23 July 2017

This week’s readings may appear at first glance to be rather judgmental and possibly triumphalist, but I believe this is a misreading. Rather, what we find is a celebration of the God who is moving the universe toward a good purpose, and who, in the meantime, strengthens us with hope and invites us to include all – allowing whatever judgement that may come to be in God’s hands, not ours.

My we find renewed hope, and a new commitment to welcoming all, as we worship this week.

READINGS:
Genesis 28:10-19a: Jacob dreams of angels ascending and descending on a ladder and receives God’s promise that the land will be given to him and his descendants. Then he calls that place Bethel (House of God).
OR Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19: God is powerful and just and shows people how to be merciful and full of hope.
OR Isaiah 44:6-8: God alone is God, the first and the last and the defender of God’s people.

Psalm 139:1-12,23-24: God knows us inside and out, and is always with us. There is nowhere we can go that God is not with us.
OR Psalm 86:11-17: A psalm of lament and thanksgiving, remembering God’s mercy and comfort and pleading for God’s vindication and protection from enemies.

Romans 8:12-25: We do not have to live according to the desires of our corrupt nature, but we have received God’s Spirit who assures us that we are God’s children, not just for our sakes, but for all of creation that yearns for God’s children to be revealed.

Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43: Jesus tells a parable in which weeds are planted by an enemy in a man’s field. He instructs his workers not to pull up the weeds, but to let them grow with the wheat until the harvest comes, when the wheat and weeds will be separated and the weeds burned, while the wheat is taken into the barn. At the disciples’ request, Jesus explains the parable to refer to the work of the evil one and those who follow evil living alongside his followers until the harvest time when judgement will happen.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
This week the Lectionary calls us to faithfulness and to hope. The message of all of the readings is that our world is not random, but is following a divine purpose, and that God will finally bring an end to evil and rescue God’s people – and all of creation – from brokenness and darkness. In Jacob’s dream God’s promise of a land, a home, for God’s people is given, while in Isaiah, God is portrayed as the only one who knows future and past – the trajectory of the universe – and who defends God’s people. Similarly, in the Wisdom of Solomon reading, God’s power is praised, and the assurance of God’s hope is remembered. Psalms 139 expresses confidence in God’s presence, knowledge and care for God’s people, while Psalm 86 remembers this care being expressed in practical situations, while praying for God’s protection to continue. Paul, in his letter to the Romans, reminds his readers of the gift of God’s Spirit, and the hope that this gift brings, while teaching them that the freedom from sin and death that they hope for is not just for them but for all creation. Finally, in Jesus’ parable he explains why good and evil exists side by side, and describes metaphorically the reality of a world where evil does not seem to be dealt with. He also offers the hope that the time will come when evil is finally done away with, and only goodness remains.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: It may seem na├»ve to speak of good finally overcoming evil. In the face of corruption, poverty, climate change, war and gross inequity, it may appear that the opposite outcome is far more likely. However, as people of faith, we do not have the luxury of pessimism, cynicism and despair. If we truly believe that God is alive and active in our world, then we must trust that our world is not random, but is moving purposefully forward in what Jeremy Rifkin called a “trajectory of compassion”. This means that, while we may not see the fulfilment of our hopes and dreams for justice, peace and compassion to guide our world, we cannot stop working toward this hope in every way we can. We are called to proclaim and enact the hope of God’s protection for the most vulnerable and poorest among us, by defending their rights and seeking to protect them in God’s name – working for homes, health care, food, education and sanitation through our actions, our votes and our voices. We are called to work for the hope of peace by refusing to engage in hate-speech, or aggressive and divisive rhetoric, and by seeking to understand those we would call enemies and make them friends. We are called to provide hope to our world by living simply and responsibly in order to care for our planet, while demonstrating an alternative way of living that rejects consumerism, exclusivism and exceptionalism. What it all comes down to is allowing the vision of God’s reign – our hope – to fill our hearts such that we become proclaimers of hope who begin to live what we long for even in the midst of the struggles and injustices of our time. This is both challenging and prophetic. It is not easy or comfortable, but it is joyful, healthy and inviting, while, in small daily acts, helping to change the ways in which our current way of being is dysfunctional.

LOCAL APPLICATION: For many people the Church has not been seen as a place of hope. Rather it has been seen as a place which offers hope only to a select few, while condemning the rest of the world to hell. The list of reasons and causes that Christians offer for why others are not acceptable to God is long, and seems to grow constantly. However, the Lectionary offers an alternative narrative this week. While Jesus does speak about weeds and wheat, he does not allow the weeds to be pulled up, because they may not be recognised, and some wheat may appear to be weeds. Only God, when the time comes, has the ability and the right to make this distinction. In our time, we are called to live together – “wheat” and “weeds” together – trusting in the hope that the time will come when evil and injustice are removed from our world. What this means is that we cannot judge anyone as “weeds” or “wheat”, because be might be seeing wrongly and missing what God knows about the heart. All that is left for us, then, is to embrace our hope and make it available to all. This means that we can welcome those we might be tempted to exclude, we can support and defend those who are vulnerable and marginalised, we can support those who are in need, and we can live – in our communities and our homes – the inclusive, gracious, merciful and generous hope that God offers us. The question this raises for us is this: in what ways can our worship this week proclaim God’s hope and help us to live it through the week? In what ways can we, as a community called by the name of Christ, demonstrate the hope of God’s reign in our worship and our mission? And, in what ways can we hold out this hope for others, inviting them to share it with us, without seeking to make judgements prematurely?

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
We Celebrate Your Life
Overwhelming The Weeds

Hymn Suggestions:
Just As I Am
Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
Sing We The King
There’s A Light Upon the Mountains
A Charge To Keep I Have
In Your Mercy, Lord
There’s A Light (Upon The Mountains)
God Of This City (Link to YouTube video)
Hosanna (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy For The Foretaste Of The Heavenly Banquet

Video Suggestions:
Wait With Patience (Based on the Romans reading)
The Harvest (A graphic telling of the parable of the wheat and the weeds. The music is a bit over dramatic and I didn’t like the ending, but otherwise it could work well)

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