24 February 2013

To what extent does faith offers us blessing and protection, and to what extent is it a call to suffer for the higher cause of God’s justice, peace and liberation? Can both of these aspects of faith be true at the same time? These are the challenges posed by this week’s Lectionary, and the answer, reflected in Jesus, is a resounding “yes”! We can know the pain of persecution and suffering even as we rest in God’s protective presence.

May our worship give us the strength and wisdom to embrace and live these two seemingly contradictory truths.

READINGS:
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18:
Abram’s faith leads him into relationship with God (righteousness) & God makes a covenant with Abram, promising him that he will have a son to be his heir, and descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky.

Psalm 27: A song of assurance for God’s protection and care, expressing the longing to live in God’s sanctuary and find refuge there. In addition, the psalmist asks for God’s mercy and rescue from his enemies.

Philippians 3:17-4:1: Paul’s encouragement for believers to stay true for the sake of Christ, and to remember their heavenly priorities, following his example of faithfulness.

Luke 13:31-35: Jesus is warned that Herod wants to kill him, and dismisses this as his face is set toward Jerusalem. Then he laments over the city which fails to heed the prophets.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
This week’s readings paint a picture of contrasts. On the one hand, there is the assurance of God’s mercy and protection. Abraham receives promises from God of covenant relationships and descendants as numerous as the stars, and the psalmist affirms God’s mercy and protection and the joy of living in God’s presence and love. In the letter to the Philippians, Paul also indicates that those who follow faithfully are not headed for destruction, like godless people, but for glory. On the other hand the Gospel reading this week shows the persecution Jesus faced as he faithfully followed God’s call. A striking feature of this reading is Jesus’ refusal to be daunted by the threats against his life, and his determination to continue his mission in spite of the suffering he will face, like the prophets before him. So, the Lectionary, while it assures us that close, protective relationship with God is available to us, also reminds us that the call to live out God’s mission does not mean a life free of pain and struggle. The protection we find in God, then, is not a guarantee that no harm will come to us, but a promise that, whatever we may face, we are ultimately destined for glory, and God’s strength will sustain us and keep us faithful to the end. In a world of expediency the call to embrace the tough and challenging path of the Gospel can seem out of place, but, if we will trust it and embrace it, we will discover the life that endures through the worst times and that empowers us in the best times.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: In the quest for justice and to be faithful in following God’s call, we can sometimes fall into cynical despair, or shallow optimism which leaves us naive about evil. If we believe our faith and our determination to do “what’s right” in God’s eyes is a guarantee of safety, we will be sorely disappointed. But, if we can view our relationship with God as a source of strength that enables us to endure the toughest challenges, struggles and conflicts, we will find it to be sufficient. In addition, if we think the world is easily fixed and evil is easily transformed, we delude ourselves. But, if we are able to remain hopeful and committed to transformation, even as we recognise the evil systems and structures that oppose us (as Jesus did) we will be able to face the struggles in our world wisely, optimistically, and creatively. In some sense, though, this commitment may include a call to  release our “right to protect ourselves” and like Jesus risk crucifixion even as we seek to reach out to those who hate us.

LOCAL APPLICATION
: There are two truths that we need to balance in our personal journey and as communities of faith. The first is that relationship with God, is a “protection” of sorts from the woes of the world. When we follow Christ, we learn ways to live well – we learn to love others and ourselves, which inevitably creates deeper and more stable relationships; we learn to devote ourselves to God and God’s purposes, which offer us meaning and fulfilment; we learn to refuse to play the games of greed, revenge and abuse of power, which controls our appetites and keeps us from self-destruction; we learn spiritual disciplines which increase our self-care and health. But, there is also a second truth – people who follow Christ are not “better” than others. God’s “blessing” is not a reward for goodness, and suffering and difficulty are not God’s judgment or curse for our sinfulness. The Gospel offers us doorways to life, while ensuring that we know that God has no favourites, and that our call is to invite all others to find life in Christ with us. How do we celebrate the gifts of following Christ, while avoiding the self-righteousness that so often characterizes people of faith? And how can we trust in God’s protection while remaining faithful and hopeful when we are persecuted or when we suffer? Perhaps you can explore that this week.

RESOURCES FOR WORHSIP:
Prayers:
The Shelter of Grace
Children Of Abram
The Sound Of Tears
Through Our Tears

Hymn Suggestions:
And Are We Yet Alive?
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
O God Our Help In Ages Past
How Firm A Foundation
Blessed Be Your Name (Link to YouTube video)
Everlasting God (Link to YouTube video)
God Of Justice (Link To YouTube Video)
You Are God

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice

Video Suggestions:
Land Of The Living

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