Grace, mercy and peace
from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ
be with you
and also with you
Let us come together to be still,
to be known, loved, and held by God our creator,
to be thankful for all that God gives us,
to be healed and restored,
that in our worship today
joy and gladness may refresh and renew us.
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Collect – The prayer for today
God our Father, in love you are always giving to us; you gave life in creation and hope to your people Israel; you have given us all things in Jesus and your presence among us through the gift of your Holy Spirit.
Open our hearts to enjoy all you have given and our hands to share generously of what is yours; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
© Copyright 2002-2021, Giving in Grace.
Over the past four weeks we have been looking at giving and generosity. Our series started with Chris Stibbings introducing the theme – highlighting that Christians should stand out from other people by the nature of their generosity – their financial giving, their time and of themselves.
Then Ali at the baptism service showed how Paul was encouraging the church to be generous – to give from what they had, not from what they had not.
Two weeks ago Neil was speaking about supporting other churches – the plea to the Corinthian church to support the church in Jerusalem. And we heard from Compassion about the work they were doing to support children around the world.
Last week Chris spoke on Paul’s exhortation to give generously and cheerfully – stemming from an overflowing heart and in response to God’s generosity to us.
– and now we have come to our Commitment Sunday when we pledge not only our money, but also our time, our abilities, our compassion and our love.
So what does our reading today have to do with giving. It is after all one of the most well known passages of the Bible and often this is focused on ‘loving your neighbour as yourself’ and identifying who our neighbours are. Sometimes that it seen as ‘do unto others as you would want them to do to you’ or even less appropriate – being kind. Neither of these thoughts are what the passage is about – but I would suggest that it does tie in nicely with our recent theme about giving and generosity because what we give (money, time, skills, prayer) stems from love. Not, as Neil made clear the other week, some kind of God tax, some sort of expectation that we ‘should’ give but arising from our relationship with God.
If you go onto the new church website, right across the centre you will see the church’s strapline – it’s mission statement. To love God, love each other and love a broken world. And this fits in well with what Jesus says are the most important commandments.
To love God
In our reading from Mark Jesus is challenged to identify what the most important commandment is. By the time of Jesus it is estimated that there were over 650 commandments that Jews were supposed to follow. Jesus replies to the teacher of the law with the Shema – the daily ritualistic prayer that all pious Jews say to this day
‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” The word Shema means to listen or hear – reflecting the first word of the prayer – Hear O Israel.
So what does it mean to love God with all our heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength? Well it’s more than just having nice positive thoughts about God. It’s more than responding and being thankful for the gift of salvation through Jesus. It’s about responding with your whole being – with everything that you are.
The Greeks had several, in fact seven, words for love – but sadly the English language is restricted to one word. Some of you may have come across the book by C.S Lewis where he talks about the four types of love he had identified: affection, friendship, romantic love and charity or agape.
The love we are talking about here is agape love – Agape isn’t born just out of emotions, feelings, familiarity, or attraction, but from the will and as a choice. Agape requires faithfulness, commitment, and sacrifice without expecting anything in return.
It can’t be dependent on just emotion – because emotions are fickle and it certainly isn’t sentimentality.
God is worthy of love and praise because He is God. As the lovely song from Philippa Hann says, “You still reign and you are God” Even when things are going badly – God is still worthy of our love.
Jesus then continued with “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself”. The teacher of the law had not asked Jesus which are the two most important commandments but Jesus felt it important to add this. The first commandment comes from Deuteronomy – the second from Leviticus. In other words, after being called to love God we are called to love each other.
Love your neighbour as yourself covers the two other aspects of our mission statement – to Love one another and to love a broken world.
Love one another
The problem with loving one another is not everyone is loveable – as I am sure we can all testify to! But we are called to be in community with one another – and God calls us to love one another. Even when people are not loveable and would rather hurt us than love us, we should love. Martin Luther King, Jr, wrote, “We love men not because we like them, nor because their ways appeal to us, nor even because they possess some kind of divine spark. We love every man because God loves him.”
And at this point it would be remiss of me not to refer to the love, the commitment, the sacrifice and the changes that Ben and our friends at Christ Church Endcliffe are preparing for– but also the support that All Saints, can give back to CCE as we develop this new relationship. It has to be a two way street. In the booklet that CCE prepared for the church to explain the graft the purpose of this was outlined – “because we want God to be glorified as we see people come to know Jesus, deepen in their love for him and lead others to him too”. This is very much about loving God, loving one another, loving our neighbours.
God’s love within us should overflow from us to others. “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (John 4:11). I’m the first to admit that it isn’t always easy, but we come back again to that agape love – that sacrificial love that puts other people’s needs first. It is through the power of the sprit that we express our faith in the way we love and serve others and in giving our resources to advance God’s kingdom as well as to help those in need.
Love a broken world
We all know that we are living in a hurting and broken world. You only have to look around to see broken relationships, broken hearts, broken homes, broken hopes, and broken lives. And if we turn on the news we find suffering, violence, poverty, war, pain, death, and more. Today of course is the start of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP26, where world leaders gather to address the physical brokenness of our world that we have caused. It is all quite disheartening.
Yet in the midst of living in a broken world – there’s hope! And this hope is found in Jesus Christ! He is the best, the only hope for our world.
Finally, whilst this could turn into a whole different talk, I just want to highlight the caveat that Jesus adds at the end of his reply – to love ‘as you love yourself’. This is not about being a narcissist – or about self-love or self-validation but realising your worth in the eyes of God. It is not about the notion that you can only love other people according to how good you feel about yourself. There are thousands of people who have low self-image and feel unloveable – we need to reach and work alongside these people, some of whom may be within our won church family, to show just how much they are loved – by God and by us.
So Jesus’ statement is not a third commandment to ‘love yourself first’. Loving ourselves is not a pre-condition to loving others. God has freed us from the unrelenting efforts to love our broken selves by providing a worth that comes from outside our own brokenness – a worth that comes from Christ.
Jesus spoke of the two most important commandments. To love God and to love our neighbour. We have endless opportunities, not just today on Commitment Sunday, but everyday to express that love. If we all did that the world would be a very different place. So let us all:
Love God – Love one another and love a broken world.
All Age Prayer
O God, for your command to love:
We thank you.
For every opportunity to love someone:
We thank you.
For every time we have received love:
We thank you.
For all opportunities to love:
We thank you.
Let us rejoice with a round of applause as we say:
We thank you. Amen! Amen! Amen!
Diocesan Vision Prayer
Living God, Jesus calls his followers to seek first your Kingdom.
Renew us as we make your love known;
Release us to share freely together in mission;
and Rejuvenate us to be fruitful in your service.
Give us courage, wisdom and compassion,
that strengthened with the grace of the Holy Spirit,
we may, as the Diocese of Sheffield,
both flourish and grow through Christ our Lord.
God of love,
may we love our world, each other and you.
The Lord’s Prayer
As our Saviour taught us, so we pray
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours
now and for ever.
Blessing and dismissal
A Sending out Prayer
May the word of God dwell in our hearts,
in our minds and in our actions,
every day of our lives.
And let us pray for one another, saying together:
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the love of God,
and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit,
be with us all, now, every day and evermore.
The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.
The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.
“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”