07 June 2015

And so we move into Kingdomtide or Ordinary Time, and the Lectionary begins the journey of challenging us again to live out the message and mission of Jesus that we have been remembering through the events of the Church Calendar so far. This year the new season begins with a confrontational question – to what will we give our allegiance: the Reign of God or some other power?

May our worship this week and in the weeks to come empower us to give our allegiance to Christ, and the Reign of God that he lived and preached, alone.

READINGS:
1 Samuel 8:4-11, (12-15), 16-20, (11:14-15): The people of Israel demand a king and God concedes, instructing Samuel to tell them how hard it will be to have a king ruling over them. Then Saul is appointed as king.
OR Genesis 3:8-15: God confronts the man, woman and serpent in the Garden of Eden about their disobedience and declares judgment on the serpent.

Psalm 138: Praise and thanksgiving for God’s unfailing love, God’s promises, God’s answers to prayer, and God’s protection.
OR Psalm 130: A song of lament and trust in God who, when the psalmist is in despair, can be appealed to, trusted in, and counted on for redemption.

2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1: Paul explains his hope and faith in God that compels him to preach, for as God raised Christ, so God will raise all who believe in Christ. This gives us hope and perseverance in the face of the troubles we must deal with in this life.

Mark 3:20-35: In response to the religious teachers who claim that Jesus is possessed by a demon, Jesus teaches that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, and that Satan cannot fight against Satan. Then, when his mother and brothers come asking for him, Jesus declares that all who do God’s will are his siblings and parents.

For a more in-depth reflection on this week’s theme, focussing on both the Gospel and the Old Testament continuous reading, check out this Sacredise Blog post.
(I know that it is usual to view the Gospel and the OT continuous readings as separate and different, but I am constantly struck by how often they follow similar or complimentary themes. I have written this reflection in the way I have in the hopes that it will be helpful irrespective of which set of readings you choose to follow.)

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The first Sunday in Kingdomtide starts the second half of the year with a rather direct challenge to our allegiances. Whether the complementary or semi-continuous readings are used, the same basic theme seems to come through – where do we place our allegiance, and to whom do we give our obedience and devotion. In the Samuel reading, which marks the start of the monarchy in Israel, the people reveal their struggle to remain committed to God. In the conversation between God and Samuel, God relates Israel’s history of turning away from God, and views this call for a king as just another case of misplaced allegiance and a quest to be like the other nations, instead of living as an alternative community under God’s Reign. In the Genesis narrative, a similar dynamic is played out in a more personal way as God confronts the man and woman who have turned away from obedience to God and followed the temptation of the serpent. The other readings all give an indication as to the reasons why we are tempted to turn away – the struggles and suffering of life. In Psalm 138 the attitude is one of praise for God’s unfailing love, protection and answer to prayer, while in Psalm 130 the attitude is one of supplication for God’s grace to rescue the psalmist in time of trouble. In both cases, though the intent is clear – no matter what life may throw at us, our faith needs to remain in God. Similarly in the Corinthians reading, Paul describes the troubles that we experience in this life as small compared with the glory which awaits us in Christ. It is this hope that enables us to stay faithful, and to share the message of God’s grace, even as we face suffering in this life. Finally, Jesus faces persecution of his own, both from his family who call him crazy, and from the religious leaders who claim that he is demonised. His response is decisive though, in two ways. Firstly, he reveals the absurdity in claiming that his power to defeat the devil comes from the devil, which implies that it can only come from God. Secondly, he embraces all who obey God, who give their hearts in allegiance to God’s Reign as he has done, as his family. The message of this week, then, is that life is hard and will bring suffering, especially when we try to live with integrity and faith. However when we keep our allegiance with God we have God’s promise that God will sustain us, and we have the hope in the eternal life that God promises us. Finally, in this life, we also have the joy of a family of faith with whom we can share our tears, our joys and our hope, while helping one another to stay faithful to God.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
Global Application:
One of the reasons for the injustice in our world is that human beings are constantly being called to give their allegiance to things that do not bring justice, life and equality. While there is more than enough wealth in our world to provide for everyone, we choose rather to give our allegiance to consumerism, materialism, selfish corruption, and unnecessarily costly budgets for everything from elections to state celebration to weaponry. Where we could find security and peace through collaboration, mutual understanding, creative resource sharing, and acceptance of differences, we prefer to give our allegiance to divisive exclusivity, factionalism, stereotyping, blaming, self-protectiveness, and power games. The list goes on – we continue to fall for the same temptations to power, wealth, and lust that have always tempted humanity, in spite of the ongoing suffering that this causes. For those who would heed God’s call to work for justice, the challenge is a tough one. We must begin by shifting our allegiance away from the “kingdoms of this world” to God’s Reign, holding on to our hope in Christ – both for justice in this world and eternal life in the next – in order to remain strong against the inevitable repercussions that will come and to stay faithful in spite of the suffering that refusing to “buy in” to the values of the world can bring. However, as more and more people make the shift to faithful allegiance to God’s Reign, so the reality of justice, peace, and love spreads and gains ground in our world. We can already see this happening, and it gives us hope. In addition, as we continue to trust that God is at work with us, in us, and through us, we can commit to a promise of a new world that we may never see realised, but for which we know we must give our lives if it is ever to happen.

Local Application:
Each day brings with it myriad challenges to our allegiance to God’s Reign. In our relationships, we are constantly challenged to abandon our commitments to integrity, fidelity, and mutual submission in favour of “no-strings-attached”, instant gratification of our own desires and urges. In our homes we are tempted to give up our quest for intimacy and mutual support, care and interest in favour of the passive and seemingly easy alternative of “entertainment” or completely independent activities. In our neighbourhoods, it is tempting to avoid the struggles of learning to understand and listen to each other by grouping together with those who think like us, look like us and hold the same values, while separating ourselves from those who are different. Even in our faith communities, we easily turn away from the tough inclusivity and love that the Gospel demands in favour of exclusivity, legalism, hypocrisy and judgment of others. Ultimately all of these challenges to our allegiance to God’s Reign appear to promise life, pleasure and/or security, while, in fact, they rob us of life and move us further away from the life-giving activity and presence of God. This week we face the call to examine our hearts, get honest about where we place our allegiance, and ensure that we turn soundly back to God in any and every area where our allegiance may be faltering. Such self-examination (personal and communal) can be painful, but it is also the only way to remain connected with God’s life-giving Spirit.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Agendas
Calls For Allegiance
Tough Transformation
We Choose Not

Hymn Suggestions:
Crown Him With Many Crowns
My Jesus I Love Thee
Be Thou My Vision
O Jesus, I Have Promised
The Lord Reigns
How Long?
I Give You My Heart (Link to YouTube video)
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for the Foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet

Video Suggestions:
Kingdom Pressure
Temptation
Psalm 138

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