Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Good Enemy Sunday 14 July Ordinary 15

Possible theme: The good Muslim


Collect: Pent 23:1 or 23:2

Almighty God
you teach us in your word
that love is the fulfilling of the law:
grant that we may love you with all our heart
and our neighbours as ourselves;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Readings ("related' rather than "continuous")

Deuteronomy 30:9-14 (I suggest 30:8-14 would be better)

Behind the zeal of the questioner of Jesus in Luke 10:25-37 is a desire to obey the Lord because, according to Deuteronomy, the Lord will make the obedient Jew 'abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings' (30:9).

Psalm 25:1-10

The psalmist is keen to follow in the Lord's way. He tells the Lord he puts his trust in him and asks for support - to not be put to shame, not to have his enemies exult over him. That is the negative, what the psalmist does not want to happen. What he wants to happen is that he is made to 'know your ways, O Lord' (v. 4) and is led by the Lord 'in your truth' (v. 5).

Why this enthusiasm? The psalmist does not appeal to the blessings of prosperity promised in Deuteronomy, though what he seeks is a blessed way of life:

'All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees' (v. 10).

Colossians 1:1-14

Colossians is a great letter. It is philosophy and piety bound in a proclamation of the gospel and bathed in prayer. Today we start a series of four readings from the letter. Paul sets out the gospel and its concrete application in the life of the believer. Note the 'therefores': 2:6, 16. Paul is saying this is the gospel (you are set free, transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of light, etc) therefore act accordingly (do not let people enslave you or condemn you or be taken captive by another philosophy).

Here in these first fourteen verses of the letter, Paul begins in his own classic style. There is a greeting with theological depth (vss. 1-2: address to 'saints and faithful brothers and sisters'; 'grace', 'peace', 'God our Father.') There is expression of prayerful love for the Colossian readers (vss. 3-14) - as well as love of praying for them. Paul never wastes words and these verses both flatter the Colossians and remind them of theological truths (e.g. 'we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints' (flattery) 'because of the hope laid up for you in heaven' (theological underpinning of Colossian virtue), v. 4-5).

Yet Paul's entreaty has no complacency or sense of achievement or completion of spiritual perfection. He prays that his readers 'may be filled with the knowledge of God's will ... so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord ... May you be made strong ... may you be prepared to endure everything ...', vss. 9-11. The Colossians know Christ and follow him, but there is more to know and a stronger following in Christ's way to be continued.

With these words Paul sets out the structure of the letter. Here as he writes these opening words, and in the remainder of chapter one and into chapter two, he will teach them 'knowledge of God', that is, knowledge of the God they meet in Jesus Christ through the Spirit. Through chapter two and beyond Paul will spell out practical aspects of living lives 'worthy of the Lord.'

What then is the 'word of truth, the gospel that has come to' the Colossians (vss. 5-6)? Paul states it in a unique form in verse 13 (with a more familiar refrain in verse 14):

'[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.'

Here, in a nutshell, is the importance of the gospel (without it, humanity is in the grip of the power of darkness), the power of the gospel (our response to it becomes a release from the power of darkness and entry into the kingdom of Christ) and the content of the gospel (God loves us, out of that love rescues us from slavery to sin, guilt from sin (see v. 14), and receives us into his kingdom).

Luke 10:25-37

One way to get to grips with the depth of the challenge Jesus offers to his questioner is to substitute 'Samaritan' with another word, one which gets to the heart of present day challenges about loving those who are different to us, who threaten us by their existence, whose identity identifies them as our enemy.

Depending on what people group we identify with, there is likely a people group whose existence challenges us, as Samaritans once did for Jews. What impact does the parable of the Good Samaritan have if we are Palestinian readers and the parable is the parable of the Good Israeli, or if we are a GLBT community and the parable is the parable of the Good Homophobic Bigot, or if we are part of the Western world and the parable is the parable of the Good Muslim or the parable of the Good Illegal Immigrant. In each case we could imagine also the converse.

The point of the parable is striking when we press into it. To a question about who our 'neighbour' is, in respect of the second great commandment, Jesus answers with a story about an enemy! The questioner is perhaps wondering if 'neighbour' means everyone in the street, or just the person who lives next door. Jesus blasts any such small-mindedness out of the, well, neighbourhood. Our neighbour can mean our enemy. If so, then our neighbour is anyone. And everyone.

So no one can be left behind, no one passed by on the other side of the road. If we are serious about inheriting eternal life (see also Colossians above about inheriting the kingdom of God's beloved Sin), then this story of a lawyer intent on so inheriting and the response of Jesus pointedly enlarging the scope of what must be done in order to be fit for that kingdom, should cut deeply into us. Cutting away, for instance, our prejudices about certain people. Cutting away our rationalizations about why we should not show mercy to certain people. Cutting down our limited vision of community action and opening up a new vision for love in the world.

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