Welcome to the Church
Happy fathers’ day and welcome to worship this morning. If you are a father, then I hope you were or will be showered with gifts as I hope I have been.
While we do honour and remember and thank our earthly fathers today, we come together as God’s people to honour and remember and thank our heavenly father. The heavenly father who gave up his only begotten son to reconcile each one of us with him.
The apostle John wrote “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”
Let us pray
Prayers of adoration and confession
Most wonderful God and heavenly father,
you are beyond our sight, above our thought,
infinite, eternal, and unsearchable:
your wisdom shines in all your works;
your grace is revealed to all in Christ.
We love you and adore you.
God of all our days, God of our past, God of our present, God of our future
all glory be yours
now and forever, and to the ages of ages.
In the name of Jesus Christ, your Son and our Saviour. Amen.
Friends, as we confess God’s greatness, we should also confess our own shortcomings, our own humanity, and so we continue in prayer:
Almighty God, our heavenly Father,
we have sinned against you and against one another,
in thought and word and deed,
in the evil we have done
and in the good we have not done,
we have sinned through ignorance and through weakness,
we have sinned intentionally and unintentionally.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, who died for us,
forgive us all that is past and grant that we may serve you in newness of life,
to the glory of your name.
Assurance of Forgiveness
Our heavenly Father, in his great mercy,
has given his Son Jesus to die for us,
once, and for all.
…Hear again Christ’s word of grace: “Your sins are forgiven”
Thanks be to God
Hymn: Father, Lord of all creation
33 Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end.
34 Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart.
35 Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word. 
38 Fulfill your promise to your servant, so that you may be feared.
39 Take away the disgrace I dread, for your laws are good.
40 How I long for your precepts! Preserve my life in your righteousness.
Romans 13:8-14 (NIV)
Love Fulfills the Law
8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
The Day Is Near
11 And do this, understanding the present time: The hour has already come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh.
Message: Love and the law
How do you feel about God’s law? How do you think God’s law relates to love? Is obeying God’s law more important than loving one another? Or is loving one another more important than keeping than keeping a set of ancient commandments?
There’s a school of thought that says that God’s law, summed up in the ten commandments, is central to Christian life, indeed, central to all human society. That says our legal system is based on those commandments, and at the extremes, that the commandments should be prominently displayed in courtrooms so judges and magistrates can refer to them, to be guided by them, to sentence according to them.
It’s a harsh view. Things are black and white. But it can also be an appealing view; it’s a view that makes it easy to distinguish between right and wrong.
And there’s another school of thought, that the commandments were given to the nation of Israel at a specific point in history, for a specific purpose, and that the law was fulfilled in Jesus - who effectively summed them up into the new commandment (John 13:34). The commandments remain helpful of course, but they don’t cover all the complexities of modern human life, there’s no specific commandment about protecting the environment, for instance, and none specifically against discrimination based on race, or on gender.
It’s a gentler view, in some ways, one which allows for ‘shades of grey’ in things. And it’s appealing too, it allows – or even makes – people responsible for determining what’s right, wrong, or in between, for themselves.
And these schools of thought are the extreme two points of view. With the harsh law interpretation on the one hand, the softer, gentler guideline interpretation on the other. And it’s not really an ‘either or’ situation – it’s a continuum. We can probably place ourselves somewhere on that scale – and of course we’d be happy to place others on that scale too! And quite often, we will have harsher views on some topics, and gentler views on others.
You’ll probably remember how the commandments were first delivered to the nation of Israel: the people were enslaved in Egypt, they cried out to God, God acted, and Moses led the nation of Israel out of Egypt into the wilderness. Moses went up Mount Sinai, and was given the commandments by God, and Moses brought the commandments to the people.
And it’s important to note the timing: The people cried out to God. God saved the people. God gave the people the commandments. The commandments came after the saving. And this is something that is often missed. When people say the commandments do or should apply to all people, not just Christians (and Jews), or that they are the basis of human society, they’re missing that sequence. The commandments weren’t given to all of creation, they were given to the nation of Israel, after God had saved them.
In fact, the commandments, and the development of the laws we see in the book of Leviticus follow on from that and have the effect of setting apart the nation of Israel from the other nations of the world. At its heart, the law is about honouring God, about living together, and about being set apart as the people of God… About honouring God and living together, and as a result of those two things being set apart as the people of God.
The nation of Israel kept the Sabbath, other nations kept working. The nation of Israel didn’t eat pork, but the other nations did. The nation of Israel freed slaves after seven years, other nations did not. The nation of Israel – God’s chosen people – was clearly different from the nations around them.
And when thinking about the commandments, we should remember how Jesus answered (Matthew 22) when a group of Pharisees and Sadducees got together and asked him what the most important commandment was:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It’s interesting that Jesus didn’t turn to the Ten Commandments, he rather turned to two other verses from the Jewish law – one from Deuteronomy (6:5 ) and one from from Leviticus (19:18). All the law and the prophets do depend on those two commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart (honour God)… love your neighbour as yourself (live together), and by following those two commandments, we are set apart as the people of God.
And Jesus’ reply is echoed by Paul in today’s reading from his letter to the Romans (13:8) “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
This is Paul: “…circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” (Philippians 3:5-6)
Paul knew the law as well as anyone. He knew the detail. He’d lived by the detail. And yet he writes “The one who loves another has fulfilled the law.”
At its heart, the law of God has these two aspects – honouring God and living together and it has the effect of setting apart the people of God from the other peoples of the world. These two aspects persist all the way from the delivery of the Law in Exodus and Deuteronomy, through to the New Testament.
It’s important to remember that the law has these two aspects, and they are inseparable as God’s law. If we just do the living together stuff: honouring parents, no stealing, adultery or murder and so on, and we don’t specifically honour God we’re just nice people, we’re not God’s people. You probably know people who do keep those commandments but are of other faiths, or of no faith at all. They’re nice people, they’re good to know, but they’re not God’s people.
We see it set out clearly in Matthew (19:16-22), when the rich young man asks what he must do to inherit eternal life – Jesus tells him that he must keep the commandments, and the man asks “Which ones?”.
Jesus tells him “Do no murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honour your father and mother, and love your neighbour as yourself” (all the ‘living together’ commandments).
The young man assures Jesus that he keeps those and asks what he lacks.
Jesus tells him that if he wants to be perfect, he needs to sell his possessions, give to the poor and follow Jesus… If we are just nice people, living together nicely, then we are not honouring God.
On the other hand, if we say we “honour God” but fail to keep the other commandments, then we do not set ourselves apart as God’s people either. Consider the televangelist who praises God, and fleeces the congregation. Or the organised church which has from time to time in history exploited its power. Or the industrialists of the nineteenth century who taught scripture classes on Sundays, and exploited workers during the rest of the week.
The commandments that God gives his people, aren’t really all that difficult to keep, they aren’t really all that harsh and onerous. We should want to follow God’s law – and that’s reflected by the psalmist in today’s Old Testament reading:
“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” (Psalm 119:33-35)
And David wrote in Psalm 19 (7-10), “The law of the Lord is perfect,[…]the precepts of the Lord are right, […]the commandment of the Lord is clear, […] the ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb.”
Now we don’t talk about laws like that very often, do we?
Humans do a good job of complicating things, of course, adding rules and guidelines to help us keep the commandments, and then adding rules and guidelines to help us keep those guidelines, and so on and on.
But when we get down to it, God wants us to love him, and God wants us to love each other. At one level, it’s simple, but at another, it’s difficult. We get distracted from the things of God by things of this world, and we are not perfect: we have different ideas and different priorities and we don’t always get on with each other.
So the Psalmist asks God for help. “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes,… give me understanding… lead me in the path of your commandments… turn my heart to your decrees… turn my eyes from vanities” (Psalm 119:33-17)
If we measure ourselves against God’s commands, we will fall short. We need to be like the psalmist and ask God for help in keeping his commandments.
Or as Paul says, “…lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 13:12-14).
Instead of living like everyone else in the world, Paul implores us to put on the armour of light and to put on the Lord Jesus Christ. It we put on – wear - the armour of light, and put on Jesus, then it will not only be helpful for us, but it will be visible to others.
As I reflected last week, most of the time, what is good, what is the right thing, is pretty clear – it’s really not too difficult to hate what is evil and hold fast to what is good, but human beings do a good job sometimes of misleading each other and ourselves. We do a really thorough job of complicating the law and seeking loopholes to the law.
Sometimes the good and evil isn’t clear, and sometimes we confuse ourselves and each other, so we need to rely not just on our own judgment – we need to pray for God’s guidance, just as the psalmist does. “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes.” (Psalm 119:33)
We need to let God, as the saying goes, write his law on our hearts.
So, I wonder… is God’s law written on our hearts today? If we test ourselves against God’s law, how are we going?
Are we, for example, loving one another as Jesus loved us?
Are we, for example, loving God with all our heart?
Are we, for example, not stealing, murdering, committing adultery or coveting?
If we do test ourselves and find we are okay, then we can rejoice, but I need to be clear here: I am not saying we are saved by keeping God’s commandments:
God saved the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and then showed them, through the law, the way that their gratitude should be expressed . It is by keeping his commandments that we show our thanks to God for what God has done for us.
God saves us through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and shows us the way to show gratitude.
As I read a while ago, “...grace … meets us where we are, but is not content to let us remain there”
Sometimes is put as “Holiness is not the way to Jesus. Jesus is the way to holiness.”
Paul tells us to “lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armour of light; let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy.” (Romans 13:12-13).
For most of us, I think, avoiding drunkenness, debauchery and licentiousness isn’t going to be hard – the greater challenges for us will be avoiding quarrelling and most of all, avoiding jealousy.
But no matter which things we find easy and which we find hard, the only way that we can truly keep the commandments, to live the way God would have us live: honouring God and living together has God’s people, is through God’s grace. God’s grace revealed in Jesus Christ, who was perfect and free from the evil of sin.
So, I encourage you to ask yourself are you honouring God and living with one another in such a way that you are identifiable as a member of the people of God, as a follower of Jesus Christ?
Are you heeding Paul’s exhortation to “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law”?
Are you praying the prayer that the psalmist prayed? “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”
But as well as ourselves keeping God’s commandments, are we, as a church, identifiable as the people of God to the wider world? A people who honour God and who live together as God intends? Not just people who do good. Not just people who praise God. But people who focus on love, people who know that love does no wrong to a neighbour; and that therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.
Hymn: The law of the Lord is perfect
Prayers of Intercession
Dear Lord and Father of Mankind We pray for all those people who do not know your peace: for those misguided people who do not follow the social Distance rules; who refuse to use protection masks: who think that the safety precautions do no not apply to them. Please bring to their attention the stupidity of not complying.
We thank you for the life of Sonora Smart Dodd for establishing Father's Day throughout the World. Thank you for fathers who help children in many practical matters of life such as how to hammer a nail; fixing leaking taps; clearing water traps in gas pipes; cleaning spark plugs and to play cricket. Bless them.
Lord, we pray for those who suffer from racial and religious discrimination, for those who do not know peace because of the fear of hunger, starvation, and death. For those people whose thin clothes give inadequate protection from the bitter cold of winter. For the homeless, the destitute, the aged who must find shelter where they can. Lord, help us to hear their cries. Make us willing to seek justice for these people. Through cloud and sunshine, O abide with them and me.
The Lord's Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
Hymn: How deep the Father’s love for us
God of great gifts, loving Father of us all,
We offer you the gifts of our lives,
knowing that you are the father of gifts.
You care for us constantly
providing for us, nurturing us.
As we have been generously provided for,
so we ask you to help us give generously to the work for which you call us,
the work of the church:
the sharing of the good news of Jesus,
the freeing of those who are oppressed,
the healing of the sick,
the comfort of those who mourn
and the care of those who are in need.
In the name of Jesus,
(Based on Psalm 103)
As our time of worship together ends, remember this:
God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting,
from generation to generation.
Just as a father has compassion on his children
so God has compassion on those fear him,
who listen to his voice,and who do his will.
Go out in the knowledge that the everlasting love of God goes with you.
Looking Out: Father's day
Next Sunday: 13 September 2020 (Communion)
Theme: How Strong is your Faith
Readings: Psalm 103:1-13; Romans 14: 1-12
Psalm 114 or Exodus 15:1b-11, 20-21 or Psalm 103:(1-7), 8-13.
Romans 14:1-12 Matthew 18:21-35