Hallelujah love

The texts for this week focus on the salvation love of God – to which we respond with hearts and minds and voices: HALLELUJAH! They are:

  • Psalm 146
  • Ruth 1:1-18
  • Mark 12:28-34
  • Hebrews 9:11-14

Chloe Axford at engageworship has a wonderful reflection on the meaning of the word “Hallelujah” as well as some creative ideas for the call to worship which can be found at https://engageworship.org/ideas/hallelujah-reflection.

A gathering prayer (based on Psalm 146)

Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Lord God Almighty,
we gather together this day to praise You
from the depths of our innermost being,
for You are our hope and our help.

You are the Creator of heaven’s glory,
earth’s grandeur, and ocean’s greatness:
through sky and soil and sea You settle us
into this salvation life
which knows no end –
even when our bodies return to dust
and our plans and projects are over.

Unlike all our experts and politicians and distinguished leaders
who fail and fall,
You alone keep all Your promises
and we claim them now –
O Jacob’s Jehovah,
great Zion’s God:

justice for the oppressed (hallelujah),
food for the hungry ((hallelujah),
freedom for the prisoner ((hallelujah),
sight for the blind ((hallelujah),
restoration for the sinner (hallelujah),
protection for the immigrant and the stranger (hallelujah),
support for all left defenceless in their grief (hallelujah).

 Lord, You will reign forever:
You are God for good!
So receive the hallelujahs of our hearts:
some joyful
some broken,
some searching,
some hoping
but all gathered together in Your anthem of love.

Amen.

Prayer of confession (following the Ruth reading)

The world teaches us many ways to love, but most are based on selfish desires and the fulfilment of our own needs. Seldom are we prepared to make the sacrifice of Ruth, of Christ, and to bind our lives to another, lovingly, completely, unconditionally. And so, this day, we make our confession:

It is painful to confess, O Loving God, how hard it is to love
as You have demonstrated through Your own sacrifice and self-giving. 

We long for love;
we pray for love;
we sometimes even beg for love
or lie to secure and hold onto love. 

Yet, in our own offering of love,
there is often a hardness of heart,
a brokenness, a poverty
that speaks of past hurts and disappointments;
of an aching chasm between what we need and long for
and what we have received, endured, put up with.

Still, You call us to give expression of our love for You
in the way in which we love our neighbour,
forgive the brother or sister who has wronged us,
and embrace the stranger.

As we sit in the silence and savour Your Love with and within us,
we say sorry for the inadequacies of our own ….

<silence is kept>  

Here then the Good News (based on Hebrews 9:11-14):

Christ alone has made our salvation secure, forever.

Jesus has offered himself as the perfect sacrifice that now frees us from our dead works and our hard hearts to worship and serve the living God.
Hallelujah!

May his love for us cleanse our consciences,
heal our wounds,
and help us to love others as God loves us:
compassionately and completely.

In Jesus’ name we pray.
Amen.

<the peace may be shared>

Prayers for the world – I wrote a letter to my love 

In response to the meditation, the congregation is invited to write a love letter to someone who is suffering: the oppressed, the hungry, the prisoner the blind, the sinner, the immigrant or the stranger, someone left defenceless in their grief that were mentioned in our gathering prayer. 

For some, these will be people known by name; for others, it may be a person or group of people that they have encountered through the news or social media or church bulletin. Each letter should be a prayer for them in their current circumstances and an expression of our love and care.

After a few minutes of prayerful writing/drawing, the congregation sings “make me a channel of Your peace” – or similar – as they come up to the altar and “drop” their letters into a bowl or heart shaped container symbolising the love of God.

Words of mission

In God’s Kingdom, all are loved for who they are.
Hallelujah!
Welcomed, loved, healed, forgiven  –
we are not far from God’s kingdom.

And now, as we are sent forth,
God’s kingdom is not far from those
who are longing and hoping and searching for love.
Hallelujah!

Best and worst

*an opening prayer inspired by the story of David and his son, Absalom,
in 2 Samuel 13-18 and Ephesians 5:1-2*

Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that.

Ephesians 5:1-2, The Message

Praise to You O Suffering God.
You know the wounding of skin that was made to love,
the piercing of flesh with nail and thorn,
and the far greater rending of heart and of hope
through deception,
denial,
and desertion.

By humbling yourself in human form,
You have seen us at our best –
and at our worst.

You understand that love can lead to light and life
as easily as it can to death and destruction;
that a word spoken in anger can be an instrument of justice
or a wrecking ball of devastation;
that one day our family is a sanctuary, a source of strength and support,
the next, the people who we have given the most power
to drive us crazy or do us harm.

As we gather, this day, in Your holy presence
– our whole being hoping for Your faithful love
and great redemption –
we pray that You will gather together
both our beauty and our brokenness,
with Your infinite tenderness …

Graham Kendrick “O Lord, Your tenderness”

Your love is extravagant

Ephesians 3:14-21 and John 6:1-21

What comes to mind for you when you hear the word “extravagant?”

By definition extravagance has to do with a lack of restraint in spending money or using resources. It’s a word associated with luxury, lavishness, comfort and indulgence. An extravagance is usually something optional, over-the-top and unnecessary, a waste really.

Yet Scripture tells us that God’s love for us is extravagant.

High and wide and deep and long, it breaks through our human dimensions of time and space. Intimate and endless, it transcends our reason and understanding. Inclusive and enduring, it defies all earthly limits and all our efforts to contain and control it.

In our Gospel this week, we read of God’s extravagant love being unveiled to a large crowd of people who had followed Jesus across Lake Galilee because of his power to heal the sick. Among them was also a large number of pilgrims heading towards Jerusalem to offer the traditional unblemished lamb as a Passover sacrifice in memory of their liberation from slavery in Egypt.

Now, we know from Mark’s retelling of this event that the disciples had recently returned from their own healing and teaching ministries and were tired, so Jesus had taken them off to a desolate place along the shoreline in the hope of having some time to eat and rest and share with them.

But when he was confronted by this mass of about 15 000 people (including the women and children of the group) so desperate to know of the power and presence of God moving among them that they had run on foot to get ahead of him, Jesus’s heart was full of compassion.

Because God’s love for us is extravagant: high and wide and deep and long, it breaks through our human dimensions of time and space so we’re never unwelcome, never unwanted, never intruding. When we reach for God, our needs are met with power, our deepest longings with loving-kindness.

Knowing full-well how he would deal with the massive crowd who just longed to be near him, Jesus asked one of his disciples, Philip, where they could buy enough food to offer hospitality to them all.

Philip’s reply is interesting in the way in which it demonstrates the difference between our own mindset and God’s. Notice how Philip actually avoids the question that Jesus asks of “where” this food can be bought and responds with how much it would cost if everyone was to have even a little piece.

Philip was blind to the extravagance of Christ’s intentions because of his own preoccupation with numbers: the size of the crowd, the cost of the food, how much – or how little – each person could have in order to keep their expenditure to a minimum. In Philip’s eyes, the extravagance of love that would be demonstrated by feeding a crowd of this size was reduced to a more symbolic act of offering a mere mouthful – and even that was beyond their current financial limitations!

His friend and fellow disciple was a little more creative. At least Andrew took the initiative to find a nearby food source. But even as he presented the child with his five barley loaves (a poor man’s bread) and two small fish, he evaluated what was on offer against what was needed and concluded that it just wasn’t enough.

But God’s love for us is extravagant … even though we are slow to comprehend both its nearness and its magnitude. Intimate and endless, it transcends our reason and understanding. When we focus on our limits, God reveals the untold riches of God’s glory and favour. When we are driven by the sense of “not enough,” God unveils a power and a plan beyond what we could ever have imagined or guessed at or requested.

So Jesus instructed the disciples to have everyone sit down. Imagine what welcome words those must have been to these desperate, hopeful, hurting people who had run so far from their homes to find him in the desolate place.

And he took the little that was on offer from one of the little ones in the gathering – who, for the record, isn’t named or even numbered among the 5000 because of his young age – and he gave thanks to God and began breaking it so that the disciples could share it out among the people.

Miraculously, the food multiplied, and everyone ate as much as they wanted, until they were completely satisfied. From the little that was offered, grew – in the breaking and the sharing – not just enough to feed 15 000 people, but more than enough with twelve baskets full of leftovers being gathered together!

Because God’s love for us is extravagant … but in no way over-the-top nor unnecessary nor wasteful. Inclusive and enduring, it defies all earthly limits and all our efforts to contain and control it.

Growing from a little, multiplying through dividing and sharing, this is what the table, the cross, the church, the kingdom of God is all about!

Yet, the immediate response of the people to this extravagant love was the desire to take hold of Jesus and forcefully make him their king. God-with-them on a grassy hill no longer measured up to their ambitious scheme to overthrow their Roman rulers so Jesus withdrew into the hills from the God-over-our-enemies mentality that even today seeks to cleave and crush and conquer.

Even the disciples were in danger of getting sucked in to this predictable plot which is why – in the other gospel accounts – Jesus, in fact, commanded them to head across the lake towards Bethsaida without him.

Their inability to control and contain the extravagance of God’s love, God’s plans, God’s kingdom was soon made apparent as a strong wind began to blow and the waves got bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger and they couldn’t even manage to get themselves to where they wanted to go.

But Jesus came towards them, walking on the water, speaking words of profound truth and deep peace: “Don’t be afraid. It is I.” And they happily took him into the boat with them and landed immediately at the place where they wanted to go – even though, through their own strained efforts, they had only made it about halfway to the opposite shore.

Those words in the Aramaic allude more strongly to “you know who I AM” than just “it is I.” Against the backdrop of darkness and the desolate place, at the time of Passover, with the manna-like provision of bread and the Moses-like power over the sea, these words are the climax of this chapter and the heart of the Good News: that Christ Jesus, the son of the Great I AM WHO I AM and I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE is the extravagance of God’s love given shape, present and active and moving among us.

As they landed at Bethsaida, on the opposite end of the lake to Jerusalem, Jesus resumed his work of bringing God’s great love for the world within reach of everyone. Soon everyone would hear him confess …

“I AM the bread of life,”

“I AM the light of the world,”

“I AM the good shepherd,”

“I AM the way, the truth, and the life.”

And they would know it was true for he fed the 5000, restored sight to the blind, sought out those for whom society no longer cared, and rose from the dead to restore to us the very fullness of life.

As we gather as church in a particular time and a particular place, we sit in fellowship with one another and in the refreshing presence of God to be met by the extravagance of God’s love and fed from the Bread of life.

The challenge though is not to try to control or contain what we receive as though God’s love is not enough but to allow the resting place of God’s love to become the very source and root of our life as the people of God within our particular community.

God’s love for us is extravagant. May our love for the world be no less high or wide or deep or long.

 

Day Thirty Four: Subversive

Psalm 110
Proverbs 22:1-9
Luke 6:27-31

Most of us have, at some time in our lives, heard – sometimes incessantly – the phrase: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It’s the golden rule of human interaction; and a definite go-to phrase in most mothers’ “raising children the right way” manual.

So while it was unacceptable for my brother to hit me with his cricket bat, it was really unacceptable for me to respond by hiding it on top of the roof for
it set a bad example,
it reduced me to his level,
and it precluded any potential for change – setting into motion a vicious and escalating cycle of retaliation instead of demonstrating an alternative way of forgiveness and reconciliation.

Yet, if you are anything like me, such reasoning seems tremendously unfair and naive.

By young adulthood, we should know enough of human nature to understand that instead of being lauded as “the bigger person,” the do-unto-others-as-you-would- have-them-do-unto-you attitude (as we understand it) often earns us the label of “spineless doormat.”

Yet, if we look more closely at the ideas expressed in both Proverbs and Luke today, we may gain a deeper understanding of our subversive power and purpose in the world: to undermine the kingdom of self and establish the kingdom of God …

… as Christ did.

From the opening line of this portion of his sermon (Luke 6:27-28), Jesus is being subversive. Among most circles, hatred of one’s enemies was regarded as acceptable as long as you did no harm to them. But Jesus commands an unexpected action instead of the socially acceptable inaction:

“Love your enemies,
do good to those who hate you,
bless those who curse you,
pray for those who abuse you.”

Instead of limiting harm, Jesus actively promotes goodness and generosity,
service and love for the payoff for such things are “plenty and honour and a satisfying life” (Proverbs 22:4b).

Echoing the sentiment of Proverbs 22:2
“The rich and the poor shake hands as equals — God made them both!”
in each of the culturally-bound examples that Jesus goes on to give, we see too how our reactions to an enemy, a bully, or a tyrant can turn the tables of power: in Roman times offering the other cheek to be slapped would, in fact, force the “perpetrator” to acknowledge you as an equal, rather than a powerless victim; and giving up your tunic to the one who had already taken your coat would render you naked and unprotected from the elements, thus exposing the perpetrator to social censure and legal prosecution.

Within this subversive context, the notion of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you is not an expression of a meek (or weak) submissiveness to the actions of others or a commitment to being the bigger person in hope of some future heavenly reward,
but a searching for and sharing of shalom;
a re-orientation of power;
an acknowledgement of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being
and of our own right and desire to be treated as equals – regardless of our race, religion, gender or socioeconomic class etc.

Such work begins not with those that we already see as our equals or our friends, but in those relationships where inequality, conflict and resentment are rife.

Today, be subversive. Do good for someone who hates you (or who you hate). Bless someone who has cursed you. Pray for someone who has used or abused you.

 

Day Nineteen: Love Song

Psalm 89:1-4,19-26
2 Samuel 6:1-11
Hebrews 1:1-4

“Your love, God, is my song, and I’ll sing it!
I’m forever telling everyone how faithful you are.
I’ll never quit telling the story of your love—
how you built the cosmos
and guaranteed everything in it.
Your love has always been our lives’ foundation,
your fidelity has been the roof over our world”
Psalm 89:1-2 (The Message).

Love is the first and final Word in our story:
in love we were knit together, intimately known even before we were born;
for love we were made – love of family, love of friends, love of lovers, love of the Lord;
and through Love we are set free from the bonds of sin and death and claimed for the eternal.

In the days of the prophets, there were words of warning and promises of restoration; exhortations to return to God; calls to repentance and fasting and sacrifice, cautions to remain faithful to God’s covenant with his people …

… so many times, so many ways … God reached out, redeemed, liberated, forgave, opened up the way ….

And then Christ came, the last and final Word:

the radiance of God’s glory,
the exact representation of his being,
the sustainer of all things by his powerful word –

Love.                                           (Hebrews 1:1-2)

While you’re revelling in this love song of God always reaching out for you, let’s interject with another story ….

The people of Israel are having a party. David is king. He has captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites and defeated the Philistines and is bringing back the ark of the covenant to his new capital. There are songs of celebration; people laughing, pushing, dancing as they make their way in the procession.

And then the oxen stumble and a young man, unthinkingly, reaches out to stabilise the ark – this holy and sacred chest which housed the ten commandments and was a sign of God’s presence with them – and is struck dead in accordance with the Lord’s warning in Numbers 4:15b:

“But they must not touch the holy things or they will die.”

David is perplexed, afraid and angry, and puts aside the ark in the house of Obed-Edom for three months – where it a source of blessing to Obed and to his whole household.

Love.

The love of God is a fearsome gift;
the presence of God-with-us a precious thing.

Though the Good News of Christ’s coming may be cause for joyful singing and laughing and celebrating and dancing, the love of God for us is not to be taken forgranted or treated lightly …

… and the One who Loved us so much that he took on our form and entered fully into our life, suffering and death for us remains
the radiance of God’s glory,
the exact imprint of his nature,
the one who upholds the universe by the power of his word.

This is no little love but LOVE.

A Love to be in awe of.
A Love to cherish.
A Love to treat as sacred and holy.
A Love to take seriously.
A Love to honour and obey.

Today, consider a posture or a symbol of reverence that you can incorporate into your prayer life or Christmas celebrations … like Moses taking off his shoes on holy ground … kneeling in prayer … sitting with open, outstretched hands etc.

A Prayer for Human Rights Day

*using the words of the prophet Isaiah (chapter 40) for a congregational response*

O Lord who calls us into the Way of Right Living
we remember this day the rights we’ve been given –
rights hard fought for by those who have gone before
through terrible suffering, oppression and war;
rights taught in our classrooms and upheld by our law;
rights that so many are still longing for.

For those without freedom,
working for little or no wage,
treated as outcasts,
imprisoned, enslaved:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

For those who are tortured,
exiled, and killed,
for someone’s sick pleasure
or cheap power thrill:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

For those seeking asylum
and fleeing in fear
to whom no place is offered –
especially not here:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

For those without work
or shelter or food,
Who we label as “lazy”
or “up to no good,”
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

Where women are objects
And children are things
And the “love” of a man
just bruises and stings:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

For those different from us
in conscience, colour and creed
who we brand as the “Other”
and ignore in their need:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds.

Created in Your image,
we’re all made to be free;
the God-light wrapped up
in our frail dignity:
clear a path in the desert,
level the rough ground,
move mountains and valleys,
til Your love abounds. 

Day Five: A Love That Lasts

Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
Hosea 6:1-6
1 Thessalonians 1:2-10

What do Doris Day, Natalie Cole, Tom Jones, Barry Manilow, and Celine Dion have in common? A little song that I’m sure you know ….

When I fall in love it will be forever
Or I’ll never fall in love.
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended before it’s begun
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun.

When I give my heart it will be completely
Or I’ll never give my heart
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I fall in love with you.

Love. It’s what we are all looking for. A love that is constant. A love that is reciprocated. A love that will last.

Complete the phrase “when I fall in love, it will be …” with your own words.

Everyone has an idea of what love should be that has been passed down and patched together through music and fairytales, family stories and photo albums, poets and philosophers, and, most importantly, our own experience.

It’s why God is Love is one of the most intimate and relatable images for engaging with the Divine Mystery. And it is the good news of God’s great love for us – just as we are in this very moment – that enables us to desert the dead idols of our old lives and embrace the holy, hope-filled, love-alive lives to which Christ calls us.

As Paul points out to the young Christians in Thessalonica, their deep conviction that  God loves them very much has given power and meaning to their faith, their labour, and their hope for resurrection.

Think back to your conversion experience (it may have been a single moment or a gradual deepening of your love for God and desire to live in relationship with God).

How did your awareness of God’s great love for you impact or change your life? 

Do you still live with a deep conviction that God loves you very much?

How does that conviction find expression in your faith, in your work, in your future hopes, in your daily choices and way of living? 

As you reflected on those questions, I wonder if you felt – as I did – a twinge of pain, a moment of guilt because of a passion for God that has waned over the years.

The accusation of God through the prophet Hosea certainly pierces my heart as I consider how often my best intentions to walk closely with God vanish before the demands of my household, my irritation with others, the rush to find some time to rest before the next appointment or activity in the diary:
“What am I to do with you, Ephraim?
What do I make of you, Judah?
Your declarations of love last no longer
than morning mist and predawn dew”
(Hosea 6:4, The Message).

The season of Advent invites us to consider that our longing for a love that is constant, a love that is reciprocated, a love that will last is a dim echo of the deepest desire of God – a desire that leads to the crude shelter of a stable and the rough splinters of the cross.

Perhaps you would like to write your own version of a “covenant” or a “vow” to God today as both a response to God’s great love for you and an expression of your great love for God.

 

 

An Advent Candle Poem/Prayer

For use in congregations/communities who light a candle each Sunday in Advent leading up to Christmas following the traditional pattern of prophets (hope), Mary and Joseph (faith), shepherds (joy), angels (peace) and Jesus (love) … a simple poem/prayer in five parts with an additional “verse” to be said as a conclusion to the prayer time until the final verse is offered on Christmas Day.

A candle for the Christ-King
For whom the prophets said to wait;
He may seem slow in coming
but we know God’s never late …

This one is for his parents
On their trip to Bethlehem
For they believed the promise
That God would be with them …

The third is for the shepherds
Whose hearts were full of joy
As angels came to tell them
About a special baby boy …

Oh! How those angels worshipped
and their song rang through the air:
“Glory be to God on high:
His peace be everywhere.”

And now, with great excitement,
We light the final flame –
For Love has come into the world;
Christ Jesus is his name.

***

This verse is to be said on weeks 1, 2, 3 and 4 to explain the presence of the unlit candles. On Christmas Day it is replaced with the final verse.

These candles still are waiting
For their chance to shine –
they remind us to be ready
for a very special time ….

 

With what do we measure?

A reflection based on readings from “Beyond the lectionary:”

With what do we measure?

An easier question to answer might be “with what don’t we measure?” for, from an early age, we begin to learn the language of comparison. Our parents applaud enthusiastically when we manage to place the triangle, the circle, the square into the “correct” opening; stack rings in order of greatest to smallest, or perfectly identify the colour of different items presented to us.

Unknown-1

Our teachers add to our limited recognition of numbers when we begin the formal schooling process, a vast array of “measurement” means from dollars and cents to metres and litres to ratio and proportions to angles and planes which we can compare and convert.

Picture 1.png

 

As part of our critical thinking skills and verbal performance, we excel when we can correctly identify the “odd one out” or circle “the one that does not belong’. And we fast discover that those terms can be applied as criteria in our social relationships too.

images

The older we get, the more proficient we become at measuring, sorting, classifying – and the more tools we are given to do so: race, gender, nationality, language, socioeconomic status, highest level of education, and so on.

images

Anything, really, can be used to measure – from whether you’re a cat lover or a dog person, to how many drinks it takes for you to start behaving badly, to whether you wear weird socks underneath your relatively normal looking slacks. And it all means something! as we take our measurements and sort, classify, and compare in an effort to figure out where we fit in the world around us.

cc65a7f832c520abb1484c5f447cc68e-trouble-fitting-in

No wonder it is such a struggle when we enter into the Christian life to learn a new language, a new way of looking at others, that is not based on measuring whether people are worthy or welcome but on offering “how best can I be a brother, a sister, a servant to you?”

Each of our texts today offer us a new word, a new way of measuring, based not on classifying and comparing but on transforming outsiders to insiders, strangers to family, darkness to light.

***

In our Old Testament reading, King Solomon – the son of David and writer of many of the wisdom sayings in Scripture – is placed in the difficult position of rendering judgment in a case where there are no witnesses; only the words of one distraught mother against another’s as each longs for a living baby over the dead one.

The means by which he reaches a decision seems quite cruel, and even illogical,  at first: he orders a servant to get a sword and cut the live baby in half so each woman can get a piece. But the real mother reveals herself by her response. While the woman with no true bond is happy with his solution, the child’s mother would rather give him up entirely than see him harmed in any way.

Love is the measure. Love is what Solomon was looking for as he applied his God-given wisdom to make the right decision. And not just any kind of love, but the sacrificial sort that would see a mother giving up a lifetime with her child just to know that he still breathed; that, indeed, Christ Jesus would embody as he laid down his life for his friends, for his persecutors, for the whole, wide world, for you and for me.

Is it the same with us? Do we display to strangers, to newcomers, to those with whom we would not previously have imagined associating a love which welcomes, which protects, which serves – often at great cost?

***

In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, a difficult and divisive congregation, we discover that one of their ongoing arguments resulted from the very human desire to possess what was seen as the greatest of all spiritual gifts – the supernatural capacity to speak in angel tongues, in different languages – and so gain authority and status within the life of the community.

This is an example of measurement at it’s worst where a person’s worth or value to the church was rated according to the gifts that they could offer, but Paul puts an end to it when he says, “if you want to have a spiritual gift, then seek most of all those gifts that will build up the body; that will help the church grow stronger.”

Growth is the measure that Paul offers as an antidote to the poisons of power, of pride, of envy that were so rampant in this congregation.  He warns that the desire for and discernment of our individual gifting and talents should not be for our own advancement or exaltation or – for that matter – hoarding, but for the growth, the strengthening, the knitting together of the body and the drawing nearer of God’s kingdom. Otherwise we are as useless as untuned instruments for leading worship or muted trumpets for signalling an approaching battle.

Is it the same with us? Or do we use our God-given gifts to build another up; to grow together in faith, in love, in understanding?

***

Finally, in John’s Gospel, Jesus tackles the crowd at the Feast of Booths about their hypocrisy; their double standards.  It must have been a difficult time – dealing with his brothers’ disbelief in his divine identity and authority, with the crowd who has questioning whether he was for real or simply leading the people astray, and with the increased, hidden hatred of the priests and Pharisees who wanted to get rid of this healer, this teacher who was upsetting the status quo.

One of their accusations against him was that he had healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath day, commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. Jesus points out the hypocrisy of holding him to the law of the Sabbath (that no work should be done) while happily circumcising a baby boy on a Sabbath day themselves.

While the religious leaders sought to keep up appearances of piety and obedience, Jesus acted according to what was right. Justice was his measure: ensuring that the vulnerable, the diseased, the accused, the outcast, the prisoner knew the power and the presence of God in their lives. Judged unworthy and unimportant by those who measured by the way things look, they are the very ones to whom the Messiah came.

Is it the same with us? Do we value justice for those who are hurting, for those who are searching, for those that society seldom even looks at more than the comfort of our religious rituals and routines?

***

Love. Growth. Justice.

Three simple words. Three powerful ways of measuring – not how others fit in to our community of faith – but how wholly and how vividly we are portraying the face, the heart, the mystery of God as we go about our daily lives.

As those who heard King Solomon’s decisions respected his wisdom and gave glory to God, may those who encounter through our words, our actions, and our priorities a different way of measuring based on offering rather than judging do likewise.

 

 

 

 

Last lessons: Love

*Good Friday: John 18:1-19:42*

And again another passage of Scripture says,
“They will look on the one whom they have pierced.”
19:37

Saving love is costly.

People humiliate us; they try to rob us of our dignity, to strip us bare; they make it their mission to alienate us, destroy us, outstrip us.

Yet love forgives.

Jesus prays for his enemies “for they know not what they do.”

So often we know precisely what we’re doing: we deliberately and knowingly deny, betray, turn away …

… yet through love we are forgiven.

And this love assures us of this: that when we recognize our need for conversion, for transformation; when we acknowledge Christ as Lord and Saviour, we are saved from the power of sin and death in this life and claim the promise of newness, the promise of eternity, the promise of Paradise …

… not as some ethereal vision or distant dream. Even today, Jesus makes life more bearable, more beautiful, by connecting us through the cross to one another in a way that comforts and takes responsibility for our Christian brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our sons and daughters, and indeed, for the whole world.

Yet there are times so dark, so difficult that we wonder how we will survive, endure, let alone thrive on life’s abundance.

In the midst of the darkness, Christ cries out that he has carried out pain; that we are not alone. On the cross, love laments so that we can know that we will never be abandoned, never be forsaken.

In fact, in our fragile humanity, in our needs and our longings, God moves us beyond superficial, surface-level relationships to a spirituality that is drenched in the Living Waters of God’s Spirit.

We praise God today that God’s saving love sees what is started through to the end. In a world of half-done things and best intentions, we are moved by the knowledge that the One who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it.

God is not done with our lives until we find our final resting place in God’s heart; until our spirits rest completely and safely in God’s hands.

Are we ready to offer our lives, our hearts, our love, our all to God’s saving love today?