Call to worship and welcome
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness;
let the whole earth tremble before God. (Psalm 96:9)
This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it. (Psalm 118:24)
Happy Mothers’ day, and it’s good that you can be part of our worship, wherever you are.
I heard this time of isolation described as ‘The winter of our disconnect’ this week, and certainly that’s apt as we aren’t gathering together in our church building at the moment, but I think we’re also finding new ways to connect, even though we are physically separated.
So, wherever you are, now, and however disconnected you might feel, remember that you are still connected to God and to the community of God.
And we still join together to praise God, to hear God’s word and to pray for the world and all its people.
Prayers of adoration and confession
Let us pray:
Lord, creator and sustainer of us all, we gather this morning to worship you, and we do so not because of what we have done, but because you have called us to be your people. We thank you for all the gifts of human life, for the richness of creation, for our fellowship as your people, for the freedom to worship you, for the time we are able to spend here and elsewhere honouring you.
We praise you, our God, our king, our saviour, our sustainer,
You have set you glory above the heavens,
You have created the heavens, the moon and the stars,
You have crowned humankind with glory and honour,
and given them dominion over the works of your hands,
and put all things under their feet.
We honour you, we glorify you, we praise you, we adore you.
God of eternity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
We come to you weary of the world, with the burdens of our lives upon our shoulders. The words we should not have said.
The words we should have said, but chose not to say.
The things we should not have done.
The things we should have done, but chose not to do.
Assurance of forgiveness
In St Paul’s letter to the Romans (3:10-12) we read:
As it is written:
"There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away, they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good, not even one."
But we, as your people take heart, for although all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Paul tells us “[we] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”. (Romans 3: 23-24)
Sisters and Brothers in Christ, hear the good news: in Christ, our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
A Mother’s Day Prayer
Given that today is a special day, I offer a modern day psalm which speaks to our experience of God’s love as we receive love from other people.
Or indeed one person in particular.
My mother is my shepherd; I shall not want. She makes me lie down under a warm blanket in a snug bed.
She watches over me as I play beside still waters. She restores my soul.
She leads me in paths of respect, responsibility, and goodness, for I am her namesake!
Yea, even though I walk past monsters in the dark, I will not be scared, because my mother is always near me. Her hands and her voice, they comfort me.
My mother sets the table and cheerfully calls me to dinner even in front of big, mean bullies.
She anoints my skinned knees and broken heart with her kisses. She smiles and throws me a towel when my cup runs over.
Surely God's peace, power, and mercy shall uphold me all the days of my life, for my Mother taught me to dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
God, thank you for giving us the strength to endure hard seasons. Nothing we go through is wasted.
Right now, parts of our world are preparing to re-open. We don’t know what that transition will look like, but You do.
So, we ask that during this time You would:
We believe we will see Your goodness in our land, because we know You are at work in our lives.
Calm our fears as we trust in You, and come and do what only You can do.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
John 14:1-4 (NIV)
Jesus Comforts His Disciples
14 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. 2 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. 4 You know the way to the place where I am going.”
1 Peter 2:2-10 (NIV)
2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.
The Living Stone and a Chosen People
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:
“See, I lay a stone in Zion,
a chosen and precious cornerstone,
and the one who trusts in him
will never be put to shame.”
7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,
“The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall.”
They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.
9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
God’s own people – 1 Peter 2:2-10
Over the last couple of weeks, although we’ve focused on other bible readings, we have had readings from Peter’s first letter, and today, we move to focus on what Peter has to say… and he gives us a lot of ideas and a lot of imagery and all of those ideas and images – new born infants, spiritual milk, living stones and corner stones, spiritual temples and sacrifices, priesthoods and nations, and so on, are all packed into a very short passage. It can be overwhelming.
Most of the New Testament letters are written by the apostle Paul – about 77 pages in my home bible.
But as well as the letters of Paul, we have the letter to the Hebrews whose authorship we don’t know, the letter of James, the three letters of John, the letter of Jude, and the two letters of Peter. Together, the non-Paul letters make up only around 29 pages well under half the amount written by Paul.
By biblical standards, Paul wrote a lot: and so it’s natural that we get used to reading Paul’s letters.
Paul was an educated man - a lawyer, a Pharisee, and someone trained to write and present arguments, and do so well and effectively. As we read Paul’s letters, we can get a sense of this.He is organised, he is structured, his writing is well planned. He makes a point, he argues the case supporting it, he raises a hypothetical objection to it, and then rebuts that objection, and moves on to the next point. And so on.
By contrast, Peter, the author of today’s epistle reading comes from quite a different background to Paul. Far from being an educated Pharisee, Peter was a fisherman. We read in Matthew 4 that Peter and his brother Andrew called by Jesus to follow him. The brothers were likely running a small business, not only fishing, but taking their catches to market, at least maintaining - if not building - boats and nets, paying taxes, employing others and so on. Maybe not the formal, legal education of Paul, but certainly practical skills – and practical people skills, communication skills, as well.
He wasn’t a trained writer or communicator like Paul, but from the accounts we have in the gospels and the book of Acts, he certainly wasn’t afraid to speak up or to speak out.
We see in the gospel accounts that Peter was a man of immense faith – he was the first to recognise Jesus as the messiah, he trusted Jesus, and he backed up that trust with action – he stepped out onto the lake to walk toward Jesus, and he was also the one ready with a sword in the garden of Gethsemane to fight against the arrest of Jesus (John 17:10).
But as well as being a man of immense faith and action, he was human. When Jesus was arrested, when things were looking bad for all Jesus’ followers, he denied being one of Jesus’ disciples.
And then, after the resurrection, after turning back and being accepted by Jesus, alive with the Holy Spirit, he was the apostle who got up and preached the first sermon on Pentecost.
You could never say that Peter lacked passion.
And I think that really shows in this this morning’s letter.
Unlike the carefully argued letters of Paul, Peter blurts out his ideas. Lurching between concepts and mixing the imagery; getting his thoughts down with a passion that reflects his own passion for Jesus. There are parts of Peter’s letters – as we’ll see next week – that we just don’t understand.
But amongst the rush of ideas, he gives us poetry, beautiful words that capture beautiful ideas. In verse 9, he says “…you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God for his own, to proclaim the triumphs of him who has called you out of darkness into the marvellous light”. Just ponder that for a moment: Isn’t that beautiful? Not just in what Peter says, but in how he says it. The same man who once said to Jesus “You are the messiah” says to us “you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood…”. Wow.
But before we get to that, Peter covers a lot of ground in just a few verses! He starts off by telling us that just like new-born infants we must crave pure milk – spiritual milk. Peter isn’t talking about us as being newborn infants in the sense of being ‘born again’, but the importance of the thing being craved. To a new-born, just about the only thing that matters, is milk. And milk is the only thing that will satisfy a new-born. It’s a long time ago, but I’ve been up at 3 in the morning with a newborn baby, rocking her back and forth, speaking soothing words, stroking her back. I may have been able to distract her momentarily, but I lacked the ability to satisfy what she really wanted.
That’s the sort of desire that Peter tells us we should have for God; for knowing God, for experiencing God, and for sharing God. We might think we want lots of things, but when it comes down to it, what we need is God.
“Surely,” says Peter, “Surely, you have tasted that the Lord is good” (2:3)
“So come to him” says Peter, “who is our living Stone” . And our living Stone is Jesus – rejected by men – crucified by men – but choice and precious in the sight of God. Remember the words of God the Father in the gospels “This is my son, whom I love” “This is my Son, the beloved”. Jesus is the precious only begotten Son of God; Jesus was – and is – rejected by most people, and Peter wrote this letter to “God’s scattered people…in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia”, where those early Christians were very much in a minority.
So Peter says to those scattered Christians – and to us today – “Come and let yourselves be built, as living stones, into a spiritual temple;” (2:5) So while Jesus is the Living Stone, we can be living stones too. To be part of what is being built – a spiritual temple.
The temple in Jerusalem – the centre of Jewish religious life – was likely still standing when Peter wrote this, but Peter talks about a spiritual temple, not one of stone. A spiritual temple of living stones – the assembly of believers – the church! What would become known as the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. We are now part of the spiritual temple that Peter talks about!
And not only are we part of that temple, but we also “become a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”. You’ll remember, that in Old Testament times, there was a caste of priests, who ran the temple, and were entitled to make sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. And the sacrifices in those times included calves and lambs and doves, which would be offered to God in ritual slaughter.
But that’s all changed, Peter tells us, just like there’s no need for a stone temple, there’s no need for a separate class of priests and neither is there any need to spill blood in our sacrifices. [blank] We get to make our own sacrifices, but our sacrifices are spiritual ones. We have examples of what spiritual sacrifices are elsewhere in the bible – praise (Hebrews 13:15), prayer (Rev 5:8), self-consecration – setting ourselves apart for God (Romans 12:1, Phil 2:17), benevolence (Rom 15:27, Heb 13:16) and giving (2 Cor 9:12, Phil 4:18). And, because we make those sacrifices through Jesus, we can be assured that they are acceptable to God.
Peter might be a self-educated fisherman, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know his scriptures. In verse 6 he quotes Isaiah (28:16) and in verse 7 he quotes Psalm 118 (v22), linking back to the imagery of the stone. He has referred to Jesus as the living Stone already, and now he refers to him as the corner-stone and a stumbling block.
The corner-stone is not only an important structural stone in a building, but it’s also the stone which gives shape to the building. Jesus as the corner-stone gives shape to our spiritual temple; modern Christians often concentrate on saying that the church is not a building, the church is the people, and that’s sort of true, but it’s not the full picture. We might be the living stones that make up the spiritual temple, but the spiritual temple has its shape because Jesus is it’s corner-stone. We are the church; but Jesus is the head of the church.
On the other hand, though, Peter tells us that if people reject Jesus, then they’re lost. Rather than Jesus providing shape for their lives, their rejection of him becomes something to “trip over, a rock to stumble against”.
Peter puts it quite simply: “They fall when they disbelieve the Word. Such was their appointed lot”.
So, while we know from John’s gospel “God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that everyone who has faith in him will not die but have eternal life”, the scriptures tell us, and our experience shows us the sad truth: that there will be those who turn away from God, so while all people can turn to Jesus and be saved, not all will.
But for us who choose to turn to Jesus, Peter assures us that “[We] are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and people claimed by God for his own”. It is not so much a reward for accepting Christ, but a consequence of accepting Christ. Those who come to him – the living Stone – are special, we are the living stones that make up the spiritual temple, but we also have a special mission, says Peter: “to proclaim the triumphs of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”
We don’t need to be ordained to be such priests, we don’t need to ritually purify ourselves to offer our spiritual sacrifices, we don’t need to wear special clothes, our even pray particular prayers to be part of that dedicated nation. Because we turn to Christ, we are people claimed by God as his own.
And as the people claimed by God as his own, we have a mission: “..to proclaim the triumphs of him who has called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light” (2:9). We who have received the good news, are called on to share that good news. When we receive good news, we want to share it. A child or grandchild does well at school – we tell our friends, someone gets a promotion or a new job – they tell their friends, our sporting team has a win – we tell people about it.
Do we do the same with the good news of Jesus, though? Maybe it’s old news, maybe people have tired of hearing it… but isn’t being a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and people claimed by God for his own pretty special? Shouldn’t we be sharing it?
Jesus words in Matthew’s gospel are clear: Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:18-20a)
And also in Acts: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
That great commission was given by Jesus to the disciples, including Peter, just before Jesus was taken up into heaven, and it’s that commission that Peter passes on in this letter – that commission that he passes on to us.
How do we “proclaim the triumphs of him who has called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light”? How do we share the good news of Jesus with the people all around us?
My hope – my prayer – is that Carlingford Uniting is one day packed with worshippers. And so are all the churches across Sydney and across the world.
How do we do that? We share the good news. When we can, we’ll open our doors – and we won’t just open our doors on the off chance that someone will wander in on a Sunday morning so that we can welcome them – we will open our doors so that we can invite people in. And we open our doors so that we can go out. Out into the community. Out into the world. Out to the ends of the earth. Well, maybe not to the ends of the earth, because really, we don’t have to go far to find people who haven’t heard the good news, people who don’t know Jesus.
We aren’t people who just go to church – or at least we shouldn’t be. And we aren’t people who just have an interest in Jesus – an exclusive club of Jesus fans that meets in private on Sunday mornings. We are the living stones of a spiritual temple given shape by our saviour Jesus. Each one of us is part of that spiritual temple. We are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a dedicated nation, and a people claimed by God for his own, to proclaim the triumphs of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.
Hymns for this week:
Looking Out: Paradigm Shift
Readings for next week:
Lectionary reading: Psalm 66:8-20, Acts 17:22-31, 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
For worship: - 1 Peter 3:13-22, John 14:15-21
Theme: “Do the right thing”