2 June 2013

Following on from last week’s reflection on the Trinity – part of which explored the community within the Godhead – it is fitting that this first week of Ordinary or Kingdom Time, should call us to be people of welcome, inclusivity and service of all – challenging our tendency to legalistic exclusivism and petty factionalism, and calling us to embrace all people in Christ’s name.

May our worship open our hearts and lives to our brothers and sisters in the human race!

1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39
: Elijah challenges the prophets of Baal inviting them to build an altar and place a sacrifice on it, and then to call on their god for fire. When no fire comes, Elijah does the same, calling on God, who sends fire to consume the sacrifice, even though it is drenched in water.
OR 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43: Solomon prays for the newly built Temple, and fro the foreigners who will pray in it, that God would hear their prayers and do as they ask, in order that God may be praised, and the Temple recognised as God’s house.

Psalm 96: A song in praise of God as Lord over all nations, and inviting all people to declare God’s glory, and to celebrate that God brings justice to the earth.
OR Psalm 96:1-9: A shorter excerpt of the above reading.

Galatians 1:1-12: Paul confronts the Galatians because they are following a different Gospel than the one they received from Paul, and which he received not from human beings, but from a revelation of Jesus.

Luke 7:1-10: A centurion, whose servant is sick, asks Jesus to heal him, declaring that there is no need for Jesus to go into his house, but only to say the word. Jesus is impressed by the centurion’s faith and does what he asks.

The Gospel reading seems almost to be in contradiction to the other readings for today. Where the Elijah story describes a conflict of faiths, the Psalm challenges all people to accept Israel’s God alone, and the Epistle warns against following any other Gospel, the Gospel reading shows Jesus crossing the boundaries of race, culture, and religion to touch and heal a Gentile’s servant. In the light of this, perhaps the other readings must be revisited. Solomon’s prayer certainly indicates that he believed that God would accept foreigners who prayed to God in God’s Temple – implying that, at least to some extent, they would be allowed into the Temple. The “other Gospel” that Paul warned against, of course, was not another religion, but was a legalistic distortion of Christ’s message, which would make the Gospel exclusive rather than inclusive and welcoming. Psalm 96, while it can be read in a triumphalist way, rather seems to be invitational. The focus is less on a competition between Israel’s God and other gods, than it is about how God brings justice and goodness to all people. Elijah’s duel with the prophets of Baal happened in a time when everything, from health care to politics, was defined by religion, and gods were seen as being in competition with each other. In this context, for Israel to turn to other gods was not just a religious choice, but was a betrayal of their national identity. Linked, of course, with this apostasy was the oppression and violence of the king who supported this idolatry and sought to execute the prophets of God. So, perhaps this was less about competing religions and more about the people choosing how they would live, and what values would guide them. Nevertheless, when all of these readings are held together, the message is invitational. God seeks to call all people into God’s grace and justice, leading us all to be people of inclusion, welcome and love who reject oppression, violence and factionalism.

There is no shortage of ways that we can divide and separate ourselves from one another. Besides the obvious categories of race and religion, there are issues of gender, sexuality, economic level, educational level, geographic location, political affiliation, and generation. If we so choose, any of these small differences can become the source of competition and conflict – and they have done throughout human history. The Gospel of Jesus, and the example he gave of how to live this Gospel out, is all about grace and inclusivity. It’s about crossing boundaries and finding the connections rather than the conflicts. Coming a week after Trinity Sunday, when we affirm the unity and community within the Godhead, it is appropriate that the Lectionary should call us to manifest that same unity and community in our world. When we recognise that God is God of all – regardless of whether people believe in God or follow Jesus or not – we cannot help but heed Gods’ call to learn to love and serve all – even our enemies (as the centurion would naturally have been for a Jew like Jesus). This love and service is demonstrated in practical ways – ensuring that adequate health care is provided for all, rather than allowing the profits of pharmaceutical companies to take priority; ensuring that sufficient food is available to all, rather than allowing aid and resources to be diverted to corrupt officials; ensuring that peace becomes our highest priority instead of believing that violence is our most effect method of conflict resolution. When we recognise God as the God of all people and all creation, we cannot help but recognise that all is sacred, and when this realisation hits home, it changes everything.

LOCAL APPLICATION: It’s very tempting to build our faith on exclusivity, believing that we are ‘in’ with God, and others aren’t. It’s very tempting to build strong personal and group identities in oppositional ways – built on hostility (as Brian McLaren observes) rather than in invitational ways – built on hospitality. But, when we allow ourselves to yield to this temptation, we not only undermine our own security and sense of belonging (because it’s only a matter of time before we have a disagreement with the group, and then what happens to us), but we create greater conflict and hardship in our communities, and by extension, in the world. However, when we allow the Gospel to shift our hearts toward inclusion, we discover, in spite of the pain that relationships always bring, a sense of healing, connectedness and being “at home” in the world that is profound and transforming. When we allow our identity to be built on how we welcome and heal others, rather than on how we look after ourselves, our sense of identity and of our humanity expands and grows richer. Imagine if our worship focussed on opening our hearts and lives to others, rather than on making us feel secure in an isolated religious bunker that shields us from those who are different!

Extending The Invitation
Glorious The Grace
Ripping Off The Labels
Serving All

Hymn Suggestions:

All Are Welcome (All Are Welcome)
Christ From Whom All Blessings Flow
There’s A Wideness In God’s Mercy
Come Let Us All Unite And Sing – God Is Love
You Are
Everyone Belongs
Everyone Under The Sun
Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace

A Liturgy for the Breaking of Bread

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