Welcome and Prayer
As we join together in praise and worship, let us pray:
Gracious and holy God, creator and sustainer of us all,
Give us diligence to seek you,
and patience to wait for you.
Grant us, O God,
minds to meditate on you,
eyes to behold you,
ears to listen for your word,
hearts to love you,
and lives to proclaim you;
Through the power of the Holy Spirit,
in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
The psalmist says (Psalm 95:1-7):
O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
your love for humankind present in the beginning of all things,
extends throughout history and touches all our lives.
Your love sees failings and forgives.
Your love feels pain and wipes away our tears.
Your love knows grief and comforts the sorrowful.
Your love sees sin and still loves the sinner.
So we ask you in your mercy
to forgive us when we fail to live lives that reflect your love.
to forgive us the times when we take for granted all that you have done for us.
to forgive us the times we have turned our backs on you and on each other
to forgive us the times have stayed silent when we should have spoken,
and those times when we have spoken when we should have stayed silent.
We ask you Lord to transform us, through the power of your Holy Spirit and empower us to serve you, this day and all always.
Assurance of forgiveness
Sisters and brothers in Christ, the apostle John tells us:
If we confess our sins
God is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins
and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
Hear then Christ’s word of grace to us:
‘Your sins are forgiven.’
Thanks be to God.
Today, the 24th of May, is Aldersgate Day, and we remember that day in 1738 when John Wesley heard Martin Luther’s preface to Romans read at a prayer meeting in Aldersgate Street in London. As he listened, he realised the significance of who Jesus was, and what Jesus had done for him. Famously, afterward, he said that he felt his heart strangely warmed.
He wrote in his journal “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”
That day was the beginning of the movement known as Methodism, and in turn that was one of the pathways that led to the Methodist churches, Methodism as a denomination, and in turn was one of the pathways that led to the establishment of Uniting Church in Australia as a denomination.
John Wesley, though, was a minister of the Church of England. He’d done all the study, he’d served as a missionary, he knew his bible, he was part of the organised church… and yet, he hadn’t been changed. His heart hadn’t been warmed, until that day in 1738.
For us, following Jesus isn’t a matter of knowing things about God or about Jesus, it is about our allowing our hearts to be warmed, and to have our lives changed by that. As we approach the day of Pentecost, we are reminded of the the Holy Spirit working in us, and through us.
So as we worship together – wherever we may be – and as we listen to the scriptures and meditate on them, let’s all open our hearts and minds to what God has to say to us.
Let’s pray together for others.
Lord Jesus Christ, it’s a privilege to be able to bring our prayers to you,
to bring our burdens to you,
but also to share in the suffering of others,
so that we might be the part of the good news for them.
I pray now for many persecuted Christians.
Many are suffering because they simply seek to live for you,
not suffering for anything they have done personally but just because they be your name.
Lord, make them strong and may they sing their way through any persecution.
We pray for those who think they are persecuted,
but who have really just lost privileges,
and pray that they might re-learn how to be a Christian in the world.
We also ask for our own Joint Nominating Committee and our Church Council,
working away at considering what sort of church we are going to be into the future,
asking everybody for their opinion and asking the Uniting Church to co-operate,
in how we might call a new minister or equivalent.
So, we pray for wisdom, particularly for the wisdom of everyone’s participation.
These are funny days for world leaders who are juggling health, an economy, climate, refugees
and at home, schools, work, teachers, children – many things to be juggled.
Its beyond us and beyond them.
So, we pray that you visit them with extraordinary wisdom and compassion.
This week we begin Reconciliation week.
Once again we remember that we meet on the land of the Darug people,
and ask that we might recall hundreds and thousands of generations of their participation on this place,
and that we who have come lately needs to recognise that they are first,
and recognise that they lost everything with the arrival of the empire,
and pray also for stolen generations people on the 26th
who not only lost their lands, their culture and their language
but also lost their parents, their grand-parents and their siblings.
Pray that they might all find their way home.
In that regard Lord, we pray for the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress
and ask you that they might become strong in faith and strong in culture
and that we might find a way covenanted together to walk the reconciliation road
and build up a whole new way of being Australians together.
Lord some of us have lost health and some of us have lost loved ones, some of us have lost friends lately.
We will be looking for you to comfort those who mourn,
may they bring their sorrow to you,
knowing that you are one who listens and cares and builds life
not just one who takes away
and may we be part of those who comfort them.
Send us Lord to people that you want us to bring the word of comfort to.
Amongst us that who are suffering and undergoing treatment,
Bronwyn and John we pray for at the moment
and for those who are in care Audrey, Luke, May, Pat and Sheila
and those whose names are not on here but who still need us.
Many of us have people that we are concerned about.
We pray with Jesus Lord for those who don’t know you.
Who don’t know that or don’t believe or won’t acknowledge that God sent Jesus, to pick us up.
Pray we might be able to share this good news from our own experience,
not just preaching some far of word or quoting some scriptures that people don’t adhere to.
Lord that we might be able to share our own word about your love in our life,
and be able to influence them in some way to consider that you could be the Lord of their life,
you could be someone who hears their prayers,
someone who walks with them in their suffering,
someone who lifts them up to great potential,
someone who saves them for all eternity and gives them life in all its fullness.
Make us the people who know how to share our own faith in our own words, in our own world,
so many might come to know you and we might come to rejoice together.
Lord please move us out of these prayers in the direction that you chose.
Bring us to the people who are open to what you have to say.
In Jesus name Amen
Psalm 68:1-10 (NIV)
For the director of music. Of David. A psalm. A song.
1 May God arise, may his enemies be scattered;
may his foes flee before him.
2 May you blow them away like smoke—
as wax melts before the fire,
may the wicked perish before God.
3 But may the righteous be glad
and rejoice before God;
may they be happy and joyful.
4 Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord.
5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.
6 God sets the lonely in families,
he leads out the prisoners with singing;
but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.
7 When you, God, went out before your people,
when you marched through the wilderness,
8 the earth shook, the heavens poured down rain,
before God, the One of Sinai,
before God, the God of Israel.
9 You gave abundant showers, O God;
you refreshed your weary inheritance.
10 Your people settled in it,
and from your bounty, God, you provided for the poor.
1 Peter 4:12-14 (NIV)
Suffering for Being a Christian
12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
1 Peter 5:6-11 (NIV)
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. 9 Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4:12-14, 5:6-11
Today, we come to the last of a series of readings from Peter’s first letter. Two weeks ago, we looked at 1 Peter 2, how God has called us to be his people, last week it was 1 Peter 3, and how we, as God’s people, are to act in the world. Today, our reading comes from near the end of the letter, and Peter is writing to strengthen his readers – strengthen us – for whatever lies ahead. Encouraging us to hang on to Jesus.
“Beloved,” Peter writes, “Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Peter was writing to people who were going through difficult times. Peter was writing to people in a minority in a predominantly multi-faith society. Peter was writing to people in an increasingly secular world. People would push Christians around. People would put Christians down. People would mock Christians.
Peter was writing specifically “To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1:1) –Roman provinces to the north of the Taurus mountains in present-day Turkey. And those people, were people from different backgrounds. Mostly, they would have been Gentiles, but in Peter’s time, most of the Christian preaching began from a Jewish base: So some of Peter’s readers would have had a Jewish background, and a good understanding of the old testament scriptures, while others would have had a very young faith in God.
If you think about it, Peter’s original readers are very much like people in the church today. Not that long ago, in Australian society, it was assumed that everyone would be more-or-less associated with a church in some way. Not today, though. We are very much dispersed through society, traditionally gathering in our various groups, particularly on Sunday mornings, but then going about our daily lives as members of a wider society - a wider society where Christian practices, values, traditions, and in particular beliefs are less and less known and less and less accepted.
And while we need to appreciate that, it shouldn’t surprise us: the scriptures teach us that the ways of God are not the ways of the world.
This morning’s reading starts with Peter saying “Beloved, do not be surprised”. “Beloved” or “Dear friends” in other translations. He’s addressing his readers not simply as people who should be listening to him, or simply as members of churches, but as friends, dear friends. He’s not talking down to them about their problems and what they should be doing, but he’s talking to them as friends, as brothers and sisters in Christ, as fellow members of the church.
And he’s also talking to us.
“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you”.
That fiery ordeal is a consequence of believers moving to God’s side, and not the world’s side. It’s not personal, in a way. It’s not really about you or me, it’s the animosity of the world, to God and the followers of God.
As we heard last week from Chapter 3, “even if you suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed.”
So, “Beloved, do not be surprised”
But. And it’s a big ‘but’ that Peter offers next when he writes “But rejoice”, “rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.
As we read through the gospels, we see the anger and the resentment toward Jesus building. They hurled insults at him. They mocked him. They beat him. And he bore it all. He bore that all the way to the cross, and he allowed himself to be raised up on it.
Lots of people didn’t like what Jesus did or what he said or who claimed to be. But he took it all. As Peter said in Chapter 3, “When he was abused he did not return abuse, when he suffered, he did not threaten” (3:23)
And now that Jesus was no longer present on earth in human form, where was that anger and resentment and abuse directed? It was directed at the people Peter was writing too, at Peter himself, and at all the other Christians across the world.
Just like it is today. If people today don’t like Jesus, well, they can’t do much to him - but they can certainly take it out on his followers. And at times in history and even in some places across the world today, that happens in a violent and brutal way.
But to share in Jesus’ sufferings means also benefiting from their consequences. So when his glory is revealed, our sufferings will fade away to nothing, and we will be overjoyed.
And Peter reinforces that point in verse 14 when he writes “If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the spirit of glory, which is the Spirit of God, is resting on you.”
If you are reviled or insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed. And I think that the reviling or insult here is more than just harsh words. Sticks and stones and all that. But the insults would have been harsher: exclusion from social groups (or even families), loss of status or privileges, loss of business opportunities and so on and on.
But if that happens, you know you’re on the right track. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, insulted because you are a follower of Jesus, then you are living out your Christian life and your Christian witness to the world.
So, to be a follower of Christ is not always going to be an easy thing. It’s going to be hard and we’re going to be insulted and all the rest of it. But we can always look beyond that.
We have received God’s grace, because we have put our faith and trust in Jesus. Jesus who came into the world, who was abused and mocked and beaten and killed. Who took the burden of all that is wrong with the world onto himself when he was crucified.
Jesus who conquered death, and gives to all who turn to him the sure and certain hope of resurrection life with him.
And we can look to that future with hope and joy.
But sometimes, we know, the path to that future will be tough.
From that vision of hope in verse fourteen, our lectionary reading moves forward to verse 6 of Chapter 5, the last passage before the greetings and benediction at the end of Peter’s letter. And in this section, Peter tells us how we are to cope as Christians in the world, through those hard and tough times.
The first thing he says is “Humble yourselves”. So he’s told us about the joy we can expect, the fact we are blessed, that the very Spirit of God is resting on us – in fact earlier in the letter he declared us to be “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people” (2:9) but we don’t laud it over others, we don’t boast about it. The first thing we do is humble ourselves.
In the verse 5 Peter wrote that we must clothe ourselves in humility in our dealings with each other (5:5), but here is verse 6 he goes much further. “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God” (5:6) he writes. It is not simply being humble to each other, but getting down on our figurative knees and bowing before God. It is recognising our inability to help ourselves and the futility of trying to do so. It is about humbling ourselves just as Jesus humbled himself.
And just as God raised Jesus up, so he will raise us up. Not by our efforts, but by his grace.
And yes, it will sometimes be tough. Turning the other cheek or walking the extra mile is never going to be easy. But we are not left alone. “Cast all your anxiety on him,” Peter writes, “because he cares for you.”
And God has proved that he cares for us, by sending Jesus to save us. He cares for you so much that he gave up his son for you.
And while there’s nothing we can do to save ourselves, we need to respond to God’s grace.
Peter writes “Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.”
The devil - the tempter, the deceiver, Satan, doesn’t get mentioned much in churches these days. The devil, once to be feared, has become increasingly ignored, and when the devil is mentioned, he is more and more caricatured: The thin moustache, the pointy beard, the red outfit and the pitchfork - a cartoon villain.
But the scriptures give us a different view. For example in his letter to the Ephesians, Paul regards the Devil as a real threat, he writes: “For we are not fighting against human beings but against the wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly world, the rulers, authorities, and cosmic powers of this dark age.” (6:12)
It does seem, sometimes, that there is evil at work in the world. Evil that maybe transcends what humans might come up with on their own. Ideas that take root and spread and corrupt. Certainly not someone prancing around in red tights waving a pitchfork, but something – someone – far more insidious, far more tempting, far more corrupting.
Peter certainly takes the devil seriously: “Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” Thanks to Sir David Attenborough and many other film makers, we all know how prowling lions operate: They prowl around the herd of zebra or gazelles or wildebeest, looking for an opportunity to attack the weak, or the young, or the old, or the one who wanders away from the rest of the herd…
Don’t let yourselves be taken. Don’t let others be taken in.
“Resist him, steadfast in your faith,” writes Peter. Protect each other. Hold fast to the things of God and resist the world. Don’t be the one who wanders away, and do your best to stop others wandering away too. Again it’s a tough thing, but it’s what we are called to do, and we regularly pray about it: “Save us from the time of trial” or in the older language ““Lead us not into temptation”.
When we think of temptations, we tend to think of the big things… but I think temptations start off quite small. Why do I need to read the bible? I know most of the good bits. Why not claim a bit extra on my tax return? Why not halve my offering? No one’s going to notice, are they? And if I can halve my offering, why not halve it again…
And why not this, and why not that, and just a bit less or just a bit more.
And that’s what temptation is like. That’s the way of the world. I think that few if any people wake up one morning and decide to be corrupt, or engage in domestic violence, or have an affair or steal the company’s funds… or whatever it is.
That’s not how temptation works. That’s not how the devil works. Instead, it’s the foot in the door, the thin end of the wedge, the slippery slope… or some other cliché.
Wherever we are, we’re not alone in this, as well as holding fast to our faith in Jesus, Peter tells us that we “know that [our] brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering.” So we can look to them for support. Practical support. Prayerful support.
And whatever each of us goes through, whatever all of us go through together, we know that it doesn’t last forever. Peter writes: “And after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.” (5:10)
Suffering can seem endless. Situations can seem hopeless. But they will come to an end. So hang on, Peter says. Things will not go on forever. Sufferings may not be brief, but they will only be temporary. And they fade away compared to what is to come. As Paul writes to the Romans “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Rom 8:18)
That is the assurance that the apostles knew nearly two thousand years ago. And that’s the same assurance that we have today. Hang on to Christ. Take heart.
And so, finally, Peter brings his message a close, with praise to God:
To him be the power forever and ever. Amen.
We ask you to receive and bless the offering of our worship, wherever we are,
and so consecrate our bodies, minds and spirits
by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit,
so that you may warm our hearts,
and that we may give ourselves to you, as a living sacrifice,
dedicated and fit for your acceptance;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord.
May God the Father make you holy in his love;
May God the Son enrich you with his grace;
May God the Holy Spirit strengthen you with joy;
the Lord bless you and keep you in eternal life.
Hymns for this week:
Looking Out: Good things on the rise
Next week (31 May 2020)
Lectionary: Psalm 104:24-34, 35b; Numbers 11:24-30; 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13; Acts 2:1-21; John 20:19-23 or John 7:37-39
For worship: Acts 2:1-8, 12-21 and 1 Corinthians 12:4-13
Theme: “Gifts of the spirit”