November: We wait with expectation
1 November, 2020
Mathew 5: 1-12 All Saints Day
Matthew 23: 1-12
The truth of words and aligned actions are key to being a follower of Jesus. His disciples are to follow the teachings of the religious leaders only when their authority comes from “Moses’ seat”, but they are not to copy their actions that privilege the leaders’ positions, claiming deference, glory and honour that rightly belongs to God. Instead, they are to share in the egalitarian community Jesus is establishing where all are servants. The alternate reading for All Saints Day, Matthew 5: 1-12, sets out the rules for living in this new community; one which preferences actions of mercy, righteousness, and peace. “May our lives give us the right words, and may our words lead us to the right lives.” (Nouwen)
8 November, 2020
Matthew 25: 1-13
“Don’t just do something, [wait] there.” Waiting is so hard for me. As an active person I’d rather be doing than waiting. Interestingly, it was okay for the bridesmaids to sleep while they waited, but the lack of preparation in bringing extra oil prevented some from joyously accepting the arrival of the groom and celebrating. Those who did not anticipate and prepare for the delay were not invited into the feast. Jesus is clear that no one knows when he will return. He gives no particular date so we need to be ready at all times. How often do we frantically rush around in ministry trying our best to fill our days? Then COVID Lockdown came and all our events were curtailed or cancelled. How did you fare in the waiting? Perhaps it was a time to refill the oil. In the Hebrew Scriptures, oil often represented the presence of God in the temple. Don’t just do something, wait there with expectation, wait for God’s guidance for what you are called and invited to do.
15 November, 2020
Faithful risking is scary. One servant didn’t know their Master very well because they hid their one talent rather than risk losing it. The Master had taken many risks to increase his fortune and certainly risked losing eight coins by trusting these servants to increase their income. Perhaps if the one talent slave had risked losing the meagre amount he was given, he might have seen a different side of the Master who could celebrate the action rather than the result. With nothing to lose as our funding was ending, the Uniting Church chaplaincy team at Western Sydney University, decided to take huge risks with little chance of success. Putting aside our fear, we stepped out in faith and were astounded by the responses we received. In just one initiative we went from an average attendance of eight people to over 160 students and staff attending. More important than numbers, we created new networks in the university that allowed our ministry to grow. God risks so much for humanity. Do we risk showing God’s love to the world? Do we risk speaking words of compassion and challenge, or do we hide ourselves from scrutiny.
22 November, 2020
Those on the left of Jesus truncate and summarise Christ’s words, and only at the end say “did not care for you.” Even now they can’t repeat their missing actions that reveal their lack of mercy and compassion. They cannot mention that it was Christ they ignored, only repeating “you” twice when the righteous repeat all of Christ’s words and mention “you” seven times. Those on Jesus’ right repeat all of his words showing how attuned they are to living as a follower of Christ. As Elisabeth Johnson writes in Working Preacher, “They have simply been doing what comes naturally for them in caring for their neighbors in need. Their actions are a sign of their relationship with a loving and merciful God….” Even the smallest of our kind actions is valuable even when it doesn’t seem to shake the fundamental inequalities of society. Neither the sheep nor the goats were aware their actions were being observed. With surveillance cameras and social media, our actions are easily made visible to the world. The ethics of our actions in real time are unveiled with shame or acknowledgement.
Rev. Dr Christine Gapes is a Uniting Church Chaplain at Western Sydney University