Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Remembering, emptying, living blessings.

Deuteronomy 26:1-15.  Remembering our heritage.

You may be wondering why I chose this passage this morning to help us understand the place of the church in the world.  How does Moses words spoken thousands of years ago “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor” help us?

The answer is that Moses words are all about remembering, remembering whose we are and who we have been.

These words, which essentially set up a liturgical practice, were spoken by Moses towards the end of the time of wandering in the desert.  The people of God were about to enter the Promised Land and this liturgy was to help them remember their history.

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.”

Creative commons Flickr: Denbola
The people had been nomads with no land of their own, they had settled as residents in Egypt, aliens, and there had become slaves.  Lead by Moses they had fled Egypt and had become refugees.  In entering the Promised Land they would displace other people and it could be argued would become the oppressors.

So the people had been nomads, resident aliens, slaves, refugees & even oppressors.

It is in this context and with anticipation of prosperity in the Promised Land that God’s people were to offer the first fruits of their harvest to God.

Now these offerings were not to sit idly and rot.  No they served a very specific purpose.  “Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.” 

The prosperity of the people was to be celebrated by giving to God for the sake of others – to the Levites, the aliens, the poor and the widow.

I often match this reading with the reading from Leviticus 23 which instructs God’s people to leave the edge of their harvest for the poor and the strangers and the widow and the orphan.  God’s people were not to think of their prosperity in selfish ways but in ways which looked outwards.

In remembering that they had been aliens and refugees, marginalised and lost, they would remember people of other cultures, religions, ethnicity and those who were marginalised such as the orphan and the widow and they would be generous to them.

I personally find these words inspiring and confronting in the context of which you and I live.  As God’s people who are prosperous now we are to remember that our history includes a time of displacement, of dislocation, of being resident aliens and even slaves or convicts.  And in remembering these things we are called to welcome the stranger and alien in our midst and we are to be people of generosity, for our giving to God flows into the support of both those who are strangers in our midst and those who are marginalised.

For those of us who are Australian citizens the reality of 46 million refugees in the world is disturbing.  The policies of our government and those proposed by the opposition raise serious question for us to our collective amnesia that our ancestor was a wandering Aramean.

When we remember rightly we are confronted by who we have been even if it was three thousand years ago and we are called to consider carefully how we use our first fruits and whether we are leaving the edge of our harvest for those who are in need around us.

Philippians 2:1-11. Emptying ourselves for others.

At the heart of the Christian faith is the notion that Jesus came to reconcile us in our relationship to God and renew us in our relationships with one another.  It is a reconciliation and renewal which is given to us as gift because the reality we do not always remember that our ancestor was a wandering Aramean.

Yet through the power of the Holy Spirit we are also taught that as followers of Christ we are drawn into Jesus own life.  Just as he brought light into the world so we too are to bring light.

The passage from Philippians like the one from Deuteronomy causes us through remembering to look beyond ourselves:

Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.

The words which follow this are sometimes referred to us the kenosis hymn, kenosis being the word for emptying in the Greek.

Jesus pours out his life for others.  He empties of being God to become human and even empties his life out for our sake.  In my mind I can find no reason for God to do this other than love.  If we believe God is completely free there is no necessity in what God does in Jesus and it is done unconditionally.

If we as people are drawn into the self giving life, this life which is poured out then as God’s people we are to pour our lives out for the sake of others.

I do not suggest we do so to save ourselves, this work has already been done, we do so because we have known God’s love.

We empty ourselves out for the world for which Christ died – not a world which necessarily loves God, or is nice, or will reciprocate that love appropriately but because we are taught by the one who loves us beyond our rejection of God and beyond our human fallibility.

I read an article last week that suggested if I was protesting against what Kevin Rudd had done with the PNG solution to the refugees I should do so knowing it would cost me and that I should be prepared to help resettle and help refugees and to be prepared to bear any additional tax burden.

I have read similar articles in relation to addressing the issues in our aged facilities, in our education system, in terms of climate change and the list goes on.

If you and I are drawn into God’s life, into Jesus self-emptying the question hangs heavy on my heart how will I empty myself out for others.  I cannot help but think of the rich young man who went to Jesus and when Jesus instructed him to empty himself by selling everything he had and giving it to the poor he went away disheartened.

Matthew 5:1-11. Living Blessings.

These well known teachings called as the beatitudes appear to have three aspects.

The first is that there is recognition that Jesus recognises as blessed people who had traditionally been thought as suffering or as outsiders by the Jewish community:

The poor in spirit
Those who mourn
The meek

God blesses people we don’t necessarily think of as blessed.

Secondly, Jesus recognises as blessed people who act out God’s loving way in the world:

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
The merciful
The pure in heart
The peacemakers

God blesses those who act to bring fullness in life to others.

And lastly, that those who live out God’s ways often attract disdain:

Those who are persecuted for righteousness sake
Those who are reviled on Jesus account

God blesses those who make sacrifices in God’s name.

As we consider how we are to be the church in the world when we listen to the beatitudes it seems to me we are called to acknowledge and live as blessings, even maybe to be living blessings as we discover that those whom we don’t always think of as blessed may actually be blessed and as we live out being merciful, peacemakers, pure in heart and seekers of righteousness.

This morning as we collect our offerings I have provided each of you with a card with 3 questions for you to contemplate as people who have received God’s grace and being drawn into Jesus life and ministry:

1.      What is the most challenging thing have I remembered about being part of God’s people?
2.     Who I am I being asked to empty myself out for?

3.     Where will I be a living blessing in the week ahead?

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