16 July 2017
The word of God, unfortunately, is a battle-ground in the Church at times. As a result, Christians are perceived to fall into two camps – those who take the word literally, and exalt the word almost to the level of an idol, and those who seem to almost ignore the word completely. This caricature misses the great variety and richness of the various approaches to, and understandings of, God’s word that we have in the Church, though, and so I hope we can avoid the stereotypes altogether.
My prayer for this week is that, as we explore these Lectionary readings about God’s word, we will find a life-giving and liberating way to honour the Word in our worship.
Genesis 25:19-34: Rebekah gives birth to twins, who wrestle with each other from the womb. Then, Esau, the older twin, sell his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew.
OR Isaiah 55:10-13: As the rain and snow water the earth and let it bring forth food, so God’s word accomplishes that which it is sent out to do – liberation and restoration for God’s people.
Psalm 119:105-112: The psalmist celebrates God’s word, committing to obeying God’s commands even when life is difficult and enemies threaten.
OR Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13: A psalm of praise for God’s grace and forgiveness, God’s answers to prayer and God’s ordering of the world so that it bursts with life and provides abundance.
Romans 8:1-11: In Jesus we have access to God’s life-giving Spirit who frees us from the power of sin that brings death.
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23: Jesus sits in a boat and teaches the crowds through parables – in this instance, the parable of the seed that falls on different kinds of ground and produces different results.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Two ideas that come together in this week’s readings are God’s Word and God’s Life – both of which are experienced through God’s Spirit. In Isaiah, God’s Word is proclaimed as reliable and able to accomplish its purpose, which is also celebrated in Psalm 119. In Genesis, God’s word about the wrestling twins is seen to be true as their relationship works itself out as the two boys grow into men. In Psalm 65, although the word is not specifically mentioned as such, the effectiveness of God’s word is seen in similar ways to Isaiah’s prophesy – the abundance that the earth brings forth. In Romans, God’s life is experienced through God’s Spirit who is available to us through Christ – the Word of God. Finally, in the Gospel, Jesus speaks about the word of God as seed that is scattered and that fails to produce in various soils that are not optimal, but that, in good soil, provides abundance. At its heart, the Lectionary seeks to invite us this week to open our hearts to God’s Spirit, to receive God’s word and to embrace the abundant life that God seeks to give us.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: It is tempting, in the face of this week’s readings, to view the world in simplistic terms – if we just listen to God’s word, abundance will come, and life will be ours and all will be ok. In one sense there is truth in this – if we allow the wisdom of God’s word to guide us, we will care for the world, and ensure that it’s ability to provide food is not jeopardised by our foolishness and greed, while also ensuring that food is distributed equitably; if we allow God’s word to guide us, we will avoid the destructiveness of our human brokenness and sin, and enjoy the life-giving benefits of living with justice mercy and grace. If we allow God’s word to guide us we will open ourselves to God’s presence and enjoy relationship with God that inspires and empowers us, while enabling us to bring life to others. However, life is also far more complex. Sometimes we face lack and suffering through no fault of our own. Sometimes the call of justice is not as clear as having one right way to go, but leaves us to make difficult choices between alternatives that may have different pros and cons. But, it is important that the two extremes – of blind, literalistic application of God’s word, and of complete disregard for God’s word – are avoided, and that, in working with God for the healing and rescue of our world and ourselves, we allow God’s word to guide us, while also taking account of the wisdom that science, reason and common sense can give – all of which can also be thought of, in some sense, as a word of God. Christ’s call for us to be good soil means that we need seek to be those who study and receive God’s word responsibly, thoughtfully and prayerfully, and then allow it to direct us as we interact with others, work for justice and seek to bring life as God’s Spirit empowers and guides us. This is the opposite of being “Bible-bashers”, and is the gracious, sensitive, compassionate attitude of those who have been both convicted and challenged by the life and message of Christ. It is these sensitive but strong servants and prophets that our world so desperately needs.
LOCAL APPLICATION: As preachers and leaders in communities of faith, it is tempting to use God’s word as a way to control others so they respond and behave as we want them to, or as we believe they should. It is tempting to go the easy route of surface, literalistic reading of Scripture, because of the busyness of our lives and ministries, and it is tempting to encourage our people to read the Bible in this way as well, so as to avoid difficult questions and the possible struggles of different interpretations and opinions creating dissension or confusion. But to do this fails both us and our people in two ways. In the first instance it reduces God’s word to a book alone, and robs us of the richness of experiencing God’s word primarily as the person – Jesus. In the second instance, it robs us of the surprising and life-giving discoveries that come when we celebrate questions and diversity. And for those who come to our churches God’s Word can be the source of comfort, healing and invitation, if we will allow it be. Unfortunately, the church has too often been seen as a place that robs people of life rather than giving life, of judgment and condemnation, based on God’s Word, rather than on the grace and mercy that that same Word offers. It’s not that we ignore the tough challenges of following God’s word, but that we embrace them for ourselves – the call to follow Christ into compassionate and sacrificial living, and the call to be life-givers for others – rather than using them to control or judge others. And, as we do this, we draw others into the joy, challenge and blessing that comes from living in alignment with the word that was taught and lived by Christ – the final word of God.