Scripture Reading: Lamentations 3:21-26
Love in Action
“The church needs to understand this-we aren’t called to attend services once a week and sing a few songs, try our best, pay our tithes and our taxes and go to heaven when we die...that’s not the gospel”. I read these words in a book I purchased entitled “A Little History of Religion”.
So what are we called for?
We have recently celebrated Valentine’s Day, the special day meant to be all about love. So I thought it would be interesting to look at the “concept” of love in light of the Bibles teachings.
Has anyone read the books The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell? Have you seen the TV series The Durrell’s in Corfu? The one son who is the writer is the author of that series. Essentially all 4 books of the Alexandria Quartet tell the same story but from the differing perspectives of the various main characters. It is meant to be an exploration of the kinds of love. However through all the portraits of the characters and the various relationships and inter-relationships they experience, he never touches on the love of God. Just human love, in all its forms.
But - is love actually a human trait? We like to say, “just be human” or “treat someone with humanity” and with that we mean that we should treat one another with goodness, respect and selflessness. Unfortunately we can look anywhere in human history and around us in the present time and we can see that it is definitely not working. Indeed some of the most hateful behaviour is exhibited in the area of religious disagreement. The author of the book I mentioned “A Little History of Religion”, suggests that the reason religious war is worse than any other, is that both parties believe the authority for their position comes from a higher power, giving a sense of righteousness, the right to be right. When we are convinced we are right on moral or ethical grounds, we believe we have not only the right, but the duty, to fight. Or to kill, as is evidenced in the news this week. A horrific attack on other humans for what?
There are wars and wars and wars. Human hate and greedy selfishness everywhere. Even Greece and Macedonia are fighting over the name of the country of Macedonia. Greece believes it owns the name Macedonia which is the name of the northernmost province of Greece, and holds the position that the country to the north of them doesn’t have rights to it. So it seems it is worth a fight. Thankfully that fight stayed off the literal battefield.
When we look around us in our own everyday lives, it can seem that somehow the spoken and unspoken rules of civility and respect are no longer the ultimate guide to human social behaviour. It doesn't take much to unleash it. Full on personal attack at any given opportunity. And Canada is of course not immune.
No, as much as we want to believe it, it doesn’t seem innately human to love.
In Romans 3:13 Paul writes: “There is no one righteous, not even one: there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless, there is no one who does good not even one. Their throats are open graves: their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips, Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness, their feet are swift to shed blood, ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes”.
Whoa. Picture these words put into a painting. It’s stuff horror films are made of actually. These are extreme words, ones we don’t want to believe. And, we say: aren’t humans essentially good? Aren’t we born good, and get taught badness? Nature and nurture? Not according to God’s word, no.
We know though that humans can do good, that in so much of life on earth, goodness prevails, good works that care for others are performed all over the globe. Small or even large acts of charity and love that can transform one or many lives… It’s just a fact.
There are a lot of people who do not even believe there IS a God, let alone believe that God is responsible, as God says He is, for giving us the gift of love, the gift of Himself. Why is it then that those people can also experience love and all its attributes, such as kindness, gentleness selflessness etc? There are countless people who do good, and innumerable charitable organizations around us in all the world, selflessly working to serve others, to show love and compassion to those less fortunate, giving not only of themselves but of their money and other resources. And not all of them are Christian groups.
So if we humans - even those who completely reject the idea of God - can love, experience love, practice love, where does it come from then? Especially when Paul emphatically tells us how totally hopeless we are, with no good in us at all?
The Bible teaches us that God’s spirit created the world. His spirit hovered over the void and brought life into what was nothing.
Things went wrong fairly quickly however. In the first generation of humans, Adam and Eve decided they knew better than God, in the second generation their son Cain committed murder of his brother, and humans just went from bad to worse, until God intervened with the flood. He chose Noah because Noah believed and obeyed God so God was able to use him to help clean things up. Some time afterward when the flood ended and things dried up again, God chose a small tribe of people to perform sacrifices on behalf of all humanity. This was in preparation for the coming of Jesus, the ultimate and final sacrifice. So Jesus, the Son of God, was born, lived and taught wherever he went. And when Jesus was crucified and taken up to heaven the disciples were pretty distraught as they were afraid of being without Gods guidance. But Jesus said “Don’t worry - after I leave, my Father will send His SPIRIT to dwell amongst you on the earth”.
So now God’s Spirit is on the earth, and ALL humanity and in fact the Earth itself is affected by the Spirit of God, the Spirit of love. So the spirit of Love actually dwells among all of us on the earth at this time. Every human’s ability to love and not hate comes from this presence of the spirit of God. Whether we know it or believe it or not.
Gal 5:22 says the fruit of the SPIRIT of God is love. (also joy, peace, goodness, kindness, patience, faithfulness, self-control etc).
Let’s look to the Bible for some definitions of Love.
The most well-known passage is 1 Corinthians 13. There we read that:
Love is patient
Love is kind
Love does not envy
Love does not boast
Love is not proud
Love is not rude
Love is not self-seeking
Love is not easily angered
Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs (in other words love doesn’t hold a grudge)
Love rejoices with the truth
Love always protects
Love always trusts
Love always hopes
Love always perseveres, or doesn’t give up
Love never fails
All of these attributes can be summed up in Jesus’ words “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your soul and mind, and neighbour as yourself”
Love also also means don’t judge one another. We humans are really good at judging one another. There are SO many opportunities in a day to judge or NOT judge others. I recently flew to Vancouver to visit a friend. I took my laptop along to work on this message. I was pretty tired as I got up at 3:30am and drove to the airport. Once settled in the plane, I almost immediately fell asleep, you know how it is when sitting up, your head kind of falls forward, or your mouth falls open…well I did that then realized I could lean my seat back for more comfort while sleeping. As soon as I put my seat back the person behind me made a sort of huffing sound and pushed his knees into my back. So. Did I think, “oh I am so sorry for disturbing you, I know it must be uncomfortable for you back there etc etc”. No. I thought “ if you wanted more legroom you should have paid for the premium seats, so get over yourself”. So much for kindness and not judging! Fail.
We have 5 children. Every morning as they were growing up, we would have breakfast together before the school bus came, and I would read a Bible passage and discuss how it could possibly apply to their everyday life at school. When Jesus said Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and might, and your neighbour as yourself, He basically said everything necessary to manage our everyday lives. The one lesson we taught the kids was to “Be Kind” which to me sums up exactly what Jesus is saying. So we would think out scenarios at school or wherever there was interaction with others, and discuss how to apply the “Be Kind” message, including with one another.
One day an amusing thing happened. George and I decided one Sunday afternoon to escape for a few hours on our own. so we gave the kids their instructions, like get your homework done, practice your piano lesson, check the sick cow in the pen, etc. When we were about to leave I asked the usual “And what is the family rule?” Of course they all rolled their eyes and chanted “Be Kind”, but just as we were going out the door, George turned and said “and no french fries!” The kids were completely baffled (as they often were by their Dad’s rather abstract thought patterns) as it would have never occurred to them in a hundred years to make french fries..then he told them a story that happened in his North Yorkshire village. A family had a fish and chips shop, and one day the mom had to go to work, but the kids, (all boys) wanted to watch a football game on TV so stayed home. At one point they decided to make some chips, or french fries, so put a pot of oil to heat on the stove. Well I think you can guess what happened. In the excitement of the game they forgot the oil on the stove and burned down the house. So now we have a revised family rule…be kind, and don’t make french fries..
So how is the Spirit of Love working now on our planet?
Love is a FORCE. We usually think of Love as a sort of touchy-feely thing, but God says in Heb.1:2-3 “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, (that nature which we know is Love-my words) and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” So it follows then, that when Love, or the Spirit of God, is removed from the world, the world will actually cease to be “upheld”. Doesn’t sound good.
Lam 3:22 tells us that “because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed” which again, begs the question, what would happen WITHOUT the love of God?? I am afraid to imagine the world once the spirit of God has been removed, as the Bible teaches it one day will be. All those dystopian stories and movies will become the reality. Think back to the scripture we looked at earlier-all the horrifying attributes. They will rule.
God’s love is long-lasting. In Deut 7:9 …we are told that if we serve God, His love will be with us for a thousand generations. If you consider 1 generation is maybe 30-35 years, that is 35,000 years.
It is encouraging to know God’s love is not short-term, or for just one generation or for certain people only. Also that He is patient and not inclined to remove His Spirit anytime soon, though that date is known only to God.
Love has POWER: 2 Tim. 1:7 “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline”. I don’t think we realize the power of God that exists in us through His spirit. In fact, that power is available to help us enact the love of God in our everyday lives.
1 John 3:11,16,18 “we should love one another, Christ laid down his life, do not love with words, but with actions and truth”. How do we love with an “action”?
I think we know in our hearts what a love action looks like. If we look around us this morning, just sitting here, think of all the acts of love that have occurred just to bring us here today. Someone who made your coffee, or made sure there was bread or porridge in the house for your breakfast. Or went out early to warm up the car or shovel the walk. Or the acts of service that benefit you and me. Someone who made sure the furnace was working and the snow was cleared from the front step. A grandparent who made sure your parents went to church as they grew up, who spent time teaching you the word of God. Or a kind and supportive word that was spoken maybe even 20 or 50 years ago that affected your life. A donation, however small, that helped create a place for the lost to find shelter. Love is everywhere though we don’t always recognize it.
In early February I went to BC to visit my friend Blazenka. She and her family emigrated from Croatia, worked very hard to succeed in the new world. Her physiotherapist credentials were not recognized in Canada, so she went back to university, achieving another degree, while raising 2 children and working 3 jobs. Her daughter, who now has her masters degree in physiotherapy, was, at the age of 14, my first employee in the cheese business we had, and Blazenka dragged her massage table to my house sometimes twice a week to use her skills to relieve some of the muscle pain I had from lifting those heavy cheeses. In October, at the age of 54, my friend was diagnosed with colon cancer, which had already metastasized into her liver and lungs.
We had a good visit. I told her I was working on a message for our church. She said, “Debra you tell them that there is nothing more important than love. Nothing is worth anything, not work or striving for success, not things or money, nothing, except love. Love of and for your family, friends, and for others. She said, “be sure to tell them that from me”. My beautiful friend died 12 days later. The house she lived in will be lived in by others, her special presence no longer with us, her belongings dispersed. So what is left of her? The love she showed others, her legacy of service and goodwill; those will remain in the hearts and lives of those who knew her, and those seeds of love will grow and spread. That’s how it works.
Being kind tells the person on the receiving end of kindness that they are worthy of love. Even that thought can change a person’s day or even life, who knows? Stewart told us a few weeks ago that we are thoroughly and brilliantly loved. So what are we going to do with that? It’s not enough to just wriggle in delight because we are so well loved. Whenever and wherever we are in our day, in any and all circumstances, we have the opportunity to apply the command to love. To Be Kind.
Also did you know that an act of kindness is an act of love not only to the recipient but also to ourselves? Seems selfish, but in a good way. Being kind makes us feel good, gives us a sense of being more, a sense of having a purpose bigger than daily life. It opens our hearts to more love, and is good for our own health too!
The church needs to understand this-we aren’t called to attend services once a week and sing a few songs, try our best, pay our tithes and our taxes and go to heaven when we die...that’s not the gospel. We are called to love one another.
Christ showed us the way by giving Himself for us, and calls us simply to follow His example and love one another. Be kind.
CALL TO WORSHIP:
ONE: Christ is calling you as disciples.
ALL: Lord, Jesus, let us follow you faithfully.
ONE: You will be led into fields of mission and service. ALL: Lord Jesus, where you lead us, we will go.
ONE: Listen for Christ's call to you.
OPENING PRAYER & THE LORD'S PRAYER: Lord Jesus, You call us to follow You as disciples. Help us to respond wholeheartedly without counting the cost. You invite us to proclaim Your gospel of hope and salvation here at home and to all the world and its peoples. Teach us to be faithful in word and in action.
Lord, You have given us every spiritual and material blessing. Show us how to share our gifts with others, and inspire us always to follow Your example of generous self-giving. Teach us to give with a joyous and grateful heart that we may provide hope, consolation, and pastoral care to Your people thereby giving glory and honour to Your holy name. Now in the words you gave us: Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, forever and ever. Amen.
PRAYER FOR LENT: Father, through our observance of Lent, help us to understand the meaning of Your Son's death and resurrection, and teach us to reflect it in our lives. Grant this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Your Son, who and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, or?God, forever and ever. Amen.
Offertory Prayer: We give You this offering today and with it we worship You and give our whole selves to You. Please take it and use it for Your kingdom and Your glory. May it be a great blessing to many. We ask this in the powerful name of Jesus. Amen.
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 9:57-62 The Cost Of Following Jesus
They were all going along the road. Someone said to Jesus, "I will follow You any place You go." Jesus answered, "The foxes have holes to live in. The birds have nests to live in. But the Son of Man has no place to rest His head."
Jesus said to another man, "Follow me!" But the man said, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the people who are dead bury their own dead! You must go and tell about the kingdom of God."
Another man said, "I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say goodbye to my family." Jesus said, "“No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”
Symbols of the Apostles
Christianity is a worldwide religious tradition with diverse representations, beliefs and practices, but the common thread is Jesus. For many years the stories of Jesus, His teachings, and the disciples, were told by word of mouth. It was only after the death of Jesus that the first stories were written.
However, only the well educated were able to read and write and this trend continued for centuries. It wasn't until the 20th Century that the common person had the privilege of education.
So symbols were used to depict certain events and people. Stained glass windows in churches were designed so the common people could depict the Bible stories through the pictures and symbols. This morning we'll talk a little about the symbols representing each of the apostles.
Simon Peter was an unlikely candidate to lead a religious revolution, but at the moment Jesus called him as a disciple, the life of Peter the fisherman changed dramatically. He became not only the most prominent of Jesus' disciples, but later, he became the leader and principal spokesman of the new Christian church. Peter preached to the Jews and was crucified head downwards in Rome in AD 68. The symbol for Peter is the crossed keys. They symbolize the keys of heaven entrusted to Simon Peter. In Matthew 16:19, Jesus says to Peter, "I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven."
John and his brother James were among the first disciples called by Jesus. Though his brother James was the first apostle to be martyred, John continued for a long time as a prominent leader in the early Christian church. John preached in Asia Minor. He lived in Epheus and wrote five (5) books of the Bible. He died about AD 100. Legend has it that an attempt was made on John's life by placing poison in his chalice. Actually, he was the only one of the twelve to reach a ripe old age and die a natural death. His symbol is a chalice and snake.
Philip is depicted in the Gospel of John as a loyal and earnest follower of Jesus. Philip preached in Palestine and Asia Minor, where he was stoned to death by the priests of the serpent-worshippers. His symbol is two loaves of bread, often in a basket. The basket refers to the feeding of the multitude about which he was much concerned. Philip gave up his life for Jesus who is the Bread of Life.
Thomas is best known for his response to the resurrection of Jesus. He had trouble believing Jesus had risen and he wanted proof, thus giving him the name "Doubting Thomas." He preached in Syria, Persia and India. He was killed by a shower of arrows while he was praying. His symbol includes a carpenter's square. Tradition recounts how he erected a church in India while carrying on his ministry there. The arrow in the symbol tells the story of a painful but brave death.
According to the Gospel of John, Andrew was the first person to become a disciple of Jesus. Not a lot is known about his ministry, but it is believed that Andrew preached in Greece, Russia and Asia Minor. He was crucified at Patrae on the cross which is used as his symbol.
There is little known of James the Less. He may have preached in Egypt. It is said that he was sawn to death after being stoned.
Nothing is known of Bartholomew's work. The Bible and flaying knife are his symbol. Flaying knives were used to skin fish, as well as people. Bartholomew had a firm faith in the Word of God which he freely preached. He met his martyrdom by being flayed alive.
Simon identified himself as a zealot. Simon and Jude went together. It is said that they were two of the shepherds who came to Bethlehem for the birth of Jesus. Both Simon and Jude were martyred in Persia on a missionary journey. A relentless fisher of men through the power of the Gospel, Simon is symbolized by a fish, often lying on a Bible.
James the Elder was the first apostle to be killed. He was beheaded by Herod in AD 44. A pilgrim's staff and wallet show he was a traveller.
Jude most likely had become a travelling missionary after the resurrection, spreading the gospel throughout Palestine and beyond. Jude, also known as Thaddeus, is supposed to have preached in Assyria and Persia. It is said that he was clubbed to death by Persians, about AD 80. A ship with a cross on the sails pictures heroic Jude on missionary expeditions accompanied by his friend Simon.
Matthew's writings emphasize Jesus as one who taught with great authority, so much so, that his listeners were astounded. Matthew preached and died in Ethiopia. The three money bags show that he was a tax collector. He was killed by an axe.
Apart from being identified as the one who betrayed Jesus, Judas Iscariot plays no distinguishable role in the New Testament. Judas' symbol is a blank shield of yellow. He killed himself after betraying Jesus. There are two accounts of his death. According to Matthew, he repented, confessed his sin, tried to return the money and then hanged himself. But in the Book of Acts, Judas is said to have fallen headlong and "burst open in the middle and all of his bowels gushed out."
After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, the disciples drew lots to determine who would replace Judas Iscariot. The lot fell on Matthias. He was well versed in the Scriptures. His symbol is a Bible. After dauntless work as a missionary in Judea, he was beheaded with a scimitar which is a short sword with a curved blade that widens toward the point. The scimitar is the symbol of Matthias.
This is just an overview of the symbols and the apostles. I'm sure we could easily spend the next 12 or 13 weeks talking about each disciple. But their stories are readily found in the Bible. Take a little time and find out more about these brave and devoted men.
What Jesus taught His disciples and all His followers is that love is the greatest thing in the world. He taught that to be humble is to be great and that to give is more blessed than to receive. And He also taught that to minister to others, instead of asking others for service, is the greatest and noblest mark of the Master's disciples.
Let us pray: Eternal God, You have shown Yourself to us as a God of steadfast love and fidelity. You gave us Jesus that we might know Your endless love. We come to You as a community of disciples. May our hearts be consumed by Your marvelous love, and in turn, may we become faithful disciples of Jesus.
Father, we also pray that You will bless all our endeavours, especially for the Annual Meeting following this morning's service. Guide us in our discussions. Enlighten our minds in every decision that we make. Bless our plans and projects, so that we may achieve our objectives as Your disciples and for Your greater glory. All this we ask in Jesus' name. Amen
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