Moncreiff Parish Church
01355 223328 (Monday - Friday am)
Scottish Charity No. SC016751
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Moncreiff Parish Church on 31 January 2016: An invitation to share in the love of God at work in the world.
Scripture: Luke 4:21-30
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
There is something that is truly amazing about Love. Love offers the possibility of acceptance, call and change…We become different people as we are loved and as we learn to love. There is thus a real sense of wonder in the Gospel affirmation that God’s love has entered the world. There are many signs of this love, and yet for Christians we are able to celebrate this news as being at the very heart of the Gospel. Little wonder then that Paul celebrates Love as the “greatest gift” – for what a gift it proves to be.
Love is the gift that has served as our call to worship this morning. A real sense of being chosen and called. A delightful reminder of how Jeremiah struggles to respond to this sense of being Loved…his real sense of youthful inadequacy. We can identify, I am sure – we have surely felt inadequate? We have surely wondered whether we deserve to be loved? There is so much to enjoy in our sense of inadequacy as human beings…a sense of rootedness, as well as a reminder that we are often closer to failure than we would like to admit. But we need to be careful, for our inadequacy can hinder God’s Spirit in terms of transforming us for the sake of God’s Reign at work in the world.
We are to be loved in every inch of who we are, so that we can truly appreciate the delightful challenge of what it means to love in the wider world. The incarnation, in truth, reminds us that God’s Love is real and that it enters our humanity. We are called to trust the fact that we are loved, yet not only us but all people, everywhere.
We might not sense that we are deserving of God’s Love, for in fact much of Christian Tradition reminds us how far we fall short of God’s glory.
The truth we celebrate this week in our New Testament readings is that “Love” (read God’s Love) is such that it makes us worthy. God stoops low to show the fullness of “His” Love.
1) Paul’s great “poem to Love” draws us into a fundamental truth of the world and God’s engagement with it:
God is Love!
We need to know that love is not God, because love as in God’s Love is a love that is always giving, reaching and offering. The harsh reality of lived experience is that human love seems to have its limits. It is possible for people to love against the odds, and there are many who have lived consistent lives of love for long periods (example St Francis), and yet we cannot limit our understanding of love to our human experience of love.
We do not need to be someone special or do something special to earn God’s Love. God’s Love gives value and makes us valuable.
If God’s Love demands that we love others in response, especially those who are different, despised, forgotten and on the edges of society, then we need to know that God has loved in this way before we attempted it. (in Jesus Christ). Love will thus always stretch us into new expressions of being loved, and loving others.
So, Paul’s invitation is to a poetic understanding of Love – Love as “Art being practiced”.
This is the poem that draws us into its ambit, time and time again. It asks questions of us in our ordinary and everyday living…We become participants in this Divine poetry:
How will I be open to receiving God’s Love in this coming week?
How will I know that it is God’s love?
How will I express thanks?
In what ways will this sense of receiving God’s Love transform my understanding of God, myself and others?
This poem offers a call to both decision and action.
We are participants in the Divine possibility…not as an advert for our own heroism, courage, compassion and generosity…but rather as those who share in God’s dance with creation. All are invited…Love is both gloriously impossible and yet also as close as our “native breath” We are constantly being invited to share in God’s Love in a variety of ways:
Prayer – I will pray with or for someone to know the reality of God’s Love.
Compassion – I will deliberately seek way/s in which I can be compassionate to some in need (loneliness, on the fringes of society, easily forgotten)
Generosity – I will give of myself in one way or another to someone this week.
Solidarity – I will stand alongside someone or a group of people that are in need of a fresh awareness that God cares for them very specifically and intentionally.
2) The Gospel reading thus challenges us to recognize the reality of Love made real in Jesus Christ – Love embodied.
The previous week’s readings left us with a sense of Jesus’ authority – glorious in its proclamation of authority and purpose. Jesus knew who he was, in relation to God. Filled with God’s Spirit he confidently faced the world and declared God’s Hope and promise…
And yet now he tells us what this Hope and Love looks like…and feathers are ruffled, for this sense of Jesus’ mission is one that calls all who dare hear his voice to share in his authoritative Love. This is not a Love that will leave the world as it is, but this is the Love that will call all into a life of freedom, as well as a life that offers good news for the poor and a real experience of God’s abundance. Jesus ruffles the feathers of his earliest listeners. In a world that so readily divides itself into the good and the bad, the included and the excluded – Jesus draws the “outsider” into the centre and exposes his earliest listeners and us to the authority of God’s Love:
This Love is embodied in Christ and so we learn from this sense of what it might look like…We could well say that:
a) Jesus taught with the authority that opens us to “Life in God”
There is a tremendous authority in Jesus’ teaching, and we are left asking why this is so. We find that much of Luke invites us to live a life open to God, and that this is wonderfully expressed in Luke 6:20–26.In focusing on this passage we discover Luke’s way of sharing the so-called Sermon on the Mount which in Luke’s language becomes the Sermon on the Plain.
It is a teaching filled with authority in that it offers us ways of entering the life of risk that no longer rests on our reputation but on God’s goodness. It is difficult. I suppose we might as well admit that it is impossible, but it is in that very real sense of “impossibility” that we discover life at its best. It is quite literally a life that gives everything away in the service of love.
It encourages us to give our reliance on wealth so that we might identify with all people.
It encourages us to give our reliance on food so that we might share with all people.
It encourages us to give our hearts that at times can be hard so that we might weep and thus enter into the soft heartedness that ensures we feel love.
It is a demanding yet life giving way to live.
How might we encourage each other to see Christian faith as an invitation to freedom and adventure? Why not reflect on these words from Eugene Peterson and ask the question whether this describes the Christian life for you and those you know? Why? Why not?
The word Christian means different things to different people. To one person it means a stiff, upright, inflexible way of life, colourless and unbending. To another it means a risky, surprise-filled venture, lived tiptoe at the edge of expectation. If we get our information from the biblical material, there is no doubt that the Christian life is a dancing, leaping, daring life.
b) Then there is the whole aspect of Jesus being anointed with the Spirit and what that might mean for the poor. It is in simple terms Good News for the poor.
There is a clear link for Luke between the work of the Spirit and Jesus offering Good News to the poor.
We are left asking how we might understand being poor and our response to poverty.
We are left asking how a fresh understanding of the poor might challenge and encourage us in life and service.
We need to be challenged with the following reminder as we wrestle with our response to poverty:
If there is food in your fridge, clothes on your back and a roof over your head, you are richer than 75 per cent of the world.
If you have any money in a bank and some change in a spare dish at home, then you are actually among the top 8 per cent of the world’s wealthy.
If you have never been tortured or known starvation, then you are luckier than some 500 million others worldwide.
If you can go to church without being bothered by others, then you are more blessed than 3 billion people in the world.
Makes you think doesn’t it?
And so, in keeping with the Love of God at work in the life and ministry of Jesus, we are called into saying yes to exploring:
c) The very real possibility of a life of fullness.
Why not explore how being a Christ follower brings a measure of fullness to life. Tim Hansel describes this full life as a life of courage and care. To develop this life, he proposes a few ways.
Why not discuss them with each other?
How might we encourage each other to recognize the fullness of life God offers in Jesus? How might we offer each other way forward in making the “Kingdom of God” part of our daily lived experience? A few thoughts: The greatest thing in the world is not so much where we stand as in what direction we are moving – Oliver Wendell Holmes.
The trick is not to rid your stomach of butterflies, but to make them fly in formation – Anonymous.
There are few words as compelling as the words before us in Luke’s Gospel. They are words spoken with authority and the way in which they are spoken invites us to life. It is a life that is demanding but also in turn liberating for it invites us to fullness and freedom as we engage with the most unlikely and dare we say it the desperately poor.
It is in that very engagement however that we taste the Kingdom, and it is all good.
Such is the possibility of Love. In Paul’s great poem, there is a real sense of dance to it all. We do not manage to control Love, but God’s Love woos us…But we are transformed as we respond. We do something, we act…Luke’s Jesus reminds us that there is an authority inherent in this Love.
It is anything but weak willed and wishy washy. It is the Love that engages the world. Will we dare be partners in this great adventure?
Kevin de Beer