Reflection: "Are we there yet?"
What a difference a few days can make! (especially to facial hair).
I certainly appreciated my time on annual leave, but now that I’m back into it, I’m wondering just what “it” is.
As most of you know, we’ve been unable to hold our regular church services at Lane Cove for over 30 weeks and it seems like the end point of this COVID-19 virus is still a long way off.
So, in some ways, it’s like you’re on leave, too, as we can’t meet face to face and have to rely on these written communications or online/TV services from larger churches. I hope you’re enjoying the change.
Rest assured that your Church Council is continuing to meet over this time and are continuing to look at alternative ways to hold church in Lane Cove. We’ll be sure to keep you informed of any changes.
This week’s Lectionary readings look at some interesting passages and I encourage you to read them all.
I’m basing my Reflection this week on the passage from Matthew 22, where Jesus has another of his encounters with the Jewish religious leaders. To say that these people weren’t the biggest fans of Jesus, is an understatement. They saw him as a threat to their control over the people. In earlier verses, we hear about a testing time that Jesus had in Jerusalem, just prior to his crucifixion. The religious leaders had heard all about Jesus and his popularity with the people and they were worried that he might try to usurp their authority and put them out of business.
They plotted various ways to get him out of their hair, including killing him, but they were afraid that he was too popular with the people and they might revolt against the leaders, if they killed him, so instead, they devised a plan to discredit him in front of the people, hoping that would be enough to get him to leave Jerusalem and go back to Nazareth, with his tail between his legs.
In the last part of today’s reading from Matthew 22, Jesus even turns the tables on the Pharisees, who were the ones who were supposed to know everything about the Jewish Law and the scriptures, by asking them whose son they thought the Christ was. They answered him by saying “David”, because it was written that the Messiah would come from the house and line of David. He reminded them that even David had called the Christ “LORD”, so how could it be that the Messiah was his son? That stumped them and so they stopped asking him questions - and decided to go to plan B, which, as we all know, was to get the Romans to kill him for them. No blood on their hands!
During his discourse with the religious leaders and the people, Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:5, part of one of the most important passages of the Old Testament, which demands that we love God with our whole being. He also cites Leviticus 19:18. This passage requires that we also love our neighbour.
To Jesus, the whole of the Scriptures can be reduced to these two precepts.
Jesus reminds his listeners – and that includes us, 2,000 years later – that of all the 10 commandments, the greatest and first commandment is “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” and that the second-most important one is “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
Well, I think most of us can do the first part that Jesus talked about, pretty well. You know, the bit about loving God. We usually slip a bit on the “with all your heart and with all your soul” part. However, I think most of us are trying to make a fist of that bit, too, but it’s in the second one that most of us fall down.
You know, the “love your neighbour as yourself” part. I don’t know about you, but I find it pretty easy, most of the time, to love my family, both blood and church relations, and I can make allowances for their little foibles and, gracefully, say that I forgive them when they annoy me. After all, I probably annoy them a lot more!
But what about for those outside of our closest relationships.What about the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, those with no clothes to wear, the sick, the criminals. Do you remember reading about them in Matthew 25? Do we love them? Do we even think about them very often?
Let me give you an example: At a service at Turramurra Uniting, we heard that the congregation have signed up with UnitingWorld to partner with the church in North India, assisting them in educating the locals about the dangers of slave traders. What’s that you say. Slave traders? Didn’t William Wilberforce and his cronies abolish slavery over 100 years ago? Well, that may be true, but the slave trade’s now a bigger business than it ever was.
It’s reported to have had revenues of over $30 BILLION US dollars last year.
Their tactics these days are different to the ones used in African slavery in the 1800’s. Now, young children are lured away from their families by the promise of a job in a faraway city or country and the prospect of sending money home to those impoverished ones left behind. These victims are mostly from poor areas, where they are surviving on about $1 per day, usually earned by doing a long day of manual labour. When you consider that we put a figure of $2 per day as being the poverty line, you can see that these people are desperate.
People from the far north of India, neighbouring Nepal and similar areas, are in high demand because of their fair skin. The unscrupulous slave traders, who just see them as another commodity to buy and sell, give their parents some money and promise to find them a job, often as a domestic help, somewhere down south. They usually end up in a brothel, in another country, without their passports and are told that they have to work to repay the debt.
A representative from UnitingWorld told a couple of stories that the congregation found quite disturbing and, frankly, difficult to believe. Not because we didn’t believe her, or that the events actually happened, but just that we wondered how one human being could do such things to another. She told of one particular young girl who was collected from her home by a family, who promised to employ her as a domestic helper. They took her to southern India where doctors removed one of her kidneys and implanted it in the family’s mother, before leaving her in a brothel. And of another young girl who was sent overseas where she was forced to service up to 40 men per day. Think of it.
A man every 15 minutes for 10 hours a day. Every day.
Turramurra is now assisting the church of North India in a number of ways, including prayer, the raising of funds and even sending teams of volunteers on short-term mission trips to work in the area. It may seem like a drop in the ocean to some, but to a young child, who’s saved from a life of misery, it’s everything.
We recognise that we also need to educate western cultures, because we’re the ones who are often the customers. It comes down to simple Keynesian economics. If the demand dries up (meaning we don’t utilise slaves labour), so does the business and the need to supply young people is, therefore, also reduced.
I encourage you, over the time that we’re not physically together, to think about what you, individually, or we, as a church community, can do to love our neighbours, our fellow man, more and thereby make God pleased with our understanding of his commandments for us.
we ask that you help us to live lives that bring honour to you and always put you first.
Sometimes, we just let life overwhelm us and we get it all wrong.And so we come seeking forgiveness and renewal.Have mercy on us, O Lord.