Service for 20th March 2011
Ashgrove West Uniting Church
Year A Lent 2
Genesis 12:1-4a; Psalm 121; Romans 4:1-5,13-17; John 3:1-17.
Call to Worship
Psalm 121 (Uniting in Worship)
Hymn Together in Song 164 The Great Love of God
Prayers of Adoration and Confession
We thank you that you do watch over our lives.
That you are with us in the worst of times,
as well as in the best of times.
We thank you that even when we forget you
you always remember us
you never leave us
and you never give up on us.
We confess our lack of faith.
There are times, when we despair
when we doubt that you are with us
when we doubt your love for us , and for this world of yours
there are times, when because we can't understand why you allow things to happen, we fear that you may not love us after all.
God be with us in our fears
forgive us our lack of faith
and help us to grow in faith and love,
In Jesus' name. Amen
Declaration of Forgiveness
Kids' time - Bec
Romans 4:1-5, 13-17
This is the word of the Lord
Thanks be to God!
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not die but have eternal life.”
We've all heard this so many times.
When we look at the world we live in, there's a discord between this being the world God loves, and this being a world full of wars, disasters, tragedy in all forms.
But here it is: God loved the world.
God loved the world – and those of us who dwell in it – not by taking us away from the traumas of our lives – but by sharing those traumas.
God loved the world – experiencing it as one of us in Jesus.
Does God care about the plight of people who've had to flee their homes because of war – or those who have lost their homes? The answer is yes. We know that because: that is part of the life that God shared with us. As an infant Jesus had to flee to Egypt to escape Herod's plan to kill him. People fleeing from Libya to Egypt to escape the violence and the punishment Colonel Gadafi is imposing on those who opposed him; people who have lost their homes in floods, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis – they are not alone in their trauma, their loss, their doubtful future. God is with them. Through Jesus, God has been a refugee, homeless, with a doubtful future, in a strange country.
Does God care about the plight of those who are afraid for their loved ones, or are grieving over the loss of people they love? Because of Jesus, God knows what it is to worry about a loved one, to grieve over their death. Jesus wept at Lazarus' tomb – sharing our human experience of grief and loss.
Does God care about those who are afraid? In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus knew fear, the agony of knowing that things were going to get much, much worse, knowing where his journey would lead him.
Does God care about people who feel, lost, lonely, isolated? All of Jesus' friends abandoned him – and he went to his trial with even his closest friend denying even knowing him.
Does God care about people who are hungry? In the desert, Jesus was tempted to turn stones to bread – but refused, choosing instead to be hungry, to share even that experience of human life.
Does God care about people who are suffering at the hands of oppressive regimes? Jesus was passed back and forth between Herod and Pilate, tortured, spat on, vilified.
Does God care about people who are dying in horrible circumstances? You don't get much more horrible than crucifixion.
So the point? God's love does not take us away from the pain and suffering of this life. We don't stop being human, and living the life of human beings – which involves disasters, wars, all kinds of crises. It always has done.
God's love does something far more profound than any quick or easy fix. Jesus takes all of these experiences of human life – the negative as well as the positive – and takes them back into the life of God. In Jesus, God knows humanity, not just from the outside as our creator, but from the inside as one of us.
Last week's readings talked about sin – about our turning our back on God, creating a rift in that relationship we were created to be a part of. In Jesus, God bridges the rift – not by having us come back to where we were before humans turned our back on God – but by coming to our side; joining us where we are; standing in solidarity with us in the brokenness in which we live.
And then, having done that, God, in Jesus, does one more thing. From that point – we are offered new life beyond this – life in which God does take us back across to the other side of the divide. Having come to this place to get us, God will, in time, take us home.
God so loved the world – us – as to become one of us, one with us – to share this messy life with us. Jesus is God with us: God sifting through the rubbish dumps in Mumbai looking for a meal; God sealing windows and doors and hoping that radiation can't come in; God digging through rubble and looking for bodies; God hiding from schoolyard bullies; God sleeping in a city doorway and hoping not to get woken and moved on; God scrubbing mud from floors and walls; God wailing over the body of a loved one. Jesus is God, in the face of our friend, or our enemy, in the face of the stranger, in the face of the person most in need. Jesus is God with us.
Where is God when all of these horrible things are happening? Right there in the midst of it. Right here with us as we watch the news and are horrified. Right there with the rescue workers. Going into a nuclear power plant and try to hose down an overheating a reactor, knowing the result will most likely be death, but hoping others will live. God is right there in the international relief efforts, in the compassion people everywhere feel for those who are suffering.
Jesus is God with us. Right here in our midst; in Japan, in New Zealand, in Queensland, in Libya and Egypt and Yemen.
So what difference does that make? That God is with us?
It ought to make all the difference in the world.
Let's have a quick look at Abraham. Abraham trusted God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness – so Paul tells us. Abraham's father Terah had actually started the journey, and then settled part way. When Abraham heard God's call, he'd spent a fair bit of his life comfortable where his father had settled. Then, he packed his family and moved on, not knowing for sure where he was going, not knowing how God was going to keep the promise about descendants, but going anyway because that was where God was leading.
That's how we're meant to respond. We don't always know the future. We don't always have a plan for dealing with every possibility. We don't even always have a sense of where we're going. But we are meant to trust that God is with us – and trust that - that is enough.
Where we are able to act, where God gives us opportunities to act, then we need to do so – whether that's in terms of social justice, listening to the prophetic call to provide for the widows and orphans – whether that's in terms of our mission, listening to the call to go and make disciples – whether that's in terms of providing money or goods or time to help those who are in particular need right now, listening to the call to love our neighbour – whether that's in terms of praying for the needs of this world, listening to the call to pray without ceasing. Like Abraham, if we are following God's call, we can trust we are not alone, and whatever God will lead us where we are meant to go.
Hymn Together in Song 697 All the sleepy should have a place to sleep
Prayers of the People
We feel helpless...
We see horror, destruction, danger, and death on a massive scale
When we watch or read or hear the news it seems to only get worse and worse
And there seems to be no end to it.
God, we don't know what to do or where to turn
It seems that nothing we can do is enough to make any difference
Help us, we pray
to be able to trust in you
no matter what is happening in the world around us.
Help us, we pray
to hear your voice, your call to us
so that we may know what it is we can do, however small.
Remind us that while we may be powerless
you are powerful
we may feel alone – but we are not
those on the ground in the disaster areas may seem alone – but they are not
We pray that everyone who is suffering will feel your presence with them.
We pray for those who are injured
we pray for those who have suffered loss
we pray for those who have lost their homes and possessions
and we pray for the recovery workers
for search and rescue workers – who have gone from one international disaster to another – who must be exhausted, but will still give the best work they can
for those who provide logistical support – food and water and transport to the recovery efforts
for those who work to rebuild buildings and roads, and power and water services
for those who are trying to cool radioactive fuel, and know they will die as a result of the work they are doing to save other lives,
for those who report and keep us informed of what is happening – sometimes at great personal risk.
God be with them all – guide them through this time –
and help them to know your love, even in all that is going wrong.
And we pray for our own church here
be with us, guide us,
call us to where you want us to be – and strengthen us to follow your call
In Jesus name. Amen
The Lord's Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 491 Father Welcomes
Baptism Uniting in Worship P70
Hymn Together in Song 684 Love will be our Lenten Calling