25 August 2024

The Lectionary offers a choice, a different perspective and a helpful tool for our lives this week. The choice is to decide whether we will remain faithful in following Christ or not. The perspective is to recognise that, as we resist evil, it’s not people we are dealing with but the evil in our own hearts, and in the institutions, systems and structures of the world. And the tool which makes it possible for us to navigate all of this is prayer.

May our worship lead us into right choices, Christlike perspectives and passionate prayer.

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43: The Ark of the Covenant in placed in Solomon’s newly built temple, and the cloud of God’s glory fills the temple. Then Solomon prays that God will keep God’s promise to have a descendent of David on the throne forever, and for God to answer the prayers of God’s people when they pray in the temple, and also to hear and answer those of immigrants (CEB) who pray there as well.
OR Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18: Joshua challenges the people of Israel to choose which god they will serve, and the people affirm their commitment to the God of their ancestors who brought them out of Egypt.

Psalm 84: A Psalm in praise of God’s Temple, of the joys of dwelling in God’s House, and of God’s strengthening of God’s people. Also a request for God to hear the Psalmist’s prayer.
OR Psalm 34:15-22: A celebration of the way God watches over the righteous and saves them, but opposes the wicked and brings them down.

Ephesians 6:10-20: The apostle encourages the Ephesian believers to recognise that their struggle is not against human beings, but against spiritual forces of evil, and in order to stay strong they need to put on God’s armour and remain faithful in prayer. Then he asks them to pray for him as he seeks to spread the Gospel.

John 6:56-69: Jesus proclaims that he is the bread that came down from heaven, and that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood will remain in Christ and Christ in them. Then many disciples grumble and even start leaving, but when Jesus asks the twelve if they want to go too, Peter answers that they have nowhere else to go, because Jesus has the words of eternal life.

This week is all about choices. On the one hand there is the choice to abandon our devotion to God and God’s ways. In the Gospel, many of Jesus’ followers find his call to be completely united with him – to believe that he is the source of life and to take him into their beings (eating his flesh and drinking his blood) – too much to handle and they abandon Jesus. But, his disciples, although they may be feeling like they want to go, recognise that life is found in Christ and so remain faithful. In the Old Testament related reading, Joshua calls the people to choose where they will put their devotion, while making his own commitment to God clear and public. In a similar way, Psalm 34 describes the differences between those who stay faithful to God and those who are “wicked”.

Linked with our choice to follow Jesus there is a call to prayer in this week’s Lectionary. In the famous passage from Ephesians, Paul calls the believers to prepare themselves for the attacks of evil by putting on God’s armour (making a choice to stay faithful), and he calls them to prayer for themselves and for him as he seeks to spread the Gospel. In the Old Testament semi-continuous reading, Solomon prays and pleads with God to hear and answer the prayers of all who pray toward the Temple. The theme this week is simple and clear: everyday we will be faced with the choice to remain faithful to Christ or to turn away, and we will need the intimacy with God that comes through prayer and through sharing in the life of Christ to remain true to our calling. In a world where religion is being questioned and falling out of fashion, and in which many parts of the Church are in decline, this choice, and the call to prayer, are as important as ever.

Global Application:
As we listen for what God may be saying to us this week in terms of the global issues of our time, the readings draw our attention to three important calls. The first is to remember that we always face the choice to remain faithful to God or to abandon God’s ways. We can work for justice in God’s name, but fall to the temptation to adopt the strategies of evil, believing that the end justifies the means, or we can stay committed to the ways of integrity, transparency and ethical operations. We can continue to trust in and strive for the ideal of God’s Reign, or we can choose expediency and embrace whatever compromises get the job done, at least in part. The call to stay faithful speaks strongly through the readings this week. The second call is to recognise that whatever opposes God’s Reign of justice, peace, compassion and love, it is not human beings. Rather it is the evil in human hearts, and in human structures, institutions and systems that opposes God’s Reign. As such, we are called to resist the evil, while still maintaining an attitude of grace and compassion toward the people we must confront or who oppose what we do. Finally, there is the call to make prayer a significant part of our strategy as we work to manifest God’s Reign in our world. Ultimately, we need prayer for its ability to empower us, and for the way it changes us to conform more and more to the ideals of God’s Reign for which we strive. Choosing God’s ways, resisting evil while refusing to demonise any person, and prayer – these are the tools by which we can contribute to the healing of our world, if we are willing to use them.

Local Application:
One of the big struggles we face in the Church today is the tendency to demonise one another, and those of other creeds or belief systems. By doing this we justify our judgment of them, and free ourselves from the guilt of failing to love as Jesus did. But, this is not the way of the Gospel, and it is, rather, a choice to abandon the life of Christ in favour of our own self-interest. It’s a choice we deal with between denominations and religions, within church communities, and even in our own homes. Yet, if we take seriously the call to stay faithful to Christ, then we cannot avoid “eating his flesh and drinking his blood” – taking the life, the values, the mission, the purposes, the attitudes, and the priorities of Jesus into our hearts and souls and living completely from the choice to follow Jesus. This means that we never have an excuse to stop loving, and we are never allowed to justify our condemnation of another person. It also means that when we resist evil, we always have to look beyond individuals and persons to the institutions, systems and ideologies that oppose God’s Reign. Only then can we love our enemy, while fighting for justice. In our neighbourhoods, communities and homes, we need this “Jesus perspective” if we are ever going to find ways to overcome our partisanship and work together for the good of all. And to get this “Jesus perspective” requires a life of deep, transforming prayer which goes beyond just asking God for things, and becomes about immersing ourselves in the life and mission of God. This is the stuff of our daily Christian living – praying, choosing daily to stay true to the love and grace of Jesus, and working to heal whatever evil we encounter within and outside of us, without rejecting other people in the process. May God help us as we seek to rise to this challenge.

Invincible Life
In Defiance
Whispers Of Love And Justice
Faith In Action

Hymn Suggestions:
Jesus Calls Us O’er The Tumult
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
O Worship The King
God Is Our Strength And Refuge
O God Our Help In Ages Past
Mighty To Save (Link to YouTube video)
You Are Good And Forgiving
When Our Songs (Have Mercy)

A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice

Video Suggestions:
True Food
Armour Of God