Devotions for Sunday 9th August
Welcome to the Devotions sheet for this Sunday. We continue exploring Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount- coming to its end today. 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, I approach this time as one of my spiritual practices, to nourish my life to live as best I can in these times and my circumstances. Meet me with your Spirit, Word and healing as I take my chances opening my inner self to you. In Jesus’ name.
Prayers of concern
So dear God, here’s what’s uppermost in my heart for myself and others. Let’s get it off my chest and out of the road.
In this disturbing time - give us assurance, deep within our hearts, minds and bodies that we are all held in your care, whatever we face. So many things are fragile and teetering on the brink- jobs, businesses, the economy, our physical and mental health, our sense of community, our future, our faith, our church. May our foundations hold in this storm.
We pray for all those with and dealing with covid-19, those with the virus, health workers and family members who care for them, for our leaders, for nursing home residents and staff, for teachers and students, for the unemployed, business owners, the unsupported, for Centrelink workers.
We pray for the bereaved and those who can’t attend funerals, weddings and other community celebrations, those who are lonely, and find isolation painful. We pray for our loved ones . . .
and individuals, families and communities under strain, here and round the world, especially Lebanon.
May your Spirit strengthen us first to cope with this situation ourselves, then to provide care and hope to others. Free us to see with the crisis also comes a door to new life, and new opportunities to discover life that is even richer in your Spirit of love, peace and joy. Help all of us struggling with enforced change in our lives. Jolt us all into making our world more widely caring, more just, and more sustainable.
Help us as individuals and as a church to hear your call to us; and where we need, to adapt and to go where your Spirit wants us to be - sharing your Good News, calling people to faith and nurturing them in your Way. Help us be an out-there church, with all the radical kindness we can muster.
In Jesus’ name. Amen
Reading: Matthew 7: 21-29
21 “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only those who do what my Father in heaven wants them to do. 22 When the Judgment Day comes, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord! In your name we spoke God's message, by your name we drove out many demons and performed many miracles!’ 23 Then I will say to them, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you wicked people!’
24 “So then, anyone who hears these words of mine and obeys them is like a wise man who built his house on rock. 25 The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, and the wind blew hard against that house. But it did not fall, because it was built on rock. 26 “But anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain poured down, the rivers flooded over, the wind blew hard against that house, and it fell. And what a terrible fall that was!”
28 When Jesus finished saying these things, the crowd was amazed at the way he taught. 29 He wasn't like the teachers of the Law; instead, he taught with authority.
Here we have the finale to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I don’t think it was delivered as one sermon in one sitting, but was a collection of Jesus’ teachings put together by Matthew for his Jewish Christian community, in a form to show Jesus as the new Moses whose teaching takes us to the very heart of the Jewish Law. I imagine that in Jesus’ teaching ministry he had a lot to say on many occasions- and quite entertainingly- about each of the points that are summarised here.
What puzzles me about the first section here is that the people who call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’ say they have done dramatic things in his name. Now are they lying? Or if they have actually done them, what is it that they haven’t been doing that is God’s will for them? How have they been able to do miracles if they haven’t been obedient to God’s call? Where do we stand who just do little things in Jesus’ name? Jesus says ‘I never knew you’ to them. I would have more expected him to say, ‘You never really knew me.’ And then sending them away as ‘wicked’ seems a bit harsh. Perhaps the repeat in ‘Lord, Lord’ hints at a trying to put one over Jesus. It doesn’t work. If they really knew him one ‘Lord’ would be enough.
We can perhaps think of a few professing Christians who have done some evil things. Or a prominent person who made something of waving a bible around when their behaviour is disgraceful. Jesus speaks of ‘many’. It’s not what they’ve done but what they haven’t done. These are people who do the religious part of Christian faith, but not what God is really looking for. In Matthew 23:23 Jesus says ‘You give to God one tenth even of the seasoning herbs, such as mint, dill, and cumin, but you neglect to obey the really important teachings of the Law, such as justice and mercy and honesty. These you should practice, without neglecting the others.’
It does call us to re-examine ourselves. Our faith can’t be just words or show- no matter how religious it looks, it has to be lived in action. This harks back to the teachings where people make long prayers in the street, or make a big show of their charity, but don’t impress God. It calls us to deeply listen for what God is calling us to be and do, not necessarily what is flashy or popular. It’s in that deep listening through contemplating scripture and prayer that we hear what God is calling us to do, and that Jesus knows us.
The wise and foolish builders reinforce that faith has to be lived out in action. Hearing Jesus words and even believing them is not enough for a solid foundation in difficult times. The consequences of a hypocritical faith are emphasised- ‘What a terrible fall that was’.
I’ve used the expression ‘lived out in action’ as my interpretation of the text where Jesus uses is ‘obey’. The word obey makes it sound like Jesus has given a whole bunch of rules we need to follow. But they are very difficult as rules for us to attempt in our own strength of willpower, even if we really want to. And what score do we have to get in trying to live them out? In my internet French lessons with Babbel, if I get say 30 out of 36 right they tell me it’s ‘Fantastique’. Jesus doesn’t give us God’s pass-mark.
Jesus is talking about entering the Kingdom of heaven. The Kingdom isn’t something we achieve. It’s something we enter by receiving it. It comes as a gift. It is offered to us. Our job is to receive it. ‘Remember this! Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” (Mark 10:15, Luke 18:17)
So I don’t think this is about rules; it’s about being receptive to the life-shaping and life-transforming influence of the Holy Spirit. The seedling of the Spirit is in all people and we can nourish it and give it room in our lives by that deep listening of prayer and contemplation and then letting that produce fruit in actions of kindness and love.
‘Receiving the Kingdom’ is a risk- we don’t know what God is going to call us to, how God is going to change us, and fear what God is going to spoil or take away. The trust required to receive it is to trust that God is good. God has our truly best interests at heart. ‘Receiving the Kingdom like a child’ makes me think of Christmas Day morning and their up-early eagerness. I love it that when God’s Spirit does work change in us, it is from where we are, one manageable step at a time, decision by decision, and with challenges we can meet with a bit of a stretch and asking for help.
These feel like days when ‘the rain is pouring down, the rivers are flooding over, and the wind is blowing hard against our houses’. I feel like what is really in peoples’ hearts is being exposed- with those who care for others and those who only care for themselves becoming more obvious. It’s a time for deeper listening for God, nourishing the Holy Spirit within us by looking for all that’s good going on around us, and for whatever actions of kindness we can still do.
Prayer of thanksgiving and praise
Dear God, feeling safe in your grace we can pray, talking with you like friends.
We like it when we receive praise, appreciation and thanks. There’s something about being human that recognition and having counted for good for others gives us happiness and a sense of worth. And it does us good to show our appreciation and thanks to others, and praise good actions.
So how about you? If we’re made in your image- do you need our praise? Or is it just good to get it? Somehow I sense our praise doesn’t make a lot of difference to you- except that in your giving, you enjoy the good it does us to pause, reflect, realise all that you’ve given us and are for us, and to express it.
We are grateful for the gift of life. We appreciate the wonder of nature and of ourselves. We give thanks for community. We give thanks for all the countless blessings that we enjoy- and the privilege of living in this place in this time. We give thanks for you showing us yourself in Jesus, and the presence of your Spirit within us- bringing us acceptance, forgiveness, peace, hope, inner strength and a sense of who we really are as your children. Even the faith that we have is your gift to us.
You are great beyond how things suit us; and in troubles, grief and our disappointments, the reality of your ultimate goodness can be trusted.
You can’t be repaid; but we can offer our worship- that’s not just singing songs and praying, but a worship that is to live our lives fully participating in your life. This is what we aspire to. With a tingling excitement of what that can be that gets us springing out of bed each morning. In Jesus’ name. Amen
This one comes from a Michael Leunig prayer.
God give us strength.
Strength to hold on and strength to let go.
And can I add . . . and the wisdom to know the difference when.