14 May 2017

One of the biggest questions we must face as followers of Christ is that of how our faith interacts with the crises in our world, and our engagement with them. It can be tough to walk the line between faith as an escape that makes us feel safe by “protecting” us from the world’s problems, and faith as little more than a framework for directing our own efforts to fix things. The third way – that of participating in God’s saving work while simultaneously trusting God for the outcome in our lives and world – is not always easy to live. But it is the challenge we are given this week through the Scriptures.

May we find both assurance and a call to action in our worship this week.

READINGS:
Acts 7:55-60: Stephen who has been on trial, expresses his vision of Jesus glorified, which angers the religious leaders, who drag him out of the city to stone him. But, Stephen, as he dies, prays for his attackers, and commits himself to God.

Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16: The Psalmist (David, according to the heading) pleads for God’s protection and deliverance from enemies who seek to harm and ensnare him, and commits his soul into God’s care.

11 Peter 2:2-10: Christ, who was rejected by people, but honoured by God, is the cornerstone on which God is building a spiritual temple in which followers of Christ are the stones. This community that built on Christ is called out of darkness into God’s light to be God’s holy nation.

John 14:1-14: Jesus encourages his disciples to trust in him and not be troubled, for he is the way to God and God is revealed and known in him.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
If following Christ is seen as a way to avoid suffering and struggle, we will deeply disappointed by the message of this week’s Lectionary readings. Beneath all of them lies the reality that Jesus, and those who followed Jesus, faced persecution, accusation and suffering. They were not exempt from life’s troubles, and sometimes their faith even brought suffering on them. And so we witness Stephen who is stoned for his witness to Christ, but who entrusts himself to God. We read the words of the Psalmist who, facing persecution and attack, commits himself to God’s care and protection. Peter tells of how Christ was rejected, but God honoured him and has built a community of light with Christ as the foundation. And Jesus, reassuring his disciples, reminds them that they can find peace in trusting him, and connecting with God through him. The gift of this week is the assurance that, even as we face suffering, our lives are in God’s hands, and, if we will entrust ourselves to God’s care, we will find peace and will be partners in God’s work in our world. This is not the message of ease and of guarantees of the “good life” that we might hope for. But, it is something much better. It is an assurance that as we live in this world and experience its pain, along with all people, we are partners with God, and we have the confidence that our lives and their ultimate destiny are in God’s hands.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: As we face the great challenges of our world, we can be tempted to one of two responses. On the one hand we can grow fearful and alarmist, desperately pointing out the crises, feeling that it is all up to us, that our future in is in our hands and courting the hopelessness that this can bring. On the other hand we can use faith as an escape, a way to focus on “heaven” and ignore the problems of earth, and a doorway to a naive and passive attitude that requires no engagement from us and no work on our part to change the brokenness of our world. The Scriptures call us to a different response from either of these, though. While trusting in God’s care, while recognising that our future is not in our own hands, but God’s, and while finding peace in the assurance of God’s care and love, we are encouraged to work with God, asking boldly and courageously for God’s grace to impact our world, seeking to do the “greater works” that Christ called us to, and living as God’s people of light, welcoming all into God’s compassion and mercy. The assurance that faith brings gives us hope for the world and its future. The work that faith calls us to makes us participants in God’s saving work in our world. These two go together, and call us, daily, to make local changes that have global impact. To consider what we buy and eat, what we wear and drive, how we vote and participate in community and social processes. Perhaps the place to start is to examine our hearts, find the places within us where we are most concerned or afraid, and ask how to lead us into faith and trust around that issue, while showing what practical steps we can take to be part of the solution to that specific global grief.

LOCAL APPLICATION: In local communities it is common for those who have the means to separate themselves from the problems of the rest of the world. We do this by creating gated communities for the wealthy, to protect them from the poor and from crime. We do this by hiding in a belief that our small efforts can make little difference. We do this by allowing our pessimism to lead us to self-interest and “us and them” thinking. But, in the Church we have no such luxury. Christ has shown us that it is in living and working for God’s reign that we find the assurance and peace that we seek, and this means not separating ourselves from the world, but engaging the world in Christ’s name. Rather than adopt a cynical “the world’s going to hell anyway” view of things, or buying into a “Left Behind” kind of pessimism about the world, we can embrace God’s saving and hopeful perspective on things and we can seek to be part of God’s healing. We can trust that God is at work in the world and in our communities, and we can look for the signs. And then we can actively participate in what we see God doing in our schools, in our neighbourhoods, in our local governments, in our churches and in our homes. We can seek to live as the community of light that, in whatever small way we can, shines light into the community around us. This will almost certainly mean enduring misunderstanding and even persecution by those who are invested in the “way things are”. It will mean embracing the pain of self-giving as we work on behalf of those who need to experience God’s grace and compassion. And it will mean, even in the face of disillusionment and discouragement, holding fast to the assurance that Jesus offers. But, as we live as people of trust and hope, we bring hope to the world.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
The Faith We Need
Staying Faithful
The Measure Of Faith
In The Face Of It All

Hymn Suggestions:
My Faith Looks Up To Thee
Trust And Obey
O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go
Blessed Assurance
Hear Our Praises (Link to YouTube video)
I Believe That God Appeared In Human Form (Link to lyrics. The tune is the well-known song “I Believe That Every Drop Of Rain That Falls)
Jesus Messiah (Link to YouTube video)
Mighty To Save (Link to YouTube video)
10 000 Reasons (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy For The Foretaste Of The Heavenly Banquet

Video Suggestions:
The Stoning Of Stephen
Trust Fall

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