July 9 2017 READINGS: Genesis 24:34-38, 42-49, 58-67 ~ Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Several years ago, we ran a program called Painting the Stars. Primarily a conversation on science and religion, one person referred to God as Persuasive Love ever calling us forward.
Sometimes we forget that we are a pilgrim people – forever evolving – forever on the move. Because God has a history of allowing people rest stops on the way, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a stopover is the land of promise, especially if it’s a place that that feels good and comfortable for us. But one look at the world today shows us that we still have a long way to go before everyone experiences life in the commonwealth of God, a life that is good for all creation. Most of us have grown up at a rest stop along the way but now God is turning up the volume of persuasive love song calling us forward. It’s time for individuals and faith communities to be on the move once more.
Those who are disturbed by this song will try to tune it out or find a way to dismiss it. And it has ever been thus.
But to what will I compare this generation? – asks Jesus of the people of his day.
It is like children sitting in the market-places and calling to one another, 17 “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we wailed, and you did not mourn.”
The image of children playing in the marketplaces, sounds more like a riddle than a parable until we realize that the children referred to are likely John the Baptist and Jesus.
John arrives on the scene with a call for people to repent – to turn around – and return to the Lord because they have gone astray. Some hear and respond but others find his severe ways rather harsh and the tune of his hell, fire and brimstone message disturbing.
And then along comes Jesus who speaks a less threatening, more hope-filled message that the kingdom of God is at hand. Again, some hear and respond but others object to his eating and drinking with outcasts and sinners and dismiss him as a glutton and drunkard.
You can’t please everyone, Jesus, but wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. Both John and Jesus are children of wisdom.
God’s call through both John and Jesus appeals most to those who are burdened by life: the tired, the poor, the sick, the outcast and the oppressed. People who are comfortable, satisfied with where they are, have little reason to want to move or change and grow.
But Jesus tells us that his followers cannot be truly satisfied as long as there are poor, sick, homeless, outcast people in the world. To ignore the cries of these is not consistent with the values of the kingdom, which means none of us have yet arrived and we all need to keep moving.
In Jesus’ day, people struggled under the yoke of Torah and its 613 commandments. Jesus offers a lighter yoke of 2 commandments that are centered on what is essential: love of God, neighbour and self. But, as one commentary suggests, while it may be quantitatively simpler, it is qualitatively more of a challenge. That means, as disciples of Jesus, we spend our whole lives trying to faithfully walk in his way.
Many years ago, when a man named Stewart Payne was about to become bishop of Western Newfoundland, he spent some time contemplating the difference between having faith and being faithful. He realized that it one thing to have faith, to trust and believe in God. It’s quite another to be faithful to God. As a bishop, he wanted to not only have faith but to be found faithful to God, Jesus, the church, his people and his family. And that is where we are today. As we step out into our next chapter it is important that we not only have faith but be found faithful to the call.
But we are not alone on this journey, any more than Abraham was when he set out to follow an unknown God into the wilderness, or Abraham’s faithful servant, when he set out to find a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s ancestral homeland. However we understand it, God journeys with people of faith through the wilderness and the stopovers along the way. God is faithful to us and it is our task to be faithful to God.
Music has been an important part of our journey over the centuries. The Israelites had their psalms and we have our hymn books and praise music. As we begin this next chapter, its is important that we also have songs that reflect our evolving theology and current reality. That is why folks like John Bell, are not only writing new songs but also new words to familiar tunes.
At a recent workshop John Bell introduced us to what I think is a really good travelling song for the next leg of our journey to the land of promise. It’s called, God’s Spirit is Here and it goes to the tune of Hanover which you might know as O Worship the King.
The first verse gives us our setting:
God’s Spirit is here that never alone
the followers of Christ need face the unknown.
The fount of all living is leading the dance,
dismantling old systems that earth might advance.
Disturbing words for some, I’m sure, but encouraging to others. It goes on…
She banishes sin, eradicates fear,
lets hesitant faith affirm God is here,
till, living like Jesus and blessed by his name,
we bind up the broken, and lift up the lame.
She defuses hate and raises the dead,
becalming life’s storms, removing all dread.
So that we might serve God, confirmed from above,
she tests us with fire, and aflames us with love.
And I am particularly drawn to the image in the last verse that speaks of “God’s lamp-lighting spirit … dancing the way”.
So, seek out the lost, and share out the pain,
and love at all cost that all rise again.
God’s lamp-lighting spirit is dancing the way
through dark into dawning from night into day.