10 February 2019
After last week, in which the wonderful “yes” of God was explored alongside the challenging “no”, the Lectionary now challenges us to decide what to do with God’s invitational and confrontational grace. On the one hand we are called to receive this grace in our own lives, and enjoy the freedom it brings. On the other hand we are challenged to become participants in God’s gracious work as God calls us to follow God’s alternative way of being and share that way with those around us.
May our worship this week challenge us to receive both Go’s grace and God’s call to be agents of that grace in the world.
Isaiah 6:1-8 (9-13): In the year King Uzziah Dies, Isaiah has a vision of God’s glory in the temple, where he is cleansed and he responds to God’s call. Then God tells him to say to the people that they won’t learn or understand. When he asks how long this will be for, God answers that it will continue until the country is a wasteland, but that Israel’s stump will be a holy seed.
Psalm 138: The Psalmist praises God for God’s love and faithfulness, and God’s promises, declaring that all the kings of the earth will praise God, for God is great. In the Psalmist’s troubles God protects from enemies and will work out God’s plans for the Psalmist’s life.
1 Corinthians 15:1-11: Paul reminds the believers of the Good News that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised from the dead on the third day. He was seen by Peter, and the twelve, and by over 500 followers. He was also seen by Paul, who considers himself the least of the apostles. He declares that he is what he is by the grace of God.
Luke 5:1-11: Jesus preaches on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and when the crowds press in on him, he steps into a boat and asks Peter to put out from the shore a little. Then he tells Peter to go out and drop his nets to catch fish. Peter complains that the disciples have worked all night and caught nothing, but he agrees to go anyway. When they catch a great catch, Peter responds in repentance, and Jesus calls him to follow. So Peter, James and John leave their nets and follow Jesus.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
In all of this week’s readings there are two strong themes that emerge. The first is that God calls women and men to follow God’s alternative way of being, and to share the Gospel with others. In Isaiah, we read the famous call story. The Psalmist is confident that God will work out God’s plans in the Psalmist’s life. Paul reminds the Corinthian believers both of the Gospel that has been preached to them, and of Paul’s own calling in sharing that message. And in the Gospel reading from Luke, Peter has his life-changing encounter with Jesus in which he is called to become a “fisher of people”. The second theme that stands alongside this one is that of grace. Isaiah’s message is not a comfortable or particularly comforting one, but it does include an assurance of God’s mercy and grace. The Psalmist praises God for God’s gracious promises, and trusts in God’s grace to save the Psalmist. Paul proclaims very strongly his conviction that he is what he is only because of God’s grace, and even in Peter’s call there is the awareness in Peter of his unworthiness, and yet the wonderful grace of Jesus as he basically ignores Peter’s confession and calls him into service.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
The question of call is not an insignificant one in our world today. In any sectors of the Church, God’s call I understood in terms of globally dominating the world with the Christian religion. Many followers of Jesus believe that to “save the world” means to convert everyone to Christianity in order to save them from an eternity in hell. This, we are told, is what grace is all about. Yet, while for some people this call has brought a new sense of life, hope and wholeness, for many others it has been very destructive. Religious conflict has been a feature of human existence for far too long. Religious pride has often led to those who are different from “us” being ostracised, judged, or even physically harmed. Essentially this is a view of both grace and God’s call that is far too narrow, and far too human in its values and directives. As we read these passages we find that God’s grace is not about domination, but service. It is not about getting people to become part of a specific religion, but about modelling an alternative, sustainable, loving, serving way of life and inviting – not coercing – others to join this way of being for the betterment of the entire world. It id less about “saving the world” and more about inviting those around us, whomever they may be and whatever they may believe, into a way that ensures a better and more sustainable life for all – including our future children. God’s grace is revealed in God’s deep concern for the very real challenges of our world, and God’s grace is revealed in the way God chooses to actively work in this world, calling us to become co-creators with God of a world that continues to evolve into greater beauty, deeper truth, and stronger goodness.
Looking at trends in the global Church today, one could be forgiven for thinking that the primary calling and mission of any local church is to maintain and grow that church. And growth is defined by bigger buildings, more people in worship services, and more money in the bank. Success in ministry is often defined by how well those who are “called” perform against these three metrics. Evangelism, then, becomes about getting people to come to church, not about inviting them to embrace the alternative way of Jesus. Worship becomes about creating an attractive performance each week so that people will keep coming, and will invite their friends, rather than a place of discipleship where we hear God’s call again, and are sent into the week to live the way of Jesus more consistently. Is it any wonder that the church is in decline? According to our Scriptures this week, the measure of a “church” is not its buildings, its denominational affiliation, it faithfulness to certain doctrinal or political ideologies, or its size and wealth. The measure of a church is on the way it integrates into the community in which it is placed, and how it becomes the hidden, subversive, influence for grace, bringing greater care to the broken, more accessible and sustainable resources to the needy, more companionship to the lonely, and more unyielding opposition to the forces that would rob any human being of the abundant life which Jesus sought to bring. How can we allow the Scriptures to call us again into being this kind of community within the wider community in which God has placed us?
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
I Give You My Heart