Sunday May 14, 2023
Christ is alive, and comes to bring good news to this and every age,
till earth and sky and ocean ring with joy, with justice, love and praise.
©Hope Publishing Company used by permission OneLicense #A723256
Acknowledging the Territory
Once again, we acknowledge that the land upon which we live, work and worship is the unceded territory of the Mi’kmaq people. We offer our deep gratitude for this land and we commit ourselves to use and share it wisely.
Lighting the Christ Candle
In the light of this Candle, we see reflected the light of Christ. And as it shines for us, it reminds us that we too must shine with the light of Christ wherever we go.
Call to Worship ~ written by Jan L. Richardson
We gather to worship the One who is the source of all hope.
Hope nonetheless. Hope despite. Hope regardless. Hope still.
Hope where we had ceased to hope. Hope amid what threatens hope.
Hope with those who feed our hope. Hope beyond what we had hoped.
Hope that draws us past our limits. Hope that questions what we have known.
Hope that defies expectations. Hope that makes a way where there is none.
Hope that takes us past our fear. Hope that calls us into life.
Hope that holds us beyond death. Hope that blesses those to come.
And so, in hope, we gather to worship.
Divine Love, take this moment and fill it with Your Spirit. Let it bring a word of renewal and peace to our weary hearts. Take this moment, and fill it with hope. Take this place and fill it with Your Spirit. Let it be a haven where all can find comfort, acceptance and true belonging. Take this place, and fill it with Your praise. Take our lives and fill them with Your Spirit. Let us bring words of peace and love to others and let our lives demonstrate those words in how we live. Take our lives and fill them with Your love. Fill our live we pray. Amen
Gift of Music Come, O Font of Every Blessing #559
As we continue with our exploration of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, we continue to see Paul’s theology revealed in the words he writes.
By faith we have been made acceptable to God. And now, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ, we have peace with God. Christ has also introduced us to God’s gift of undeserved grace on which we now take our stand. So we are happy, as we look forward to sharing in the glory of God. But that’s not all! We gladly suffer, because we know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us. All of this happens because God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. No one is really willing to die for an honest person, though someone might be willing to die for a truly good person. But God showed how much he loved us by having Christ die for us, even though we were sinful.
But there is more! Now that God has accepted us because Christ sacrificed his life’s blood, we will also be kept safe from God’s anger. Even when we were God’s enemies, he made peace with us, because his Son died for us. Yet something even greater than friendship is ours. Now that we are at peace with God, we will be saved by the life of his Son. And in addition to everything else, we are happy because God sent our Lord Jesus Christ to make peace with us.
Favorite Hymn Request Jesus Loves Me #365
Last week we looked at the opening words of Paul’s letter to the Romans. As this letter to the church in Rome continues, Paul stresses over and over that God’s love is for all people, Jew and Gentile alike. He stresses that it is faith and not the Law that puts people right with God. But Paul is also careful to stress that faith does not do away with the Law but rather strengthens it.
This may seem like a bit of a contradiction. If it is faith that matters, how can the Law still apply especially when the Law sometimes seems to cause more problems and more harm that it solves? If the Law demands that a woman be put to death for committing adultery and yet has no punishment for the man, how can that be just. If a child is to die for disobeying a parent, how can that Law be a faithful reflection of God’s will?
Perhaps the problem is the difference between the law of Moses, on which the laws of the Jewish people were based and the Law of God. The laws of Moses, the rules and regulations by which the people were expected to live, were intended to help the people follow God’s way. They interpreted for the people how those writing the laws believed God was calling the people to live. The problem was that as time, situations and understand of God’s Will changed, the law did not.
God’s Law, on the other hand, is not written on scrolls or in law books, but on the hearts of those who truly listen to the voice of God within their own lives. It is the Law that speaks to each individual affirming for them what is right and what is wrong. It is the Law that is experienced within the heart through faith.
That Is why Paul says that faith does not destroy the Law but reaffirms it. It is not through adherence to the law that we find faith and right relationship with God. It is through faith and through seeking to live in right relationship with God and others that we begin to understand what God’s will, or God’s law for us is.
Paul goes on to say that this brings us joy. And that joy or happiness even extends to difficult times or times of suffering because, “suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us.”
Unfortunately, this quote, like so many others in the bible, has been used to claim that suffering is a good thing. People have been told that the more you suffer while here on earth the greater will be your reward in heaven. This is not what Paul is saying.
Suffering, in and of itself, is NOT a good thing. I do not believe in a loving God who would get joy and satisfaction from watching people suffer. I believe that when people suffer, for whatever reason, their pain touches the Divine.
I believe that what Paul is saying is that we can “rejoice” in our suffering because we have faith that we do not suffer alone and that, when we are able to hold on to our faith even in the midst of suffering, we will come out stronger and more certain than ever of that faith. This, for me, it the very basis of the faith and the hope which Paul preaches.
But hope is not about having reached our goal or having accomplished what we have set out to do. Hope is an ongoing process. And it is hope that enable us to have faith which, as Paul constantly says, it the only thing that can put us in right relationship with God.
For Paul, and for us as Christians, that hope comes through our faith in Christ. The Good News or Gospel that Paul preached, was the death and resurrection of Jesus, which demonstrates for us the incredible love that is the Divine Mystery that we call God.
But there is more. We did not have to earned that love. We did not have to show that we were worthy of it. We did not have to do anything to prove that we were even trying to be worthy. Paul says, Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful.
For Paul, this idea is almost beyond belief. Why would anyone be willing to die for someone who is unworthy, unproven, and even undeserving? Why would anyone be willing to risk their own life for someone who could not or would not be saved? If there was some hope that the person could be redeemed, another word that literally means saved, perhaps, but if someone was beyond hope, who would be willing to risk such a thing? For Paul, the answer is simple. Christ died for us at a time when we were helpless and sinful. None of us are worthy or deserving. None of us has proven that it is even possible for us to be redeemed. Yet Christ willing went to the cross to prove that God loves, accepts and forgives us, whether we deserve it or not.
On our own, we could never repair our relationship with God or even comprehend the ways in which that relationship was broken. We were helpless to make the changes we needed to make by ourselves. We had drifted away from God, the very definition of sin, with no idea of how to repair the relationship or reconnect our lives with the Divine.
And it was in the midst of this helplessness, sinfulness and uncertainty that Christ came to help us find our way back. By his life he taught us the very nature of God, the nature of love. Paul affirms this when he says that God has given us the Holy Spirit, who fills our hearts with his love. As Christians, it is through Christ that the gift of the Holy Spirit was and still is available to us.
Now Paul and I may disagree on whether Christ is the ONLY way to connect with the Divine, but Paul is clear that it is in Christ’s death and resurrection that his own relationship with the Divine was established, renewed and strengthened. It was in Christ that Divine Love and Divine Care become visible in human form.
And because Divine Love has become visible in human form, it is not limited to one human being, to Jesus. It is through him, that we are given the hope that the same love is available for us. And this is the greatest hope of all.
It is a hope that will never disappoint us. It is a hope that is based on faith. That is why, for Paul, everything comes back to that one simply concept. Faith. By faith we have been made acceptable to God. There is only one God, and [God] accepts Gentiles as well as Jews, simply because of their faith.
Over and over in his letters, Paul comes back to this one concept. It is faith that gives us hope and it is hope that enables us to go forward, no matter what the circumstances, as long as we hold on to that faith.
But it doesn’t just happen. It is an ongoing process of renewing our hope through faith and strengthening our faith through the hope we find in the promise of Divine love, Divine acceptance and Divine forgiveness that we see demonstrated for us in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.
This is what our Christian faith is all about. This is what the church is called to do. It is called to support, renew and strengthen the hope and faith of all those who seek that closer relationship with the Divine, regardless of what they think of Paul or of the historic tenants of our faith.
There is one verse from our reading today, that jumped out at me when I read it in the Contemporary English Version, which is why I asked that it be read from that version this morning. It is the second verse of Romans, chapter 5. In other translations it reads very differently but in the Contemporary English Version this is what it says. Christ has also introduced us to God’s gift of undeserved grace on which we now take our stand.
This hope, this faith and this relationship with the Divine that we cherish and work so hard to maintain, to strengthen and to rejuvenate is possible only because of God’s gift of undeserved grace to which we as Christians have been introduced, through Christ. And surly that is the greatest reason of all to have hope.
Gift of Music All My Hope Is Firmly Grounded #654
We Offer Our Gifts
Offertory Response VU#549
For all your goodness, God, we give you thanks.
And so, we offer you, all that we have and do,
to serve and honour you and give you thanks.
© Daryl Nixon 1987. All rights reserved. Used with permission OneLicense #A7323756
We Offer Our Prayers
Minute for Mission
Prayers of the People
As we come before you in prayer, Divine One, we thank you, that you have given us an enduring hope—one which will never disappoint us or mislead us. We thank you, that through faith you enter into our hearts and into our lives strengthening, guiding, and enlivening us so that we can come to know the great hope, joy and peace that only you can offer us.
We pray for all who live without hope, peace or joy.
We pray for those who have lost hope and see no reason to go on. We pray for those who have lost a loved one, those who are dealing with the illness or someone they care for, those who have become isolated and lonely because family and friends have moved away or have lost contact …
We pray for those whose hope is overshadowed by fear of their own medical issues or their struggle with depression and mental illness …
We pray for those whose peace has been disrupted or destroyed by violence, war or abuse. We pray for those living in war-torn areas throughout our world. We think especially of those in Ukraine, Kenya and Palestine …
We pray for those facing domestic violence either for racism and discrimination or from those closest to them …
We pray for those who see no joy in life. Open their eyes to see the wonder and joy all around them that is possible no matter what the situation, when we open ourselves to your love, your care and your underserved grace which is for all people everywhere.
Help us to not only recognize this, but to joyously share it with all those who touch our lives and whose lives we touch. We offer this prayer along with the prayer we have been taught to share together, as we say, Our Father … Amen.
Gift of Music Great Is Thy Faithfulness #288
And so now, go out from here in hope, knowing that that hope will never disappoint you because you are not alone. God is with you, Christ’s example leads you and the Spirit accompanies you each step of the way. Go with God.
Choral Blessing VU#169
Your name we bless, O Risen Lord, and sing today with one accord
The life laid down, the life restored: hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah.
© 1986 Hope Publishing Company. All rights reserved. Used by permission. OneLicense#A-723756