04 February 2024

There is both comfort and challenge in the Lectionary for this week. On one hand there is the assurance of God’s care, and the particularity of grace as God meets each person at their point of need. On the other hand there is the call to extend a similar adaptive particularity to one another – willingly becoming what others need from us – in order to carry the Gospel’s grace and restoration to the world.

May we find the grace we need, and learn to become the grace others need as we worship this week.

Isaiah 40:21-31: To whom can God be compared? God created the earth and human rulers are short lived. Why should God’s people complain that God has forgotten them? Those who wait on God will be renewed.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c: An exhortation to praise God for the way God restores those who have been exiled and broken, for the way God provides for God’s people and for the creatures of earth, and for the way God treasures those who honour God.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23: In his preaching of the Gospel, Paul explains how he becomes all things to all people in order to win them for Christ.

Mark 1:29-39: Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law and then many sick and demonised people come to be healed. After that Jesus goes off alone to pray, but Simon and others track him down. Then Jesus leads them off to other towns to preach and heal.

This week the Lectionary offers us a message of great comfort and reassurance. All of the readings speak about God’s compassion and grace in healing, restoring and strengthening God’s people – those who wait on and honour God. In each reading there is a clear indication of the way God meets us at our point of need in order to transform and save us. In the famous song of Isaiah 40, God’s saving power is praised and the weary exiles are reminded that God will restore and strengthen them if they will just turn to God in hope. In the Psalm, God’s gracious restoration and provision for God’s people, and for all of creation, is praised. In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians he explains how he strives to meet every person where they are in order to bring them to Christ, becoming as they are so that he can share the Gospel with them. Finally, in one of those wonderful moments of particular care, Jesus heals Simon’s mother-in-law. But, then, immediately the Gospel moves to a wider focus, as Jesus heals and restores the many who come to him, and then, seeks to travel throughout Galilee to preach and heal. The amazing grace of the God who comes to us at our point of need and restores and calls us makes this week a truly celebratory one.

Global Application:
Over the last few decades the emphasis of human development teachers and spiritual gurus has moved away from self-sacrifice and towards self-actualisation. This quest to “be true to yourself”, while it has brought some measure of healing and growth to some, has also been used to justify all kinds of destructive behaviour, from the breaking of marriages and committed relationships in favour of “my needs,” to the militant and violent defence of materialistic and consumerist “ways of life” in wealthy nations. The cult of selfishness is the exact opposite of both God’s Reign and of the God who comes to us in Christ. The Scriptures offer us a startling vision of a God who is willing to go out of God’s way to meet us where we are – a God who would be incarnated and suffer death in order to draw humanity into God’s Reign. The Reign of God which is established by the self-sacrificial Christ, also calls its citizens to follow in this sacrificial life by “becoming all things to all people” in order that they too may know God’s grace. This revelation of God’s gracious glory is a challenge to every human system at work in our world – from the careless consumption of planetary resources, to the power games played in national and international government, from the self-interest of big business and political and religious lobby groups to the violence that all too easily erupts between factions, ethnic groups and countries who refuse to share. How different might our world be if leaders sought to be “all things to all people” and if they, like Christ, were willing to meet people at their point of need, and spread the good they do as far and wide as possible? How different might our world be if Christ followers, rather than trying to manipulate the world’s systems according to their own agendas, were more willing to serve and restore others irrespective of differences in belief, conviction, morality and association? In what ways can we commit this week to being true followers of Christ, sacrificing our own interests and agendas in favour of the greater good of God’s Reign?

Local Application:
It is both shocking and disturbing that, in many segments of society, Christianity has been used as an excuse for an attitude of entitlement. The way the Gospel has been presented has left many outside of the Church feeling coerced and manipulated and rejected. It’s like we’re saying that, rather than us meet others where they are, they must change to become like us. Rather than touch and heal the sick and demonised, we have told them that they have no place among us, while we have refused to acknowledge our own demons. Rather than become “all things to all people” we have tried to make all people become like us. Rather than inviting people to be restored and saved by God’s grace, we have used the Bible as a club to break people down when they believe or live differently from us. In this way God’s glory has been hidden from the world, rather than being reflected through us. In this way Christ has become for many a false prophet rather than a true reflection of the glory and grace of God. This week, while we can celebrate that God meets us where we are and offers us healing and restoration, we must also acknowledge that we need to repent and change to become those who sacrifice ourselves – our own needs, our own desires, beliefs and agendas – in favour of the wholeness, justice and goodness of others. If we are to embody the Reign of God which Jesus preached and demonstrated we need to release our self-interest and begin to step into the shoes, and the worlds of those who need to experience God’s love. This will mean letting go of our need to be right, and our need to be comfortable and our need to control the world. But, it will also lead us even deeper into God’s grace and love as we experience God working in us and through us even more.

The Mystery Of Your Love
Extending The Invitation
Serving All
Ripping Off The Labels

Hymn Suggestions:
Praise, My Soul, The King Of Heaven
Have Thine Own Way, Lord
Just As I Am
Everlasting God (Link to YouTube video)
The Power Of Your Love (Link to YouTube video)
Jesus, You Are My Healer (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Breaking of Bread

Video Suggestions:
A Solitary Place