Sunday 4th November 2012 – Feast of All Saints

The Word This Week:

Thoughts on The Word:

Revelation 21:1-6a

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,
‘See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.’

 And the one who was seated on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.’ Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.

Today we celebrate the feast of All Saints.  Now I understand that there are many Christian denominations out there that have completely done away with the idea of celebrating saints days – and even this general thanksgiving and celebration of All Saints.  Can I say at the outset that I view that as a great shame.  We as Christians can learn so much from those who have come before us!   Today is about giving thanks for the gift to the world that the lives of Christians past, and present are and have been – it is not about putting these people in exalted positions in place of God – it is about looking to them as ones who point the way to God.  What do you think of when you recall the love and compassion of St Francis of Assisi, and the faith that made him say, whilst undergoing great pain and suffering which eventually led to his death: “I thank you, Lord God, for all my pains; if it pleases you, Lord increase them a hundredfold. I shall thankfully accept whatever sorrow you give, not sparing me; for in the fulfilment of your will I find my greatest solace.”

When I read of his life and death I give thanks to God, I pray to the Father that I might be able to emulate the faith, love and devotion of Francis – I certainly don’t elevate him to any position of deity.  That my dear friends is the point of days like this – we celebrate and give thanks for the Saints – for those known to us like Francis and for those who are unknown, the ones who have been and still are faithful servants in the Kingdom of God.  We pray today that like them we can be faithful, and we ask God that we might follow their example of devotion to God. 

On this day I also want us to remember that we are members of a communion of saints.  Those of us who recite the creed as part of our worship each week say that we believe in…  ‘the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.’ .  How often have you read or said this without thinking on what it means? If we are a part of a communion of people who have everlasting life what does that mean? Christian tradition has since the earliest times of the church held that this means that we faithful witnesses don’t worship alone, but that we worship together with all the angels and saints who have left this world and are now alive (cf. Jn 3:16) and in the presence of God. 

Please as you reflect on this reading from the Revelation of St John, look forward to the new heaven and the new earth, and give thanks for the promise contained within.  Give thanks for those Christians who are in the presence of God now, and for those who roam the earth now.  Pray that we like those who came before us can be faithful servants in the Kingdom of God, so that at the end of our earthly lives we might join with them in worshipping our King in eternal life.

I finish this week with this prayer I have blatantly plagiarised from the Anglican Communion Facebook page 🙂

Almighty God, your saints are one with you in the mystical body of Christ: give us grace to follow them in all virtue and holiness until we come to those inexpressible joys which you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday May 6th 2012 – God is love

The Word This Week

Acts 8:26-40
Psalm 22:25-31

1 John 4:7-21

John 15:1-8

Thoughts on The Word

1 John 4:7-21 (NRSV)

Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.

Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

It is one of the most often quoted phrases from scripture – we hear people say it all the time… ‘God is love’, and as is evidenced in today’s reading this is true.  God is love but what does that mean?  How did St John the Apostle to whom this letter is attributed come to the conclusion that God is love? Well let’s take a look at the world through the eyes of John. 

John was a first hand witness and close follower of Jesus, he saw him preach, and teach and he saw him reach out to the weak and the needy and to the outcasts of society. He saw him heal the sick and feed the poor.  John also saw Jesus speak out against corruption and immorality, he watched him drive out the money changers from the temple and he saw him condemn the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.  Finally John saw the passion of Christ, he watched Jesus get nailed to the cross, he watched him raised up and he was there when he died.   Yes John saw love, the very essence and meaning of love personified in the person of Jesus of Nazareth.  No-one had seen love more clearly and it was this understanding of love that led John to speak this great truth that God is love.  John understood that if Jesus is the very essence and meaning of Love, and Jesus is God, then God is love. 

So what does all this mean for us as those who are the recipients of the fruit of God’s love – salvation through the ultimate expression of love in Christ’s sacrifice. What are we to take from this revelation that Jesus (God) is love personified? John explains it for us quite clearly – we are to follow Jesus instructions, we are to love one another as he loves us.   We are to show God to the world through our lives and actions which should all be founded in love.  John explains that if we base all that we do on the premise of love then we abide in God and he abides in us. 

Reflect on that for a moment, God abides in us and we abide in him.  It is through following the example of Jesus, through committing to living a life of love personified that we truly experience and become one with God.  Yes love is the answer, love is the reason Jesus came down from heaven, and to love is the very essence of the commandments given to us by Jesus – We are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and all our mind and all our soul – and we are to love our neighbour as ourselves. 

What is troubling is that love is often used in defence of behaviour that is against Christian principles.  We are told not to speak out against immoral behaviour, that we should ‘live and let live’ on the basis that ‘God is love’.  We are told that disagreeing with another persons lifestyle is wrong because ‘God is love’, and we should be welcoming and accepting of all behaviour and beliefs.  That is not the love that Jesus showed us, and it is not the love explained to us in Scripture.  Love sometimes means that you have to say no, it means that we must stand for what is right in the face of persecution.  To love someone does not mean to agree with all they do, say or believe – and love demands that when we are concerned about their behaviour or beliefs that we are honest about our concerns.  Jesus was certainly not silent when he saw behaviour that was against the will of God, we have already touched on him driving out the money changers, and making clear the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

How often do we hear or see others espousing the virtues of immoral or unjust behaviour and lifestyles, and yet so often we remain silent.  We don’t speak up for fear of the repercussions, What if they don’t like me anymore? What if they make fun of me? What if I am ridiculed for adhering to these values and this faith? What if it means family members will be angry or even disown me? What if… What if … What if…

What if Jesus had said what if they reject me? What if they ridicule me and beat me? What if they scourge me and nail me to a cross…?  It’s all too hard, I’ll just go back to Nazareth and finish my days as a carpenter… Of course Jesus KNEW this would happen, he even asked the Father if there was any other way – but of course he knew there wasn’t .  What he did is important, when he was being prompted to move in the direction of ridicule,  pain and suffering for the sake of you and me Jesus said  “… Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.”(Luke 22:42 (ESV))  Jesus, bowed to the will of the Father and did what he knew was right and necessary because of his love for us.

There is this idea permeating through society that to love means that you can’t oppose bad or immoral behaviour, that to love means being completely accepting of all forms  of behaviour – regardless of how destructive that behaviour is.  This is of course a fallacy.  I read a quote from Rick Warren recently which I will now paraphrase as I can’t find it – People say that you can’t love someone if you disagree with them, this is absolute rubbish. You don’t need to agree with someone to have compassion.

I want to take this opportunity to also point out again that what we are talking about here is love, and if we are to stand against immoral or unjust behaviour we must always do it from a place of love and not from fear or hatred.  Our scripture reading tells us: Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Jesus did all he did because of his love of God and his love of the people, he was not motivated by fear or hatred, and if we ever feel that we are acting out of any emotion other than love we must repent and turn or focus back to Christ. 

So there we have it, God is love and we are called to love others as he does.  Jesus loves all of us, even those who reject him.  He loved the Pharisees, and he loved Judas, Pontius Pilate and even the soldiers that nailed him to the cross.  What he didn’t do was agree with everything they did.  What I want you to remember as you go forward this week, is that we are to love one another, not just with the fuzzy warm feelings type of love that we see in the movies.  No –  we are to love one another as Jesus loves us – unconditional, never ending self sacrificial love that is honest, and does not run away when times are tough.  The kind of love that will not only give someone a hug when they are sad, but will rebuke them when they do wrong.  That is true love, and it is not for the faint of heart.

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