Reflection: "We're Commanded to Love"
Just like the ancient pagans that we read about in the Old Testament, some people of today still want to have a little religion at critical times, but they resist allowing God any greater claim on their lives.
Perhaps they can’t see why God deserves any greater commitment from them.
Or they’re afraid that they’ll draw attention to themselves by being either too religious, or not religious enough.
More likely though, they just don't see what God has to do with them, with their lives, in this modern world.
I’m a bit in two minds about people like this, who approach the church for religious ceremonies.
For example, just to get their children baptised, to get married, or for a burial.
On the one hand, I feel like saying that if they don't really want God in their lives, why bother with these ceremonies.
But on the other hand, I think that baptisms, weddings and funerals are great occasions for people to discover that the church, and religion, are still of great value and that God isn’t actually distant, or fickle, but can feel near, present and constant in their lives.
Also, that God, in and through his son Jesus Christ, and the ongoing love of the Holy Spirit, cares for our lives and we come to understand that a relationship with him is not arbitrary and vengeful, but gentle, warm and gracious.
The readings this week contain the words "God is love" and Christians over the years have become very familiar with this idea – maybe a bit too familiar - as often they forget what an astounding concept the love of God actually is.
We know that the Apostle Paul did the majority of his work amongst the Greeks in the Mediterranean region.
When speaking to them about the Gospel - the Good News of Jesus Christ – he would probably have expected them to think of it as folly, or foolishness, knowing how it would go against their experience of life and their pagan gods.
But then he showed them how the God of his people, the one true God, was different - how he was a God of love.
Nowadays, the vast majority of this planet's inhabitants experience a life far different to ours in Australia.
There’s much poverty, infant mortality, recurring famines, fatal epidemics, natural disasters and deadly wars.
And even in our western world, so many people struggle with 1st world issues, such as joblessness and foreclosure on their home mortgages.
So, to claim that God is love, goes against so much of our common, human experience.
We can wonder where God’s love really is, noting that it can seem so distant, as we look at the world’s problems.
Nevertheless, as Christians, we must persist, even singing words like:
"God is love and where love is, God is there."
We proclaim that God's love transcends and pervades our common human experiences.
Perhaps we Christians sometimes proclaim this concept too glibly, sentimentalising this love.
Perhaps, when things are going all right for ourselves, we forget that this isn’t the case for everyone.
We forget that God's love isn’t obvious to everybody and, even as Christians, we sometimes wonder why, if God is love, does he let bad things happen and let our fervent prayers for good in the world, go unanswered.
The truth is, that God doesn’t just “let” things happen.
Right back in the Garden of Eden, he gave Adam and Eve choice and free-will.
Unfortunately, we humans are the ones who are stuffing up God’s wonderful world and, even though we aren’t sure why these things happen, we must hang on to our faith, knowing that God’s love will prevail in the end. Is our belief (that God is love) committing us to a path that others would see as counter-cultural, or even radical?
Or could it just be that it’s some sort of sentimentalist claptrap, the opiate of the masses.
Either we’re bearers of a new truth about God and the world, or we’re to be pitied as the greatest of fools.
And, maybe, that’s the way of the Gospel.
We are bearers of the message that God is for us, with us, he cares for us and, most of all, he loves us - all of us.
This message should strike us – as it strikes pagans both ancient and modern - as a message so good that it borders on the incredible.
And, except for the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, this Gospel of ours would be unbelievable.
Through Christ, God brought divine love to common human experience.
Not to trick us, judge us, or condemn us - but to join us - to fully live our common human experience.
To be born, to live, to suffer, to die - all out of love - and to rise again to show that nothing, not even death, can extinguish this love.
This is our hope, our calling, and our mission.
To get involved with God’s love makes us vulnerable to criticism from others.
But, ultimately, we must answer to God and not to man.
Our epistle this week reads, "Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love."
Our mission as Christians is to lift up that love, as the hidden key to life - now revealed in Jesus Christ - to see all love as an echo of the love of God, to name all love as God's, and to be drawn to this love and to reflect it for the world.
Because saying "God is love" isn’t sentimental, it isn’t easy and it isn’t frivolous.
It’s a bold confession and it demands a bold commitment and faith.
How will anyone believe this faith unless they see it working in and through our lives?
How will anyone be convinced that beneath the pain and suffering of common experience, flows divine love?
How will anyone know of God’s love, unless we show it in the way we live?
Having been loved by God, we must likewise love our neighbours, and not just those closest to us or those who are easiest to love, but our love must extend to places and to people where love is foreign, where love is absent, where faith in love has faded or died and to those whom we find it hardest to forgive.
To be loved by God is to be given a mission: to take this bold faith to those who haven’t yet accepted it.
Whether they’re the destitute, the broken, those who’ve lost hope, or even just those who haven’t heard about God’s love for them, we must tell them of this truth and show them that it’s true, through our lives and actions.
No one will believe it unless they see it in us.
Do you feel like that’s something you can do?
Showing love like that isn’t easy, but it is God’s command to us to:
“Love the Lord your God, with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbour as yourself.”
That’s how we should be living our lives – for the benefit of others – and not for ourselves.
“And they’ll know we are Christians, by our love, by our love.
And they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
From April 16-25, Lane Cove Uniting Church participated in UnitingWorld’s 7 Days of Solidarity and we are having a service of celebration at church this Sunday to wrap up the week of prayer and reflection.
Please join us.
Should you require more information about what happened during this week, or wish to make a donation, you can log on to their web site www.sevendaysofsolidarity.com.au and learn more about their wonderful work with God’s people throughout the world.
Reflection: "Peace Be With You"
“Peace be with you”
says Jesus to his disciples, when he appears before them on that day, soon after his resurrection.
You know, peace was probably the last thing they were thinking about at that stage.
After all, they’d just been on a huge roller coaster ride which started with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem only a week before, the changing of the traditional Passover Meal into the sacrament of communion, the traitorous actions of Judas Iscariot, one of their own, the arrest of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, his trial and crucifixion, death and burial, the empty tomb and now, his rising from the dead and appearing before them.
They surely would have been so confused and scared, not knowing where to turn, or what to do, that peace was EXACTLY what they did need.
To top it off, Jesus tells them that he’s sending them out into the world with something called “the Holy Spirit” to guide and protect them.
Jesus had assured them earlier that he would bring them comfort and joy and that he would give them an advocate, "the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father".
With that Spirit, he would send them into the world to continue the work, spread the message and the world would know that God had sent them.
Now, in their presence, Jesus breathed on them and they were touched with the Holy Spirit.
At this time the disciples were a closed, inward looking group, but he turned them into an open team of missionaries, sent out into the world to spread the good news about God’s love and forgiveness.
He even laid it on them that if they didn’t forgive the sins of others, then their sins would not be forgiven.
Quite a responsibility for a bunch of simple fishermen, tax collectors and the like.
Could they do the same work as Jesus had done during his ministry on earth?
Would it work, or would the people just scoff at them, or worse still, stone them for blasphemy?
There were and still are today, those who wouldn’t believe that Jesus had died and risen from the grave after 3 days.
In fact, even one of the 12, Thomas, refused to believe that Jesus was alive, as he wasn’t in the room when Jesus first appeared to the disciples.
Not an unreasonable assertion, given the circumstances and one that you and I would probably make too.
Even the disciples seem unable to recognise Jesus the first time he appears before them.It wasn’t until he showed them his hands and side that they recognise him.
Does that make Thomas a “doubter” - or a realist?
He saw Jesus nailed to the cross and he saw him die, so you really can't blame him for wanting a real encounter with a really risen Lord, just like the other disciples had encountered. When you read through the resurrection accounts of all four gospels, you quickly realise that Thomas is not alone in his doubt.
In fact, doubt isn't the exception but the rule.
No one says - even after all the predictions - "Welcome back Jesus."
Or "We knew you would do it."
Or even "What took you so long?"No.
No one anticipates the return of Jesus and when he shows up, everyone doubts.
To make sure that he includes all of his closest followers, Jesus appears a week later, in the same room.
Jesus doesn’t chide Thomas as he allows him to put his fingers in the nail holes and his hand in the gash made by the centurion’s spear.
It is then that Thomas utters that immortal confession “My Lord and my God!”
Then we hear that lovely and poignant declaration from Jesus:“
Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
Isn’t that what “faith” is all about?
I mean, we weren’t there 2,000 years ago, yet we believe that the events occurred and were faithfully recorded and passed down through the ages.
Like Thomas, we’d like to be able to have some physical signs of God’s presence, but, instead, we must rely on our faith and be part of the greater number who “have not seen and yet believe”.
So, to all the scoffers, I say that there must have been a cataclysmic event that changed the scared, hiding disciples into bold advocates for the Gospel – the good news about Jesus.
It was this meeting with the risen Jesus, and the receiving of the Holy Spirit, that gave them the courage to go out into the world, spreading God’s love.
Most of them ended up being killed for the words they spoke.
Would they have done that if the Easter message had finished on Good Friday, with their leader being crucified?
I think not.
We didn’t witness the miracles of Jesus first-hand.We weren’t in that closed room with the disciples.
But by reading John's message, and others like it, we hear these stories and believe.
And, in believing, we have life eternal.
As John says in the concluding verses of today’s reading: “these words are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
That’s pretty deep, isn’t it?
Not just that we may exist, but that we may have life in his name.
To be wholly devoted to him, live our lives to glorify him and to live in harmony and peace with others.
The Psalm we read today puts it in a beautiful way, reminding us how good it is to be God’s people, living together in unity and that the best part is that God gives us a gift, a life with Him forevermore.
What could be more precious than that?
I like to think of us as Resurrection people - that is - people who don't need to have it all figured out before coming to church, or before helping out a neighbour, or feeding someone who is hungry, or caring for someone in need. If we have to figure it all out ahead of time, then we'll never get started.
And as Resurrection people, we believe, and in believing we act.
We reach out, we feed, we care, we tend, we struggle, we work, we love, with a promise from the Lord who continues to bless those who believe and those who have doubts, but still keep the faith.
John 14:27 tells us that Jesus brings us peace - not the sort of earthly peace that we’re used to, but the eternal peace that only he can give. He tells us not to be afraid, he has gone to be with his father and that we should rejoice.
Can you remember the last time Jesus brought peace to you?
Close your eyes now and feel God’s peace flowing over you.