06 September 2015

The can be no question, after reading the Scriptures for this week in the Revised Common Lectionary, that God is concerned for the poorest and most vulnerable in our world, and that God expects God’s people to reject favouritism and show inclusive love, grace and compassion to all. It’s a challenging week, but it goes to the heart of the Gospel.

May we learn, a little more, to be people of inclusivity and compassion through our worship this week.

READINGS:
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23: A good reputation is of great value. God made both rich and poor, and those who are unjust will not survive, while those who are generous find happiness. God defends the poor and will stand against those who oppress them.
OR Isaiah 35:4-7: God will come to save God’s people, opening blind eyes and deaf ears, freeing the lame to leap and the mute to sing, and bringing water and life into dry deserts.

Psalm 125: A prayer of confidence in God’s care and protection of God’s people, and a plea that God would do good to good people, but reject evil doers.
OR Psalm 146: A song of praise and an exhortation to God’s people to trust in God and not in any human being. God makes heaven and earth, gives justice to the oppressed and food to the hungry, and God liberates prisoners, heals those with various ailments and protects the most vulnerable.

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17: To show favouritism is to deny Jesus’ faithfulness, and is to break the law which calls us to love our neighbours as ourselves. It is sinful to favour the wealthy over the poor. Claiming we have faith when we fail to live it out in acts of compassion is meaningless.

Mark 7:24-37: Jesus heals a Gentile woman’s daughter after an interesting conversation, and opens the ears and mouth of a deaf-mute man. Jesus then tries to get the people to keep silent about what he has done, but they insist on spreading the news.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
In every reading this week God’s preferential option for the poor and vulnerable is expressed. The Lectionary offers us a clear and unequivocal call to justice as we follow Christ. In Proverbs, those who are generous and just are blessed, and God is seen to be on the side of the poor and oppressed, while resisting those who are unjust. In Isaiah God is revealed to be gracious and merciful to God’s people, especially those who are weak and vulnerable, and the promise is given that God will bring healing and restoration to the broken and oppressed. Both Psalms celebrate God’s care for God’s people, and God’s healing, restoration and blessing on the poor and broken, and on those who live generously and justly. In the letter of James, favouritism is denounced as breaking the law of love, and the people of faith are challenged to put their faith into action by caring for the poor. Finally, Jesus is shown to be our example for compassionate living, as he heals both a Gentile woman’s daughter (after being challenged by her in his initial reluctance) and a Jewish man. The basic and consistent message of the Lectionary this week is this: Our faith is seen in how we treat others, especially in our love for, protection of and inclusion of the poor, the marginalised, the broken and the vulnerable. As such, favouritism, prejudice and discrimination are to be rejected, and inclusive love and welcome are to be embraced and practiced as the most basic and fundamental ingredients of our faith.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
Global Application:
If there is one thing that has brought tremendous pain, conflict and brokenness to our world, it is our tendency to polarise ourselves. Our divisions of rich and poor, men and women, believer and non-believer, gay and straight, western and eastern, white and black, powerful and weak, have done little to help us, but have left war, hunger, homelessness, and hatred in their wake. Yet, the Scriptures show clearly this week that God is the God of all, and God’s grace and mercy are available to all. Unfortunately even in working for justice we have too easily allowed ourselves to become part of the polarisation – caricaturing our opponents in order to denounce and attack them in the hopes that this will help us to “win” a victory over them. This divisiveness has filtered though everything from theological and political discourse, to economic confrontation and even social activism. We need to recapture the radical inclusivity of the Gospel, following Jesus in his openness to serve and love even the rejected, marginalised and “unclean”. We need to find a new Gospel-inspired collaboration across ideology, geography and economic status in order to address the great challenges facing us. And we need to allow the Church to become, once again, a welcome home for all who seek after God and God’s ways, rather than an exclusive in-group trying to keep God for ourselves. It does not heal the world for us to hoard our wealth or our faith, while pointing judgmental fingers at those who are different from us. It does heal the world when we take the hands of others, and seek to connect with and understand them, in spite of our differences. May we constantly seek to allow our worship to change us in the direction of greater compassion, service and inclusivity.

Local Application:
In every home and community the temptation to show favouritism is present. In every neighbourhood and church the temptation to ignore the poorest and most vulnerable because of the pain and discomfort of reaching out is present. It is easy to build a safe and comfortable world around our faith, including only those who are like us in every way, and turning a blind eye to the injustice and suffering just outside our doors. But, to do this is to turn our backs on the Gospel (as James says). Sometimes we need to be confronted by those we ignore – even as Jesus was confronted by the Gentile mother – and we need our hearts and attitudes changed. This requires a humility and openness that is not easy, but is certainly Christlike. Then, as we begin to see our connectedness with those who are different from us, and as we learn to treat all people with equal compassion, sensitivity and respect, we begin to manifest the characteristics of God’s Reign, and we begin to bring healing to others – and to ourselves. When we can stop blaming the poor for their plight, and stop believing that wealth and happiness are divine rewards for good behaviour, we can begin to touch others with the love and acceptance of Jesus. And then, as we live the Reign of God, we may just discover that we are more intimately connected with God than ever before, and that our lives have more meaning and joy than we could have believed possible. This is certainly the promise of the Gospel, and the call of this week’s readings.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
New Eyes
Ripping Off The Labels
Biographers Of The Least
Serving All

Hymn Suggestions:
We Shall Go Out With Hope Of Resurrection
Come Let Us All Unite And Sing: God Is Love
There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy
Fearful Heart
You Are
Everyone Belongs
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
A Song Of Peace

Liturgy:
A Liturgy of Compassion

Video Suggestions:
Faith By Itself Is Dead
Jesus’ Etiquette
White Man (Link to YouTube video)

Drama:
You’re Not Like Me

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