20 August 2017

Mercy, blessing and salvation are three words that belong together, that are often associated with Gospel, and yet, that are sometimes viewed completely separately as we wrestle with God’s grace and justice. However, to really understand them, and to really grasp the power of God’s work in and through them, these words need to be placed together and allowed to inform, define and influence each other. When that happens, we discover that God’s gift of salvation, justice and wholeness is offered to all people. Mercy is available to all. And the motivation to participate in God’s work, and the result of God’s work in our lives and our world, is celebration. It is easy, when wrestling with brokenness and injustice to forget this, but the gift of celebration – blessing – is integral to the Gospel.

May we be reminded of God’s mercy, may we embrace, again, God’s salvation gift, and may we be led into a life of celebration that draws all people into it as we worship this week.

READINGS:
Genesis 45:1-15: Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers and forgives them, explaining that it was God who had sent him to Egypt to save them and others from the famine. Then he instructs them to bring his father to Egypt to be with him.
OR Isaiah 56:1, 6-8: God calls God’s people to justice and fairness because God promises to come to them and bring not just God’s people, but also the foreigners and outcasts, to worship and to be blessed by God on God’s mountain.

Psalm 133: A celebration of unity among God’s people which brings the blessing of life.
OR Psalm 67: A psalm of praise for God’s blessings and mercy, which calls all nations to join in praising God for God’s saving power.

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32: God has not abandoned Israel, but offers God’s mercy to all – both Jew and Gentile.

Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28: Jesus explains that it is not what we eat that defiles us but the evil that is in our hearts. Then he is approached by a Canaanite woman who convinces him, in spite of his initial reluctance, to heal her daughter who is being tormented by a demon.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Three ingredients come together to create a celebratory mix in this week’s Lectionary: The first is God’s salvation (expressed in terms of justice and mercy); the second is God’s blessing given to those who are saved; and the third is the inclusion of “foreigners” and “outcasts”. In Genesis, Joseph expresses his conviction that he is called by God to bring God’s salvation and blessing to the Egyptian people, and others who come to Egypt to escape the famine. In Isaiah, God promises the people that God comes to them and rescues them, but also those who are not usually considered God’s people – foreigners and outcasts. In the light of this, God calls people to lives of justice. Psalm 133 reflects on the blessings that come through the unity of God’s people, and Psalm 67 expands this even further to include all nations in the praise of God and in the blessing God gives. Paul reflects on God’s mercy emphasising that both Jews and Gentiles are included in God’s blessing. Finally Jesus, after pointing to the importance of the heart, demonstrates, in what some scholars interpret as a point of learning & growth in Jesus’ own understanding of his ministry, that even outcast Gentiles (Canaanites, who were a particularly disliked group) are included in God’s plan of salvation. The focus, then, of this week’s worship is on God’s coming to us, welcoming all people, and including all people in God’s mercy, salvation and blessing, while also calling all people to lives of justice.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: The work of justice and compassion is often framed in negative and alarmist ways. Poverty is a problem because of the deaths it causes; climate change could destroy us; war brings about tremendous grief, trauma and social ills. It is right that these realities should cause us outrage. It is also good, though, to emphasise the blessings that mercy and justice offer, if we will only embrace them. Here is where the Lectionary speaks powerfully to us this week. God’s welcome – and the diverse communities that we discover as we share it – brings great gifts of creativity and growth, and so we can be inspired to be people of inclusion who welcome all people, including “foreigners and outcasts”. God’s salvation – God’s gift of wholeness and mercy – does not just save us from our sin and brokenness and injustice. It also leads us into a life of vibrancy, abundance and fulfilment. If the motivation for seeking God’s reign and working for justice is only our fear and our outrage, we will easily find ourselves falling into despondency, despair and bitterness. When, however, we remember, along with our outrage, the blessing (to use the word from our readings today) that God offers through God’s salvation and justice, this dream inspires, energises and encourages us in ways that can sustain us when dark times come. So, the challenge for us this week is to reflect on the world and celebrate both the blessings of God that we see and experience already, and also to celebrate the possibilities that await us as we gather all people, and together open ourselves to God’s saving work. As hard as justice and inclusivity can be, they give us many reasons to rejoice and they give us many blessings to be thankful for. Let’s take time to focus on these this week.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Two problems plague the Church when it comes to our common views of God’s mercy and salvation. The first problem is our tendency to see salvation as an exclusive work of God given only to some in which those who are “outside” of the people of God are beyond God’s interest or care. This means that in our communities live many people who feel both judged and excluded by the very people that God has called to love and serve them. And within many churches are those who do not really feel welcomed and who wonder whether, if others really knew them, they would be considered to belong among the “saved”. The second problem is that we have proclaimed God’s salvation and mercy to be primarily a rescue from sin and evil. This forces our evangelism (our reaching out) to take the form of convincing people that they are sinners and then trying to get them to ‘buy’ a solution that they didn’t know they needed (and may well not want). It also means that we end up framing our ministry, our proclamation and even our liturgy in negative terms, focussing on our lack, our need and our weakness, and viewing God almost exclusively in terms of rescue, of working outside of our lives and resources, and as completely separate and “other” than us. The result of all of this is that we lose sght of the power of celebration, of acknowledging God’s image and glory within us and others, and of working with God in bringing wholeness and justice to the world. Perhaps, in our liturgy this week, we can celebrate the Christ who includes the outcast and the foreigner, and whose salvation and justice remind us of our goodness and glory and call us to be our best selves. This is not to deny the important work of acknowledging our sin. It is simply, in what has been an overbalance on the negative, an attempt to see the Gospel as an attractive vision that calls us to God’s promise of blessing and not just as a “fire escape.” Perhaps this week in our liturgy we can expand our celebration to include the “foreigner” and “outcast” – celebrating the diversity of those who look, think, speak, act, love and even believe, differently from us, without feeling the need to separate ourselves from them or cast them as ‘outsiders’.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
You Are God
Your Grace In Us
We Pray

Hymn Suggestions:
O For A Thousand Tongues
And Can It Be
Jesus, United By Thy Grace
There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy
Blessed Assurance
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)
Mighty To Save (Link to YouTube video)
Everyone Belongs
You Are
With Kindness

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Eucharist

Video Suggestions:
Signs Of Salvation
Psalm 67

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