Following Christ – especially in the work of justice and living out the values of God’s reign – can sometimes get in the way of true relationship with Christ, but without a lived experience of intimacy with God, we lack the empowerment and resources to be a positive influence on the world. This week, the Lectionary calls us, no matter what struggles or challenges we may face, or what work we may be called to do, to nurture a strong and vibrant relationship with God. Ultimately this the work of our worship, which then empowers everything else we do as followers of Christ.
In the light of this, you may want to consider reading The Hour That Changes Everything – How worship forms us into the people God calls us to be, if you haven’t already. This book, that is designed as a 50 day journey for individuals, small groups and congregations, is a journey into a deeper, more empowering relationship with God that flows from a vibrant and committed discipline of worship. More details can be found here.
May we be drawn into a deeper and more vibrant relationship with God as we worship this week.
Isaiah 9:1-4: Isaiah prophesies a reversal of fortune for the people of God who are occupied by Assyria – though they are in darkness, light will break in, and they will be freed from their oppression.
Psalm 27:1, 4-9: David’s Psalm celebrating God’s protection and the security he finds in God’s presence and in God’s sanctuary.
1 Corinthians 1:10-18: Paul confronts the Corinthians about the divisions and factions among them, reminding them that it is only the message of the cross that is important and that offers God’s power for salvation.
Matthew 4:12-23: Jesus begins his ministry and is seen by Matthew to be fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy of the light shining in the darkness. He preaches the nearness of God’s reign, calls his first disciples and heals those who are afflicted with disease.
REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
In times of oppression and distress – Assyria’s occupation of Israel, David’s fear of attack by surrounding enemies, internal strife and divisions in the Corinthian church, John the Baptist’s arrest and imprisonment – we need light to guide our feet, to give us sight, and to warm and protect us. We need a sense of God’s enfolding presence, of dwelling secure in God’s house, of being saved by God and claimed by God’s love. All of these passages reflect this need, and all of them offer a vision of God’s faithful response in the promise of salvation, in God’s presence in our pain, and in the healing and strength that God provides. It is this sense of the reality of God’s presence and action on our behalf, this lived experience of God’s help and grace, that makes faith real. Without it, our faith is nothing more than an intellectual exercise, cold and powerless – having the form of godliness but lacking the power. And so as, with the disciples, we seek to answer Jesus’ call to follow, as we seek to experience the reign of God that Jesus proclaims, as we seek to live out the message that Jesus preached and embody the healing and liberation that Jesus demonstrated, we can ask for, and expect, a real, vibrant and strengthening relationship with the Living God. Only in this way can we hope to know life, and to truly know and share the blessing of God’s reign.
CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
Global Application:As we work within the systems of this world to bring about justice it is tempting to get caught into the factionalism and calls for loyalty of the systems we challenge. We may find ourselves subtly becoming more devoted to our causes than to Christ. We may discover that we are seeking to build a kingdom according to our dreams and ideas, rather than according to the values of God’s reign. Any time that we, as followers of Christ, allow our place in political parties, advocacy groups or even religious affiliations to become more important than God’s truth and grace, we have lost our way. As we face the threats to our world’s wholeness – violence and war, poverty and greed, consumption and environmental degradation, exclusion and discrimination – we can only do so in the security and strength of a strong and vibrant lived relationship with God, and an inspiring and challenging vision of the reign of God that Jesus preached and enacted. And, as we allow this relationship with God to be our primary loyalty, we will find ourselves welcoming even those whom we oppose and with whom we disagree. We will find ourselves challenging the injustices within our own organisations and groups as much as we challenge those of which we are not a part. We will find ourselves called to stand in places of vulnerable mediation, in-between-ness, and love without partisan loyalty. It may feel like it is only through the system that real change can happen, but in reality it is only as more and more of us are prepared to opt out of the systems as much as we can, and embrace the new way of God’s reign, that the kingdoms of this world can truly become the kingdoms of our Lord and of God’s Christ.
There are two responses that must be made to the readings this week. The first is to remember, as we seek to serve the most vulnerable in our communities, that meeting their physical and justice needs is only part of the work. If we do not also invite them into an experience of God’s reign themselves, if we do not allow them to discover, or deepen, a relationship with the Living God, we are little more than a social service organisation. The poverty of soul, the violence of feeling abandoned by God, the oppression of being at the mercy of this world’s systems with no awareness of another reality – these are also justice issues to address. And the Gospel addresses them powerfully in the teachings, the example and the sacrifice of Christ. The second response is for each Christ follower to ensure that we, personally and collectively, nurture our own relationship with God. Without a constant, vibrant and empowering experience of God’s grace and presence, we all too easily grow despondent, cynical and even destructive. The power to live from the reality of God’s reign, to work to change the world and bring justice, flows from knowing God’s light and presence. Ultimately our first calling is simply to follow Christ and invite others to do the same. Changing the world, then, is not our task – it is God’s. We simply get to participate sometimes.