05 November 2023
God’s salvation is once again an important feature of this week’s readings, but coupled with another theme that shows how God’s salvation is made visible in human experience – integrity. It is when God’s people – through whom God works God’s salvation – live out faithfully what they believe, that life and wholeness is brought into the world. It is this call to integrity that forms the basis of our worship this week.
Joshua 3:7-17: Joshua commands the priests to carry the ark of the covenant into the Jordan, and tells them that as their feet touch the water, it will bank up and the people will be able to cross on dry ground. When they do what Joshua says, the water does bank up upstream, and the whole nation is able to cross the river on dry ground.
OR Micah 3:5-12: Micah prophesies against the prophets who falsely prophecy peace, and against the corruption of the priests and leaders of Israel, declaring that they will find themselves walking in darkness, with no word from God, and that the city of Jerusalem and the temple will be destroyed.
Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37: A song of thanksgiving on behalf of those who have been rescued by God. Though they wandered in the wilderness, God guided them back to human habitations, and though God can turn rivers and streams dry and make fertile land unproductive for the wicked, God also makes the desert fertile and filled with water for those that God rescues.
OR Psalm 43: A plea for God to rescue the psalmist from dishonest, unjust and ungodly people and for God to bring the psalmist back into the place of worship so that the psalmist can offer thanks again. Yet, in spite of the struggle, the psalmist encourages his soul to continue to hope and trust in God.
1 Thessalonians 2:9-13: God’s messengers worked among the Thessalonians, preaching the Gospel, while supporting themselves through their own labour so as not to be a burden on the Thessalonian Christians, and the new church received the Gospel not as a human message, but as God’s word that works in them.
Matthew 23:1-12: Jesus warns the people to obey the teaching of the religious leaders, but not to follow their actions because they do not live what they preach. He also instructs them not to call or be called “Rabbi,” “Father” or “Teacher” because only God deserves these titles, and no one should dominate anyone else, for all are sisters and brothers. Those who try to raise themselves will be brought low, Jesus teaches, and those who make themselves low will be raised up.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
The theme of this week’s readings is a combination of two seemingly disparate ideas. The first is that of God’s rescue of God’s people, and of the weak and the lost. In the Joshua reading, God’s people are brought into the Promised Land by a repeat of the Exodus miracle, with the Jordan river offering them a dry passage to cross through. In Psalm 107 this is echoed in the song of God’s bringing those who wandered in the wilderness to a human habitation – a home. The second idea this week is that of the corruption of religious leaders, a warning against hypocrisy, and the necessity to remain humble together in God’s community. In Micah’s prophecy the false prophets and corrupt leaders are warned of the judgement that will come upon them. In the Gospel Jesus warns against following the hypocritical behaviour of the religious leaders, and encourages his followers to refrain from seeking to dominate one another, but rather to see each other as equal as they live humbly together. These two ideas – God’s rescue and the warning against hypocrisy and corruption come together in the remaining two readings – in Psalm 43, the psalmist pleads with God for rescue from corrupt and wicked people, and in Thessalonians the church is reminded of how good leaders brought God’s salvation to them, and how they found life in the Gospel message, which enables them to live lives worthy of God. When these two ideas are brought together, we find a remarkable synergy, and a very challenging call – to Christlike integrity. God seeks to save and provide for all people, and, when those who claim to follow Christ do so with integrity, God’s salvation is shared through them. However, when we use faith as a way to dominate and exploit others, when we fail to live what we preach, we bring pain on others, and we get in the way of God’s saving work in others, forcing them to listen to what we say, but reject the example of our lives. Unfortunately, this hypocrisy is too often what causes people to reject the Church and its message in our world today. Yet, the world still longs for people of faith who follow Christ with integrity and who truly reflect God’s saving character and purpose in their lives. May we be those who offer this reflection.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: Integrity is a much needed trait in all human affairs, although it is too often found to be absent. In many of our greatest leaders, this has been the defining characteristic and has informed and given power to their work and their message. People like Lincoln, Gandhi, Mandela and Tutu come to mind here. The challenge for those who are leaders on a global scale is to consistently make the choice for integrity over expediency. This can be tough when the expedient route can so easily seem to get quicker and more effective results. Yet, when high standards of ethics and justice are established and maintained, the impact on the world is always lasting, healing and liberating. What this means for us, in practical terms, is that all who seek to follow Christ have a responsibility to support leaders (wherever they may be found) and decisions that are just, liberating and consistent with principles of integrity, for when we do this, we open the door for God’s salvation to come to all of us, but especially to the poor and marginalised. It’s like a safe pathway is opened up through the flood waters of greed, power-mongering and corruption. In addition, in whatever small way we may exert influence in our corner of the world, we are likewise called to live with integrity in order that God’s reign and salvation may be reflected in us and be adopted by those who receive our message and benefit from our work – like the apostles with the Thessalonian church. In the days of apartheid in South Africa, the story is told, church leaders confronted the government about its policies. However, the governent simply pointed to the discrimination and apartheid that was rife in the church and told the church to keep quiet until it practiced what it preached. May this not be the case with us!
LOCAL APPLICATION: When many people who reject the church are asked why, the response is because of the hypocrisy they have experienced among Christians. While this may be a convenient excuse to avoid Christ’s challenge, it is unfortunate that the criticism is too often true. It is all too common for prominent leaders to preach one thing and live another. It is way too easy for leaders to have one public persona and a different private one. And for individual followers of Christ, is easy to sing and pray one thing on Sunday and then live by a different set of values through the week. But, none of these situations lead us to the life and freedom that Christ offers. It is only when we commit to integrity, bringing together our thoughts, words, actions, beliefs, ethics and principles into one unified whole that we begin to truly experience the life-giving power of the Gospel. And it is only when our lives are filled with integrity that we hope to bring life to others, or to be agents of God’s salvation for them. This means that in our communities, in our homes, in our places of work and our relationships, we must strive to live what we preach – or perhaps start to live what we believe and stop preaching! It means that as we seek to influence our corner of the world, we must earn the right, through our integrity, to speak, to act and to influence others. It means that when we worship, we cannot use the sanctuary as an escape from the world, or as a “different reality” from our daily lives. Rather, our prayers and songs must be both the expression and the formative influence of our whole lives. Saving the world is not so much about preaching words about heaven and hell, sin and repentance to others. Rather it’s about seeking to live with integrity the kind of life that we believe God desires, and that will bring wholeness and justice to the world. Then, if we are asked to share what we believe, or tell our story, we can express in words what we have already preached with our lives. As St. Francis is reported to have said: “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Perhaps then we will truly be participants in God’s saving work, and we will be those who guide the lost wanderers home to God.
RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Building A New World
The God Who Serves
O Young And Fearless Prophet
O Master Let Me Walk With Thee
Dear Jesus In Whose Life I See
Be Thou My Vision
The Servant King (Link to YouTube video)
May The Words Of My Mouth (Link to YouTube video)
What I Have Vowed (Link to YouTube video)
The Heart Of Worship (Link to YouTube video)
A Liturgy For The Lord’s Supper