Theme: Grace: All Are Welcome
Bible Reading: Mark 9:33-41 & Hebrews 4:14-16
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Hybrid Worship, both ONLINE and in-person at the church
– 9am, Sunday 28th June, 2020
Watch the Live Stream at https://www.facebook.com/turramurrauniting/live
Offering Link – https://www.turramurrauniting.org.au/offering/
Last week we looked at Grace – the free gift from God of his love, forgiveness and mercy not because of anything we have done to earn it, but through his grace. We heard a story about a runaway girl and how her family welcomed her home and showered her with love – and we said that God does the same with us … acceptance and love.
I finished with a quote from Philip Yancy
There is nothing you can do to make God love you more
And there is nothing you can do to make God love you less
God just loves you. – Philip Yancy
Today – I want to double down on this message and make sure that we all understand that God is ready to welcome everyone! There are no barriers when it comes to God.
Actually, I probably should say that God does not put up any barriers … sometimes we can put up some barriers that make it tricky for us to get to God/Jesus or even for others get to God.
This is what was happening in our first bible reading from Mark … three short vignettes where the disciples got tripped up by some barriers of their own making.
Firstly, in 33-34 Jesus asks them what they were talking about on the road … but we read that they kept quiet. Here is Jesus, inviting them to talk with him, to share what is going on with them. Jesus has said I’m here, I’m listening, but the disciples shut it down. They put up a barrier of silence because they are embarrassed, feeling guilty, prideful about the fact that they were arguing who was the greatest.
The disciples put up a barrier, but Jesus starts to pull it down. In verse 34, he sits down and calls the disciples to him. Jesus is making it clear that they are still welcome and invites them to come. Push past the barrier of guilt or shame or whatever … come … and I will help you see what is truly great – to be the servant of all.
In our second vignette, Jesus then takes this idea of “all are welcome” a step further. The Jewish culture in Jesus’ time had some terrible social structures. They were patriarchal, nationalistic, moralistic and ageist. People were pushed to the side or excluded because of their gender, race, health issues and perceived cleanliness. And on the bottom of this social structure was children.
But Jesus wants to be clear that these barriers have nothing to do with his way or God’s ways. Taking a child in his arm he told his disciples to welcome little children – and as children are the lowest on the social structure, Jesus is basically saying that his way is to welcome EVERYONE. If you want to welcome me then you need to embrace the idea that this means you welcome everyone. All are welcome.
In another version of this story in Luke’s gospel the disciples are physically stopping the children in coming to Jesus. Literally putting up barriers and Jesus rips them down, let the children come to me. All are welcome.
All ages, all sizes, all colours, all cultures, all sexes, all backgrounds, all experiences, all expressions, all beliefs, all types, all people, all are welcome.
Our last vignette finds the disciples excluding another person from doing the work of Jesus, “because he was not one of us”. They are not acting like us, not thinking like us, or adhering to our rules … Jesus tell them to stop! Jesus response one of grace and inclusion … in Jesus there is no them and us … anyone who gives a cup of water in my name is included. All are welcome
Are you getting the message here? In Jesus there is no barriers. Any barriers that might be there are human made because Jesus is very clear – all are welcome.
When Jesus said that he was the Way, the truth and the life that no one comes to the Father but through him … we can get this wrong impression that Jesus is like a Bouncer at the throne room – dismissing people who are not good enough to come into God’s presence.
But Jesus is not the bouncer, but the welcomer. Through the cross of Jesus, the doors have been thrown open and all are welcome. All we have to do it respond.
How do we make sure that we reflect this as a church. We are moving into this new Hybrid version of worship … how do we make sure that in all that we do the message is loud and clear … all are welcome!
This is not a rhetorical question … I am genuinely asking all of us to ponder this question. What can we be doing to make sure that the message is loud and clear to all who cross our paths … you are welcome here.
A few weeks ago, someone proposed an idea that maybe we should have a small sign at our front door with the acknowledgement of country written on it, or the indigenous flags … as a small gesture to affirm our first brothers and sisters that all are welcome.
One of the reasons why we are so committed to this hybrid model of worship … where we are putting in a whole lot of effort and even invested some money in making sure that the online experience of worship is just the same as the in-person worship of service is because we want to make it clear to all those who are either not ready to come back to the church physically or those who are connecting with us online from beyond Turramurra … you are loved and valued, you are of equal importance with those who are here in this church today and you will always be welcome. All are welcome.
So … you might like to put in the comment section your thoughts or ideas on this. What can we be doing as a church to make sure we are proclaiming the message that ALL ARE WELCOME here.
But to finish … I just wanted to briefly touch on the second reading and bring our focus back onto God. Although this reading from the book of Hebrews is only 3 verses long it is full of amazing promises that it is good to be reminded of:
- We have a great high priest – Jesus – who understands what we are going through because he has been through it too.
- Jesus had tough times, hard times, tempting times … and Jesus remained firm and strong throughout … and he can help us too
But the line that really excites me in this bible reading is that we can approach God’s throne of Grace with confidence because there we will find mercy AND find grace to help us in our time of need. Grace to help us in our time of need.
I know you all heard this … but I want to double down and make this explicitly clear.
When it comes to entering into the presence of God … approaching the throne of God … are we welcome?
YES … all are welcome. Remember Jesus is not the bouncer, Jesus is the welcomer.
How can we be sure that God will accept us into God’s presence? How can we be certain that we will be welcomed?
Because with God we do not find barriers or exclusion or demands but we are told in our reading when we approach the throne of God we find MERCY and GRACE.
We find Grace. Remember … there is nothing we can do that makes God love us more and there is nothing that we can do that makes God love us less. God just loves us … conditionally … that is why when we come to God we can be assured that we WILL find mercy and grace.
And not only do we find mercy and grace but verse 16 also tells us that we find mercy and grace in our time of need. As Peter said in his classic Pentecost speak of Acts 2 … all who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved. It does not matter what you have done or how close or far away from God you are … if you are in need and turn to God … you will find mercy and grace in your time of need.
Let me finish with a story which shows this in practice … a story of a man who first rejected God and the love and grace that God offers. But like the story of the prodigal son … he found himself in a desperate time of need and called out to God for mercy … and discovered that in God there was acceptance and grace to be found to help us in our time of need. You have probably heard this before, but it worth hearing again. This is the story of John Newton.
Newton was born in London 1725, the son of a commander of a merchant ship which sailed the Mediterranean. Newton joined the Navy but it was not a happy experience so Newton deserted his post and became a seaman on a slave ship called the Greyhound which sailed between Africa, America and Europe.
Although he had had some early religious instruction from his mother, who had died when he was a child, he had long since given up any religious convictions. Slave ships are manned by pretty bad people, but Newton soon got the reputation of being the worst of the worst. Newton was as far away from God as anyone could be.
However, in March 1748 while on a homeward voyage back to England he was attempting to steer the ship through a violent storm. The storm was so rough it swept overboard numerous crew members. Newton and another mate tied themselves to the ship’s pump and basically waited to die. There was no way they were going to survive this one. It was in this desperate time of need that Newton cried out to God, “Lord have mercy upon us!” Note that there was no confession, no saying that he was going to turn from his evil ways, no sinners prayer … he called out to God and found mercy and grace.
The storm lightened just enough for Newton to take the wheel again. For the next 11 hours he wrestled with the storm and wrestled with his thoughts and even after the battered ship landed in Ireland, Newton couldn’t shake the experience – if God was real, why would God help him after all that he had done. Newton was struggling with the concept of Grace.
Later reflecting he said the storm was a day of humiliation where he realised that he needed help and turned to a higher power who graciously responded. He was a bit of a poet and wrote a poem which later was made into a song. See whether you recognise these words… “Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares, I have already come; ’tis grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”
God continued to work in Newton life. Because he experienced God grace and mercy – he wanted to make sure that others experience God’s grace too. Newton not only became a church priest, he worked alongside William Wilberforce in the campaign for the abolition of slavery. Newton continued to preach until the last year of life, although he was blind by that time. He died in London December 21, 1807 where that grace did indeed lead him home.
John Newton certainly was a recipient of God’s amazing grace – it didn’t matter how far away he found himself from God, how bad his language was or how evil is actions were – he discovered that God was ready to welcome him, accept him and help him. He discovered that when we cry out to God – God is full of grace and love and mercy. Newton could attest to the promise in our scripture today … Newton knew that because of Jesus’ love, mercy and forgiveness he could approach God’s throne of grace with confidence.
Newton story shows us that the promise of scripture is true … that when we cry out to God, we do receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.
May we too also understand and receive that amazing grace.
May we see that God is ready and waiting for us.
May we as a church and individuals continue to proclaim
This good news.
That we all can approach God where we WILL find mercy and Grace.
In Jesus – all are welcome. Amen.
I hope you have heard the message for today. When we come to the Lord’s table … ALL ARE WELCOME.
If we think that we are not worthy to come to the table,
It’s time to set down our sin and feelings of condemnation.
It’s time to let go of that heavy load and find the warm embrace of God’s forgiveness and grace.
If we are harbouring any bitterness or unforgiveness to others, before we come to this table, maybe it is time to let go of these things. This Table is meant bring us into communion with God and with each other. Let us show to each other the same love, forgiveness and grace that God has shown to us.
Jesus has said he calls all people – from the east and the west, the north and the south to sit at the Table of God. All are welcome!
As we sit at our homes today, even though we are scattered, we share this meal together. We follow the example of Jesus shared a similar meal with his disciples.
We remember how he took the bread, gave thanks for it, broke it and said, “This is my body broken for you.” And likewise, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is cup of the new covenant, my blood shed for the forgiveness of sins.”
Each time we share this meal, we proclaim that though we may deserve God’s condemnation, we have received God’s grace. We proclaim to ourselves and a world in need, that love overcomes anything that threatens to separate us from God or one another.
Let’s join together in prayer and today there are some responses in the prayer which come up on the screen.
Let us pray the great Prayer of Thanksgiving:
The Lord be with you
And also with you
Lift up your hearts
We lift them to the Lord
Let us give thanks to the Lord our God
It is right to give our thanks and Praise
O God – for who you are, for all that you done, for your faithful covenant of love and for your never ending grace we praise, we thank you, we give you all the glory!
We thank you that through your love and grace shown to us through your son, Jesus Christ.
We thank you for his teaching, his example and especially for his death and resurrection – in which we see and experience the fullness of your love, and in which we can find forgiveness and eternal life.
And so we join with people of all places, all races, all ages, and all throughout history in declaring together the eternal hymn of praise:
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.
And so we pray, Come Holy Spirit,
Breath of God, Renewer of life,
settle on these gifts – both here and in our homes
and all who will partake of them,
that we might be transformed in our remembrance
of your radical love, your eternal embrace,
and your grace that makes all things news.
For the sake of our shared lives,
the life of this land on which we live,
and the lives of those yet to come,
nourish us and renew our hope.
We pray this in Jesus name who taught us to pray together:
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
Save us from trial and deliver us from evil
For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours
now and forever. Amen.
Community of saints, beloveds of God,
Have you heard the invitation to come
God has invited us gather at this table of love and liberation,
to be nourished by the fullness of God’s grace
God calls us from institutional halls of power,
From shelters and the streets;
God calls us from classrooms and pulpits,
Different races, different ages,
different experiences, different backgrounds,
God calls us as we are, from wherever we are,
to come and to be one, in solidarity with Christ,
God says to you “come”
and live abundantly,
Come, and love relentlessly;
And so let us come to the table,
expectant, eager, open
to tasting the rich blessings of heaven
born from unexpected places, and people, and experiences.
Breaking of the Bread
(taking and breaking the bread)
The bread we break is a sharing in the body of Christ
Let us eat this together and experience God’s grace
(taking the cup of wine)
The cup we take is a sharing in the blood of Christ
Let us drink together and experience God’s grace
Loving and present God, where can we go from your spirit?
Or where can we flee from your presence?
You pursue us with faithfulness and grace
even as we may run or wander away.
In your Word and through your Son Jesus and the Holy Spirit,
you have promised that you are with us, that you keep us
and that you will bring us home.
In this moment, we claim these promises.
We claim them for your Church and also for ourselves.
Help us to trust you and find rest in your promises
as you lead us in the way everlasting.