How easily we can forget our purpose once we get underway. How readily a meeting can be subverted and diverted by a side issue or question! How quickly in our relationships we forget our vows and commitments when faced with temptations!
Paul describes in glorious imagery Jesus’ offering of himself in humble service. The reading closes with these words: “Every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” I belong to a denomination (The United Church of Canada) that has a strong history in social action. Often we view any scripture passage as a call to justice.
However, this passage does not take us there. After describing Jesus’ self-emptying, becoming a servant and entering into human form, and being raised into glory by God, a different ending surprises me. We do not rush out to save the world. Our first task comes in getting down on bended knee, offering praise and bearing witness. These verses remind us that our first Christian task is not to do justice or to be humble and gentle. Those aspects, while critical, are not our primary task. First we are called to join the choir. We are to stand, open mouthed in wonder and amazement. We sing in praise and live lives of praise and thanksgiving for the saving acts of God for us and for our neighbor.
Then acknowledging God’s work in our lives, we work out our “own salvation with fear and trembling.” We live out our response in the action of daily life. But first Paul challenges us to take our worship seriously. This is our first calling—to sing out in praise, to offer thanksgiving and prayer, to stand humbly as ones who need saving and transforming. Is this a piece of our faith life we need to deepen?
Calm us, amid the world’s rush and hurry, O God, that we may be amazed at how you have reached out in love to each one of us. Amen.
The mercy of God is a theme that surfaces this week. In Exodus 17 Israel is not sure that God is faithful or reliable. By requesting water and voicing an urgent need, Israel appears to be testing God to discover God’s power and inclination. Psalm 78 praises Yahweh for grace in liberating the people from Egyptian bondage. Yahweh’s mercy sustained and supported them. Philippians 2 begins with a statement about the need for human kindness and compassion and then moves to the work of mercy that motivates human love—the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ. In the reading from Matthew, the mercy of God, which is extended to those who normally receive no mercy, illustrates not only the inclusive nature of God’s grace but also how different the kingdom of heaven is from the kingdoms of this world.
• Read Exodus 17:1-7. When has your “speaking out” been met with negative response? Have you ever felt you were standing too “close to the cross”?
• Read Psalm 78:1-4, 12-16. Today, listen for God rather than speak of God.
• Read Philippians 2:1-13. When have you emptied yourself and become a servant?
• Read Matthew 21:23-32. How well do your actions match your words in terms of obedience to the commands of Christ?
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