PCUSA World AIDS Day
“Anyone who receives you, receives me,
and anyone who receives me,
receives the Father who sent me.”
Sisters and brothers, boys and girls:
We gather together in the presence of the God
who receives us with open arms,
who loves us unconditionally,
and who bids us do the same to one another.
Let’s worship God together!
PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Author of Life, You have written Your covenant into our hearts. You have called us to welcome the stranger, to show compassion to those who are in need, to care for those who mourn. Help us to mold our lives to be more in tune with Your call to welcome others as You have welcomed us. May we witness Your welcome in all that we do. Amen.
SCRIPTURE Romans 6:12-23
12Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions. 13No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness. 14For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. 15What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin, have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted, 18and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19I am speaking in human terms because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness for sanctification. 20When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. 21So what advantage did you then get from the things of which you now are ashamed? The end of those things is death. 22But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. 23For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
During World War II, the poet W.H. Auden wrote a book-length poem entitled “For the Time Being.” It is subtitled, “A Christmas Oratorio,” and it is a retelling of the Christmas story, but with a 20th Century sensibility. His Herod, for instance, is a technology-loving king who loves that he lives in an Age of Reason and is ever-perplexed by faith and irked that he must hunt down and exterminate the baby Jesus.
In Auden’s oratorio, Herod is given a four-and-a-half page prose speech, because a man of reason would not be represented in verse. And Herod is above all a man of reason, a technocratic king with building projects throughout the land and an ongoing war against what he calls witchcraft and idolatry. In the midst of his speech, this king proclaims that:
“Justice will be replaced by Pity as the cardinal human virtue, and all fear of retribution will vanish. Every corner-boy will congratulate himself: “I’m such a sinner that God had to come down in person to save me. I must be a devil of a fellow.” Every crook will argue, “I like committing crimes. God likes forgiving them. Really the world is admirably arranged.”
I sort of like the “admirably arranged” world Auden describes. It’s comfortable. It’s easy. It doesn’t ask much of me. I can make my apology to you when I’ve done something wrong or hurtful, offer a quick “Please forgive me God,” and go on about life. It’s business as usual. I get to do what I like and God gets to do what God likes.
What about you? Does this sound familiar? Do your life and faith sometimes express Auden’s “admirably arranged” world?
At times this is how I’ve lived my life. I’ve seen it in the lives of others. “Please forgive us Lord,” and go on about life. The problem with an “admirably arranged” world is that wounds aren’t healed. Relationships are not put back together. Lives are not transformed. Nothing really changes. Too often we settle for an “admirably arranged” world, instead of becoming, as we prayed for in today’s “opening prayer: people who welcome with open arms and love unconditionally.”
We’re not, however, the first or the only ones to think or live this way. Before Auden wrote his lines, the Apostle Paul dealt with the same issue in his Letter to the Romans. “What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!”
Our relationship with God in Christ is more than an “admirable arrangement.” We have an identity with Christ. “Whoever welcomes you,” Jesus tells his disciples, “welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” By our baptism we have been immersed in Jesus’ death and resurrection. We share his life. We have been Christ-ened. We speak with his mouth, see with his eyes, walk with his feet, touch with his hands. That means we now re-present Christ to the world. We live his life in this time and place.
Sometimes, however, we choose not to live that life as Christians or little-Christs. We turn away. We deny ourselves the life Jesus has given us. We live less than who we most truly are. Paul calls that sin. This isn’t simply a question of good or bad, right or wrong, keeping or breaking rules. Ultimately, it’s a choice between life and death.
Maybe that’s why the Apostle is so adamant in his Letter to the Romans. Christ is our way and our life. We are a part of him and he is who we are and who we are to become. In some way St. Paul is telling us to become who we really are:
Do not sin.
Do not be an instrument of wickedness.
Present yourselves to God.
Be an instrument of God’s righteousness.
The Apostle Paul is like the parent who says to his or her child, “I expect more of you. Do this. Don’t do that. You can do better. You are more than that.” As a child we hear those words as harsh, critical, judgmental. Loving parents, good parents, however, say those words seeing more in their child than what he or she sometimes sees for himself or herself. They are words that call their child into the fullness of life, to be whole, complete, and fully alive. That’s what Paul is doing.
I am uncomfortably grateful for his words. He challenges me to examine my life and see the ways in which I have denied myself the very life I say I want. He reminds me that I have a choice and so do you. We are responsible. We choose what our life will be like. We choose to whom we listen. We choose to whom we give ourselves and our obedience.
This is not to deny God’s grace. Grace is absolutely real. But it is not a get out of jail free card. Rather, grace is the power of God’s love and the means of God’s presence that enables us to make a different choice, a better choice, a choice to live and to love as Jesus. That is something an “admirably arranged” world can never give us.
The crook of whom King Herod speaks will forever be sneaking around, hiding in the dark, and living in fear of being found out. That is no way to live and it is not the life Jesus offers. That kind of life is a living death. It leaves us empty, hollow, and impoverished. We weren’t meant for that as beloved children of God.
We have been freed from that, freed from the power of sin. We are now free to live Jesus’ life, eternal life right here and right now. Now go live that way. Receive the gift. No more sneaking. No more hiding. No more fearing. No more admirably arranged lives. In WH Auden’s 52-page poem, the chorus ends:
He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
May we dance for joy– because of the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Commentary provided by Israel Kamudzandu, Michael K. Marsh, Walter F. Taylor, Jr., David Lose, Marion L. Soards, Bill Hayes, Steven J. Lawson, J. Gerald Harris, and CH. Spurgeon.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE & THE LORD’S PRAYER
We come this morning first thanking you
for all the many blessings you have sent our way.
We thank you for your steadfast love that endures forever.
We want to tell you how often we feel so like Abraham
that we are being tried and tested.
We often feel like the Psalmist and wonder how long this testing is going to last.
We often wonder how long we will be in pain.
How long will this sadness last?
How long must we suffer?
Will we be able to go on with life when it feels like it has lasted forever?
Lord we call on you for your stead fast love to take us out of our pits,
We call on you for your mercy to reach out to those who need your healing touch.
We call on your faithfulness for all who are struggling with their faith..
We call on your care for those who are less fortunate to be the Lord who provides for their needs.
We call on you for the healing of the nations.
We pray for those in North Dakota who are dealing with major flooding. We pray for those whose homes destroyed or damaged by volcanic eruption in Chile and Ethiopia;
We lift up to you the violence and terror in the Middle East;
We pray for the people of Greece that there may be relief from economic straits they are in.
We cry out for those who are entrapped in modern day slavery that may be set free.
We pray for all who are still recovering from Spring storms.
We continue to pray for the jobless that they may find meaningful work.
We offer up to you the homeless of the world, especially the children, may there be homes and improvement in their wellbeing.
God of hospitality, may we remember that you welcomed us so that we too would welcome others into our churches, that we share with them the cup of cold water.
May we remember that as we welcome others we welcome you.
We pray all this in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit –who taught us to pray:
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.
Let us go forth to walk in God’s light.
We will show others the way to God’s heart.
Let us go to bring hope and healing to the world.
With a gift as simple as a cup of water,
and as complex as our lives, we will join Jesus
in serving those around us.
Let us go forth to gather up the little ones
of our communities into our homes and hearts.
With the gift of the Holy Spirit,
we are no longer strangers but God’s family.