Sermon Lent 3A, Sunday March 15, 2020

RENEW Mission Life: Where Love Comes to Life 

Sermon Three: LOVE COMES TO…  

Ephesians 2:1-7 

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3 All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 

I am not sure what music, theatre, cinema and artistic expression would be without love – all four kinds of love – family, friend, romantic and agape; God’s self-giving love? 

 Without love, we would not have Rembrandt’s, Prodigal Son, Michael Angelo’s Creation of Adam in the Sistine chapel, songs like, We are Family, by Sister Sledge and Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers or Slim Dusty’s, I love to have a beer with Duncan  

What do they have in common?  One thing: they expect love to transform you, even to transform the world (well, maybe not ‘I love to have a beer with Duncan”!).  But the rest say that when love comes, your world changes.    

And aren’t we disappointed when love is lost and does not transform us? Probably the best art and song is about our pain when love is lost and hope for transformation dashed. Just listen to a decent blues song!   

The pain is there because we trust that love will do something. We believe it will overcome obstacles and solve problems. But our love fails so often.  We change and can’t adjust, we hrt and can’t say sorry, we do wrong or say wrong and forgiveness is withheld…….Pat Benatar sang, “Love is battlefield”.   

But even though our love often fails, we somehow know or at least hope there is a love beyond us. Humans always seems to want to trust that “love is all you need”. And so, we sing along, hoping against hope it’s all true.   

  1. God’s Love Transforms You 

Jillian grew up in a home of broken expectations. Her father abandoned her mother and the family in favour of a young assistant at work. The consequent emotional, financial and relational instability had terrible consequences. Her mother wobbled from relationship to relationship; with Jillian’s eventual step-father showing his ‘love’ for her in all the wrong ways. From the age of 10 he abused her regularly.   

As soon as she could, she ran away from home and tried to leave the pain behind. But the pain followed her, even through the haze of alcohol and drugs she used to take it away.   

Hungry for love she lurched from one relationship to the next, hoping that ‘this time’ love would set her free. But it didn’t. She spiralled ever downward, eventually falling into the sex industry. She was little more than a tradable commodity. This wasn’t a feminist statement of her liberation; she was a captive—virtually a slave—to the pimp master who was also her drug dealer.   

She was desperate to get away, but every avenue seemed blocked. One day she made a run for it, literally. She escaped through a window and ended up looking for refuge in the nearest safe place she could find.   

She didn’t know it at the time, but the place in which she found shelter was linked to a wider network of Christian ministries. They were able to give her a safe environment to get proper medical and other care. After about a year she found herself sharing a sort of halfway house with three other women from similar backgrounds.   

Geographically and in every other way it was a world away from the pimp and his connections.   

The group of women shared similar issues. Shame, poor self-image, guilt, fear, distrust of men, anger, withdrawal issues. These were their world.   

But love breaks through in the most unexpected ways. Jillian found herself transformed by the love of God.   

One day, in a church service in a small country town, the preacher spoke of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. The floodgates broke open. Years of pain, heartache, and rejection tumbled out. She was the woman. Jesus was speaking to her. She felt like she was the only one in the building. To her alone, it seemed, the words “your sins are forgiven” made their mark. She was washed, cleansed, renewed, clothed and healed.   

To this day she looks back to that night as the most significant turning point in her life. It’s as though she hadn’t even been alive before. Which in a way, is true. It is a human experience to be “dead in our sins” (Ephesians 2:1).  

I know that lots of people in our church community almost feel guilty that they have no BIG story like Jillian’s story. If you were washed, cleansed, renewed, clothed and healed in baptism into Christ and you have grown up in that gift, and in a healthy loving family of living faith in Jesus all your life, you can’t tell this dramatic kind of story. Maybe you feel a bit ‘second class’, or that you have missed out on something when it comes to the value of your story.   

You are not second class! You have missed out on something – pain! What a wonderful gift you have received from God! You are the person who can be of immense help to people like Jillian! People like her need people like you! We all count in God’s economy of love.   

And you are not that unlike her anyway. None of us are…. The love of God isn’t for healthy but for the sick. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous, but for the lost. And if we think we’re not sick or lost, we’re more sick and lost than we know.   

Why share stories like these? Why does the Bible itself make so much of people like Moses, David and Paul (all murderers)?Why does Paul write to the Ephesians “you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph. 5:8)   

And why does he say to the Corinthians, “some of you were fornicators, thieves, adulterers, idolaters, drunkards, ….., but you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1Cor 6:9-11).   

Why? Because all of us in the same boat. In Jesus, God plunges into the deepest darkness to find us. He saves by raising us from spiritual death:  

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, …… But Godbeing rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus.” (Eph 2:1-6)   

 The BUT GOD makes all the difference. The “but God” is where love comes to life. It’s where love comes to us, transforming us to be part of a new humanity in Jesus.  

 God’s Love Transforms Us  

We, as a church in Australia and New Zealand have a unique history. We Lutherans share a wonderful theological inheritance.  But for lots of reason, we struggle to share it.   

Lutherans in Australia and New Zealand were the minority and for the most part have stayed the minority (except in the Hills and Barossa!).   

We began as an immigrant community and we settled largely out of the big cities. The story of God’s grace among Lutherans has stayed locked away.   

Two world wars against Germany didn’t help. It was hard for us to have any confidence in sharing who we are Christ.  We often circle the wagons, keep low to avoid detection and stave off any attacks.   

For 150 years Lutheran local church ministry essentially focussed on pastoring a number of interconnected families. The pastor was always there: baptising their infants, confirming their young people, presiding over their marriages and officiating at their funerals. It was believed that the Pastor was the only person doing ‘real’ ministry and without him, there was ‘no ministry’!   

We were good at looking after our own. We provided cradle to grave care. Our own knew us and we knew them. We could almost accept someone who married into us! But we had very little real expectation of people actually experiencing a conversion – actually coming to a living faith as a result of experiencing God’s transforming love (like Jillian).   

Now we live in a very different Australia. We live in an urban Australia; a secularising Australia, a post-Christian Australia, a media driven news Australia, a seemingly nastier Australia, a rapidly changing Australia that is really hard for anyone of any age to understand let alone keep up with!  

But still, the good news of Jesus’ undeserved love; self-giving, self-sacrificing love for us while we were “dead in our sins”, breaks through. He has for you! Jesus opens up a different world in our world and calls us to open up to his world.   

In his vision and power for us, we are church in his world where we can expect to baptise more believing adults than children of believing parents. It’s a place where the love of God reveals the name, Jesus Christ, to be the most beautiful and powerful of all the names under heaven; much more than a swear word!   

 More and more people in our community know nothing of the Bible, church or anything to do with our unique story. Sounds a lot like the time in which the first church grew! Many say we are right in a New Testament world.  We have great opportunity!  

Friends, the good news spread like coronavirus back then and still does now! Unlike that spread, the good news is not threat but life, and life to the full, according to Jesus (John 10:10).  

Yes, we live in what is probably the most difficult mission culture that there has ever been. We live in a community that believes that the Christian story is something they have understood and moved on from – to better stories, better faiths or no faith. There are layers of resistance to the gospel in our Western 21st century community. People have become resistant to the gospel virus, if you like.   

But the Spirit of God is creative. He is the true artist. Like a beautiful song or work of art or play, His word can and does cut through the layers or resistance. I see that occur around here. The love of Jesus the Spirit breathes gets through to some. He got through to me. He got through to you. You breathe Jesus’ love now.  

I know this is true because Godbeing rich in mercy and because of His great love with which He loved us all and all of them, even when they are dead in their transgressions, can make them alive together with Christ (by grace they are saved). They like us, can be raised up with Jesus in baptism, and seated with us, with Him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:1-6)   

Jesus is working with his church to transform people by love. We are that church for this time…..