17 February 2019
How we choose to live has consequences. We have been given, in the Scriptures and in Christ’s example, a picture of the kind of life that brings about greater wholeness and joy for those who live it. But, we have also been given a picture of the pain that results when we reject God’s ways. This leaves us with a simple choice of which way we will choose to follow.
May our worship this week lead us deeper into the way of Jesus in practical world-changing ways.
Jeremiah 17:5-10: Cursed are those who trust in human strength and turn away from God. They live in barrenness with no hope. But those who trust in God are like trees planted near a river. They have green leaves and bear lots of fruit. The human heart is deceitful and wicked and God searches all hearts and motives, rewarding people according to their actions.
Psalm 1: Those who do not follow the ways of the wicked are blessed. They delight in God’s law and they are like trees along a riverbank bearing fruit and prospering in all they do. The wicked are worthless and will be judged. God watches over the righteous but the wicked will be destroyed.
1 Corinthians 15:12-20: Some Corinthians say there is no resurrection. Paul points out that this means that then not even Christ has been resurrected, which means their faith is useless and believers are most to be pitied. But Christ has been raised and is the first of a great harvest.
Luke 6:17-26: Jesus preaches to the crowds, in Luke’s version of the Beatitudes. Those who are poor, hungry, and who weep, and are persecuted are blessed, while those who are rich, prosperous, laughing, and praised by the crowds are facing great sorrow.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The central theme of all of the readings this week is the contrast between those who follow God’s ways and those who don’t. Jeremiah speaks of how those who turn away from God and trust in their own human strength are cursed, but those who trust in God are like trees planted near a river which are filled with life, green leaves and lots of fruit. This same metaphor is picked up in Psalm 1, where those who trust in God’s law and follow it are like healthy, living trees, while the wicked are cursed. In Luke Jesus speaks of how those who are poor, hungry, and weeping are blessed by God, while those who are rich, prosperous, laughing, and praised will experience woe. It is significant that Jesus’ definition of blessing and curses, and what brings about those conditions, is very different from the Old Testament picture, or at least how those Old Testament pictures are usually interpreted. Finally, Paul compares those who believe in resurrection with those who don’t, declaring that followers of Jesus who do not believe in a resurrection, or whose faith only has value for his life, are to be pitied, but those for whom resurrection is a reality, know that faith reaches beyond our current mortal life. Ultimately, all of these passages call us to a choice between trusting our own strength, wisdom, and ways of being, or embracing the way of Jesus.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
There are two ways the choice in today’s readings can be seen to affect the world. On the one hand, the choice to follow Jesus is so often spiritualised (with Paul’s resurrection discourse as a strong source of support for this view) such that many followers of Jesus choose to opt out of the world – in the sense that they shun anything to do with social justice, they deny that climate change is real, or, if it is, that it needs to be a concern, and their faith becomes about staying “separate” from “the world” in order to ensure a place in heaven (resurrection) when they die. On the other hand, and often in reaction to the former view, this choice is seen to entail either being “spiritual” or being “worldly” and, in order to follow Jesus’ call for care of the poor, the broken, and the marginalised, all “spiritualised” concerns are either ignored or rejected. But, there is a third way to approach this choice, which integrates all the ways the Scriptures may present it to us. Jesus preached and demonstrated that God’s way is about what happens in this world now – caring for the least, and siding with the poor and marginalised. But, Jesus also called us to a deep and living spirituality that trusts in God’s Spirit, and not just our own capacity, and that believes that what we do now has eternal impact and consequence. That eternal impact cannot just be getting us to heaven, or we are just selfish people. So it must also have to do with participating in God’s ongoing work of resurrection, of bringing the entire cosmos into the fullness of God’s life. The call then is for us to be both mystics who are deeply connected to the reality of God’s presence and purpose, and who seek to participate in the eternal saving work of God, and activists who are deeply connected to the world in which we live, to the daily realities of injustice and evil, and who seek to participate in the immediate saving work of God within our human, temporal world. If we can do this right – and avoid the other possible choice, which is to ignore God’s call altogether – then we, and all those with whom we work and live, will know the benefit of a more just and compassionate way of being, while also celebrating the future hope of a cosmos that is one and whole in Christ.
On the local level, it can be very tempting to turn the choice in today’s readings into a simple decision for or against Jesus. It could be a simple evangelical message that seeks a “decision for Christ” and brings people into the church. But to reduce today’s message to this overly simple choice would be to do a great injustice to the Scriptures. We could choose, rather to offer a more nuanced and challenging choice. Not just a choice for Jesus, but a choice that calls us to choose what kind of Jesus we will follow. Will we make Jesus simply a good man who worked for the good of his society, and make following him simply about being good people? Or will we make Jesus a substitute who removes any guilt or responsibility from us and simply guarantees us a place in a future heaven? Or – and hopefully this is what we will choose – do we offer a Jesus who connects us to the God who is the source of life, beauty, truth and goodness in the world, who offers us a future hope of a resurrection life that fills the cosmos, and who also calls us to engage daily in the tough work of living with kindness, compassion, justice, peace, generosity, and love now? When we speak of blessing and curses, do we present them as God’s actions, coming from outside of our human reality, and imposed on us by a distant deity? Or do we present them as consequences of how we live now with one another, and as the results of trusting that God’s way really is the best way to move the entire universe a little closer each day to experiencing the fullness of resurrection life? I hope that we will have the courage to present the Gospel choice that is deeply challenging, transformative, and practical, while also being deeply spiritual and aware of the eternal purpose of God.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Here I Am Jesus (Scroll down to find the song)