Wembley Downs Uniting Church
If God is love . . . (Jim Malcolm) 7.9.2008
Readings: Exodus 12:1-14; Romans 13:8-14; Matthew 18:15-20; Psalm 149
When I first looked at the readings set for today I was challenged. `How can I make sense of this lot?` I asked myself. So I called for reinforcements. A group of friends was gathered, wondering what to talk about and I suggested that they bend their minds to my challenging readings and how I could preach on them. So I read them the Old Testament reading and they started laughing! I donít for a minute think they were laughing at the reading so much as the thought of me having to preach from it! But they were not much help, so I read them the Psalm Ė fine for the first five verses and then the mood of the Psalm changed, and they started to giggle. Right! Time for the Epistle! Again, the reading started off well, then got carried away and the giggles started again. Surely they wouldnít giggle at Gospel Ė I was right, it was outright guffaws this time. Metaphorically rolling around on the floor. Given that response Iíve decided that if we are going to retain some decorum you will need some help before listening to Linda giving us the readings. That help comes from a book called `If God is love`. It is a great book about how the world is transformed if our living is based on the principle that God is love. It seems to me that is the clear message of Jesus, and if we are to make sense of some of the more confusing passages in the Bible, we need to approach them with the firm conviction that God is love, despite what those passages say. Letís see how the Bible is transformed by the presumption that God is love. Now, letís hear the first reading, Exodus 12:1-14 The God of this passage displays a funny kind of love! No love for the Egyptians (Didnít God create them too? Were they a mistake?) and no love for the lambs that had to be slaughtered. Only love for the Israelites, and then only if they went through a bloody, bizarre ritual. Of course, the story was handed down for hundreds of years by word of mouth before being written down, but what it is really about, at heart, is a celebration of how the Israelites experienced Godís love. The story suggests that this love was only available to the Israelites, and it tells us that the Egyptianís didnít have any choice in the matter because God hardened the Pharaohís heart. But if we run it through the God is love sieve those bits of rubbish get sorted out and we are left with the true message that God through history showed love to the Israelites and this was cause for regular remembrance and celebration. Now letís hear Psalm 149 Listen again to that incredible change of gear in verses 6 and 7. `Let the high praise of God be in their throats --- and two-edged swords in their hands to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples!` How can you sing praise to the God of love with a two-edged sword in your hand and vengeance and punishment on your mind? If God is love, God loves your enemies too Ė even if that seems unfair to you. If God is love you drop the two-edged sword and open your arms in love and forgiveness to your enemies. Thatís what Jesus said, `Love your enemies` Ė not easy, but at least it is consistent with the God of love. So we can learn from the Psalmist how good it is to sing praise to God, to be thankful for Godís love. But it doesnít have to be at the expense of anyone else. Thereís plenty of Godís love to go around all Godís children. In last weeks reading from Romans we heard `Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God`. But if God is love, where does the wrath of God fit in? The Romans reading went on with the classic Old Testament quote `Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord`. But if God is love, can we trust God to take vengeance? I donít think so! The vengeance of God is to smother with unconditional love! And thatís not really surprising if the God of love is the ground of our being. If we are all linked together because the same God of love is at the depths of the being of each of us, how can we stay enemies? And how can the ground of my being take vengeance on the ground of your being when they are one and the same, except by leading you to respond to me in love, instead of enmity (and vice versa). Letís hear the Gospel now, Matthew 18:15-20. The use of the word `church` in this passage is a pretty clear indication that these are not the words of Jesus recorded and handed down by Matthew. Rather, Matthew was providing some advice to the Christian church many years after Jesusí death. And when you look at how he was expressing himself it is clear he had, for the moment, forgotten Jesus gospel. Jesus preferentially included outcasts like Gentiles and tax collectors Ė like Matthew himself once was. Indeed, a few verses later in Chapter 21 verse 31 he writes of Jesus telling the chief priests and elders of the people `Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you.` And yet in our passage it is clear that Matthew expected the church to treat them as outcasts. Obviously any human organisation needs some form of dispute mechanism, but if we are to apply Jesus principle that God is love, the proposed form of excommunication and exclusivism just doesnít pass through the sieve. Not when you put it against Matthew 7, the `judge not that you be not judged` passage where Jesus tells us to take the plank out of our own eye first before attending to the speck in the other personís eye. Finally, letís hear the Epistle, Romans 13:8-14. At last we have a reading that mostly passes through the `God is love` sieve. If God is love this passage makes sense. That precious phrase `love is the fulfilling of the law` sums it up, and `put on the Lord Jesus Christ` is memorable metaphor too. The bit about `salvation is nearer now than when we first became believers` doesnít fit with Jesus notion that the kingdom of God is within or among us now, but thatís just being picky. So what have we learnt from this interesting collection of readings? ē From Exodus - When God shows his love and faithfulness the proper response is to remember and celebrate, with food for the journey. ē From the Psalm Ė It is good to sing praise to God, but you are going to have to drop that two-edged sword and love your enemies into submission. ē From the Gospel Ė Discipline and dispute resolution in the church must be consistent with Jesus call that we donít judge others, get our own eyesight fixed first and remember his principle that the kingdom of God is for all. ē And finally, from the Epistle Ė Love is the fulfilling of the law.
130 Calais Road, (crnr of Minibah Street)
Wembley Downs, Western Australia.
Phone 08 9245 2882
Ten kilometres northwest of Perth city centre,
set amongst the suburbs of City Beach, Churchlands, Scarborough, Wembley Downs and Woodlands