probably touched dead animals, (either to kill them for food, or to bury them, or to kill predators) and were never really acceptably clean. (Touching something that was dead was a definite no-no in terms of the purity laws observed at the time.)
So Jesus began with a picture of God which had a strong Scriptural heritage, but would have made his listeners think twice. He said this shepherd had a hundred sheep, but when one went missing, left the 99 and went in search of the one. We've probably heard the story so often, that we don't think how illogical that is. He left the 99, to fend for themselves. So what if there's a thief? What if there's a wolf in the neighbourhood? Surprisingly, the 99 don't seem to suffer any mishap, as the shepherd goes out on a long search to find the one missing sheep. But what a risk! What a cost! The whole 99 could have been lost to save the one who probably chose to wander off into danger anyway.
It's not as if this sheep was worth the effort. It was a pretty stupid sheep to get itself into trouble like that anyway. Sheep knew their shepherd's voice, they followed them, that way they stayed out of trouble. So this sheep, if it was this dumb, was likely to just cause more trouble again anyway.
I wonder what one of those 99 sheep would have felt like? The Shepherd has a party to celebrate finding the lost sheep! It's really a bit too much. Apart from the risk to the other sheep, and the time lost in the search, now the shepherd is going to organise a party! Are the other sheep meant to be overjoyed that this stupid one has put them all at risk?
Then Jesus says God is like a woman. Now that would really have upset the upright Jews of his day. One of the daily prayers of the time was “I thank God that I am not a woman.” Jesus says God is like a woman, who had ten coins. About ten day's wages. It might have been enough for a fortnight's groceries. She lost one of them. She lit a lamp, using up precious fuel. Shifted all the furniture, and scrubbed the house top to bottom, until she found the coin. Then she invited all the other women of the village to celebrate. She couldn't afford to lose a single coin – but she could have a party!
Now the sheep might have had some awareness that it was actually lost. It should have noticed that the other sheep seemed to have gone somewhere without it. It might have even tried to find its way back. But the coin?
Jesus gives a picture of God's grace which shows God being especially concerned with the people that no decent, sensible or socially acceptable, person would have anything to do with. Not only does it show God as concerned with such people, but as being ridiculously wasteful, giving the best resources for people who don't deserve them!
So Jesus was not spending his time with the 99 who were already OK – those people who might have had some odd ideas, but knew they needed to be right with God, and tried, in their way, to be. Instead he was with the sinners and the outcasts, people who may or may not have even known that they were lost, that they did need to become be right with God.
And Jesus did more than spend time with people. He personally paid the price for putting them right with God. He took on the punishment for any degree of sinfulness that any human life can hold – and offered it as a free gift to anyone who would accept it.
That's what grace is. It's the free gift of God's love. It's offered to anyone who will take it. It's extravagant, and goes way beyond the bounds of any logic. It can't be earned or bought or even in any way deserved. The sheep didn't deserve to be rescued. The coin didn't deserve all the work that went into finding it. Neither had done anything to deserve the celebration. But God is so delighted in finding us that there really must be a celebration, a great outpouring of God's love and happiness. That is the love we are meant to know in a Christian community, as we share in God's joy. That also means that there is no room for the resentment that those who watched Jesus' actions disapprovingly felt. We are meant to share in the joy whenever anyone, no matter who or no matter what they have done, finds that God has done something wonderful in their lives.
Among the ways the church celebrates the grace of God, are the sacraments of baptism and holy communion.
We see it most fully when we baptise an infant. And adult can imagine that they earned their baptism, by their faith, by their repentance, by anything they can think has brought them to be baptised. An infant can't claim any of that. A baby comes with nothing to give. All a baby can do is receive. That is the truth of baptism – although it has at times been obscured and denied by people who will not accept that grace is a gift, and feel they must earn it. The truth of baptism, the truth of holy communion, the truth of our entire life, and even our death, is that we have nothing to give. We have nothing that God needs. All we can do is accept God's love, as a free gift. And we can know that our receiving the gift, as a free gift, will give God far greater joy than any effort on our part to earn God's love.
Perhaps that is one of the reasons, in the gospels, that Jesus urges people to be like children. Children, unless they have been taught otherwise, joyfully accept gifts, and they accept love, without thinking they have to deserve them.
So when we sing and talk about grace, we are dealing with one of the greatest wonders of all. That God could love us absolutely and extravagantly, even before we know God, even though we can never earn that love. And more than that, we can share in being agents of God's grace. We can share in loving and nurturing people who are young in faith. We can share in reaching out to people who have never known God's love. We can share in searching for those who have known God's love, but have wondered away from that relationship for whatever reason. And we can share in God's joy whenever anyone happily receives God's grace.
Hymn Together in Song 693 Come as you are
Prayers of the People
We pray for Australia.
After so long of waiting to know who our government would be
help us now to trust in those who have been elected to lead us.
Give them wisdom, guide their decisions
help them to see past the differences of party politics
to do what is best for our nation,
and for our dealings with those outside our nation.
And we pray for those who have special needs
the lost, the lonely, the hurting, the fearful,
those we know and those we don't.
Like the shepherd seeking the lost sheep,
the woman seeking the coin,
we ask that you find them,
care for them,
and that we might share in the celebration of your love for them.
Service of Holy Communion – Uniting in Worship 2, from page 162
Hymn Together in Song 531 Sent forth by God's blessing