Sunday, September 03, 2006

Reflections on Preparation and Gathering

Well I've not done this before, but I'm posting my sermon for tomorrow morning (today by the time on the clock!)... it's the beginning of our series on explaining the Eucharist - what's going on through the service. Tomorrow is an all-age service as the childrens' groups don't start back yet... I'm always relieved to have my offering ready, but am rarely confident that it's adequate - too much focus on my preparation and not enough on God's inspiration perhaps!!

Family Communion – 3rd September 2006
Eucharist Sermon Series – ‘Preparation’
1 John 1: 5-10
Luke 15: 11-32

Some things in bag that would be used to get ready for a birthday party… candles, balloons, wrapping paper, banners, cards…
(Guess what I’d be getting ready for with these?)

We make the effort to get ready for a birthday party because it’s a special occasion.

We also make the effort to get ready for the new school year – we make sure our uniform’s all ready, we check we’ve got all the pens and pencils we need, sometimes we get a nice early night before going back so we’re fresh for the new term.

[At work we might get ready for an important presentation]

And every Sunday we come to church to meet, not only with each other, but with God too. That’s a really important and amazing thing and something that deserves proper getting ready for.

God tells us that he is with us always.
But God says he’ll meet with us in a special way when we’re together: that’s when we worship him – by singing the songs and hymns and when we pray, it’s when we read his Word – that’s the Bible, as well as when we receive the bread and wine – which remind us of Jesus’ body and blood. These are all ways that, through his Holy Spirit, God meets with us.

And so in our service we have special beginnings and special words that help us to get ready to meet with God in these ways – this part of the service is called the Gathering.

1) There’s the personal time to put aside all the rush and fuss of getting to church, to slow down and think about God – that’s the time we have just before the service begins.

2) There’s the greeting and the collect for purity, or as in today’s service – the greeting and the prayer we pray depending on God’s Holy Spirit to help us and change us.

When we get to church most of us say ‘hello’ to each other [who did you say hello to when you got to church?], sometimes we find out how each other are and have a bit of a chat, that ‘hello’ is like an informal greeting. But at the beginning of the service, there is another greeting that helps us to move from being just individuals to being a community – God’s community. It’s like a hello that includes God and reminds us all that God is here with us. And it’s a hello that doesn’t depend on greeting just the people we’ve got to know, but is about the priest and all the people being included.

And after the greeting is a special prayer… right at the beginning we pray together. Today we prayed, “Loving Lord, fill us with your life-giving, joy-giving, peace-giving presence, that we may praise you now with our lips and all the week long with our lives, through Jesus Christ our Lord;” and in some services we pray a prayer called the collect of purity because in it we ask God to make our hearts clean. These prayers ask for the help God’s Holy Spirit for his people.

It’s really good to be able to get to know these prayers, because then it’s easier for us to pray them rather than to just read them without really noticing what we’re saying. When we say all these things – let’s try and say them like we really want God to do these things.

3) How many people here do or say or think unkind things sometimes? Even when we don’t want to – all of us sometimes ignore God or act selfishly or take no notice of the things that Jesus taught us, or hurt other people by our words or actions… these things are called sins, and sins get in the way of us meeting with God. Jesus died on the cross so that our sins could die with him… and one of the other ‘getting ready’ parts of the service is giving those sins to Jesus on the cross so that they’re not in the way when we come to meet God.

Now, all of us can talk to God at anytime and say sorry for the things we’ve done wrong and he forgives us for those things when we turn away from them, because Jesus took them on the cross – but there is also this special time of saying sorry all together and hearing the words of forgiveness spoken out loud. Because, remember, we come not only as a lot of individual people loved by God, but also as God’s community.

Do you remember some of the words from our first reading, where it said, “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”? Well, in this prayer that’s just what we’re doing… we’re confessing (that’s admitting to God) the things we’ve done wrong (our sins) and then we’re hearing in the absolution God’s forgiveness as he washes away our sins.

It’s important to try not to rush this part of the service, and it’s good to have a few moments of silence so that each of us can say sorry to God for anything we’re particularly aware of. And it’s also really important that we believe the absolution, that we believe the words from 1 John – because Jesus on the cross has made forgiveness possible.

4) And after that, after looking at the cross again and all that Jesus went through for us, after receiving God’s forgiveness and his welcome for all of us… after all that – we respond to God with praise as we sing (or sometimes say) the Gloria.

There are lots of different versions of the words and the music for the Gloria – but they all stem from the Latin words ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo’ – Glory to God in the highest! And singing the Gloria is one way for us to say thank you to God for all that he’s done for us. We’re saying ‘Glory to God’, ‘Praise the Lord’, ‘Thank you God’ so it doesn’t make sense to mumble the words of the Gloria in a bored sort of way – but to say them like we mean them – that’s why singing is so helpful – because singing doesn’t just involve our mouths saying words, but often involves our emotions and spirits too.

When we sing the Gloria, think of the gift of heaven that Jesus has given you, think of his promise to be with you throughout your life, in the calm times and in the storms, think of his going to the cross so that our sins don’t leave a barrier between us and God… and then say it or sing it like you mean it!

We come here to meet with God – his people altogether. Meeting with God, bumping into Jesus, having the presence of the Holy Spirit with us. That’s something that we shouldn’t take for granted, but that deserves preparing for – so don’t just skip over these parts of the service, or rush through them, or ignore their importance – but get yourself ready to meet with the living God.

Look how much effort we go to to get ready for a birthday party, or to go back to school, or to do our job… how much more does God deserve… and it’s us who are blessed through it anyway!



At September 03, 2006 1:35 am, Blogger Kristen said...

From the prespective of a twenty something I thought it was a great sermon!

At September 03, 2006 9:10 pm, Anonymous Chelley said...

Thanks Kristen! I really appreciated your encouraging comment last night. It was received well and I had fun with the children :D


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