24 September 2017

If we did the work of last week well, we will find ourselves in a place of tremendous comfort, celebration and challenge this week. After reflecting on the difficult work of forgiveness, especially in the light of the significant moment of memory last week, we now move beyond just forgiveness, into the recognition that God seeks the best for us, and that we are called to actively seek the best for others. This generosity must work itself out in how we view and treat others, in how we use and share our resources, and in how we engage in the struggle for equity and justice in our world.

May our worship this week lead us deeper into God’s generosity and lead us deeper into lives of generous grace.

READINGS:
Exodus 16:2-15: The Israelites complain that Moses has brought them out into the desert to die because they have no food. But God tells Moses to inform the people that God has heard their complaints and will send them food. Then, in the evening, quails fill the camp, and in the morning manna covers the ground.
OR Jonah 3:10-4:11: When the people of Nineveh repent because of Jonah’s preaching, Jonah gets upset and finds a place outside of the city to brood. Then God provides a plant to grow and shield him one day, and a worm to destroy the plant the next, using this to confront Jonah about his anger at God’s compassion.

Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45: A celebration of God’s action on behalf of the Israelites, remembering God’s provision of manna and quail in the wilderness.
OR Psalm 145:1-8: A psalm of praise for God’s greatness, God’s mighty acts that will be told from one generation to the next, and God’s compassion, mercy and forgiveness.

Philippians 1:21-30: Paul reflects on how he is united with Christ whether he is alive or dead, but how he is convinced that he must remain in order to keep serving God’s people. Then he encourages them to continue to live in ways that reflect God’s reign, even when it results in suffering.

Matthew 20:1-16: Jesus tells a story about an employer who hires workers throughout the day, but pays them all the same at the end. When those who started at the beginning of the day complain, he challenges them, asking whether they resent his generosity to others. This story leads Jesus into his famous words about the first being last and the last first.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The central theme, that flows through all of this week’s readings, is a simple one – God is compassionate and merciful, generous and forgiving. This is a fitting response to last week’s focus on forgiveness, because we must recognise, if we are to take Christ’s message seriously, that God seeks the best for people, and that God encourages us to do the same – which takes us beyond just forgiveness into a life of seeking the blessing of others. Jesus’ parable demonstrates God’s generosity and challenges us not to resent generosity shown to others, but to rejoice in it. Paul is a living example of this since, though he expressed his desire to come to his life’s end and go to be with Christ, he was willing to continue to suffer and serve for the sake of the Philippian church which he had founded. Both Psalms celebrate God’s generous goodness to God’s people with Psalm 105 (which we have encountered before in the last few weeks) connecting with the continuous Old Testament reading (Exodus) in which God provides food for the Israelites in the wilderness in spite of their doubt and complaining. Psalm 145, celebrates, among God’s mighty acts, God’s forgiveness and the blessing God gives to God’s people. Finally, Jonah is a mirror for us showing how bitter we can easily become when God shows mercy and generosity to others, and how easily we become ungrateful for what we have enjoyed, especially when we fall into a feeling of entitlement. The challenge of this week, then, is to learn to appreciate what we have received from our generous God, while celebrating God’s generosity to others. This applies, most especially, to God’s mercy and forgiveness and the welcome God gives to all people to share in God’s reign.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: There are two ways this week’s readings challenge us, as followers of Christ, on a global scale. The first relates to how we understand our faith, and our place in God’s grace and generosity, in a multi-faith world. It is common for Christians to adopt a rather ungenerous view of people who are not “part of us”, stating categorically that God’s mercy and grace cannot extend to them unless they join our religion. It’s like we’ve taken the message of God’s grace and invitation and turned it into a message of “Christianity is the only way”, which is not what the Scriptures say. It’s like we want to determine who God can show generosity to and who not (like the first workers in the parable). But, all of the readings challenge us because they show radical, sacrificial generosity to those who don’t deserve it – the complaining Israelites, the late-coming workers. Even Paul’s self-giving for the Philippians falls into this category, although they may be considered ‘deserving’. The second way in which we are challenged is in the practical use of the world’s resources and how they are shared and distributed in the world. It is common for us to hoard our wealth for ourselves and share it only with our “allies” or those from whom we expect to receive something in return. It is also common for us to deny adequate resources to those with whom we disagree or from whom we can gain nothing. Because of this the world’s resources, which are more than adequate to address the needs of the entire planet’s population (our God is a generous God!) are not equitably shared, with the few enjoying more than they need, and the vast majority living with great lack and need. In the light of God’s generosity, we cannot help but be challenged to change how resources are shared. In my home, South Africa, this is a particularly stark issue, because we have among the largest gaps in the world between rich and poor. Perhaps it’s time for Christ followers to be more vocal and visible about embracing lifestyles of simplicity and sharing, and of voting and lobbying for an end to unfair trade subsidies and regulations, rampant and unregulated globalisation, and exploitation of workers and suppliers in countries where they do not have the political clout to ensure that they receive fair recompense for their work and resources. Buying fair trade, reducing our consumption and unnecessary waste, and contributing to respected and effective aid organisations are all ways of participating in sharing God’s generosity with all.

LOCAL APPLICATION: It is disturbing the way in which God’s generosity has been defined in many of our churches today. In a rather Old Testament view of things, we have made “health, wealth and happiness” equal to God’s blessing, and sickness, poverty and suffering to be a sign of God’s curse. Jesus consistently challenged this view in his day, and as Christ’s followers we need to as well. This means we need to change both our understanding of God’s generosity and our practices of giving, sharing and celebrating. First, we need to recognise that those who are “blessed” receive blessing not for themselves, but for all – in order to share. Neither wealth nor poverty are signs of God’s approval or lack thereof. They are simply realities of the world and of life. But, they are also an opportunity to express the principles of grace and generosity that characterise God’s reign. Second, we need to move from our individualistic view of the world, to a more community-oriented one. There are always people, in any community or family, who are effective at accumulating wealth, and the onus is on them to share and support those who do important and necessary work (or are unable to work for whatever legitimate reason). In this way we become a source of God’s generosity to one another. But, it also goes further than the practicalities of economic realities. God’s generosity is also extended as an inclusivity to all people, even those who may appear, in our idea of “fairness” not to deserve it. This means that as we encounter those who work differently, live differently, believe differently and behave differently we are called, rather than to a position of judgement, to a position of generosity and kindness. If we can be generous with grace, with forgiveness, with seeking the best for others, and with welcoming all people into God’s community, we will find that we, almost automatically, begin to be generous with other things, including material wealth. And through our generosity, God’s generosity is manifest in our communities and our world.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Balancing The Scales
Strange Co-Workers
Shared Blessings
Plenty

Hymn Suggestions:
Blessed Assurance
O Food To Pilgrims Given
Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah
Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)
Give Thanks (Link to YouTube video)
Never Let My Hunger Die
Hungry (Link to YouTube video)
Blessed Be Your Name (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Eucharist

Video Suggestions:
The Unfair Parable 1
The Last Will Be First – Kingdom Of God Parable
Prosperity vs. Abundance

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