29 January 2023

Following on from last week, the Lectionary this week explores the interconnectedness of our intimacy with God and our lives lived in justice and mercy. It also begins a short Epiphany journey through the Sermon on the Mount. Without a lived expression of our intimacy with God, our faith is little more than platitudes and dreams. But, in a challenging call this week, the Scriptures demonstrate how we find God in the poorest, the weakest and the most vulnerable among us, and how as we work for justice and mercy, we participate in God’s reign and God’s life. There is no division between justice and worship, between ministry and liturgy, in the Gospel. And so we are called to embrace a vibrant relationship with God that is manifest and experienced in a vibrant interaction with the world.

May we find God not just in our sanctuaries this week, but also in the world we enter into as we live through the week.

Micah 6:1-8: God challenges God’s people regarding their tiring of God, and calls them to love mercy, do justice and walk with God in humility.

Psalm 15: Those who are true worshipers, who may enter God’s presence, are the ones who live with consideration and compassion for their neighbours, and with justice and integrity.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31: God is not known through the wisdom and power of this world, but in the foolishness of the cross, which, to those who believe, is the wisdom and power of God. In this cross alone do we boast.

Matthew 5:1-12: Jesus teaches his disciples that those who are poor, mourning, pure in heart, working for peace, desperate for justice and persecuted for following Christ are the ones God blesses.

This week we get a glimpse into God’s longings and the ‘workings’ of God’s heart. God longs for us to know God and be in intimate relationship with God – as shown by Micah’s challenge and the Psalmist’s question, by Paul’s reflection and Jesus’ teaching – all of which show us God’s longing to have us in God’s presence (Psalm 15), to bless us (Matthew), to be walking with us (Micah), and to be known by us (Corinthians). But, what also stands out is that knowing and being in relationship with God is not done in ways that make sense from a human perspective – individualist spirituality, self-protection and using material gain, personal satisfaction, power and human wisdom as measures of God’s blessing. Rather, God is known and encountered in our following of Christ into different values, different interactions with others and different ways of being in the world. Sacrifice, justice, compassion and integrity – these are the doorways to God’s presence, the crosses in which we know Christ and the places in which we discover God’s presence and blessing. It’s time – these verses seem to say – that we move away from the dualistic spirituality that makes worship and social action separate, that makes God’s presence and the work of justice separate and that leaves us hoping for evacuation to another world, while this world suffers and dies. It is time that our worship leads us into lives of justice and transformation, and that it teaches us to encounter God in the least and most vulnerable in our world.

Global Application:
What Brian McLaren calls “evacuation theology” – the belief that this life is just a testing ground for another, better world, and that faith is about separation from this world and its issues in order to be ready for this other world – is a deeply destructive influence in our world. In such a theology, it makes sense to hate and kill those who believe differently, because they are a threat to our purity, and therefore to our attaining this other world (even as ‘they’ seek to kill us for the same reasons). In such a theology, it makes sense to use up the planet, and care little for the impact of our consumption of its resources, because it will all be ultimately be destroyed anyway. In such a theology, the poor, the sick and the marginalised are ‘unclean’ and deserving of their disadvantaged lot in life, because we know the ‘blessing’ of God that comes from being pure and righteous and separate from sin. This theology is not the message of Jesus’ Gospel. If our world is to become more whole, and if the injustice and inequity in our world is to be addressed, we desperately need to revisit the Bible’s teaching about what God requires and what Jesus actually taught. And as we look again at the Gospel, we discover that God is found in working for justice, in caring for the least and in opposing forces of violence, destruction, materialism, greed, and power. Let us revisit the cross, and embrace again it’s call to be powerless fools in the name of Christ, bringing justice and compassion wherever we may find the opportunity.

Local Application:
The idea of obeying a few laws, and keeping ourselves pure, while enjoying ‘blessing’ until we get to bliss in the afterlife is deeply attractive, and a very popular spiritual creed in our word today. It demands little from us in the way of sacrifice, discomfort or even change. Rather, our collusion in the world’s corrupt systems is sanctified by our theology, and our worship becomes little more than a regular personal ‘pick-me-up’ that feels good, and gives a diluted and unreal sense of connection with God. It is no wonder that this ‘Gospel’ has grown so popular in our world. But, for those who genuinely long for a real encounter with God, and who believe that the Gospel is more than just a personal ticket to paradise in the next life, such a spirituality will always be found wanting. In fact, for any human being who risks looking within their own heart, such Christianity will always leave us longing for more – because we are wired to want true intimacy with God, and genuine connection to God’s purposes and reign. It is to this longing that this week’s readings speak. God is found when our lives are overtaken by the Gospel, and when all that we do and think and say is inspired and empowered by the cross. This will inevitably lead us to stand alongside the poor, the excluded and the hurting in our communities and churches, seeking to bring them to the top of our agendas, because it is in them that we encounter God, and it is in working for justice that heaven begins to manifest on earth. The challenge is whether we have the courage to commit to both a real and transforming relationship with God, and a life of loving sacrifice in the service of God’s reign and the poor for which it is Good News. So, in what ways does your worship connect with the work of justice in your context? And in what ways does the work of justice lead you into deeper, more real and transforming worship?

Boasting In The Cross
What God Requires

Hymn Suggestions:
Now Thank We All Our God
I Sing The Almighty Power Of God
When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
The Kingdom Of God Is Justice And Joy (Scroll down for lyrics. Tune: Hanover)
O The Wonderful Cross (Link to YouTube video.)
Mighty Is The Power Of The Cross (Link to YouTube video.)
You Have Shown Us (Link to YouTube video. Song starts at 1:24)

A Liturgy for the Lord’s Supper