05 February 2023

Too often, it seems we create a division between Christians who live with an experiential relationship with God, and those who are concerned to make a difference in the world, and who may, at times, seem not to be interested in experiencing God’s presence or power. It’s like relationship with God and service of God are separate and disconnected things, and we need to choose to be either one or the other. Yet, this week’s Lectionary readings proclaim that both expressions of faith are one, and that those who seek an authentic spirituality must embrace both the experience of the divine and the call to work in the world. In truth no real impact can be made on the world without a vibrant, empowering relationship with God, and no real relationship with God can be found outside of engagement with the struggles and needs of our world.

May our worship this week lead us into true encounter with God, and lead us out in the power of God’s Spirit to serve the world that God loves.

Isaiah 58:1-9a (9b-12): The people complain because God does not seem to notice when they fast and pray, but Isaiah speaks God’s word that challenges them on their injustice and exploitation – that they have the appearance of penitence without a true change of heart.

Psalm 112:1-9, (10): Those who live righteously are compassionate, just and generous, and they have confidence that God will care for them.

1 Corinthians 2:1-12, (13-16): God’s wisdom is Christ crucified, which cannot be understood without opening our spirits to God’s Spirit. But, for we who have received God’s Spirit, we are able to know and receive the wonderful blessing God offers us in Christ.

Matthew 5:13-20: Jesus calls his followers to be as salt and light in the world – allowing our good works to be seen in order that others may praise God. Further, Jesus calls his followers to true righteousness, beyond the external legalism of the Pharisees, but embodying the true spirit of the law.

What is authentic spirituality? In what ways do we know – and do others experience – that we have a real, vibrant relationship with God? These are the questions raised by the Lectionary this week. In Isaiah a contrast is drawn between the indulgent spirituality of the people, which leaves them disconnected from God and from God’s purposes, with the result that they feel no answer from God when they fast and pray, and true fasting and prayer which are expressed in lives of justice and compassion. In the Psalm, those who live justly and righteously are celebrated, and are assured of God’s care. In Paul’s letter, we are reminded that God is not known by the usual means that the world tries to find life and goodness, but only in Christ and Christ’s crucifixion. It is as we open to God’s Spirit that we receive God’s presence and power, and that we receive “the mind of Christ” which will inevitably lead us into lives that emulate Christ’s selfless service and sacrifice. In the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s Gospel, we discover that true righteousness is not that of the Pharisees – legalistic, individualistic obedience to law – but is to be light and salt in the world, fulfilling the heart of the law by bringing life and goodness to others, and drawing them into healing and saving knowledge of God. Clearly, for the Lectionary this week, true spirituality is seen in a living, vibrant relationship with God through Christ, and by God’s Spirit, which is then reflected and expressed through actions of compassion, justice and service in the world. If we live this kind of spirituality, it will inevitably draw others to this God we serve – and that’s a huge bonus for us!

Global Application:
It is all too easy to allow our spirituality to become “otherworldy” and disconnected from life’s realities. It is all too easy, even for those of us who are committed to justice and compassion in our world, to become like Pharisees who focus on outward, legalistic observances – becoming social justice fundamentalists, if you will – and losing the life-giving relationship with God and the empowerment of God’s Spirit that makes us true salt and light – healing, creative, colourful, restoring influences in our world. Yet, as we engage with the systems of our world, we need to keep asking ourselves how we can be those who lead both victims and perpetrators to “give glory to God”, to find a real relationship with God for themselves. How do we work with the powerful, the connected, the wealthy, the influential in such a way that they are led into lives of justice and compassion as well? Judgement, self-righteousness, or adopting the world’s methods of control, coercion and condemnation will not bring true change to our world. Rather it is as we commit to a cross-embracing way of living, and offer ourselves in service and compassion of all people that we are able to bring something of God’s life and justice into being. It is as we commit to authentic, lived righteousness – becoming salt and light in word, action, thought, communication, participation in the systems and processes of our world, and engagement with others – that our different way of living demonstrates the power and wisdom of God, and invites others into this alternative life, while also gently bringing change where it matters.

Local Application:
It is very easy to allow our sense of call to be reduced to becoming the conscience, or the moral watch dogs, of our communities and neighbourhoods. It is easy to point fingers and judge, to identify evil and, like Pharisees, make our religion about separating ourselves from “others” who don’t live up to our standards. This can be true for both conservatives and liberals, for both “evangelicals” and “social justice” Christians. But, such engagement with the world seldom brings any real change. It is when we are salt and light – those who live out in our own lives what we seek to see in the world – that we make a real difference. Salt and light people are those who bring flavour and colour, integrity and insight, healing and compassion into the world by the way they live, love and interact. Their influence is felt not through judgement or legalism, but through a life lived with a completely different quality, that touches others with grace and truth and compassion and calls out to the best in them, leaving them longing to live better lives themselves. This is what it means to let our good deeds be seen so that others will praise God, and it’s the only thing that really brings change into the world. As Gandhi famously said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Light And Salt
True Fasting
A Goodness Worth Pursuing

Hymn Suggestions:
A Charge To Keep I Have
Take Time To Be Holy
Being Of Beings, God Of Love (Link to YouTube video)
Take My Life And Let It Be
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)
Lord, Reign In Me (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy of Compassion

Video Suggestions
Salt And Light