11 August 2024

The call to action continues with this week’s readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. Although the readings seem to be quite disparate in their themes, the single thread that runs through them all is the call to live with grace, integrity and compassion for both friend and enemy. It’s the small, daily acts of love and forgiveness, of honesty and compassion that make a significant difference in the world, and it is these acts that we are invited to make the habits of our lives.

May the grace, honesty and compassion of Jesus be seen in us a little more because we have worshipped this week.

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33: David commands his military leaders to ensure that his son Absalom is not harmed, but they fail, and Absalom is killed in battle. When David hears the news, he grieves, wishing that he had died instead of his son.
OR 1 Kings 19:4-8: A despondent Elijah is hiding out in the desert, but God provides food for him, and then instructs him to get up and he travels to Horeb the mountain of God.

Psalm 130: A Psalm of faith and trust in God who forgives sins and whose promises bring hope and redemption to God’s people.
OR Psalm 34:1-8: A Psalm of thanksgiving and praise in which the psalmist encourages others to join him in praising God for God’s redemption and salvation, and in which worshippers are encouraged to “taste and see” that God is good.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2: The apostle instructs the Ephesians believers on how to live as true followers of Christ. He encourages them to be honest with one another, to speak to one another in edifying ways, and to avoid anger, shouting and slander, choosing instead the way of forgiveness and compassion.

John 6:35, 41-51: Jesus proclaims himself as the bread of life, and responds to his critics by comparing the life that he gives to the manna that their ancestors ate in the wilderness – which could not keep them from death. Rather, Jesus, says, he gives life that does not end, and he reveals God to those who are drawn to him.

This week in the Lectionary holds together a variety of disparate elements. In the ongoing saga of David’s Reign we jump forward to the rebellion led by his son Absalom, and to Absalom’s death. Once again, we find David grieving an enemy, although this time he grieves as a father as well. In the Gospel we find Jesus being challenged for saying that he is the bread of life, and claiming that he reveals God, that he offers eternal life to those who come to him, and that his followers will be raised by him at the last day. There is a tremendous strength in Jesus’ response to his critics, even as he proclaims a deeply invitational message. In Paul’s words to the Ephesian Church, some simple, practical guidelines are offered for living together as Christ followers. How we speak to one another and treat one another is significant, because it builds our life together, and reflects the life and grace of God. Both Psalms call on believers to praise God for God’s faithfulness and salvation. In the light of this, it may seem impossible to find a common thread for this week’s worship. However, what stands out is a call to Christlike behaviour that is lived in the daily routines of our lives. As we celebrate God’s goodness, we are called to reflect and imitate that goodness in Christlike grace, compassion, gentleness, and honesty. We are called to resist evil, but love those who oppose us, even to the point of grieving their demise. This is not just living “what comes naturally,” but is a challenge to embrace forgiveness, love and honesty in a radical, counter-cultural way, and in so doing, allowing God’s life to flow through us to touch and restore our neighbours, our communities and our world. The simple challenge of this week is to believe that choosing to live like Christ – the Bread of Life – each day can have positive consequences for our world. As someone once suggested, we need to think globally and act locally – even in considering our daily interactions and choices.

Global Application:
It is distressing that political, scientific, religious, and business discourse in our world has become so vitriolic and aggressive. The paradigm from which we operate as we face the major crises of our time has become one of conflict, name-calling, shouting, shaming, and dishonesty. Rather than seeking to show the positive benefits of our ideas or our candidacy, we choose, instead, to show the negative elements in our opponents’ offerings. Rather than seeking to work together to find a shared wisdom, we shout down those with whom we disagree, and push through our own agendas as aggressively as we can. But, the result of all of this adversarial posturing is a growing disengagement in political, economic, and religious processes, and a growing inability to address our problems through lack of cohesion, collaboration, and prioritising of the greater good over special interests. All too often we find ourselves addressing symptoms, but failing to deal with causes effectively. Paul’s instructions offer us a different way. Jesus’ invitation to all reflects God’s willingness to heal, nourish, and sustain all people, and to bring all people together in God’s Reign. David’s grief over Absalom reflects the Godly ideal of love for enemies, even though David was unable to find ways to connect and collaborate with his own son. Finally, it is when we are willing to acknowledge that God’s ways of grace, goodness, and compassion are the keys to addressing our global struggles that we become able to reach out to ally and enemy alike and strive to find ways to work together for the benefit of our planet and all its peoples and creatures.

Local Application:
It doesn’t take much thinking to recognise the benefits of living as Paul describes in our homes and communities. What we might not always realise, though, is that it is when we live like this that we make a positive impact on the world. As we follow the Bread of Life and live in ways that bring life to our families, friends, neighbours, strangers, and even enemies, we become little “breads of life” to our world. As we live in ways that extend Christ’s invitation to others, so they begin to find life and compassion, forgiveness and restoration through us. And it starts with the small things like being honest, speaking graciously and being quick to forgive. As these simple daily acts become the habits by which we live, we find ourselves growing to the point where love for our enemies, even to the extent of grief at their suffering, becomes a regular feature of our lives as well. This Christlikeness, lived out daily, then contributes to the compassion, integrity and healing of our small section of the world, and becomes like a pebble dropped in a pond, spreading ripples out into the world. It’s rather like Gandhi suggested: we become the change we want to see. If we long for a world that begins to reveal God’s Reign on earth “as it is in heaven” this is the first step to becoming co-workers with God to make that happen.

Word Of God
To Worship And To Follow
Our Small Difference
A Goodness Worth Pursuing
The Sound Of Tears

Hymn Suggestions:
Come, Sinners, To The Gospel Feast
As We Gather (Whatever We Do)
You Are A Refuge (Arms)
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Agape

Video Suggestions:
True Food
Psalm 130