11 June 2023

This Sunday we begin the season of Ordinary Time (from the Latin word ordinalis meaning ‘numbered’) in which we shift focus from God’s story as taught and revealed in Christ to our story and how we will live as faithful Christ-followers. Ss we begin this season the readings for this week challenge us to make a simple but difficult choice: will our faith be about religious sacrifice or mercy? Will we give ourselves to maintaining religious institutions or will we focus our lives and faith on sowing kindness, compassion, empathy, love, and support to the poor, excluded, oppressed, and broken people in our world? Ultimately this is a question of how we will interpret the Gospel of Jesus and how we will seek to live it out in our lives and communities.

May our worship this week lead us into a deeper and more practical commitment to follow Jesus in his way of indiscriminate mercy.

Genesis 12:1-9: God calls Abram to leave his home country, promising that his offspring will become a great nation. So Abram leaves with family and settles in the land of Canaan. Then God promises to give that land to his descendants.
OR Hosea 5:15-6:6: The prophet calls the people to return to God with the assurance that God will raise them up. But God speaks through the prophet, grieving the fickle love of God’s people and declaring that God desires love and not sacrifice.

Psalm 33:1-12: The psalmist calls God’s righteous people to praise God in music, song and shouting because God is true, righteous, just and loving. God made the earth and skies and God’s plan is eternal. The nation which worships God is happy.
OR Psalm 50:7-15: God speaks to God’s people telling them that God does not need their sacrifices because the world and everything in it belong to God, and they must rather offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, fulfil their promises and cry out to God when they are in trouble.

Romans 4:13-25: God’s promise to Abraham did not come through the Law but through righteousness and faith. In faith, Abraham trusted in the promise and held on to hope and God credited him as righteous. In the same way when we have faith in the Risen Christ, it will be credited to us too.

Matthew 9:9-13, 18-26: Jesus calls Matthew to follow him and shares a meal in Matthew’s home with many tax collectors and sinners. When the Pharisees questioned this, Jesus responded that he had not come to call the righteous but sinners. Then he heals a woman who had been suffering for twelve years with bleeding and raises a ruler’s daughter from death.

As we move into Ordinary Time again, the related readings focus on faith and righteousness. Abraham is called by God and responds in faith both to the call and to God’s promises. Echoing the spirit of the Abraham story, Psalm 33 celebrates the nation that is chosen by God and calls the righteous to praise God. And then the epistle to the Romans celebrates Abraham’s faith and calls the believers to follow his example of faith. 

The semi-continuous readings, contrast with the above themes. Hosea focusses on the way God’s people have strayed from their faith and calls them back to God. And Psalm 50 reminds the people that God does need their sacrifices but rather their faithfulness, gratitude and trust.

While it usual to choose one or the other of these streams in Ordinary Time, they are not contradictory. The Gospel reading brings them together by highlighting, in the first section, the faithlessness of the Pharisees who question Jesus’ friendship with sinners. To them Jesus repeats the words of Hosea 6:6 that God wants mercy and not sacrifice. And then in the second section, we see Jesus’ faithfulness in healing and raising up those who call on him for help, fulfilling the words of Hosea and the Psalms and demonstrating the healing and restoration that faith can bring.

Essentially, the heart of this week’s theme is that God does not require extravagant, legalistic religious observance, but faith and faithfulness in following the way of Jesus and sharing God’s love, grace, and mercy wherever we can.

GLOBAL APPLICATION: We live in a world where mercy is often scarce and the religious institutions that claim Christ’s name often teach a faith that is judgemental, legalistic, and lacking in mercy. Faith is often rooted in grand commitments and sacrifices (especially financial) in the hope that God will reward the one making the sacrifices with blessings, God’s favour, and the promise of eternal bliss. But in the meantime, the poor, marginalised, oppressed, and different are left without compassion, care, or the resources needed to live peacefully and freely. Into this world, the Psalmists, Hosea, and Jesus proclaim that God desires mercy rather than sacrifice. Faith, for Jesus, is expressed in trusting in the way of God and acting in alignment with Gods’ reign as Abraham did. If we who claim to follow Christ would take these words to heart, the world would be a place of greater justice, compassion, equality, and sufficiency. But to do this, we need to break free of a religion defined by legalistic and moralistic conformity and embrace the inclusive, loving, merciful, and justice-seeking way of Jesus.  As we pray for our world to become better we can contribute by using our voice, our vote, our energy and our resources to help bring about compassion and justice. 

In particular, the story of Abraham speaks to the issues of immigration that are so divisive in so many countries. Our faith traces its history back to an immigrant who left his home and settled in a foreign land. We also follow a Messiah who lived as an immigrant and refugee in his childhood. And the faith of Jesus, shaped by his Jewish roots, calls for kindness and mercy toward immigrants. As Church communities then, we can let ourselves be known as safe places for immigrants, places of caring for refugees, and places of sanctuary for the poor, the marginalised and the oppressed.

LOCAL APPLICATION: The Church is in crisis. While there are local congregations that are thriving and offering profound ministries of mercy and compassion in their communities, too many others are focussed on their own survival and on trying to dominate political and social discourse with their distorted view of Christian nationalism. In place of the message of God’s reign that Jesus preached, many Christians are proclaiming a new theocracy in which their view of Christianity can dominate all people and religions. In place of the inclusion and welcome that Jesus offered to the outcasts, marginalised, and oppressed, many Christians believe that their faith calls them to exclude ‘sinners,’ the poor (who are just lazy in their view), and people of other spiritual paths. In place of the healing that Jesus offered even to those who were considered ‘unclean’ in his world, many Christians bring hurt and rejection on their neighbours in their quest for purity and a legalistic version of ‘holiness’ that is divisive and destructive. 

Today’s readings call us to a different way of expressing our faith: the way of mercy, not sacrifice. When we can serve our local community with generosity and compassion, we help to bring hope, healing, and celebration to our neighbours. When we welcome those who are excluded, judged, rejected, and misunderstood we offer people a path to wholeness and life. And all it takes is to see people as Jesus did—as beloved children of God—and to treat them as the God-imaged, God-beloved, and God-incarnating humans they are.

What God Requires
The Call Of Compassion
The God Who Serves

Hymn Suggestions:
Speak To Me That I May Speak
Celebration Song
We Shall Go Out With Hope Of Resurrection
Make Me A Channel Of Your Peace
In The Morning Of My Life (Fill The World With Love) (Link to YouTube video)
With Kindness (Link to YouTube video)
We Are (Link to YouTube video)
Love Can Change the World (Link to YouTube video)
You Have Shown Us (Link to YouTube video)

A Liturgy of Compassion

Video Suggestions:
Mercy Not Sacrifice
Jesus and the Tax Collectors