Devotions for Sunday 16th August 2020
Welcome to the Devotions sheet for this Sunday. Please take some time to read, pray and imagine your way through what’s here. May you find grace and strength and connection with God from your time reading and reflecting.
We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of our land, and pay our respects to their elders, past, present and emerging. We honour their care of the land and acknowledge that as Second Peoples, we have benefitted from their dispossession. So we commit ourselves to reconciliation and justice as First and Second Peoples together, and to learn from them to care for each other and the land.
Dear God, what have you got for me today through what Geoff has prepared here? I seek your Spirit- that I trust leads me into more life. I have yearnings, worries and questions of my own heart to share with you. And joy, gratitude and wonder to give in return for your goodness to me. May the mystery of reflection and prayer in this time, be like a face to face conversation compared to a phone call. We can be in contact with you moment by moment all week, but may this be a time of special closeness. In Jesus name. Amen
We’ve now explored all of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s gospel. (Not that we know it all now!) So where to go next?
Recently it was suggested that we could get a banner like this one for the church at Warrnambool:
I believe Jesus, with his life and teaching, his death and resurrection, his gift of the Holy Spirit and his entrusting of his work to his disciples, set in place a movement throughout the world towards what he called the coming of the Kingdom of God- where in this world all people will have enough, all people are treated with fairness, the earth is cared for, and there is a peaceful, harmonious diversity.
Throughout the two-thousand years since Jesus’ earthly life, there has been progress within the ups and downs and good and evil of history. This trajectory is not just achieved by human effort, but by the influence of the Holy Spirit working through people who co-operate with God. There have been many instances where Christians (and others) campaigned for change, it was resisted, and then suddenly achieved- although always through suffering. Think of the end of apartheid in South Africa for example.
I call it a trajectory, because Jesus set things in motion from where the world was in his day. The New Testament for example doesn’t challenge the idea of slavery, (but does say how slaves should be treated better). It took a long time, but the direction the gospel pointed to was an end to this practice. Some people might see some of these as causes of the ‘political left’, but they are expressions of the gospel. I want to be part of a forward moving church- part of the answer to the world’s and people’s problems. Sadly the church has at times been part of the resistance to these changes. We need to be involved to help shape these movements with God’s grace and wholeness.
So that’s a long introduction. What I want to reflect on is the first statement- GOD IS GOOD.
There are many references in the psalms like this one:
Psalm 107: 1 “Give thanks to the Lord, because he is good; his love is eternal!”
Isaiah 48: 17-18 The holy God of Israel, the Lord who saves you, says:
“I am the Lord your God, the one who wants to teach you for your own good and direct you in the way you should go. If only you had listened to my commands! Then blessings would have flowed for you like a stream that never goes dry.
Mark: 10: 17-18 As Jesus was starting on his way again, a man ran up, knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to receive eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good except God alone.
Reflection – God is Good
We usually use the word ‘good’ very loosely. “’How was your day?’ ‘Good’.” “‘Does this look good on me?’” “‘Sit, Buddy!’ ‘Good doggy!’” When we do this we mean something that’s to our liking, our ease or pleasure. Sometimes ‘good’ isn’t good enough. “’How did you like dinner?’ ‘It was good.’ ‘You didn’t like it then?’” We expect excellent!
Islam proclaims ‘God is great!’ To me, in that statement ‘great’ has a sense of powerfulness about it. I think in Christian faith when we say ‘God is good’ it’s not about power, or about our liking, but ‘good’ as a moral character. God’s goodness and love belong together like in the quote from Psalm 107.
Goodness, like love, then intends, looks for and acts for the deeper and long-term benefit of others, like in the quote from Isaiah.
Before we get into the tricky questions about God’s goodness, we have to say these things are a reflection of God’s goodness- the gift of life itself is good! Being able to wake up in the morning is good. That we have enough to eat, we have homes, family, friends, community, work, interests, beauty around us, faith- all these things are gifts of God’s goodness towards us: for which to be grateful. We need to hang around in this space for a while. Maybe now you might like to list a few things you are specially thankful for, and name them in a prayer of thanks to God.
Even in the meal-time case of “’I hate brussels sprouts.’ ‘Yes, but they’re good for you,’” it’s in our long-term health rather than our eating pleasure that goodness is found.
But worse than brussels sprouts (or your least favourite thing), it’s a real question: If God is so good, why is life hard?
A first answer to that can be that God’s goodness encompasses the whole world. It’s not all about me and my pleasure or comfort.
A second is that without it requiring struggle and effort to achieve things, life would be terribly boring, unsatisfying and we wouldn’t develop a good character. Sometimes people who’ve had too much given to them aren’t nice people.
We probably can all agree on those two points; but life isn’t fair and some people have to endure great suffering. How can God be good when there is such suffering? The old theodicy question! This is one that needs to be explored differently when you’re right in the middle of a torrid or painful time to when you’re doing fine and it can be looked at theoretically.
In the middle of pain and grief we have a choice- we can reject God or we can turn to God. I believe when we do turn to God we find comfort and strength we may not have thought we had. Sometimes it sneaks in from the Spirit within us, and sometimes it lands on us from other people. It won’t suddenly make everything cosy again, but it will help you survive it and keep going, and gradually the pain eases off, even if a nasty scar is left.
And then, standing back and looking at suffering theoretically, we can say this, though it’s never a complete answer: Most suffering is caused by people’s deliberate selfishness, or making unwise choices, or human ignorance, and through unjust human systems. Some comes from natural events like illnesses or earthquakes and the reality that everything dies. The Covid-19 you could say is a combination of these. There is randomness built in to the creation of and living of life. But what is the alternative? If there was instant karma- where every good act was quickly rewarded and we suffered immediately from every bad act- we would eventually learn not to do wrong things, suffering would be avoided but at a greater cost to the life of the human soul. We would be like robots, and love couldn’t be love. Real love requires freedom and the possibility of pain.
We get back to God’s goodness being love. A love that is generous and vulnerable. A love that is patient yet determined. A love that wants to see blessing for all people, but has to rely on people to respond with love themselves. And as Jesus showed in his death and resurrection- a love prepared to go to the cross in pain and doubt; but is not conquered and rises again to never end.
Prayers (with these prayers where there are the dots (. . . .) name people and situations you want to pray for.)
Dear God, I give thanks for Jesus, who I believe has shown what sort of God you are, and what is behind the universe, and where I fit into something so vast and amazing. He showed you are truly good- a God whose nature is self-giving love- and that I’m included in that love. Fill me with that sort of love that I might give of myself in ways that honour your love for me. Guide me in what I can do.
I pray about the things where I can only make a small difference:
Song (maybe read it at the pace it would be sung if you knew the tune)
There’s a song by John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community: The Goodness of God
1 The goodness of God is the source of our gladness,
Surrounding the world with a harness of care,
Enabling surprise and allowing for sadness,
the hope of recovery, present as air.
2 The life of the world is a heavenly treasure,
A pleasure to ponder, a summons to move,
A radical bias of God in creation
assuring the small and the weakest of love. (The authors are Scottish so the lines do rhyme)
3 The song of the earth has an infinite chorus,
Resounding from birth through the silence of death,
Expressive of anguish, frustration and laughter,
It praises the Lord of music and breath.
4 The gifts of the poor are the means of our mending,
as, touching their need, we are healed of our pain;
The almost-forgotten are meant by the Maker
to challenge the rich to forfeit their gain.
5 In Jesus the goodness of God was incarnate,
The life of the world was redeemed and restored,
The song of the earth found the key to its meaning,
To gifts of the poor were never ignored.
6 And Jesus is present in word and in Spirit
Where all that is greatest belongs to the least,
Where sign matches song in complete correspondence
And those who were low sit high at the feast.
May God bless you with a trust in God’s goodness,
an underlying mood that sees the goodness that surrounds us,
an insight into the good seed of blessing buried in troubles,
and God’s sort of love that energises with purpose each day.
In the name of Christ. Amen