26 September 2021

It’s a strange week this week in the Lectionary, and there are many different angles that could be taken. Keeping ourselves from sin, God’s rescue of those in trouble, healing – these all appear in the readings this week. But, one theme seems to thread its way through all of the Scriptures – God’s surprising and unexpected work through unexpected people in unexpected ways. This is that angle that is the focus of the resources and reflections below.

May our hearts be opened to the unexpected grace, the surprising opportunity and the serendipitous move of God’s Spirit as we worship this week.

Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22: The king asks Esther what he can do for her, and she asks him to deliver her people from Haman’s plot. The king orders that Haman be impaled upon the stake he had made for Mordecai. Then Mordecai writes to all the Jewish people instructing them to always remember the days of their deliverance.
OR Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29: The Israelites complain that they have no meat, and in response Moses pleads with God to help him, because he finds leading the people too much of a burden. So God instructs Moses to bring seventy leaders to the Ten of Meeting, where God fills them with some of Moses’ spirit and they prophesy. When two leaders who have not gone to the tent begin to prophesy in the camp, Joshua asks Moses to stop them, but Moses refuses, saying that he wished all of God’s people were prophets.

Psalm 124: A celebration of God’s help for God’s people, remembering how, when their enemies sought to destroy them, God helped his people to escape.
OR Psalm 19:7-14: In praise of God’s law which brings joy, insight, truth, wisdom, and life, which helps people to know when they have done wrong, and which enables them to be cleansed.

James 5:13-20: Those who suffer should pray, and those who are sick should call on the elders of the church to pray for them and anoint them with oil, because the prayers of righteous people are effective. Also, we should turn one another back whenever we stray from the truth.

Mark 9:38-50: Jesus tells his disciples not to stop a person who is casting out demons in Jesus’ name, and Jesus tells them to let him be, adding that whoever is not against him is for him. Then he teaches that anyone who gives one of Jesus’ disciples water will be rewarded, but those who cause little ones to stumble will be cursed. Anything that causes us to sin must be thrown away, and we must “maintain our salt” and keep peace with each other.

The Gospel and the Deuteronomy reading both have people who are “out” performing the same miraculous work that others, who are “in”, are doing. In both cases someone tries to stop them (Joshua in Deuteronomy, and John in the Gospel) but in both cases the leaders say that they must not be stopped. In Jesus’ case, he teaches that whoever is not against him is for him, and in Moses’ case, he expresses his wish that all God’s people would be prophets. In the Esther reading, we read of God’s people being saved from evil (Haman) through some surprising opportunities that are used by some faithful people (Esther and Mordecai). Psalm 124 supports this reading, in its celebration of God’s help for God’s people. In James, all of God’s people, especially the elders, are called on to pray and to live righteous lives, while taking the opportunities that arise to help one another stay true. Psalm 19 links with this reading through it’s celebration of God’s law that brings wisdom and life. Through the Lectionary readings this week, then, we find the call to embrace the unexpected and surprising work of God. Although this is not specifically drawn out in the Esther reading, this passage would need to be put in context, and in doing so, the serendipitous nature of Esther and Mordecai’s rescue of their people becomes clear. It’s easy for us to become so caught up in controlling ministry that we miss God’s surprising work. It’s so easy to get so caught up in the purity of our religion that we miss the work of God’s Spirit in those with whom we disagree. But, if we are seriously committed to God’s Reign – and not our own little dominions – we will learn to celebrate the surprising, unexpected and serendipitous work of God wherever, and through whomever, we may find it.

Global Application:
It is amazing, when we look around, at the tremendous good that’s being done in the world by various organisations. It’s inspiring to see how many opportunities are arising and being taken, and how many people are being healed, saved, rescued, and given a chance at life because of it. This is something we can and must celebrate. What is unfortunate is when groups are unable or unwilling to collaborate because of theological, ethnic, national, or operational differences. It is also unfortunate when hierarchies and structures keep us from responding to surprising opportunities. Yet, God’s desire is to bring wholeness to the world, and God will use whomever is available to do this work of healing. If we can recognise that compassion, done by anyone, is still compassion, and that we achieve far more when we pool resources and opportunities, so much more can be done. When political parties can learn to work together for the good of the people, instead of denouncing each other in order to gain or cling to power, we will see immense healing in our world. When religions and denominations can learn to work together for the good of the world, instead of competing with one another for converts and for dominance of the religious landscape, we will see immense healing in the world. When corporations can learn to work together for the good of the world, instead of fighting one another over control of ideas, and seeking legislation that protects them at the expense of freedom, collaboration and social contribution, there will be immense healing in our world. But, all of these scenarios require massive systemic changes which can only come about when we are willing to embrace serendipitous opportunities and creative solutions, and when we are willing to recognise that when we are not against each other (or Christ) we are for one another (and Christ).

Local Application:
The creativity that has come out of people of faith, and church communities, has been an amazing healing and liberating force in the world for millennia. The arts have played very significant roles in every revival movement, every social reform movement and every liberation movement in human history. Communities which have been open to the creative move of God’s Spirit, that have invited questions and experimentation, and that have been willing to reach out to others who are different from them, have made massive positive impacts on the world. But, much of this has been forgotten in the wake of exclusive, condemnatory, rigid, and stagnant faith organisations. Followers of Christ are better known for silencing questions than embracing them in today’s society. Churches are better known for rejecting and denouncing other faith communities, and other denominational groups, than embracing them and working with them. We seem to be far more eager to ensure that those who are “for” us look like us, speak like us, think like us, and separate from those who don’t, than we are ready to welcome those who are not “against” us. But, in the process, we may well be missing some of the unexpected work of God’s Spirit that is happening around us. We may find that, instead of being liberators, healers and comforters, we have become oppressors and destroyers. What an amazingly attractive community the church could be, though, if local groups of Christians could find the openness and creativity to work alongside whomever they can to uplift, heal and celebrate their neighbours and neighbourhoods. When we are willing to let go of our need for “purity” and exclusivism, we might just find that we experience God through the stranger, and in the most unexpected places.

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Glorious The Grace
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