Welcome to the Church
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.
– Philippians 4:4-5
As we join together wherever we are, we rejoice because God has called us to be his people, and has given us his son to be our saviour.
And so we join together to praise God, to listen for his word for us, and to pray for the world and its people.
And let us pray now:
Prayers of adoration and confession
Almighty God, creator and sustainer of all things,
We honour you and adore you.
We see your nature reflected in the world around us.
In the waves we see your power
In the wide open skies we see your vastness
In the intricacy of a flower we see your beauty
In the burning sun we see your light
In the ocean’s darkness we see your depths
But most of all in your Son, we see your love.
We honour you and adore you.
Through your creation we glimpse you,
Through your word we can be begin to know your will,
But most of all, through your Son, we can know you.
We honour you and adore you.
To you be all power and glory, now and to the end of the ages.
In the name of your Son and our saviour, Jesus Christ our Lord.
Let’s pause for a moment of silence, to examine our own hearts and bring to God the things for which we need healing and forgiveness.
Heavenly father, you have loved us with an everlasting love,
But we have not always loved you.
We have loved ourselves more than others.
We have known your commandments, but we have chosen not to keep them.
We have known your word, but we have chosen not to share it.
We have received your gifts, but chosen not to be generous with them.
We have lived our own way, Lord, and not yours.
We ask you to forgive us and cleanse us and change us,
So that we can serve you and live our lives to your glory, as you would have us live: Keeping your commandments, sharing your word, and being generous with others.
We offer this prayer to you in the name of Jesus Christ who died for us and rose again so that we might be reconciled to you.
I will make a covenant of peace with you;
my dwelling place shall be with you,
and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 37.26-27)
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
Hear then the word of grace and the assurance of pardon: Your sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn: Here I am to worship
19 How clearly the sky reveals God's glory!
How plainly it shows what he has done!
2 Each day announces it to the following day;
each night repeats it to the next.
3 No speech or words are used,
no sound is heard;
4 yet their message goes out to all the world
and is heard to the ends of the earth.
God made a home in the sky for the sun;
5 it comes out in the morning like a happy bridegroom,
like an athlete eager to run a race.
6 It starts at one end of the sky
and goes across to the other.
Nothing can hide from its heat.
7 The law of the Lord is perfect;
it gives new strength.
The commands of the Lord are trustworthy,
giving wisdom to those who lack it.
8 The laws of the Lord are right,
and those who obey them are happy.
The commands of the Lord are just
and give understanding to the mind.
9 Reverence for the Lord is good;
it will continue forever.
The judgments of the Lord are just;
they are always fair.
10 They are more desirable than the finest gold;
they are sweeter than the purest honey.
11 They give knowledge to me, your servant;
I am rewarded for obeying them.
12 None of us can see our own errors;
deliver me, Lord, from hidden faults!
13 Keep me safe, also, from willful sins;
don't let them rule over me.
Then I shall be perfect
and free from the evil of sin.
14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my refuge and my redeemer!
4b If any of you think you can trust in external ceremonies, I have even more reason to feel that way. 5 I was circumcised when I was a week old. I am an Israelite by birth, of the tribe of Benjamin, a pure-blooded Hebrew. As far as keeping the Jewish Law is concerned, I was a Pharisee, 6 and I was so zealous that I persecuted the church. As far as a person can be righteous by obeying the commands of the Law, I was without fault. 7 But all those things that I might count as profit I now reckon as loss for Christ's sake. 8 Not only those things; I reckon everything as complete loss for the sake of what is so much more valuable, the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have thrown everything away; I consider it all as mere garbage, so that I may gain Christ 9 and be completely united with him. I no longer have a righteousness of my own, the kind that is gained by obeying the Law. I now have the righteousness that is given through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God and is based on faith. 10 All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings and become like him in his death, 11 in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.
12 I do not claim that I have already succeeded or have already become perfect. I keep striving to win the prize for which Christ Jesus has already won me to himself. 13 Of course, my friends, I really do not[a] think that I have already won it; the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. 14 So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God's call through Christ Jesus to the life above.
Looking back, looking forward
It’s been six years since I was made redundant from Meat & Livestock Australia as part of a company-wide restructure. I was disappointed at the time, but things weren’t too bad, and I wasn’t alone in leaving– lots of long serving staff went at the same time.
But I’d worked there since last century, since before I was a parent, since before there was a GST, since before the Sydney Olympics, since before 9/11. Lots of things changed over those years, both for me and the organisation. Over that time, I accumulated a lot of knowledge very specific to the organisation. Phone numbers, accounting codes, contracting principles, computer procedures, people’s names and roles, what decisions had been made and why and when and so on. But as of Thursday the 25th of September 2014, none of that really counted for much.
It was an odd situation – things that were so important to me for so long, were really not so important at all. My future was going to be different. My perspective was going to change.
And this is what Paul is talking about in this morning’s reading from Philippians, it’s about a perspective change. From the perspective of the world, to the perspective of a follower of Christ. The things that were important to Paul before he came to know Christ, ceased to be important.
Being a follower of Jesus – being a Christian – is different from not being a Christian. Our priorities change. Our perspective does change.
We’re not used to, as humans, getting reward without effort. You work hard, you get paid more. You do something courageous, you get a medal, you win a competition, you get a trophy, you do a good deed, you get thanked. But that’s not how it works with God – we don’t earn God’s favour by working hard, or by doing good deeds, or by giving generously to the church, or praying harder, or praising louder, or even by reading the bible more.
There’s no earning involved: Turn to Jesus, and be saved. Put your faith in him. Put your hope in him. Put your future in him – a future which is quite unlike the past.
People will tell you what’s important from time to time: That you have to go to this particular church. Or you have a particular set of doctrinal beliefs. Or you have to tithe ten percent of your income.
But if we start focusing on – or becoming preoccupied by - obedience and church participation and good theology and regular prayer and regular giving, then we can fall into the trap of thinking that we can earn God’s favour. We start thinking that if we can just pray a bit harder, or give a bit more, or come to church a bit more often, then God will think more highly of us, and he may just overlook our past failings.
But as followers of Jesus, we are assured that God will overlook our past failings not because of our obedience, but because of what Jesus did for us in his death on the cross.
Today’s psalm – Psalm 19, which is generally attributed to David tells us “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul” and “the commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes”. Clearly the psalmist isn’t talking about laws or commandments which must be obeyed to earn something – God’s laws are different to human statutes. Can you imagine someone saying “The road traffic act is perfect” or that the Tax Act “revives the soul”?
You may not have read them, but I have, and I can tell you that the “Code of ethics and ministry practice for lay preachers in the Uniting Church in Australia” while good and useful, neither shines particularly clearly nor could you really say that it gives light to the eyes. In fact it may even cause one’s eyes to droop shut…
But it remains a common trap to think that we can earn God’s favour, and it seems to have been a concern to the church in Philippi. They were a successful church and no doubt they were exemplary Christians - but with that came the danger of forgetting the grace they had received.
Paul sets them straight though, and he does so by using himself as an example. “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews”. Effectively, he’s saying “You think you’re good? Well I’m better.” And he goes on: “as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” – so not only is he saying “my background’s better than yours” but also “my actions are better than yours too”.
It reminds me a lot of that scene from Crocodile Dundee, when a New York gang member pulls a switchblade on Mick Dundee. Far from being threatened by the knife, Mick says “That’s not a knife – this is a knife” and produces his own huge, crocodile skinning knife.
And I think you can read this passage from Philippians and sort of nod along with Paul: I’d like to be like Paul. I’d like to know the scriptures well. I’d like to be pious. To be zealous. To get my doctrine right. To do the right thing. To be the model Christian – the one that others will look up to!
You may have even noticed it from time to time with people in the wider church – that sometimes people seem to be ticking things off a list to be “good Christians”. A year as a Sunday school teacher. A term as an Elder. A cycle as a Synod delegate. And so on.
But then Paul brings that picture crashing down: “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ.”
So Paul says “You think you’re good? Yeah, well I’m better. But even that doesn’t matter.”
It’s a bit like what’s happened to me when I left MLA – lots of knowledge I had about my old organisation was no longer of any use! My knowledge about MLA project numbers became useless. My understanding of how the licensing systems work was worthless. It’s not quite the same but it does nicely illustrate the point, though: Things that were important (that were my working life for nearly twenty years and forty plus hours a week) ceased to be important.
That’s what Paul tells us: All those good things he had, all those things that he thought were important: his background, his training, his zealousness, his piety are not worth anything in the face what Jesus has done for him. In fact, he says at the end of verse 8, that he now considers them rubbish. Things to be thrown away, and very importantly, things not to be relied on. He can’t earn favour with God, but he has favour with God because of Jesus – therefore the trappings of his old life – work harder, pray harder, give more and so on are to be tossed away like rubbish.
Instead, what is important is having faith in Jesus. In gaining the righteousness that comes from faith.
And it’s not just Paul’s heritage and his claims to fame that change in the face of what Jesus has done, but it’s the whole world. Whatever the values of the world are: Wealth, fame, power, they don’t count for anything compared to the grace of God shown in Christ.
In verse 9, Paul goes on to explain, explicitly, that righteousness does not come from the law – from the Ten Commandments, the regulations of the book of Leviticus, and the Jewish traditional law that was based on them.
Having set out what’s not important, Paul goes on to explain what is, and it really is quite simple – he tells us “I want to know Christ” or in other translations “All I care for is to know Christ”. Paul, who had a personal experience of the risen Jesus, who had served faithfully, who had studied the scriptures, who had fellowship with an array of Christians for years, still says “I want to know Christ” rather than “I know Christ”. And so it should be with us – no matter how long we’ve been Christians, how many times we’ve attended church or Sunday School, or how may bible study groups we’ve been in, how many sermons we’ve preached: there is always more to know of Jesus – to grow in the knowledge and love of God.
And the way to know Christ more, says Paul, is to know the power of his resurrection and to participate in his sufferings. And these things are really two sides to one coin. While the love of God for his creation is shown in the death of Christ (Rom 5:8), his power is shown in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. And that power allows us to grow as Christians, through the Holy Spirit acting in our lives.
It is not all easy for us though, because we live in a fallen world that will not be made perfect until Christ’s return, and while we look forward to the day that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (2:11), that is our future hope. A sure and certain hope, but also very much a future one.
But if we want to be like Christ – and we should – then we must also share in his sufferings. And it is a scary prospect, but we do have the hope of Christ, and we do have the resurrection of Christ to comfort us in whatever we face. Without death, there can be no resurrection. Without Jesus dying, he couldn’t have been resurrected. And similarly, without us dying to the ways of the world, we can’t be raised to life in Christ.
In verse 12 he says, “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.”
Paul hadn’t reached perfection. He might have been striving to be like Jesus, but even he wasn’t. But he pressed on, despite hardship, despite imprisonment, despite being in fear for his life, he held on to the hope that Jesus had given him.
He didn’t hold himself out as the ideal Christian who the Philippians should model themselves on – after all at the opening of this reading he’d pointed out the error in relying on his background or what he had done. Instead, he points to Jesus and the hope that Jesus’ death and resurrection had given to himself – and to all people who turn to Jesus in faith.
While the aim of our faith is not to “be like” Paul, we should follow his example, and indeed the example of faithful Christians throughout the ages.
We need to put aside the past – our past – and the ways of the world. Covid, of course, has made us put aside many of our activities, and the changed the way we worship – hopefully only temporarily – but it’s not the way we worship that’s important, it’s who we worship.
And people look back to the ‘good old days’ – maybe the good old days of February this year (before Covid), when things were ‘normal’, or maybe back ten years when churches were much busier and had many more activities going on, or maybe back forty years when churches were packed, and Sunday Schools overflowing with children. Or maybe it’s futher back still.
We can look back fondly on those good old days, but they shouldn’t become a measure of our success or failure today. They shouldn’t be a benchmark of how we can best serve God today – because the world has changed.
So we need to guard against thinking that we can earn our way into God’s good books, because of who we are or where we worship, or the denomination to which our family belongs, or the activities our congregation does.
We need to guard against thinking we can earn our way into God’s good books by doing things, by accumulating knowledge and achievements, no matter how good, or useful or generous or charitable they are.
That is not to say that those things are bad things: recognising our heritage, doing good works and keeping God’s commands – they are good things. And they are things that Christians should do, have done and continue to do in joyful gratitude for what God has done in Jesus.
As followers of Jesus, as people who have put our trust and our future in him, our hope for the future comes by the grace of God through Christ and only though Christ. Not because of who we are or what we have done, but through the grace of God.
We need to follow Paul’s example – not his example of his background and accomplishments, but his example of faith. As he told the Philippians: Forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
We have been reminded today of the danger of looking back – relying on our heritage or background or on what we have done. Instead, our sure and certain hope for the future – comes by the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Let us all forget what is behind and strain toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
And as we go out, let us go out confident in the blessing of God almighty; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Hymn: Rock of ages
Prayers of Intercession
With confidence in God's grace and mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need.
Gracious and loving Lord, we bring before you some of the situations which make our hearts ache:
the bitterness and division of world leaders, the unthinking use of power, hoarding of resources and oppression of those who are poor and ill, the greed which has made us over-use the earth.
God of creation, we pray for our world, this place that you entrusted into our care. Show us how we can reverse the damage that has been done, help us Lord to look after the world and its resources. Show us how we can each make a difference. Inspire us Lord, and give us the courage to speak, act, and make decisions with you at the centre, and always for your glory.
Jesus, during Your ministry on Earth You showed Your power and caring by healing people of all ages and stations of life. Be present now in the lives of people who need Your loving touch because of COVID-19. May they feel Your power of healing through the care of doctors and nurses.
Take away the fear, anxiety, and feelings of isolation from people receiving treatment or under quarantine. Give them a sense of purpose in pursuing health and protecting others from exposure to the disease. Protect their families and friends and bring peace to all who love them.
We pray that You will comfort families whose hearts are breaking as they decide to keep their distance from elderly or other high-risk family members.
Lord God, please promote the work of those who are seeking a vaccine for the coronavirus.
Give everyone entrusted with power and authority a hunger for justice and a thirst for righteousness. Fill them with wisdom, patience, fairness, and kindness. Spread these virtues among all people, so that bloodshed and injustice cease, and all people live in peace and call upon your name with joy.
O LORD, our God, heal the pain of all who are ill, in body, in mind, or in spirit, and embrace the hearts of those who give them care. We now join our hearts together in silence to pray for those in need.
Lord, we pray for Eleanor Kathleen Bisson, born earlier this week to our friends Tom and Kate Bisson. We ask that through Tom & Kate, through her grand parents Julie and Colin Douglass, and through her wider family and their friends, she will be blessed with a happy, healthy and fulfilling life, safe in the comfort that comes from the knowledge of your love.
Show your great love to all the smallest ones in your creation: to the young of every kind who struggle to survive. Nourish them with all they need to thrive.
We thank you loving God, that your mercies are never confined to the range of our prayers, nor your servants limited to the ranks of the churches. Please bless the mighty host of those who are endeavouring to serve others without thought for their own comfort, profit or safety.
Gracious Lord, we thank you for the richness of our lives, the peace we live in locally, the love of our friends and families, and the opportunity to gather without fear, to worship you.
Hymn: Ye servants of God, your master proclaim
Offering and prayer
We thank you for the gifts and blessings of our lives, and we ask you to help us to share our gifts and be a blessing others.
We thank you for the gifts and blessings that Carlingford Uniting Church has received, and ask you to guide us in their wise and faithful use, to your glory, always.
Next week, we will be opening Carlingford Uniting Church for Sunday worship – it will be the first time since March. And it will be different to what church was like before Covid.
We will also be providing on-line worship as we have been since March. It will be the same message at both on-line and in person services, and we will celebrate in the Lord’s supper – holy communion – in both services.
Neither way to worship is better than the other, and you are invited to make your own choice.
The in-person service will be Covid-safe, and we will practice social distancing. As required by law, we will keep records of who attends and ask people who have Covid-like symptoms to stay away. There will be no morning tea, and we will ask you to maintain social distancing as you leave the service.
But it is exciting to be able to meet face to face again, and we look forward to restrictions further easing as the year progresses.
Please pray for our congregation as we approach next Sunday: pray for wisdom around conducting and attending the service, pray for safety, pray for patience, and pray for our fellowship and community during this time when we will be worshipping in different ways.
We have been reminded today of the danger of looking back – relying on our heritage or background or on what we have done. Instead, our sure and certain hope for the future – comes by the grace of God through Jesus.
So let us all put aside what is behind and strain toward what is ahead, press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus.
And as we finish our time together, wherever we are, let us be confident in the blessing of God almighty; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Next week’s service – 11th Oct, Communion:
Psalm 106:1-6, 19-23 or Psalm 23
Exodus 32:1-14 or Isaiah 25:1-9
Isaiah 25:1-9, Matthew 22:1-14
Theme: “Come to the banquet”