God makes the first move. God always makes the first move.
A movement of creativity, a movement of love, a movement of grace, a movement of forgiveness, a movement of reconciliation.
God always makes the first move.
In the readings for the day, in the Psalm, in Jeremiah, in 2nd Timothy and in Luke we can trace evidence of God’s making that first move.
This morning rather than focus deeply on any one of the passages I am going to share 3 reflections from 3 of these readings.
The liberating news that “if we are faithless, he remains faithful”.
The invitation ‘to seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you in exile.”
And, the imperative to “Get up and go on your way.”
When Paul wrote to Timothy it was from a context of suffering but a suffering which Paul saw as worthwhile because sharing the good news of Jesus raised from the dead had come to define his life. Paul understood that God had made the first move, the movement of grace to send Jesus into the world to transform the possibilities of his life and of ours.
He had written of this first move by God to the Romans saying “Christ died for us whilst we were yet sinners.” God moves towards us in grace and it is only then that turning back to God occurs. Far too often I believe we as Christian think it is our turning back which saves us but Paul clear God moves towards us first in Jesus. It is Jesus own life of faithfulness that our lives are deemed as faithful.
We are liberated from the guilt of our imperfection and released by the words of encouragement “if we are faithless, he remains faithful”.
I have to admit these words stood out for me this week as I read an article by Andrew Bolt online which criticised the Uniting Church for being too green, too liberal, too socialist. More than Bolt’s article it was the toxic comments below on the website cloaked with the gift of online anonymity that were more disturbing. Some from Christians judging the Uniting Church others from agnostics and atheists ready to critique religion in general.
Being a part of the church in our day and age is not easy and the message we share can sometimes be confusing and our actions as individuals and corporately may exhibit as much unfaithfulness as faithfulness.
Thanks be to God for Jesus Christ in whom God makes the first move. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful”. In the midst of our doubts and errors, and we all have them, God’s faithfulness reaches out to us.
This is no excuse for being complacent when we do recognise a failing. In the newspaper yesterday Catherine Noonan spoke of a Catholic man saying that things would get better once this Royal commission thing has blown over.
Such lackadaisical responses are not good enough when we encounter our errant ways but the journey of faith is not one of perfection but one which involves correction and transformation.
God has made the first move in the act creation and in the commitment to recreation in and through Jesus Christ so we can take heart in the midst of our unfaithfulness that God remains faithful.
Which brings me to the second point I would want us to contemplate, the invitation “to seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you in exile.”
There is a significant back story to the reading from Jeremiah.
Around 600 BC the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem and taken members of the royal family and the skilled labourers and artisans back to Babylon, essentially as slaves.
For most of us this is beyond our imaginings and certainly beyond our experience. It was a terrible time for the Israelites who were trying to understand what it meant to be God’s people in this context.
Now in the previous chapter of Jeremiah we read that another of Israel’s prophets, the prophet Hananiah had given the people a message of hope:
2‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. 3Within two years I will bring back to this place all the vessels of the Lord’s house, which King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took away from this place and carried to Babylon. 4I will also bring back to this place King Jeconiah son of Jehoiakim of Judah, and all the exiles from Judah who went to Babylon, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon.’
In other words don’t worry too much, we can put up with this for a couple of years and then everything will be OK again.
Jeremiah refuted Hananiah’s words and declared that within the year Hananiah’s false prophecy would be exposed and that Hananiah would die. 7 months later Hananiah died and Jeremiah was affirmed in his prophecy.
Jeremiah’s words in chapter 29 are a letter sent to the people in exile to prepare for the long haul and to live with hope. He says to them:
5Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
As people living in exile, pretty much as slaves, the Israelites were not only to build their own future but to seek the welfare of the city in which the found themselves, the welfare of the enemies who had dragged them from their homes and into exile!
As Christians living in an increasingly hostile environment as we seek to prosper not only ourselves but those who oppose, who persecute, who even attack us I believe we reflect the notion that God make the first move.
God makes the first move to help us, to encourage us, to give us faith, to forgive us, to heal us and so in our encounters with others if we are to reflect God’s love we are to do the same. Not because those around us have in some earned it but because it reflects the faith we have encountered.
As it says in 1 John we love because God first loved us.
Which brings me to my final comment which is on the healing recorded in Luke’s gospel.
10 lepers calling out are healed by Jesus. Go and see the priests he says. Why? Because only the priests have the power to readmit the lepers into the community. As they go all 10 are healed, in fact all are made clean – ready to be re-admitted to the community.
We know the story that one, a foreigner, a Samaritan at that, turns back and give thanks to Jesus.
Within Jesus’ words we do hear a sense of disappointment that only one has turned back, but remember despite Jesus sense of remorse – all 10 have been made clean. Each one has been visited with grace, dare I say salvation even.
And Jesus’ words to the Samaritan man are a little perplexing “Get up and go on your way. Your faith has made you well.”
The man had already been clean so how has his faith contributed, has it really done so? Did Jesus anticipate his action and so heal him? We cannot assume this because 9 others have been healed also.
God made the first move; the man was already healed, if his faith contributes anything at this point it is about his witness for others, for us! Maybe it is as simple as saying that when we realise God is at work we should turn back and give thanks to God like this man for what we have already received.
I also see Jesus’ word to the man as a last word, “Get up and go on your way.” These words which encourage him to live again in community with others in thankfulness of what God has done. For me this correlates to the notion that at the end of worship each week we are sent out to live our lives: get up and go on your way, your faith has made you well.
God makes the first move, God always makes the first move. It is not our ability to be faithful with evokes God’s decision for us but God’s own love for us. This is good news and we can share it with others as we make the first move in love towards others and as we give thanks to God who in Jesus is not only the first word but also the last.