The Definition of Love - Audio Service 17.04.22
with Revd. David Burrow
Or watch on youtube here.
Subtitles available on the video, please click the 'cc' button.
Suggested Hymns & Songs:
'Love Divine, All Loves Excelling.'
'God is our strength and our refugee'
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Hello and welcome to this audio service by the Rossendale Methodist Circuit, what you'll hear shortly is a recording of a service that usually takes place at Longholme Methodist Church in Rawtenstall on Tuesday mornings at 10am, this is a live recording, so do expect some background noise, although we've tried to reduce this as much as we can. The hymns, unfortunately have to be removed for copyright reasons but we've suggested some links to versions of the hymns below this video, this weeks service is entitled, 'The Definition of Love ' and you'll hear Revd. David Burrow begin the service now.
Welcome, morning, good to see you all. I'm going to begin this morning with some words from Psalm 71 which begins, 'In you oh Lord, I take refuge. Let me never be put to shame.'
To take refuge means to be a refugee doesn't it? Do you think of yourself as a refugee. Wanting to take refuge from things in your lives. Refuge from ill health, maybe, refuge from poverty, refuge from all kinds of things. Refuge from grief, refuge from depression, refuge from, there's lots of things that we can seek to take refuge from.
So, 'In you, oh Lord, I take refuge let me never be put to shame, in your righteousness, deliver me and rescue me. Incline your ear to me and save me, be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me for you are my rock and my fortress, rescue me oh my god, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and the cruel, for you oh Lord are my hope, my trust Oh Lord, from my youth, upon you, I have leaned for my birth. It was you who took me from my mother's womb. My praise is continually of you. I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge. My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long. Do not cast me off in the time of old age. Do not forsake me when my strength is spent. For my enemies speak concerning me and those who watch for my life consult together. They say pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken for there is no one to deliver. Oh God, do not be far from me. Oh my god, make haste to help me that my accusers be put to share and consumed by those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace. But I, I will hope continually and will praise you yet more and more. Amen.
So even in the face of all that he was facing the psalmist seeks God as his refuge and says that no matter what is around him will praise him so as we are in Holy Week, as we move towards MaundyThursday and Good Friday, of course, on the suffering of Jesus on the cross. I want this morning to think about the cross which is the definition of love.
As we pray we think about God as our refuge and our strength.
Lord God we thank you, that you are the one on whom we can depend, that you are faithful. You indeed are our refuge you are our strength. You are there at all times of trouble that we might come to you seeking that refuge. And as we think about how trustworthy and faithful you are. We recognise our own unworthiness and how often we have failed when others have trusted us. Lord forgive us we pray, and may we through Your Holy Spirit, be made more like Jesus that we too might be faithful in all our relationships, faithful in all our dealings and trustworthy that people might know that they can indeed trust us. And father in this week, which is a challenging week, a difficult week as we think about all that Jesus goes through as we think about his suffering and his pain, as we think about how he was left alone by the disciples, denied by Peter, betrayed by Judas. How in the Garden of Gethsemane he sought refuge in you. We thank you for his prayers. We thank you for the way in which he came to you. And sought to do your will, and your will alone. And Father we pray that by the power of your Holy Spirit you enable us to follow his example and to always to seek to do your will. Lord we thank you that Jesus was willing, he was willing to drink the cup of your wrath for our sake, for love us, and we thank you that he's willing to undergo the cross, that through his love, we might be set free from the powers of sin and death. So we will praise you and offer you all that we have and our to your glory. In Jesus's name. Amen.
Photo by Leighann Blackwood via Unsplash
So Easter, schools have nearly all broken up, I know there's one or two still in school until Wednesday, so tomorrow, but Easter, a Spring Festival, the Eostre, the old English word for, for spring and a holiday, which is rather wonderful, isn't it? Extended bank holiday, traffic jams on the motorway, flights cancelled, people getting angry and the shops and everywhere full of pre Christian fertility symbols. It's a great time isn't it? What a wonderful time, chickens and Easter bunnies and eggs.
What's all that got to do with Christianity and the love of God?
Well, sadly, I guess in one sense, Easter has been reduced to a season of car boot sales. Or they were popular once. Maybe they're not quite so popular now. Trips to B&Q. Everybody seems to go to B£Q at Easter to start doing some DIY. And then of course, the eating of much chocolate. There's nothing wrong with any of that is there. That's fine. That's great.
But there's hardly a cross in sight.
Where's the cross? Well, let's just have a reading from one Corinthians chapter one verse 18. See there was a problem with the cross. People didn't talk about the cross very much because it was such a terrible form of execution. And you don't find any sort of artistic impression of the cross until at least 400 years after Jesus because nobody wanted to paint a picture of the crucifixion. Because it was so awful. And those people who were around at the time of the crucifixion, thought well if Jesus was the king, then that's not the kind of King we're interested in it's foolish, a king isn't crucified that's what happens to criminals. So the cross is just well, Paul puts it this way in one Corinthians, 'For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the discernment of the discerning I was thwart. Where is the one who is wise, where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation to save those who believe, for Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom. But we, we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God, for God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom. And God's weakness is stronger than human strength.' Amen.
Back in 2003, there was a church that decided that it would not use the cross in its Easter literature, because as they said, The cross is no longer culturally acceptable. Nothing new there, then. The cross was not culturally acceptable back in Jesus's day. Today, as we've discovered in our lent groups, you know, we've looked at the cross all the way through and started off by thinking about the cross as a piece of jewellery.
And the famous story that I've shared many times of the young couple who went into a jewellers and she wanted a cross and he was going to buy it for but she didn't want one of those crosses with a little man on it. She had no idea they had no idea of the story, that's not their fault, is it they've not been told. But that's the way the cross has gone, I'm afraid.
But for the New Testament writers and for Paul here, you know, the cross is central to the message. The cross is central to our faith, and more importantly, Jesus saw his life's purpose, culminating in his death on the cross. So what's so special about Jesus's death? And about the cross? 1000s Millions maybe, of people, hundreds of 1000s certainly, of people have died in, in terrible ways, dreadful ways. You know, Jesus isn't the only one to have suffered torture at the hands of injustice. We see it today. In the Ukraine, in Yemen, in you know, in Burma, in North Korea, we see it in so many places.
Jesus isn't the only one to have been murdered by people who are out to save their own skins. So why does Jesus's death stand out?
To help us answer this question, we need to go back to the Garden of Gethsemane and ask why was Jesus so overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death? Remember the story? His sweat was like drops of blood as he prayed. Jesus was not a coward. We know that, he was a courageous person and yet we're told that he was in anguish. Jesus, for some reason, was feeling acute emotional pain, as he looked with apprehension and almost terror, at what he knew was coming. He prayed that this cup, mind if possible, be taken from him. So what is this cup that Jesus would rather not drink? It's not the physical suffering of his torture, and the cross. Neither is it the betrayal the desertion, the denial by his friends or the mockery, and the abuse of his enemies. Jesus has warned his followers that they too would be insulted one day that they too will be persecuted and they too will be slandered because of him. And when it happened. Jesus said, you know when this happens to you, Rejoice, rejoice and be glad. Wow. When you're mocked for my sake, persecuted for my sake, rejoice and be glad. So was Jesus not going to practice what he preached? And yet in the Garden of Gethsemane, there he is prostrate, overwhelmed with grief and dread.
Because the death that Jesus was going to die, the cup of his suffering was unique. I use that word unique. In the true sense of the world, not like it's so often used today. You know, you can't have something that's almost unique or nearly unique, it's either unique or it's not. And Jesus's death was unique. The cup that Jesus drank, symbolised the spiritual agony of bearing the sin of the world, your sin and my sin. When Jesus took upon himself all the sin of the world, he was forced to suffer the divine judgement, which sin deserves. He was forced to suffer the divine judgement which sin deserves. This is the cup of God's wrath. And in the Bible, it's very clear. The Lord's cup is the cup of his wrath in Psalm 75. 'There is in the Lord's hand, a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices, he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.' In the book of Revelation. In chapter 14, we read that 'the wicked will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.' Jesus knew that he was to drink this cup, the cup of God's wrath, the cup of God's judgement. For Jesus who was sinless to be made sin, meant that he would be alienated from his father.
There's no wonder Jesus held back, in that relationship within the trinity which we talked about in the lent group, that perfect relationship. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Father with the son with the spirit all together, that perfect relationship was going to be seriously damaged. So for Jesus to be made sin meant that he would be separated from his father, alienated from his father. And yet, ultimately, he's still able to say, yeah, not as I will. But as you will, not as I will, but as you will. Even in his agony, Jesus recognises that this is the hour for which he was born. He will drink this cup, such is his love for the world for you and me. The cup of God's wrath, the cross, the definition of love. Jesus's agony in the Garden, allows us to see more clearly the agony of the cross, if to take on himself the sin of us all was to experience the judgement of God was so terrible in anticipation, what must the reality have been like?
So let's move on to the end of the story to Golgotha. Here, they crucified him. That's all we're told, the writers, the gospel writers, make no mention of the hammering home of the nails, or the wrenching of the limbs as the cross is hoisted and dropped into place. Instead, we hear Jesus say, 'Father, forgive them, for they don't know what they're doing.' And three hours after Jesus was nailed to the cross, as Jesus dies, darkness covered the land, when the son of God was born. There was brightness at midnight, at the death of the son of God, there was darkness at noon, and the darkness is a symbol of the spiritual darkness, that enveloped Jesus. In the Bible, darkness is a separation from God, in whom there is no darkness at all. So when darkness descends, we have this separation from God. Jesus is separated from the Father.
Outer darkness was one of the expressions that Jesus used for help, place of punishment. It was into that outer darkness that the son of God plunged for you and for me, Jesus was forsaken by the father. That's easy to say. But what a thing to happen, Jesus was forsaken by the Father. Jesus was no longer with the Father. Jesus has always been able to say as he said in John chapter 16, 'my father is with me.' But in the darkness, he was absolutely alone. If Jesus had died only a bodily death, it would have meant nothing at all. His soul had to share in the punishment. Jesus suffered the pain of condemnation. And as you reflect on Psalm 22, we can see that the soul of is suffering was the suffering of his soul. And as he suffered he uttered that cried of dereliction, the only words in scripture which describe the horror of great darkness and God forsaking us, 'My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?' And Jesus received no answer. There's no voice from heaven, like there had been at his baptism. Like there was as the transfiguration. At this central moment in history, Jesus the incarnate son of God had to choose between being with the Father or with us. And He chose us. And at the same time the father had to choose between letting the son be with us, or keeping the son to himself and he chose to let the son be with us. That choice, on that choice, our eternity, our eternal destiny depends, that the father chose and what the son chose, that's the epicentre of the Christian faith, if you like, that's our definition of love. The father chose to let the son go and be with us and the son chose to be with us as opposed to being with the Father.
Theologian Tom Wright, speaks of the crucifixion in this way. 'This is how Jesus is shining the light of God's love into the dark corners of the world. By taking the evil in the world, the gratuitous violence, the bullying, the torture that still defaces the world. And letting it do its worst to him. God's kingdom will come about by God's means, and the means that the true God chooses to use other the means of self giving love.'
That separation for that moment of the Trinity. So the Father, Son and Holy Spirit could no longer be with one another, in that moment, means that we can now be with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The perfect relationship was put at risk so that we could become a part of it. That is the heart of the, that's a wonder of the love that God has for us. So on the cross, Jesus carried the sin of the world, on the cross, Jesus, deliberately freely and in perfect love, drank the cup of God's wrath, that wrath against sin, so that we don't have to. Hallelujah. Amen. On the cross, Jesus set us free from the powers of sin. And death. And on the cross, Jesus established that new covenant between God and humanity which we celebrate in Holy Communion, and on the cross Jesus made available, the forgiveness of our sins. So the cross of Christ is central to our faith. It might not be culturally relevant, but it's central to our faith, because it is the definition of love. Without the cross, there is no entry into God's presence. So let us rejoice for through Jesus's death on the cross the barrier of sin between God and humanity has been torn down. And the way to God was and is freely open for everyone. So let us humble ourselves this Good Friday at the foot of the cross. Let's confess that we have sinned and deserve nothing but judgement. Let us thank God though, that he loves us. And in Jesus died for us. And let us receive from our Heavenly Father, full and free forgiveness and the promise, wonderful promise of eternal life. The cross our definition of love, love is lifted high, let us proclaim this message of wonderful unconditional love. Amen.
And let us pray. Lord God, we thank you for the cross. We thank you for Jesus's willingness to drink the wrath of judgement so that we don't have to and we thank you that you were willing to put at risk that relationship with the Trinity, that we might become a part of that relationship that we might be with you. So thank you, Father. Thank you, Jesus. You are with us now and will be with us for eternity. We thank you that as we are with you. We can call upon your name and seek refuge in you that we might have the strength and the power to proclaim the wonderful news of your love. So that others too might be set free. So others too might come to know the wonder and the joy of sins forgiven and the promise of an eternal place with you. Father, as we pray these prayers we pray for the world. Which we remember that you love so much that you send your only son not to condemn the world but to save the world. And Lord we, thank you that it was out of love that Jesus came amongst us and so we pray for those who still walk in darkness, for those who are lost in a world of warfare and hatred and violence, we pray again for the people of the Ukraine and Lord we do pray for an end to the fighting and to the war, an end to the suffering. We pray that your Holy Spirit would move in power and that evil will be cast out. And the wonder and the joy and the love of your spirit might fill all that has been left behind. We pray for all those who have lost loved ones. For those who are wounded. For those who are refugees seeking safety, seeking a place to call home. But again, we pray stop the war. We cry out to you, stop the war. And Father we pray the same for the people in Yemen, the people in Syria, the people in Afghanistan and so many other places. Lord, where there is darkness, pour in your light. Where there it's hatred, let there be love. And Lord where there is grief, may your spirit bring comfort and strength and where there is pain and sickness, we pray that you will bring healing and wholeness.And we pray that this Easter time your church might proclaim the love of God from the rooftops in the square. Where people might see is where people might hear the message. May we proclaim the message through our lives through what we say through the way we treat others. That al might come to know that Jesus Christ was crucified, was dead, but is now alive and lives forevermore. And in a moment of stillness we offer our prayers for those known to us personally who need to know your presence in their life today. Thank you Lord God, that you hear our prayers. We join them together as we, as your people, say the prayer that Jesus taught us. 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 trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory, for ever and ever, Amen.
On the first day of unleavened bread, the disciples came to Jesus saying, What do you want us, where do you want us to make the preparations for you to eat the Passover and Jesus said go into the city to a certain man and say to him, the teacher says my time is near. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples. So the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover meal. When it was evening he took his place with the 12. And while they were eating, he said, 'Truly I tell you, one of you will betray me.' And they became greatly distressed and began to say to him one after another, 'surely not I Lord?' Jesus answered, 'the one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The son of man goes as it is written of him. But woe to that one by whom the son of man is betrayed, it would have been better for that one not to have been born.' Judas, who betrayed him, said, 'Surely not I Rabbi?' and Jesus replied. 'You have said so.' While they were eating Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to the disciples and said, 'take eat, this is my body.' Then he took a cup and after giving thanks, he gave it to them saying, 'drink from it all of you. For this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's Kingdom.' When they had sung a hymn they went out to the Mount of Olives.
So Jesus institutes the Last Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the celebration, as we remember, his life, his death and his resurrection together.
Let us pray.
Lord God, we thank you that you have fed us with this sacrament, that you have united us with Christ, and once again given us a foretaste of that heavenly banquet which you have prepared for all people. So we pray that all people this Easter time might recognise the wonder of the cross, the definition of love. Amen.
And share together the words of the grace, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God. And the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with us all, evermore, Amen.
Thankyou for listening and we hope you enjoyed the service, you can find us online on www.rossendalemethodistcircuit.co.uk and also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, please do let us know what you thought of this service in the comments below and you can always contact us by email at email@example.com.