11 August 2013

It may come as a surprising thought that the ‘blessings’ we receive and enjoy have the potential to make us less Christ-like, but, depending on how we understand God’s promises and the goodness God gives, this can be the case. When we view wealth, success or power as unquestionable signs of God’s blessing, we are in danger of departing from the Gospel’s call to align ourselves with the least, and to find God’s blessing in community and sharing. This is the challenge of the readings this week in the Revised Common Lectionary.

May your worship this week lead you into a new sense of connectedness with others, and a new generosity in sharing the grace and mercy of God.

READINGS:
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20: Isaiah prophesies against God’s people, expressing God’s displeasure at their worship and sacrifices while injustice remains among them. God invites the people to repent and confess, and if they do, God promises to cleanse and restore them.
OR Genesis 15:1-6: God promises that Abram will have descendants as numerous as the stars. Abram’s faith in this promise is considered to be the basis for his relationship with God (or is counted as righteousness).

Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23: God comes in judgement on God’s people, inviting them to offer genuine sacrifices of thanksgiving, and promising God’s salvation if they will do this.
OR Psalm 33:12-22: Strength, military might, magnificent horses cannot save people. Only waiting on God and trusting in God’s mercy is a safe refuge.

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16
: Abraham is an example of faith, giving up his homeland and living as a foreigner in a strange land for the sake of a God-given inheritance.

Luke 12:32-40: Jesus promises God’s kingdom to those who follow Christ, inviting them to give up temporary, material security and wealth for heavenly security and riches. He encourages them to stay awake and be aware of God’s coming.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Much is made of the promises of God in some circles, but little is said about the ‘cost’ of receiving God’s promises. Essentially this cost arises because God’s promises are always offered to the community, not just to the individual. And so, Abram is promised innumerable descendants, but must give up his homeland to live among foreigners (as the Hebrews readings explains). In Isaiah’s prophecy, God’s people can be cleansed and restored, but they must embrace justice and mercy. In the Psalms, God’s salvation is offered to those who, like Abram, will trust in God’s mercy. Finally, Jesus promises the Kingdom to his followers, but they have to release their faith in human or material resoucres, and commit to remaining always awake and aware to God’s coming – which, if we read the verses following the set section, is strongly linked with how we view and treat others. A great ‘hook’ for this week is the phrase “descendants of Abram”, for Abram’s story is the model for the faith we are called to this week – a commitment to trust in God and a willingness to discover & share God’s promises of grace and mercy in and with the “other”, the foreigner, the ones who seek justice, the ones we are called to serve.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: There are so many ways that the idea of God’s promises and blessings intersect with the realities of our world. When we embrace a view (as so many do) that God’s blessings are given primarily to individuals, and that wealth, power and beauty are signs of God’s blessing, we will inevitably begin to strive for these “manifestations of blessing” for ourselves. The result, all too often, is that we grow selfish, self-centred, uncommitted to justice, and may even view poverty or suffering as signs of God’s judgement. When, however, we realise that God’s blessings are always given to communities, and that they are to be shared with the least – that the reality is that we have never really known God’s blessing unless it brings justice, mercy and provision to all, especially the poor and weak – our striving becomes sacrificial and generous. We begin to find our place among the “foreigners”, the impoverished and the marginalised, and we discover the richness of God’s reign within and among us as we share the blessings that come through us with all. How does this idea of “communal blessing” speak to the distribution of resources in our world? In what way can our commitment to receive God’s blessing in this way guide us as we vote, as we participate in civil processes, as we contemplate and petition the meetings of the powerful in our government, in groups like the G8, the G20, and the BRICS member states,  and in the United Nations?

LOCAL APPLICATION: In so many ways we have developed a spirituality that hoards blessings, and keeps God’s promises to ourselves. Even the way we view salvation – as a personal escape from hell that requires no engagement with, or responsibility for, others, and that recognises no other possible avenues of grace – is a hoarding of God’s goodness and mercy for ourselves. And so, even within the church, we too easily hoard material wealth, facilities, people and opportunities, allowing our brothers and sisters in other communities, or other parts of our cities, to go without, to struggle and to suffer. How might our view and practice of Church change if we began to recognise that God’s blessings are given to be shared, that we are called to live “among the foreigners” and that it is here that God’s promises are fulfilled? How differently might we live if we chose to be “descendants of Abram” trusting God’s Kingdom promises whole-heartedly, and laying aside our usual human structures of security and comfort in order to recognise God’s coming through the least, the ‘other’, the ones who cry for justice?

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Shared Blessings
Children of Abram
Love In Action
May We Be

Hymn Suggestions:
Now Thank We All our God
Trust And Obey
Christ From Whom All Blessings Flow
Save Me
Take Up Your Cross
You Have Shown Us (Link to YouTube video – song starts at 1:24)
Freely, Freely (God forgave my sin) (Link to YouTube video)
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
Lifesong (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Eucharist
A Liturgy of Compassion

Video Suggestions:
Blessing Others
Hebrews 11

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