Hope of our calling

The hymn of the day for 15 January is “Hope of our calling” by Ally Barrett.  It follows on from yesterday’s themes of Jesus being called to baptism and service and nuns being called to a life of prayer and work for God, to remind us that all who follow Jesus are answering God’s call.  It’s worded very positively, the theme of hope running through it paired with other positive words (courage, strength, grace, faith and Spirit).  

We are challenged, in the power of that Spirit, to “bring the gospel to a waiting world”, but also to serve in a practical way (‘washing each other’s feet’ as often practised on Maundy Thursday) and to work for righteousness.  This theme links with (and may be inspired by) the Church of England’s “five marks of mission” – to proclaim the Good News; to teach, baptise and nurture new believers; to respond to human need by loving service; to transform unjust structures of society; and to safeguard the integrity of creation. 

That balance of specifically religious work with the practical building and sustaining of society that engages people of all faiths and none is what a living faith should look like.  Christians are generally not to be set apart from society (the monastic calling that we looked at yesterday is only for the few) but should, as Jesus put it, be ‘salt in the earth and a light to the world’. 

The last verse marks this as a communion hymn by reference to the sacrament, and  appropriately draws on the deacon’s words of dismissal at the end of the communion service – we “go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. To which we respond, “in the name of Christ, Amen”.

The Bible in a Year – 2 August

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and also my introduction to the Proverbs.

2 August. Proverbs chapters 22-23.

The first part of chapter 22 finishes the “one-liner” sayings of Solomon that we have looked at over the last few days.  The remainder of today’s reading is headed “Sayings of the wise” and the main thrust of this section of the book is about living in moderation, and avoiding excess. There are particular warnings for those who move in the circles of the rich and powerful (23:1-5/20-21) and of the dangers of drunkenness (23:29-35). The wise person should live a frugal lifestyle, not seek power and wealth, and avoid addictions.

There are also warnings for those who, by contrast, associate with the poor (22:22-23). Poor people are not to be taken advantage of, as they have God’s favour. But they are not idealised here: among the poor are those who are given to anger and fail to repay loans (22:24-27), and those who offer hospitality only out of convention and not genuine friendship (23:6-7).  The wise person has to distance themselves from such “foolish” behaviour (in the Biblical sense of the word).

What can Christians today learn from this? There has been much talk in the Church in recent decades of God’s bias to the poor”, and much condemnation of corporate greed and personal riches. But if we take these proverbs seriously, we need to be aware of the sins that so often go with poverty as well as those which are fuelled by wealth.

Jesus was known for associating with anyone: rulers and rich people, farmers and fishermen, beggars and prostitutes.  He enjoyed the hospitality he was offered, but as far as we know did not get drunk.  He lived as a single man, probably with single women among his disciples, but as far as we know remained celibate. He had no money to lend, but gave sacrificially of his time and healing powers. He sent his disciples out with the good news of the coming Kingdom, reliant on the hospitality of others, but told them to shake the dust off their feet when it was not forthcoming.

So the lesson seems to be, for your own benefit seek out the company of people who live decently.  They might be rich or poor, that does not matter, as long as they are not seeking to take advantage of you and do not threaten your safety or moral welfare.

But when it comes to the mission of that Church, like that of Jesus, then risks do have to be taken in order to take the Gospel to everyone.  No wonder Jesus told his disciples to be “as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves”, In other words, watch out for the dangers posed by people at all levels of society, but give them the benefit of the doubt in the name of Christ.

The Bible in a Year – 27 May

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

27 May. Jeremiah chapters 46-48

Until this point the main thrust of Jeremiah’s prophecy has been about the captivity and future restoration of Judah.  But now the revelations he has turn to the surrounding nations.  Many of them, he foretold, would be conquered by the Babylonians, including Egypt; while Egypt would itself have first conquered the Philistines.

 

The picture is therefore of a whole world (at least, the world known to the writer) in turmoil as one nation makes war against another.  And always, the innocent suffer.  As I write, there is turmoil in the near east as several groups battle for the country of Syria, leaving millions dead and other millions fleeing for their lives to refugee camps or other countries.  Libya and Egypt (to name but two others) are likewise divided into many warring factions. This week a Libyan has committed a terrorist attack in Manchester, England killing 22 people, and a similar number of Christians were murdered in Egypt by Islamist attackers.

 

We cannot see now where God’s hand is in all this.  No sane person who believes in a God of love and mercy could accept that any individual death was God’s fault, and yet in a fallen world where man constantly threatens violence against man (and woman), the Bible’s message is consistently that God’s hand is behind the bigger picture, as he issues judgements on entire ethnic or religious groups for their sins.  We rightly pray for the victims of terror, for justice to be done and for security forces to do all they can to prevent future attacks.  But when we pray for peace, and for God’s kingdom to come, we are in effect also putting ourselves in his spotlight for judgement.  Is my lifestyle bringing forth the kingdom of justice, or is there anything in it that promotes injustice?  Maybe not directly but indirectly through the effect my lifestyle choices of purchase and travel have on the environment or on the economies of developing countries, for example?

 

Yesterday was Ascension Day in the Christian calendar, and the Archbishops of England have asked all churches to pray over the next ten days for the mission of the church in our land.  These days we don’t think of mission so much in the narrow sense of making individual converts to Christianity (though that is part of it) but in a wider sense of helping to steer the wider culture towards being the kind of peace-loving, justice-seeking society that God would have it be.

The Bible in a Year – 11 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

11 February. Numbers 1-2

The book of Numbers may be so called because it starts with the taking of a census, and at many other points also includes recitations of tribes and their smaller constituent groups. Whereas during the initial Exodus from Egypt what mattered was getting the whole people across the reed sea in time, in family units, now the larger tribal affiliation matters more.    But the tribal camps are equally arranged around the central ‘tent of meeting’ with no priority, to emphasise that there is no place for rivalry between them on this journey.

 

The census is that of men fit for military service, and the references to camps, standards (flags) and marching is all very militaristic.  Although God had promised Canaan to Abraham’s descendants, and kept renewing that promise, they were going to have to get fighting fit in order to claim it.  While the church is not called to fight physical battles, if we are serious about God’s mission we do have to be well organised and have a plan, as well as trusting in God’s leading.  Also, it is good to have a sense of belonging and commitment to our ‘tribe’ (whether local congregation or wider denomination) but not to the point of seeing other Christians as rivals or enemies. In the language of motivators, “we are all in this together”.