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Posts Tagged ‘grace’

A sermon based on John 20: 19-23

The very first worship service of the Christian Church took place in the evening of the first Easter Sunday. The gospel of John says that the disciples were gathered “in the house”. All the earliest churches were house churches. The followers of Jesus would gather in someone’s home. They would tell the stories of Jesus; they would share the meal as Jesus had given it to them; they would pray together. That was the shape of their worship.

As John tells it, the first worship service wasn’t much of a service at all. There were no announcements about upcoming fundraisers and programmes. Even though it was Easter, there were no special anthems sung by the choir. The worship leader didn’t say, “Christ is risen!” and the people didn’t respond, “He is risen indeed!” There were no joyful shouts of “Alleluia!” In fact, the congregation seemed to be having trouble getting past the Prayer of Confession.

That morning, some of the women had brought news of having found the tomb empty. They told of messengers telling them that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Mary said that she had actually seen Jesus and that he had talked with her. He had told her he was “ascending to the Father”, whatever that might mean. However, when the disciples gathered that evening, they locked the doors behind them.

They were afraid of the Judeans, the religious authorities. They were troubled. They were troubled not just by events in the world around them; they were troubled in their own hearts and minds. You can imagine that they were still reeling from the loss and the grief of Jesus’ death just a few days previous to this. They were confused about the reports from the women at Jesus’ tomb. I may be reading too much into it, but they were probably enveloped with a sense of failure and guilt and shame for having deserted Jesus. William Willimon called this, “the church of the sweaty palms and shaky knees and firmly bolted door. . .  All who were there had gotten an “F” in following Jesus. (You Call This A Church?)

The worship service seemed to have stalled there. They couldn’t get past the Prayer of Confession.

Then, suddenly, unexpectedly, Jesus shows up. He pronounces the “Assurance of Pardon”, the “Assurance of Grace”. He says, “Peace be with you.”  He could have said, “You guys really messed up.” He could have said, “Shame on you. I thought we were friends. Where were you when I needed you?” He didn’t. He said, “Peace be with you.”

He showed them the wounds in his side and hands. Then, he said it again, “Peace be with you.” The disciples were experiencing everything except peace and Jesus offers them this great gift of God’s mercy and grace.

He offers it not just in the first church service on the first Easter. He offers it to us every Sunday. We gather together and we bring with us the trouble that we have been carrying all week long. Most of the time we keep the trouble locked behind the closed doors of our hearts. We keep it hidden, but it is still there.

There’s trouble in the world — in the streets of London, England; in the refugee camps in the Sudan; in the sea between North Korea and Japan; in the Arctic where the ice cap is melting at accelerated rates.

There’s trouble in this neighbourhood where people are grieving the death of someone they love and parents are worried about the drug addictions of their children; and young people search for a reason to live.

There’s trouble in our own hearts and minds: the fears and worries; the regrets and sense of failure; the guilt and shame that haunt our souls.

We bring all that with us into worship. In the Prayer of Confession, we tell the truth about it to God.

Some churches no longer have a prayer of confession in their worship services. “That’s too negative,” they say. “We don’t want to make people feel bad. People come to church to feel good.”

The point of the Prayer of Confession is not to make people feel bad. The point of the Prayer of Confession is to make a space where we can tell the truth about the troubles that makes us afraid. It gives you a place where you can tell the truth about the things that you have done that cannot be made right. It gives you a place to speak the guilt and shame that is crippling your soul.

Together, we tell the truth and we offer all of it to our crucified and risen Lord. Then, we listen. We listen for his offer of forgiveness, he release from the burden, his “Peace be with you.”

The Prayer of Confession proclaims: You don’t have to keep carrying your guilt. You don’t have to keep letting fear drive your life. You don’t have to let shame hold you in its grip. Failure doesn’t need to turn to into a victim. Jesus went to hell and back to free you from all that. With grace more powerful than death, God takes you old life and gives you a new one. You can begin again, in a different place. You can move down a different path. You are no longer a victim. You are no longer “guilty”. You are forgiven and graced and redeemed and made new and set free.

I read once about a prison chaplain who had on his desk a framed photograph of a Christmas pageant. There were angels in white robes, holding candles and bringing “good news of great joy”. There were the shepherds kneeling and looking like they were frightened. Except, the characters in the photograph were not children as we are used to seeing in Christmas pageants. The shepherds and angels in this photo were rough looking men. They were convicts — convicted of murder and violent crimes; criminals serving time in jail. Yet, there they were, men who had been transformed by Christ, acting out the story of the birth of Jesus. When the chaplain was asked why he kept the photograph on his desk, he said, “It reminds me of the awesome power of God to change us, to set us free, to give us new life.” (William WillimonPeople Don’t Change — Do They?”)

We proclaim that truth every Sunday. Sometimes you will believe it. Sometimes, you will be glad and you will worship Jesus and you will find your way into the new life he offers. Sometimes, you will hear the gospel and you will doubt it. You will say with Thomas, “Unless I can touch Jesus’ wounds, I won’t believe that a new beginning is possible.”

What do you do when you are in that space? You keep showing up, Sunday by Sunday. You “practice resurrection”. You practice resurrection until you experience resurrection in your life. You do the slow work of making a space where God can work: you tell “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth” as best you can. You confess the trouble, the mess, the fears and the doubts. Then, you wait for the risen Christ to show up and say, “Peace be with you.”

That’s why we share the peace of Christ every week. We practise with our voices and with our bodies the peace that Christ gives. We practise living into what Jesus says is God’s own truth about our lives. We practise trusting that the God who raised Jesus from the dead is at work in our lives too, forgiving sin, making all things new. We practise until, one day, Jesus enters the locked doors of our spirits. Then, we know we are forgiven. We know we have received the underserved mercy and grace of God. You know God’s peace is setting is setting you free and you can begin again. Thanks be to God.

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A prayer based on Luke 7:36 – 8:3

Great is your faithfulness, O Lord, our Saviour,
Faithful in loving us
Faithful in finding us when we lose our way
Faithful in forgiving us
and healing us
and bringing us home to you.

Great is your faithfulness, Lord,
and we are grateful.

There are times when each moment
shines with your grace and your goodness;
we know ourselves bathed in your holy care
and our hearts sing out your praise.

There are times when we struggle
to keep going
and you shepherd us,
holding us with a love
that does not let us go,
feeding our souls
with your presence,
speaking your truth
that gives us strength and courage
for one more step,
and we gasp out our
‘thank you’, ‘thank you’, ‘thank you’.

But there are also times when we
barge through our lives
oblivious to your presence,
your gifts,
your call;
unaware of all we have received
from your abundant love.

Speak to us today:
speak the words that
draw us back to you;
words that recall all you have done;
words that deepen and renew
our love for you.

We open our and our minds
to your Spirit’s work,
for you are the one
whose broken body
and poured out life
are the food and drink
we need.

Amen.

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You have called us to follow you, Lord Jesus
as you bring your good news to the world,
and we have said we would
gladly
knowing you to be our heart’s true desire
the Saviour we need
the Truth that makes our lives true.

And yet,
there are times when you lead us
where we would rather not go.
Following you
into God’s new creation,
we have had to leave behind
a way of life that felt comfortable and secure.
following you,
we have found ourselves among
people we do not know,
some of whom we are sure we do not like;
some of whom are difficult to love.

And we know that,
if we keep following you,
you will lead us to the cross
for there are people who are afraid of the
new life you bring.

So, when you summon us
to live as such risk,
would you
summon also your love to overcome our fears;
summon your hope to give us courage to stay at it;
summon your faith to keep us close to you.
We cannot follow unless you
surround us with your steadfast love and faithfulness and grace.

We need your help for
in you we find our heart’s true desire,
the Saviour we need,
the Truth that makes our lives true
and holy
and good.

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A prayer for Good Friday

God of great mercy,
you have drawn us into this community
of those who would follow your Son Jesus.

You draw us again into the story
of Jesus’ last day.
Open our hearts by its Truth;
renew our spirits by its Grace;
deepen our walk with him
who calls us friends
who gave his life for all.

Patient God,
we offer you our longings to be faithful
and our failures to do so.

We live surrounded and sustained by your grace:
where we cannot keep faithful to you,
you remain faithful to us;
even as our love falters and stumbles,
your love endures;
where we pull back in fear,
you draw us forward into your Reign of Love.

We know the price you pay to live us.
Receive our grateful praise.

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God of our salvation,
in Jesus Christ
and through your Holy Spirit,
you promise to be with us through
all that life may bring us.

We are grateful for signs of your faithfulness all around us:
for the work of your Spirit in the lives of
those who commit themselves to your mission;
for the presence of your Spirit
carrying us in times of crisis and trial;
for the creativity of your Spirit
opening new channels of peace and reconciliation
after all our best efforts have failed.

Teach us who bear the name of Jesus
to live into and out of his grace
with such passion and commitment
that other people’s lives are blessed
and our communities flourish.

Let your healing waters flow over us
that we may be instruments of your grace
wherever you send us this week.

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Faithful, promise-keeping God,
you alone know the truth about us.
We bow before you,
willing to open our lives to your refining, redeeming power.

Shine the light of your presence into our lives:
we offer the wounded places —
that you may heal them;
we offer the selfishness that betrays your love —
that you may forgive us;
we offer the places where we have given in to hopelessness —
that you may rescue us
and give us your courage
and your freedom.

We open ourselves to your grace
which alone can make us into your Body
as you have called us to be.
Shape us into the
bold,
daring,
creative people
your world needs us to be.

We ask in the name of Jesus,
who moves among us
even now
and makes us your own.

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This is the day that you have made:
you have filled it with signs of your presence;
your Spirit’s breath permeates every moment;
your grace fills each experience;
your promises move within event,
pulling us toward hope.

Receive our thanks.
Receive our praise,
through Christ our Lord
for in his love
we know your deep love
your faithfulness
your grace.

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