03 September 2023

The journey continues and this week, following on from God’s gift of salvation, we encounter God’s call for us to be agents of God’s grace, compassion and love to the world. It’s not easy. It will ask of us great sacrifice. But it also promises life for us and for our world, if we will but take up our crosses and follow Christ.

Worship will probably not be comfortable this week. May we thank God for God’s call, and respond willingly and sacrificially, laying down our comforts, our needs, our preferences and even our lives to live as people of all-embracing love.

Exodus 3:1-15: Moses encounters God in a burning bush while feeding the flocks of his father-in-law, and is called to be God’s messenger to tell Pharoah to release God’s people. When Moses asks for God’s name, God tells him that he must say that “I Am” has sent him.
OR Jeremiah 15:15-21: Jeremiah pleads with God to save him from his persecutors and to end his suffering, for which he can find no reason. God replies with the assurance that he will not be overcome, and that God will save him.

Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c: A song of instruction for God’s people to praise God and to remember God’s wonders when God made the Israelites greater than the Egyptians and sent Moses and Aaron to them.
OR Psalm 26:1-8: A plea for God to test the Psalmist and declare him innocent because he has not joined with the wicked and has remained faithful to God’s love and truth.

Romans 12:9-21: Paul encourages the believers to be committed to a life of love for one another and even for enemies – seeking to bless and not curse, and to conquer evil with good.

Matthew 16:21-28: Jesus tells the disciples about his coming death to which Peter responds with a rebuke. Jesus in turn corrects Peter and calls the disciples to take up their crosses, to follow Jesus (in his suffering) and to give their lives in order to save their souls.

What does God’s call mean for us? What can we expect when we receive God’s call? These are the questions at the heart of this week’s Lectionary, and they flow beautifully out of last week’s challenge. If you are following the Moses readings, the clear progression is from Moses’ own personal salvation (last week) to his call to go back and save God’s (and his) people, in spite of his fears, uncertainties and the struggles which will come (this week). If your focus is the Gospel, the movement is from Peter’s declaration of who Jesus is, and, the foundations of Church in bringing Christ to the world (last week) to Jesus’ embrace of the cross and call for us to follow (this week). Jeremiah’s plea for God’s vindication echoes Jesus’ own suffering in spite of his innocence, and the Romans reading supports both the Gospel and the Moses story as it calls God’s people to live in love for one another & for enemies, giving themselves for the well-being of others in practical ways. Finally, the Psalms both express praise for God’s salvation and the plea for God to recognise the innocence of the Psalmist and God’s people – even as Jesus suffered though innocent. So, what God may be wanting us to hear this week is that we are all called to follow Christ to be liberators of others, serving and loving all people, including our enemies, and that as we respond to this call we must be willing to lay our lives down and embrace the inevitable suffering and sacrifice that will come. Yet, even in the midst of this tough word is a light of hope. It is in this self-giving love that we find our ‘souls’ (our true, God-given selves) and we discover true, abundant life.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: In our pain-avoidant world, the idea that we should embrace sacrifice and suffering as a response to God’s call sounds ridiculous. Yet, as we seek healing and sustainability in our world, we cannot but see the wisdom in this call. We may not be a Moses or a Jesus, but as each of us embrace our “calledness”, we can have global impact in our own small way. But it will require us to release our places of privilege, to turn away from our consumer, accumulation mentality, and to embrace the sacrifice of simple living, of greater financial contribution (if we are among the more wealthy – which if you’re reading this, you almost certainly are), and of personal willingness to relinquish comfort and luxury. We may find ourselves choosing to walk more or to ride a bicycle instead of using our cars as much. We may need to reduce our meat intake. We may need to allocate more of our income to giving and support of those with less. We may have to take stands in uncomfortable ways among our friends and families over issues like inclusion of the marginalised, and loving our enemies. It may mean choosing to give our vote to a difficult and unpopular cause. We may need to learn more about a foreign culture and seek to understand people we would normally consider “enemies”. It may mean giving up on certain clothes, foodstuffs or sweets in order to ensure we don’t participate in the oppression or slavery of others. One thing is certain, though: God’s call will lead us to take our global citizenship seriously and to contribute sacrificially in whatever way we can to the healing of our world and its inhabitants. And as we as individuals and groups respond to God’s call, we become part of a movement of grace, healing, love and sacrifice that has the power to really change things for the better.

LOCAL APPLICATION: The old adage, “Think Globally, Act Locally” is relevant to today’s message. The global healing that is required in our world today will come about as individuals and communities embrace the call to sacrifice and to “losing our lives” in our local settings. As we feed the hungry, clothe the naked and reconcile with our enemies, we contribute to a more compassionate, connected and whole world. As we give ourselves in small practical acts of love for one another and for those who are hurting, marginalised and different from us, we help to bring equality, connectedness and peace to our world. It is a pity, when we recognise the difference that we can make to the world, that we have reduced the call of Christ to a passive one – waiting for a heavenly evacuation when we die. It is sad that we have made Christ’s message about little more than praying a prayer and joining an exclusive group in the wait for the afterlife. There is little impact on people’s lives and little sacrifice required of us when we approach our call in this way. We would do better to look around us at the people we worship with, live with and share a neighbourhood with, and see where we can give of ourselves – be it our time, our expertise, our financial resources, our friendship, our network, our forgiveness, our open-heartedness, our commitment to peace or our willingness to learn – and make a commitment to act in small, practical, loving ways – as Paul described – to serve them and bring life to them in whatever we can, even (or especially) when it hurts us to do so.

No Dying Today
If Not For Your Embrace Of Death
Faith That Carries The Cross

Hymn Suggestions:
When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
Take My Life And Let It Be
O Thou Who Camest From Above (Also works really well to the tune of “The Water Is Wide”)
Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus
The Wonderful Cross (Link to YouTube video)
I Give You My Heart (Link to YouTube video)
Lifesong (Link to YouTube video)
In Your Crucifixion

A Liturgy for the Celebration of Sacrifice

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