November: Christian is as Christian does
5 November 2023
Joshua 3:7-17; 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13; Matthew 23:1-12
This week’s passages are all about leadership- both the kind that sets an example for future leaders and community alike (e.g. Joshua and Paul) and that which wears out the people with petty and burdensome demands, and elevates itself in blatant contradiction to the call to serve.
The Jesus of Matthew’s Gospel has expended much energy calling the Scribes and Pharisees to account, but the agenda here, according to commentator Charles Cousar, is not so much to criticise them as to warn present and emerging church leaders to not fall into the same trap (see verses 8-12).
This call to self-examination recognises how new movements tend to be egalitarian and idealistic in their early phase, but can quickly deteriorate into a heirarchy where the inflated egos float to the top, potentially displacing the cream! As the Uniting Church approaches a half-century of existence, it becomes increasingly important for us to scrutinise ourselves and evaluate our performance alongside the standards of Christ; to ensure that we are more like Joshua and Paul than the self-important legacy leaders of Jesus’ day.
12 November 2023
Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25, Matthew 25:1-13
There is nothing “Christianity lite” about the passages for this week.
Note the distinct difference in tone between the generous, compassionate and sympathetic Jesus who reaches out with inclusive love to the disadvantaged and the outcasts, and the stern admonitions that will prepare a church under persecution as they live in the expectation of Christ’s return. “In the bible, eschatology provides a framework for ethics, the context in which believers are called to right conduct” (Cousar).
Compare this to Joshua’s admonition of the Children of Israel, the tone of which is “Are you sure you are serious about following God alone, because if you get it wrong, God will slam the door in your face!”
Being lazy and unprepared is a precursor to failure. Ultimate disappointment awaits those who risk missing out on the rewards in store for the wise and committed ones who watch and pray in readiness to serve at a moment’s notice. Charles Wesley’s words ring true now as much as ever- “…to serve the present age, my calling to fulfil: O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!”
19 November 2023
Matthew 25:14-30; 2 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Many older people who read this passage could easily identify with the prudence of the third servant, who takes what he considers to be a safe approach in caring for his harsh master’s money. Anyone watching the stock market recently may be inclined to applaud such discretion!
The master, however, rightly points out that even a cautious “capital guarded” approach would have been better than the equivalent of storing cash under the mattress.
What the master interprets as laziness is in fact the result of the paralysis that eventuates from fear. We could make a case here for a lesson in dealing with those under our authority with sensitivity to their strengths and weaknesses. In its eschatological context though, the point seems to be about the willingness to risk witnessing to Christ as a public expression of the Gospel. This may seem daunting to the individual, but ultimately only a special few are called to witness alone. “Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.” (2 Thessalonians5:11)
26 November 2023
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Matthew 25:1-13
One possible implication of the Matthew reading is ‘sheep equals good; goat equals bad’. In Ezekiel however, the distinction is between good and bad behaviour in the mixed flock. Special excoriation is reserved for those who thrive in God’s lush pastures, then carelessly trample the grass; or push and shove, butt and scatter the weaker ones. The sins being judged are greed and abuse of power.
In Matthew, it is not absolutely clear if it is the nations or the people who are being judged (vs. 32). There is no doubt that some countries manage to achieve better and more generous systems than others to care for the weaker parts of their community. On balance though, it seems to be the individual who is here being held to account for their willingness to reach out to help the vulnerable, or to ignore the plight of those in special need. In the spirit of the Buffy Sainte Marie protest song “He’s the Universal Soldier and he really is to blame. His orders come from far away no more…”
Christian is as Christian does.
These reflections were prepared by Rev. Brian Brown.