17 November 2013

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the evil and suffering in the world. It is also easy to be overwhelmed by the grand scope and challenge of the Gospel and its vision of a restored world. But, in the midst of these two overwhelming realities is a simple, but powerful response – the contribution that is made by a life of daily discipline and faithfulness to what is right. Such small contributions, when put together, make a significant difference in the big scheme of things. Again, it’s not the first time the lectionary has challenged us in this way, but it is an important message as we seek to live out our faith in practical ways that do offer value to others.

May we be inspired to continue our small, faithful acts of following Christ through this week’s worship.

READINGS:
Isaiah 65:17-25: Isaiah’s vision of a new heaven and new earth, a place where God dwells, and where all people enjoy prosperity, health, well-being and long life.
OR Malachi 4:1-2: Evil and arrogant people will be destroyed like straw burned in a furnace, but for those who love and fear God, the “Sun of Righteousness” rises as healer and liberator.

Isaiah 12: A promise that a time is coming when God’s people will call on God and be delivered, when they will praise God for God’s goodness and mighty acts on their behalf, and when they will publicise God’s praise to the world.
OR Psalm 98: A song of praise inviting all creation to celebrate God’s salvation and mercy.

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13: Paul admonishes the believers to be disciplined, to concentrate on their own work and do it well, and to ensure that they do not grow tired of doing what is right.

Luke 21:5-19: Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, and warns his followers about the false messiahs, wars, and persecutions that they will have to face.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
In most of the readings this week, two themes seem to stand side by side. The first is the theme of evil, persecution and God’s judgement on wickedness. Malachi and Luke’s Gospel speak directly about this, and of how God protects God’s faithful ones through such turbulent times, while Isaiah 12 implies it. The second theme is that of restoration and of God’s final, peaceful, prosperous world, in which all people live in well-being and joy. Isaiah 12 & 65 and Psalm 98 all describe this. These two themes complement each other in that they describe the working out of God’s salvation history in human affairs: evil and strife are at work in the world, and people who live according God’s alternative values are misunderstood and persecuted, but God’s reign continues to work, and to transform the world and its people into loving, peaceful and just men and women. This is not so much a war between good and evil as it is the evolution of the world from chaos and immaturity into beauty, creativity and maturity in God’s gracious, compassionate purposes. In the middle of this grand cosmic scenario, Paul’s message to the Thessalonians appears prosaic and misplaced. However, when it comes down to it, the very thing that sustains us during the turbulent times, and that ultimately transforms worlds, is the committed, disciplined living of a good, responsible, practical life by people of faith. Simply by working each day faithfully and in goodness, God’s salvation and ‘shalom’ enters our world. Small contributions really do make a difference in the grand scheme of things.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION:  If we are to take the Gospel call to justice – to participating in Jesus’ saving mission – seriously, we cannot ignore the big global injustices that continue to harm people and our environment across the globe. It is significant and important that there are people and organisations that tackle these issues broadly and with geat influence and reach. As followers of Christ we do well to support them through our contributions, our support and adding our voice and presence to petitions, marches and legislative initiatives. However, it is equally important that we recognise the power of our daily decisions and actions to bring about significant change. When we commit to the discipline of conscious consumerism – buying only fair trade goods, and buying for usefulness and longevity, rather than fashion – we contribute significantly to justice in the world. When we eat mindfully, choosing only produce that is farmed and transported ethically and with care for the environment, and when we recycle, precycle and manage our waste carefully, we make a significant contribution to justice in the world. When we treat our neighbours respectfully, regardless of religion, ethnicity or immigration status, we contribute to justice in the world. When we joyfully, honestly and generously contribute our share to society through charitable giving and paying taxes, we contribute to justice in the world. When we love even those who might persecute or attack us, and when we work towards understanding and peace with our enemies, we contribute to justice in the world. All of these simple daily actions are part of what Paul calls “doing what is right”, and they are manifestations of God’s peaceful, prosperous reign. They are not always easy or comfortable, and sometimes they will even get us into trouble with those who defend the status quo and resist change, but they are, nevertheless, a genuine Gospel way of being and living. Of course, what I’m saying here is nothing new – and it’s not the first time the lectionary has approached God’s reign from this perspective this year. But, it’s often good to be reminded how our small, faithful, disciplined actions can make a big difference.

LOCAL APPLICATION: Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the “big issues” of justice in our world, and forget that justice also needs to be worked out right on our own doorstep – as Mother Teresa so wisely put it: “we cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love”. In the past the church communities have sometimes become so focused on “overseas mission” that we have neglected the mission fields in our own neighbourhoods. We have sometimes been so concerned with fighting injustice “out there” that we have ignored the battered women, the neglected children, the abusive leaders and the exploitative practices in our own churches. As important as it is to work for justice in the world, and to contribute to the big issues, we must never forget the small, daily disciplines of worship, prophetic preaching, care and nurture that ensure that together we become more whole, peaceful and compassionate human beings. And as we care for the hurting, exploited and abused people among us, the healing and justice we bring is like a stone dropped into a pond – it sends ripples out into the world that make a big difference. So, perhaps a question to ask this week is this: how does our worship and our life together as a community of faith provide safety for those who are abused and under threat, provide community and belonging for those who are excluded and judged, and provide nurture and support for those who are in need of physical, emotional, mental or spiritual resources?

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
The Power of the Ordinary
Our Small Difference
Small, Random Acts of Peacemaking

Hymn Suggestions:
O Loving Lord, Who Art Forever Seeking
O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
Dear Jesus In Whose Life I See
O Worship The Lord In The Beauty Of Holiness
Let Me Shine
Priceless Vision
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)
Hear Our Praises (Link to YouTube video)
God Of This City (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy of Compassion

Video Suggestions
:
Rumours Of War
A Starfish Called Enoch

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