This week’s lectionary readings speak volumes into every arena of our lives. They were originally written in turbulent times; not much different to ours with our political agendas, wars in Israel and other places, and in a time when so few want to come into the Kingdom of God due to their own agendas and the lack of knowledge and love of God. So, as we come to read the parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22) and Philippians chapter 4, let us open our hearts and ears to what God is saying to us today.
Before I get into that, I do want to share on the deep and meaningful discussion I had with my indigenous gardener this morning. He raised the topic and asked how I was going to vote? I said, “I’m not yet decided as I don’t know enough to understand it all properly”. He said his grandmother is black as black, and his vote is “No”. He went on to give his reasons why and also made sure to say that the way people vote won’t separate him from his friends. I share that sentiment and want to again reassure our congregation that I will never seek to influence your vote; whether you vote yes or no, is none of my business. So, please be reassured that the acknowledgment of country we have on the welcome screen at Church has no political underlying agenda or overtones. We are simply seeking to be an inclusive, respectful church before God and seeking ways to implement the 11 new Safe Ministry Government standards in ways that honour God and love all people. I’m sure there are better ways to do that, so if you’d like to play a part in the planning of best ways forward, please speak to me about this.
Back to the scriptures… In Philippians, Paul describes a different reality alongside the violence and duplicity of the Roman empire of his day. He sought to encourage the small and struggling Christian congregation in the Roman colony of Philippi by reminding them to have faith in the powerful Lord who has defeated death. He exhorted them to have quiet minds, hopeful hearts, and joy-filled attitudes.
Today, in our own circumstances, Paul’s words encourage us to have the same peace, hope and joy. He reminds us to rejoice in the Lord always. And, this week I have experienced this afresh by drawing closer to the Lord in prayer. Being close to God is like being a joy-filled guest at a wedding feast, as Matthew 22 depicts. In the parable Jesus told: The father (God) invites all to enter His Kingdom (the wedding feast) but many will refuse and miss out on the wonderful experience. Only those who are glad to enjoy His company, honour His son and learn of His love, will experience the fulness of this Joy-filled experience.
We can all know this joy by accepting God’s generous invitation, coming into His kingdom, through and for His son, and experiencing His intimate love for ourselves – personally. There is no greater joy than spending time in the presence of God.
May we each experience this daily in our respective lives, and all together this coming Sunday.
God is with you and for you,
At a party last weekend, a group of us danced with a 98-year-old man who danced as if he were still young, doing the twist down to the ground and back up again. Knowing his age, I said to his daughter “I’m afraid we are going to kill him” (I’d hate for anything to happen to her old man). She replied “He’s an athlete. He was a gymnast”. I thought, “that was a long time ago”, so her response didn’t ease my concern, but I like it that she has that view of him.
How about you? No matter what your age, do you consider yourself an athlete? Have you got the endurance to go the distance?
In the scriptures there are several references to believers “Running the race”. These verses inspire us to compare life’s hurdles and difficulties to an athlete competing for victory. Even if you’ve never physically participated in a race, the image helps us understand the reality of life’s intense run toward a victorious finish. We are compelled to view ourselves as runners. And while each one of us has our own life’s course which unwinds with its own difficulties, distractions, joys, and sorrows, this metaphor proves to be one which we can all relate to. “Run the race” verses encourage us to recognise there is still more ahead, and we must not stop.
In Hebrews 12:1-2, it says; “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.
In 1 Corinthians 9:24, we are reminded that only one runner in a race is getting the prize. In Philippians 3:13-14, we are encouraged to press on toward the prize. In Galatians 5:7, Paul (the writer) chastises believers who once ran well but no longer follow the truth. And in 2 Timothy 4:7, Paul, nearing his personal race’s end, talks about finishing it.
Thus we are encouraged to have endurance (because life is a spiritual marathon, not a sprint), and to have perseverance to continue to lay aside every sin, needless burden, and distraction that weighs us down or causes us to stumble. We ought to lay aside anything that makes endurance difficult. We need to run light, and finish well like Jesus did and like Paul did.
So, let us all choose to run with endurance like an athlete (and continue to dance like that 98-year-old man). Let nothing hold us back from living life to the full. May we stay the course, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of faith who will someday give us the victor’s crown.
Thanks be to God who gives us the victory.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he wrote: “Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”. (Philippians 2:1-4)
As you read those verses, who comes to mind?
Who do you know who lives this word out well?
Over the last week, I’ve seen examples of these words lived out in our fellow members. For example: One member attained some new chairs for our small hall so Caritas attendees may sit more comfortably and said she is wanting to help in the office and with our Kids Corner. Another had invited me to attend the SALT Brownlow Medal Breakfast. This breakfast was originally started by Paul Wheelton, David Parkin and Jeff Browne (Collingwood Pres) to give some corporate exposure to Strathcona Girls Grammar where their daughters attended at the time. Since then, it’s become a huge event which is a blessing to so many… including me this year.
At the breakfast, I had the privilege of holding the 2023 premier cup, and more importantly got to sit there with fellow Christians, among footballers, coaches, and for a while next to the wonderful and comedic Mike Brady (Good times!). But what impacted me most (In addition to feeling overwhelmed by my host’s humble generosity) was the work SALT do among sports people. It’s a great work, talking about identity, and helping sports people realize their worth is not in the goal they may miss, or whether they win or lose. They are not what they “do”. I heard amazing stories and testimonies about suicide awareness and intervention, and for that I’m truly grateful as it’s a matter close to my heart. So much so, that in my previous Churches I’ve organized suicide intervention training and I’d be happy to arrange someone to come speak with us at MEAC if there is a need or desire for such training. Please speak to me if you’re interested.
The honest sharing at the breakfast, and what we covered at my Diocesan Supervisor (Professional Development) training session this week, reminded me that life is complex! People, with all their experiences, are sometimes messy and complicated, and at the same time, Christ calls us to be united in Him. We are called to be of one mind, one spirit, and one love… a humble, generous, love which cares for the others as much as oneself. We are to look out for one another’s interests as the above mentioned do so beautifully.
I pray we may all be inspired and encouraged by those who imitate Christ’s humility, and even more so by Christ Himself “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross! Therefore, God
exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”. (Phil 2:6-11)
I look forward to worshipping our worthy, humble, loving, and compassionate, servant King together this coming Sunday.
Shalom, Rev. Tanya