03 March 2013

The theme this week is a powerful follow on from last week. The issues of suffering, judgment, repentance, compassion, and justice all come together in ways that are both comforting and disturbing. One of the most challenging and important questions we must face today is how we are to respond to suffering. This week the Lectionary leaves us no option to answer Jesus’ call to compassion and justice.

May we be drawn deeper into the mystery of God’s infinite grace and all-embracing justice as we journey through Lent in worship.

READINGS:
Isaiah 55:1-9: An invitation from God for those who are hungry and thirsty to receive food and drink free of charge, to seek God while God may be found, and to recognise that God’s ways are much higher than the ways of human beings.

Psalm 63:1-8: A psalm of longing for God’s nourishing presence, and of thanksgiving for God’s satisfying care and life.

1 Corinthians 10:1-13: The disobedience and rebelliousness of the Israelites in the wilderness is a warning to us to resist the temptations we face. But, God provides, and strengthens us, if we will allow it.

Luke 13:1-9: Jesus confronts the idea that natural or human-initiated disasters only befall the sinful or the evil, and challenges the self-righteousness of his hearers, calling them to repentance, even as he reflects, in parable, on God’s mercy that gently waits for us to wake up and start bearing fruit.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
This week the readings move us very powerfully from last week’s theme, into a “next step”. Last week, we were challenged to recognise that faith, on one level, is not a protection from the world’s woes, but rather, it is a call to take up the cross, and embrace God’s life even when we have to suffer to do so. On another level, though, we were invited to celebrate that faith does lead us into a life that is deeper, richer and more meaningful than one of faithlessness. This week, we are taken one step further – we are to reject the idea that suffering is God’s punishment for sin, and blessing (or the avoidance of suffering) God’s reward. Rather, we are called to recognise our own need of God’s mercy and grace, and to respond by “bearing fruit” – manifesting the life of God’s reign, and bringing grace and mercy into the world. This week we are shocked out of our complacency, and challenged to be more determined in our commitment to follow Christ, even as we are assured of the gifts of God’s presence and God’s provision to fulfil our calling.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world. – C.S. Lewis

GLOBAL APPLICATION: The significance of this week’s Gospel reading, in the light of the many natural disasters, acts of violence, and financial struggle sin our world over the last few years, is nothing less than obvious. While much can be said – and has been said – about whether these things are God’s punishment or not, Jesus closes the book on that discussion very firmly. But, he doesn’t close the book on the significance of such tragic events for every person – it reminds us that we all need God’s grace and mercy, and that we cannot stand off and debate the pain of others academically while ignoring the part our self-righteousness plays in their pain. There is a sense in the suffering of the poor and marginalised is not a judgement on the them – it is a judgment on those who have allowed the inequalities that made them vulnerable to such suffering. We cannot help but be challenged by the statistics that reveal that those who are the worst hit by climate change, war, and economic crises are the poorest and most vulnerable in our world. Nor can we be anything but challenged by Jesus call to bear fruit by serving and protecting these “least” ones.

LOCAL APPLICATION
: There is an unfortunate tendency in our world to turn away from pain – to stop looking, to avoid it and to distract ourselves. And when this doesn’t work, we sometimes turn to judgement and self-righteousness. But suffering is, as C.S. Lewis says, God’s megaphone to rouse us. It is not that God creates suffering, but that God speaks very loudly through pain. And it’s not only our own pain that God speaks through. When others are in pain, God’s voice is clear and challenging – calling us repent of our avoidance and self-protection, and challenging us to bear the fruit of caring, compassionate action on behalf of the suffering. While news shows bring the suffering of the world into our homes, it may be that God is speaking to you through these stories to be more aware of those who are suffering right on your doorstep. Who needs you to release your self-righteousness and complacency and offer them compassion and help right now in your community?

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
The Sound Of Tears
Seeing
The Call Of Compassion
Help As We May

Hymn Suggestions:
The Voice Of God Is Calling
How Firm A Foundation
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
We Shall Go Out With Hope Of Resurrection
How Long?
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
Forever (Link to YouTube video)
God Will Make A Way (Link to YouTube video)
Consider It Joy
(Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy Of Compassion

Video Suggestions:
Invitation To The Thirsty
You Out There?

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