27 October 2013

Somehow it’s not easy to admit our brokenness or its impact on others. It takes humility to acknowledge how we need to change to bring life and healing to our world and relationships. Unfortunately, though, arrogance is far easier and far more common in our world. Even in the quest for justice, it is all too easy to become self-righteous and judgemental of those we must challenge or oppose. But, if justice is to become a reality in our world, and if people are to see the grace and compassion of Christ in us, it will take a commitment to being broken in order that true humility may be an unmistakable mark on our lives.

May our worship this week be a mirror to our own brokenness and a portal to lives of humble service and compassion.

READINGS:
Joel 2:23-32: God promises restoration from the judgement (what the locusts have eaten) and the outpouring of God’s Spirit on all of God’s sons and daughters.
OR Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22: A prophecy of judgement against God’s people who have turned away from God, and a prayer of confession, pleading for God’s forgiveness and restoration.
OR Sirach 35:12-17: The cries of the weak and vulernable -the oppressed, the orphan, the widow – are heard by God.

Psalm 65: Praise for the God who answers prayer, who forgives sin, who formed the earth and who sends rain to bring an abundant harvest.
OR Psalm 84:1-7: A song of praise and longing to dwell in the presence of God who cares for the sparrow and refreshes the pilgrim.

2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
: Paul reflects on his faithfulness as he nears the end of his life and looks forward to the reward he will receive, assured that God, who rescued him in the past, even when others deserted him, will bring him safely into God’s kingdom.

Luke 18:9-14: Jesus tells a parable about a self-righteous Pharisee, who fails to find a right relationship with God, and a penitent tax collector who finds justification.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The lectionary this week seems to turn back to pretty mainline theological territory – the need for forgiveness, and the necessity for repentance in order to know and receive God’s grace. From a conservative perspective, this is the heart of the Gospel – our sinfulness, God’s grace, and our need to repent and believe in order to be saved. This is, unfortunately a pretty one-dimensional approach to these passages and the ideas they present. The parable is the heart of the matter: there is danger in self-righteousness and self-aggrandisement, and there is life to be found when we evaluate ourselves clearly, soberly and with humility enough to recognise our brokenness. Jeremiah’s prayer, which acknowledges the sin of the people, is an Old Testament reflection of the tax collectors plea for forgiveness. Paul, who may at first glance look rather like the Pharisee in his confidence and positive assessment of his life, nevertheless recognises that his life is God’s; it is God who has worked – and will continue to work – in him, and he graciously forgives those who abandoned him. And the promise, seen in the Psalms and the Joel reading, is that the grace that the tax collector received is available to all who come to God in brokenness asking for help. While this may seem to have little to do with justice, as we shall see, it actually lies at the very root of it.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION:  The role of arrogance in creating injustice in our world is twofold. Firstly, injustice comes through the attitudes that society holds toward the ‘greatest’ and the ‘least’. On the one hand, the poor and vulnerable are seen to be responsible for their own problems. They are thought to be lazy, weak and ignorant and so in some way they are thought to have deserved what life has given them. On the other hand, the powerful and wealthy believe that they deserve what they have because they are somehow better – be it wiser, harder working or whatever. The second role that arrogance plays is in those who work for justice, who also can come to believe that they are somehow better, more noble, more ‘righteous’ than those who cause injustice (even though they may knowingly or unknowingly be supporting these unjust systems themselves). This “mean streak” among activists often results in nothing more than a polarisation of issues and positions, while the arrogance among the powerful (both activists against and ‘perpetrators’ of injustice) results in marginalised people being treated with less dignity and humanity, and being controlled or “fixed” by others instead of being given just what is needed, in terms of resources and relationships, to become independent and self-sustaining. Arrogance always robs the other of their humanity and dignity. Humility, on the other hand, results in an openness to the story of the other, to true compassion for the many complex causes of their plight (many of which are beyond their control), and to a commitment to mutual care, learning and collaboration for the benefit of all. It is this humility which opens us to God’s Spirit which works among us and in us as we serve one another, and which allows us to experience God’s reign among us even now.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Some of the main criticisms that are levelled at the church today are that Christians are arrogant and hypocritical. The tendency for Christians to judge others, to offer unsolicited advice or try to “fix” everyone we meet, and to come across as “holier than thou” has left far too many people feeling hurt and angry. It’s a shame that Christians in the developed world are so often seen as most likely to blame the poor for their poverty, to support unregulated, free market economics, to be inhospitable to immigrants, and to support limiting health care for those who cannot afford it. These are all felt as arrogant and harmful attitudes by those who, through no fault of their own, find themselves struggling, especially in the majority world. But, even in our own back yards, the Gospel is most powerfully demonstrated when we acknowledge our own brokenness, when we enter the world with humility and when we recognise that we have much to learn from those we seek to serve – even the poorest and weakest in our communities. It is this humility that drives us to our knees in prayer for God’s empowering Spirit, that keeps us always mindful of our own shortcomings, failings and blind spots, and that opens our eyes to the signs of God’s Reign that always precede our work in any place or time. The challenge of this week’s worship is to do an “arrogance audit” in our churches to recognise where we may need to embrace humility even more if we are to be effective servants of all as Christ has called us to be.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Growing Together
Healing Humility
Another Way

Hymn Suggestions:
Just As I Am Without One Plea
Depth of Mercy
Be Thou My Vision
When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
Your Grace Is Enough (Link to YouTube video)
O The Wonderful Cross (Link to YouTube video)
Clinging To The Cross (Link to YouTube video)
I Kneel Down
In Your Mercy, Lord

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Agape

Video Suggestions
:
Kids Talk Humility
Thoughts on Humility
Psalm 84

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