13 September 2015

Obeying the call of Wisdom, embracing God’s instruction, watching how we use our tongues, taking up our crosses and following Jesus – these are the themes that come together in the Lectionary this week. They may seem diverse, but they can all be brought together under the label of integrity. This quality marks a life that is true, just, gracious and compassionate, and it’s a quality that is desperately needed in our world today.

May the words we speak and sing in worship become the actions and attitudes of our lives.

READINGS:
Proverbs 1:20-33: Wisdom cries out in public for the crowd to turn away from their foolishness, but, in spite of the invitation, the people have refused to listen. So, they will receive no help when disaster comes, but those who obey will be protected.
OR Isaiah 50:4-9: A servant song of Isaiah, in which God’s servant proclaims that he has been given God’s words to speak, and has been obedient to God, even though people persecuted and attacked him.

Psalm 19: Creation proclaims God’s glory, and the Psalmist celebrates God’s law that brings life, refreshes the soul, gives insight and wisdom, and corrects him when he goes astray.
OR Wisdom of Solomon 7:26-8:1: A celebration of the beauty of Wisdom who reflects God’s light and goodness, reveals God’s activity, and shapes people into God’s friends.
OR Psalm 116:1-9: The Psalmist loves God and praises God because God has heard his cry for mercy and for rescue, and God has compassionately saved him, delivering him from death.

James 3:1-12: The tongue is a small thing, but it has tremendous power for good or ill. Although human beings have tamed all sorts of animals, we struggle to tame the tongue. But, for God’s people, blessing and curses should not come out of the same mouth.

Mark 8:27-38: Jesus asks his disciples who the people say he is, and then who they say he is. Peter replies that he is the Christ. Then Jesus predicts his coming death and resurrection, but Peter tries to correct him. Jesus responds by rebuking Peter, and then teaching that all who seek to follow him must take up their crosses, and not be ashamed of him.

For more thoughts on this week’s Gospel reading check out this blog post.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
Wisdom, the power of the tongue and proclamation of God’s glory all come together in the Lectionary this week. The reading from Proverbs, Psalm 19, and the passage from the Wisdom of Solomon all speak about the wisdom that comes from obeying God’s instruction, directions, and ways. The Isaiah reading, Psalm 116 and the Gospel all connect around the suffering that comes from following God’s ways, and God’s faithfulness in rescuing those who cry to out to God. Finally, James speaks about the importance of disciplining our tongues, using them for praise, blessing and teaching, rather than cursing. The theme that brings all of these readings together can be summed up in one word: integrity. We live with integrity when we embrace God’s wisdom and live it out, rather than just speaking words that we do not put into action. We live with integrity when we stay faithful to God’s ways, and speak God’s message, even though it often results in suffering, struggle and sacrifice. We live with integrity when we acknowledge who Jesus is and proclaim him as the Christ, while understanding that he is a crucified God who calls us to take up our own crosses. We live with integrity when our lives reflect the cross and resurrection of Jesus, and when our words are filled with praise, blessing and wisdom, rather than cursing. When our words, our thoughts, our attitudes and our actions all align with one another, and with the ways of God that were taught and lived by Jesus, then our lives are lives of integrity and they are lives that add value and make a life-giving contribution to the world.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
Global Application:
The call for integrity may seem naïve in a world in which corruption, expediency and power games appear to be the order of the day. It is not uncommon to hear political, business, community and religious leaders say one thing and then discover that their actions are completely different. It can be painful to watch as self-protection, self-aggrandisement and power-grabbing become the norm, especially among those who are leaders. Unfortunately, when integrity gets lost, so too does justice. It becomes very hard to get aid to those who need it, when leaders siphon off money and resources for themselves. It can be tough to get laws changed when corporate lobbies invest millions in maintaining an unjust legal advantage. It can be disheartening to work on behalf of the marginalised and vulnerable, when legal and financial systems are biased against them. It can become very tempting to sacrifice our integrity just to get things done. But, to do this is to lose faith in the Gospel, and to violate the justice and integrity of God’s Reign. As hard as it can sometimes be to hold on to our integrity, in the end, it’s the only thing that can bring about authentic transformation in our world. When the integrity of Christ is manifest in our lives, it will rub off on others, and slowly systems and people will change. Certainly the signs that integrity is becoming increasingly important to the people of the world are all there – in the exposés of corrupt and immoral behaviour among leaders, in the call for more just systems through various protest movements, and in the growing power in online and other forms of citizen activism. As followers of Christ, let’s celebrate integrity wherever we find it, and let’s seek to maintain integrity as one of our highest values.

Local Application:
Perhaps the greatest threat to our integrity in our homes, churches and personal lives, is the siren call of expediency and consumerism. It’s far easier to create “sexy” worship services that make people feel good, but leave their garbage unchallenged, than it is to hold people accountable to the Gospel. It is far easier to “go with the flow” than to stand up for truth, justice and love, especially among our own family members and friends. It is far easier to preach great self-help messages than to call people to allow Christ to change them. Sometimes, rather than ensure our words have integrity, we simply remain silent. Sometimes, rather than holding to values of integrity and justice, we simply turn a blind eye to injustice. Sometimes, rather than get our hands dirty in serving others, it is easier to throw money at the problems we face and hope that someone else will deal with the practicalities. But, we all know the power of lives of integrity. We have all been impacted by people of faith whose lives have embodied what they believe in every part. And we have all seen the positive impact that such integrity can have on relationships, on communities, on our witness for Christ, and on the individuals who are served and saved by people of integrity. May we be known less for our opulent sanctuaries and professional standards of performance in worship, and more for embodying the gracious words of Christ, the bold wisdom of Christ, and the sacrificial love of Christ.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Only Praise
Words of Life
A Goodness Worth Pursuing
Living Aligned

Hymn Suggestions:
If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee
Take Up Your Cross
Be Thou My Vision
Take My Life And Let It Be
Let Me Shine
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)
Lord, Reign In Me (Link to YouTube video)
As We Gather (Whatever We Do)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Sacrament

Video Suggestions:
Lose Your Life
Integrity
A Life Of Integrity

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