11 October 2015

The question of suffering may absorb the minds of theologians and philosophers, but it is not an issue to be debated. Nor is it a problem to be solved. Rather, suffering is a reality to be entered into with compassion and mercy in the name of Christ. When we encounter those who suffer, the Gospel calls us to give our lives and resources to serve and heal. And when we are faced with suffering of our own, the Gospel gives us the assurance of God’s presence and grace, and a community of companions to journey with us. This is the call of the Lectionary this week.

May we never use our worship as an escape from suffering, but allow it to drive us to be the presence and compassion of God to those who suffer wherever we may.

READINGS:
Job 23:1-9, 16-17: Job longs to put his case before God, but he does not know how to find God. If he could get to God’s dwelling place, he believes, he could lay out his case, but God is absent to him.
OR Amos 5:6-7, 10-15: The prophet calls God’s people to turn to justice and compassion in order to avert God’s wrath and avoid God’s judgement. Those who reject justice and righteousness, who lie and exploit others, will not get to enjoy their homes or their produce, but those who seek good, and establish justice may receive God’s grace.

Psalm 22:1-15
: A cry for God’s presence and rescue in a time of great persecution and trial in which God seems to have forsaken the Psalmist. God is holy and the Psalmist’s ancestors trusted God and were saved, but now the Psalmist is being attacked, and is suffering greatly, and no rescue seems to be forthcoming.
OR Psalm 90:12-17: A plea for God to return to God’s people and have compassion on them, filling them with God’s love so that they can rejoice and celebrate, and so that their works may last.

Hebrews 4:12-16: God’s word is sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing into the deepest parts of our beings and judging our thoughts and intentions. Therefore we need to keep our trust in Jesus who was tempted in every way, as we are but did not sin. In him we can draw near to God’s throne and find grace.

Mark 10:17-31: A wealthy man asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus answers that he must follow the commandments – which the man claims he has done. Then Jesus tells him to sell all his possessions, give the money to the poor, and follow him, at which point the man goes away sad. Then Jesus teaches that it is very hard for the wealthy to enter God’s Reign. When Peter points out that the disciples have left everything to follow him, Jesus responds that those who have left behind loved ones and possessions for the Reign of God will receive much more in return, both in this life and in the one to come.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The overwhelming awareness in this week’s Scripture passages is of the reality of suffering, and the pain and indignity that it brings. In Job, the suffering of Job is made worse by his sense of abandonment by God, and his longing to put his case before God. In Psalm 22 the sense of abandonment is echoed, as the Psalmist speaks of being persecuted, without any sense of God’s presence or rescue. In the Amos reading, there is the threat of judgment on those who ignore the suffering of others, and who refuse to turn to justice and compassion on behalf of those who suffer. In Psalm 90 there is the call for God to have compassion of God’s suffering people. In Hebrews we find the assurance that Jesus is trustworthy because he was tempted as we are and overcame, and because he offers us mercy. Finally in the Gospel, after graphically revealing how hard it is for the wealthy to embrace the sacrificial life of God’s Reign, Jesus assures his disciples that their sacrifice – and the persecution which they will certainly experience – is not in vain, and that God will restore good things to them.  A huge part of the struggle for those who suffer is the sense of loneliness, isolation and unwantedness that is brought on by the pain, and that heightens it. Even Jesus shared this experience. However, underlying all of it, is the assurance of God’s compassion and the mercy that God offers. And, in Jesus’ words in Marks’ Gospel, there is the call for us to be agents of God’s mercy, grace and friendship.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
“I have come more and more to realize that it is being unwanted that is the worst disease that any human being can experience.’ Mother Teresa. 

Global Application:
Our world is full of “shadow people” – the unseen sufferers who struggle daily with poverty, dread & infectious diseases, lack of clean water and sanitation, with few resources and fewer opportunities. For many of the wealthy, these people remain unseen even when they live next door, and “out of site” is “out of mind.” It is easy to fall into the trap of viewing these “shadow people” as “issues” to be resolved. It is easy to lose our sense of their humanity, even as we fight for justice on their behalf. It is easy, as we, who are relatively comfortable, secure and wealthy, go to “help” those who suffer that we embrace an uneven power dynamic in which we are “saviours” coming to “uplift” and “rescue” the “poor.” The call of the Lectionary this week to do more than this. A powerful, healing work of justice is to really notice the “shadow people,” to acknowledge and honour their humanity, and then to offer, not just a hand of help, but a hand of friendship and solidarity.

Local Application:
Every community has suffering people, but often these people find themselves feeling isolated and marginalised even within our churches. Too often we try to avoid facing or acknowledging the reality of suffering, and in the process we leave sufferers feeling hurt, humiliated and lonely. This week, is there a “wealth that you can give to the poor” in your community? Whether it’s a wealth of friendship or compassion or support, we do have wealth to offer struggling, sick and lonely people. The friendship, the “standing with” and the acknowledgment is often a far more powerful gift than any material help we can offer – which sometimes only confirms our superiority and further disempowers. Furthermore, when we face suffering ourselves, it is always important that we have the humility to receive the help and compassion of others, and not embrace a proud, stoic aloofness. It is only as we walk through suffering together that we can really experience and reflect the mercy and compassion of God.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Biographers Of The Least
Weak And Poor God
The Call Of Compassion
In Praise Of Being Noticed

Hymn Suggestions:
O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy
I Surrender All
When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult
Everyone Belongs
How Long?
You Have Shown Us (Link to YouTube video)
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
The Wonderful Cross (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy of Compassion
A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice

Video Suggestions:
Imagine
Psalm 22
Jesus’ Etiquette

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