Year C,  EASTER 5

 

John 13:31-35                         (Sermon 1” “That Four Letter Word”)

Revelation 21: 1-6                   (Sermon 2:: Dare to be a Visionary”)

Acts 11: 1-18

Psalm 148

 

APPROACH

 

Christ Jesus lives!

       He lives indeed!

A new commandment he gives to us:

“That you love one another.

Even as I have loved you, so you also must love each other.”

 

I saw a new heaven and a new earth,

       for the first heaven and earth has passed away.

Look, the living place of God is now with humanity,

       God will live with them and they shall be his people.

OR -

 

By this will all people know that you are Christ’s disciples.

If you have love for one another.

We can love because he first loved us.

Praise God from the heavens!

Praise God from the heights!

Young men and young women together,

the elderly and little children!

Praise the Lord!

 

PRAYER

 

Wonderful Creator, Friend of the earth, you have shown your healing love to the people of every land, and you have filled the long centuries with new songs of happiness. By the gift of faith, may the invigorating Spirit of the risen Jesus live within us and serve the world through us.  Join our songs to all those who have gone before us and let memories of our joy and love inspire those who come after us.

In Christ’s name.

Amen!.

 

CONFESSION AND ASSURANCE

 

Let us embrace God’s saving mercy.

 

Let us pray.

 

Please remind us, loving God, that no person is too unimportant to receive your attention, and no personal flaw or sin is too ugly or large to receive your forgiveness and healing.

 

Remind us that our weaknesses are like hollows where sincere goodness can take root and grow tall. 

Lord hear us;

Lord hear our prayer.

 

Remind us that our ignorance is a wilderness which under the refreshing wisdom of Christ can blossom like a rose.

Lord hear us;

Lord hear our prayer.

 

Remind us that our guilt for both small mistakes or grievous sins can, by God’s grace, become the compost for a fruit season not achieved before.

Lord hear us;

Lord hear our prayer.

 

God of untiring mercy, God of abundant grace, deal with us not as we think best, but as you see best. Bring us to genuine repentance and to that yearning which marks those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

ASSURANCE

 

The Bible assures us:  “Here is real love; not our love for God but God’s love for us in the giving of his Son to be the remedy for the corruption of our sins.”

 

Through the grace of Christ Jesus, forgiveness and release is ours for the asking. Therefore ask and receive, and be eternally thankful!

 

The peace of the Saviour Christ be always with you.

And also with you.

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

Dear God,

loving isn’t always easy,

specially with some kids,

you know?

Please pour heaps

of Jesus’ love into our hearts,

because without him,

we will never get it right.

Amen!

 

PSALM 148

 

For Psalm 148 see “Australian Psalms” as “Exuberant Praise”

                        Ó B D Prewer & Open Book Publishers

 

LOVE IS TOUGH

 

“Love one another”

is easily said,

spoken in church

and lauded outside.

Love for our families

and those of our faith,

all this comes sweetly

like bubble and froth.

 

“Love one another”

is not so confined,

it goes beyond friends

to folk who confound,

including the ugly,

the pimp and the whore;

exemptions not valid

for even one hour.

 

 “Love one another”

is not easy work,

it gentles the strong

and strengthens the weak.

It comes at high cost

when one Man annuls

the sins of rough men

with hammer and nails.

            ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

COLLECT

 

Loving God, most holy Friend, give us light that we may see where error clouds our vision, or where lack of love and faith withers our hopes. Grant us light that we may see more clearly and follow more dearly. Through Christ Jesus our Redeemer.

            Amen!

 

SERMON 1: THAT FOUR LETTER WORD

 

John 13:35

 

This is what I ask you to do: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love each other

 

The late Professor Isaac Asimov, that absolute master of science fiction (with whom the science was good as the fiction) has one book, titled “The Naked Sun”, in which he weaves a story about a future planet called Solaria. 

 

On Solaria each person lives in absolute luxury but also in extreme isolation. This isolation is both physical and emotional. Direct contact is forbidden. Communication is through viewing an image on a video screen. For the Solarians obscenity is any form of human caring or closeness. The most filthy of all words is the four letter word “love”.

 

In absolute contrast, for Jesus, God’s most beautiful and holy word is love.  Love is central. It is the heart of true goodness.  It is the one irremovable commandment. It is the essence of God’s dealing with humanity. Intimacy is at the very crux of time and eternity.

 

Today, in spite of the wide-ranging abuse of the word love (which is often prostituted to describe a diverse range of lusts) a little of the old dignity of love still stands. Even among secular pagans, when they want to express a most noble and unselfish human passion, life-sacrificing stuff, they still fall back on the word love.  It still echoes with beauty and hope.

 

Jesus at the last supper challenged his disciples to allow love to be the key to their lives together; it was his new commandment.

This is what I ask you to do: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love each other

.

Have you ever wondered why he called it the ‘new’ commandment? Already he had taught that the second most important commandment was “to love your neighbour as yourself. So what is new about this later statement?

 

A RADICAL NEW BRAND

 

I is a new commandment  because this love is his own radical brand of love: love each other just as I have loved you. I will attempt to spell out this aspect.

 

It is almost impossible to define love abstractly. Dictionaries do not help much.  Even scholarly analysis of the Greek word  agape can only take you so far. The Greeks talked about such distinctions but were not particularly good at practicing them.

 

Love needs to practised. Better still, it needs to be embodied. Only then do we recognise the real thing. Love in action makes all the difference. A loving person is the best definition. Jesus asked the members of the young church the love each other with his radical quality-love. The life of Jesus defines Christian love. What is its special quality? I will look at four facets of the radical love of our Lord and Saviour.

 

Respect

:

The Jesus-love respects others.  Respect takes seriously each other person, with their dignity and rights, and their gifts and idiosyncrasies.. Respect recognises the God-given unique and  precious nature of the other person. It does not look down on another, nor talk down nor put down.

 

The followers of Jesus were not clients to be pandered, not cases to be patronised, not fools to be humoured. Neither were they statistics to be counted in order to prove the importance of the preacher. Nor were his followers mere salesmen of the kingdom to be psyched up to work overtime without complaint.

 

Each was a unique, invaluable child of God. No matter what their sins, each was of immeasurable value to their Creator.

 

 

Honesty

 

The second quality of Jesu’s love is his honesty. I once heard a most compassionate and competent psychiatrist make the telling comment: “Many church members are not loving enough to be honest with each other.”

 

Jesus loved enough to be honest. He was never evasive. He could be annoyed with them about their lack of faith, or question their materialistic values. When there were problems in the group, he did not look the other way and hope it might go away. His love was open and honest..

 

Forgiveness

 

A third facet of his love was pro-active forgiveness. Not begrudging words after the perpetrator has apologised, but forgiveness which takes the initiative and reaches out to those who have offended. Jesus did not brood on his injuries or nurse resentments or wait for apologies. He reached out and forgave those friends of his, those ordinary members of the embryonic church.

 

 

Sacrifice

 

Now we come to an unpopular facet of love: sacrifice. In our era, self sacrifice is low on the ratings. Ours is a “me first” society; “keep what I’ve got and grab all I can.”  Self gratification and to hell with everyone else.

 

Moreover it is not merely society at large; selfishness also infects the church. Far too many congregations are not prepared to sacrifice their familiar comfort zone in the cause of true love. Something simple like changing service times or replacing pews with chairs can highlight our unwillingness to sacrifice personal preferences for the wider good.

 

But there is no Jesus-type love which does not include self-sacrifice.  Jesus gave his life for his friends: No person has a greater love than this: that they lay down their life for friends.  It is not only the final sacrifice on the cross; throughout his ministry Jesus gave his life for others. His own comfort came a long last.

 

Respect, honesty, pro-active forgiveness, self-sacrifice.  Christ’s radical love. This is what I ask you to do: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love each other.    John 13:35

 

A COMMANDMENT FOR THE CHURCH

 

I remind you that this commandment is directed primarily at the church community.

 

One sore failure of the later church that evolved from the early, vibrant, infant community, has surely been in its failure to love one another with Christlike love. In fact many Christians who are good at loving their non-Christian neighbours, neglect their fellow Christians.

 

The disunity of the church, the endless fragmentation into more and more sects or denominations, shouts to the world that we do not love one another. Power and pride have often come before love. We don’t always show each other respect, or practice clear but tender honesty, or offer pro-active forgiveness. And certainly self-sacrifice for our fellow church members can be notable by its absence.

 

 

LOVE IS IMPARTIAL

 

Love is impartial.

 

What a powerful; yet awkward four letter word!

 

The new commandment:  In the church we are to love each other with Christ’s impartial of love.

 

At all times remember that our Lord loves and treasures other branches of the church just as much as your church is loved.  Also, our Lord loves and cherishes those folk in your congregation that “get up your nose” just as much as you and those “nice” people who share your opinion.  We are to love them all as Christ loves them.

 

At this point, in a minute’s silence, I invite you now to mentally select someone in this congregation towards whom you feel a degree of indifference or impatience or perhaps hostility. Think about them. Ask God’s blessing on them. Start the new commandment with them. Right now.

 

                                                                                                                        SILENCE

 

This is what I ask you to do: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love each other.

 

 

SERMON 2: DARE TO ENVISION A BETTER WORLD

 

Revelation 21:1 

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

 

The ancient world and the contemporary world agree on one thing:

Humanity is not what it could be; it suffers from a grave malady, something is tragically wrong.

 

One ancient explanation, is one which the Jews gave to the world.

It is the one and on which John Milton spun his remarkable poem “Paradise Lost.”  The story of “The Fall”. Humanity was once perfect, but when it came to exercising it’s freedom of choice, it screwed up and fell out of paradise. Adam and Eve, the primal man and woman, have been banished from the Garden of Eden . Not only that, but we have inherited from our ancient mother and father a cankered will, a bias towards evil. “Original sin” rules in our lives.

 

Among contemporary explanations, one stands out:

The most popular myth is that of human evolution. What is wrong with us is that we have not yet freed ourselves from our brutish past where survival of the fittest was the fundamental law of the jungle.  We are too much dominated by billion year-old habits, fears and lusts. We have not fallen from paradise but are painfully slow in using our developing brains to reach for paradise.

 

In this contemporary view, redemption is a long process:

Only the better use of our human brains, our rational left brain and our imaginative right brain, can get us out of the mess. The sciences are our hope. We must haul ourselves upwards through determined social and genetic engineering.

However, in spite of humanistic optimism in some quarters, it is by no means obvious that better use of the human brain will achieve the hoped for paradise. The “fall” persists. Every new breakthrough seems to be accompanied by the shadow of old evil manifesting itself in the new forms.

 

GOD’S SALVATION

 

From the Biblical view there is one cure.

 

Old Testament

 

The only cure is salvation; an act of God to save his people. Biblically speaking, God has always been active in the business of salvation. The God of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and Miriam, Ruth and David, is a redeeming God. The  finest Hebrew visionaries believed that God has promised that the whole world will one day be made whole.  You get visions of the divine healing of creation in Isaiah:

 

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the loin shall be together, and a little  child shall lead them.......

Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.

 

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they       shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson. they shall become like wool.

 

Of course not all the old Jews were visionaries.

 

Some were always looking backwards. They reckoned that only a return to the good old days (as if they ever existed!) would do. Many became bogged down in longing for the past. Others, like the pessimistic writer in the book of Ecclesiastes, claimed that newness was not possible: History was just a wearisome repetition.

 

Vanity of vanities! All is vanity..... What has been is what will be, and what has been done    is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.

 

New Testament

 

The New Testament picks up the vision of the Old.

Especially it affirms Isaiah,  and proclaims the prophet’s words have been fulfilled. Through Jesus of Nazareth, the vision of salvation has happened in one person. The “New Adam” as some called him. Then, as in Paul’s writings and in John’s Revelation, that fulfilment is seen to embrace all time and eternity. The Apostle envisions the wonderful world that already is, but is yet to come.

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more

.

Look, the house of God will be with humanity. He will live with them and they shall be his people. God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning nor crying no pain any more. For the former things have passed away.

 

SHARING THE BIBLE VISION

 

What I put to you now is this: 

Are we Biblical people or secular humanists with a tinge of religion.?

 

Are we among either the facile secular optimists, or the anxious secular pessimists, or are we the hope-full people that have been caught up in the event and vision of Christ Jesus? Are we numbered with those whose minds are centred on the sinfulness of the world, or on smart technology, or are with the serene yet energetic  band of those who stake their all on the Biblical vision of what has and is to come?

`

We need to meditate on God’s new world, saturate ourselves in it.

Unless each day we relish its beauty in trust and hope, we will find ourselves slipping back into the ruts and gloom of the old. What we think about, the mental diet on which we feed ourselves, will determine what we are and what we do. Mentally/spiritually “we are what we eat.” Our thought patterns do matter! They are critical!  Our thinking shapes the way we live. The whole counselling method of what is these days called “cognitive therapy” is based on this insight.

 

Think big like Isaiah, Jesus and John.

Think big, and you will help bring the vision to pass. Think negatively like Ecclesiastes (and like all the knockers in the community around us) and we will help produce that kind of cynical community and world.

 

With what are we today actually filling our minds? 

What is the images we choose to embrace from TV, newspapers, magazines, books, and in conversations? Positive or negative pictures?  What do we chose to see and read?  How much of the Bible do we allow to occupy our thoughts. What stuff do we absorb and internalise, maybe without even noticing what we are constantly doing?

 

What topics characterise our conversations with ourselves?

Everyone talks to themselves; most of us do it silently. What is our internal chatter about? Are we picturing a healed world or a broken world, achievement or failure, happiness or misery?  On what do our thoughts dwell? Are we saturated in gloom and doom or with the glory of which John writes?

 

We of all people, need to focus on Jesus.

Let others ignore him if they wish, or admire him from a distance if that is their thing. But we Christians need to daily envisage him, hear him, chat with him.

 

We need his Spirit to reshape our goals and flavour our days.

We need the man who tells those stunning parables of grace, the healer of diseases, the embracer of the outcastes, the forgiver of sins, the fellow who eats with the local “low-life,” the person who invites us to learn from the wildflowers and ravens, the Rabbi who - when preparing for a ghastly death - says: “Don’t be afraid. I have overcome this old world.” And we need to focus on the risen Christ, as he breathes into the souls of his friends the Spirit of grace and forgiveness.

 

Can we dare to be like John?

Like John writing from his lonely exile, not wallowing bad news (of which there was plenty) but looking into the future and trusting the consummation of all that Jesus was, is and does? Will we let John teach us how to stay positive when things crumble around us? Will we permit him to show us how to keep the faith when the church appears to be in decline, how to practice love when others practice cruelty, how to embrace the future while others wallow in pessimism?

 

Would it be presumptuous of me to ask you to do an audit of your own thoughts?

Also, during this week will you experiment by deliberately feeding your thoughts on the  bright Bible visions of the future?

 

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more.

Look, the house of God will be with humanity.

He will live with them and they shall be his people. God will wipe away every tear from there eyes. and death shall be no more; neither shall there be mourning nor crying no pain any more. For the former things have passed away.

 

THANKSGIVING

 

Great God, Creator-Spirit and Saviour-Friend.

we thank you for mother earth,

the friendly soil beneath our feet,

the cheerful sun above us by day,

and the wondrous stars by night.

O give thanks to God who is so good,

whose loves endures forever.

 

For trees that reach up for the light,

for plants that flower abundantly,

for the fruits of summer and autumn,

for creatures that leap and run,

swim, fly and dive.

O give thanks to God who is so good,

whose loves endures forever.

 

For the human race, big with possibilities,

for saints, scientists, explorers, prophets

athletes, artists, musicians and poets;

for all love that goes the second mile

and for those who give their lives for others.

O give thanks to God who is so good,

whose loves endures forever.

 

We thank you for never leaving us alone,

not even when we behave despicably.

Always you have been a saving God,

but never more than when you came

in and through Jesus of Nazareth:

His life, death and resurrection

fill us with wonder, love and praise.

O give thanks to God who is so good,

whose loves endures forever.

 

Therefore with angels and archangels...........

 

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

We bring you, Holy Friend, the concerns we hold in our minds, and the heartaches we carry deep within our being.  Please sift out these prayers, and let all that is good align itself with your love for humanity.

 

We bring before you those unfortunate people featured in the news: the victims of accident, war, disease, violence, greed and natural disasters.

Let there be hope;

Let there be love, let there be peace.

 

We bring before you those who are ignored by the mass media: the forgotten minorities suffering oppression, the humble people who suffer constantly and die obscurely.

Let there be hope;

Let there be love, let there be peace.

 

We bring before you the church where there is persecution; church leaders who confront evil authority, and simple folk who keep stay faithful through hardship and death.

Let there be hope;

Let there be love, let there be peace.

 

We bring before you the political parties we don’t vote for, leaders we do not trust, high profile people we dislike, and work colleagues who exasperate us.

Let there be hope;

Let there be love, let there be peace.

 

We bring before you neighbours whose sorrows we don’t know about, friends with secret wounds and sorrows, relatives with temptations and anxieties that they hide from us.

Let there be hope;

Let there be love, let there be peace.

 

We bring before church members whom we do not really know, those we can’t understand, some who annoy us, and others whose beliefs and values dismay us.

Let there be hope;

Let there be love, let there be peace.

Through Christ, for Christ, and with Christ,

May love deepen, spread and rule through all things.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

This is what I ask you to do: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so you must love each other.

We love because Christ first loved us.

 

May God bless you and keep you, may God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, may you know the eye of God upon you  with the gift of elemental peace.

Amen!