08 September 2013

This is not going to be a fun week to preach – but it is going to be life-giving!

The essential message of this week’s readings boils down to two things for me: 1) We are constantly faced with the choice to do the right thing or not; 2) Doing the right thing (or following Jesus, if you will) is very costly. Unfortunately, in our world, expediency, short-term thinking and prosperity preaching have all made the Gospel of counting the cost very unpopular. But, in truth, life is not found in quick fixes, or in pandering to our appetites – we know this. Life is found in following Christ’s sacrificial, life-giving ways – which is what it means, really, to do the right thing.

May our worship lead us to count the cost, and choose to be people who always seek to do the right thing.

READINGS:
Jeremiah 18:1-11: Jeremiah is instructed to observe the potter at work, and God explains how God works – how good that is promised may not happen if a nation turns to evil, and bad that is prophesied may not happen if the nation repents and turns back to God. Then God’s people are called to turn back to God.
OR Deuteronomy 30:15-20: The people are offered the choice of life or death. Life is to love God and live according to God’s principles. Death is to turn away from God and to worship other gods.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18: A song of celebration for how intimately and completely God knows us – God formed us before we were born, and knows the path God wanted us to follow.
OR Psalm 1: Those who devote themselves to God’s law and God’s ways are blessed, secure and prosperous, while those who are wicked will fade away like husks blown away by the wind.

Philemon 1-21: Paul writes to Philemon asking him to “do the right thing” and accept Onesimus, his run away slave, back as a brother in Christ, without judgement or punishment.

Luke 14:25-33: The cost of following Christ is everything, and Jesus encourages us to count the cost before committing ourselves to him.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The Lectionary seems to bring us back to this one question over and over – Will we choose life and good and God, or death and evil and “not-God”? – for us to think about it from a different perspective and explore it at a deeper level. A basic reality of life and faith is this question, and the way we answer it will determine how we live, and the consequences we must face (Jeremiah, Deuteronomy and Psalm 1). Choosing life does not guarantee health, wealth and happiness – no matter what the prosperity preachers tell us. Faith is not a protection from life’s struggles and suffering. Rather, the gift of choosing God’s life is the wisdom, the resources and the capacity to give of self that leads us into fullness of life, and into knowing the reality of God’s reign in our daily lives – no matter what we may have to deal with. The big challenge in this week’s readings is the recognition that following God’s way is difficult and costly (Luke). Doing the right thing, while it leads us into God’s abundant life, is often counter-intuitive, and goes against our natural inclinations and reactions (Philemon). But we have the assurance that God knows us, loves and seeks the best for us (Psalm 139). If we are to find the courage to pay the price of following Christ, we need to learn to lean into God’s love and grace.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: How do we begin to speak about doing the right thing in our world today? When the cost of doing right is high, and often offers little short-term gain, how do we do what is right? When our leaders are faced with fickle voters, partisan misrepresentation and opportunism, and pressure from interest groups that threaten to jump ship if they don’t get their way, how are they supposed to choose what is right? When business is measured quarterly and the stock market punishes anything but short-term gain-making strategies, how are corporations supposed to do the right thing? When we need power now, how do we what is right by our planet? When we want the foods we love now, how do we grow and distribute food ethically? When we want to feel safe now, how do we negotiate and resist the temptation to go to war? When we need to grow the bottom line, how do we investigate labour practices of suppliers, or ensure raw materials are mined sustainably? In a world of instant gratification, media scrutiny and results-addiction, eternal reward and long-term results that benefit the least can be hard to sell. If we are to commit ourselves to being people who do the right thing, we will know the benefit – we will find life that is abundant and sustainable and good, and we will encounter God in our daily living. But, we will also know the cost – the sacrifice of some of our comforts, the misunderstandings and cynicism of those who stay committed to expediency, the anger of our leaders and peers as we challenge “the system”. But, if we will not pay the cost, what hope is there for us and our world?

LOCAL APPLICATION: Doing the right thing comes down to the small details of our lives as individual Christ-followers and as communities of faith. It is in the choices we make that God’s goodness is reflected to the world, and the true value of the Gospel is demonstrated. When we turn our faith into just another “quick-fix” or just another strategy for fast and easy personal gratification (which we all do all too often) then we deny ourselves the power and joy of God’s abundant life, and we fail to proclaim the power of the Gospel of Jesus. But, when we are prepared to pay the cost – to live a life of loving, serving and caring for the least, the outcast and the unlovely – the Gospel message shouts from our lives. When we work hard to make ethical choices about our food, our clothing, our energy needs, our mode of transport, these small sacrifices have a big impact on the lives of others and on the world at large – and the Gospel message shouts from our lives. When we are prepared to live in a way that is counter-cultural, denying the short-term approach of our society, and embracing the time frame of eternity, then we build a sustainable life for ourselves, and we contribute to the sustainability of the world – and the Gospel shouts from our lives. What “instant-gratification” choices are you making that need to change? What cost is God asking you to pay in order to live the Gospel in the daily details of your life? In what ways is the practical, life-giving, blessing of the Gospel being reflected in your life and your church?

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
A Small Price, Really
Counting The Cost
A Goodness Worth Pursuing

Hymn Suggestions:
Take My Life And Let It Be
I Surrender All
O Jesus I Have Promised
My Jesus, I Love Thee
Have Thine Own Way, Lord
Lord, I Give You My Heart (Link to YouTube video)
I Will Offer Up My Life (Link to YouTube video)
Change My Heart, O God (Link to YouTube video)
Everything (Link to YouTube video)
Here I Am, Jesus

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice

Video Suggestions:
Wonderfully Made
The Cost Of Following Jesus with Adrian Plass

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