Year C, SUNDAY 11 

June 12-18

 

Luke 7:36 to 8:3....                              (Sermon 1: “Letting Her Hair Down’)

Galatians 2: 15-21...               (Sermon 2: “The Bottom Line”)

1 Kings 21: 1-10 & 15-21a....

Psalm 5:1-8

 

PREPARATION

 

This house of prayer is a hospital offering free grace. 

Amen!

 

We gather here,

            not to establish our credentials but to learn our needs,

            not to justify ourselves but to admit we are sorry,

            not to cling to the familiar but to risk the unfamiliar,

            not to seek respite from reality but to meet pure Reality,

            not to enjoy our own decency but to worship a holy God,

            not to practice positive thinking but to be caught up in God’s joy.

Amen!

 

The grace of Christ Jesus be with your all.

And also with you!

 

OR -

 

In the abundance of God’s sure love, we enter this house.

In awe and reverence, we will worship in God’s temple.

We come not because we have to but because we want to.

 

Through Christ, we have died to rules and regulations;

We no longer eke out our lives, for the abundant life of Christ is with us.

 

In the abundance of God’s sure love, we enter this house.

In awe and reverence, we will worship in God’s temple.

 

PRAYER OR APPROACH

 

Loving God, we are glad that you have drawn us together again.

We come as a motley people from a motley world, seeking that abundant love

which does not count our follies or number our sins.

Help us to delight in your free grace more than birds love the air and fish love the sea.

Give us an eager desire to worship you wholeheartedly, and to serve you

without conditions or selfish expectations.

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen!

 

PRAYERS OF CONFESSION

 

My friends, it is written: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Let us make our confession.

 

Let us pray.

 

For the occasions when we measure success by the number of times we get our own way.

Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

Lord have mercy.

 

For the times when we measure happiness by the number and price of our possessions.

Christ have mercy on me a sinner..

Christ have mercy on me..

 

For the days when we measure our faith by the number of people who speak well of us.

Lord have mercy on me a sinner.

Lord have mercy on me..

 

Holy God, we thank you for our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who uncovers our foolishness,  exposes our self-deceits, and offers us an overflowing cup of saving grace.

 

Please loosen the knots of anxiety, or the shackles of pride, which might hold us back from receiving your grace with open hearts and minds.. Enable us to take up your salvation and live with the debonair delight of those who are forgiven and set free.

 

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

FORGIVENESS

 

That’s it! We are forgiven and set free! “If we confess our sins God can be trusted to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Thanks be to God!

 

PRAYER FOR CHILDREN

 

More of Jesus’ Love

 

Dear God, we may be young,

and at times we rush into things without thinking,

but we are not stupid.

 

We know that Jesus is the best thing

that has ever happened to this world.

We know that if everyone would just show more of his love,

then most of the world’s big troubles would go away.

We also know that unless you help us every minute,

we will not be able to love very well at all.

 

So please come into our hearts,

and change us from the inside out.

Amen!

 

PSALM 5:1-8

 

Please hear what I want to say, God;

       recognise the uproar of my misery .

Listen to the sound of my outcry

       my Friend and my God;

       to you alone can I pray.

As dawn breaks, you hear my voice;

       in the morning I pray and anticipate.

 

You’re not some god who enjoys crime,

       evil may not pitch its tent with you.

Big egos cannot stand to be in your sight,

       and all scumbags disgust you.

You make sure that liars shall perish,

       you will not tolerate fraud and murder.

 

It is only through your unfailing love

       that I dare enter your house.

I will face your Holy Table

       and worship you in deep awe.

Please lead me, God, in your just ways;

       in spite of all the foes around me

       set your straight path in front of me.

                                                            ©  B.D. Prewer 2000

 

POEM: LOVE PROVES IT

 

Did you see her slip in

       by backdoor from the street,

and the prophet accept her

       to tear-wash his feet?

 

Did you see the proud host

       draw back with a glare,

as the woman of faith

       towelled with her hair?

 

Did you see holy fire

       as he rebuked the bore,

and the woman so grace-full

       leave by the front door?

                                                From  Beyond Words”

                                                ©  B.D. Prewer & JBCE

 

COLLECT

 

God our most holy Friend, please assist us to cherish the deep salvation which you have began in us. Save us from the lure of those shallow things which win the praise of the world. You have called us to be people of grace; let us express grace in all our affairs. Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SERMON 1: LETTING HER HAIR DOWN

 

Luke 7: 38

 

She put herself beside Jesus’ feet, crying and wetting his feet with her tears.

Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume over them

 

A decent woman never let her hair down in public. Never. And no decent many would evr alow her near him.

 

The decent woman would only let down hair in the privacy of the bedroom, in the company of her husband.

 

But of course this was not a decent woman. She had a bad reputation among the righteous women of the town. Letting down the hair was one of the tricks of the trade to excite prospective customers. (I would be prepared to wager that some of town’s “righteous” husbands had, at close quarters,  seen this woman’s flowing hair on previous occasions.)

 

Plainly it was scandalous that this unclean woman should dare to enter the house of a righteous Pharisee named Simon. It was scandalous that she knelt by the feet of the guest of honour and wet his feet with her tears. It was scandalous that she loosed her hair and used it to wipe his feet. It was scandalous that she poured her perfume (perfume always being a key tool of trade for the “oldest profession on earth”)  over the feet of Jesus.

 

Everyone was much offended; everyone that is, except Jesus.

 

Jesus recognised this action as profound gratitude and pure love. It would appear that either this woman had previously been counselled by Jesus, or she had responded to his preaching and found saving grace. This was a “thank you” for the healing and liberation of that he had given her. We can be certain of this by the words which Jesus spoke to Simon; “Her great love shows that her many sins have been forgiven”. And later to her: “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

 

THE AMAZING REACTION OF JESUS

 

How would I react in a similar situation? How would you react?  I would like to think that we might show a little of the understanding Jesus exhibited. But for myself I doubt it.

 

If I were the guest of honour at a party with respectable people, and a known prostitute in heavy make up and mini skirt, gate-crashed and with obvious affection attached herself to me, I would be highly embarrassed. I would be afraid (and maybe justifiably afraid) of what others might be thinking. Like: “Uh Huh! How come Bruce is on such good terms with a hooker?  What kind of a sleazy life does he live when not fulfilling his public role as a Minister?”

 

The amazing thing is that Jesus seems to have no embarrassment. His love for others was so profound that his thoughts were not on himself but on her. She was the one that mattered. My embarrassment, and I suspect yours, would be because we are worry about what others might think of us. We are slaves to public opinion, or at least to the opinion of the “nice people” of our community or church. He was free of that bondage.

 

I reckon we are so screwed up about our own reputation , that it gets in the way of evangelism, pastoral care, and social justice. It gets in the way of making a public stand with disadvantaged people like the indigenous people of this land. We are too susceptible to what others might think.

 

Jesus does not even try to defend his reputation after the event. For example he does not say to the scandalised Simon:

       “You must surely realise, Simon, that we who are public figures have to put up with messy and embarrassing situations.”

       Or maybe, “Simon, don’t you go jumping to the conclusion that this unfortunate woman is a close friend of mine. It’s nothing like that.”

       Jesus does not even fall back on the old theme: “Please take note, Simon, we must hate the sin but love the sinner.”

 

Jesus is focussed on the woman and her brave action of gratitude. She is central. She is loved just as she is.  He stands up for her and gives no excuses to temper the disgust of the good living people at the party. Here we witness real divine-love; purest agape. This is the cathartic love which God has for us all.

 

CONTRAST: SIMON AND THE WOMAN

 

I would like you now to notice some sharp contrasts that were highlighted at that dinner party.

 

The woman recognised her need and saw where she could get help.

 

She could let her hair down in the company of Christ and know that he would understand. The first step in any rehabilitation is facing up to the truth about ourselves. An alcoholic or a addicted gambler cannot be helped until they face the truth about their addiction. The same thing applies to any of our mental and spiritual ills. The woman had that integrity of spirit which enabled her to face herself and to be healed and liberated by Jesus.

 

In contrast there is Simon the good Pharisee.

 

       Please don’t be too hard on the Pharisees; they were among the best people in the land. They worked very hard at being good. God mattered and holiness in God’s sight was most important to them. Simon would have put enormous effort into doing the right thing. However, Simon (like so many good people) was self-satisfied with his own goodness and despised others who did not live a similar, good life. He saw them as weak willed, scatterbrained, easily corrupted, hopeless fools. In his eyes, bad people brought all their troubles on themselves.

 

The self righteous can lose an awareness of their own deep need for forgiveness and grace. Simon could never let his hair down. Many Pharisees assumed their God was well pleased with them. They deserved his blessing. They had earned their place in God’s kingdom. They did not need free grace.

 

Which meant, tragically, that Jesus was not able to help such people. As Jesus said to Simon: “The person who asks for only a little forgiveness, does not have much love to show. But the person who knows there is much to be forgiven, can receive much forgiveness.” And then overflow with love toward others.. The prostitute is full of love, but Simon’s love is meagre. The woman had a large cavity in her being for grace. Simon had scant room for grace.

 

CAN WE LET OUR HAIR DOWN?

 

I guess I had better ask myself and you: Do you and I recognise our need of Christ’s grace?

 

Speaking metaphorically, are we willing to let our hair down in the presence of Christ?, Do we have room for the grace of Christ Jesus? What does our performance, our love, reveal about our spiritual health?

 

Two ways to go: Are we uptight, moral-rectitude people? Or the relaxed live-by-grace people?

 

The first way is a bondage. The second is liberty and joy

.

She knelt beside Jesus at his feet, crying and wetting his feet with her tears. Then she dried his feet with her hair, kissed them, and poured perfume over them.

 

Hallelujah!

 

SERMON 2: THE BOTTOM LINE

 

Galations 2:15-21

 

If right-living is achieved through doing the right thing, then Christ died for nothing.

 

Grace is the bottom line.

And the top line.

And the middle line.

 

Free grace is all that ultimately matters; God’s saving activity in Christ Jesus. Christ does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. That is the only way we will ever get it right. Our sole righteousness is through faith. Right living flows from the lives of those who are the children of God’s free grace. Grace is the bottom line.

 

A GOOD OPINION OF OURSELVES?

 

I have on my study shelves a little book of unusual prayers.

One claims to be a prayer from a lay preacher in the Highlands of Scotland: “Lorrrd, gie us a guid conceit o’ oorrsel’s.”

 

That little prayer is very sensible.

It asks “give us.” Give? A gift is the only way.  If you and I are to have a steadfast, good opinion of ourselves it can only come as a gift from God. Gratis.

 

Self-validation does not work very well.

All busy and arduous attempts to prove ourselves worthwhile will let us down.  To build our self worth on things we can achieve is like building life on a geophysical fault line.. No matter how high or extensive or decorative or admired is our building, it will not give security. There are times when we will tremble and shake, or worse.

 

Money, power, reputation, popularity, do not give the peace

and security that the soul desires.  Film stars, pop idols, political movers and shakers, do not have the key to the door of well being.

 

Good deeds, religious rectitude, leave us vulnerable.

Biblical knowledge, devout church attendance and prayers six times a day, cannot ground us in contentment. There are people who at considerable effort have been morally good since childhood, yet who are miserable at heart.

 

ST PAUL KNEW THIS FIRST HAND

 

Paul was one of the good guys.

Above all other of those early Christian writers, the Apostle Paul had a fierce grip on this truth. He had once been a morally pernickety and religiously punctilious Pharisee. None better. He has worked hard at it. He was zealous in all his righteousness. If any person could, through sheer effort, have created a good opinion of himself, it was Paul.

 

Paul had a better track record than many.

Paul was not a rough, swearing fisherman like Peter, breaking many of the sub-clauses in the law of Moses. He was not a tax collector like Matthew, working for the hated occupying army of Rome. He was not a political zealot like the other Simon, dedicated to terrorism. Paul (first known as Saul) was a truly good man. In terms of moral and spiritual effort he had nothing to be ashamed of. He had given it his best shot.

 

However, he remained a man at war with himself.

He was anxious and unfulfilled in his own righteousness. Then when he was confronted by an appearance of the risen Christ, and trusted his heart and soul to the Lord, Paul was given the gift of self-worth. He knew the joy of being named as worthwhile by God; an adopted child of God with all the privileges of the household of God.  Simply by faith. Simply by trusting God’s free grace in Christ Jesus. he was okay. So he wrote:

If right-living is achieved through doing the right thing, then Christ died for nothing.

 

At least on one occasion, Paul became impatient with Peter.

Given his own background, no wonder Paul became annoyed with Cephas.  There was a critical contest in the early church between Gospel and law. It was a power struggle between those who thought Christians had to first become good moral and religious Jews, and those who believed Christ was all that mattered. Peter came across to Antioch on a visit to the church community there, and before long he started to give in to the scruples of those who put the law first. At a meeting of the church Paul challenged and rebuked Peter openly.

 

It was a watershed in the development of Christianity.

The two greatest Apostles face to face. Fortunately for us, Paul won the day. And as far as we can gather, Peter acknowledged his error, and later at a church council held in Jerusalem, Peter himself supported Paul’s view. The basis of Christian life was not doing the right thing but utterly abandoning oneself to the free mercy of God. The bottom line was the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

That is remains true today.

Our only abiding, never shifting, source of well being, is God’s love. Especially that love expressed in the redeeming grace of Christ on the cross. The words ‘grace’ and ‘cross’ are never far apart in Paul’s preaching. We are worthwhile because God loves us without conditions. And there is no more unconditional love than that holy cross.

 

GOODNESS IS SECOND TO GRACE-FULL-NESS

 

The peace of God cannot be bought.

There is not any good work to be done, no religious ritual to be observed; no costly penance to be made. Just the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is the only ground that supports our weight and will never tremble or shift.

 

I cannot promise God to be a good person, can you?

We cannot promise to never fail in living out the teaching of Christ. We will not always love others are much as we should, and never love God with the undivided devotion of mind and heart and will. But we do not have to. We only need to do what we can and rest the weight of our flawed being on the mercy of God.

“You, O Christ are all in all, more than all in you I find.”

 

Does that mean it doesn’t matter what we do?

Of course it matters! Christ has set the bar higher than any who came before him. With the help of the Spirit, we try to emulate him. But what we achieve, or fail to achieve, does not impinge upon the core of our peace.

 

Christ is our peace; his welcoming grace; God’s love in and through him.

 

Lose that and we lose the lot.

If right-living is achieved through doing the right thing, then Christ died for nothing.

 

WHY AM I PRESSING HARD?

 

Why am I pressing hard on this point?

Not to win some intellectual assent, I assure you. I press it because we are at risk. Some may be in danger of spending all their life in church circles, yet never letting go of self-justification and discovering the simple gift of faith. Others once in the past may have found that core peace, but bit by bit they may have exchanged it for good works and reputation.

 

Why live like slaves when we can be the liberated members of God’s own family?  Self-validation is doomed to fail. God-validation is a triumph of grace. I need to allow this grace embrace me every day. So do you. It is so full, so rich, so free!

 

Faith is a gift of God, new every morning.

Gift. All gift. Pure gift.Lorrrd, gie us a guid conceit o’ oorsel’s.”

 

THANKSGIVING: BLESSED ENEMY

 

You, O holy One, you are the Saving Truth to whom we give thanks,

not just for your tenderness but also your rugged ways.

 

You are the blessed enemy

       of our fears and pessimism.

You are the intolerant grace

       that breaks the bands of constricting self-interest.

You are the hostile word

       that assaults and shatters the hardening shell of apathy.

You are the powerful “No!”

       to the ways of self-destruction.

 

You, dearest enemy,

       are our healing and hope, now and for eternity.

Our gratitude and thanksgiving,

       joy, love, praise and service,

       belong to you forever.

Through Christ Jesus our Saviour.

Amen!

            B.D Prewer. Adapted from “Brief Prayers” Vol 3.`

 

INTERCESSIONS

 

God is more ready to listen than we are to intercede for those needy folk among us or around us.

Let us pray.

 

Please help us, most loving God, to be set free from worrying about our rights or reputation. Make your church a more inclusive community, where the free grace of Jesus is treasured and shared and unconditionally celebrated..

 

We pray for those who have fallen to sexual temptation, and who are now scorned by family, neighbours or old friends. Loving God hear us.

Loving God, please save us all.

 

We pray for politicians who began with enthusiasm but later have become corrupted by status and power, and are now hollow and cynical. Loving God hear us.

Loving God, please save us all.

 

We pray for wealthy people who at first wanted more so that they could help others more, but have now become the victims of a burgeoning greed. Loving God hear us.

Loving God ,please save us all.

 

We pray for common folk who get shut out of decision-making, and minor nations that are pawns in the power-play of super-powers. Loving God hear us.

Loving God, please save us all.

 

We pray for the poor who cannot afford the best medical care or buy adequate legal counsel, and those among the unemployed who have no prospect of work. Loving God hear us.

Loving God, please save us all.

 

We pray for all the folk who are deeply worried, depressed, confused, afraid, sorely tempted, ashamed, suffering or sorrowing. Loving God hear us.

Loving God, please save us all.

 

We pray for the church in its many denominations, and especially for any who have grown arrogant, self serving, apathetic or misguided. Loving God hear us.

Loving God, please save us all.

 

God our inclusive Friend, in your gracious wisdom edit our prayers, and use them for that extensive purpose and pattern which is beyond our comprehension.

Through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Amen!

 

SENDING OUT

 

Go and tread gently on the face of God’s earth;

travel lightly yet be replete;

be resourceful yet allow others to help you;

be strong in your faith yet gentle with the faith of others;

go humbly where some swagger,

yet hold your head high should unbelievers scorn you.

 

We are heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ Jesus!.

 

In the name of the Creator, Saviour and Inspirer, I bless you.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit;

we are very blessed.

Amen!