22 September 2024

The choice we all face every day is highlighted in the Lectionary readings this week: wickedness or righteousness. As strange as those two words may sound to contemporary ears, their definitions are simple. Wickedness is the choice to live selfishly, violently, and without regard for others or for consequences. Righteousness is the choice to live peacefully, responsibly, humbly, generously, graciously, and in sacrificial service of others. For too long we have believed that we could find joy and life in the ways that the Scriptures call “wickedness.” Now, if we are to find the healing we seek – both personally and globally – we need to embrace the ways that the Scriptures call “righteousness.” It is not over stating the case to say that our lives depend on how we choose.

May our worship lead us away from wickedness and into righteousness this week.

Proverbs 31:10-31: A good wife is to be valued because she cares for her family and her servants, she provides for her household, she brings honour to her husband and she is hard working and resourceful.
OR Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22: The ungodly people detest the righteous person, and plan to attack and persecute him to prove whether God is truly concerned for him, and whether he really is a child of God, but they do not know God’s secret plan or the reward that holiness brings.
OR Jeremiah 11:18-20: Jeremiah discovers a plot against his life and pleads for God’s protection, and God’s revenge on those who seek to harm him.

Psalm 1: Righteous people are blessed because they do not follow the ways of the wicked, but love God’s instruction. They are like trees planted by streams, bearing fruit and always succeeding. The wicked, however, are destroyed.
OR Psalm 54: A plea for God’s help and rescue because proud and violent people seek to attack the Psalmist. But, God sustains God’s servant and destroys those who attack him. In response the Psalmist gives thanks and offers sacrifices to God.

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a: Wise followers of Christ should live a humble life. Jealousy and selfish ambition are not wise, but cause evil, conflict, murder and struggle. Therefore God’s people should resist evil, submit to God, draw near to God, and seek to be cleansed.

Mark 9:30-37: Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, and then challenges the disciples for arguing about which of them is greatest. Then he teaches them that the greatest in God’s Reign must be the slave of all, and that whoever welcomes a child, welcomes Jesus, and the One who sent him.

Once again the Lectionary offers us a choice. This time it is between our own selfish desires, ambitions and power, and serving, loving and sharing with others as we follow the way of Jesus. In one set of readings, the life of the righteous person is applauded. From the righteous wife in Proverbs 31 (clearly written in a time of patriarchy, and now applicable to both men and women, rather than just the women!), to the righteous person who studies God’s law in Psalm 1, to James’ call to live a humble life submitted to God, to Jesus’ teaching that the greatest in God’s Reign must be servants,  the Scriptures call us to righteousness, humility, service and generosity. We are to avoid the ways of the wicked, which are driven by selfishness, jealousy, violence, and the hunger for power. This wicked life is reflected in the second set of readings for this week. In the Wisdom of Solomon, the wicked seek to attack and harm the righteous person. In Jeremiah, the prophet pleads for God’s protection against the wicked who plot against him. In Psalm 54 the Psalmist, like Jeremiah, pleads for God’s help against his enemies. And in the Gospel, Jesus predicts his death, but also predicts his resurrection. Essentially, the message of the readings for this week is that life, peace, joy, love, prosperity and grace are found through living humbly, simply, kindly, generously, compassionately and with grace, conscientiousness, resourcefulness and responsibility. If we reject these values, we reject the ways of God’s Reign, and we doom ourselves to conflict, violence, lack, misery and judgment. As James suggests, though, even faith can become a mask for our worst human instincts, and so we need the attitude of submission to God’s ways, and the humility to repent and receive forgiveness if we are to live in ways that bring life to us and to others. As Brian D. McLaren puts it in a quote from his upcoming book: “We are increasingly faced with a choice…not between kindness and hostility, but between kindness and non-existence.”

Global Application:
Peacemaking, conflict resolution, poverty alleviation and ecological justice in our world are not just about addressing specific situations and causes, but are about changing the entire way we live on the planet, which means working to dismantle all systems that do any kind of violence to others – religious systems that oppress and exclude people of different beliefs and practices; economic systems that unfairly favour large corporations and countries over smaller, less developed ones with trade restrictions, biased tariffs and subsidies; and global power structures that prioritize the interests of wealthy and powerful nations over smaller and weaker ones. The essential shift is toward kindness, grace and love. The Scriptures make it clear that selfishness, expediency, domination, jealousy and hoarding are all part of what it calls wickedness, while humility, kindness, grace and generosity are righteousness. The is no question that living according to the ways of “wickedness” increases suffering and conflict in the world, while living according to the ways of righteousness brings peace, joy, healing and connectedness. The reality of our world, though, is that most of us live between these two extremes, and as we seek to embrace righteousness more and more, so we find ourselves at odds with any systems and people that are corrupt, selfish and violent. The result is that, like Jesus, Jeremiah and others who have stood for the values of God’s Reign, we may well find ourselves being persecuted. But, this is the price we pay for dreaming of a better world and committing to bring it about. And, as more of us embrace the ways of righteousness, so the momentum grows, until finally, one day, the dream becomes reality

Local Application:
It is a tough choice to give up personal power and self-interest in favour of the common good, but this is the way of Christ – the way of peace, service, grace and love. In every community there are those who seek to “work the system” to benefit themselves. Sometimes this is done maliciously, but often it is done with simple ignorance or neglect of the needs of the weak, poor, voiceless and defenseless. The truth is that we are all oppressed and we are all oppressor at some point in our lives, and we all need to learn to turn away from our worst selves. Taking up the cross of Christ means that we give up our quest to be the greatest, come alongside those who suffer and are persecuted, and support them, defend them and work with them for their upliftment, while ensuring that the wealthy and powerful do not benefit at their expense. Who are the ones who need this kind of  support and protection in your community or church?

Serving All
Great God
Small Random Acts Of Peacemaking
God Of Peace
Faith That Carries The Cross

Hymn Suggestions:
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
I Am Thine, O Lord
Freely, Freely (Link to YouTube video)
Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace
Serve Others
A Song Of Peace
God Of Justice (Link to YouTube video)
God Of This City (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy for the Agape

Video Suggestions:
The Last Will Be First
Prayer of St. Francis (Sarah McLaughlin) (Link to YouTube video