Meditation for today
Who do you see, and which one are you?
Today were going to go back and look at the passage where Christ was crucified... We are going to look at it and consider the various people that were around and witnessing the crucifixion. And we're gonna use our imaginations, and scriptures to help enlighten us as to what they saw, and where they stood with regards to who that man hanging on the cross was. To Jesus is...
Luke Ch 23 vs 32-56
Here we are first introduced tioL Two criminals That were lead with him to be put to death. We know the story well, but do we really?.
Its very easy to glance over it and not give it much thought. The Scriptures does not give the detail of every moment by moment. It states that the criminals were crucified with Him, One on the right at the other on the left. 34 then Jesus said, "father forgive them for they do not know what they do".
How much time do you think it past in these two opening sentences.?„,„
What do you think was going on in the mind of the two thieves?
,„, 34B. And they divide his garments and cast lots. And the people stood looking on.
Who are these people? „„,
Whet do we know about them?
Ifs easy to picture of the scene like the movies do and indeed like it is portrayed in the Scriptures here. That everyone's yelling and screaming and sneering and demanding his death.
Some of the people that were there other than the two thieves were,Rulers, every day people. Soldiers, reluctant followers. Jesus mother, Women that were true followers. One of Jesus disciples John was there. And we know there was a Pharisee watching from a far off. They were probably A fair amount of religious leaders Pharisees and rulers that were there.
What was going in the mind of everyone was there, caught up in the frenzy. And the massive historical event that we still remember and speak about today.! 2000 years later.
If you were there, what would be going on in your mind. Which one of those people would you have been?,,,,
The two thieves....
Curious onlookers.../Reluctant followers...
The women disciples...
John the disciple....
The whole crowd...
Jesus acquaintances and the woman who followed him from Galilee standing at a distance...
Joseph of Arimathea. A member of the Sanhedrin,,, good and righteous who had not consented to their decision and deed.
What was going on in the minds of everyone of these people we see here?„„
What kind of inward struggle and conflicts were they going through?„„
I like imagine what was going on and everyone's heart. But most of all I like to think what was going on in the hearts of the ones who had very little time to ponder who this Jesus was before them.
Who is this Jesus?,„,
And what kind of person would I be now?„„ in other words what will I do with this truth/experience/person/situation?
And of course the two people that most qualify, are the two thieves on the cross! Everything is condensed into those few hours they have with the Christ. Everything is heightened and more important, decision making is let's say a little bit critical at this juncture!
I assumed they heard rumours about the Messiah that was coming to town.... Maybe they heard about the miracles... Maybe they didn't _..
We know that they weren't the most upstanding citizens.... and we know how people like that, think about godly matters.... They couldn't care... Right? After all, they are thieves and criminals. Scum/low lifes right?
They're hanging on the cross, I'm sure its quite excruciating. But nothing like joining the crowds in mocking the innocent one!. Might as well get a few last Dibs in before you depart this world.
Maybe one of the thieves, blamed the religious leaders. Maybe they blame their parents. Maybe they were so poor they had to steal, we don't know. But it's fair to assume, that they are just like anyone else, just like you or me. With feelings and with emotions and with regrets and with all the frailty that comes along with being a human being.
But as they stood there watching Christ witnessing everything that's going on. Pondering everything that they may or may not know of the Messiah of the Christ of this man before them. They each made a critical decision, that would go on into eternity. One continued in disbelief and in ridiculing the Messiah, and the other one/,,, thought long and hard„ he looked at Jesus and had a realization.
He probably didn't know everything.
The Power and Beauty of Prayer
When I was 5 years old, my mother taught me how to pray. She had me to kneel in my crib, join my hands together, and memorize these strange sentences to a mysterious creature called God. She first taught me a child’s prayer, asking God for protection for my mother, my father, and myself. Added to that, she taught me the Lord’s Prayer, and finally, the Hail Mary, one of the favourite prayers Catholics recite to the mother of Christ.
It reminds me of the story of the apostles who approached Christ when he was praying and asked him how they might pray as well. That’s how they learned and retained The Lord’s Prayer. And, through my mother, is how I learned and retained my evening prayers.
At first, I didn’t expect anything special from them, even though I recited them regularly. At first, my mother said them with me until she felt I could do them on my own. It was sort of the same thing as learning to ride a bike. Your parent hangs on to your seat and bit by bit lets you go, hoping you didn’t crash. But I have to admit, riding a bike was a lot more fun than praying, yet no easier.
Still, I always said my prayers except for once, as a child. That was the time we escaped overnight through dark woods with my mother, a guide, and a few other people. We made our way from Hungary, my homeland, to Austria and when we made it through, I collapsed in bed and asked my mother if I could neglect my prayers for just that night. I passed out and didn’t hear her reply, but I’m pretty sure she agreed.
Do you pray? And do you expect results from your prayers? That’s always tough.
No, it really isn’t easy, you know. Many people make fun of attempts to speak to an invisible force called God. It’s understandable. We are reasoning human beings. As such we are limited by our senses. If it can’t be seen, heard, felt, smelled, or tasted, then does it actually exist? This is where the importance of faith comes in. Faith is the needed ingredient to be able to converse with God. It is the very human trait of believing in something even when there is no evidence for it. None. Rien.
And yet, a long time ago, I made up my mind to believe. Why? Yes, why? Well, first of all, let me give you a few examples of prayer in my personal life as forays into the dark having little expectation of successful result. The first time I experienced this was when I was about 10 years old. Before that, I ambled along in repetitive forays more or less just to get it out of the way to the point where I say, “AMEN.” Sort of our usual gambits in church when we reach the “Lord’s Prayer.”
What happened when I was 10 is that my birthday was coming around and I asked my mother for a special gift, something that all my friends in Verdun owned but not me. I didn’t yet get a chance to use, my very first set of roller skates. You know. The kind that clamps on to your shoes and tightens with a single key. Ohhh, that was so special. But my father said, sorry Joe, we can’t afford it. You should have seen my lower lip curl down. sort of like this. It was enough to melt a mother’s heart. So, yes, I did get the skates.
I skated with my friends all day that summer, until the sky was darkening and everyone began to go home. So I too rode my skates home and sat down on my front steps to take them off. But…But…where was my key? I couldn’t find it. I was crushed!
I went the whole gamut from making excuses to sniffling to picturing my dire punishment, and finally, to prayer. More than anything else I was ashamed. So I prayed to God to help me find my key. I looked everywhere. In the schoolyard, the ball fields, friends’ homes, you name it, no luck. I said to God, “You know, God, I probably don’t deserve it, but please, please, find my key for my mother. I’ll accept any punishment. Not that I really wanted a lot, but I would accept anything. So, dragging my heels, I searched again around my friends’ front yards. No key. So I sat on his front lawn, buried my face in my knees and put my hands in the grass. When I put my right palm flat down on the lawn, I suddenly felt something hard and metallic. Yes, it was. It was the key. God sort of said, he didn’t like young boy blubbering…I guess.
Now, of course, I could say this was all a coincidence. OK it might have been. But I didn’t believe it for a second. This was God at work. The first time in my own experience.
Since then, there have been many other occasions of very different gravity. But I can tell you that each was a surprise, and each has been a delight. When I asked God to send me a special girl, a life partner, because I hadn’t been able to find my own around my own neighbourhood. He sent one all the way from Huntingdon, my mother hired her in her beauty salon, and then God sent her to our front door to pick something up for my mother, which is where I met her. We married 3 years later. You can’t be too careful with these country girls. And 50 years and three sons and two grandsons later, we are still together, as God intended and I prayed. And you’re going to tell me prayer doesn’t work? No way to tell me that.
I’d like to leave you with my latest example, from last week. I knew this girl from the Laurentians together with a bunch pf other friends when I was a teenager. Over the years, I lost touch with nearly all these friends. We grew older, we went to different schools, and different careers, we got married, had kids and, as usual, the wheel of life turned.
A few weeks ago, this girl turned up as a Facebook friend. Well, we were both delighted , and right away began to share notes. But then, something grim happened. She told me she was sorry she had to share such news with me but the lung cancer she had experienced a long time ago looks like it’s come back, and her cancer specialists advised her that this time it might well be more serious than even before.
I didn’t know what to say. So, I said, “Look, I’m sure I still know you well. You’re a bright and personable research nurse. Besides that, you have strength and energy, you are adored by your family and friends. They all need you. Your granddaughter especially needs you (her mother also took breast cancer of late). And I guarantee I will include you in my prayers every night. No matter what, I will be here for you.” You know, she is not a religious person, but she is an extremely good person, and she accepted my promise of prayers in good faith.
Last week, her specialist asked for another biopsy just to see if they could verify the findings.
She called me with these words:
Just got back from Dr. and got great news - the biopsy results were NEGATIVE - I am so relieved !!!
“Thanks for all the good thoughts , love and prayers !!
Yes, as I said, I have many such examples over the years, but this was very special since it involved an old friend’s life. God was there. God listened. And God responded, Thanks be to God.
PROCESSIONAL: Amazing Grace (1st verse) - Piper Robert Wailer
CALL TO WORSHIP:
ONE: At God's table of justice, everyone has a place and none are turned away.
ALL: Here, strangers are welcomed as friends.
ONE: At God's table of abundance, a banquet of righteousness and liberation is
set for all.
ALL: Here, the powerless are heard, the outcast our showered with honour.
ONE: At God's table of life, all people know peace.
ALL: Here the hopeless are nourished with possibility, the complacent are
transformed into advocates for change. Here in our very midst, the
kingdom of God is revealed
OPENING PRAYER & THE LORD'S PRAYER:
0 Glorious St. Andrew, you were the first to recognize and follow the Son of God. With your friend John, you remained with Jesus your entire life, and now through eternity. Just as you led your brother, Peter, to Christ and many others after him, draw us also to Him. Teach us how to lead others, solely out of love for Jesus and dedication to His service. Help us to learn the lesson of the cross and carry our daily crosses without complaint. And now, as Jesus taught you, let us all pray together with His words: 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.
PIPER: Robert Wailer
OFFERING: Offering Received: "Aura Lee" Chenaniah
Offertory Prayer: Dear Lord, we thank You today for Your blessings which You bestow upon us all. No one ever gives a present with reluctance and we should never give what already belongs to You with reluctance either. Bless these cheerful givers and the offerings that they give. Amen.
ST. ANDREW: St. Andrew has been celebrated in Scotland for over a thousand years, with feasts being held in his honour as far back as the year 1000 AD. However, it wasn't until 1320 that he officially became Scotland's patron saint. Even Scotland's flag, the St. Andrew's Cross, was chosen to honour him. The cross, which is the shape of an "1", represents the type of cross that St. Andrew was crucified on. The ancient town of St. Andrews was named due to its claim of being the final resting place of St. Andrew.
November 30 is designated St. Andrew's Day because he is said to have died on that date, crucified on the X-shaped cross. Andrew was the first disciple of Jesus. He seems to have been a natural leader. Andrew, who was a fisherman, was influenced by the preaching of John the Baptist It was Andrew who introduced his brother, Simon Peter, to Jesus. It is also Andrew, faced with the prospect of feeding a very large, hungry crowd, who told Jesus about the boy with the loaves and fishes. Andrew is the disciple who was able to think out of the box, allowing the possibility of new ways to express faith. Thank you Andrew for your service and dedication. We pray that we may follow your example of faith and love.
WHAT 15 AGAPE LOVE? Agape love is selfless, unconditional love. It is the highest form of love in the Bible. Agape perfectly describes the kind of love Jesus has for God and for his disciples and his followers. Agape is a word that describes God's unboundless love for us all. God gives us this love without conditions and without question. This Bible verse describes agape love: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Agape doesn't love somebody because they're worthy. Agape makes them worthy by the strength and power of its love. Agape doesn't love somebody because they're beautiful. Agape loves in such a way that it makes them beautiful.
THE AGAPE MEAL:
PRAYER OF ADORATION:
We will keep on thanking God with constant words of prayer. We will
glory in the living God: the humble will hear and be glad. Let us pray
Living God, You cherish Your creation and we praise You. With earth, air, water, fire: in our element as Your children, we praise You. With our lips, with our lives, in all our diversity, each one made in Your image, we praise You. Because You share our human lives, our sorrow and joy, we praise You. Because You are at work today, encouraging, enabling,
surprising us, in the world's places of beauty and of pain, in the mystery
of the mundane, we praise You. Poor as we are, You give us hope: salt of
the earth, You give us meaning and purpose and we praise You. Amen
PRAYER OF CONFESSION:
Our praise fills us with a sense of God's goodness, beside our struggle to
be good, and of our weakness beside God's great strength. But God's grace meets us now to renew us, reorientate us, restore us. And so in confidence we pray together:
We call on the power of God to meet us in our helplessness. God in our thinking, God in our speaking. We call on the clarity of God to meet us in our confusion. God in our acting, God in our stillness. We call on the mercy of God to meet us in our brokenness. God in our waking, God in our sleeping. We call on the Spirit of God to meet us in our division. God in our meeting, God in our parting. Amen
And now we call on the grace of God to meet us here as share the sign of peace with each other.
INTRODUCTION TO THE SHARING OF THE MEAL:
Let us pray: We have shared peace, we have shared thanksgiving, and we
now, in solidarity and agape, share ordinary food together. Taste and see
that God is good. Be present at our table, Lord. We pray people everywhere will find Your love. Bless all Your creatures, great and small and bless the food we are about to receive. Grant, that one day, we may feast in Paradise with You. Amen.
On the table in the midst of this congregation with whom Christ is present, we set symbols to remind us of His promise to us. A candle to remind us of the way, "I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life." The food representing God's love. "1 am the bread of life. The bread that I shall give is myself for the life of the world."
God, we welcome Your presence with us. May the food and companionship we share nourish ur bodies, hearts and minds. As we live in the tight of Your presence, with us now, and at all times and places. Amen,
PRAYER AFTER SHARING:
Behold, the fragments of our feast, our meal is ended, but God's banquet
continues as we go from this place. With gratefulness to others for all that we have shared and thankfulness to God, we begin to look outwards and ahead to our lives beyond this week and this place, so let us pray together:
Dear God, we give thanks for places of simplicity and peace. Let us find such a place within ourselves. We give thanks for places of refuge and beauty. Let us find such a place within ourselves. We give thanks for places of truth and freedom, of joy, inspiration and renewal, places where all creatures may find acceptance and belonging. Let us search for these places, in the world, in ourselves and in others. Let us restore them. Let us strengthen and protect them and let us create them. May we mend this outer world according to the truth of our inner life and may our souls be shaped and nourished by nature's eternal wisdom, in the country, in the city, and in every place we go. Amen.
BENEDICTION & CHORAL AMEN: Giving God, bless all who have gathered around this table. May we know the fullness of Your presence at every meal and in all our sharing. May the peace of Christ be upon you, and may you be channels of peace and justice.
"God loves you for no reason !"
Shel Silverstein was a well known artist, author, playwright, songwriter and poet from New York City.
Now, Shel was something of an over-achiever: He was a well known cartoonist for Playboy Magazine, you know, that magazine we all read for the great articles and interviews? He won Grammy awards as a songwriter (amongst others, he wrote Johnny Cash's "A Boy Named Sue"), had plays produced on Broadway... And all sorts of other things. He also published several volumes of some of the finest poetry ever written for Children.
When I was 7, I was given a copy of his book, "Where the Sidewalk Ends", and from it memorized my first (and longtime favorite poem): Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Shel Silverstein's epic work: "My Beard"
My Beard Grows
Down to my Toes.
I never wears no Clothes.
I wrap my Hair
Around my Bare,
And down the Road I goes.
Thank you very much.
Steel was born and raised in a Jewish family, and was a pious and faithful man. He had a great interest in comparative religious studies and was always up for a chat about faith and philosophy. One day, he had a long conversation with a Christian Minister in a New York Park about the nature of Jesus, and the way that Jesus asks people to love.
Following that conversation, he returned to his apartment and wrote a story, that became a book. It's not particularly long, so I'd like to read it to you.
There is a story. It's a story about a tree. And it's a story about a little boy the tree loved.
Every day the boy would come by the tree and play, Picking up the tree's leaves, playing make believe, climbing the tree's trunk, and enjoying the tree's shade. All of this made the tree very happy.
But time passed. The tree was alone and it was sad. One day the boy came by and the tree tried to get the boy to stay and play. But the boy asked the tree, "Can you just give me some money?"
The tree said "I'm sorry, I have no money. I only have apples. Take my apples and sell them in the city and then you will have money. Then you will be happy," So the boy climbed the tree, took all the apples and sold them in the city. And the tree was very happy.
One day the boy came by and the tree once again tried to get the boy to stay and to play. The boy said "I'm too busy. I want a house to keep me warm. 1 want a wife and a child. So, I need a house. Can you give me a house?"
The tree said, "l'm sorry but I have no house. But you can cut off my branches and build a house. Then you will be happy." So the boy cut off the branches, carried them away, and built a house.
And the tree was very happy.
More time went by. Again, the tree was alone, and it was very sad. One day they boy came back. The tree once again tried to get the boy to stay and to play. But the boy said, "I'm too old and sad to play. 1 want a boat that will take me far away. Can you give me a boat?"
The tree said, "I'm sorry but I don't have a boat. You can cut down my trunk and make a boat." So the boy cut down her trunk and made a boat and sailed away. And the tree was happy...... but not really.
After a long time, the boy came back again. The tree this time said, "I am sorry, Boy but 1 have nothing left to give you. 1 wish I had something to give you but I have nothing left." The boy said, "1 don't need very much now. I am old and very tired, I just need a quiet place to sit and to rest." The tree said "Well, an old stump is good for sitting and resting. Come, boy, sit down and rest."
The boy did. And the tree was happy.
I must admit, I wasn't sure I liked the story of the giving tree the first time I heard it. It seemed to me that the boy had problems. As he grew older, thou ght he became self-centered and greedy and that he as<ed too much of the tree. And then I though of my kids, and I said.... Yup. I see what's going on here.
And, the tree well -he seemed to problems, too. I thought she suffered from what we, in our modern vernacular might refer to as poor self-esteem and/or the inability to set healthy boundaries.
To give up parts of herself until she had nothing but a stump left seemed like the ultimate sacrifice to me . . and perhaps more than she should have agreed to do.
Reading The Giving Tree myseif years later, I still wish the boy hadn't asked the tree to give up so much, and I still wish the tree had learned to stop trying to fix the boy's sad feelings.
However, f also recognize that The Giving Tree a story about selfless love . . and encountering it again has caused me to wonder about the nature of such love.
Selfless love can seem superhuman, irrational, and exhausting when we are examining it from the outside. "How does she do it?" we may wonder of the young mother who has multiple small children in tow that require her constant and undivided attention. "He has a heart of gold," we may say of the husband who is caring for his wife whose health is in serious decline.
These instances of giving are likely not the times when we are keeping score and expecting a favor in return. Rather, when we give from the heart and in a self-sacrificing way as the Giving Tree did to the little boy, it seems that we're giving from a primal place within one that may not be easily explained by human kindness or a sense of duty.
Physicists, neurologists and psychologists are just a few of the scientists who have attempted to explain selflessness, or what we understand as altruistic behavior.
Albert Einstein, for example, argued that selflessness is a dynamic found in existence itself. Selfless acts of integration had to occur for the universe to evolve from chaos into stars, planets and galaxies and atoms to merge into molecules, molecules into compounds and compounds into organisms.
Some social psychologists believe that selflessness is a prosocial behavior, meaning that it is a behavior that is intended to help other people. And, some neurologists explain that altruistic behavior activates pleasure centers in the brain. But then, hey, science can ruin anything, right?
Whatever the underlying reasons are for selfless love, it seems to me that the central message in Shy: Silverstein's story is that those who give love selflessly do so from a place of abundance.
While the Giving Tree may have once had an abundance of apples, branches and wood to share with the boy, her heart it seems was abundantly full of cherished memories.... memories the tree had of loving a boy who visited her, played with her, and slept peacefully at her side. It seems that the boy gave the tree an abundance of joy she had never known before or since, and that this abundant joy was the wellspring from which t he tree acted so selflessly.
What are we to make of such a story? Perhaps we can start by asking ourselves, What in our lives gives us abundant joy? And, how might this abundance enable us to give to others with humility and a sense of gratitude?
There's a famous prayer, often but mistakenly attributed to St.
Francis of Assisi............................................................................
At this precise moment of the meditation, a vision appeared leaving everyone in a state of shock............ Something was flying low between the rows of church benches and was only stopped from hitting a member of the choir because she let out a great screeching scream and lifted her hymn book in front of her face, at the exact right moment.......
and then after twirling around a few times, the bat returned to the belfry...... where another member of the congregation closed the upstairs door.......
After a few minutes where everyone regained their composure, we continued on another shocker....
There's a famous prayer, often but mistakenly attributed to St.
Francis of Assisi. A version of it goes:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me bring love.
Where there is offense, let me bring pardon.
Where there is discord, let me bring union.
Where there is error, let me bring truth.
Where there is doubt, let me bring faith.
Where there is despair, let me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, let me bring your light.
Where there is sadness, let me bring joy.
0 Master, let me not seek as much
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love,
for it is in giving that one receives,
it is in self-forgetting that one finds,
it is in pardoning that one is pardoned,
it is in dying that one is raised to eternal life.
Note from the webmaster : the prayer wrongly attributed to St Francis originated from another source : www.monasteryicons.com/product/Who-Wrote-the-Prayer-of-Saint-Francis/did-you-know
It seems to me this prayer of selfless giving is contained within the story of the Giving Tree. While there may be limits to what we are able to give (as there were even for the Giving Tree)there are never limits to living lives characterized by a spirit ofhumility and gratitude.
And don't forget, in just a couple of weeks, we' begin ourjourney of renewal as we begin the Church year with the Advent Season. Well hear a reading from the Prophet Isaiah that will talk about a stump in the wilderness, and a shoot that will grow into a great tree. Maybe we can take a little time during the frantic season to some to spare a thought for the Giving Tree that we heard about today.
Humble lives, and grateful hearts; gifts given, and received in selfless love: As we go from this place this morning, let's go with hearts fur of the all these gifts we've given and received this weekend the gifts of friendship, Nature's beauty, children's laughter, sweet rock and roil jams for some of us) and the peace of the beautiful country in which we live.
Let's live our lives with the courage to give selflessly, trusting that we can do so from a place of abundance deep within. And may we find happiness, every one of us, as we bring a spirit of gratitude to our days.
MESSAGE: “There But for the Grace of God Go I”
This is a phrase that most of us will have heard several times at least in our life-time. We see someone in a bad or difﬁcult situation, and say basically, yeah that could be me, except for God’s intervention in my life.
It was apparently said by a John Bradford in 1500’s England, as he watched a group of prisoners be led away for execution. Bradford lived during the time of the reign of Henry the VIII of England, became a protestant convert from Catholicism, and began preaching and teaching not only around the country, but also as chaplain to Edward the VI. When Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry VIII and who was Catholic like her Spanish mother, ascended the throne and tried to reverse the movement of the Reformation, John Bradford was arrested on a trumped up charge, tried and burned at the stake. His was one life given up for his faith, a man martyred for what he believed. And he left these words for posterity, for us to ponder today, 500 years later.
What kind of faith inﬂuenced John Bradford to go to the burning stake? It is reported that even while waiting for his death by ﬁre, he asked those around him for forgiveness had he hurt them in any way, and offered forgiveness to anyone who felt they may have wronged him, so they could live on with a clean conscience.
Where did this kind of faith come from? Why did he believe? Why do any of us believe actually? And what did he mean by saying “there but for the Grace of God goes John Bradford”?
What is faith? What is Grace? Why do we even believe?
1John 4: 10 says “…not that WE loved God, but HE loved US, and sent His Son as an atoning sacriﬁce for our sins. Verse 19 says “We love because he ﬁrst loved us”
So from this we understand that we actually did not take the initial step into belief, but rather God did, by sending His Son. But how did we get to that place of belief?
In Matt. 9:9-13 Jesus called Matthew. He was a tax collector and NOBODY liked him! He was scum to most people. But Jesus CALLED him to come to him and follow him. And Matthew actually dropped everything and did. When questioned about his decision to call such a one as Matthew, Jesus replied “I came to call sinners, not righteous ones”
John 1:23 says “I am the Voice of the One calling in the desert…”
By these examples we realize that it is God who ﬁrst did the work, and He calls EVERYONE- all humans are living in darkness and the “wilderness” or “desert”; that is, in lives without God. So God’s voice goes out to all the world, he calls everyone, not just a select few.
You may ask, how will all humans know there is a God? Those who have not heard sermons or missionaries, or who live in paganism etc. God has His ways!
Psalm 19:1-4 is a familiar passage, but very important. Though humans in their scientiﬁc pursuits come to various conclusions, the words of David are “the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.”
David is reminding us here that every person in the world has access to the message that there is a God. We just have to look around us, lift up our eyes, and think.
John 10:3 says he CALLS His sheep by name. Not only does he call everyone, but he knows the name of each person.
God’s voice is ALWAYS calling, and, He is always LISTENING. Isaiah 65: 24 says “Before they call I will answer, while they are still speaking I will hear”. He is calling EVERYONE. In 1 Peter 2, the apostle is saying that the message went out to all, but not everyone accepted it. The ones who chose to obey were “called out of the darkness, into His wonderful light”
So we see by this that WE did not take the ﬁrst step to belief, GOD did. It makes us realize that we are so hopeless, so in darkness, that we absolutely need God to take that ﬁrst step to call us
out from that wilderness.
So this is where GRACE comes in. Grace is the offering of a gift to someone who is not worthy of it, with no strings attached.
GRACE is demonstrated by the sacriﬁce of a loving God to rescue us from darkness. This act of Grace led the Son of God to the cross to actually die for us, even calling us by name, that we may come out of the darkness into His wonderful light. For this place we enter into is not a place of moaning and groaning and pain, but rather a place of love and joy. God is love, and wants us to live in His love today and always. Contrary what so many may think, belief in Christ is not a burden, but rather true freedom. Things can get clouded by religion, which can unfortunately sometimes act as a screen hiding the real message of God. That message which is : come to me and I will give you rest.
John Bradford heard the voice of God calling Him, and he answered “Here I am God, send me”. When he said “there but for the Grace of God goes John Bradford” he was saying “if God had not called me, giving me the opportunity to hear and answer His call, the propensity for great evil that is in me could have led me to the place these criminals are today. So he thanked God for that Grace, but also acknowledged that it was not his work, but God’s work, that had put him in a different place than those criminals that day.
So God calls us by name. He then makes it possible for us to hear His voice. He offers us his love in action, an act of grace.
So, now: a problem. we all know people who have heard the message, who have had many, even years of opportunities to answer God’s call, but who have rejected that call. What about them? I had a long telephone conversation this week with someone who is really struggling with some issues. It is creating serious unhappiness in her life. I reminded her that Christ did come so we would never be alone, that He would always be with us, never leave us or forsake us, that He is our one true Friend. We just need to surrender and answer that call. But she said, I tried Christianity and it just doesn’t work for me. So, has she really heard the call? Did she ever answer the call? Why has she decided that Jesus is not for her?
Why is it some people hear and respond to the call, and others do not? How is it we can even hear the call? The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus sent into the world when He left it, is not inactive and waiting for Halloween to be freed for action. The Holy Spirit is always there, whispering and nudging us to open our hearts to His call. We need to come to that place of surrender first. Some of us ﬁnd that easy to do, others take longer. Paul tells us to count all trials and problems as blessings, because they lead us to surrender, as otherwise we may never get there, and we would be lost. Sometimes we even have to hit bottom before we surrender and give in to His eternal love. God is interested in an eternity WITH us, not without us, so he will allow whatever is necessary in our lives, up to a point (as he said He would never allow anything that we cannot bear) for that to happen.
So when we hear that call and answer it, we actually haven’t seen anything with our eyes or experienced anything that we can touch. We accept Christ by Faith. We heard, we went for it, without knowing the future.
What is Faith?
I heard a radio interview the other day, with an American country singer who had made some big changes in her life. When she was asked by the interviewer how she had had the faith to make the decision, she said “Faith is trust based on experience”. Think about that. Sounds quite good right? Sounds correct. Nice. Faith is Trust based on experience.
So I then compared that with what the Bible tells us Faith is.
There’s a very well-known verse, though I don’t know if we really understand it, being human and such…
Hebrews 11:1 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see”.
Paul reminded the recipients of this letter of many historical acts of faith. Such as:
-Moses leading the Israelite people across the Red Sea. They had no real idea what they were doing. There was a Sea in front of them for goodness sake! But God had told Moses to lead the people to the Red Sea and they would cross over on dry land. So off they went.
Another example is:
-Abraham taking Isaac up to the mountain to sacriﬁce him. WHAT?? How can a parent even think to do that?? But Abraham did it. He had faith that no matter what happened, it would be okay because God was in charge.
Then again, there’s:
-Daniel who went into the den of lions. He may well have thought “this is it, I am going to be eaten by lions.” Wow. But in he went, having faith that again, whatever happened would be the best thing, because God was in charge and God is Love.
-Shadrach Meshack and Abednego. who went into the ﬁrey furnace. They did not “know” the outcome of their obedience, they simply had faith in God.
As it turns out, ALL of those acts involved doing something without knowing the why or the wherefore, or the outcome at all.
None of those persons, Moses, Abraham, Daniel or the 3 boys in the furnace, had any previous experience whatsoever before they launched themselves into obeying the call of God. Daniel had never before been in a lion’s den and come out unscathed. Human knowledge would tell him actually that lions, especially hungry lions, would just eat him
So it seems Biblical faith is not the same as “trust based on experience” at all. Trust based on experience is more like knowledge, not faith. Almost the opposite of faith really.
So how do we live an everyday life of faith?
Paul says, what we do is “Fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”. He encourages the recipients of the letter to think about all these examples, especially the example of Christ Himself, in order to remain strong and not give up or lose heart. Because, he says in Heb 12:18-19, we don’t have a physical thing to touch or go to, like a mountain or loud sounds or voices telling us to be afraid, (like pagans do) which actually lead to a place of punishment and darkness, but rather we have come to, in Heb 12: 22-24 “ Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the ﬁrstborn, whose names are written in heaven; you have come to God”
Romans 10:17 says “faith comes from hearing the message, and the messages is heard through the words of Christ”. So we can encourage the growth of our faith, by reading, and hearing in our spirits, the words of Christ. Words such as, I am the Way the Truth and the Life. No one comes unto the Father except by Me.
Faith reminds me that I am not in charge, but rather God is, and it is His will that no one should
perish, but all should have eternal life.
So I can pray that those who have not yet answered the call, will one day actually HEAR that call and will be unable to resist the whispering of the Holy Spirit, and enter into the place of love and peace that we are all really desiring.
We can all echo the words of John Bradford, who 500 years ago recognized that without God’s loving intervention in our lives, we are all lost forever in the wilderness.
Now may the Lord of Peace Himself give you peace at all times, and in every way. The Lord be with all of you. The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.
CALL TO WORSHIP:
Please respect the work of all those who generously prepare texts and services for our Church.
Do not copy without their authorization.