Responding to God

14 Jun 2020 by Richie Dulin in: Sermons

Call to worship and welcome

All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord in cheerful voice,
Serve him with fear, his praise forth tell
Come before him and rejoice!

And as we come to worship this morning, we will open the scriptures and meditate on them, pray for ourselves, each other, and the whole world, and praise God.


Prayers of adoration and confession

Heavenly Father,
You are our God, there is no-one before you.

We adore you, our everlasting God,
We give all praise and honour to you.

You set the sun and moon and stars in place, and created the earth and all that is in it, and set the world in motion.

Your glory is revealed in your creation: In the skies, on the earth, in the waters. You have made all things, and they are wonderfully made.

Your greatness is shown to the ends of the earth. Your glory knows no end.

You are our God, there is no-one before you. 

You are our God, we are your people.

We are your people, created in your image.

And even when we strayed from your ways, you met us in your son, Jesus Christ, and brought us back to you. 

We praise you and adore you. We give you the glory in all things

You are our God, there is no-one before you.



Lord, we open our hearts to you now in confession:

You are our God, we are your people. But we have failed to live as your people should. We have followed the ways of the world, instead of following your ways. We have failed to keep your commandments and have instead decided for ourselves what is right and wrong. We have acted greedily and selfishly. We have been proud and stubborn. We have pushed others down and lifted ourselves up. We have not been generous with others. We have not been merciful, we have been judgemental and unjust. We have not been humble before each other or before you. We have not loved our neighbours as ourselves, and most of all, we have not loved you with our whole hearts. 

We lay these burdens before you, at the foot of the cross on which your son died for us and for all people, trusting in your promises of forgiveness, trusting in the power of the death and resurrection of our saviour, Jesus Christ. 

Restore us all, Lord, forgive our sins. Lead us, by your Holy Spirit, in your ways and help us to live always as you would have us live, and to your glory.


Assurance of forgiveness

God doesn’t desire the death of any sinner, but rather that they should turn from their ways and live!             (Based on Ezekiel 33:11).


In the sacrifice of his death, in the power of his resurrection, and because of his great love, Jesus tells each one of us:

…your sins are forgiven.

Thanks be to God

Loving God, we celebrate with You the goodness of all creation, affirmed and held by You in its own rhythm.   

I guess if we are honest with ourselves, we have to confess that the quality of our celebrations vary, sometimes considerably in this time of social isolation.  Encourage us to be joyful and so, when we worship You, we sing our thanks to You with gladness.

As we have grown in our relationship with You, we know You are faithful through all generations and your steadfast love endures forever. We know that through that relationship, You made us and we are yours, held and cherished by You. In this Covid-19 time of isolation, may we always be turning to You in faith.

But sometimes we feel distant from You and that special relationship falters and our hearts ache with sorrow. Sometimes we hear our own pain and it feels like nothing will ever be right again. Prompt us; encourage us.

You have sent us out to all the communities around us to share the good news of your love.  You have given us a deep compassion because we love one another as You have asked us to do. And yet, we witness the pain and sorrow of others. There are times when we too feel that we are without direction and without a guide. So, we ask You to give us direction.

Our hearts heave with grief as we witness great sadness amongst our brothers and sisters in our church families and in our communities. We have all experienced loss. Some of us have lost friends or family or relationships. Some of our brothers and sisters have been in hospital or have loved ones there. Some of our brothers and sisters are in aged care or have loved ones there. Some of our brothers and sisters work in the frontlines with those who are doing it tough.

This time of isolation has been rough on us God. We have been unable to care for one another and show our support the way we wish we could. We miss hugs and visits. We can’t go into hospitals or aged care with the voice of love in our usual way.

While our hearts are full of lament in this strange Covid-19 time, we are reassured by your Presence, by your steadfast and faithful love evident throughout the Scriptures and throughout our own lives. Your Gospel calls us to bring healing and peace to the lives of others and to share generously as your Kingdom comes near through us.

And we can’t let this prayer conclude without any reference to the current stirring of public anger about the presence of racism so prevalent in societies all around the world.  Whether it be the United States of America, or Australia, racism in all its manifestations, be it exercised overtly or covertly, is sin and needs addressing.  Encourage us all, and in particular, our elected leaders to confront this scourge on our society and not use it as a weapon of division.  Rather, may they lead with hearts of compassion and strength of conviction to right this immoral stain on all our societies.

Loving God, You are good.  You are faithful through all generations and your steadfast love endures forever. When we exhaust our own resources, there is You. We give thanks to You and bless your name with thanksgiving and praise, for You are faithful and You hear our prayers in our vulnerability and weakness. You breathe new life into us and warm us back into love and life. Hear our prayer O God and renew us again. Amen.

Psalm 116:1-2,12-19

1 I love the Lord, because he hears me; he listens to my prayers. 
2 He listens to me every time I call to him. 

12 What can I offer the Lord for all his goodness to me? 
13 I will bring a wine offering to the Lord, to thank him for saving me. 
14 In the assembly of all his people I will give him what I have promised. 
15 How painful it is to the Lord when one of his people dies! 
16 I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did. You have saved me from death. 
17 I will give you a sacrifice of thanksgiving and offer my prayer to you. 
18 In the assembly of all your people, in the sanctuary of your Temple in Jerusalem, I will give you what I have promised. Praise the Lord! 

Romans 5:1-8

1 Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 
2 He has brought us by faith into this experience of God's grace, in which we now live. And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God's glory! 
3 We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 
4 endurance brings God's approval, and his approval creates hope. 
5 This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God's gift to us. 
6 For when we were still helpless, Christ died for the wicked at the time that God chose. 
7 It is a difficult thing for someone to die for a righteous person. It may even be that someone might dare to die for a good person. 
8 But God has shown us how much he loves us - it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! 


“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” They’re the words of CS Lewis, and I think when he wrote that he really captured something that is often hard to grasp. Just ponder it for a moment:

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.”

It’s one of those things that sets Christians apart from followers of other religious traditions and philosophers. In fact, it goes against what the world expects.

We, as Christians don’t believe that Jesus died for us because we were good; rather we believe exactly the opposite: that Jesus died for us because we were bad.

In our society we generally hold that rewards come to us because we do the right thing. Because we work hard. Because we are good. And sometimes, just because we’re lucky.

It’s a very human response. And even in the church we find that it’s a common attitude. The harder we work, the more God will love us. And that attitude can be a helpful thing to the church – if we view it simply as an organisation.

After all, if you are running a business or an organisation, you want its employees or its members to work hard. That’s what leads to success, doesn’t it?

But that attitude, the harder we work, the more God will love us. Can also be unhelpful. In fact it can be destructive: Because if we think “The harder we work, the more God will love us”, it follows, logically, that if we don’t work hard enough, God won’t love us anymore.

We, as Christians, need to make sure we don’t fall into thinking that. We need to grasp that truth that CS Lewis came to understand and share.

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” 

God loves us all. Young and old. Rich and poor. Hard worker and not so hard worker. Whatever our backgrounds, whatever our traditions, God loves us.

And despite whatever we might have done, God loves us.

While “the Christian does not think God will love us because we are good…” God’s love can and does and will change us. And we mustn’t forget the second part of what CS Lewis said “….but that God will make us good because he loves us.”

God will change us. He will make us better. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, we will become more Christ like.

It’s not an instant thing. It’s a process. Or as we like to say in the Uniting Church, it’s a journey. And indeed, we won’t be made perfect until God puts all things right, at the end of that journey - when Jesus returns in glory.

And it’s a process that doesn’t simply happen to us. It’s a process that happens within us, and we are part of that process.

God reaches out to us all in his Son, and all we need to do is respond. To turn to him in faith.

And as the Holy Spirit works within us, we need to respond to that too, we need to be part of the process.

And all of that, is a really long introduction to today’s reading from the book of Psalms.

Psalm 116, “I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy.

God doesn’t love the psalmist because the psalmist loved God first. Rather the psalmist responds to God, because God heard the psalmist’s cry for mercy.

The psalmist responded to God.

And then in verse two he says “Because [God] turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”

Because God showed love toward the psalmist (he turned his ear, he heard the cry for mercy), the psalmist is going to call on God – to praise him, to pray to him, to follow him for the psalmist’s whole life.

The psalmist didn’t earn God’s love, he was in a dark place - as we read “The cords of death entangled [him], the anguish of the grave came over [him]; [he] was overcome by distress and sorrow”.

But even when he was in anguish, he responded to God’s love. He could do nothing to save himself, but he called on the name of the Lord: “Lord, save me!”

This cry to God always reminds me of that line from the hymn Rock of Ages: “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling”.

Nothing that we can do can save us. But God’s saving grace is there for us all in the cross of Christ.

Now our lectionary compilers in their wisdom jump from verse 4 through to verse 12. Usually, when the lectionary skips a few verses, they’re verses which cover topics we don’t like to talk about in church: judgement. Or sex.

But not here, I think today’s edit is just to save some time. But just to quickly share the next two verses:

Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful. The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, he saved me. (Ps 116:5-6)

God saved the psalmist – not because of how good the psalmist was, and not because of the hard work of the psalmist. But simply because he turned to God.

For the psalmist, it is just as CS Lewis would say thousands of years later

“The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good,”

The psalmist then goes on to contemplate what he will do in response to God hearing his cries; in response to God saving him.

In verse 12 he asks, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?

I wonder how we are today at asking – and answering – that question. What shall we – each one of us – and all of us together as Carlingford church, return to the Lord for all his goodness to us?

Normally, when we receive a gift from some friend or loved one, at Christmas or on a birthday, we like to show our appreciation. But the gifts of God are on a completely different scale.

The psalmist says he “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.”

In holding up the metaphorical cup of salvation, he is praising God. And in calling on the name of the Lord, he is praying to God. He is keeping God in the centre of his life. Not calling on a king, or a country, or a philosophy, but calling on the name of the Lord.

And the psalmist says he will keep God’s commandments, because he says he will fulfil his vows to the Lord, and he will do it in the presence of all his people.

Modern society tells us that religion – faith – is a private matter. But for Christians, it shouldn’t be a private matter – it should be a public one. We are called to declare our faith publicly, to be witnesses to Jesus wherever we may be.

As Jesus said to his disciples “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8)

And even more famously, in John’s gospel (Jn 13:34-35), Jesus told them “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

The witness that we are called to is almost certainly not standing on a street corner wearing a sandwich board declaring that the end is nigh. But It is to be seen as the people of God, doing the work of God in this world, and loving each other, as much as Jesus loved his followers.

It’s not an easy thing to do. Sometimes it will be hard, sometimes heartbreaking. Sometimes painful and damaging. The people of God, the followers of Jesus, are not exempted from suffering. Jesus said his followers needed to take up their cross and follow him (Luke 9:23), and when the  psalmist asks “What shall I return to the Lord for all his goodness to me?” we need to remember the cost of what God has done for the psalmist and for us – God gave up his only son, to die on that cross at Calvary.

In the face of that, the psalmist reflects that “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful servants.

But even having contemplated that he declares “Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did;” He is part of the people of God, with his mother before him, and the faithful of all the ages.” - because he acknowledges that God has freed him from his chains.

Earlier I quoted Rock of Ages, so let me quote another of the great hymns – And Can It Be: “I woke, the dungeon flamed with light! My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee”.

The experience that Charles Wesley described in that hymn is the experience of the psalmist.  The freeing from chains, and the following of God.

And then the psalmist again writes of his response to God:

I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord.

He will give up some of what he has as a thank offering, just as Christians continue to do with their freewill offerings, and in their donations to charity, and in their giving up of their time for others.

Once more he says he will call on the name of the Lord. He will praise God for his saving grace. So often I think we get caught up in all the things we have to do as Christians and as a church, but praising God should be central to our Christian lives.

The psalmist repeats this phrase “calling on the name of the Lord” in this psalm because it is not something to be done as a one off, but something that needs to be part of the cycle of our lives. Together as a church, and individually as followers of Jesus.

In the same way, the psalmist emphasises that he will fulfil his vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people – it is not something to be done once or something to be done privately, but something that needs to be visibly and publicly part of his life – and all our lives.

To be publicly – visibly – God’s people. Then. Today. And always.

The psalm, is a psalm of praise, and it ends, as so many of them do, with the simple words “Praise the Lord”, or, in Hebrew “Hallellu Yah”

Let’s embrace that insight and take it to heart. Let’s move away from wordly ideas of earning love and earning favour, and truly appreciate that God loved us even though we were not worthy of that love. He sent his son into his fallen creation not to destroy it, not to judge it, but to save it and save us. To offer himself to die in our place, so that each of us can be reconciled with God.

And as we do that, let’s remember the second part of Lewis’ insight – God will make us good, because he loves us. Let us as individuals and as a church be open to God’s transforming love in our lives. Let us always grow in the knowledge and love of God.

And as we do those things, let us praise God and pray to him always.

As the psalmist did in ancient times, let us continue to do today.

Praise God.



Hymns for this week:

Rock of ages

And can it be

Hallelujah (A Christian version of Leonard Cohen’s song)

Now thank we all our God

Looking Out: re-Connect

Next Week (21 June 2020):

Lectionary reading

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17 or Psalm 69:7-10,11-15, 16-18;

Genesis 21:8-21 or Jeremiah 20:7-13 ;

Romans 6:1b-11; Matt 10:24-39

For worshipJeremiah 20:7-13; Mathew 10:34-39

Theme: “Not peace, but a sword”