25 June 2017

The Ordinary Time, or Kingdomtide, season this year kicks off with a direct challenge for us to take the Reign of God seriously. The call to lose our lives for the sake of the Gospel sounds like the opposite of abundant life, but Jesus asks us to believe in this counter-intuitive way of being, to love the Gospel above all things – including our own lives – and to give ourselves in service, sacrifice and simplicity in order to proclaim the message of God’s Reign through our lives, and to bring God’s grace and love to the world.

May our worship give us the strength, courage and vision to embrace God’s Reign and to give our lives in service of it.

READINGS:
Genesis 21:8-21: Abraham sends Hagar and Ishmael away, but God promises to make Ishmael’s descendants into a great nation. When Hagar and Ishmael find themselves without food and water in the wilderness, God comes to their rescue.
OR Jeremiah 20:7-13: Jeremiah cries out in lament because of his suffering for proclaiming God’s word. But, when he tries to stop speaking, the word burns in him like a fire. Nevertheless, he trusts that God will rescue and defend him.

Psalm 86:1-10: A plea for God’s mercy and rescue for the Psalmist who is in trouble, and a song of praise and affirmation of God’s greatness.
OR Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18: A song of lament over the insults and persecution the Psalmist has endured because of his passion for God’s house, and a request for God’s salvation.

Romans 6:1b-11: Followers of Christ have died to sin and been raised to a new life in Jesus. Therefore we are no longer slaves to sin, and death no longer has power over us, but we are alive for God in Christ.

Matthew 10:24-39: Disciples are not greater than their teacher, and so if the teacher is insulted, the disciples will be even more. But, followers of Jesus must not fear those who can destroy only the body. Rather we must be willing to acknowledge Jesus, proclaim his message publicly and not seek to save our lives. When we seek to save our lives we lose them. Jesus did not come to bring peace, but conflict, and we are to love Christ more than our own lives. 

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The clear challenge this week, as we begin our journey through Ordinary Time, is to embrace the Gospel call to self-giving. Jesus’ words are some of the toughest to read in the gospels, but they indicate the extent to which we need to be committed to the Gospel if it is to have any impact in our lives and our world. If we are not completely devoted to God’s Reign, loving it more than all else, we will be incapable of loving others as they need, or as God requires. But, if we embrace the way of Jesus in this radical way, we will find ourselves in conflict with the power-that-be, and we will experience persecution. But, if we try to avoid this, saving our lives through silence or compliance with human powers, we will ultimately lose the abundant life that God’s Reign brings. This is why Paul speaks about us dying to sin and rising with Christ – it is only as we die to the self-protective life of power-games, pleasure seeking, and excessive accumulation of wealth that we can embrace the abundant life of simplicity, service and sacrifice that Jesus offers. Both Psalms echo the pain of being persecuted for our commitment to God’s ways, and are comforting and encouraging in the way they reflect our experiences of suffering for the Gospel’s sake. Finally, in the Old Testament readings we encounter two faithful people who were persecuted through no fault of their own. Hagar, who was cast away because of Sarah’s jealousy, but who was nevertheless cared fro by God, and whose son was blessed, and Jeremiah, the prophet, who was persecuted for speaking the truth, but continued to trust in God’s salvation. While it seems like the call to sacrifice and self-giving is the opposite of abundant life, the Scriptures are consistent in their call for us to believe in this counter-intuitive truth, and to have the courage and faith to give our lives for the sake of God’s Reign, while trusting in God to sustain us through whatever struggles we may face.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: The world’s systems are all built on the foundations of self-protection and self-interest. Our systems of power, whether religious, political, ideological, or relational, all work on the assumption that some must lose in order for others to win. Our economic systems are based on the idea that competition is healthy and natural and that winners are rewarded while losers are unimportant. Our systems of entertainment and pleasure are all based on the idea that instant gratification and constant novelty are always better. The values of contemporary Western society leave no consideration for altruism, self-sacrifice, service, simplicity, collaboration, and mutual care. Yet, our current ways of doing things are not helping us to address the greatest challenges of our world, and they are not bringing us peace, happiness, or deeper connection with one another. As we seek to save our lives, we are losing them, and when anyone stands up to challenge the status quo, they are shouted down, at best, or silenced through persecution or execution, at worst. Yet, our world desperately needs those, both leaders and ordinary citizens, who will embrace a different set of values and priorities. Our world needs those who will embrace the Gospel call to sacrifice, service and simplicity, and who will willingly turn away from the self-protective habits of contemporary society. If, as followers of Christ, we can do this – each in our own small corner of the world – we can have a massive impact on how our world operates. As we begin to support clean energy, just and honest leadership, fair trade and equitable labour relations, mindful consumption, and caring, forgiving, diverse communities, our influence spreads through society, and begins to make the alternative values of God’s Reign visible.

LOCAL APPLICATION: We all face moments of decision, when we have to choose whether to preserve our own lives through silence and compliance with those who threaten us or others, or to endure ridicule, persecution and rejection for speaking out for what we believe is right. These decisions are often much smaller, but more significant, than we may realise. When we refuse to laugh at racist, homophobic or chauvinistic jokes, we put ourselves in the firing line. When we stand alongside those whom others want to judge and reject, we risk being rejected and judged ourselves. When we refuse to participate in acts of violence or retribution against our “enemies” we may be seen as traitors. In our own families and churches, when we begin to embrace beliefs and values that are different from the “norm” we may be disowned or excommunicated. Yet, if we fail to stand up for our convictions, we lose something of our own souls, and we contribute to making the world an unsafe and threatening place for anyone who is “different” in any way. While it may hurt to live out the welcoming, forgiving, serving, peaceful and justice-seeking values of God’s Reign, to fail to do so hurts us and our world far more. This is why the Lectionary challenges us this week to love the Gospel above all – for only then will we live as people who truly, and selflessly love family, friends, neighbours, and even enemies as God calls us to.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
Faith That Carries The Cross
The God Who Serves
Counting The Cost
No Dying Today

Hymn Suggestions:
A Charge To Keep I Have
O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
Take My Life And Let It Be
God Of Almighty Love
O Thou Who Camest From Above
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
Here I Am, Jesus
Let Me Shine (Lord, In Your Life I See)
You Have Shown Us (Link to YouTube video. Song starts at about 1:27)
When Our Songs (Have Mercy)
All I Am, I Lay It Down
The Spirit Of The Lord

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

Video Suggestions:
All Nations Will Worship
Lose Your Life

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