SUNDAY 9   May 29 – June4

 

Mark 2:23-3:6                           (Sermon: “Jesus Means Freedom”)

2 Cor. 4:5-12

1 Sam 3:1-10(11-20)

Psalm 139 1-6, 13-18

 

CALL TO WORSHIP

 

The liberty of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

God gives us a day of Sabbath rest because we need it,

not because the Sabbath demands our servitude.

The Sabbath was made for humanity,

no humanity for the Sabbath.

 

O Lord, you have searched me and understand me,

you know every path I take, every decision I make,

you know all this is to know about me.

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!

How great is the sum of them.

If I should try and count them,

they would outnumber the grains of sand.

 

OR

 

The same God who said: “Out of darkness, let the light shine,”

has shone in our hearts with the light of the knowledge

of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

 

This glory is our good fortune,

it is like a treasure being stored in clay pots.

It is obvious that the glory is not our own

but it belongs of God.

 

The glorious riches of Christ Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

PRAYER OF APPROACH: PRAISE

 

Most wonderful God, we love you because you first loved us.

 

Praise be to you for the countless blessings of your creation!

Praise be to you for your son Jesus, and for all the blessings of salvation!

Praise be to you for you the gifts of your Spirit, and all the blessings of the new creation!

 

Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful are you, God of unspeakable light and love,

all things are full and running over with your glory!

Glorious are you and praised be your name for ever!

Amen!

 

PRAYER OF CONFESSION

 

Let us pray.

 

Most wise and loving God, you are the one sure Source of grace, mercy and peace. Thank you for not pandering to shallow penitence but for requiring deep repentance.

 

There is much in the things we do and say, to give us regret. There is even more in the good things we fail to do, to make us want to say “sorry.”

 

Yet we confess we are inclined to say “sorry” too glibly, and we treat mercy and forgiveness as a formality. In our better moments we know that such shallow religion will not do. Today we come seeking something deeper and more radical.

 

You, saving God, know how things stand for each of us here this day.

 

You know of our hard-won achievements and our virtues.

 

You also know our lapsed good intentions, our blundering escapades, our broken promises and our petty ways. You see both the large picture of evil and the smallest detail pertaining to each individual.

 

Please God, by your relentless Spirit drag us from shallow regret into sincere distaste of all that is less than loving. Implant in us both the desire and the will to thoroughly repent, and to wholeheartedly accept your forgiving and reforming grace. We abandon ourselves to whatever discipline and painful therapy may be needed if we are to mend our ways.

 

Most wonderful God, may your saving love never cease to amaze us, your forgiveness never fail to touch the darkest corners of our heart and mind, and your empowerment always be our hope and our joy.

 

Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

Your forgiveness I proclaim to you, your absolution I declare to you.

            While we were yet sinners, Christ Jesus died for us.

 

Remember at what cost your salvation comes, and show your gratitude by the way you treat one another.

 

The peace of the Lord Jesus be with you all.

And also with you.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

Hi God! How-y-doing?

 

We can’t imagine what it must be like to be you.

It is mind-blowing!

 

But thanks for taking the trouble to care about each of us,

   for knowing our names and our faces and our needs.

Thanks for giving us simple rules by which to live our lives,

   if we are to make both ourselves and others happy.

Thanks for sending Jesus to us, to show us the way

   and to give us the help we each need.

 

Please help us to get it right more often than we get it wrong.

In Jesus’ name.

Amen!

 

PSALM 139: 1-6, 13-18

 

Loving God, you search through my life

            and you completely understand me.

You know whenever I sit down or stand up,

            you read my thoughts from a distance.

You know the path I choose to take

            and the places where I lie down and rest.

You fully comprehend me,

            you know all my peculiar ways.

 

Even before a word gets to my tongue,

            you know what I am going to say.

You are both ahead of me and behind me

            and rest your hand on me in blessing.

Such knowledge is too much for me!

            It is beyond me, I cannot grasp it!

 

It was you who planned my growth from the first,

            you watched over me in my mother’s womb.

That you should care so much fills me with wonder,

            I praise you for your loving deeds!

From conception you knew me completely,

            my life was never hidden from you.

When as a foetus I grew in secrecy, you were there,

            you followed the intricate growth of my being.

 

It goes back even further, doesn’t it?

            Before I began you pictured me?

In your book you wrote down your hopes for me

            in the days when I was yet nothing?

O my God! How precious are your thoughts,

            how countless is the sum of them!

If I should try and count them,

            they would outnumber the sand.

When I come at last to my end,

            I will still be with you!

                                             Ó B.D. Prewer 12.06.2006

 

COLLECT

 

God, our most holy Friend, you have spoken your definitive word in Jesus Christ, in whom we find grace, mercy and truth. By your Spirit grant us the liberty to live in a way that reflects your truth May we bring grace into obdurate situations and spread mercy wherever the world rushes into hasty judgements. To your honour and glory, through Christ Jesus who continues to make all things new.

Amen!

 

SERMON: JESUS MEANS FREEDOM

 

*Note: The following sermon may be shortened by omitting the sections in Courier Font.

 

Mark 2: 27-28

 

Some years ago (when my world was young!) there was book by German NT scholar Ernst Kasemann, “Jesus Means Freedom”. That is an appropriate title for this sermon today. Wherever, whenever, people come under the spell of the prophet from Nazareth, they enter into a new world of liberty.

 

THE LAW AS A BLESSING

 

The Old Testament laws were given to be a blessing. They were never promulgated to be an added burden on people whose lives were already heavy laden. Like the commandment of Jesus given to his disciples, to love God and each other, the laws (such as the Ten Commandments) were meant to liberate people from error and self-harm, and to open up broader opportunities for the well being of God’s people.

 

It gives grief in heaven when fussy legalism commandeers those laws, and makes them into rigid restrictions which lead to a multiplicity of by-laws. It causes grief in heaven when human beings are divided into two groups: Those who cling to the letter of the law, self righteously claiming to jot all their i’s and cross all their t’s, and those who are despised as the sinners who neglect the letter of the law.

 

The Gospel reading for today deals with this issue. The Fourth Commandment delivered by Moses declared: “Rest on the Sabbath day, keep it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do nay work.”

 

This commandment was indeed a blessing. Remember the old saying: “All work and no play make Jack a dull boy?” Our loving Creator understands that better than we know it ourselves. As the Psalm 139 tells us:

            “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I

            rise up; you know my thoughts from afar off. Your see the path I take and the place I rest

            You are familiar with all my ways.”

 

God knows our needs before we ask him. A day of relaxation, in which we enjoy God’s creation and worship our Creator, is a blessing. In the “olden days” of my youth, such a day of relaxation was possible for the vast majority of the population. Families could rest from heavy toil, and from all the frenetic business of commerce, and enjoy each others company. Sunday was available as a day of relaxation.

 

There were exceptions of course. People like police officers, nurses, doctors, miners, were rostered on, and dairy farmers had their habitual milking duties.

 

Ironically, those who purported to foster this day of rest, the ministers and priests of Christianity, worked flat out on the day of rest. What is more, many pastors allowed the pressures of parish work to crowd in on the other six days, denying them an alternative Sabbath. This was not all their own fault. Some parishioners could be tyrannical. In my teenage years I observed the hostility towards our newly inducted minister because he insisted on taking his Sabbath each Monday. That included Monday evenings when he went out with his wife. No meetings. No parish duties of any kind, except crisis events like dying and grief.

 

God knows, my minister needed it! We all do.

 

(Little did I know then that within a decade I would have the same pressure on me! The constant pressure by parishioners to permit secondary things to elbow out my day of rest! )

 

These days when Sunday is for the majority of citizens is just another day of mad rushing. Hordes of people have to keep working to keep the wheels of commerce and industry turning. Families are split asunder. Parents run kids to and from sporting fixtures. On Sunday many undertake extended shopping sprees, pushing through the crowds of other credit card addicts. Or they crush into sporting stadiums for another round of barracking, either returning home voiceless but elated, or voiceless and dispirited. Rushing here and there in our motor vehicles, maiming and killing each other on our highways. Many party through the weekend, and wake up Monday mornings with a hangover.

 

Numerous people on Monday return to work in a daze. Not recreated but exhausted. The cynical comment “Never buy a motor car that was assembled on Monday morning” has a shaft of truth in it.

 

God knows we need rest and recreation. The Sabbath commandment was given for the good of the people of Israel. Not to be a burden but a blessing.

 

JESUS AND THE SABBATH

 

Jesus observed the spirit of the Sabbath. But not the rigid letter. In today’s Gospel reading we heard two episodes where Jesus and his disciples broke the strict letter of the law (and the many by-laws) as it was regulated by the self-anointed, “righteous men of Israel”

 

In episode 1, Jesus and his friends were out walking on a Sabbath day. That was a “no, no.” The Pharisees had laid down strict guidelines as to the number of steps you were permitted to walk on the Sabbath.

 

What is more, the disciples being hungry, as they walked along a track between barely fields picked some ears of corn and chewed them. That was reaping; working on the Sabbath according to the legalists.

 

When his critics challenged Jesus, demanding an explanation, the Lord first responded with a story about their legendary King David who, when starving, even ate bread from the altar of God. Then secondly, Jesus made a strong declaration: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath; so the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

 

That must have outraged the good men of Israel.

 

The second episode is set in a synagogue on a Sabbath day. A man was there with a withered arm. Knowing that his legalistic critics were watching his every move, Jesus asked to fellow to come to him. Then he turned to the congregation and asked: “Is it law-abiding on the Sabbath to do good or harm, to save life or to kill? Giving his legalistic critics an angry stare, he asked the man to stretch out his hand. The astonished man found he could now move his arm. It was healed.

 

Once again Jesus is matching his words with deeds: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath:” In other words, the ten commandments that came to Israel via Moses, were focussed on their benefit not their harm. They were meant to be a loving guide and help, not an inflexible burden; like guideposts on a road, not like a concrete barrier.

 

For Jesus, love of God and love of those around you, always defined the law. In fact, love was the one Divine value from which the Old Testament commandments stemmed. The law was given that men and women and children, might come to enjoy the maxim well-being possible on this earth. The laws of Moses aimed at limiting evil and fostering a high degree of unselfish happiness.

 

Jesus was a man of freedom. Even the disciples were slow to cotton on to their liberty. No wonder the opponents of Jesus, those righteous Pharisees, feared this man from Nazareth.

 

MUCH WAS INVESTED

 

Legalists like those Pharisees had worked sternly at doing the correct thing. To keep the letter of the law was an exacting task. It demanded that they be meticulous about every moment of every day. They were like ethical and spiritual athletes. No contemporary Olympic athlete has worked harder at their training than did those Pharisees. They invested their whole time and energy into being good men. For example, they even meticulously tithed (gave a tenth to the temple) of even herbs, like mint or basil, from their gardens.

 

The law was everything to them. It was their very life.

 

Imagine how they felt when along came this young rabbi from a rural town and dared to show a liberal attitude to the law. Worse than that, he openly challenged them about their interpretation of it. They could not afford him to be right. If he were right, then they would have wasted years of stringent self discipline.

 

Self made, good men and women are still like that. All who justify their own lives by their worthy deeds, are fearful of what they see as permissiveness. They have built around themselves walls of rectitude that are as solid and as inflexible as stone. They have invested most heavily in their own righteousness. Their moral bank account is nicely fat. If their brand of goodness is challenged, it is as if their bank balance is threatened with devaluation.

 

No wonder they feared “liberals”. No wonder their fear soon turned to anger.

 

FEAR OF COLLAPSE

 

There may be a second factor at work in the soul of the self righteous. Often their own struggle to be good has been a long and difficult one. They fear that if anyone loosens so much as one stone in their wall, the whole thing may come tumbling down and they will become defenceless in the face of the various temptations which they have fought off over the years. They feared a personal collapse.

 

One occasion I was driving a church elder home after a meeting.

 

On the agenda of that meeting had been the delicate matter of how to deal with two members of the congregation who had destroyed their respective marriages by becoming sexually involved with each other. The majority at that meeting had chosen to deal with them with similar tough honesty and ample compassion as they believed Jesus would have shown. Decisions were made about the pastoral care of both the deeply hurt “third parties” and also care for the man and woman embroiled in the affair. This left a minority very uneasy.

 

As I drove an elder home, a conversation very close to this ensued.

 

He (I’ll call him Tom) exclaimed: “Bruce, I am feeling most let down and frustrated. I know you and those others think you decided the right thing, but I think you were very wrong. It is as if the church condoning laxity. It is far too permissive, Where does that leave the rest of us?  It makes me think of all the times when I have been, you know, tempted like them? I ask myself why did I fight it. I might as well have said it does not matter had a fling. ”

 

I felt his pain. And his anger. Morally good people are threatened by what may appear to be the permissiveness of others. My response to him went something like this.

 

“You are really feeling betrayed, Tom? And angry?”

 

“Yes I am feeling betrayed. And I suppose I am a bit angry. You know, Bruce, every time a member of our church falls, and it is like it weakens our defences. I don’t ever want to go down that path. But it sometimes frightens me. You know”

 

“Mmmmmm.. I think I do.”

 

A little later I said:

 

“Tom let me ask you this: If you had given in to temptation, do you think it would have brought you happiness?”

 

“What? Of course not! It would have demeaned me and devastated my wife and family. Happy? Christ no! It would have made a wreck of things.”

 

“Another question then. Do you think they are happy? X and Y?”

 

“Well, not really, no. I think they are feeling miserable and hating what they have done to their marriages. It is not at all likely that their affair will lead to a lasting relationship. They don’t seem that suited to each other. He had looked utterly miserable last Sunday, sat at the back of the church, and cleared off before the benediction. And she....... well she seems to have gone into hiding.”

 

I left it there. Drove on in silence. After a while Tom said:

 

Is that it? No words of wisdom? Just that happiness question?

 

It will do for now, I reckon. : No wisdom from me, Tom. But there is a word from another source: “By grace you are saved through faith. And your faith is not your own doing, it is a gift of God.”

 

JESUS: A RADICAL COMMITMENT TO LOVING

 

Jesus must have seemed a threat. To self-made, righteous people he was a loose cannon, a danger to have around.

 

Those two factors I have mentioned are enough to explain their antagonism:

 

     First the colossal amount of devotion and will power they had invested in their own      righteousness. Jesus seemed to by-pass that and thereby devalue their efforts.

 

     Secondly the fear that it might weaken their own defences against evil. The Moral rectitude     fears a free spirit like Jesus.

 

I have no doubt that Jesus understood the fear and the anger running wild in the mind and soul of the Pharisees. As the Bible says “Jesus knew what was in a person.” But he was not going to let their fear dictate his actions.

 

For Jesus of Nazareth, love was both the ground of religious and moral law, and was also the key to applying such law. If ever the letter of the law tried to force itself between him and the Spirit of love, he chose the Spirit.

 

Of course that left him exposed. As it leaves all of us exposed. Those who choose the whole truth over shallow assumptions, compassion over judgementalism, forgiveness over punishment, restoration over retribution; these folk will always be exposed to criticism.

 

Behind those words of Jesus: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”

lives a deep, radical commitment to a loving God. What is more, they contain the germ of liberty with which he approached all human ethical and spiritual questions, and the light by which he made difficult, risky, utterly loving choices to the glory of God.

 

Jesus means freedom.

 

THE LORD’S DAY

 

A comment about the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day:

`

One of the most startling demonstrations of the impact of the freedom of Christ on those who became the original church, is that the first day of the week soon replaced the Sabbath as the prime day for worship.

 

This was a major blow to a legalistic approach to the Old Testament. The day on which the Lord Jesus arose from the dead, that day when the liberated and liberating Christ showed that even death could not hold him, this first day of the week became their special holy day. Not the Sabbath but the Lord’s Day. In later centuries it would widely become the public day of rest, the holi-day which linked creation and redemption into one weekly celebration.

 

Moses had ordered that each week should finish with a day of rest. Those who served the living Lord Jesus began to begin each week with a celebration of the grace of their loving Lord.

 

Some people, like the Seventh Day Adventist Church, find this act of liberation too much. They choose to obey the old law of Moses and therefore rest and worship on Saturday, their Sabbath. If that is how they want it, I have no beef. Let them so observe their Sabbath, and may God bless them all.

 

But for me I will rejoice in the Lord’s Day. I love started each new week with it. It places me in the context of the whole salvation of God in Christ Jesus. This day visibly reminds me of the liberty into which I have been redeemed.

 

The additional idea of a day of rest and re-creation, a time of deliverance from frenetic activity, although secondary can be embraced within the Lord’s Day. It is a gift to be treasured and encouraged, but not an onerous obligation to be dutifully observed.

 

SUMMARY

 

I have tried to highlight how thoroughly legalists resented Jesus. His words “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath?” were a shock. They must have shuddered. How could a fellow Jew dare mouth words of such permissiveness?

 

The self-appointed righteous men had invested heavily in rigidly keeping every “jot and tittle” of the Mosaic laws and regulations. They had shouldered the heaviest back-pack of rules of conduct and forced themselves to carry it.  Have mastered much of that burden, our Lord’s teaching and actions appalled them. They had too much moral and religious capital in their personal account to willingly lose if this young rabbi were to be followed.

 

That is understandable. Yet it is grievously sad.

 

They never gave themselves the chance to discover what happiness they would gain if this young rabbi were followed. They never permitted themselves discover the pearl of great price, or find that the Gospel that was like uncovering a buried treasure right under their own noses. They would not allow Jesus to lift the massive burden off their backs, and give them a new lease on life.

 

Instead, we are told by Mark that they sourly went off to meet with other of our Lord’s enemies to discuss how they might have Jesus destroyed.

 

Some questions for you:

Where do you place yourself? Sweet or sour? Among those who take risks for the sake of the Gospel? Or among the anxious legalists, and ready to disapprove or attack the risk takers?

Do you and I give ourselves the chance to discover the happiness that comes when we truly follow the young rabbi from Nazareth?

 

Please do not answer such questions easily. Take them home with you, and live with them for a few days.

 

A THANKSGIVING

 

We praise and thank you, Giver of grace:

            for the clean doubts that bless us,

            for the questions that unsettle us,

            for the mysteries which baffle us,

and for those wonder-moments

which leave us agape with awe.

 

We praise and thank you, Giver of grace:

            for the ideals that draw us,

            for the hungers that drive us,

            for the dreams that inspire us,

and for those wonder-moments

which leave us riven with awe.

 

We praise and thank you, Giver of grace:

            for the truth that arrests us,

            for the light that strip-searches us,

            for the self-awareness that humbles us,

and for those wonder-moments

which leave us aching with awe.

 

We praise and thank you, Giver of grace:

            for the faith that holds on to us,

            for the hope that uplifts us,

            for the love that enthrals us,

and for those wonder-moments

which leave us praising with awe.

 

We praise and thank you, Giver of grace:

            for the Arms that enfold us,

            for the Shoulders that carry us,

            in the Voice that laughs with us,

and for those wonder-moments

which leave us adoring with awe.

                                                Ó B.D. Prewer 7.06.2006

 

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION

 

 

We pray, loving God, for the liberation of all who are in bondage, be it physical, mental or spiritual.

 

We pray for all who are in spiritual bondage,

            slaves to fears and doubts, superstitions and grave errors,

            to oppressive religion, deceptive gurus, and charlatans,

            or those who use the name of Christ for their own selfish gain or glory:

Lord, in your mercy set them free for faith and hope in you,

and for the love that casts out all fear.

 

We pray for all who are in mental bondage,

            slaves to erroneous ideas and false prophets,

            to pseudo-scientific assumptions and dogmatic manipulators,

            or to erudite philosophies that lead clever minds astray:

Lord, in your mercy set them free for faith and hope in you,

and for the love that casts out all fear.

 

We pray for all who are in physical bondage,

            slaves to harsh employers or their own rampant ambitions,

            to sexual promiscuity, love of money, and to alcohol or other drugs,

            or to national tyrants who enslave either by brute power or political cunning:

Lord, in your mercy set them free for faith and hope in you,

and for the love that casts out all fear.

 

We pray for any of your children in this congregation who feel trapped

            in unemployment, degrading work practices, or bullying bosses,

            in unfortunate relationships, manipulative friends, or family feuds,

            or in a lost faith, spiritual anxieties, or habitual sins:

Lord, in your mercy set them free for faith and hope in you,

and for the love that casts out all fear.

 

O God, you have taught us that we are most truly free when we seek your will, not our own.

Help us to gain and enjoy this liberty by daily surrender to your love, so that trusting in your grace for our freedom we may walk in those paths which you choose for us, and learn to love those beauties which partake of that true life which is richly abundant and joyfully eternal. Through Christ Jesus our Liberator and Lord.

Amen!

 

WORD OF MISSION AND BLESSING

 

If you wish to know liberty, place you hand in the hand of Christ Jesus, and walk out into the world in his peace.

Know for sure that nothing is too big for your Lord to handle, and nothing too unimportant for his concern.

Live by grace-not by self justification, by love- not be fear, by faith- not by anxiety.

Live well, for God through his only true Child has chosen this destiny for you.

 

The grace of the eternal God who wants us to become

far more than we as yet can understand or even imagine,

            will be with you.

Amen!

The grace of the Son in whose liberty is found perfect freedom,

            will be with you.

Amen!

The grace of the Spirit whose leading far exceeds the letter of law,

            will be with you.

Amen!